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What Do I Still Lack?

Matthew 19:16-30

Lesson audio

No subject is approached more delicately by the average preacher than money. It is understandable; offerings and his salary seem directly connected. However, the Bible teacher is usually a volunteer, and we can say things a bit more bluntly. The story of the rich young ruler certainly gives us the opportunity.

What Good Thing?

Mat 19:16-22 NASB And someone came to Him and said, "Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?" (17) 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." (18) Then 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; (19) HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER; and YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF." (20) The young man *said to Him, "All these things I have kept; what am I still lacking?" (21) Jesus said to him, "If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me." (22) But when the young man heard this statement, he went away grieving; for he was one who owned much property.

Meeting Christ

Meeting the Christ is usually a shattering experience. If ever there was a man who would have qualified for the “good guy” award, this is the man. From Christ’s reaction we can see two of his characteristics:

  • He is sincere. Christ takes him by his words, and treats him as an honest inquirer.
  • He is obedient. He is a man of “ordinary holiness,” the backbone of the church, the good guy.

He is also a man who knows he is lacking something. So he goes out looking for it.

Christ, at first, reaffirms to him to message of the Old Testament: “Do this, and live.” Christ points him to the commandments. (It is interesting that Christ omits the one about envy – which would say that this man has no desire for it). Salvation is by works – until the Messiah comes.

But it is exactly that point that the Christ challenges him on: you have relied on your good works, but you know in your heart of hearts it is not enough. The rules, it seems, are necessary – but not sufficient.

Christ fulfills the Law

Such a challenge cannot come from someone who is simply a prophet or a rabbi – for a prophet or a rabbi must point you to God, not himself. Christ, it seems, teaches by degrees. He first points out the Law, and then hits him with the one question that goes right to his soul: are you willing to give it all up, and follow?

Isn’t it curious: if we preach to a prostitute, we expect her to give up prostitution if she wants to follow Christ. To the white collar criminal we say, “Sin no more.” But to those who are owned by their money, we are curiously silent. Why is this?

  • First, it’s hard to condemn someone who’s chasing the same almighty dollar you are.
  • But more importantly, we need to distinguish sin from sinner. We must, as Chrysostom put it, not condemn the riches but the enslavement thereof.
Follow me

One point often missed here is that Christ does not merely command the man to forsake his riches. It’s easy enough to argue (I just did) that he needs to be rescued from the enslavement of riches. It is hard then to state, “Follow.” But if we do not, we risk substituting the nothing of niceness for the money we know so well. It is not sufficient to take away; we must have something which overflows the hole in the psyche.

The response, it seems, is one which consumes the entire human being. A parallel may be seen in the use of the phrase, “born again.” We treat it as a synonym for salvation; Christ Himself uses it but on one occasion, the visit from Nicodemus – who is another man of ordinary holiness. The sinner is called to repentance; the righteous are called to the new birth.

How can these two ways be reconciled? Only in Jesus Himself. He tells us that He is the way, the truth and the life. These two ways are the path to Him – and it’s the destination who counts.

All Things Are Possible

Mat 19:23-26 NASB And Jesus said to His disciples, "Truly I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. (24) "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." (25) When the disciples heard this, they were very astonished and said, "Then who can be saved?" (26) And looking at them Jesus said to them, "With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."

Despite Tevye’s plaintive cry (“would it spoil some vast celestial plan, if I were a wealthy man?) there is peril in wealth.

  • Now that you’ve obtained it, you get to worry about it. I inherited a few gold coins from my mother. Before then I had no need for armored storage. Fortunately, I also inherited an armored file cabinet. Otherwise, I could be up nights worried about the burglars taking what I never earned.
  • On the other side, wealth gives you a false sense of security. I’m rich, everything is going to go well. Some people solve their problems with a check book. Which means that some of their problems go forever unsolved.
  • Some find that money is the chain that binds them to “the crowd.” Their desire is to be in, accepted, one of the beautiful people. Without money, it’s just a dream; with money, it’s a chain around their neck. Even a gold chain is still a chain.
  • Ultimately, it is still true: you cannot serve two masters. That is the problem here; the man didn’t wish to change masters.
The disciples’ question

To understand the reaction of the disciples, you must remember what they’ve been taught. To them, riches to the righteous was the way God rewarded those who were righteous. This is one of the repeated themes of the Old Testament; this attitude is the foundation for the conflict found in the Book of Job.

Christ’s view utterly contradicts this. The disciples are quite naturally perplexed; if a person as righteous as this ruler can’t make it, who can? What about us?

To this question Christ answers with paradox: the last shall be first, the first shall be last. Since it’s His view that counts, we may take this as fact – but we still need a little explanation, right?

  • Salvation is “either or.” So we’re going to be surprised to see some of the death bed repentant people at the throne of God. Some of those folks might even be the rich.
  • We may see charity from the rich, and praise it. God sees the heart, and rewards it accordingly. Lord, be merciful to me, the sinner.
Muddles on Money

Our church has lately put forward a major capital campaign. It is interesting to see our view of money in the mirror of the church asking for it.

  • Some are cynics, and see only a minister’s desire to inflate his own importance by having a bigger, shinier building.[1] These folks don’t count in this funding drive – since they’re not contributing.
  • Some are offended by some aspect of the campaign – like the intent to have a small version of Starbucks in a gathering area. Others see this as a way of reassuring the visitor that we are, after all, human.
  • Some are offended by what they see as the secrecy of the campaign – and unfortunately this has been a problem.

But do you not see that your attitude towards the building campaign is simply a mirror of your own. And it still true: he is no fool if he would choose to give the things he cannot keep to buy what he can never lose.

First and Last

Mat 19:27-30 NASB Then Peter said to Him, "Behold, we have left everything and followed You; what then will there be for us?" (28) And Jesus said to them, "Truly I say to you, that you who have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. (29) "And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or farms for My name's sake, will receive many times as much, and will inherit eternal life. (30) "But many who are first will be last; and the last, first.

The temptation of the have-nots

Most of us, in our own minds, think of ourselves as being the “have-nots” rather than the “haves.” The classification is not really based upon our wealth; by the world’s standard we are fabulously wealthy. It is based upon our opinion of ourselves – and we can see that view reflected in our temptations. See if any of these seem familiar:

  • Envy – looking at what someone else has and wanting it. Do you ever find yourself saying, “If only I had enough money, I would…”
  • Blasphemy – the real reason you don’t have enough money is that God has somehow, arbitrarily, chosen you to suffer. (Read Job all the way through and see how God answers this).
  • Condemnation – as St. Jerome said, it is easier to condemn the hoard than it is to quit the propensity. We seem to be quite capable of saying that riches are evil and how can I get more of them? Usually, it’s someone else’s riches that get condemned.
The riches of the children of God

Money is a distraction. As such, it is a temptation to each of us – just a little more and I’ll be happy. We miss the present fact that Christ promises us our reward, both now and forever. We shall judge the nations – if only by example. In the meanwhile, He promises to provide for us now and provide many times that much when He returns.

He attaches but one condition: “for my Name’s sake.” Just because you’re suffering doesn’t mean you are suffering for Christ. But if you accept it at His hand, acknowledging His lordship and care for us, the burden is His to reward.

First and Last

It is a curious fact: in His ministry on earth Christ appealed much more to the lost sheep than the found. The soul that is mired in sin longs to be clean; thus the prostitutes and tax collectors arrive before the “good people” do. Respectable people seem to have their work cut out for them in this – remember the day laborers who each got a day’s wage, no matter when they started? Reward is His business, not our own.

So what then should the Christian do?

Luk 13:23-30 NASB And someone said to Him, "Lord, are there just a few who are being saved?" And He said to them, (24) "Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. (25) "Once the head of the house gets up and shuts the door, and you begin to stand outside and knock on the door, saying, 'Lord, open up to us!' then He will answer and say to you, 'I do not know where you are from.' (26) "Then you will begin to say, 'We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets'; (27) and He will say, 'I tell you, I do not know where you are from; DEPART FROM ME, ALL YOU EVILDOERS.' (28) "In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but yourselves being thrown out. (29) "And they will come from east and west and from north and south, and will recline at the table in the kingdom of God. (30) "And behold, some are last who will be first and some are first who will be last."

Keep your eyes on the prize, and don’t concern yourself with someone else’s money.

[1] For the record, this is not my opinion – but a relatively common one.

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