by Graham Mol
I’m sure you’ve heard Jesus’ saying before:
“But many who are first will be last, and the last first,” (Mark 10:31)
I can tell you its a firm favourite among Christian kids when they lose a race. “Ya but in the Bible it says the first will be last and the last first… so I win!”
As with many well-known sayings from the Bible, it is well worth asking ourselves what does it really mean? So often we quote or recite these platitudes without truly understanding their full meaning. Therefore, let’s take a brief dip into Mark 10:17-31 to see what Jesus really means when He says that the last will be first and the last, first.
The passage where we find this saying from Jesus is one that deals with the Rich Young Man. This young man came running up to Jesus asking Him what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus brings up the commandments to which the man confidently claims that he has kept all of them from birth (which is to say the least, extremely unlikely!) Jesus, seeing right into the man’s heart, challenges him to renounce his worldly wealth and come follow Him. What an opportunity! To be included in the group of Jesus’ disciples. Yet the young man doesn’t quite see it that way. Unable to give up his substantial possessions he sadly turns away from Christ.
Jesus remarks on how difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God. This is not because they are rich, but rather because they struggle more with not trusting in their own possessions. When questioned by the disciples He does clarify that it is difficult, but not impossible with God working in a person’s heart. The disciples then state that they have given up everything to follow Christ. Jesus affirms that no one who has sacrificed their comforts and securities to serve the Lord will not be rewarded, both in this life and the life to come.
It is at this point that Jesus says: “But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” We can be clear that Jesus is not speaking of a simple role reversal of the rich and poor in the Kingdom of Heaven. Rather, what Jesus is homing in on is that those who placed themselves first. Those who chose that which would benefit them and advance their own selves, those who “store up things for themselves but are not rich toward God” (Luke 12:21), would ultimately find themselves coming in last.
But those who put others first, thinking of their needs above one’s own (Philippians 2:3), those who lay down their rights and privileges to serve the Lord and His people, those who are willing to lose their live’s for Christ’s sake, will instead in their humility find themselves lifted up. The last will indeed be first.
I do realise that this is a blog post and not a sermon (sorry!) but hear me out for this is something that is very relevant to our lives right now. For much of 2020 and it seems to be the same in 2021, many of us have been in a form of survival mode. And survival mode means “me first”. My needs take precedent over the others. “I need this!” Everywhere we look we see this kind of attitude being displayed as people try to navigate the pitfalls and dangers.
But we, children of God, followers of Christ, are called to live out our lives differently. We are called to think of others, to at times give up our preferences or desires, sometimes even our “needs” to serve our Lord, His Church and the lost. We can do that willingly because we know that every single thing we let go of, every sacrifice we make, is noted by God and He will reward us, both in this life but oh so much more in the life to come. We who graciously step back into last place will indeed find ourselves first after all.