Everyone Who Forsakes (Matthew 19)
1. We learned last week that the Christian life is one that has many different facets to it, like a perfectly cut diamond. This morning, our readings tell us about the facet of forsaking. The Christian life contains a call for forsaking everything for the sake of Christ. Some people make good choices with forsaking, while others make bad choices. We have to look no further than our Old Testament reading to see both. Jonah was more than happy to be a prophet for God. But when the call came to go to Nineveh, he wanted nothing to do with it. When he finally went, the Ninevites rejoiced in the chance to forsaking their foolish things for God. After Jonah's rousing yet short sermon, all of Nineveh--from the greatest to the least--believed that they deserved God's wrath and called for a fast in hopes that "God may turn and relent and turn from His fierce anger, so that we may not perish" (Jonah 3:9). And God did relent of His wrath and spared the city. The Ninevites turned and followed God just as Peter, Andrew James and John followed Jesus as He called them to leave their boats (Mark 1:16-20). They forsook everything and followed Jesus. Peter even boasts about it in our text, "See, we have left everything and followed You. What then will we have?" (v27). Peter asks the question after Jesus tells the rich young ruler, "If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in Heaven; and come, follow Me" (v21).
2. "Treasure in Heaven" perked Peter's ears. Like each one of us, he naturally wanted the best things in life. So, hearing Jesus talk about "treasure in Heaven", Peter wanted to know what his--and the rest of the Twelve's--take in that treasure would be. Jesus reminds him that forsaking can only take place because Jesus forsook what was His to be with us. Jesus responds to Peter's question with a prophecy about the Last Day, "In the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you who have folowed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel" (v28). That's the Apostles' share in the "Treasure in heaven." This treasure is only given to them because Jesus was the one who forsook everything. He came down from His glorious throne to take on our human flesh. It was that enfleshed Word of God who called the fisherman to leave everything behind and become His disciples. That they did and they, in turn, encourage us to follow their examples in their forsaking everything for Jesus.
3. In our Epistle reading, St. Paul describes the Christian life of forsaking: "From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they are not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing ... For the present form of this world is passing away" (1 Corinthians 7:29-31). The last phrase is the key: "The present form of this world is passing away." The time for Jesus' return is coming quickly. That's why we see the urgency in following Jesus. We forsake everything that hold us back to this world. That's why St. Paul can say, "I wish that all were as I myself am" (1 Corinthians 7:7). Paul was one who left everything behind once Jesus called him on the Damascus road. He left all personal attachments that might interfere with his proclamation of the Gospel behind. He never married. He didn't have a wife he left at home worrying about his welfare. He lived off the talents that God had given him as a tentmaker. He could go from one place to another without worry about how he would support his ministry. Everything was tied up in what God had given him. So it is for the rest of the Apostles and everyone who leaves everything to follow Jesus. Those who forsake all things to follow Christ receive more blessings than they can imagine.
4. Jesus explains this to Peter, "Everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for My name's sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit everlasting life" (v29). Two great blessings are promised here by our Lord. First, a multiplication of all the blessings that have been forsaken. So you've forsaken family for Jesus, you will receive others who will be like family to you. So you've forsaken property and material blessings, you will receive other blessings that outweigh the value of those left behind. All that has been forsaken to follow Jesus was given by Jesus in the first place for us to use until we were called to forsake them. After that, we receive other blessings in place and in abundance to them from God for our use and management. The second promised blessing is the greatest blessing of them all: the inheritance of everlasting life. This is what we prayed for in our Psalm this morning: "May God be gracious to us and bless us and make His face to shine upon us" (67:1). We're reciting back to Him His Benediction that He gave to bless His people. We want the blessings of God to be upon us. Above all, we want that blessing of everlasting life. That blessing we don't deserve and it has been kept from us since the beginning when God said, "Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever..." (Genesis 3:22). He banished Adam and Eve from Eden. Man was forsaken by God to die in the wilderness outside Eden. The blessing Jesus promises is the one that we have been deprived of since the Fall. The ability to live forever as God created us to do. God does this by doing another of His reversals.
5. This reversal comes in the last verse of our text: "But many who are first will be last, and the last first" (v30). This is not the only time that Jesus talks this way. He presents the same paradox to His disciples on Maundy Thursday as He, their Lord and Master, stooped down to wash their feet like the lowest of servants. His paradox works like this: The things at the first--at Creation--will be the things at the Last Day. The things at the Last Day will be just like they were the first day. It's not that the world is going to get better and better. It's that God, through Jesus, is reconciling and reclaiming Creation to be what it was before Adam and Eve fell into sin. To make it the Paradise that the Garden of Eden once was. That's making the first last and the last first. That's the true blessing of following Jesus. God reverses everything so that, even though we give up everything and forsake the entire world, we inherit it back and so much more. The "treasure in Heaven" that St. Peter was looking for was staring him right in the face. The greatest treasure in Heaven is your citizenship. The fact that you belong in Heaven and that you belong to Jesus is the greatest treasure anyone can possibly imagine. Forsaking all things, may you faithfully follow the path where He leads you. Amen.