“And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?17 And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.18 He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness,19 Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.20 The young man saith unto him, All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet?21 Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.22 But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.23 Then said Jesus unto his disciples, Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven.24 And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.25 When his disciples heard it, they were exceedingly amazed, saying, Who then can be saved?26 But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.” (Matt. 19:16-26)
As Jesus and His disciples were traveling on an open road through Peraea, a man came up to the Master with a burning question. He eagerly desired an answer. It was a very important question. It is life’s greatest question, having to do with salvation. The person who approached Jesus had many things going for him. He was rich, young, prominent, clean, insightful, and reverent.
Because this person was rich, he was able to accumulate great possessions. No doubt he had the very best of things of his society, to include clothes, jewelry, a nice home, servants, and stately means of transportation. Little did this person realize, that while he thought he had great possessions, all of his possessions “really had him”. I read of a story recently about a Quaker watching his neighbor move all of his belongings into his new home. There was so much being pulled out of the large truck. In a kind way, the Quaker made an offer to his new neighbor. “Friend, he said, If you ever want to enjoy life without so much, I can help you.”
The Quakers believe in living a simple life. Many a person has been thrilled at acquiring a new possession, until the bills are due, or the item breaks, and there is no way to make reasonable repairs. Then the thrill is gone, and a burden is felt.
The greatest danger to possessions is spiritual. While prosperity can be a sign of God’s blessings, without proper detachment, the things we cling to in time, can destroy the soul in eternity. The Christian’s example is that of Job and Jesus.
Job said, “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord”. Job meant it, for the time came when God took away everything he had. As Job gave up his possessions, so did Jesus. The Lord did not allow the riches and glory of heaven to keep Him from coming to earth. The Bible says, that He “made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Himself the form
of a servant, and was made in the likeness of man.” “And being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the Cross” (Phil. 2:6-8). The day will come when all the possessions will be left behind. But where will the soul go?
As it is nice to have great possessions, it can be fun to have them in the vigor of youth. Sometimes older people finally receive the rewards of a lifetime of labor, but they are not able to enjoy what they have earned. Sickness stalks the body. Death suddenly overtakes the heart. The dreams of retirement, and travel, disappear into the eternal darkness.
The person who approached Jesus had none of these worries. He was rich, and he was young. He was also prominent (Luke 18:18). Social status had come to him early in life. He was one of the officials in charge of the local synagogue (cf. Matt. 9:18), for others saw in him great leadership qualities. He was a man with a high reputation.
By all accounts, this Rich Young Ruler was worthy of the accolades. It was his testimony that he was clean. His outward behavior was above reproach. He kept the Law. He had never murdered anyone.
He had never committed adultery. He was not a thief. He did not bear false witness against his neighbors. He honored his father and his mother. And he was thoughtful and considerate of others. The young man was not being boastful when he said, “All these things have I kept from my youth up”.
Indeed he was insightful, because he realized, that despite these moral attributes, there was something still lacking in his heart. The Rich Young Ruler was not like the Pharisees, who would have been more than satisfied with such self-righteousness. There was something in the mind of the young man that would not let him rest.
Despite moral conformity to the laws of God, despite social status, despite great personal wealth, despite a good relationship with his parents, something was still haunting the Rich Young Ruler. He believed that if he died, he would not go to heaven. He knew that he was not saved. He did not believe he had eternal life, and he was correct.
It takes personal insight, and intellectual honesty to make such a correct self-analysis. Most people deceive themselves when it comes to salvation. The deception comes when people believe they are going to heaven. But when asked what is the basis of hope, many will respond that they are not bad, and they have more good works, than bad deeds. Therefore, the basis of salvation is a good life. The story of the Rich Young Ruler removes good works as the basis of salvation, for he was more moral than most, and yet he was not saved by his own confession. Perhaps he sensed that by the works of the Law no man shall be justified in the sight of God.
What the Rich Young Ruler did not know, is the basis for being justified in the sight of God. If his good life would not merit eternal life, what did he need to do? Jesus told him. The Young Ruler had to discover the Lordship of Christ. The Rich Young Ruler had found the incarnate Christ. As a soul in search of salvation, he had the Saviour of the world in his hands. But he did not know the Saviour as Lord, despite the great respect he was willing to display. On bended knees, and with great reverence, the young ruler showed Jesus respect, by calling Him “Good Master,” or “Good Teacher.”
What the Young Ruler did not do, was to call Jesus “LORD.” In this, he is not alone. Many people will call Jesus a good teacher, or a good man. But the heart that will be saved, must call Him Lord.
When Jesus is the Lord of one’s life, it means that there is a total submission to His will. To receive Jesus, means to recognize His dominion, as Paul did on the Damascus Road. The Lordship of Christ involves an inner desire to be like Christ. As His life is studied, and His example is followed, the heart will be changed, as John, the Son of Thunder was changed.
The Lordship of Christ involves a conscious submission of life’s decisions for His approval. In the act of prayer, the Lord is asked what He desires. The Lordship of Christ means that the Bible is studied, and searched on a daily basis, as the Bearans did. The Lordship of Christ, means that every known sin will be confessed, as holy habits are cultivated. The Rich Young Ruler wanted to know what he had to do to have eternal life. Part of the answer, is that Jesus must be called “Lord.”
In addition to calling Jesus LORD, the young man had to repent of his sins, but only because he understood he was a sinner. It is one thing to realize that the heart has not yet found eternal life. It is quite another to see sin in self, and forsake it. As far as he had confessed his goodness, the young man was good. As far as he had kept the Law, he was right. But in addition to the letter of the Law, there is the spirit of the Law, and it was the spirit of the Law the Rich Young Ruler had broken, but did not know it. That is why Jesus said unto him, “If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell
that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me”.
The Young Ruler was not perfect after all, for he was a covetous man. Now what would he do with his sin? Would he confess, and forsake it? The Bible says, “But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possession”.
By going away, the young ruler was walking away from the love of God, for the Bible tells us in
Mark 10:21, that Jesus loved him. By going away, the young ruler was walking away from eternal life, which is the most important possession of all. Jesus asked, “What shall it profit a man if he should gain the whole world and yet lose his soul?” It is far better to have eternal life, than to have all the possession of this world.
But what is eternal life? Does it just mean to live forever in heaven? That is partly true, but eternal life is defined in a specific way in the Bible, in John 17:3 we read, “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent”.
Eternal life does not focus on duration of time, but upon a relationship between man and God. The truth of the matter, is that the rich young ruler had a relationship with everything, and everyone, but God. He had a good relationship with his parents, for he gave them respect. He had a good relationship with religion, for he kept the Law. He had a good relationship with people, for he was rich, and socially conscience. But he had no relationship with the Living God. He wanted to know what to do? He could do three things. He could find Jesus. He could repent. He could follow Christ.
The tragedy is that he got up from his knees before the Lord, and he walked away. He left in sorrow, for he was not willing to do what Jesus said had to be done. In this, the Rich Young Ruler was just one of a long list of people who turned from the Lord, once they discovered the high and holy demands of what it means to be a Christian. To be a Christian means three things.
First, to be a Christian, means that Jesus is found as Lord. Jesus can be found at Calvary. No one is able to come to the Father except through the Son. And no one is able to come to the Son except by way of the Cross. The way of the cross leads home.
Second, to be a Christian, sin must be repented of as the essence of sin is seen. The essence of sin is not the legal outward form, but the inner spiritual disposition. When Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit, they broke not only the legal letter of the prohibition, but they violated the
spiritual aspect of God’s command. God wanted Adam and Eve to obey because they loved Him, and because He was worthy of obedience. But they rebelled in their heart.
Then third, to be a Christian, Jesus must be followed. One great little chorus says,
“I have decided
To follow Jesus.
I have decided
To follow Jesus.
I have decided
To follow Jesus.
No turning back,
No turning back”.
By the grace of God, we can do these three things. We can realize the LORDSHIP of JESUS, repent of sin, and return to a lifestyle of following Christ. In as far as we do these things, we will not walk away from eternal life.