The Man Who Had Everything, Except . . .
I believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ. I believe it is God’s desire for all to come to know His way of salvation through the sacrificial death of Jesus, through the power of the resurrection, and through the ongoing ministry of the Holy Spirit, as we live lives of redemption under the grace of God. It follows then, that I must also believe in evangelism, the work of taking the initiative to share Jesus with others and then leaving the results to God.
Many times in my life, I have had opportunities to share the story of God’s love and rescue plan with people. Sometimes they have responded with faith, gratefully receiving the forgiveness of God, and sometimes they have declined, either politely or with angry disagreement. I think I have learned a few things along the way. Many people can be drawn to a church because people are lovely, services are helpful, the weekly activities are fun, etc. Then, when you take the opportunity to explain the meaning of the gospel, how it takes a turning from sin, not just a receiving of forgiveness and grace, a lot of people stumble. I have lost track of how many times I have shared the good news with someone, prayed with them to receive Jesus into their hearts, only to see them slowly fade away from Christian fellowship and things, because, I suppose, the demands of being a Christian are simply more than they are willingly to change towards. And whenever that has happened, I invariably end up wondering if there was something I might have changed in the way I presented the gospel. I often wrestle with how to overcome a common problem that I am often sharing my faith with someone who really does want to accept Jesus as Lord and Saviour, but on their terms. They want the forgiveness, they want the blessing and the reward of eternal life that is free of the bondage of sin, but they are not prepared to follow Jesus completely, even if that means their plans for life must adjust to God’s will for their life.
This insecurity about my ability to witness is something that resurfaced as I looked at our passage for this morning, the story about the rich young ruler. He was a successful up-and-coming young man, who seemed to have so much of his life all organised and on track. He had everything going for him, except for one thing — an assurance of eternal life. He wasn’t absolutely sure that he was in right relationship with God. Looking again at this passage of scripture, it has become clearer that Jesus’ approach to witnessing to this young man was completely different from how I have often handled my opportunities with modern day equivalents. I think the big question we should consider today, is how should we present the Good News of Jesus Christ? Do we sometimes make it too easy, especially for people who want life to go their way, and really aren’t willing to submit to God’s way? Does the issue of repentance, turning from our way and turning to God’s ways deserve a much more prominent place in our witnessing?
Jesus is ministering east of the Jordan, probably in Perea, when he is approached by the rich young ruler. Three Gospel accounts, Matthew, Mark and Luke include this story. Mark gives us a more detail about how the meeting took place: this young man came running up to Jesus and kneeled down before. He was obviously ardent, sincere and concerned. All three gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) tell us this man was rich. Matthew tells us he was young (), and Luke tells us he was a ruler. Here is a young man who has experienced great success in every area of his life, seemingly. He had riches, respect, position, plus he was religious and moral. Given all this, we might anticipate a great outcome from his meeting with Jesus. But there was something bothering this young man. He lacked assurance of eternal life. He wasn’t sure he would enter God’s kingdom. He had heard, obviously, about great teacher Jesus, and he concluded, correctly, that Jesus was an authoritative expert he needed to talk to if he was going to resolve his insecurities about his eternal destiny. So he finds the Lord and asks the vital question in verse 16: “Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?” A couple things to notice about that question. He regarded Jesus as a teacher, apparently *only* a teacher. Why is that a problem? Well, if you deeply want eternal life, but you don’t *understand* or *believe* who Jesus actually is, the only begotten Son of God, the God-man, then you are probably not going to be convinced that what Jesus we must believe and do to gain eternal life becomes negotiable.
The other thing is that he is expecting an answer that the things he has done —works— will someone earn him eternal life … “What good thing shall I do?” In other words, he expected the key to assurance of heaven was some good work. Which is another problem, from the perspective of the Bible.
Jesus answers in a very unexpected way, in verse 17, by answering with a question. When Jesus poses this question, as rabbis often did, he was teaching, stimulating thought toward a particular conclusion. Matthew records Jesus saying, “Why are you asking Me about what is good? There is only One who is good, but if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.”
Let’s focus on first part of Jesus’ answer. Why did He ask that question? I think because He wants the young man to come to an understanding of exactly who he’s talking to. Jesus says, “Only one is good.” and there is no doubt who He was referring to. Only God is good. So if this young man were asking him about what is good, he needed to realize He was talking to the only one who was, and is good, God Himself in the Flesh, Jesus Christ.
We gain our first point about how to present the Good News, and it’s not anything new. Let people know Jesus is both Lord and God. He’s not merely a good teacher, not merely a prophet. He is God. If someone you share this with does realise this, they’ve either got the wrong God, or they have no God at all, and as a result they simply have no assurance of salvation.
There’s another implication that Jesus wanted the young man to consider. If he is God, Then he is also Lord, or master and he calls the shots. If you come to Jesus, you come to God, and you must come for eternal life on His terms, not yours. God is not here to serve us, we are here to serve Him, and for that rich young ruler, it quickly became the crucial issue. As it must be the crux of any conversations we have with anybody we are hoping to lead to the Lord. We must help people understand that coming to Christ is submitting to and following Him, not asking Him to follow me and bless my plans.
There’s another implication when Jesus said, “only one is good.” Everyone, except God, is not good. Everybody else is sinful, and that is a problem if we seek eternal life and a right relationship with God. We have sinned, we are separated from God, and we are liable to judgment, rather than eternal life.
This was important in that young man’s understanding of how to have eternal life. He was hoping he could earn or deserve eternal life, but he sensed he was falling short. A second point is that we need to explain that God is good and we are not. express this it well: For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
We sin in that we fall short of God’s glory, God’s holy and perfect character. It’s not a matter of our comparing how we’re doing with other people. We might do well if it were, but it’s a matter of comparing ourselves to Jesus Christ, then none of us do very well. Its like trying to jump across the Thames at Henley, or swimming across the Pacific Ocean — impossible to by our own unaided efforts. Jesus has just been asked how to gain eternal life and He replies: “But if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.”
This is not the gospel, and it seems strange that Jesus even says this, for we know from the Bible is clear that Christ died for our sins and rose again and it’s through faith alone that we’re saved. So why is Jesus telling this young man it’s a matter of keeping the commandments, a matter of works!
We have to continue the story to discover the answer. The young man has a good question in verse 18: “Then He said to Him, which ones?” It’s a good question, because the laws of the Pharisees and the rabbis and the Talmud have by this time become mixed up with those found in God’s Word. As we’ve read, Jesus gave five examples from the Ten Commandments, the basic moral code of the Bible, and he concludes by reciting the Second Greatest Commandment, found in , “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.”
The young man said “**All these things I have kept; what am I still lacking?”** He thinks he has kept these all these commandments, yet he still has a gnawing sense of insecurity about his relationship with God and eternal life.
Jesus tells him what is wrong in verse 21: “If you wish to be complete”** (and the word complete can also be translated perfect), **go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven, and come, follow Me.” Jesus is answering the question about how to have eternal life, and He tells this young rich man he must sell all He has, give the proceeds to the poor, then follow Him.
Before you rush out to liquidate your assets, Jesus says it only to the rich young ruler. The thing keeping Him from a right relationship with God and eternal life is that he loves is his riches. He is religious and he’s moral, but he lives for his riches, which come before God and everyone else. Therein was his sin, the problem, the root of his insecurity. He wasn’t right with God, because his riches were his God. And as puts it, believers are to “Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry.” Whatever you love the most, serve most, seek out most, give to the most, worship the most and care about the most is your god. Your “god” can be your career, your bank account, the way you look, a particular position or degree, influence, power, or physical pleasure. Your “god” is whatever you allow to control you, allow to be the ultimate guide to decision-making, the place where your supreme loyalty lies.
Jesus was showing the young man how, specifically, he was not good enough for God. The sin that separated Him from God was His greed, His idolatry was the the things He possessed.
Jesus has both pointed out why this young man lacked assurance of salvation. He had the wrong Currency. Anything you put in place of God is an idol, and verse 22 tells us what happened then—one of the saddest descriptions in Scripture: “But when the young man heard this statement, he went away grieving; for he was one who owned much property. He wanted to have his cake, and eat it, but it doesn’t work that way with idolatry. When it comes to money, or whatever we love, we either hate one and love the other, or love one and despise the other. If it’s your possessions you love most, or anything else you put before God, you’ve made the wrong choice.
Jesus also told this young man in verse 21 that faith that saves is a faith that repents and follows Jesus. The Bible is clear, never contradictory, that it is faith, trust, belief, reliance upon Jesus, that saves us, because we have all sinned. The faith that saves is at repentant, it happens when we change our mind about devotion to sin, any kind of idolatry, and instead we begins to love, worship and follow the one true living God. The testimony Scripture is that it is repentant and obedient faith that God honors and blesses. That those who demonstrate repentant and obedient faith will be saved.
This explains verses like which says, “If any man is in Christ, He is a new creation. Old things are passed away, behold all things become new.” It explains why Romans 6 states that as true believers we must reckon ourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus, and why the Apostle Peter writes in : “Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about his calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble, for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you.” When you witness, tell people that the faith that saves is also a faith that repents, and then follows Jesus.
This very issue caused that rich young man to go away grieved, unwilling to repent and demonstrate obedient faith by selling all he had and giving to the poor, and following Jesus. When we do not tell people that genuine conversion to Christ must also see repentance and significant life change, we will enable people to believe they are Christian, born-again followers of Jesus, we enable them to live no differently from unbelievers, who remain conformed with to this would rather than being transformed into the likeness of God. Amen.