Can A Camel Go Through The Eye Of A Needle?
November 22, 2009
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
First Timothy 1:12-17
When You Feel A Limit
1. Have you ever felt yourself so powerless when it comes to a given task? When it comes to the size of the job given to you, have you ever had any pain due to your limits or the lack of size in your abilities? I'm not right for the job. It's bigger than me. Even though I feel like this, I will stick around somehow, but I really want to ditch [this]. I want to unburden myself from this. Have you ever experienced a time like that?
2. If anybody claims they have never once had any experience like this, they are either a person with very talented skills able to easily handle just about everything that's ever come their way, or they have not accurately come face to face with the tasks they are supposed to face. Did they leave what they were supposed to support for somebody else to carry? There may be others more capable for the job. Whenever you are willing to provide support for the given task and not run from reality, then sooner or later you will come face to face with your own limitations and inabilities.
3. Even pastors have times like that. I'm not fit for the job. It's more than I can do. I have moments when I feel that way. It's not just me. For example, we're told a man in the Bible named Timothy also felt the pain of his limitations similar to [what I've been describing].
4. Timothy was from Lystra in Asia Minor. His father was a Greek, his mother was a devout Jew. His mother and grandmother would soon become Christians. Then we're told he also would soon become a Christian, and he would build a good reputation among the brothers and the sisters in that region. Paul had come to discover Timothy while on his second missionary journey, and he let him accompany him on that mission trip. Thus, Timothy became a fellow laborer with Paul.
5. Before long, while pastoring the church at Ephesus, Timothy would be called upon to be a leader among the various churches in Asia Minor in the place of Paul. During that time, Paul was in prison. It was around the time when more than a decade had already passed since their first meeting. However, when we read this epistle, we see that Timothy's work had reached the lowest point of trial and hardship. He was plagued by the problem of heretical pastors, and harder still he was still young and inexperienced, and his body was weak, we are told. The scriptures even say this much, "From here on, don't just drink water, but for your bones, and for that sickness that frequently arises, make use of a little bit of wine," (5:23). It sounds like he was considerably impaired both physically and emotionally.
6. Yes, indeed, and when we read further from the second epistle, the text goes like this. "For this reason then, I exhort you that you do the business of re-igniting the gift of God, which has been given to you through my having laid hands on you," (Second Timothy 1:6). Where it says here, "the gift of God," it means his duty as pastor. When Paul laid hands on Timothy for his pastoral ordination, through the work of the Holy Spirit God had given him this task as fruit, as gift. However, Paul says, "Do the business of re-igniting it!" In other words, it means that his fire has been dying down. His condition [was] that his fire was going out. You could probably imagine to a certain extent Timothy's condition if you have ever felt the pain of your powerlessness and limits and thought, "I've had it. I'm more than ready to ditch this."
The Lord Makes Me Strong
7. Paul wrote a letter to Timothy [when he was feeling like that], in which he said to him, "I give thanks to our Lord Christ Jesus, who has strengthened me," (verse twelve). Timothy has so far been working as Paul's closest co-worker. As one might imagine, Timothy must have felt this way a number of times. I'll never be like that Paul. I am not as strong as he is. I think Paul probably felt it too. So, Paul says, "I give thanks to our Lord Christ Jesus, who has strengthened me." When I look at this strength I have, it is not a strength with which I was born. Christ has made me strong. Also, Paul calls Christ, "OUR Lord Christ Jesus." He is not just my Lord. He is your Lord as well, says Paul.
8. And so Paul began to declare what "Our Lord Jesus Christ" has done. He says that Christ "has considered me faithful and charged me with a task." But Paul [doesn't say that] because he had been serving Christ faithfully in some form up to that moment. Paul knew by experience after experience that he was not considered faithful because of the achievements he had. [Christ did not] charge him with a task after looking at Paul's past. It's probably better said, if I may, that he looked at his future, and "believing in Paul" he charged him with a task. Paul says about his own person that "Formerly, I was a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a wielder of violence," and that he would never forget that fact.
9. As you know, he was a persecutor of Christ and his church. When Stephen became the first martyr and died by stoning, Paul, still young at the time, was present at the execution with perhaps some position of responsibility for it. While patiently watching over the dying man as he was stoned and splattered with blood, he had no guilty conscience of any kind over consenting to that killing. Furthermore, when we look at The Acts Of The Apostles, what Paul had been doing is given as follows. "Saul barged into house after house and devastated the church, without asking man or woman any questions, he pulled them out and sent them to prison," (Acts 8:1-3).
10. But then Paul had an unintended encounter with the Christ. Or else at the least, he was forced to come face to face with himself. He found out that he who had put others on trial, directed his anger at others, and convicted them was himself a sinner worthy of being put on trial before God. However, the Christ whom Paul had encountered was not the Christ who found Paul guilty as a sinner. Instead rather, it was the Christ who had forgiven [Paul] and saved him. Paul did not discover the wrath of God, but discovered the mercy of the God who forgave and saved him. Therefore, he says, "The statement that 'Christ Jesus came into the world in order to save sinners' is faithful, and it is worth accepting as is. I am the worst of all sinners," (verse fifteen).
11. As the worst of sinners I have been forgiven, saved, have a share in eternal life, and furthermore, I have even been charged with the task of an apostle. As Paul, that would have been absolutely impossible [to do] by his own nature. Nothing except for the mercy of God [could] have brought what was impossible into reality. The Lord, who brought this kind of impossible thing to pass, this act of saving a sinner, the Lord, who acted with fantastically great mercy, is the very same Lord who charged Paul with [his] task. Therefore, there was nothing for Paul to worry about; because what had been impossible was already happening. By a seemingly impossible mercy, [the Lord] would grant [him the ability] to fulfill the task. This was Paul's conviction, and this was none other than Paul's "strength."
Harder Than A Camel Passing Through The Eye Of A Needle
12. Why did Paul speak this way to Timothy? It was, of course, because, just like Timothy [had experienced], [Paul] knew that what had seemed impossible was already happening, and that he had been under fantastically great mercy. We, too, must carefully consider this matter as [something that has also happened] to our own selves. "Christ Jesus has come into the world in order to save sinners." Therefore, both you and I are here in this place now. At a fundamental level, therefore, we would not think it strange if we were accused of the sins we've committed, then were convicted and were sentenced with destruction, but yet we are here now as forgiven, loved, having a part in eternal life, offering worship drawn near unto God, and able to praise God here in this place. Is it natural? No, it is not. This is by nature something that is impossible.
13. In today's reading of the gospel Jesus said the following. "Children!, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is still easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God," (Mark 10:24-25). [The text] has "the rich," and it means "a person who is wealthy." When Jesus said, "It is still easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a person who is wealthy to enter the kingdom of God," the disciples heard this and were astonished. They said, "So then, who will be saved?"
14. It is not illogical that the disciples had said this. I say that because the people in the text just before this were not just said to have just property, but were also righteous in having observed the law of Moses since toddlerhood. In other words, they were rich in good works. They were that kind of people. But, even still, they would not enter the kingdom of God, they would not be saved, says Jesus. He said, "It is still easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle" than for that. That is to say, it's likelihood was zero. The disciples could not help but say, "So then, who will be saved?" But, at that, Jesus said, "It is impossible for human beings, but for God it is possible; because God can do anything," (Mark 10:27).
15. That's right. "It is impossible for human beings." Being saved [by human strength] is truly an impossibility. If interrogated before the presence of God with "What's the matter?," you would only be put on trial and found guilty. You would only be destroyed. But, nevertheless, "God can do anything." According to God, a camel can go through the eye of a needle. Even more, God can do harder things than that. That's right. God can save even a person who has no good works to offer Him. Even more, far from even having no good deeds, he can save a person engulfed in giant debts of sin. That's right. God can do anything, and because God is the God who can do anything he has sent his only son into the world and put him on the cross as the atonement for the sins of every single person. He has opened the way for human beings to be saved. And here we are now thus in this place having a part in salvation.
16. In this way then, the God who has already done the seemingly impossible has charged us with a task. It is not just church attendance. Trusting in us, he has entrusted us with the world that we're looking at now. Therefore, though we might be powerless, even if we might tote around a weakness, we have no need to worry one bit. The God who can save sinners is able to strengthen us through Jesus Christ. In another epistle Paul spoke as follows. "Thanks to the One who has strengthened me, all things are possible for me," (Philippians 4:13). That's right. We're permitted to make that same statement like [Paul did]. "Thanks to the One who has strengthened me, all things are possible for me."