One thing is Missing
Last student gathering we talked about what makes grace amazing. We learned that Paul, who was once a blasphemer and influenced the murder of Christians, could be saved. Jesus himself did such a radical work of love in his heart that he went on to become a leader in the church and wrote the majority of the New Testament.
No matter who you are, the story of Paul is inspiring. But your life may be so different that it is hard to relate. What if you grew up in church? What if you try your best to be a good person? What if your life seems blessed? How does Jesus feel about you?
This evening, we are going to witness the story of a man who was extremely blessed. The type of person you would admire. But shockingly, this is the only instance of a person leaving Jesus in a worse state then when they first came to him.
There are two simple truths that Jesus will teach us through this story. So simple in fact, that they may be difficult for you to believe. Here is the first…
There is one thing you cannot do.
There is one thing you cannot do.
17 As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up, knelt down before him, and asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
To a Jewish reader, there would be three things that would immediately shock you about this rich young leader’s actions. First, in the ancient middle east it was undignified for men to run. Second, kneeling down was a sign of deep respect. Perhaps he knew about Jesus. Thirdly, Jewish teachers did not allow the word, “good” to be applied to them. Was this man flattering Jesus or did he truly believe that Jesus was as good as God?
People tend to think that those who are not Christians all view Jesus negatively. This simply is not true. Here we have a man who isn’t following Jesus, run to be with him. Maybe this is how you grew up. You are comfortable thinking about Jesus. You find it natural to hear his word. You believe that he is good.
18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus asked him. “No one is good except God alone.
This first thing Jesus addresses is the man’s view of Christ. Does he actually believe that Jesus is as good as God? Next he will address the man’s question, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Whether you realize it or not, this is the question that everyone is asking. We all know that we will die. In fact, a question that is frequently searched on google is, “what happens after death?”The eternal life that the Bible promises is lasting purpose, eternal escape from pain, being fully known and fully loved.
Every self-help book is seeking to answer, “how can I have full life?”. Every gym membership is laboring to know, “how can I be accepted”?. Every instagram account is wondering, “how can I be loved, just as I am”?
We are all asking, “what must we do to have eternal life”?
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 He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these from my youth.”
In Jewish culture, a child would grow up memorizing the Torah. The first five books of the Bible. The core ethical statement was the Ten Commandments. At the age of 13, boys would be considered men and were held accountable for their knowledge. (Maybe we should apply the same principle today.)
Since the age of 13, this rich young leader cannot think of a moment when he dishonored his parents. He was rich, why did he need to steal or murder?
From an external perspective, it was possible, that he had been upstanding regarding all of these requirements.
A few years ago, a young child went viral for having a positive self-affirmation routine. One day he woke up on the wrong side of the bed. He was nervous about school. What if something bad happened? His mom comforted him the with the reminder that he is smart and capable. So on the way to school, the little boy repeatedly said, “I am smart, I am blessed, I can do anything!”
As this rich young ruler approached Jesus, this was his self affirmation. He was a leader. He was blessed with wealth. He had good character. He felt like he could do anything.
But this young man knew that something was missing and he couldn’t put his finger on it. He believed in God, but he was unsure if he had eternal life. He was a good person, but he lacked peace.
With one statement, Jesus is going to reveal the one thing this man cannot do.
21 Looking at him, Jesus loved him and said to him, “You lack one thing: Go, sell all you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” 22 But he was dismayed by this demand, and he went away grieving, because he had many possessions.
Though this man did not see his own need for Jesus, Jesus loved him. Jesus could have rebuked him for pride. But instead he loved him by asking him a question that exposed his greatest need.
As Jesus was quoting the ten commandments, he didn’t make it through all ten. Perhaps, the man interrupted. The young ruler did not need to hear the last, he already knows that he is flawless when it comes to keeping the rules. But Jesus, knew his heart.
Jesus then asks him about the tenth command. To not covet. This would include jealously and greed. Jesus is not saying, if you give to the poor you will have eternal life. He is lovingly showing, that because the young successful man does not want to give, he needs a new heart.
The one thing he cannot do is the one thing he is asking about. There is nothing he can do to be good enough to earn eternal life. There will always be a tenth command. He cannot change his own heart. He cannot save himself.
You may feel like you keep all of the law, but perfection will always be out of your reach. Jesus, out of love for us, uses the commands to expose our need for him.
Just outside of my office window, there is a massive spider that has a small web. Yesterday, the maintenance team was doing work outside of my office. When they pulled a truck in front of my window, the black interior of the truck revealed that the “small web” actually covered my entire 5 foot window. This is the blessing of God’s commands. They reveal how big the webbing of our brokenness has become.
As you read the stories about Jesus’ life, you will see that he responds to people in drastically different ways. To those who felt condemned by the law, like the woman caught in adultery, Jesus showed grace. But to those who felt confident because of the law, Jesus showed them that to truly keep the law, you would need a perfect heart. Listen to words from one of his first sermons…
Matthew 5:21-22 ““You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.”
Matthew 5:27-28 ““You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
Truly following Jesus is not about external conformity to rules. Truly following Jesus is about a heart motivated to obey because of love.
23 Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!”
24 The disciples were astonished at his words. Again Jesus said to them, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”
Think about this scene from the disciples perspective. Ancient Israelites associated financial wealth with God’s blessing. This man was a respected leader. He seemed to be humble enough to run and bow before Jesus. And in the end, the young man walked away and Jesus let him leave! What does that mean for the disciples? They weren’t blessed like this guy. They weren’t leaders like this guy. If the church kids aren’t getting it, then what about the bad crowd?
26 They were even more astonished, saying to one another, “Then who can be saved?”
27 Looking at them, Jesus said, “With man it is impossible,
The young ruler asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life.” Jesus’ answer, that is the only thing you cannot do. You cannot save yourself. Making yourself right with God is impossible. Dead people cannot make themselves come alive. Without Jesus, we are spiritually dead. Our hearts will remain forever cold, if they do not come in contact with the melting love of the Son of God.
Shockingly, the one thing that made this truth hard to believe was the young mans wealth. His greatest asset became his greatest liability. The same reality is true for all of us.
What is your greatest wealth? That has the most potential to keep your heart from seeing its need for Jesus.
Are you rich? It may keep you from seeing your spiritual poverty.
Are you popular? It may keeping you from seeing your separation from God.
Are you a good person? It may keep you from seeing your need for the only one who was truly good, Jesus.
99% of today’s passage is about one simple truth. We cannot save ourselves. Do you believe this truth? Are you ready to not only turn from sin, but also from trusting in your own goodness?
If you are, then there is one more truth that you must believe.
Though you cannot save yourself…
There is nothing God cannot do.
There is nothing God cannot do.
but not with God, because all things are possible with God.”
This statement is the key that unlocks the whole story. This is the answer to the young rulers question. This is the answer to the question of the disciples.
What must I do to be saved? You cannot do anything to be saved, other than freely receive what God has done!
Who can be saved? No one can save themselves, but anyone can be saved by Jesus!
There was a moment in my life when I was deeply plagued by the question, “what must I do to know that I have eternal life”. One day I went to a worship service and the worship leader shared about how God helped him overcome similar doubts that I was feeling. Later that day, I bumped into him on a sidewalk in town. I asked him what helped him to be set free? He responded, “I stopped focusing on what I could do to save myself, and began to focus on what Christ had done to save me.”
Is your view of Christianity defined by the word do or done? Are you trusting in what you do or what Jesus did?