Luke 18:18-30 ESV: “And a ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.’” And he said, “All these I have kept from my youth.” When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich. Jesus, seeing that he had become sad, said, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”
A Good Man? It is my observation after studying this text that the rich ruler appeared to be a very “Good Man” so-to-speak. Let me explain, I don’t mean a perfectly good man, yes he was a sinner and we see that as the story unfolds, but in the eyes of the world and the church this man was outwardly good. He was likely in excellent standings with the elders and church leaders of the day. He was also a man of importance (for the word “ruler” means “archon”, which translates, “someone who rules in public office”) it’s also derived from the same root word as “monarch” meaning “supreme” or “Head of State”. It’s clear to see that this was a man of power and position, a man of sincerity and integrity. He did not come to Jesus unscrupulously as the Scribes and Pharisees had come, but out of heartfelt desire to receive instruction. Instruction on how he might secure eternal life for himself.
EARNING ETERNAL LIFE: This not-so-good man came to Jesus not asking how he might obtain eternal life, but instead he wanted to know of what good deed he must do in order that he might earn it, like many people today who measure themselves up according to the standards of the world and compare themselves to other people. Or maybe they hear others tell them often of what a good person they are, and they believe it. No matter what we believe no good or pious works will remove the stain of the innumerable sins we have committed against God. Though this man was undoubtedly moral in his living, he still was far from good. So when he asks Jesus for a list of the special deeds he might do to secure his spot in heaven Jesus immediately refers Him to the law (the Ten Commandments), for it’s only through the the law that men stand condemned before a holy God, because the law brings knowledge of sin. (“For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin”. Romans 3:20)
THE USE OF THE LAW: As human beings we tend to mix up the definition of good for nice. Quite often we think of ourselves as good people, or someone else as a good person, when in reality the best we can possibly be is pleasant, not good. Proverbs 20:6 says, “Most men will proclaim every one his own goodness: but a faithful man who can find?” Jesus is witnessing this very thing right now, this important young man is affirming himself to be a good and loyal child of God, when in truth He is not. Jesus intent isn’t to walk a person through the law in order to make them feel guilty, He walks them through the law because they are guilty, and it’s essential for all men to recognize that before they can receive eternal life (John 3:18). It’s only after a person feels the weight of their sin under the power of the law that they will desire to flee from the wrath to come and run to Jesus for safety and forgiveness.
As one guilty sinner to another, we must also help others around us see their need for the Savior by correcting their definition of good like Jesus did, and directing them to the LAW of God. Jesus used the Law as a school master to teach this man of his sin (Galatians 3:24). You see if such a person existed that could keep the Law of God without flaw, that person could indeed earn eternal life on their own merit. The Bible is emphatically clear that we have all sinned and anyone who claims to have no sin is a liar (and lying is sin). So since most people declare their own goodness, we must lead them through the 10 commandments so they can see the error of their ways. Doug Wilson said in a recent interview with John Piper, “That it’s not possible to share the gospel with someone without the proper use of the law”, that statement is backed up throughout the Bible.
This young man placed a gold star on every area of the law that Jesus mentioned (“I’ve kept all these laws since my youth”) so Jesus then pulled out the secret-not-so-obvious sin, the sin of covetousness and idolatry. God is to be the number one recipient of our affection. God is to be exalted and valued above all things in this present life. Abraham passed the test of idolatry when he was willing to part with his dear son of whom he felt deep affection toward, in whom God had promised to Abraham in his old age, and in whom was to be the beginning of Abraham’s many descendants. The idols in our lives must be exposed by Christ if we are to inherit the kingdom of God. Jesus does not offer eternal life to those who place anything before Him (a violation of the first command).
John Calvin put it this way, “One thing thou wantest. Christ therefore does not mean that the young man wanted one Thing beyond the keeping of the law, but in the very keeping of the law. For though the law nowhere obliges us to sell all, yet as it represses all sinful desires, and teaches us to bear the cross, as it bids us be prepared for hunger and poverty, the young man is very far from keeping it fully, so long as he is attached to his riches, and burns with covetousness. And he says that one thing is wanting, because he does not need to preach to him about fornication and murder, but to point out a particular disease, as if he were laying his finger on the sore”.
Christ knew that outwardly this man had things together, but inwardly there was a major barrier that held him back from walking through the door of eternal life. Although he thought God to be number one in his life, He was not. Jesus told this rich young man that one thing was lacking, then instructed him to do three things. He isn’t asking him to sell his house and things, put the money in the bank and come with Him on a short term missions trip. Jesus told him to (1) sell everything (2) give all the proceeds to the poor, and then (3) bear up his cross and follow Him. This was a call to die not a call to live, yet it was a call to live and not die. If we live for self and gain the whole world we forfeit our souls, but if we are crucified with Christ we live.
It may be an easy thing so sell your money and invest it for later use, but to sell it all and give it all then take a path that is filled with hardship is impossible without the aid of the Spirit of God at work in you. Because of the way Jesus spoke, you didn’t have to try and guess if someone was His follower, like we often do today. They either followed Him or they, like this young man, sadly walked away still wanting. Was he a seeker? No, because he wanted a God that would be okay being second place to his pursuits. He was really seeking affirmation that he was a good lad and that what he was doing was just fine, but that’s not what he received, not from Jesus. I’m convinced that if Jesus was alive today He would not be placed in leadership of an evangelism ministry.
Identity Crisis: This is probably the most deceptive tragedy of all. The mistaken identity of Jesus. The man in our text not only saw himself as good but also mistook Jesus as merely a good teacher instead of Master. He failed to see the divine God who stood in front of his very eyes because he incorrectly identified Jesus as simply another man. Jesus in turn concealed His identity from him and maintained true doctrine by saying that only God was good. One thing that we must be clear on is that Jesus was not implying He wasn’t God in saying only God is good, as many cults may infer, but rather He was correcting the young monarch’s interpretation of the word good. If one does not address Jesus as part of the Eternal Trinity they are already wrong in their assertion of His goodness.
Apart from Christianity, all other religions are works based. If you bomb enough infidels, climb enough stairs on your knees, stay in solitude long enough, knock on enough doors, keep communion, go to confession, have enough good Karma, help enough people until your bad outweighs your good, you’ll end up in heaven when you die. Most world religions will say that Jesus was a good man, good teacher, or good prophet, but that He was not God. Jesus was not good at all, if in fact He was not God, but rather He would have been a liar.
Two Responses: When Jesus gave the instructions to this man he was alarmed, in fact there would have been no reason for him to be sad at all if he did not see any truth to what Jesus was saying. I mean if you asked someone where milk came from and they replied, “Go get three cans and stack them up, then poke a hole in the bottom can. Now pour water in the top and milk will come out of the bottom can”, you wouldn’t hang your head in sadness and walk away, you would walk away laughing and maybe offer to bring him some medication. This was not the case, the truth hit this powerful man right square between the eyes and it made him sad because he knew it was the truth. The alarms went off for him, but he loved his wealth and his things too much to part with them, his worldly comfort was far more important than his eternal affairs, he was short sighted at best. Although he was awakened by Christ’s words, it drove him away from the Gospel. The Gospel was not attractive to him compared to what he really loved.
The disciples on the other hand became anxious with Jesus words, and said, “Who then can be saved?” What they heard brought them great concern for their own souls and the souls of those they knew. They were eager for the answer, they wanted to know more, they wanted to know how they could avoid this disastrous end. Jesus then tells them that it is impossible apart from God’s doing. God is the only one that can cause someone to be willing to part with their idols.
There are two anxieties that should grip a person when they hear the Gospel; two responses that should flow out of a biblically accurate presentation of the gospel. One looks like the ruler, hanging his head and walking away from JESUS. Many people hear the gospel presented today and walk away knowing it was the truth but are unable to part with their love of idolatry. The other looks like the disciples… “Who can be saved? What must we do? Help us, we need you!” That was the tone of their reply. They knew they needed Jesus and it shook them to the core to hear Jesus evangelize. They were terrified of the impossibility of the gospel.
How I pray that the church will see the seriousness of presenting the gospel with accuracy and not watering it down for the sake of reputation and convenience. We ought to be more concerned about souls and less concerned about what people think. It takes more LOVE to tell someone they are in big trouble, share the law with them, help them see their sin and risk them walking away forever then it does to wash down a message. Enforce how much God loves them before even telling them about there current state.
Jesus loved this man, but He was not ready to embrace that love because he was still in love with other things. The Scripture tells us in Mark 10:21 (same account of the story) that Jesus loved Him so He told him the hard truths, “And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” We need to love people the same way, whether they walk away or not. You aren’t the one who turned them away, the Gospel did. The Gospel is offensive because it demands full allegiance and full surrender to God. So let’s end with this question. Does He have yours?
Grace & Peace,