In Matthew 19, verses 16 and following, we find the story about a rich young man who came to Jesus. And as we have looked at some of these encounters that Jesus had with various people, so far as we can tell every one of these individuals experienced spiritual changes for the better.
We saw this in the story of the centurion who came to Jesus because he wanted his servant to be healed. He had great faith in Christ, and Jesus remarked upon it. His comment was “I haven’t seen such great faith in all Israel.” Now when he speaks in that way we’re to understand, I am sure, that here is a man who understood his need and who came to Jesus in strong faith and was blessed by God in what he did, and therefore although Jesus had not yet gone to the cross and died he was one who was saved and in full time he undoubtedly came to believe in Christ.
I think of the two demon possessed men. In Matthew’s account the emphasis is upon the casting out of the evil spirits and that being a demonstration of Jesus’ authority over the devils and over Satan himself. The men were healed because of the grace of Jesus Christ. And we learn from Mark’s and Luke’s accounts, who focus on only the one man, that he’s to tell others what Jesus has done for him.
We see such spiritual change even clearer in the case of the paralyzed man. His friends brought him to Jesus because he was in need of healing. It was perfectly obvious that this man needed to regain his ability to walk. Instead of that Jesus said to him, “Your sins are forgiven you.” That provoked a great deal of consternation on the part of the scribes and Pharisees that were looking on because they said, rightly of course, “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” The point, of course, is that Jesus was God. He had the right to forgive sins. And he demonstrated the fact that he did have the right to forgive sins and proved it by healing the paralytic.
And then there was Matthew. Jesus commented on his conversion by saying, “I came not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” Well, certainly he was talking about salvation there. And Matthew certainly was saved. He became one of the disciples and he followed Jesus, and he ended up writing the Gospel that bears his name.
Next we looked at Peter. The Father had given Peter this great insight into who Jesus Christ was and who was blessed by Jesus. Peter came to understand that Jesus was God come in human flesh for the purpose of dying for sinners and establishing his church to be a witness to the saving grace that can only be found in him. Peter had come to know Jesus in this way and had come to trust him.
Yet when we come to Matthew 19, for the very first time we find the example of a man who met Jesus but who nevertheless went away sad. That is, he left Jesus. He went away because he had great riches and he did not want to part with them in order to be Jesus’ disciple. That is something that should just strike us to the core, because we live in an age which thrives on its materialism. We tend to think that we’re not particularly materialistic or concerned with wealth, because we compare ourselves with those who are more concerned with wealth than we are. And yet in different ways we are all caught up in this great vice. President Calvin Coolidge said on one occasion, “The business of America is business,” that is, making money. And that is certainly the way our culture operates. Aren’t we to be warned by this? Jesus said that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. We above all people should examine ourselves to see whether we are really following Jesus Christ or, as was the case with the young man, we love our riches more than him.