Jump Start # 1938
Matthew 19:16 “And someone came to Him and said, ‘Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?’”
Our passage today is taken from the conversation between a wealthy young man and Jesus. God allows us to sit in on this conversation. There is much that is said openly and much that is under the surface.
Mark’s account tells us that this young man knelt before Jesus. Luke is the one who reveals that he is a ruler. Matthew adds that he is a young man. The rich young ruler is what this is commonly known as. How does a young man become a ruler and wealthy? Our first thought would be that he inherited both the throne and the riches from his family. Hezekiah was young when he became king. Young—powerful– wealthy. It seems he had it all. Now, it seems he wants to keep it all. He finds Jesus and asks Him a question.
Immediately, Jesus fires a question back to this young man. “Why are you asking Me about what is good? There is only One who is good…” In Mark, the young ruler calls Jesus, “Good teacher.” The One who is good is God. Did the young man realize that he was talking to God? That thought should change our tone and our conversation.
Three things are seen in this question:
First, he asked the right person. He went to Jesus. Who better to ask about eternal life, than the Eternal One. Jesus came to give life and give it abundantly. It was Jesus who said that those who believe would not perish but have eternal life. This rich ruler didn’t ask his mom. He didn’t ask his counselors. He didn’t ask any rabbi. He came to Jesus.
We need to take our questions to the Lord. We need to look in the Bible for answers. We can be quick to ask each other, ask our preacher, ask our friends, search Google, but we ought to be asking the Lord. Some will ask and ask until they hear the answer that they want. Some don’t want the truth, they want approval of what they are doing. It’s like the man who went to the doctor and was told to lose weight and stop smoking. He told his wife that he was going to find a fat doctor who smoked. The search for truth is not the same thing as the search for approval. Truth may lead us to change. Truth leads us to being right. Approval simply allows us to keep doing what we are doing. Approval is comfortable. Approval surrounds itself with people who agree and support, whether they are right or wrong.
This young ruler went to Jesus with his question.
Second, he asked Jesus the right question. Of all the things to ask Jesus, his question was about obtaining eternal life. He could have asked Jesus how to make more money. He could have asked how to be a better ruler. He could have asked about finding a wife, or, how long he would live. I wonder if we were standing in the shoes of this young man what we would have asked. Some might ask silly questions. Some like to be cute. “What’s it like being Jesus?” “Do you really know the names of all the stars? Tell me some of the names.” “Why did you make red, red?” Those questions answer the curiosity in us but they miss the main point. They do not change our relationship with the Lord. They do not improve us. He asked a question about himself. He didn’t ask about the nation. He didn’t ask about his family. It was personal. “What must I do…”
I wonder sometimes if our Bible classes are nothing more than stump the teacher contests. Instead of leading in depth and understanding of God’s word and instead of making the lessons practical and personal, we chase rabbits of curiosity that really do not matter. Speculation can open many wonderful doors but so often you will not find truth behind those doors.
Of all the things to ask Jesus, he asked, ‘What must I do to obtain eternal life?’
Third, he understood that he had a responsibility in this. He didn’t ask Jesus to just give him eternal life. Jesus had the right and the power to do that. He understood, possibly from being a ruler, that there was something that he had to do. What must I do? He didn’t ask, “What must YOU do?”
I’m not certain that the “eternal life” that the young man was asking about and the “eternal life” that comes through Jesus were the same. He may have simply wanted to live forever. It is likely that his father or another family member had died and that made him the ruler. Instead of thinking about who will rule after him, he wanted to live forever. He wanted to rule forever.
His question is missing the spiritual element. He asked, ‘What good thing must I do…” Good thing—that’s singular. Is there just one thing and if I do it, I will have eternal life? Would it be feed the poor? Would it be help the unfortunate? Would it be rule with fairness? One thing. Just one thing is all I have to do. That was the question. He didn’t ask, “what things must I do.” Instead, “what one thing.”
Jesus’ answer takes him through the 10 Commandments. Jesus lists six things. Right away, the ‘One thing’ theology is going out the door. Boldly, the young ruler proclaims that he has done those things. Is that it? Do I now have eternal life? Am I lacking anything else?
This is when Jesus pulls the curtain back upon his heart and we see what he was really interested in—wealth. Sell all. Sell out. Give it to the poor and follow Me. If you do that, you will have treasure in Heaven, is what the Lord told him. And the young ruler walked away. It wasn’t the answer he wanted. He left “grieving.” He was disappointed. He was defeated. His wealth was who he was. His wealth defined him. His wealth made him. Without his wealth, he’d be nobody. Without his wealth, he would not have the throne or the power. Without his wealth, he’d be a poor Jewish man, like Jesus. And, “follow Me?” That wasn’t in the plans. How could he stay and be a ruler if he had to follow Jesus. Following Jesus would involve much more than “one thing.” This would be life changing. This would alter his entire world. This wasn’t the answer he was hoping for. This wasn’t right, at least not in his thinking. So, he left Jesus. He walked away. He walked away from the right answer. He walked away from eternal life. He walked away, keeping his lifestyle and his riches, but throwing away an opportunity to be touched by the Savior. Imagine if he had followed Jesus? His character, his outlook, his hope, his priorities would have all changed. He could have been an early preacher in the kingdom. With his wealth, he could have supported the apostles. He could have done so much. But as it is, he walked away. He died in obscurity to us. His name is lost to the ages. His soul, so close to the Savior, lost, because he would not follow Jesus. He could not let go of his riches.
We ought to see ourselves in this story. We ought to understand what it’s like to be in shadows of this young man. How many times have we walked away from Jesus, simply because we didn’t like what He said. We ought to learn that there is no one else that can give us eternal life. Deny yourself, take up your cross daily and follow Me—that is in essence what He told the young man. This is what He tells us.
Will we do it or will we, too, walk away?