Matthew 19:16-26 16Just then 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, keep the commandments.” 18“Which ones?” he inquired. Jesus replied, “’You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, 19honour your father and mother’, and ‘love your neighbour 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. 23Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24Again I tell you, 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.” 25When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?” 26Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
In about September last year I started to wrestle with tonight’s passage. I’d read it many times before, but it was weighing heavily on my mind. During this time I went on the Journey Intensive week, to Klipkraal a little way out of Heidelberg. There was a hill that I’d hike to the top of, and as I walked I would wrestle with this passage. What if God called me to give up everything? Would I be willing?
The thought wouldn’t leave me alone.
Finally, in frustration, I cried out to God: ‘If you want me to give up everything, I wish You’d just ask me, so I could do it and get past this!’
Frustratingly, we can never know if we’d actually follow through until God actually asks us to.
Three months later, God would call Sarah and I to leave Jo’burg and take up missions work in KZN.
THE HEART-CRY (vs. 16)
Over these months we’ve explored Jesus’ life through the gospel of Matthew we’ve seen many interactions between different characters and Jesus. Some come to Him to challenge Him and trap Him – the Pharisees often do that. Some come to Him for help and healing, and Jesus often gives them what they seek.
But a few come with a different agenda. You see, those who come to challenge and trap Him walk away with a bruised ego and nothing more. Those who come to be healed or helped receive a healing.
But this young man came with a deeper need. He came with a heart-cry. “Teacher, what must I do to get eternal life?”
Let me ask you tonight: What is your HEART-CRY? What do you want above all else?
When I was in grade 7, I was named as a prefect for my school. I remember that assembly, sitting on the stands, and when my name was called I had an incredible sense: This is something I wanted deeper than anything else, and I didn’t even realise how much I wanted it. I wanted it so deeply that I’d hardly allowed myself to admit it, even in my own heart, but when MY name was called, it was like this rush of peace and deep satisfaction.
I go back to that thought sometimes when I think of eternal life. What will it be like to pass out of this world and come into the presence of the Almighty, and as He separates the few sheep from the crowds of goats, and He calls MY name…
Isn’t that what this life is all about? Who cares if you live in a mansion or a barrel for 60 years? It’s 60 years – eternity lies ahead.
What does it take to get there? Who do I gotta be friends with? How much must I pay? What must I do?
That’s the question this young man is wrestling with.
He wrestles with this question. Here’s some things I want you to know about this young man:
He was young – and many people in their youth feel fully invincible. That’s why insurance is more expensive for people under 25. Well, for this young man, even though still in his youth, he didn’t feel invincible. He felt an emptiness.
He was pious – He wasn’t a scoundrel. He was an upstanding, upright, moral, noble character, even in his youth. He knew the Law of God, and kept the Law of God. How many of you can say that of yourselves? Yet, he felt guilty of something, or else he wouldn’t have come to Jesus asking what more needs to be done. He felt an emptiness.
He was wealthy – We learn from vs. 21 that he was a wealthy young man. Yet, with all of his wealth, he still felt an emptiness.
And because of this emptiness, he had a HEART-CRY: WHAT MUST I DO TO BE SAVED? How do I get away from this feeling that all that I have and all that I am is hopeless and destined for more emptiness? How can I be filled? He was hungry and thirsty for eternal life. He could say with David, “You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you…Your love is better than life…”
The man had a heart-cry.
What is your heart-cry tonight? Is it, like this young man, for eternal life? Friends, just because you can say with certainty that you are called by God and destined for eternal life, that doesn’t mean that your heart-cry should be for anything else.
Isaiah says (26:9) “Yes, LORD, walking in the way of your laws, we wait for you; your name and renown are the desire of our hearts. My soul yearns for you in the night; in the morning my spirit longs for you.” And Paul, later in the NT, says (Romans 8:22-23) “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.”
Do you groan inwardly as you wait eagerly for eternal life?
This young man wasn’t there yet, he was simply feeling the inward groans and had no hope of eternal life. The inward discomfort led him to trying all he could to get that hope. He read God’s word studiously, he obeyed God’s word diligently – yet the hope never came. Why? Because there was an obstacle in his way.
2. THE OBSTACLE (vs. 21-25)
The young man thought the obstacle was a lawless lifestyle. He’d read Deuteronomy 6:25 which says, “And if we are careful to obey all this law before the LORD our God, as he has commanded us, that will be our righteousness.” And so, he’d tried harder and harder to keep the law of God, and been incredible successful at it. STILL he felt there was something important missing.
Jesus responded to the young man: If you long to have what you desire, there’s something you need to do.
You see, Jesus had left a commandment out of the list of things He’d told the young man to do. In fact, it was the GREATEST commandment. Can you tell me what it is that Jesus had left out?
Deuteronomy 6:5 “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” Jesus said in Matthew that this was the greatest commandment. And this young man wasn’t keeping it. But he didn’t know he wasn’t keeping it. So, Jesus was going to have to show him, and he did that with a simple test:
Go, sell all you have and give it to the poor. Then come and follow me.
Oh! Cut to the heart!
Yes! The young man had a deep hunger and longing for eternal life, but it was not a greater hunger than his hunger for other things – of worldly comforts and pleasures. He was willing to pay much for eternal life, but not this much!
How much are you willing to give to have the kingdom?
Let me see if I can try and sell it to you:
Speaking of the kingdom of heaven, which He alone has seen, Jesus says it is IMMENSELY valuable.
How valuable? More valuable than anything you can possess in this world. He says in Matthew 13, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy, went and sold all he had and bought that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.”
There are those who God invited to give up everything in order to have eternal life. For example, Abraham:
God says, “Abraham – I know that you love me. But I want to know that you love me most of all. I want to know that you love me with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. Here’s how you can prove it. Take your son, your only son, whom you love – Isaac – and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain that I will show you.”
Abraham passed the test! He was willing to sacrifice anything and everything in order to honour the God who called him, and have the life to which God called him.
But he wasn’t the only one.
Matthew tells the story of a woman who came to Jesus with a jar of very expensive perfume. She broke the jar open, and poured it out on Jesus head. Her heart was willing to sacrifice anything and everything in order to honour the One God sent.
Are you ready to sacrifice anything and everything in order to please the One who has called you and to have what He alone can give?
Brothers and sisters, God wants your affection, your complete devotion, as well as your obedience. Look at you – the cream of the crop – at Church after the sun has gone down. Many of you attend a mid-week Bible study. Many of you give your financial donations to the Church, and then more you give away charitably to needy causes.
But is God your all-in-all? Is God and God alone your heart’s desire and delight? Do you love Him more than any other? Do you desire closeness with Him more than health, more than wealth, more than worldly comforts?
There is only one centre of your heart, and whatever occupies that place is god to you. If it is not God Almighty, then that thing is an idol.
God desires to be your heart-centre. But what obstacle do you have in the way? What is occupying the seat of that centre space?
The only way to find out is to ask yourself: What, if it was taken away from me, would cause me great grief and discomfort? Write these things down. It might be your business; it might be your home; it might be your spouse; it might be your car; it might be your children; it might be your music collection; it might be your retirement fund; it might be your health insurance; it might be your health. What, if it was taken away, would cause you great grief and discomfort?
These things can easily become our idols – Wealth was an idol for this young man, and though he looked like he had it all together on the outside, his heart was unwilling to part with the comfort of his idol in order to have a true relationship with God.
How ironic that is! That he was unwilling to part with temporary comfort for the sake of eternal comfort. He didn’t recognise the value of the treasure in the field. But don’t judge him, we are just like him! That’s why John commands us and warns us:
Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.
This story is a warning for us here tonight, because we are a people who have much stuff. We are an exceptionally wealthy group. Many of you have a car at home, some have two or three. All of you have a home, some with multiple bedrooms. Some of you may have a holiday home. Many of you take annual vacations. You eat out multiple times a month, sometimes a few times a week. You have multiple couches in your lounge, perhaps a few fridges, motorbikes, TVs, cellphones, too many clothes to fit into your cupboards – of which you have many.
The problem with all this wealth, all these possessions and comforts, is that we become encumbered – overloaded, burdened, weighed-down. We can love our possessions and comforts, and hold onto them, unwilling to give them up even to enter into eternal life. Picture a man holding big bags of his treasures, trying to fit them through the eye of a needle ahead of him; but neither he nor his possessions will get through.
We are a people ENCUMBERED with wealth and possessions, and we are sorely tempted to trust in those things instead of trusting in God and to love those things instead of loving God.
Friends, God desires our affection, and desires to be the only One we desire. He is jealous for our hearts. In fact, His Name is Jealous (Exodus 34:14)
So, ask yourself, what, if it was taken away from you, would cause you great grief and discomfort? What, if God asked you to lay it down, would be most sorely missed? What, if Jesus told you to give it up forever, would cause you to walk away sad because you were unwilling to give it up?
3. THE HOPE (vs. 26)
For many of us, we might be left feeling hopeless. I’ll be honest with you, there are some things that I just don’t know if I’d be willing to give it up. If God called me to do what Abraham did with my little daughter, I don’t know that I’d be able to do it. If God called me to do what He called this young man to do, I don’t know that I’d be able to do it.
But Jesus says we must do it. He says in Matthew 16 “If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?”
So, what can be done? We can only stand, again, with the disciples and cry out, “Who then can be saved?” If this rich, pious, amazing young man can’t make it into eternal life, what hope is there for us?
I love how Jesus answers this: It’s not up to you! It’s not up to you! You can’t do it. Only God can do it. You can’t have eternal life by attending Church, or saying your prayers.
No, in order to have eternal life, you need a heart that desires God – loves Him, serves Him, honours Him, worships Him. And your heart doesn’t do that – by itself it doesn’t love Him, it doesn’t desire to serve Him or honour or worship Him.
And you can’t change your heart! Who, then, can be saved?
“With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Do you believe that? Do you believe that your eternal hope does not lie in your hands, but in His?
Can you add your ‘Amen’ to what Paul says in Philippians 1:6 “I am confident that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion.” He began it, He’ll complete it. Can you call Jesus, as the writer of Hebrews does, both the Author and the Perfector of your faith?
Do you recognise with humility that on the day you enter eternal life, it will not be on your merits, but in spite of your faulty motives?
Are you left with no other sense than utter dependency on Jesus Christ for your salvation? Do you hold on to Him as the only Rock in the storms of life? Do you trust Him, love Him, as your one-and-only?
God and God alone is our hope; He and He alone is able to pluck you out of the kingdom of darkness and to deposit you into the kingdom of the Son He loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
PRAISE GOD for this; if it weren’t this way, we’d never make it! He alone is strong enough and able to bring us into His kingdom; without His doing it there’d be no hope for us.
What to do about it:
DO NOT go and sell all you have and give it to the poor – unless that is specifically what God has commanded you to do. Is being wealthy a sin – are possessions sinful? No; A person may have great wealth, and love God greatly; as a poor man may have little, and love that little more than God.
There is no sin in riches. The sin and the danger lies in those riches taking the place of God in our lives, so that we love them more than Him, and long for them more than for eternal life.
So, friends, have a heart-cry for eternal life. There must be a HARD-SEARCHING for eternal life; don’t rest until you feel SECURE in your inheritance; what else is more important?! Jesus said ‘What does it profit a man to gain the whole world yet forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?
Life is short, and can stand a little suffering, if we can gain all that God offers.
Even David, a famous, wealthy, successful king, spoke and said (Psalm 39:4-5) “Show me, O LORD, my end and the measure of my days. Let me know how fleeting my life is. You, indeed, have made my days as handbreadths, and my lifetime as nothing before You. Truly each man at his best exists as but a breath.”
May God give you a holy discontent – a holy dissatisfaction – with life and all that life offers, until you are contented and satisfied in Him and His promises.