2023-03-12 “The Cost, and Surpassing Gain, of Discipleship”

Cornerstone EPC Sunday morning

Franklin, NC 28734 March 12, 2023

The Cost, and Surpassing Gain, of Discipleship”

Mark 10:17-31

Dr. Charles Stanley, longtime senior pastor of Atlanta’s First Baptist Church, once quipped, “Salvation is free. Discipleship costs—everything you have.” As we continue through this late, shadow-side portion of Jesus’ earthly ministry, we see this truth more and more clearly. We see, in a truer sense, what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. It involves a cost—a considerable, significant cost—but the gain to our souls far outstrips the cost. We see both of these—the cost and the gain—on full display in today’s text. Let us give our attention once again to the Word of God read and proclaimed in this place.


Our text opens with a rich young ruler coming to Jesus (17-22).1 He would know how to have eternal life (17-20), and he would know it from Jesus. Hence, he addresses Jesus, calling him, “Good Teacher….” Perhaps he called Jesus this for honor, or perhaps he did this for mere flattery. In either case, he deflects this business and drives toward the heart of the matter. Jesus reminds the man of the laws that constitute the second table of the Ten Commandments—commandments five through ten. The young man, for his part, replies to Jesus that he has kept from his youth all that second table of the Law.

Then Jesus, looking at him and loving him, comes to the heart of the matter (21-22). Jesus tells him that he must part with all his wealth—giving it to the poor. Then he will have treasure in Heaven, and then he is welcome to follow. This selling all and giving to the poor the rich young ruler will not do—and, sorrowful, he leaves Jesus. The man may or may not have kept all the second table; all we have is his self-testimony. We see, however, that this man fails to comply with the first commandment of the Ten Commandments, namely, “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.” The man places his wealth above the Lord—choosing to serve mammon above service to Christ, and that in the face of His teaching in the Sermon on the Mount: “You cannot serve God and mammon” (Matthew 6:24).

We see the man’s sorrowful parting from Jesus—and we may presume Jesus’ sorrow over the man’s departure. Jesus then teaches on the difficulty the rich have entering the Kingdom of God (23-27). He simply declares this in verse twenty-three, and, in His dialogue with the Twelve, He illustrates this. Jesus’ teaching amazes the disciples, for they—like many of their day—see wealth as a sign of God’s favor. We see this view in Job, and we see it here in Mark 10. There appears to be no regard, moreover, whether the wealth be righteously gained or unrighteously gained. Just having it appears to be a sign of God’s favor.

Jesus illustrates and amplifies. It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God.2 This astonishes the disciples beyond measure. They exclaim, in view of this, “Who then can be saved?” They clearly see that it is nearly impossible for such a rich one to be saved—and, not quite releasing their notion of wealth as a sign of God’s favor, wonder how any may be saved. Jesus sums the whole when he asserts, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” Even the salvation of those having the man’s wealth, and greater wealth, is possible through Jesus.3

The final part of today’s text contains a promise to those forsaking all to follow Him (28-31). Peter, for the rest, interjects, “See, we have left everything to follow You.” Jesus replies to him, and to us, that those forsaking all, especially the nearest and dearest, for Christ, will receive a hundredfold as much in kind—and eternal life in the age to come. Lest we think this unalloyed bliss before the time, Jesus tells us that persecutions accompany these blessings. Again, Jesus makes no promise of ease or comfort to us. He promises lavish blessing even amid persecutions. He then closes by saying that many who are first will be last—and the last first. This came to pass very early in Church history, among other times, when the Holy Spirit elevates the Apostle Paul to prominence even while many an original disciples fades from view.

Salvation, again, is free, but discipleship costs—all we have. We must not allow anything to occupy the place in our lives that only God occupies—the first place. Worry not, though: All other relations and materials find their proper place in our lives once He has His proper place there. Forget not, though, that He promises a hundredfold increase to our souls—and, in the age to come, eternal life. Here is the cost, and here is the blessing—which far surpasses the cost. Let us, therefore, more fully informed now than formerly, follow Him.


1We see easily enough in our text that the man is rich. We learn in Matthew’s account that he is young (19:20), and we learn in Luke’s account that he is a ruler (18:18).

2Some have argued that the eye of the needle referenced here is a passageway in the Temple complex that a camel could traverse, but only with difficulty. Others, such as John Calvin in his commentary on this text, argue on lexical grounds that the word translated camel, with one Greek letter changed, could be translated cable or rope. My sources reveal no firm evidence for the first, and the most recent textual scholarship tends against the second. It is best to consider this at face value: a camel attempting to pass through the eye of a sewing needle.

3Selena Hastings (1707-91), Countess of Huntingdon, came to deeper faith in Jesus as a result of the ministry of John Wesley and, especially, George Whitefield, a Calvinistic Methodist and revivalistic preacher, who became her personal chaplain. She commented on 1 Corinthians 1:26 (“…Not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.”), saying, “Blessed be God, it does not say ‘any mighty,’ ‘any noble’; it says ‘many mighty,’ ‘many noble.’ I owe my salvation to the letter ‘m.’” See Justin Taylor, “Saved by the Letter ‘M’” (October 19, 2011. The Gospel Coalition. https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justin-taylor/saved-by-the-letter-m/, accessed March 10, 2023).