In the gospels, Jesus meets a rich young man who asks what he must do to have eternal life. Jesus tells him to give all that he has away and the young man walks away saddened. After a discussion with His disciples, Jesus says this:
“But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.” – [Matthew 19:28]
What is at stake here? If the first are last, and the last are first, do we aim to be “last”? No, 1 Corinthians 9:24 says we should “run in such a way as to take the prize.” So what does it mean to be first, and last, and in this to be in the will of God? I believe the answer is in the attitude of our heart.
First, let us look a little closer at the story of the young rich man. He came to Jesus with a question, and Jesus’ answer challenged the attitude of his heart.
- The young man wanted to know what he could DO to receive eternal life
- The young man professed to keeping all the laws of Moses since his youth
- Jesus tells him to sell his possessions, give to the poor, store up treasures in heaven and follow Him
- The young man leaves saddened, since he had great wealth
- Jesus tells his disciples it is difficult for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven but with God, all things are possible
Now, working backwards, we can see this:
- God has power and authority over all things
- If we are to enter God’s kingdom, we must surrender to Him
- Entering the kingdom of God is not about doing or about laws, but about surrendering ourselves to follow Jesus
God is both the First and the Last. He is before us and behind us. He was before the world began, and He remains, eternal. He knows us better than we know ourselves. God can take the things we see as unworthy and make them worthy. He stands against the proud, but lifts up the humble.
Being LAST, means we allow God to make us FIRST, rather than trying to procure it on our own strength. We can never make ourselves worthy enough through works because in God’s holiness, even all our righteousness is as filthy rags [Isaiah 64:6]. Instead, we come to God and allow Him to clothe us with His glory, with His holiness, and with His worth. It is God who has made us worthy, who tells us we are beloved in His sight, and heirs in His kingdom. He gives us our identity, He gives us our purpose, and He gives us our reward.
The following verses show us how God works with humility, and how God sees honour in His kingdom.
[Matthew 23:11-12] – “But he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
[Proverbs 29:23] – “A man’s pride will bring him low, but the humble in spirit will retain honour.”
[James 4:6] – “But He gives more grace. Therefore He says: “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.””
The first become last, and the last become first. The servant is greatest and the humble are exalted. Sometimes, God uses what we see as weakness and transforms it with His strength. Sometimes He takes what we see as ugly, and transforms it with His beauty. When we know the God who goes before and behind us, we are assured in Him. With faith, we trust God and allow Him to lead us. We give Him authority to speak to us about life decisions, career, ministry opportunities and all manner of other things. I would rather be first in the eyes in God, than in the eyes of this world.
I know I have so often given to God things I think would be better valued in His kingdom, only to have Him show me what He really desires – those things I sometimes overlook. He wants my rawness, my weakness, my doubts and insecurities. It is in them that God shows me His glory because it is in them that I am relinquished. As Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 12:9,
“And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”