The other day I was surfing through you tube and came across a compilation of television commercials from the 1970’s. Some of them were pretty funny. Or at least the hairstyles were funny. But some of you that are from my generation may remember this one in particular. There were these business men on a plane, and one man leaned across the aisle in conversation with another man and said something to the effect, “Well, my broker is EF Hutton, and EF Hutton says…” And all the business men on the plane stop what they are doing and lean over to hear what EF Hutton has to say.
I’m sure that all of us can identify with that situation. We can all imagine a situation where we might have an opportunity to meet some great person and talk to them about something that is very important to you. If you are a golfer, for instance, and you could sit down and talk to Tiger Woods and ask him any question that you wanted to ask, what would you say? What would be the most important question you could ask him if you had the opportunity?
Well, there was a similar opportunity that happened in this account recorded here in the 18th chapter of Luke. Jesus is passing by, and a young man hears of it and he wants nothing more than to get a chance to ask Jesus an important question. In fact, I would suggest that it is the most important question that any man could ask. In the parallel account in Mark 10 it says that he came running up and knelt before Jesus. This guy was sincerely looking to find an answer to what is the greatest question that anyone could ask. So he comes running up and asks Jesus in Luke 18:18, ““Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”
Now that is the right question. And he seems to have the right attitude. He runs to Jesus. That shows a desperation to know the truth. Mark says he kneels before Jesus, showing reverence. And thirdly, he comes to the right source. He comes to Jesus. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” He is the right source for life’s greatest questions.
Not only did he ask the right question and come with the right attitude to the right source for truth, but this man is the right kind of candidate, isn’t he? I mean, this guy is a pastor’s dream. Matt. 19’s account says that the man was young and he was rich. Luke says that he was a ruler, probably a ruler of the synagogue. This guy was the perfect candidate for the kingdom of God, wasn’t he? He was the kind of guy that many modern churches have reinvented themselves to attract; he is what they call a seeker. People that are supposedly seeking God are the new frontier for the modern seeker friendly church. They have completely reformatted the church today in an attempt to reach this type of person. They have removed all the things that these people might find offensive. People that supposedly are interested in Jesus, or religion, but are turned off by traditionalism and are looking for a new type of church. Those kind of churches would love this guy. He was young. That seems to be a necessary component of anyone that seeks to be a worship leader, by the way. You have to be young, and it’s a real plus if you are a hipster.
Secondly, this guy was rich. That is a big benefit to the local church. Boy, if we could just get a few rich people in our congregation that would be something. Then we could really get our ministry going. And thirdly, he was a ruler of the synagogue. That meant that he already had a full working knowledge of the Bible, God, and all the praise songs. He was a prime candidate for Jesus. He was eager, he was seeking, he was asking the right questions, he was young, and he was rich. Couldn’t ask for a better candidate. I would expect Jesus would just sweep him right into the kingdom and give him a leadership position really quickly to make sure that He kept him. Don’t let that guy get away.
But let’s see how Jesus responds to this greatest of questions. Vs. 19, “And Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone.’” Wait a minute. That’s Jesus answer? He isn’t answering the question at all. Isn’t that more of a rebuke? Jesus doesn’t even answer the guy, but instead He rebukes him. He practically offends him. Why doesn’t Jesus tell this guy that He just needs to have a relationship with Him? Why doesn’t He say that he just needs to believe in Him? Why didn’t He lead him in the sinner’s prayer? You know, if I didn’t know better I would have to say that Jesus failed Evangelism 101. The modern church would have had him saved, baptized and on some kind of leadership committee in no time flat.
But, if you have noticed as we have been going through Luke, Jesus rarely answers a question directly. And in this case He answers it with another question. He uses the man’s question to prompt a question on His part, in order to lead the man to a right understanding.
So let’s look at Jesus’ question first. Jesus said, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone.” Now Jesus is teaching two things here. First of all, He is not denying His deity as some have suggested. But what Jesus is saying is if you are going to call Me good, then you have to realize that I am God incarnate. If I am not God incarnate, then I am not good. So He is forcing this religious man, who knows the scriptures, who knows the law, to recognize that either He is God in the flesh or He is not good. He cannot be good and not be God. So Jesus is using this question to affirm His deity. Jesus was either God in the flesh, or He was the greatest fraud to ever walk the planet and deserved to be executed.
Secondly, Jesus is teaching that no man is good. That’s what He says, “No one is good except God alone.” Paul says that very thing in Romans 3:10-12 “as it is written, “THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE; 11 THERE IS NONE WHO UNDERSTANDS, THERE IS NONE WHO SEEKS FOR GOD; 12 ALL HAVE TURNED ASIDE, TOGETHER THEY HAVE BECOME USELESS; THERE IS NONE WHO DOES GOOD, THERE IS NOT EVEN ONE.”
Now for us that are Christians, that should be a familiar principle. We may not think about it much, but I hope you have at least heard it a few times. But when you think about it, if you were to tell someone that they are not good, that sounds like a harsh statement, doesn’t it? Can you imagine if you met someone on the street and said to them, “You are plain no good.” That’s a very harsh statement by any standard of etiquette and especially in today’s climate of political correctness. For goodness sakes, don’t say it to a child either, you might stunt his development.
But that is exactly what Jesus is telling this guy. This man comes running up to Jesus, I think with all sincerity, but I also think with a great deal of pride in his own goodness. I think he really expects Jesus to make some kind of announcement like “never in all of Israel have I seen such great faith,” or something to that affect. He expects Jesus to affirm his goodness, to tell him don’t worry, you are going to be in the kingdom because the kingdom belongs to sincere people like you.
So the third thing that Jesus is teaching is that good is a relative term. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not preaching a gospel of relativity. But what I am saying is that good can only be defined as good as it relates to something that is not good. In other words, it needs some standard for goodness, some norm in order to determine goodness. Paul says in 2 Cor. 10:12 that when we judge by ourselves and compare ourselves among ourselves we reveal that we are without understanding. We like to grade ourselves on a curve. Compared to so and so we think we are good. But the standard the Lord uses for goodness is God’s righteousness.
And that brings us to the next statement by Christ. He brings this man’s attention to God’s standard of righteousness which is the law. Vs. 20 Jesus says, “You know the commandments, ‘DO NOT COMMIT ADULTERY, DO NOT MURDER, DO NOT STEAL, DO NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS, HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER.'”
Well, this is another major mistake on the part of Jesus. This guy comes wanting to know what he must do to have eternal life, and Jesus not only rebukes him, and then offends him, but now he turns him to the commandments. Is Jesus really telling this guy that the way to eternal life is by keeping the law? Matthew 19’s parallel story actually adds that Jesus says, “but if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” Now how are we to understand that statement?
Well the fact of the matter is that God’s law is eternal, because God is eternal. God is unchanged from the God of the OT. He is the same yesterday, today and forever. The law reveals sin on the one hand, while revealing righteousness on the other. The law is the standard of God’s righteousness. It is the standard of goodness. That is what Jesus is saying. But God gave the law, Paul said, not to provide a stepladder to heaven, that somehow if we can keep it would give us eternal life, but the law was given to us as a tutor, to show us our sinfulness, to lead us to Christ. If there is no sin, then there would need to be no Savior. Jesus said He came to seek and to save those that were lost. Those that are sinners, outside of the kingdom of God.
So in Matthew’s version, the ruler asks, “Which ones?” Which commandments? And Jesus responds with what is called the second table of the law. The Decalogue, or the ten commandments have been traditionally divided into two sections. The first half is man’s relationship to God, and the second half is man’s relationship to man. Jesus gives him the easier part first, the second half of the law.
And you can almost imagine that the young ruler breathes a sigh of relief. He says in vs. 21, “All these things I have kept from my youth.” Now up to this point we have noticed a lot of things this guy has done right; he has eagerness, he has reverence, he has the right attitude, he asks the right question. But now he gives the wrong answer. His answer reveals that he has a wrong understanding of the law.
Jesus knows this man’s heart. That really is the key to understanding this dialogue. You have to realize that Jesus knows this guys heart before he ever opens his mouth. And Jesus could have easily listed all the ways in which this guy had broken every commandment. After all, Jesus showed the extent of the law in the Sermon on the Mount. He said in Matthew 5 at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, “I have not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it.” He also said, that “if your righteousness does not surpass the righteousness of the Pharisees you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” So when Jesus explained the law in that message, He said that the extent of the law went so far as to say that if you hated your brother, you were guilty of murder. And if you looked at a woman to lust after her then you were guilty of adultery. Jesus knew full well that this man had a short sided view of the law.
But Mark’s version adds an interesting note in Mark 10:21, “Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him. He feels compassion for him because he knows the man is deceived. He doesn’t rebuke the man for a short sided view of the law. See, the Pharisees actually believed that they did keep the law. Even the apostle Paul, who was the chief of Pharisees, said in Phil. 3:6 that before he was converted, he considered himself in regards to the law blameless. The problem was that the Pharisees and the religious leaders of the synagogues had interpreted the law in such a way as to make it possible that they could maintain an external righteousness, but inwardly they were evil in their hearts. They had defined the law in the Talmud to provide limitations on the law, ways of getting around it so that externally they appeared righteous, but inwardly their hearts were evil. But they failed to understand that God cared about the heart, and God sees the heart.
So he not only gave the wrong answer, but he had a wrong view of God. And this is what Jesus is most concerned about. That is why he looked at him and loved him. He has compassion for him. Because this man is lost. You know, there is a modern view of God that we have in our churches today that is wrong. We think God is too little. There is a popular view today that God is only defined by love. That the love and compassion of God invalidates all the other attributes of the nature of God. And so God loves everyone just as they are. According to modern church theology you can come just as you are to God and He will accept you and love you just as you are. Therefore, this new age theology cancels out sin. There is no more sin, no need for repentance, because God just loves you the way you are.
Unfortunately, this wrong view of God is contrary to the God of the Bible. The God of the Bible is a God of justice and mercy. But before God’s mercy can be applied, first His justice has to be satisfied. Sin must be paid for. Sin is clearly defined in the law. And the Bible says that the wages of sin is death. 1John 1:8 says, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.” God loves you, but God will punish sinners. The only way to escape that punishment is by repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. Those that repent of their sins and trust in Jesus as their Lord and Savior, then 2 Cor. 5:21 says that God will place our sin upon Jesus and punish Him, and place the righteousness of Jesus on us and forgive us.
But that doesn’t happen unless we confess and repent of our sins. Repentance means to mourn for our sin, to renounce our sin, to turn from our sin. Now this young ruler doesn’t do that. When confronted with the law, he says, “I’m good.” I’ve done all that since I was little. And Jesus knows that the problem is that his view of God is too limited. He has too high a view of himself, and to low a view of God.
You know, some of my best times to contemplate on the nature of God is when I am surfing. I particularly like surfing early in the morning. I think it’s easier to have a small view of God when you are inside your house, reading a book or on your computer. But when you go outside and look at the wonder of nature; when you consider the vastness of the ocean, teeming with life – when you consider the waves that travel in wave trains thousands of miles sometimes to reach our shores, when you consider the moon’s effect on the tides, when you consider the warmth of the sun at just the perfect distance from Earth to warm us and not fry us, then you should start to get a glimpse of just how magnificent God is. The diameter of the Earth is 8000 miles from pole to pole. And yet consider the magnitude of the sun. Did you know that as enormous as the Earth is, it would take 1.3 million Earths to fill up the Sun? Isn’t that mind boggling? What kind of God makes the Sun? Just that one fact should teach us so much about God. Romans 1:20 “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.” And in Psalm 8:3 David says, “When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, The moon and the stars, which You have ordained; What is man that You take thought of him, And the son of man that You care for him?”
When we get that kind of perspective on the nature of God, then our proper response will be like that of Isaiah, in chapter 6:5 “Then I said, “Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I live among a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.” We would repent in sackcloth and ashes.
Yes, Jesus loved this young ruler. He was going to the cross for just such as these. If only they will repent and submit to His Lordship. So Jesus overlooks for the moment this man’s arrogance and ignorance, and points him to the first law. He says, “One thing you still lack; sell all that you possess and distribute it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” See the first law says ““You shall have no other gods before Me.” This young ruler was very rich. And while it is possible to be very rich and enter the kingdom of heaven, Jesus showed this young man that he had put his riches above God. He wanted his riches more than he wanted God. Jesus knew this, and He demonstrated it to this man in a very dramatic fashion.
Jesus said elsewhere that the greatest, foremost commandment was that you were to love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength and with all your might. That kind of love is the love that God requires. It’s not an emotional attachment. It’s not a feeling of love. It’s a commitment to surrender everything to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Like the hymn says, love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my heart, my all. There is no place for God in second place. God will not be second. He demands to be first place in our hearts.
I was talking to a young lady just the other day about her salvation. She had recently been converted out of a past of drug and alcohol abuse. And I asked her how she knew that she was saved. And she started trying to answer it as best she could. She was still new in her faith and she didn’t know quite how to phrase some things. But she eventually said, “I finally surrendered.” And I said, “That’s it. That’s the word I was waiting to hear. Surrendered.” Nothing else matters anymore. Everything is subjugated to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. I surrender everything. I surrender all. That’s salvation. There is no half way saved. It’s all or nothing.
So Jesus demanded that this guy prove that he had put no idol before God and sell everything. Give it all up to follow Jesus. And the Bible says that he went away sad for he was extremely rich. This man walked away from Jesus that day knowing that he was a sinner. It was sad that he walked away. That he wasn’t willing to give up everything to follow Christ and be saved. But I will tell you something. It was better to walk away knowing you were a sinner and rejecting salvation, than to continue to delude yourself into thinking that you were without sin. You cannot be saved until you realize that you are a sinner and are willing to repent of it. I’m afraid that most people that will find themselves surprised at being outside of the kingdom of God at the Lord’s return will not be the down and out sinners, but the ones who thought that they were good people, that thought they kept the Golden Rule. The religious. That never repented of their sins.
So Jesus watches him walk away and says in vs. 24, “How hard it is for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God! For 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.” Now this was a familiar proverb that Jesus quotes to the disciples to illustrate the difficulty of a rich person entering into heaven. We know that earlier Jesus had said that the gate was small, the gate was narrow that led to the kingdom of God and that few there would be that finds it. That is true for all men. But Jesus is using this proverb to emphasize that it was even more difficult for a rich man to enter.
I think riches is one of the primary difficulties that we have today in leading people into the kingdom of God. And that’s because of the affluence that even normal, average Americans have today. I’m sure that most of you may not think of yourself as rich, but by most of the world’s standards we are extremely wealthy. But I don’t think it necessarily takes a lot of money for it to become an idol. I think it just takes a desire for money. The Bible says that the love of money is the root of all evil. It’s not a lot of money that is the root of all evil. It’s the love of money. And I think a lot of us fall into that category. So Jesus says it’s extremely difficult for wealthy people to enter the kingdom of God because they value their money more than God.
But when the disciples heard that they were shocked. They asked in vs. 26 “Then who can be saved?” See, in Judaism, as it is in many evangelical churches today, there was this false theology that equated God’s blessings with riches. The Talmud actually stated that “Alms giving is more excellent than all offerings and is equal to the whole law and will deliver from the condemnation of hell and make one perfectly righteous.” That was what they were taught; that riches enabled you to give a lot of money to the synagogue, and that giving would erase yours sins and make you righteous. So no wonder the disciples were in shock. If rich people couldn’t buy their way into heaven, then who could enter?
So in vs. 27 Jesus said, “The things that are impossible with people are possible with God.” The point is this: salvation is impossible with men. It’s impossible to do anything to make yourself righteous. We can’t keep the law. We can’t even do righteous deeds that somehow will outweigh our bad deeds because Jesus said that our righteous deeds are done with wrong motives and so therefore not acceptable with God. The only way to have righteousness is to be supernaturally changed into a righteous person. And that is impossible for man to do. But thank God it’s not impossible with God. God is able to save. God is able to transform our hearts. He is able to grant us repentance and faith. He is able by His grace to transfer our sins upon Jesus and transfer His righteousness to us. God is able to save those that come to Him in faith and repentance for the forgiveness of their sins.
So the rich young ruler went away sorrowful, because he was unwilling to repent of his sins and surrender all to Christ. But the passage ends with a message of hope. The disciples front man is Peter. And Peter speaks up and says, “Behold, we have left our own homes and followed You.” Matthew 19 adds that Peter said, ““Behold, we have left everything and followed You; what then will there be for us?” Now Peter was correct, the disciples had left everything and followed him. They left their businesses, their families, their homes. They are exemplary of the kind of commitment that God requires of His disciples. Surrendering everything for the sake of the kingdom. So the question Peter asks is what hope is there for us that have surrendered everything to follow you?
And Jesus answers him in a way that confirms that there is a hope for those that leave everything. He doesn’t rebuke them, but He affirms that they indeed have left all to follow Him. He says in vs. 29, “Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times as much at this time and in the age to come, eternal life.” The great hope is backed up by a great promise; the promise of eternal life.
The key to understanding what Jesus is promising there is not by ascribing what we often consider “blessings” to what Jesus is saying. But the physical things that we sometimes have to give up here, will be more than made up by the spiritual blessings that come from following Christ. There will be a day when we enter into the eternal life where God makes all things new. Jesus isn’t promising 100’s of wives, or hundreds of children in the age to come, but many times those type of things in spiritual blessings. As Paul affirmed in 1Cor. 2:9, “but just as it is written,“THINGS WHICH EYE HAS NOT SEEN AND EAR HAS NOT HEARD, AND which HAVE NOT ENTERED THE HEART OF MAN, ALL THAT GOD HAS PREPARED FOR THOSE WHO LOVE HIM.”
Just as our finite minds cannot fathom a God that can make the sun and moon and stars, neither can our minds conceive of all that God has prepared for us in the new heaven and the new earth that will come down out of heaven in the age to come. But I can tell you one thing, it will be worth it all then. When I was a boy we used to sing a hymn called Worth it all, and the chorus went like this: It will be worth it all, when we see Jesus! Life’s trials will seem so small when we see Christ. One glimpse of his dear face, all sorrow will erase. So, bravely run the race till we see Christ.