Theme: Riches and Blessing
This week’s lesson teaches us how sacrifice brings blessing.
And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
Now we come to the rich young man (vv.16-22). Matthew, Mark, and Luke each tell us about him. All three say that he was rich. Matthew adds that he was young (v.20), and Luke says he was a ruler, presumably of one of the local synagogues (Luke 18:18). He is the first (maybe the only) example of a person coming to Jesus and not becoming saved.
What is striking is that Jesus does not seem to be trying to win him over in spite of the fact that he was apparently very earnest. In Today’s Gospel: Authentic or Synthetic? Walter Chantry notes how radically different Jesus’ approach was from what most evangelicals would do in like situations. The man was clean cut and earnest. He wanted to be saved. He even asked a good question: ““Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” (v.16). In that kind of encounter most of today’s evangelicals would give the inquirer a three or four-step presentation of the gospel, ask him to make a “personal commitment to Jesus Christ” and then send him away with assurance of salvation. Jesus did nothing of the sort. He challenged the young man in regard to his notions about God: “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good” (v.17). He reminded him of God’s written law: “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (vv.18-19). At the end he called for repentance and faith in himself: “go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” (v.21). That was the end of the interview. The young man was rich, and because he was unwilling to pay the cost of his possessions he went away sorrowful. He did not become Christ’s disciple.
Is that any way to win people to Christ?
Jesus thought so. Chantry points out that Jesus “demanded this turning from everything to himself as a condition of discipleship for everyone,” concluding that because it fails to articulate this cost, much of today’s church “isn’t preaching Jesus’ gospel!”1
What had Jesus done? He had confronted the man with the holiness of God and with the law’s demands. In listing the commandments, Jesus referred to the sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, and fifth commandments of Exodus 20 in that order, skipping over the tenth and coming directly to Leviticus 19:18 (“love your neighbor as yourself”) as a summary. It was a probing response, and when the young man replied in sincere self-righteousness, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” Jesus returned to the last of the Ten Commandments, the one he had skipped, knowing it was the man’s specific problem, and told him to sell his possessions. He was guilty of coveting his possessions, and because he was unwilling to sell them and give to the poor he obviously did not love his neighbor as himself.
Does this mean that anyone who wants to follow Jesus must become poor? Not necessarily. There are rich believers in the Bible. But it does mean two things. First, we have to recognize our sinfulness, know that we are condemned by God’s law rather than justified by it. And second, we have to repudiate anything that would keep us from following Jesus. For some that is money. For others it may be something else.
John A. Broadus writes correctly, “The test of this is different for different people. Some find it harder to renounce hopes of worldly honor and fame for Christ’s sake, than to renounce wealth; and for others the hard trial is to abandon certain gratifications of the various appetites or of taste. Abraham left his native country at God’s command, but became rich and famous. Moses gave up the distinction and refined pleasures of court life, and tried patiently to rule a debased and intractable people. Elisha left his property at the call of God through Elijah. Paul abandoned his ambitious hope of being a great rabbi. All should be willing even to die for Christ (16:24ff), though not many are actually required to do so.”2
The specifics may be different, but the demand is the same for all people. To be saved we must deny ourselves, take up our crosses daily and follow Christ.
1Walter J. Chantry, Today’s Gospel: Authentic or Synthetic? (London and Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1972), p. 55.
2John A. Broadus, Commentary on Matthew (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1990), p 407.
Of what is the rich, young ruler the first example?
How did Jesus respond to the young ruler’s question? What commandment did the young ruler not follow?
Knowing what is required of you to follow Christ, what things in your life hold you back?
Ask God for discernment as you testify to non-believers—that you may be winsome and that you can discuss what really holds them back from following Christ.
Read Walter Chantry’s book, Today’s Gospel: Authentic or Synthetic? to study Jesus’ approach in ministry.