A mid-week devotional from Central Presbyterian Church helping us to help prepare our hearts for the day ahead. If you would like to receive these in your inbox, please let us know. Find the complete archive here.
Wednesday, March 17, 2021
And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” 20 And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” 21 And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
When you have kids, it is pretty easy to tell when they want something from you. In an instant you go from being completely ignored to watching in amazement as they do everything you say and even give unprompted compliments. You might think that living in a house full of women that I would be battle-hardened against manipulative flattery and batty eyelashes, and for the most part you would be correct. But although I typically try to stand my ground, every so often, and much to the chagrin of my wife, I acquiesce to their not-so-innocent requests for a second dessert, extended bedtime, or any other number of special treats.
Like the father of three little girls, Jesus was well-acquainted with flattery. Everywhere He went people were constantly asking for blessings or miracles or other special favors. In our passage this morning, He was about to set out on a journey with the disciples when a man came racing up to Jesus and the twelve, desperate to catch up with them before they left.
We do not know much of anything about this man aside from the fact that he was relatively young (from Matthew 18), he knew and kept the commandments, he had great wealth, and he really wanted to talk to Jesus. Note that the man came running up to Jesus. This is remarkable because adults in the first century simply did not make a habit of running from place to place, just as today we rarely see a person without workout clothes running in public unless they are in an airport about to miss their flight. The only other instances of running we see in the New Testament are the demon possessed man running up to Jesus in the graveyard, the father running out to meet his returning prodigal son, a soldier at the crucifixion running to offer Jesus a drink, and the women, Peter, and John running to and from the empty tomb.
But run this man did, eager for an answer to the question weighing so heavily upon his soul: “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Now, before Jesus even addresses the question, He questions the way the man greeted Him. Jesus asks, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” Almost reflexively we want to argue that Jesus was calling the man’s motives into question, but I think Jesus’ question is also hitting at something deeper. Jesus is showing that He can not be truly good unless He is also truly God. Jesus did not scold or rebuke the young man, rather He revealed to him the full implication of his statement.
Now, we can look at the young man’s question in different ways. Perhaps this was his practice with every distinguished visiting rabbi, and it made him feel good when they publicly commended him for keeping the commandments, as he had been careful to do since he was a small boy. Or, maybe, just maybe he had heard about Jesus and was genuinely looking for the answer that would set his heart at rest and had eluded him for years.
Jesus’ initial response about keeping the commandments, and then listing a few of them, was quite expected. But what happened next shocked not only the young man, but everyone within earshot. Having affirmed that the man both knew and, at least outwardly, kept the commandments, Jesus identified one thing that was missing; the young man’s heart.
When Jesus, the Good Teacher, looked at the wealthy young man, he saw someone who lacked for nothing. He had wealth, he behaved ethically, he was respected in his community, he cared for his family, and he even sought wise counsel from others. He was self-sufficient in every way, which was exactly the problem. Jesus knew that the man’s worth and value, his safety and security, came from all of those other things, both internal and external, and not from God.
Mark tells us that as Jesus looked at the man, He loved him. He cared for him. Jesus knew that only if the man let go of everything else would he finally be able to grab hold of God. Jesus gave him the answer that he most needed to hear, but instead of responding with joy and delight, “he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.”
Every time I have considered this passage over the years, I bristle at the words of Jesus. My first instinct is to tell myself, and the others who are concerned about what Jesus said, is that Jesus’ command does not apply to us. Jesus wasn’t speaking to every believer, He wasn’t laying down another commandment on top of the law. Becoming a Christian, knowing Jesus, does not require us to take a vow of poverty. But in reality, the implications of Jesus’ words endure forever, and they apply just as much to us as they did to the rich young man so many years ago. Our knowledge can not save us. Our actions can not save us. Our wealth cannot save us. Our connections can not save us. Only Jesus can save us. Only by loving Him, with all of our hearts, will we inherit eternal life.
The secret of eternal life is not, are you willing to give it all away? The real questions is, am I willing to denounce all that I have, everything I have built my life upon, and trust Jesus with everything? Do I, like Paul the apostle, consider even my own acts of righteousness to be nothing more than refuse, garbage, compared to the abounding joy of knowing and loving Jesus? When we give Him our whole heart, we lack nothing.
Prayer for Today:
Lord Jesus, we confess that this is a difficult teaching. Like the young man we often come to you wanting the answers to our questions. We want you to tell us that everything will be okay as long as we make an effort. But the truth is that all of our efforts at self-sufficiency are incapable of rescuing us from the wretchedness of our sin. We are completely helpless on our own and we need You to not only pay the penalty for our sin, but to open our eyes and call us to Yourself. Work within us and empower us to trust in You alone. May our hearts never be at rest until they find their rest in You. We ask in Your precious name. Amen.