Encounters With Christ – When Love Keeps Us from Heaven

Grace For The Journey

I stumbled upon an interesting website recently that headlined, “55 of the Greatest Questions Kids Have Every Asked.”  (twentytwowords.com)  Some of the questions were especially insightful:

Is time real or just something we measured with a clock?
How did people make the first tools, if they didn’t have any tools?
What was the first color our eyes were able to see?
What is light made of?

Pretty good questions, right?  Especially from children!  The most important question anyone will ask, however, is asked not by a child, but by a young man, probably in his early 30s.  He is the man in Mark 10.  It is a story also recorded in Matthew and Luke’s Gospel.  In fact, Mark will tell us the man is rich, Matthew tells us he is young, and Luke tells us he is a ruler.  So, we refer to him as “The Rich Young Ruler.”

He gets right to it in verse 17 with this question he asks of Jesus: “Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?”  Our study of this passage reveals much of the answer to that question and I want to study these verses with you, considering that question, and seeing what we learn together as we study God’s Word.

We will go through these verses and learn what they say, what they mean, and how they apply to our lives.  After we have gone through the passage, I will share with you a few statements that summarize the essence of the content.

The Bible says in verse 17 that as Jesus was “going out on the road, one came running . . .”  That alone conveys to us that this man is determined to get to Jesus, much as Zacchaeus who, you will remember, ran ahead of the crowd before climbing that sycamore tree.  It was generally considered undignified for a person in Palestine to run at all.  But this young man is on a mission.  We see that he is respectful of authority.  Verse 17 also tells us that he knelt before Jesus and then asks a very important question, “What shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?”

That’s a great question, a question that is likely on the minds of many of today.  But 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.  He says to him in verse 18: “Why do you call Me good?  No one is good but One, that is, God.”

Jesus is doing a little theology here.  I have said more than once that theology matters.  Whether we realize it or not, every time we speak about spiritual things, we are doing theology.  Jesus helps the young man understand something of the character of God and His goodness. 

And in asking the question of the young man,

Jesus immediately addresses

One of the young man’s problems –

His thinking of goodness as something relative,

A sense of goodness that placed

Some in better position with God than others.

Jesus is like, “You realize that no one is good, right?  No one is absolutely good.”  It is like truth.  We know truth is not relative.  Truth is absolute.  It is not more or less true that gravity will pull my iphone to the ground if I let go of it.  It is absolutely true that, at the moment I let go, the law of gravity demonstrates my iphone will fall to the floor.

So Jesus is like, “Why do you call Me good?  No one is good but One, that is, God.”  Put another way, “Only God is intrinsically good, inherently good, consistently good, perfectly good at all times.”  Jesus is saying, in essence, “If you are prepared to refer to Me as good, then you are prepared to refer to Me as God.”  

And this is part of the young man’s problem.  

He does not yet see Jesus Christ as God.  

And one of the reasons the young man does not

Yet see Jesus Christ as God is because of a failure

To rightly understand the nature of goodness,

Namely by failing to understand his own lack of goodness.

So Jesus takes the man to the Bible, to the Old Testament Law, to the second half to the Ten Commandments, in an effort to address his faulty understanding of goodness. Jesus says in verse 19, “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.’”

In verse 20 the young man answered and said to Him, “Teacher, all these things I have kept from my youth.”  Now that was probably largely true – on the outside.  This man was morally upright.  He was much like the Apostle Paul who, in Philippians 3 was able to refer to his pre-Christian life as “blameless.”  Remember, Paul had said, “concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless” (Philippians 3:6).  Like Paul, this rich young ruler was outwardly righteous.

But goodness is a moral absolute that is

Absolutely good on both outside and inside.  

No one is absolutely good on both the outside and the inside.

This is why Jesus addresses the heart in His Sermon on the Mount.  In Matthew 5:21-22 and 27-28 He said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’  But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother shall be in danger of the judgment” . . . “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’  But I say to you that whoever looks lustfully at a woman commits adultery with her in his heart.”

This young man was outwardly good,

But inwardly he suffered from

The same sin problem as

Every other human being.

Impure motives. Impure thoughts. Impure loves.

Jesus now finds the man’s especially weak spot and sticks a knife into it in order to help the man see where he wasn’t so “good,” after all.  Verses 21-22 state, “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.”

Jesus puts his finger on the man’s sore spot.  Jesus helps the man see that there is something he loves more than a willingness to follow Christ.  Luke says, “he had great possessions.”  Jesus knew that.  Jesus knew this man’s heart was bound up in his material stuff – his house, his land, his clothes, his money, his things, and his toys.  So, 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 is always especially important to clarify that it is not the possessions that get us into trouble.  As we often say, “It is not whether we have possessions . . . It is whether the things we have possess us.”  If we are unwilling to recognize that God has given us what we have and that what the Lord has given the Lord may take away at any moment.  If we are unwilling to recognize and appreciate God’s ownership of all our stuff, then the things possess us.

If, on the other hand, we are okay with God taking away the stuff He has given us, delighting in giving away possessions as the Lord often prompts us; if we hold our possessions not firmly, but loosely, then we demonstrate that we love Jesus more than we love our stuff.

This rich young ruler loved his stuff more than Jesus.  Verse 23 says, “Then Jesus looked around and said to His disciples, ‘How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!’”  Notice that Jesus says it is not impossible for those who have riches to be saved – remember Zacchaeus?  He came to faith in Christ, loved Jesus and followed Jesus and said, “Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold” (Luke 19:8). But folks like Zacchaeus are rare, very rare.

Jesus repeats what He says as the disciples stand there dumbfounded.  Verses 24-25 say, “And the disciples were astonished at His words.  But Jesus answered again and said to them, ‘Children, how hard it is for those who trust in riches to enter the kingdom of God!  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.’”

These terms are all used interchangeably: “eternal life” (verses 17, 30), “kingdom of God” (verse 24, 25), and “heaven” (verse 21).  They all refer to the same place, to heaven.  Jesus says 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.  Jesus uses hyperbole here for emphasis.  There are some preachers and commentators who claim that Jesus is actually talking about a literal gate called the needle gate, but no such gate has ever been found and it misses the point of Jesus’ teaching.  The camel was the largest land animal in Palestine and the needle was the smallest object with an opening found in a Palestinian home.  Jesus is like, “Let me tell you how difficult it is for those who trust in riches to enter into heaven – it is easier for a big ol’ camel to squeeze through the tiny opening of a needle!”

The disciples respond in verse 26, “And they were greatly astonished, saying among themselves, ‘Who then can be saved?’”  This question of the disciples suggests that believed that having wealth was an sign of God’s approval.  They are like, “If rich people cannot be saved, then who in the world can?!”  False teachings of prosperity theology existed long before late night television.  Jesus has a comforting response to their question in verse 27, “But Jesus looked at them and said, “With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible.’”  This verse says so much.  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 do what man cannot do.

God can change a heart

So that it loves Jesus

More than it loves stuff.

God can take out a heart of stone

And replace it with a heart of flesh.

The disciples are still thinking about this rich young ruler’s walking away sorrowfully.  Peter speaks up in verse 28, “. . . See, we have left all and followed You.”  Verses 29-31 tell us of how Jesus answered, “. . . Verily 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.”

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 all over the place 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.

Let me share with you three statements that summarize the essence of the content in this passage . . .

1) We Need Jesus Because We Are Not “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, and consistently good.  The rich young ruler should have known that.  He was familiar with the Ten Commandments, but really should have had a better grasp on the teachings of the Psalms which the Apostle Paul largely sums up in Romans 3.  If you have time today, take a look at Romans 3 and note how many times the Apostle Paul references the Psalms, especially Psalms 14 and 53 where the Bible says, “There is none righteous, no, not one” and, “There is no one who does good, no, not one.”  In Romans 3 Paul is summarizing the teachings of the Old Testament Law to demonstrate that man is not intrinsically good, perfectly good, nor consistently good – and therefore not good enough for heaven.

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 is the failure of our first parents, Adam and Eve, in the Garden.  God set them up in a good place with goodness all around.  He said, “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!”  And they did that!  And they died.  And that which was good became bad.  

Because our human natures are bound up

With the human nature of Adam, this is why 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.

And we cannot do anything to fix our situation.  

We cannot do good things and live,

Because we have a nature

Predisposed to doing bad things.

Even if you said, “I will start now and do good works today and one day I’ll do enough 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 cannot do that.

You know, we mentioned the Apostle Paul earlier, about how before Christ, he had considered himself outwardly blameless.  In Philippians 3:6 he said, “concerning the righteousness which is in the law, I was blameless.”  But Paul knew he was not intrinsically righteous, inherently good, perfectly good, and consistently good.  That is why he goes on to say, “But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ.”  He concludes in Philippians 3:9, “I want to be found in Him, 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 is saying, “I don’t want to stand before God on Judgement Day wearing my own righteousness.  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 do not use that term much today because it sounds so science fiction-like.  Sounds like a righteousness that’s other-worldly, a supernatural kind of righteousness . . . and 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 are not “good enough” for heaven.  Second implication from this passage, number two:

2) Whatever We Love More Than Jesus May Keep Us From Heaven.

Preachers and teachers of this story often point out how quickly so many of us may have been tempted to sign up this rich young ruler for the Christina life.  This guy comes running up to Jesus and bows before him, reverently, and religiously.  He exhibits outwardly good moral behavior.  How many Baptists at this point wouldn’t have already handed the guy a card to fill out?  You want eternal life?  Just sign this card.  Repeat this prayer after me.  Jesus does none of those things.  He knows that this man loves something more than he loves the Lord.

For the young man, it was his love for money, for riches, for possessions that is the problem.  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 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, or 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 will 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 to close the sale.”
  • “Go, admit to your boss what has been going on because you love Jesus more than your job and you want to do what is right.”
  • “Go, tell your boyfriend you love Jesus more than him and you will keep yourself pure.”
  • “Go, tell your friends you cannot go to the party because you follow Christ.”

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

3) When We Trust And Follow Jesus We Will Enter Into Heaven.

Ultimately, the rich young ruler was not willing to trust and follow Jesus because he loved and valued temporary treasures over eternal treasures.  And the reason it is hard for wealthy people to get saved, to enter heaven, is because their wealth gives them a sense of self-sufficiency.  And there is therefore no sense of really needing God.  They tend to feel they need nothing really.

The devil wants us to fall in love with this world and value its temporary comforts and temporary pleasures more than 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 – all that we may gain eternal treasures, eternal life.  When we trust and follow Jesus even “persecutions” in verse 30 can be regarded in a positive light.  Whatever we lose in this world is made up for in Christ.  Trust and follow Jesus and receive eternal life.

I found something interesting in my study this week about the word used to describe the rich young ruler when he went away – the Bible says in verse 22, “He went away sorrowful.”  The word for “sorrowful” is the same word used to describe Jesus in the Garden of Eden, hours before His death by crucifixion.  In Matthew 26, the Bible says that Jesus took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and He began to be sorrowful and deeply distressed (Matthew 26:37). Why?  Because Jesus would soon experience separation from the One He loved.  His sense of identity is bound up in love for His Father.  Here is a young man who is pressed to separate himself from the thing he loves, from his money.  His sense of identity is bound up in his money, in his possessions.

Jesus is a rich young ruler, the ultimate rich young ruler.  Probably same age as this young man.  He had everything. He was rich, but became poor for your sakes.  He gave everything for you.  Will you give everything for Him?  Whatever it is that you love more than Jesus – does it not seem like a small thing to give up in light of all that Christ gave up to save you?

2 Corinthians 8:8-9 declares, “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 by his poverty might become rich.”

The old puritans used to say that you can’t really enter Zion until you’ve been to Calvary.

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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