What benefit is there to following Christ? This is not an inherently inappropriate or selfish query. A Kantian ethic that argues total disinterest in reward or benefit is necessary for an action to be truly moral is foreign to sacred Scripture, which commands us to delight ourselves in the Lord and receive the desires of our hearts (Psalm 37:4). God wants us to desire good things, to desire Him, and to enjoy all His gifts—spiritual, material, eternal, and temporal alike—with lavish abandon.
But the initial and long-term commitments and sacrifices involved with becoming and staying a Christian can sometimes cloud these realities. We have unmet longings. Our flesh wants to disobey while our regenerate spirit desires to obey, and so we feel frustration and unhappiness. Sin ultimately dissatisfies us, yet often provides temporary pleasure. Many times, obedience brings immediate loss, frustration, dissatisfaction, rejection, and a seemingly interminable wait for blessing and joy. All this, alongside persecution, the harsh and inextricable realities of living in a fallen world (disease, disaster, loss of employment, etc.), being sinned against impenitently and frequently with impunity—worst of all by other Christians—and living in a culture that is experiencing the wrath of God’s abandonment, can create within Christian hearts a very serious question: Is following Jesus worth it? What does it be benefit me?
While it is true and necessary to preach to ourselves and others that rescue from Hell, introduction into perfect fellowship with God, the hope of the resurrection, the forgiveness of sins, and the fact that God will wipe away every tear are real and certain blessings to be had by all of God’s people, we must be very careful not to fall into dismissive platitudes. Additionally, in our desire to affirm the “not yet” of much of God’s redeeming work and to avoid the materialistic and ungodly extremes of the prosperity movement, we risk negating all of the blessing—including physical, material, and financial blessing—God offers in this life, as well as castigating fellow Christians for unbelief or selfishness by sincerely desiring blessing and benefit to accrue in this life.
Our Lord has not left us without counsel as we walk with Him in a confusing and fallen world. In a grand, sweeping statement recorded for us in Mark, He assures us of comprehensive blessing both now and especially in the future.
A. Peter’s Question About Blessing in This Life (v. 28)
Our Lord has just warned all people of the dangers of riches and the love of material things. He has explained that this is why the rich young ruler was barred from eternal life—his idolatry prevented him from entering the kingdom.
We often underestimate Peter. While he is often impetuous and foolish, he is frequently a deeper thinker than we assume. This is one of those times: Yes, he blurts out, but he asks a good, thoughtful question. “Lord, we’ve done what the rich young ruler won’t. We have left everything for you. What now? What is in it for us?” I don’t think Peter is ignorant of the future kingdom. He was a good Jew who knew the OT. I think he is especially meaning to underline blessing now. He knows he has heaven—after all, he has made the decision to love and follow Jesus more than anything, unlike the rich young ruler, so he knows heaven if his. But what about now?
“Left all” looks back to a decisive moment when he and the others chose to do this. And “followed” is in a verb tense that denotes they began following Him in the past and are still doing so right now, though obviously imperfectly. Matthew adds what mark leaves out: “What then will there be for us?” (19:27). We’ve given up everything. We’ve passed through the eye of the needle. The power of God has enabled us to love Him more than anything.
So what now?
Jesus’ answer? Sacrifice. And blessing.
B. The Sacrifices of Following Christ in This Life (v. 29)
Jesus begins His answer by acknowledging that some loss is involved in every believer’s experience of following Him. He is setting this up to explain the blessings God gives for that sacrifice—remember this is a complete sentence that does not end until verse 30—but right now is emphasizing the sacrifice part. No one who has sacrificed will not be lavishly blessed. But all who know Jesus have lost something.
The 12 left their homes. They physically traveled with Jesus during his nearly four years of ministry, and though they all returned (at least for as time) to Jerusalem following His resurrection-ascension, none of their lives were the same, and many of them continued to be essentially itinerant for the rest of their lives. Jesus Himself lost His siblings, at least in the short term. James and John had the privilege of traveling with their mom, who also knew the Lord, but many believers have been rejected by their parents who do not share their love for Christ (cf. Matthew 10:34-37). Some have left children, either because they have been rejected by them or because they must leave them behind for itinerant ministry. (And how many believing parents have given up children to world evangelization, distant church planting, or other ministry that might even cost their lives?)
Finally the Lord mentions that some have left “farms” for Him. This of course denotes literal farmland, but by extension it represents sustenance, security, livelihood, and all of the comforts of home. (The farm was, of course, usually located at or near the family’s home and so the household and the business were intimately intertwined.)
There is really loss involved in following Jesus. We give up our sin. We give up our self-rule. We give up our autonomous thinking. But we also lose sometimes very good, even necessary, things. And therein is the rub. Is it worth it? Is casting everything away and walking by faith into the unknown really going to benefit me-and benefit me here and now?
C. Earthly Blessing for Following Christ in This Life (v. 30a)
Jesus does not stop with highlighting the sacrifice. He is stating that thought to make a larger point: Everyone who has left everything for Him will be given everything back and much more besides! No one who has sacrificed for Him will walk away with empty hands. He says they will receive one hundred times as much, the highest degree of blessing. And He says they will receive it now, not just in the distant resurrection.
We must be careful not to spiritualize what Jesus says here. He is not simply talking about spiritual blessings (whatever precisely those are), with no material or tangible aspect. He is not simply talking about spiritual fellowship between Christians. He means to include real, physical, and tangible blessing for His people.
He does emphasize the fact that in leaving or losing our physical families, we gain numerous brothers and sisters, spiritual (and often physical) children, and women we can look up to and be nurtured by as mothers. But He emphasizes “houses” and “farms” as well. Do these simply mean “spiritual” houses and farms? Or do they mean real, physical blessing, provision, and purpose? Do not let the foolish prosperity teachers steal your birthright! God’s hand of redemption extends to your physical world. He intends to bless your physical life as well. Have you sought His favor on your home, your job, your finances, your family life as you consecrate all of them to His purposes, or are you selfishly keeping them for yourself and blocking the flow of His blessing? Jesus says 100 times as much for these things, too! Should you not seek to cultivate your home as an avenue of ministry—to make it beautiful and welcoming for your family and for God’s people? Should you not seek to use your money in ways that befit the kingdom—and seek more of it to do more for God? And remembering that a farm was frequently the source of income, security, and purposefulness for an entire family—what farm could God be asking you to build for Him that would provide purpose and security for your family and those He brings into your life?
Yes, we get heaven (which, mind you, will be on a renewed and resurrected earth forever, not in the sky somewhere). Yes, this is not heaven. Yes, He gives us spiritual blessing—joy, peace, freedom, outpouring of love, contentment, assurance of forgiveness, anticipation of His future work, and a thousand more. But He also means to bless every area of our lives, and I fear that James’s word to his flock would be his word to us: You have not because you ask not.
Now we know God’s will for all of life—He means to bless lavishly for every loss you have experienced for the love of Christ. So what will you seek Him for today—from the God who gives us richly all things to enjoy (1 Timothy 6:17).
We must also acknowledge Jesus assures us of the blessing of persecution—a blessing because it drives us to Him, proves the genuineness of our faith, and gives us heavenly reward, so we ought to leap for joy whenever the culture slanders us or we are attacked for following Jesus (Matt. 5:11-12). That heavenly reward is outlined in the next section.
D. Future, Heavenly Blessing for Following Christ in This Life (vv. 30b-31)
Jesus outlines two and possibly three epochs of redemptive history: Now/the present time, the age to come, and eternal life. In Jewish thinking, there were two ages: This age, and the age to come. This is no contradiction to premillennialism, unless we deny there is time in the age to come (a foolish and unscriptural denial). The millennial empire is simply the first ten centuries of the age to come, the mortal phase of the eternal kingdom.
In that coming age, Jesus assures that those who sacrifice for Him will receive eternal life. We have it now, of course (John 3:16, 5:24; 1 John 5:13-15), but the NT teaches that eternal life is primarily a future reward yet to be fully experienced in actual possession (Eph. 1:14, 5:5; 1 Cor. 6:11; James 1:12; 2 Timothy 4:7-8, 18; 2 Peter 1:11; 1 John 2:25). Eternal life is a quality of life: It is redeemed, full, resurrected, glorified life. It is not simply avoidance from Hell, but experience of full resurrected life as God intended in all its fullness. Our experience of eternal life will not be complete until we have been resurrected. That is why in many passages it is yet future. The comprehensive blessing will overflow into unimaginable abundance as we experience the blessing of God on a renewed earth forever.
Verse 31 is both a marvelous benediction and warning. Those who exult in their many blessings in this life should not look down on those who have less, nor should the latter think themselves less blessed than the former. For all believers will inherit the same eternal life. There are degrees of reward, but all of us are the same in that we are all sinners who are there by the grace and mercy of the Savior. However much God blesses you in this life, you are no better than any other believer, for apart from Christ none of us would experience the glory of heaven. We are there as a testimony to the sovereign power and grace of God! Hallelujah!
Is following Jesus worth it for time and eternity? The old hymnwriter said it best: “Finding, following, keeping, struggling, is He sure to bless? Saints, apostles, prophets, martyrs, answer, Yes!”