Thursday, January 26, 2012


He was young, wealthy, and powerful, but spiritually impoverished. Aware of a deficiency he made his way to Jesus. His question? “Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?” (Matthew 19:16). He desired “eternal life”—his youth, possessions, and power still left him hungering for something more. St. Augustine: “Thou hast made us for Thyself and our hearts are restless until we find rest in Thee.”

His question was problematic. The man was on the wrong course. The doings of man, no matter how impressive, can never measure up to God’s standard. God alone is good (Luke 18:19; Romans 3:12). The best of man’s religious efforts fall short (Romans 3:23; Philippians 3:6).

Jesus worked to reveal the man’s shortcomings by issuing a challenge. “Keep the commandments,” He said (Matthew 19:17). “Which ones?” asked the man. Jesus recited for him the second half of the Decalogue—the social division of the Ten Commandments—and added the Leviticus 19:18 requirement to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 19:18-19).

The young man responded by claiming that he had kept all the commandments. Did he really think so? He must have. But he was mistaken. Jesus knew the truth of his heart’s condition and responded: “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Matthew 19:21). “Do you really love your neighbor as yourself?” Are you willing to sacrifice all that you have for their sake? Salvation by good works will demand this and more. Jesus was not suggesting that salvation can be earned, he was revealing to the man the hopelessness of his condition. The young man had much property—he was unwilling to give that up. The demands of salvation by works were too great. Man has neither the will or ability to do all that is required by the Law.

He did not do what Jesus demanded, but instead went away “grieving” (Matthew 19:22). The course he had chosen came to a bad end. It would have been better if he had come to Jesus with need and in faith (in the one alone who is good)--as a child would have come (Cf. Matthew 19:13-15). But he came attesting to his good works, and they were inadequate. It was a sad end of to the story, at least as far as the rich young ruler was concerned. But Jesus used the occasion to teach His disciples some important things. “And Jesus said to His disciples, ‘Truly I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I say to you, 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’” (Matthew 19:23-24).

The Jews of Jesus’ day perceived riches to be indicative of a man’s piety and God’s blessing upon him. So the disciples were no doubt surprised by what they heard. The reality is that the rich and poor alike must come to God as spiritual paupers. But it is harder for the rich to do that. Agur recognized this. He prayed, “Two things I asked of Thee, do not refuse me before I die: Keep deception and lies far from me, give me neither poverty or riches; feed me with the food that is my portion, lest I be full and deny Thee and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or lest I be in want and steal, and profane the name of my God” (Proverbs 30:7-9). It is natural for a man to “fix (his) hope on the uncertainty of riches, (rather than) God” (1 Timothy 6:17). Wealth is not a helpful thing when it comes to the realization of one’s need for 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! How hard is it for a camel to go through the eye of a needle? I saw a camel recently on our trip to Uganda. He was really large and had really big humps. The eye of a needle is incredibly small. It is not just difficult, it is impossible.

Thank God that what is impossible with man is possible with God (Matthew 19:26). He is able to make us aware of our need for Him and His forgiveness. In convicting us of sin the Holy Spirit causes us to reassess our true condition—spiritual bankruptcy (John 16:8; Matthew 5:3). It is only then that we realize that there is nothing that we can do—“not the labor of my hands can fulfill the law’s demands.” Helpless and contrite we are directed to the one who became poor, that we might become rich (2 Corinthians 8:9). True and lasting riches—bound up in Him alone-- are then bestowed on those who sincerely trust in Him (1 Timothy 6:17-19). As Jim Elliot once said: “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” Thank God that He is able to do the impossible. Salvation is a miracle of God’s grace for rich and poor alike—but especially for the rich.

1 Corinthians 1:26-30, “For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised, God has chosen, the things that are not, that He might nullify the things that are, that no many should boast before God. BUT BY HIS DOING YOU ARE IN CHRIST JESUS.” Praise God that it is by His doing—it would otherwise be impossible.

Pastor Jerry

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