Reading: Matthew 19
Can you imagine what would happen if, following a sermon a person approached the preacher and said to him, “How can I be saved?” and the preacher answered, “Well, for starters, we have an offering for the needy and I need you to write a check for everything in your bank account”? First, I think half the church would follow the man out the door saying, “No, no, you don't have to do that. All you need to do is admit that you are a sinner, and then pray this prayer...”. Then, the pastor would be run out of town on a rail. But check out Jesus' unique approach to teaching the plan of salvation.
It begins in the Greek language with a word that means, look, see, or by implication, listen. This is captured in the old King James Version, “And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?” (Matthew 19:16 KJV) “Now” works, but possibly a little weak. Matthew wants us to pay attention to this story.
16Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, "Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?" 17"Why do you ask me about what is good?" Jesus replied. "There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, obey the commandments." 18"Which ones?" the man inquired. Jesus replied, "'Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, 19honor your father and mother,' and 'love your neighbor as yourself.'" 20"All these I have kept," the young man said. "What do I still lack?" 21Jesus answered, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." 22When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth. (Matthew 19:16-22)
A man—a good practicing Jewish man—evidently blessed by God, came to Jesus with a question: "Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?" As we see shortly, this man is already doing many good things. He is obeying the commandments. No one in the audience would have doubted the authenticity of his answer to Jesus, “All these I have kept.” And Jesus didn't debate the point, per se. Yet, he had this gnawing feeling that he was still missing something. "What good thing must I do?...What do I still lack?" (Matthew 19:16, 20)
Jesus first response speaks to where this man was rich: Not only in wealth, but he was rich in good works; or shall we say, rich in obedience. After Jesus tells him to obey the commandments, even listing several of them, the man claims to have kept them. And, on the level of how we expect people to obey them, he did. He was a good man by all external accounts; regarding legalistic righteousness, he was faultless (Philippians 3:6). Jesus is looking deeper.
Jesus' second respond brings us deeper into the situation, to what he lacks, to where he is poor. I believe he is lacking two key things. I believe we can accurately say that he lacked poverty of spirit, or littleness of spirit. The teaching of Jesus in this Gospel began with this statement, “Blessed are the poor in Spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3) This rich, young man will be shown to not be poor in spirit. He has great wealth, but needs to see His great poverty and needs to see His great need of the Savior. Immediately preceding this account of the rich man, Jesus reminds us that the kingdom of heaven belongs to the little ones (Matthew 19:13-15) Jesus sets out to reveal whether or not this man is poor in spirit; whether or not he is a little one. And this is tied to a second thing he lacked.
“If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor , and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Matthew 19:21)
What else did this man lack? Apparently, treasure in heaven. I say that because Jesus, in response to his question, tells him how to get treasure in heaven. Evidently, his heart wasn't in heaven, but was on earth (Matthew 6:19-21) Jesus tells him to let go of all of it so he will have treasure in heaven, and then he will be able to follow Jesus—the source of eternal life.
This man went away sad; he wasn't a little one; he was a big one, high one. He wasn't poor in spirit, seeing his need of having a Savior; he was a rich and young one. We are often quick to point out that the real issue is following Jesus, not selling his possessions and giving to the poor. Let me point out two things:
- If I follow the sentence structure of Jesus' answer, it is the selling of the possessions and giving to the poor that translated into treasure in heaven, not the following of Jesus. (I am not here suggesting that we can have treasure in heaven without Jesus; I am merely drawing attention to what Jesus is saying in this answer, specifically.)
- When the guy went away sad because of his wealth, Jesus didn't stop him saying, “Okay, I've got a second deal, follow me, and we'll renegotiate your possessions later.”
You see, Jesus did not tell this man to do two things; He told him to do one thing. To follow Jesus, for this man, was to sell all and give to the poor. Jesus, has already done this. He left His heavenly wealth, emptied Himself, assumed the form of a slave, humbling Himself even to the point of death. Jesus was asking this man to do no more than Jesus Himself had done. Jesus was only saying one thing: “Follow Me.” In fact, Jesus was asking this man the same thing He calls us to do in Philippians 2:5-11. The call to follow Jesus is a call to have this same mind in us that He had, one of humbling ourselves, even emptying ourselves.
Salvation is not one thing, and conformity to Jesus is an optional extra. Salvation is all inclusive. It includes both justification and sanctification. Eternal life begins when we come to Christ and continues as we follow Him. Let us not go away sad!
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