“And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive hundredfold and will inherit eternal life” (Matthew 19.29).
This statement becomes more and more astonishing as we study it. It is surprising that it speaks of rewards, first of all, since nothing in the mere notion of discipleship requires them. At best we are unprofitable servants. However, in addition to speaking of rewards (perhaps spiritual rewards would suffice), the text speaks specifically of homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, children, and even lands.
We must exercise some caution at this point, of course. For one thing, nothing in Christ’s teachings encourages us to think in crass materialistic terms, as if Jesus were merely giving a formula for sure wealth. The words are ludicrous if taken in that way. If this is a formula for wealth, then we should first, earn all we can (taking years to do it if necessary); second, give up those earnings for Jesus; and finally, wait for Jesus to multiply our charitable gifts by one hundred. That would discourage discipleship rather than promote it.
Again, this promise does not necessarily apply to every individual. It is clear that some believers (though not all) are called to poverty. No matter how much they have and give up, they will always have only the most modest means, because that is what God has called them to have. I suppose that most of the disciples were in this category.
Still, the text is a true promise, and it does have to do with earthly relationships and material possessions. At the least, it means that the true follower of Christ will not lack for any good thing (“My cup overflows,” Ps.23.5) and that, under normal circumstances, a Christian will be blessed abundantly with earthly goods. Personally, I am convinced that Jesus gives us every good that he can possibly give us without rendering us unfit for his work or destroying our souls. The reason many of us do not have more is that the Lord knows we would misuse it.
In spite of these obvious qualifications, Christ’s promise of homes, family, and lands is an encouragement for those willing to serve Him. It tells us that God is good and that He is no man’s debtor. Sometimes the idea that “God is no man’s debtor” has been used wrongly to try to control God, as it were. People have suggested that if we do such-and-such, then God is obliged to do such-and-such for us. That is manipulative, and the text does not support this view. However, properly received, it does encourage us to serve God in Christ’s service, knowing that we will be blessed for it. There are several important grounds for this encouragement.
One thing that keeps many from following Jesus – the rich young ruler is an example – is the feeling that the cost of following Him is too high. We would have to give up too much.
Matthew 19.28-29 teaches that the blessings found in Christ’s service are greater than the blessings we could have apart from it. The rich young man was unwilling to give up his possessions, for he loved them more than he loved Jesus. Unfortunately, he could not be saved without loving God with all his heart and soul and mind and strength. However, if he had followed Christ, turning his back on his wealth, this text teaches that Jesus would have blessed him a hundred times over, possibly with a home, a large family, and fields. He could not be certain of the form Christ’s blessing would take. He might have been called to a life of itinerant ministry, as Paul was. But whatever the form of his service, the blessings he would have received would have been many times greater than he could have given up.
It is not only the greatness of the blessings that encourage us in Jesus’ service; their security encourages us too. The young man turned away from Christ because he was unwilling to part with his possessions, but ironically, he turned from possessions that were certain to possessions that were at best uncertain. His possessions may have been lost before the year was out. His gold may have been stolen. He may have forfeited his lands. As was the case with the prodigal son, his friends may have grown cold and abandoned him.
This point can be made the other way. God may allow the ungodly to amass great wealth to their destruction. As for Christians, if you belong to Christ and put riches (or anything else) before service to Christ, God may take away your wealth until you repent and turn to Him. However, if you are a follower of Christ and place Him first in everything, you can be sure that whatever possessions God wants you to have will be safe.
The third reason the promise of Matthew 19.28-29 encourages us to serve Jesus is that the blessings promised by Jesus are themselves blessed by God. His favor rests on them, and His divine power makes them effective in assisting other people. It is not just that we are blessed. Others are blessed by them through us. To be blessed in this way is to be twice blessed, because the one receiving the gift is blessed along with the giver.
These promises are great, great blessings, secure blessings, and blessings that are blessed – they are an encouragement to trust God and serve Christ. But we must always remember that they are for Christians only. Not only that, they are for Christians who have turned from all lesser loyalties to serve Christ. To these alone God promises homes, parents, children, friends, and fields – with persecutions – and in the age to come, eternal life.
Pastor Steve can be reached at PastorSteve@MaranathaBibleChurch.org