There is no more important question in life than: “What must I do to be saved?” Many people say they don’t care. I don’t believe them. Even the most callous will say of a friend who died, “they are in a better place.” Says who? What is that better place? How do you know that is where you are going?
This morning we look at an important encounter between Jesus and a man who seemed to have everything yet he knew his soul was lacking something. Before we get to that account we have a brief encounter that involves, Jesus, the disciples, and some parents with their children.
When Jesus came to town parents wanted their children to meet this man of God. They may not have understood who Jesus was, but they knew He was someone special and had a power that changed the lives of people. So, they came and asked Jesus if He would bless their children (many people still do the same thing with the Pope today and politicians are always kissing babies). The disciples tried to keep the people back. They were trying to protect Jesus. They told the parents Jesus didn’t have time for little children . . . He was busy!
14 But Jesus said, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like these children.” 15 And he placed his hands on their heads and blessed them before he left.
We have looked at this concept of coming to Christ like a child before. Rick pointed out a couple of weeks ago that Jesus calls us to come unselfishly. We don’t come as competitors, but as fellow pilgrims, like young children playing together on a playground.
The Kingdom of God is not made of child-ISH people. It is to be made up of child-LIKE people. Childish people are selfish. They pout and throw tantrums when they don’t get what they want. They are not at all pleasant to be around.
The child-like person is trusting (they take mom and dad’s hand and start walking). They are enthusiastic. Children give big hugs and seem genuinely excited to see you. They love life. They are fascinated by things we generally overlook. They enjoy what they have (whether it is a new toy or the box it came in) and they don’t spend a lot of time (until they get older) complaining about what they don’t have.
The story continues when a prominent man came to meet Jesus.
The Question We All Want to Ask
16 Someone came to Jesus with this question: “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?”
17 “Why ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. But to answer your question—if you want to receive eternal life, keep the commandments.”
18 “Which ones?” the man asked.
And Jesus replied: “‘You must not murder. You must not commit adultery. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely. 19 Honor your father and mother. Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
20 “I’ve obeyed all these commandments,” the young man replied. “What else must I do?”
21 Jesus told him, “If you want to be perfect, go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
22 But when the young man heard this, he went away sad, for he had many possessions.
This man had it all. He was young, successful, and had lots of money. But there was still a nagging need in his life. It could be that he controlled lots of things in his life. The one thing he could not control was what happened to him after he died. And he wanted to change that.
He asked a question many people ask. Some ask it directly, “What does God want me to do so I can go to Heaven when I die?” Some ask indirectly in statements such as: “I hope I have done enough good things to get into Heaven.”
Jesus answers with an odd statement. “Why ask me about what is good?” Apparently the Greek emphasizes “Me”. Why ask ME about what is good?” Jesus is giving the man a clue. He is trying to help him see that it is not what you do as much as it is who you follow and trust? The key to eternal life was standing right before the man.
Jesus had to get the man to see his inability before he would ever turn to Christ as Savior. We must see that we cannot save ourselves before we will look for one who can save us. So, Jesus answers his question in keeping with his mindset: “Keep the Commandments.”
Do you find the man’s response odd? He says “which ones?” Do you know what I would have said if I was Jesus? “All of Them!!!” But Jesus doesn’t do this. He is trying to get the man to think.
Jesus answered with the horizontal part of the Ten Commandments (the last six commandments); the ones that deal with our relationship with each other. (He uses “love your neighbor as yourself” instead of the “Do not covet command”.)
I think the young man was a little excited. He believed he had kept all those commands. In fact, many people believe the same thing. They believe they are “good people.” They care about others. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus took these commands and told the people the commands were more extensive than they realized:
- If you even look at a woman lustfully you have cheated on your spouse
- If you feel hatred toward another you have murdered them in your head
- If you make any kind of a promise and don’t keep it . . . you are a liar.
- If you treat anyone with a lack of respect you are not loving your neighbor
Jesus knew the biggest barrier to this man coming into a relationship with the Father: it was his feeling of self-sufficiency. And so, Jesus goes Vertical with the commands. He told the man if he wanted to be perfect and honor God the only thing left was to sell everything he had and give it to the poor.
We find this shocking. If we are honest, we would likely be just like this guy. We might say, “But you are asking for more than I can give.” I’m sure, like us this man might have said, “you don’t know how hard I have worked for what I have” or “what would I do? How would I live?”
The issue is not money. Money is not evil. The LOVE of money is evil. Putting your trust in money is evil. If you go back to the first commandment: “you shall have no God’s before me” you realize where Jesus was going with this. The young, successful executive, had something else that was first in his life. He did not love God with all his heart, soul, mind and strength. There was something else that was driving him. . . it was his wealth; his drive for success. He may have trusted in . . .
- His ability to earn
- His bank account
- His negotiating ability
- His investment strategy
- His retirement savings (if they had such a thing)
He believed he was going to be OK in this life because he had the security of money. There are at least three problems with this. First, if you are trusting your resources or investments, you are not trusting God. Jesus said that in Matthew 6 . . . no one can serve two masters; you cannot serve God and the material world! You must make a choice!
Second, money cannot do anything about life beyond the grave. You can be comfortable in this life but you will leave all the money here when you die. You can invest wisely and be comfortable for retirement . . . but that “security” does not address the bigger issue of eternity.
Third, money and stuff is not as secure as we think. One major medical problem could wipe you out. The market could crash. You could be fired. You can be swindled. The real tragedy of the Great Depression and the stock market crash was the fact that so many people believed their lives were over because of the losses. Their lives weren’t over! They were just broke! God still promised to supply our need.
This man walked away. The thought of being this dependent on the Lord was unbearable.
The Disciples Dilemma
23 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “I tell you the truth, it is very hard for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. 24 I’ll say it again—it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!”
25 The disciples were astounded. “Then who in the world can be saved?” they asked.
26 Jesus looked at them intently and said, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God everything is possible.”
27 Then Peter said to him, “We’ve given up everything to follow you. What will we get?”
28 Jesus replied, “I assure you that when the world is made new and the Son of Man sits upon his glorious throne, you who have been my followers will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or property, for my sake, will receive a hundred times as much in return and will inherit eternal life. 30 But many who are the greatest now will be least important then, and those who seem least important now will be the greatest then.
You get a hint from these words that even the disciples believed people were prosperous because they were favored by God. It is a popular belief. God does prosper His people but it is not always in a material fashion. And . . . sometimes Satan will cause us to be blessed materially to draw us away from the Lord.
The disciples figured, “If the blessed people can’t get in . . . who can?” Jesus said “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. There is a lot of discussion over whether Jesus is talking about a sewing needle or a small gate some believe was in Jerusalem (most people find no evidence of said gate). But either way . . . We get the point! Jesus says it is almost impossible for a rich person to get into Heaven because they are so weighted down with stuff.
I remember James Dobson talking about building a swing set for his kids. He labored to put it all together and felt good about the hard day of work. He looked forward to seeing his kids enjoy playing. Then. . . he read the instructions on maintenance. It said that every month he needed to go out and tighten the nuts and bolts and oil the joints! He said he no longer owned a swing set . . . the swing set owned him!
The disciples heard the talk about giving up treasures and they piped up: “We’ve done that!” Jesus agreed that they. He told them that God had taken note of their faithfulness. He said, such sacrifice would not be overlooked but instead would be rewarded one-hundredfold.
This sounds like a mathematics formula. It is not. Jesus is not saying, “Give me a dollar and I will give you $100 in return.” People who expect God to do such things are not honoring God . . . they are using Him! They see God as a means to financial gain. That is to honor the material above your relationship with God.
What is Jesus saying? His point is that God will abundantly bless those who follow Him. What we “give up for the Lord” will be blessed with treasures of much greater value.
- A deeper joy in life
- A peace in your soul
- A profound sense of humility at being able to make a difference in the life of another.
- An assurance of eternal life that leads to no longer fearing death
- A deep awareness that you are loved more than you can know
The true blessings are things money cannot buy. They come from a right relationship with the Lord. The best way to defend against the idol of materialism is to be as generous as possible in every area of your life.
The values in the Kingdom of God are different than the values of the world. Jesus concluded this discussion with the disciples with a reminder:
But many who are the greatest now will be least important then, and those who seem least important now will be the greatest then.
We do not come into God’s Kingdom by paying a certain amount or doing certain things. We come by humbly bowing before the Lord and seeking Him for forgiveness and new life. We don’t trumpet our successes, instead we confess our sin. If God gave us what we deserved, we would be lost forever. It is not about how much you have done, how many years you have gone to church, how much you know about the Bible, or anything else. We become children of God by putting ALL our hope in Christ.
The people who seem to be the envy of the world today because of their great success (who incidentally are also the people who are all over the papers with their messed-up lives) will discover that no one in Heaven is impressed with their resume. Those looking for special treatment because of their status will be sorely disappointed.
A movie starring Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore is called Fever Pitch. It is a story about an avid Boston Red Sox fan. During the off season, he meets a girl (Barrymore) and he falls in love. They have a fantastic fall and winter. But things get weird when March comes around. It is time to divvy up the season tickets.
This man lived his life around the Red Sox. He planned his calendar around when the Sox are playing. He took vacations to where the Red Sox were playing on the road. He was such an avid fan that he risked losing the woman he loved.
At a critical point in the movie a young friend says to Fallon: “You love the Red Sox . . . but have they ever loved you back?”
This is the point Jesus wanted to get to with this successful man. This is what He wanted His disciples to see. And this is what He wants us to see.
Jesus makes several points: We are not saved by our actions but by the work of Christ. Please don’t walk away from here thinking the only way you can get to Heaven is to give away everything that you have. THAT IS NOT THE POINT! The point is that God wants us to be devoted to Him. He calls us to trust Him absolutely. It is not about how much stuff you have or don’t have. It is about how you relate to that stuff. The principle holds for your time, your resources, and your priorities. He wants YOU!
Convenient Christianity (giving God what we can spare) is not Christianity at all. We should ask ourselves some pointed questions:
- Why is it that people in areas of poverty are often far more faithful than we who have so much?
- What would you do if the Lord said, “Sell everything you have and let me provide for you?”
- What is the thing that motivates you more than anything else (job, achieving goals, children, family, paying bills, gaining “financial freedom”)?
- What is the thing you tend to worry about most in life? Whatever it is will give you a real clue about what you are depending on; it will show you where your idols reside.
- What do you think your life would look like if you put the Lord first in every aspect of your life? What would it look like you trusted God to provide for your needs? What steps can you take to move in this direction?
This successful rich man was not much different from us. We are blessed people. Even those of us who do not have much by the standards of our society would be considered wealthy by the rest of the world. The words of Jesus should arrest our attention: “It is hard for the rich to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” The reason for this is our hearts are led away by the stuff we have.
We must repent of our divided loyalty and confess once again that the Lord alone is our shelter, our hope, our life. We must come to realize the greatest treasure we have is our relationship with Christ. The inheritance we should want more than anything else to leave to our children and grandchildren is not a check, an heirloom or a plot of ground.
What we should want to leave is an example of faithfulness. Then and only then will we truly be rich.