In Stuff We Trust?

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Like a farmer

For a number of years God, called my wife and I to minister in a small, rural city located in the Canadian prairies. During our years there, I met a number of farmers and learned a little about that particular profession. 

It’s a livelihood that demands long hours in the fields, expensive and varied equipment, expertise, and creativity and discernment. It’s a complicated and interesting way to make a living. And yet I also learned that, in spite of their resourcefulness, grit, wisdom, skill, foresight, and boldness, every farmer owes his success to the fact that it rains.

As prepared, skilled, and experienced as they may be, unless the skies open up, farmers are out of a job. A good farmer respects this balance.

As Christians, we should learn from farmers. If we think of our spiritual lives as land out of which we want to see the fruit of the Spirit grow, mature, and propagate, we’d be wise to recognize that our success ultimately depends on God causing growth, no matter how prepared we are.

Just as a farmer is dependent on rain so the disciple is dependant on God’s power working in and through us. And when we put our trust in anything other than God, it’s like a farmer expecting his combine to cause his crop to grow during a draught. It doesn’t make sense and, in fact, is futile.

Mark calls for dependence

The Bible calls us to be a people who follow Christ with total dependence, releasing our grip on the things in our lives we may be tempted to trust in instead of him. This is what Mark, inspired by the Holy Spirit, sets out to communicate in chapter 10 of his gospel.

As we move through verses 13–31, we’ll notice four groups of people along the way. First, the children are going to exemplify a general attitude of dependence. Next, the passage moves to the rich man who shows the wrong kind of dependence. Third, the Lord Jesus will contrast the man’s mistake with the right kind of dependence. And finally, we’ll look at disciples (us, not the twelve), and how we can embody the type of dependency prescribed in this text. The children, the man, the Lord, and the disciples.

1. The children

The opening scene introduces the concept Mark wants us to grapple with throughout this passage. Through Jesus’ interaction with them, the children exemplify a posture of dependence. Unbeknownst to them, they are a model of the type of neediness that followers of Jesus should exhibit.

After angrily rescuing the children from his disciples’, Jesus welcomes the little ones saying: “the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” It doesn’t belong to kids, per se, but to those like children. Jesus continues:

“Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all” (v. 15).

How do children receive gifts? They do so, not only with joyful excitement and unfettered anticipation, but also with no sense of repayment guilt—“Great, this looks expensive; now I’m going to have to buy dad something just as nice”—and no sense of entitlement—“I’ve earned this lego set.” Children receive gifts in the purest way someone can receive a gift—with a liberating, gratitude-filled attitude of dependence.

According to Jesus, it’s only in this childlike way that anyone can receive the blessings associated with God’s kingdom.

In chapter 9 Jesus used children as an object lesson: “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me” (37). Jesus was saying the humility of a disciple manifests itself in our willingness to serve the least—those who are helpless—like children in the 1st-century. In chapter 10, however, we aren’t called to serve the least, but to become the least; to have an attitude of childlike dependence.

Children need others to feed, cloth, protect, discipline, and educated them. And it’s this attitude of total dependence that we’re being called to showcase in our Christian walks. We’re to follow Jesus knowing that, unless it rains, all our effort is for not.

But that’s fairly vague, isn’t it? What does it look like to be that dependent? Where is my trust supposed to be placed and where should I, perhaps, avoid placing it? Well, that’s where Mark goes next.

2. The rich man

While we’ve been introduced through the children to the general posture of dependence, Mark now moves to the man who gives us a picture of valueless dependence. We’ve been called to be dependent, and now we’re going to be shown what that doesn’t look like.

Verse 17 tells us that Jesus is on the move again when a man runs up to him and falls on his knees before in the road. In the 1st-century, to run wasn’t becoming and to fall down on your knees wasn’t something anyone important would do. Unlike the Pharisees who approach with ulterior motives, this man comes in total sincerity.

His question is a heavy one: “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” While he rightly understands that there is eternal life to be sought, the man wrongly assumes there’s something that can be done to inherit it. “What must I do?” he asks.

I would suggest that most people today believe something similar: There is something to be done that can ensure eternal life. Maybe church attendance, giving to the church, confession, communion, prayer, Bible reading, or serving the poor. What must we do? Like this man, people today can ask this question with all sincerity and be sincerely misguided.

As we’d expect, Jesus takes this opportunity to correct the man and he begins by pointing out that his moral compass needs adjusting. “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” The man had a superficial, works-based understanding of goodness. But the Lord raises the standard of goodness away from actions and to the character of God.

Jesus continues his correction by giving the man a chance to see his own lack of goodness. He does this by listing the second half of the decalogue in verse 19 as if to suggest: “Keep those perfectly and eternal life will be yours.” You and I know this is an impossible feat and, in fact, the New Testament teaches that the point of the Law was to show us our sin by making us understand that God’s standard of goodness is too high to be kept on our own (see, for example, Romans 7).

The point is lost on the man, however, and he says: “Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up” (v. 20).

In the man’s understanding, he was godly. He was a good guy. He had kept the law’s of Moses. And yet he still felt something was missing in his quest to obtain assurance of his eternal life.

What was missing, as we’ll see, wasn’t an external action, but an internal attitude; an internal posture of dependence on God.

Jesus responds lovingly to this earnest man:

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” (v. 21).

Four commands: Go! Sell! Give! Follow!

Tragically, the man hangs his head and walks away without responding. Why? Because, Mark tells us, he had a lot of stuff.

Jesus isn’t teaching salvation comes through charity. Rather, he was demanding charity from this man because he knew it was his wealth upon which he was relying and from which he had to let go in order to follow Christ.

We all depend on something. Some of us depend on our minds, and we assume that, when push-comes-to-shove, we can figure out the problem. Some of us depend on our friends or family. ‘If my friend/spouse died, I don’t know what I’d do with myself.’ Some of us, like the man in this account, depend on or possessions, what we’ve accumulated, the things we own, the toys we can afford, our financial safety net. People who depend on possessions may fall into the trap of thinking that “if I only had [blank], then I’d be happy.”

And this is not only a problem for the affluent. Wealth is subjective. The risk of relying on possessions is something everyone has to wrestle with. The billionaire who spends his time counting his cash and the struggling student who dreams of financial stability are both potentially depending on money more than they are on God.

The man in Mark 10 gives us a picture of valueless dependence. He sincerely wanted to know how to follow Jesus faithfully, and Jesus, knowing this man’s struggle, said, “you lack one thing, stop depending on what you have and, instead, depend on me as you follow.”

3. The Lord Jesus

While the children exemplified a posture of dependence and the man gave a negative example of that dependence, starting in verse 23, Mark shifts his attention to our Lord and records his call for divine dependence. This is the right kind of dependence, this is the fleshing-out of what childlike dependence looks like for a follower of Christ. 

And Jesus, looking around, said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!” (v. 23).

Jesus is not only referring to the rich man but also calling attention to the universal struggle. It’s not unique to that man.

This statement shocks the disciples, probably because, in the 1st-century, it was a common belief that wealth was a sign of God’s blessing. This understanding perhaps found its roots in passages like Psalm 128:1–2:

How blessed is everyone who fears the Lord, who walks in his ways. When you shall eat of the fruit of your hands, you will be happy and it will be well with you.

Or, think of the story of Job. His friends assumed that his circumstances were because of sin in his life and, if he would just confess whatever evil was there, God would restore his former prosperity.

Back in Mark 10, the man was sincere and professed to keep the law since he was young. To the twelve disciples, it would make sense that God would bless him with wealth! Thus, to hear Jesus claim that the rich struggle to enter God’s kingdom was shocking. 

Jesus then twists the knife:

Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (vv. 24b–25).

The disciples then ask an obvious question: “Who then can be saved? If squeezing a camel through the hole in a needle is more probable than a materially blessed law-keeper finding heaven, who on earth has a chance?”

In the next verse, Jesus admits, it’s impossible … for humans. But with God, it’s very possible. And, once again, the text loops us back around to an attitude of total dependence on God. It’s not possible for a farmer to cause his crop to grow on his own, but with God’s rain, it’s possible.

Human “goodness” won’t get us there. Perceived financial blessings won’t either. Nor will Bible reading plans, church attendance, kissing the Pope’s ring, or whatever else we want to put on that list. These are all examples of valueless dependence that will do exactly zero for our justification and zero for our inheritance of rewards in heaven.

Instead, if we acknowledge our total, childlike divine dependence, all things are possible. Not only the entrance and experience of the kingdom of God, but the joys of growth in godliness, the killing of sin in our lives, and the enjoyment of our assurance of salvation.

There is much to be gained from following Jesus in childlike dependence on God. And it’s not all future, as Jesus explains as our passage closes. 

Peter began to say to him, “Behold, we have left everything and followed you” (v. 28).

Peter, speaking for the other disciples, wants to make it clear that, while the rich man had refused to forsake all, the disciples had.

Jesus said, “Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms, for my sake and for the gospel’s sake, but that he will receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last, first” (vv. 29–31).

Disciples who follow Jesus wholeheartedly can anticipate three things. First, God will give them more spiritually of what they have sacrificed physically. Randy Alcorn wrote: “God is the greatest giver in the universe, and he won’t let you out-give him.” 

Second, they will receive persecution as Jesus' disciples. Commitment to discipleship means persecutions as well as rewards. 

Third, faithful disciples will enjoy their eternal life to an extent that unfaithful disciples will not.

The children exemplify a posture of dependence we’re to have. The man gives us a picture of how to empty dependence of its value—when we place it in things that can’t help us. The Lord Jesus points us in the opposite direction, upward to God, promising that any sacrifice we make in our total dependence on him will be repaid in this life and the life to come.

4. The disciples

Now what about you and I? We’ve seen the children, the man, and the Lord. What about the disciples? I suggest that if we’re going to become followers of Jesus who throw our dependence on God rather than the myriad of other options this world presents us with, we have to be constantly and consistently checking our grip!

And by that I mean examining our lives to find areas in which we are holding on to things in a destructive way. Check your grip.

Am I holding too tightly to my possessions, trusting in them to provide me with identity, comfort, meaning, purpose, and worth? Check your grip.

There’s a reason Jesus talked about money more than almost any other topic as recorded in the gospels: It’s because it’s a sneaky idle that tempts everyone no matter their bank balance. We must be diligent in checking our grips, asking God to examine our hearts, and call us back to dependence on him—childlike dependence full of joy and anticipation and free from any sort of entitlement or guilt.

And, I’ll tell you frankly, the best way to stop depending on possessions is to attack it with generosity. You can’t love it if you don’t have it. And, as my old pastor morbidly pointed out, “Nobody has ever seen a hearse pulling a uHaul.” You can’t take it with you; but, according to this passage, you can send it ahead. 

By giving up dependence on possessions and, instead, depending wholly on God, we’re promised his faithful provision in this life, and in the life to come.