Life’s Most Important Question

Grace For The Journey

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15May  Jeanne Marie Laskas of Reader’s Digest published an article sometime back entitled, “Answered!  Life’s 25 Toughest Questions.”   Here are a few that were mentioned in the article:

  • Why do married folks begin to look like one another?
  • Why does summer zoom by and winter drag on forever?
  • Why does the line you’re in always move the slowest?
  • When is your future behind you?

Pretty good questions . . . Thought provoking . . . Intriguing.  As interesting as these questions are, however, they are nothing like the most important question ever asked in all of history.

2,000 years ago a young man likely in his early 30s had the opportunity to ask Jesus Christ a question that many wish they themselves could ask.  The exchange is found in Mark 10:17-31, but the account is also recorded in Matthew and Luke’s Gospel.

  • Mark tells us the man who asks the question is rich.
  • Matthew tells us the man is young.
  • Luke tells us he is some kind of a ruler.

This young man is usually referred to as “The Rich Young Ruler.”  He is a person who apparently has what the world needs to be happy, satisfied, and fulfilled.  Yet, He comes to Jesus seeking more out of life.  And what is his question?  Verse 17 tells us, “Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?”  That is a good question, isn’t it?  It is a question no doubt on the minds of many, though perhaps asked in different ways.

Jesus does not answer the question in the way the man expects.  In fact, Jesus takes issue with the way the man frames the question.  In verse 18,Jesus replies: “Why do you call Me good?”  And He adds, “No one is good but One, that is, God.”  Jesus is doing an important thing here . . .

He is helping the young man

Understand something of

The character of God

And His goodness.

In essence Jesus says, “You realize that no one is good, right?  No one is absolutely good; no one that is, except God.”  And in saying this, Jesus might just as well have said, “If you are prepared to refer to Me as good, then you are prepared to refer to Me as God.”

One of the reasons the young man does not yet see Jesus Christ as God is because of his failure to rightly understand the nature of goodness itself.  So, Jesus takes the man to the Old Testament, namely to the second half to the Ten Commandments.  In an effort to address the man’s faulty understanding of goodness, Jesus says, “You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal,’ Do not bear false witness,’ Do not defraud,’ Honor your father and your mother.’”  The young man answers, “Teacher, all these things I have kept from my youth” (Verses 19-20)

Now that was probably largely true on the outside.  No doubt many thought of this fellow as morally upright, a “good” man insofar as what was generally known about him.

But goodness is a moral absolute.  Goodness is absolutely and entirely good on the inside and outside.  Goodness is consistently good.  Always.  No one is absolutely good on both the outside and the inside.

This young man was outwardly good,

But inwardly he battled the things all humans battle;

Things like impure motives, impure thoughts, and impure loves.

Knowing the young man’s weakness, Jesus puts His finger on it

In order to help him see where he wasn’t so “good” after all.

Verse 21 and 22 states, “Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, ‘One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.’  But he was sad at this word, and went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.”

Luke says this young man “had great possessions.”  Jesus knew that.   Jesus knew this man’s heart was bound up in his material stuff; his ho use, his land, his clothes, his money, his things, and his toys.

Jesus addresses this particular man

At the point of his particular need.

He was rich and loved his riches

More than he would love Jesus.

It’s always especially important

To clarify that it is not the possessions

That get us into trouble.

As we often say,

“It’s not whether we have possessions” . . .

“It’s whether the things we have possess us.”

This rich young ruler loved his stuff more than Jesus.  This is why Jesus says to His disciples, “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!” (Verse 23).

It’s certainly not impossible for those who have riches to be saved – remember Zacchaeus?  But folks like Zacchaeus are the rare exceptions that prove the rule.

Jesus says it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.

The disciples are astonished!  They say among themselves, “Who then can be saved?!”

This question of the disciples suggests that they believed that having wealth was a sign of God’s approval (false teachings of prosperity theology existed long before late night television).

False teachings of prosperity theology existed long before late night television.

Jesus looked at them and said, “With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible.” (verse 27)

Man cannot save himself.  It is impossible.  But what is impossible with man is possible with God.  God can save him.  For with God all things are possible.

God can change a heart so that it loves Jesus more than it loves stuff.

The disciples are still thinking about this rich young ruler’s walking away sorrowfully.  So Peter says to Jesus, “See, we have left all and followed You.” Jesus replies: “Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel’s, who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time—houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions—and in the age to come, eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” (verses 29-31)

Things have not really changed much.  In the eyes of contemporary America today, the rich young ruler would be ranked “first” in importance.  And the lowly disciples who were following Jesus would be considered “last” in importance.

Jesus reminds us that the viewpoint and rankings of this present age are nowhere near as important as God’s viewpoint and the way He sees us.

No One is “Good Enough” for Heaven

Jesus helps us see in this passage that no one is good, but God.  No one is intrinsically good, perfectly good, consistently good.

The young man had asked, “What shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?”  And in one sense the answer is, “Do?!  Well you must do perfectly, and consistently that which is righteous!  Keep all the moral law perfectly, and consistently.  Do this and you will live!”

This was the failure of our first parents, Adam and Eve.  God set them up in a good place with goodness all around.  He essentially said to them: “You two can enjoy all this stuff.  Just obey My commands.  Do this and you will live. But do not eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. If you do that, you will die!”

We can’t consistently do good things and live, because we have a nature predisposed to do bad things.

And that’s precisely what happened—they disobeyed, and they died.

Because our human nature is bound up in the human nature of Adam, we die.  Death is part of our nature because sin is part of our nature.  And sin is part of our nature because it is part of Adam’s nature.  So we can’t do anything to fix our situation.

We can’t consistently do good things and live, because we have a nature predisposed to do bad things.

Even if you said, “Well, I’ll start now and do good works today and one day I’ll do enough good to please God!”  Even if you could somehow begin to stack up some good deeds, how many would be necessary?  You have sinned against a God who is infinite; an infinitely Holy God—so it would take an infinite number of your good deeds to appease Him.  You can’t do that.

The Apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 3:9, “I want to be found in Him (Christ), not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by Christ.”  

Paul was essentially saying, “I don’t want to stand before God on Judgement Day hoping I’ll get into heaven based upon my own goodness!  I don’t want to be standing before the Judge of the Universe ‘clothed’ in my own righteousness—no way!!  I want to be clothed in the infinitely good, consistent, perfect righteousness of Christ.”

This is what the preachers of old used to call, “alien righteousness.”  We don’t use that term much today because it sounds like science fiction: “Alien righteousness!”

The term sounds like a righteousness that’s other-worldly, a supernatural kind of righteousness—yet that’s exactly what it is.  If we are “In-Christ,” then we are dressed in a righteousness that really is in one sense, totally “alien” to us.  It is a supernatural kind of righteousness from Christ alone.

We need Jesus because we’re

Not “good enough” for heaven.

What We Love More Than Christ Keeps Us From Heaven

Who of us would not have been tempted to quickly affirm this young man and welcome him into our churches?  I mean the guy comes running up to Jesus and bows before him reverently and religiously.  He demonstrates outwardly good, moral behavior.

But Jesus knows that this man loves something more than he loves the Lord.

Jesus knows this man loves something more than he loves the Lord

For the young man, it was his love for money; riches and possessions.  It was his love for those things that kept him from heaven.  He had actually broken the greatest commandment of all to “Love the Lord God with all of one’s heart, soul, mind, and strength.”

It may be your love for money and stuff, possessions, that keeps you from heaven.

Whatever we love more than Jesus may be the very thing that keeps us from heaven, loving money more than Jesus, loving good health more than we love Jesus, loving our lives more than we love Jesus.

Jesus may speak to you just like He did the Rich Young Ruler, “Go, sell all you have and come and follow Me.”  Money may be the very idol you love more than God.  Or, if you love something else more than you love God, He’ll speak to that idol.  It may be an unwillingness to turn from sin.

Today Jesus may say to you:

  • “Go, tell your co-workers you cannot compromise your integrity if You love Me more than worldly success.”
  • “Go, tell your friend you will not engage in that behavior if You love Me more than the passing pleasure of sin.”
  • “Go, get help for your pornography if You love Me more than cheap substitutes for My glorious beauty and infinite worth.”

Whatever we love more than Jesus may be the very thing that keeps us from heaven.

We Enter Heaven Only By Trusting and Following Christ

Ultimately, the rich young ruler wasn’t willing to trust and follow Jesus because he loved and valued temporary treasures over eternal treasures.

One reason it is hard for wealthy people to enter heaven is because wealth gives a false sense of security and self-sufficiency.

The devil wants us to fall in love with this world and value its temporary comforts and temporary pleasures greater than we value the things of God.

The end of this passage is a call to abandon all the temporary treasures of the world—houses, lands, even if necessary, family—that we may gain eternal treasures; eternal life.  When we trust and follow Jesus even “persecutions” (verse 30) can be regarded in a positive light.

Whatever we lose in this world is made up for in Christ.  

In the Gospels, Jesus was in some sense like a rich young ruler.  You could say that He was the ultimate rich young ruler.

Before the incarnation, Jesus had everything.  At the right hand of the Father, and in the presence of glory, Jesus was rich!  But remember what Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 8:9, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.”

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

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