By Melissa McLaughlin
What do you get for the person who has everything? This is one of the big questions and sales gimmicks shoppers face during the holiday season. Each year it seems production and marketing companies get more and more creative in answering this call. Chia pets in every size and shape, elaborate electronic gadgets, seemingly unsolvable puzzles and early morning door busters abound.
Though we laugh about this gift-buying dilemma, it certainly reveals something about our culture. Despite the appearance of widespread wealth, most of us have known hard times, including financial hard times. Times when we weren’t sure how we would make it to the next paycheck. Times when we learned to survive on what was already in the pantry or the spare change in our pocket. Still when we count our blessings, they outnumber our sorrows and needs every time.
Let’s pause for a moment and consider someone who thought he had everything, the rich young ruler who met Jesus one day. As this story is told in Luke 18, we see that this young man possessed not only wealth, but also power, for he was a known ruler in the community.
In the account recorded in Mark 10:17-30 we read, As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’”
“Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”
Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.
Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”
The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?”
Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”
Then Peter spoke up, “We have left everything to follow you!”
“Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”
This is a startling encounter with Jesus for many reasons. Unlike many other leaders, this prominent young man comes asking a question, not to trick Jesus or attempt to make a fool of Him. In fact, the man humbles himself by running to Jesus and sinking to his knees before Him. What a demonstration of respect and humility despite his wealth and position. While there on his knees, this man looks up and asks a sincere question. Clearly, he loves God and made it his life’s passion to follow His commands closely. Yet, with all he owns and all he has done, still something is missing or why else seek Jesus in such a desperate manner?
Jesus’ response leaves us breathless.
To begin Jesus addresses the matter of God’s goodness. He makes plain that only God is good. Most assuredly, as He verbalizes these words, Jesus is fully aware that truly He is God as noted in John 14:10-11. So, in asking the question, “Why do you call me good?” Jesus invites the young man to pause and consider who it is he is actually addressing. By probing the man with this question, perhaps for one moment, the man may pause, wonder and realize that indeed Jesus is good AND Jesus is God. By gaining an understanding of the magnitude of Jesus’ identity, presence, position and power, maybe, just maybe the man’s heart and mind might be persuaded.
Following this searing question, it is especially poignant to note that Jesus stops, looks at him and loves him. As Jesus peers into his eyes and his heart, He perceives that the young man sincerely loves the Lord. Out of Jesus’ deep abiding love for him, He cannot turn a blind eye to the path the young man is on, a path though outwardly pure in his own mind is inwardly in rebellion against God.
Piercing truth and unfailing love. These are Jesus’ trademarks. This encounter is no exception.
Jesus continues the conversation by quoting from the 10 Commandments, found in Exodus 20. Stop here! Don’t miss this small but critical point!
Jesus skips over the first four commands that are direct commands to love God above all. He quotes only the remaining six commands that address how we relate to others as we follow God’s righteous laws for living.
Given the man’s deft knowledge of God’s commands and his apparent lifelong effort to follow them, it is quite likely that he noted this fact, as well. Surely the man knew the first four commands, most especially the first command, “You shall have no other gods before me.”
The man quickly declares that he has kept all six of God’s laws regarding how you treat other people. Interestingly, Jesus does not question or press the man’s view of himself in this regard. Surely, Jesus knew all things about this man, just as we, too, are fully known by Him. Therefore, Jesus cuts to the heart of it all.
Jesus lets the truth drop like a bomb with his next statement, “One thing you lack…”
1.Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven.
2.Then come, follow me.
The story takes such a turn here. This man is invited to walk with Jesus as his beloved follower and student. To spend time daily with His Creator and Lord, Savior and King. To enjoy even now abundance that will last for eternity. To begin a life accumulating heavenly treasure. Tragically, the man turns down these most stunning of all riches.
His self-made righteousness will ultimately not be enough. All of his efforts will never obtain for him the eternal life he seeks. Additionally, though the man is committed enough to honor God with some of his life choices, he does not love God above all. This deep realization is a blow to the man’s view of his life, his efforts and himself. After dashing toward Jesus and lowering himself to his knees before Him, the man now gets up and slowly, dejectedly walks away. What a change has occurred in this sad scene. The man does not change his heart, but changes his direction, not toward Jesus but away from Him. The rich young man departs from the closeness of Jesus to return to the earthly ties that bind him. In that moment, he could have had riches and spiritual freedom lasting for all eternity but he chose that which holds us back from God and simultaneously slips through our fingers even as we try to clutch it. A most bitter and dismal choice. An eternally grim outcome.
Though this story highlights the trappings of wealth as one type of spiritual hindrance, it concludes with a focus on the first commandment, “You shall have no other gods before me.” This is made evident as Jesus ends this passage of scripture by talking about leaving that which separates us from God.
It may be easy to look at the rich young ruler and assume this could never apply to us. We are not that rich. We are not that powerful. We are not that connected. However, we would do well to consider this type of “glossing over” with great caution.
Let us not overlook Jesus’ deeper message. The message is not only about money.
Jesus’ message is…Do you take pride in your own efforts before God or do you accept Jesus as your only hope of salvation?
Jesus’ message is…What do you love more?
Do you love God more or your relationships and social circles here on earth?
Do you love God more or the comforts of your home and material wealth?
Do you love God more or the security of your position and place in life?
Do you love God more or the opinions and thoughts of others?
Do you love God more or do you cling to your past?
Do you love God more?
When we put anything before God or between ourselves and God, it becomes an idol. We have made “it” into a god that we elevate and love more than Almighty God. God does not allow Himself to be second in our lives. God requires first place, because that is His rightful place as our Creator, Savior, Provider and Sustainer both now and for all eternity.
This is the uncomfortable truth that Jesus is getting at here. Though He sees us, though He knows us, though He loves us, Jesus asks us to lay down this earthly life to follow Him.
Jesus would not let his rich position in heaven keep Him from coming to rescue us, so He emptied Himself and took the form of a servant.
2 Corinthians 8:9 – For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.
Only Jesus can obtain eternal life for us. Then he invites us to live for Him. After all Jesus has done, are we still unwilling to give what little we have as thanks for Jesus saving our very souls?
There was only one thing standing between the young man and God. The young man had done everything well except parting with his possessions. That was the one thing he lacked. His self-effort and ties to this earth were standing between him and God. Jesus invited him to release them.
Maybe we consider ourselves to have done many things well. Maybe our sins are small in our own eyes. Though if we are honest with ourselves we all stand knee-deep in sins. However, this story is not about how many or few sins we have committed. It is not about how heinous or slight are our sins. This story reminds us that Jesus provides our only atonement for sins and out of gratitude, our lives should be lived to honor the God who made us, loves us, died for us and calls us to draw nearer still.
What are we allowing to stand between us and God? Will we go away forever mournful because we are unwilling to part with someone or something that does not honor God? What do we possess that may indeed possess us? What have we made into a god by clinging to it more than we cling to God and His Word, the Bible? Consider these questions further in my post titled, “Holding Loosely”.
This is a hard teaching. Even Jesus’ disciples were troubled. Let us draw near the face of Jesus and gaze upon Him with blood and sweat flowing down, thorns cutting into his head, hands and feet nailed straight through, moaning and crying in pain, gasping for air. All for love, all to win us to His side for all of eternity.
Let us then consider deeply the question Jesus is asking us as He invites to draw near.
What is the one thing we lack?