When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved? Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.-Matthew 19:25-26
With God all things are possible. I hear this phrase repeated quite frequently, but what exactly is so profound about it? Even the God that atheists reject can do anything. God is God, after all.
I suppose a God who can do anything is pretty awesome considering that the God of the Bible is a personal and loving God who “works for the good of those who love him” (Rom. 8:28). Imagine that. God is my friend and will work on my behalf. This is true. The fact that God loves us combined with his ultimate sovereignty creates a deep sense of peace, a “peace that transcends all understanding” simply because we can’t imagine what it would be like to be omnipotent and perfectly loving. Yes, it is so great having almighty God on our side.
And so we start asking for things. We pray to God for improbable things to happen. We ask for stuff we know we probably cannot have, clinging to the hope that there is a chance God will provide. If one day God actually does, we take it as a confirmation of our faith and go on to love and serve the Lord with fervor, knowing that He can and did provide. Knowing that our personal God can do anything becomes so intoxicating, so reassuring. How will I be able to survive without a job? With God all things are possible. Will I be able to get into my dream school even with my grades? With God all things are possible. I’m in a generically difficult situation in which all seems hopeless, but (in a stirring preacher voice), with God all things are possible.
Clearly there is something off, but what? God is great. God promises to work for our good. He promises this peace. We feel this peace, it’s great. God has indeed worked in our lives in amazing ways. Faith is important. We ought to rely on God for our daily bread.
The problem arises when we start to decide what we need, what should be done, what should be considered amazing. Perhaps knowing that God can do anything becomes expecting that God will do anything, an expectation contingent upon what we think we need God to do. We limit our understanding of Matthew 19:26 to merely “God can do stuff.”
What happens if we don’t get what we want?
The greatest miracle ever is our salvation. “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” is the answer to the question “Who then can be saved?” It is not the answer to “Will I be able to get a pony for Christmas?” Matthew 19:16-30 is the about the rich young man asking Jesus what it takes to enter the kingdom of heaven. That man has wealth, youth, upstanding character. He’s a man who today we would probably consider successful and respectable by all measures. The “impossible” that Jesus says God can do is the giving up of all of that. The “impossible” is that man having the strength and incentive to to sell his possessions and follow Jesus.
The “impossible” here is a process of humbling, a process of recognizing the value in unseen heavenly things, to see just how great Jesus is. When God does the “impossible,” He draws us closer to him by allowing us to let go of things that we think are important. He gives us faith and convinces us to stop asking for ponies and start asking for Jesus. He fixes our eyes on what is eternal. He gives even the richest a reason to follow Christ. Jesus did all of this on the Cross, doing the “impossible” by bridging the infinite divide between us and God.
We don’t need to ask for more blessings, but rather strength and wisdom to find the things in our lives that prevent us from following Jesus more closely. If anything, being rich is a spiritually disadvantageous position. Heaven is worth so much more than a beach house, but the beach house is awfully distracting. Jesus encourages his disciples, who have given up everything to follow Him, “I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” Jesus also talks of other glories like receiving back a hundred times what has been left behind and having eternal life. That’s what we should be striving for. God doing the impossible is so much bigger than getting into a school or financial security or a nice car.
Here at Harvard, a center of concentrated worldly wealth of all sorts, I don’t want utilize all these resources to maximize my future success. I don’t even want say that I’m here to maximize my future success to glorify God, because that would almost put me in a position of deciding how to best glorify God. Instead of doing all I can for God, I should be giving up all I can for more of God. For me, it’s a subtle but significant change in attitude. I want to God to show that even in this place of wealth, He can do the impossible and graciously give a rich young man the strength to give up everything and follow Jesus.