If you would take Your Bibles in hand and turn with Me to Matthew 19, we'll continue in our study of this gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. The passage that we looked at last week is directly relevant to the story of the rich young ruler that we will study today. You remember that as the children were brought to Christ, Jesus said that the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these. Now, that statement is made in each of the gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke, in the recounting of that story immediately prior to the story of the rich young ruler. Clearly, we see a contrast here between childlike faith and humility, and this rich young ruler who seems not to know himself very well in his quest for eternal life. That's very important, because there's a contrast here. Jesus is teaching in Matthew chapter 19 verses 13-15 that those of us who enter into the kingdom and remain in thekingdom have to recognize their need, and have to manifest a childlike trust and a childlike humility as being members of that kingdom. And here again He reminds us that no man is able to enter into the kingdom of Godwithout acknowledging his absolute poverty. And this is something that the rich young ruler had a problem with. So let's attend God's holy and inspired word, in Matthew chapter 19 beginning in verse 16.
And behold, one came to Him and said, 'Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?' And He said to him, '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.' He said to Him, 'Which ones?' And Jesus said, 'You shall not commit 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 things I have kept; what am I still lacking?' Jesus said to him, 'If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessionsand give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.' But when the young man heard this statement, he went away grieved; for he was one who owned much property. And Jesus said to His disciples, 'Truly I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.' And when the disciples heard this, they were very astonished and said, 'Then who can be saved?' And looking upon them Jesus said to them, 'With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.'
Thus ends this reading of God's holy, inerrant and inspired word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts. Let's pray again.
Our Father, we ask for spiritual illumination as we come to this great passage. There are so many truths stored up in it for us. We ask that You would do business with our souls as we bow the knee before the word, and before the Lord of the word, and ask that by the Spirit our eyes would be opened, and that we would be made willing hearers and doers of the word of truth. We ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.
This great passage is familiar to us all. We have, perhaps, heard it from the time we were in Sunday School. We've heard it preached on many times. But it has great truth stored up for us. You'll see four exchanges in this passage. Three exchanges between Jesus and this rich young man, that trade questions and answers and comments. And then after those three exchanges, you see a fourth exchange in the passage when the Lord Jesus comments to His disciples about this dialogue which He has just engaged in. And these truths here are just as much for us as they were for the disciples when Jesus first spoke them. And they're just as much for us as they were for this young man that Jesus spoke to while He was on his way to Jerusalem to die for our sins.
And I'd like you to look with Me at three or four things that we see very clearly in this passage. First of all, in verses 16 and 17, I want you to look at this young man who comes to the Lord Jesus Christ. And I want you to see that there is no more important question that we could ask, than questions about our eternal destiny. One thing we have to say for him, whatever else we can say about this rich young man, he was asking the right question. He was asking an important question. He was interested in eternal things, in spiritual things. Jesus is approached by this man, and we're told in Matthew and Mark and Luke, various things about him. We're told, first of all, that he was rich. In Matthew verse 22 you'll see that description made of him. Luke tells us that he was prominent. Perhaps he was a leader in his local synagogue, looked upon as a godly man, as a moral man, a spiritual man. He was certainly outwardly moral. He was ready to say in verse 20 of Matthew chapter 19 that he had kept all these things.
Now without going any further with that we can say that perhaps, at least, openly and outwardly he was ready to say, “Yes, I have not committed murder or adultery. I have not stolen. I have not born false witness. I do honor my parents, and I attempt to obey the command to love my neighbor as myself. I'm an outwardly moral person.” And that's more than certain people in Washington, DC, will be willing to say out loud these days. This is an outwardly moral man.
Furthermore, we're told in Mark chapter 10 verse 17 that he was eager. Do you notice that he ran to Jesus. He recognizes Jesus as someone who can give him the answer to this very important question. And he's eager.
Furthermore, in that same verse, we're told that he's reverent. He knelt down before the Lord Jesus as He approached him and asked Him this question, 'Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?' What a contrast between this man and the Pharisees and so many in the crowds who had been apathetic about Christ or malicious towards Him. Over and over in the gospel of Matthew we have seen people approach Jesus who only desired to mock Him. They had no respect or reverence for Him. But this man is not only spiritually interested, he comes with a reverent posture towards the Lord Jesus Christ. He has much to commend him. And the question he is pursuing is of the utmost importance. And it speaks well of his spiritual interests. He wants to know how to gain life. “How do I experience life, fellowship with God, here and hereafter. The life of God in the soul of man. I want to know how I get that?”
And Jesus' response to this young man, in the very first words He says to him, shows us both Jesus' deity and His ability to look into the hearts of men. I want you to look at verse 17 at what Jesus says when He responds to the young man. The young man says to Him, “What good thing must I do in order to obtain eternal life?” Jesus' first response is to say, “Why are you asking Me about what is good? There is only One who is good.” Now I want you to stop right there. And I want you to recognize what Jesus has done. In a few moments, this young man is going to claim to be good. When Jesus asks him to keep the commandments, this young man is going to say, “I've done that. I am a good person”. And I want you to notice what Jesus has already said to him before he ever says that. “No one is good except God.”
Do you realize what the Great Physician of our souls is doing here? He is diagnosing this man's spiritual condition before the conversation ever begins. And He is saying, “Your fundamental problem is that you think that you are good. You think that you are spiritually wealthy before the Lord. You do not recognize your own poverty. No one is good except God.” And then He says, “Now, keep the commandments.” The Lord Jesus in this passing comment before He ever gives an answer to the man's direct question is telling us that no one is good.
Notice that there are only two exchanges prior to this young man claiming to be good in verse 20, Jesus has already told him that only God is good. We men since Adam are fallen. We're wicked. Our hearts are crooked.We need redemption and salvation and forgiveness. And so Jesus is administering the spiritual anecdote that this man needs before the conversation proper even begins.
Now there are several things that we can learn from this, my friends. But the first thing is this. Are we thinking ourselves about eternal things? As we come to this place today to worship the Lord, to take of the Lord's Table, are our heart's on a thousand other things, all the responsibilities and all the busyness of life, or are our hearts set on eternal things? You know, one thing you can say about this man, is that at least he was about the right questions. Whatever else happens to this man in this passage and in the rest of his life, at least he was asking the right questions. Can we say that much about ourselves? Do we really care more anything else about eternal life. Or is eternal life very far down on our list of priorities.
I want you to also see that Jesus in this passage zeroes in on the question of the nature of goodness. The nature of holiness. What does it mean to be good? That is a very important question. Over and over Jesus has said it means more than to be outwardly moral. Because our actions are not only seen in the outward things that we do, the reality of the goodness of our actions is not only seen in the outward things that we do, but in our heart attitude and why we do them. Goodness begins in the heart. And it is implanted there only by God's grace. And so Jesus is zeroing in on the crucial issue here of what it means to be good.
And then in verses 18 and 19 we see the young man respond to the Lord Jesus. And we see his misunderstanding of goodness and his misunderstanding of the law. His immediate response to Jesus' words, “keep the commandments,” is, “Which ones?” Now that's a strange response for a man. But it belies the misunderstanding that he has about the nature of the law itself, and the nature of complete fidelity to the Lord. It's far short of Jesus' penetrating exposition of the law of God in Matthew chapter 5.
First of all, his statement, “Which ones?” indicates that he doesn't realize that in order to fellowship with God, a man has to be completely cleansed. In order to have eternal life a man has to be transformed from the inside out and to be perfect as his heavenly Father is perfect.
If a man is going to earn his way to salvation, then he's got earn it with perfection. A few of the commandments won't do. That's not because God is nitpicky, I want you to understand. It's not that we do 99.75% of the things right and that .25 percent hangs us up and God is a great ogre in the sky ready to pounce upon us when we make one small mistake. No! It is that those sins which still beset us, which no one else sees but that we struggle with, are an indicator; they are a clue to the state of our hearts.
All of us have different sins that vex us. All of us have pet sins. And they're different in each. Each of us have different temptations. Each of us have different inclinations. And those sins, those root sins, those grand sins which are the cause the source, the fountainhead of other sins, those sins give us a clue to the state of heart. We may look outwardly moral to everyone around us, but when we deal with ourselves in the quietness of our own room, and we look at our own hearts, and we know the things that we struggle with that maybe even those closest to us don't know about, we know in our heart of hearts we are not good. We know that we can not earn our way to salvation, because our hearts are in a state of rebellion. And Jesus is zeroing in on this man. He wants to get to his root sins. When Jesus says to him, “keep the commandments,” Jesus is not telling this young man salvation is by work- salvation is by earning it- salvation is by your good works- Jesus is using that statement as a spiritual diagnostic tool in order to force this man to look at his own heart and recognize that he hasn't kept the law.
But the young man doesn't understand. Jesus lists for him then here in verse 19 many commands from the second table of the law, and He does it a little bit out of order. He begins with the command not to commit murder. Then not to commit adultery. Then not to steal and to lie. And then He goes on back to the command to honor your father and your mother. He skips the 10th commandment about not coveting. He holds that one back, and just remember what Paul says about the relationship between the 10th commandment and the 1st commandment? Just hold that in the back of your mind for a moment. He skips that commandment, and then He gives a summarization of the second table of the law. He says, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Now why does Jesus do that? He does that because, again, He's zeroing in on this man's heart sin.
I wonder if the reason that He lists the 5th commandment last before He summarizes, I wonder if it's because this young man has a problem in that area of honoring his father and his mother with his wealth. You remember, Jesus has spoken before in the gospel of Matthew, to Pharisees who encouraged people to dedicate their material property to the Lord, in order that they did not have to take care of their elderly parents with that money, with that resource, with that property. And I wonder if this was one of this young man's sins, but I certainly know that Jesus' skipping over the 10th commandment, a commandment which this young man would have been very familiar with, was designed precisely to make him think about that commandment, and to ask the question of himself, “Do I have a covetous heart? Am I possessed by my possessions?” And so Jesus begins to expose the particular root sin in this young man's heart which was keeping him back from saving knowledge of God. All the other morality, all the other law keeping outwardly is a sham. Because this man is committing the sins of covetousness and idolatry. He is worshiping the possessions that he has. And the Lord Jesus Christ exposes that in verses 20 through 22.
There Jesus makes it clear that he expects nothing less than total lordship over His people. The rich young ruler responds to the Lord Jesus, “All these things I have kept; what am I still lacking?” I've done that already.What else do I need to do? He manifests a massive misdiagnosis of the state of his heart, of his moral state. He is blind to his spiritual poverty and need. He is respected. He is prominent. He is influential. He is wealthy. He is young. His life is before him. And that state of affluence has tricked him into thinking that he is spiritually affluent when, in fact, he is a beggar. And he says to the Lord Jesus Christ, “I've done that.”
Now, he should have already known from Jesus' opening words that he hadn't done that. And he should have already known from Jesus' consistent teaching throughout His ministry that no man can keep the commandments. Every man needs forgiveness of sins. And so Jesus exposes this besetting sin by commanding him to sell everything that he has.
Now I want you to understand, Jesus has no problem with wealth. Jesus is not saying here that the wealthy cannot be part of His kingdom. Abraham was a wealthy man. Zaccheus was a wealthy man. Joseph of Arimathea was a wealthy man. We could list many godly, wealthy men in the Bible. But Jesus is saying this, “Nothing, absolutely nothing, and especially not material possessions, can come between your heart and the one true God, and you still have saving relationship with the one true God.”
And so He takes this young man to the first commandment, and He says, “Sell everything that you have.” What is Jesus doing? He is saying to the young man, “What is the first commandment? You shall have no other gods before Me.” And He is saying, “Sir, what will it be? God or mammon. You have claimed to Me that you have kept all the commandments from Your youth. Let's just start, say, with the first commandment for an example. Sell everything that you have. Your God is standing before you. Your possessions are coming between Me and you. Sell everything that you have.”
And what does the young man do? He proves that he was a liar. He had not kept all the commandments from his youth. For the very first commandment showed him to be an idolater because of his covetousness. His possessions had come between him and living fellowship with God. All of us are different. All of us wrestle with different sin. All of us may not be rich. There may be some of us who are wrestling with wanting to be rich.Others of us may be poor as church mice, but proud as the highest heavens. Others of us may have problems with our tongues – or with lust – or with hatred or bitterness. But whatever our root sin is, if we will not relinquish it, we lose everything in our fellowship with God. If we hold something dearer than Him, we are blocking the way to fellowship with God almighty.
And possessions, in particular, present a tremendous challenge to us. There is no trial like affluence. Because it allows a person to be lulled into complacency and contentment with the lesser things and not to lay hold of the greater things. In the Church of England there is litany that reads like this, “In all our time of wealth, good Lord, deliver us.” That is a good prayer. For in the blessings that God heaps upon us, we all face the temptation of desiring the gift more than we desire the Giver. And Jesus is looking at this young man, and He is saying, “You so love what you have, that you've forgotten yYour love for God. And you love it more than you love your God.” And the young man went away sorrowing.
Then the Lord Jesus turns to His disciples immediately, and He teaches them two very important spiritual lessons. These men were going to be shepherds of souls, and He wanted them to learn very important things from this very, very tragic exchange which He's just had with the rich young man. He wants them to learn that the love of this world blinds us to spiritual wealth, but that God's grace is sovereign. In this passage, Jesus makes it clear to His disciples when He says “It's hard for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven,” that the love of the world and the love of money make us complacent towards heavenly riches, and even experiencing a state of prosperity, in material terms, can lead us towards complacency towards the Lord.
This would have been a jolt to Jesus' contemporaries and maybe even to the disciples. In their day they thought of wealth as a sign of God's divine blessing upon a man. And here was a man who was outwardly moral.He was respected. He was wealthy. He showed every sign of being God's child, and yet he goes away sorrowing, and the disciples say to Jesus, “Then who can be saved?” And Jesus says, “I'm glad you asked that question.Let Me tell you. It's impossible with men. You can't earn your salvation by the keeping of the commandments. You can't be good enough to be acceptable to God. You've got to throw yourself on the mercy of God and find the richness of His grace as the sole ground for your acceptance with God Almighty.”
Salvation is humanly impossible for all men, whether we're poor or rich. No matter how apparently moral or apparently divinely favored we may be. No matter how much money we have, no man can earn the favor of God. That is only received by God's grace.
But I want you to understand that the one thing that can block you from reaching out for the grace of God is fooling yourself into thinking that you are already rich. You see why Jesus speaks so frankly, so brutally here? This man has been lulled to sleep thinking that he has it all. And he has nothing, because he doesn't have God.
This is so applicable to us today, in a day and time where sociologists talk about us suffering from affluenza. Our very comfort has made us comfortable to live apart from God. The Lord’s Table tells us that our worldly comforts mean nothing. And that our worthiness is not the prime matter. His worthiness, the worthiness of the Lord Jesus Christ is the way into fellowship with God. And the blessings God gives us there are better than any of the trinkets we can experience here. Let us look to the Lord in prayer.
Our Lord, we ask that You would bless Your word to our hearts as we come to fellowship with you at the table of the Lord. We ask these things in Jesus' name. Amen.