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Conversations with Christ – 6. The Miserable Millionaire

Christ Speak to the Problem of Misplaced Priorities Matthew 19: 16 - 26

Lee Atwater was the man most responsible for electing George Bush president in 1988. He was 39 years old and on top of the world. Then he developed a massive brain tumour. He was treated and instead of getting better, he got worse. Shortly before he died, Life magazine published an article in which he evaluated his life in light of his terminal illness: “The ’80s were about acquiring—acquiring wealth, power, prestige. I know. I acquired more wealth, power and prestige than most. But you can acquire all you want and still feel empty. What power wouldn’t I trade for a little more time with my family? What price wouldn’t I pay for an evening with a friend? It took a deadly illness to put me eye to eye with that truth, but it is a truth that the country, caught up in its ruthless ambitions and moral decay, can learn. I don't know who will lead us through the ’90s, but they must be made to speak to this spiritual vacuum at the heart of American society, this tumor of the soul.” His words still ring true today. There is still a spiritual vacuum and there is still a tumour of the soul.

1. Driving With the Wrong Map

Cartoon - shows a man driving on the highway. Caption - “At 18, I couldn’t wait to get on the road. At 25, I learned how to go from 0 to 100 in 8 seconds. At 40 I found that I’d been holding the map upside down. At 50, I discovered I had the wrong map.” That’s the story of an entire generation. My generation. The Baby Boomers. We were told, “Get up early, work hard, climb to the top, step on people if you have to, look out for number one, do it now.” Then when we reached 150kms an hour, we found out, to our utter dismay, the map was upside down. What we were looking for was in exactly the opposite direction.

2. The Rich Young Yuppie

Once there was a young man with big dreams about the future. He was 25 or 30 but not much older than that. He was a tiger, a go-getter, a man on the way to the top. I think that perhaps he had made his money in property, which is one of the best ways to make money if you know what you’re doing. (It’s also a good way to lose it if you don’t.) Buy low, sell high. He made a lot of money at a very young age. And he still felt empty. Odd because this rising star was always very religious. He believed in God and he believed in God’s Word. The 10 Commandments were his law and his way of life. Unlike so many other Baby Boomers, he didn’t forget the Almighty on his way to the top. He prayed and he read the Scriptures and he truly tried to do the right thing. He was a moral man. He didn’t steal or cheat to get to the top and he didn’t sleep around either. He was a straight arrow in a crooked world. He was a true believer and a hard worker, a combination that often leads to worldly success. Still he was empty on the inside. Something was missing. He didn’t know what that “something” was but he knew he wasn’t all he could be. One day that young man went to see a carpenter from Galilee, named Jesus. This young man at the top of his game, with all the money you could want, a man who had it all, came with a penetrating question, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mark 10: 17). He wanted eternal life and his heart told him that his money and his religion weren’t enough.

3. A Man We Can All Admire

There is a great deal to admire about this young man. He was a man of good moral character. I do not doubt that he obeyed the law of God to the best of his ability. We must admire his courage in coming to Jesus. That couldn’t have been an easy thing for him to do. Young execs on the way up the ladder normally wouldn’t have time for an itinerant preacher from Galilee. Certainly he is honest in admitting his need. “As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him” (Mark 10:17). There’s nothing subtle about that. He’s aggressive in getting Jesus’ attention, and that too fits the picture for it was his aggressiveness that got him where he was in life. There’s more. He asked the right question and he goes to the right person. He’s saying, “Lord, tell me what you want me to do. If you’ll tell me, I’ll do it.” Now the story begins to turn in a new direction. For all his admirable qualities, the young man was wrong on 2 counts. 1. He was wrong to think that there was something he could do to gain entrance into heaven. 2. He was wrong to think he could do it if only he knew what it was.

4. “Do You Know Who You Are Talking To?”

Jesus gives him an answer that has confused people over the generations. The question seems simple enough. This is Jesus’ answer: “Why do you call me good? No one is good—except God alone” (Mark 10: 18). The young man had called him, “Good teacher.” He said it as a way of being respectful, but he wasn’t really thinking of the meaning of the word. When Jesus says, “Why do you call me good?” he’s asking the question, “Do you really know who you are talking to? And do you really know what you are saying?”

5. The “Big Ten”

Matthew 19: 17 – 18 - This fellow wants to know how to get to heaven. In response, Jesus first engages him in what appears to be an abstract theological discussion, and then he brings up the 10 Commandments. What’s really going on here? This 1st century yuppie wants what so many people today want. He wanted a list. “Give me a list of the things I need to do to make sure I go to heaven. Give me a list and I will check it off. Do this, this, this, and this. When I get to the bottom of the list I’ll know that I’m going to go to heaven.” Jesus says, “Fine. If you want a list, I’ll give you a list. Here’s my list. It’s called the 10 Commandments - Why don’t you just try keeping those for a while?”

6. Sincerely Wrong

The young man doesn’t lack confidence. Here is his reply: “All these things I have kept since I was a boy” (Luke 18:21). On one level, it was probably true. I’m sure he hadn’t literally murdered anyone or committed adultery. On a deeper level, we can simply say that he is self-deceived. He is sincere and he is also sincerely wrong. When anyone says, “I have perfectly kept the 10 Commandments from the beginning of my life until now,” you automatically know 2 things about that person: 1. He doesn’t know anything about the real meaning of the 10 Commandments. 2. He doesn’t really know anything about himself. Brings us back to the deeper meaning of the 10 Commandments. When the Bible says, “You shall not murder,” it’s not just talking about taking a gun and putting it to somebody’s head. Jesus said if you have an angry thought against your brother, if you are bitter against that brother, just that thought itself is murder in your mind. So even though you are smiling on the outside, on the inside you have broken the 6th Commandment because you are filled with hatred and bitterness. Remember what Jesus said about adultery. Even to look on another person to lust after them is breaking the commandment against adultery even though you never jump in bed with that person. You can break the 7th Commandment in your mind while being pure on the outside.

7. It’s What You Lack That Counts

This young man looks good on the outside, but Jesus is telling him, “Wait a second, you’re not as hot as you think you are.” Then Jesus drops the bombshell: “You still lack one thing” (Luke 18: 22). When it comes to going to heaven, it’s not what you’ve got that counts, it’s what you lack. “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). Circle those verbs. Go. Sell. Give. Come. Follow. Wow!

8. Strangled By Money

These are scary words. So let me put it in perspective. This is the only time that Jesus ever said this to anyone as a condition of eternal life. But that’s where he had the problem. This fellow who looked so good on the outside, on the inside was totally controlled by the love of money. Jesus was saying to this upstanding, good, young citizen, “If you want to be my follower, you’re going to have to break the stranglehold of money on your life.” For this man, money was not just an object or a thing. Money had become his God and Jesus knew it. He is touching this man at the point of his need. “You’re going to have to give up your idolatry of money before you can be my disciple.” That principle is as true today as it was 2000 years ago. We need to say it again in Wilro Park and South Africa where we love money, where we worship the things that money can buy, where we are trying so desperately to get to the top of the ladder. It’s true that money can choke out the things of God. There are a great many Christians who love Jesus when they make R75000 a year. There are fewer who love him when they make R150000. Fewer still who love him when they make R250000. Fewer still who love him when they make R400000. There are a great many Christians who would become deeply committed to Jesus Christ again, if only they would go broke. I’m not saying we have to do literally what Jesus said here. But the principle is entirely true. You cannot love money and be his disciple. That’s just the way it is. There’s another way to look at it. This young man believed what many of us believe—that money matters. Money is a wonderful servant but a terrible master. Money doesn’t really matter at all in comparison to things like having good friends, a few extra days with your family, and most of all, when compared to life itself. This young man believed the lie that money mattered. Once he realised that money doesn’t matter at all, then he could become a follower of Christ. For him, that meant giving it all away. What will it mean for you and me?

9. No Special Deals

v. 22 - “When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.” Hopeful - means the words of Jesus hit home. He didn’t try to argue and he didn’t pretend that it didn’t matter. I wonder what happened to him later. Did he eventually become a follower of Jesus? We don’t know for certain, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in heaven. This is the only case in the NT where somebody came to Jesus and Jesus gave him the truth and let him leave and walk away. This “rich young ruler’ walked away sorrowful because his wealth held him back. Jesus didn’t come after him and say, “Let me lower the price. Let me make a deal with you so you can be my follower.” He told him the way it was and the man walked away. We’re more like this young man than we would like to admit. Most of us would secretly agree with the fellow who said, “It doesn’t matter whether you’re rich or poor just so long as you have a lot of money.” Jesus gives us the moral of the story: “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, 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” (Luke 18: 24, 25).

10. “I Don’t Need Jesus”

Why? Because rich people trust in their riches. It’s easy for a poor person to get saved because a poor person says, “If Jesus doesn’t come through for me, I’m sunk.” A rich man says, “If Jesus doesn’t come through for me, that’s okay. I’ve got my pension. I’ve got my stocks and shares. I’ve got my safety net. If he doesn’t come through it doesn’t matter. I’m taking care of things myself.” Here is the good news of the gospel: Even rich people can be saved if they will give up their trust in their riches. The richest people on earth can be saved but they’ve got to stop trusting in their riches and they’ve got to start trusting in Jesus Christ and him alone.

When you stand before your Creator, he’s not going to judge you according to your IRP5. He’s going to look for something much more substantial than that. Remember the God-shaped vacuum inside the heart of every person. If you don’t fill that vacuum with God you will fill it with something else. When you do, you will find out what that rich young man found out years ago. You can have it all but it’s still not enough. If you don’t fill it with God, you’ll fill it with money, career, power, prestige, sex, or whatever you think you can find in this world. You will not be satisfied.

It will be said of you as was said of the rich young ruler, “One thing you lack.” That one thing being a living, dynamic, life-transforming relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus loved this young man enough to tell him the truth even though Jesus knew he would walk away. That’s true love. He loved him enough to let him go in the hope that someday he would come back on his own. I come to 2 conclusions – 1. As long as you make money and the things money can buy are the measure of your life, you will be empty and unfulfilled. 2. Whenever you stop trusting in money and the things that money can buy and turn your life over to Jesus Christ, then and only then will your heart be satisfied. The one thing you lack, God offers to you right now. He offers you forgiveness and a brand-new life. The one thing you need is yours for the asking. If you have discovered that having it all is not enough, then please consider something that money can’t buy. Would you like a life-transforming relationship with Jesus Christ? It’s yours for the asking. Open your heart to him and he will come in. “Father, you have promised bread for the hungry and rest for the weary. May those who hunger be filled with the Bread of Life. May the weary find the rest that only Jesus can give. Forgive us for loving money so much that we have no room for you. Grant that we might realize our deepest need so that you can provide for us the “one thing” we lack. In Jesus name, Amen.”

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