When Jesus came onto the scene give or take two thousand years ago, the Jewish people were living under the rule of the Roman Empire. God had promised the people of Israel that they would be His people, that Canaan (modern day Israel, more or less) would be their land and that they would be blessed and successful if they kept His commandments. They did not keep His commandments, and after generations of rebellion, God allowed them to be taken into captivity and allowed other nations to rule them and their land. The promise and the hope of the Old Testament was of a Messiah who would set the Israelites free.
Jesus was that Messiah, but He came with the intention to set them (and people from every people group) free Spiritually, from sin, and unto eternal and full life. This was not well understood by most Jews, and that is why the Jewish people are still looking for a political Messiah who will restore to them the land. But there were some who listened to Jesus. It was in this setting that the rich young ruler came to Jesus and asked what the path was to salvation:
As He was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to Him and knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments, ‘DO NOT MURDER, DO NOT COMMIT ADULTERY, DO NOT STEAL, DO NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS, Do not defraud, HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER.’” And he said to Him, “Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up.” Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property.
– Mark 10.17-22
Under the oppression of the Romans, this committed Jewish man had kept all of the Laws of God since His youth. This is no small task, as Jesus regularly condemned the Pharisees and others for keeping only the letter of the Law and only parts of the Law. But this man was confident in his heart and obedience. Jesus did not reprove him, but “felt a love for him” and actually called him to follow. The man chose to not follow, however, because he valued his possessions more highly than eternal salvation. He was unwilling to surrender his property to follow Jesus. This is one of the most convicting and terrifying stories to me. And we see an example of those who were truly committed to Jesus, and willing to surrender all things, just a few books later:
“But remember the former days, when, after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings, partly by being made a public spectacle through reproaches and tribulations, and partly by becoming sharers with those who were so treated. For you showed sympathy to the prisoners and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and a lasting one. Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward.For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised.
FOR YET IN A VERY LITTLE WHILE,
HE WHO IS COMING WILL COME, AND WILL NOT DELAY.
BUT MY RIGHTEOUS ONE SHALL LIVE BY FAITH;
AND IF HE SHRINKS BACK, MY SOUL HAS NO PLEASURE IN HIM.
But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul.”
– Heb 10.32-29
The Hebrew people (the Jews) to whom the book of Hebrews was written recounted this story of the early days of their conversion. They came to faith, and immediately came under suffering. There suffering was twofold: part of the group of believers were publicly humiliated through public reproaches, tribulations and imprisonment, and those who were not imprisoned went to care for those in prison, and in doing so fell victim to their houses being plundered.
And all of this, they “accepted joyfully”.
Jesus made some hard claims to grasp, when it comes to salvation.
“If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.”
– Luke 14.26
And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.
– Luke 9.23
“One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”
– Mark 10.21
Would you surrender family? Possessions? Comfort? Your “rights”? And beyond that, James teaches us that we should consider it joy and a blessing when we share in the sufferings of Christ or suffer for His sake:
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
– James 1.2-4
Would you consider it joy if you were made a public spectacle? If you were beaten in public because of your faith? Or put in prison? Or if someone plundered your house? I get cranky if my electricity bill is too high, if someone broke into my house, stole everything, and graffitied the outside, because I was a Christian, I doubt my first reaction would be to praise God and rejoice. Would yours?
American values teach us to buy a house, get nice things, save for retirement and be generous to the needy with the leftover money we have. Jesus told the man who owned much to sell it all, and give the proceeds to the poor – not to pocket it for another time.
Where is your treasure? What are your values? Is there anything that you would not surrender to or for Christ? Is there anything that He has already asked you to surrender? Sometimes we hear testimonies of people who believe that Christ brings them to a point Spiritually where they would only be ready to surrender house, family, job, desires, whatever – and then returns the thing which had previously been idolized. Bu often in Scripture, we see people being called not just to be willing to give it up, but to actually give it up. Like these Hebrews. Sometimes they were found righteous, and sometimes the suffering weeded out the non believers, like the rich young ruler. Where do you stand today?
This is why Jesus taught us to count the cost before coming to Him for salvation:
“For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, when he sets out to meet another king in battle, will not first sit down and consider whether he is strong enough with ten thousand men to encounter the one coming against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions.”
– Luke 14.28-33
Let us count the cost today, and hold loosely those things in our lives that are not Jesus. Let us consider Jesus the highest treasure and joy, and surrender everything that He asks us to surrender. If you are persecuted or suffer, let us endure is Jesus did and consider it a joy to join in His sufferings. Let us check our hearts today.