|Rejected | The Rich Young Man|
|January 17, 2009|
Part 4 of 5 | January 18, 2009
Welcome to week #4 of our teaching series called Rejected. In this series, we’re exploring the lives of people who encountered Jesus during his earthly life. They heard his wisdom. Experienced his teaching. A lot of them even saw him perform miracles. But in spite of all that, these people rejected him.
We’re spending a month talking about these people. And specifically, we’re exploring why they rejected Jesus. This is critically important, because we can reject Jesus for the very same reasons in our lives. And that was never more true than it is today. Because today, we’re exploring the story of the rich young man found in Matthew 19.
This story is one that most Christians in the wealthy, western world would probably like to rip out of the Bible. When you don’t try to explain it away, but instead allow the truth of this story to speak, it gets really uncomfortable. There is not a Christian in America who can be comfortable with this story if they really understand it. But it is in the Bible. We don’t get the option of ripping it out. We can’t ignore it. So instead, we’ve got to open ourselves up to the uncomfortable conviction that comes with it.
Let’s pray and then we’ll all get really uncomfortable.
Matthew 19, picking it up in verse 16. “Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”
“Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, obey the commandments.”
“Which ones?” the man inquired.
Jesus replied, “‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’”
“All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”
Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.” (Matthew 19:16-22, NIV)
If you are comfortable with this story, you don’t understand this story. Let’s just get this out in the open right now. If the story we just read didn’t make you the least bit uncomfortable, you don’t get it.
The demands of Jesus, the requirements of following him that are shown in his encounter with the rich young man…this should be really unsettling to Christians who have as much stuff as we do. Any Christian who has a house, a car (or two or three), a closet full of clothes, a kitchen full of food, a living room filled with comfy couches, satellite TV, DVR, and surround sound, and all the other comforts and conveniences that almost all of us have…this story is really, really tough on us.
And I’m in a really tough position today. Because I could water this down. I’ve heard people do that to this story. I could make this story so vanilla that you wouldn’t be the least bit uncomfortable with it. Or, I could tell you the truth. I could break down this Scripture, show you what God is really saying, and risk making you uncomfortable and angry.
Well, I’m going to go the second route. I’m going to honestly break down this Scripture for you…and if you get mad or offended or uncomfortable, I’ll deal with it. Because I’d rather have you mad at me than have God mad at me.
So let’s go. Jesus is approached by a person that the Bible identifies as a rich young man. The gospel of Luke calls him “a certain ruler.” We don’t know what kind of ruler he was. It’s possible that he was a Pharisee, like we talked about last week. But we don’t know for sure. What we do know is that this young man is very wealthy and powerful.
This guy comes to Jesus and asks the question, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” (Matthew 19:16, NIV)
That seems like a good question. What do I do to get eternal life? How can I go to heaven? For the moment, it seems like this guy is in a very good place. Some people have suggested that this man was trying to trap Jesus with this question, like the Pharisees we talked about last week. But I don’t think so. I don’t see anything in the Bible that suggests that he was anything but sincere. He is asking the Son of God how he can go to heaven. It’s a great question, and he couldn’t be asking a better person for the answer.
Jesus responded, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, obey the commandments.” (Matthew 19:17, NIV)
The man asked Jesus, “What good thing must I do to get eternal life?”
Jesus’ answer is simple. “There is only one who is good, and that’s God. God is good and his commands are good. Follow them.”
But this isn’t enough for the young man. He presses Jesus even further with a question.
“Which ones?” the man inquired. (Matthew 19:18a, NIV)
At this point, this man looks even better. He comes to Jesus and asks how he can have eternal life in heaven. Jesus tells him to follow God’s commands. But this man seems to want to go deeper. So he asks, “Which ones? Which are the most important? The most significant?”
Jesus answered him, “‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matthew 19:18b-19, NIV)
The first five commands Jesus gives the young man are from the Ten Commandments in the Old Testament. And then he includes the command to “love your neighbor as yourself,” from Leviticus 19.
This obviously isn’t an exhaustive list of commands for God’s people. Jesus listed some commands that were representative of the entire Law that God gave his people in the Old Testament.
The man heard these commands from Jesus, and then said, “All these I have kept…What do I still lack?” (Matthew 19:20, NIV)
The man had kept all the commands that Jesus listed, so he asked, “What do I still lack?” He’s probably hoping that the answer is, “Nothing! You’ve done it all. You’ve got it all together. You’re good to go!” But that wasn’t the answer he received.
“Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Matthew 19:21, NIV)
All of the commands that Jesus gave this man were outward commands. Do not murder. Do not commit adultery. Do not steal. Those are all outward commands.
But the young man wasn’t satisfied with that. He wanted to go deeper. So in this verse, Jesus looks at him and says, “You want to go deeper? Ok, let’s go deeper. In fact, let’s go all the way. Let’s go straight to your heart. You know all the stuff you have? All the stuff that you’ve accumulated with your great wealth? Go sell it. Sell it all. Give all the money to the poor. Then come and follow me.”
The next verse shows us the tragic response of the man. “When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.” (Matthew 19:22, NIV)
We have no record of this man being saved. We have no Biblical evidence that he ever returned to Jesus. He simply went away sad, never to return, because Jesus went to the core value of his heart.
He could keep all the other commands that Jesus gave him, because they were all outward commands. They all involved stuff he could do or not do. But when he pressed the issue, Jesus upped the ante. Instead of focusing on what the man could do, Jesus focused on who he was. Who he was was a man who was very wealthy. Who he was was a man who loved his money and his stuff. Who he was was a man who couldn’t truly worship Jesus because he already had a god on the throne of his life.
And here’s where it gets uncomfortable. A lot of people in this room worship the same god.
We live smack in the middle of the wealthiest, most overstuffed, over-indulged culture this planet has ever known. Even when our country is in the middle of a recession, most people in the world only wish they had it as good as we do. Some of them can’t even afford to wish for it.
Do you realize that 80% of the world’s population lives on less than $10 a day? We spend more than that on lunch at McDonalds. 50% of the world’s population lives on less than $2.50 a day. That won’t buy you a cup of coffee at Starbucks. Over a billion people don’t have adequate access to water. We spent $15 billion on bottled water last year. Over 2.5 billion lack basic sanitation. There is not a person in this room without indoor plumbing. Between 25,000-30,000 children are going to die due to extreme poverty…today. Meanwhile the epidemic in America is childhood obesity.
How do you feel right now? Feeling uncomfortable? Guilty? Frustrated? Angry? For a whole lot of us, that’s a good thing. We need to have our cage rattled. Because we have become so accustomed to our comfortable life. We have grown to believe that we deserve all the nice stuff we have. And the goal of our life has become the pursuit of keeping that stuff…and gaining more while we’re at it. The driving force in our lives has become money and stuff. Our own comfort and convenience has taken the prime spot in our hearts. It has become the god that we serve.
That’s what Jesus was dealing with when we encountered the rich young man in our story. This guy had obeyed all of the commands that Jesus gave him. He said the right things. Did the right things. He appeared to be about as flawless as a person could possibly be…on the outside. But there was a secret buried deep within him. The secret was that he valued his stuff, his comfort, and his pleasure above and beyond anything else.
The rich young man wanted to follow Jesus without changing his life. I really do believe that he approached Jesus with sincerity. I really think he wanted to know what he needed to do to go to heaven. He would do anything…except change who he was.
Now, we need to be clear about something. The man didn’t have too much money. That wasn’t Jesus’ point. Jesus didn’t call this guy to chuck it all because he had too much money. He did it because money had too much of him.
And here is where we get to the very core of who we are. We are so blessed. Like we just talked about, we have more money, more stuff, more comforts and conveniences than the vast majority of the rest of the world. We are blessed. But it’s scary how easy that blessing can become a curse if we allow it.
You can’t have too much money. But money can have too much of you. That happens when money takes the place of Christ in your life.
But, while that sounds simple, it’s actually very subtle. The reason it’s so easy for money to take God’s place in our lives is because money mimics God in a lot of ways. It provides security. It provides hope. It provides comfort. It provides peace. Sounds a lot like God, doesn’t it?
In the book of Ecclesiastes, the Bible says, “A feast is made for laughter, and wine makes life merry, but money is the answer for everything.” (Ecclesiastes 10:19, NIV)
Some of you are shocked that this verse in the Bible, but it is. I didn’t make it up. This is straight Scripture. And it’s really a great verse. It’s a great verse because it’s so honest.
You can go to a feast or a party and have a great time. But sooner or later, it will be over and you’ll have to go home. You can have a fine glass of wine, but eventually the glass will be empty. The enjoyment will be over. All other sources of comfort and joy don’t last. But money…money is the never-ending answer to everything in our world…which is exactly why it’s so dangerous.
Money is dangerous precisely because it is our world’s answer to everything. Money is the fix all, cure all, be all and end all in our world…which is why money can so easily replace God in our lives. God is the ultimate answer to everything, but money does a really good job mimicking that.
That’s why the rich young man was so shocked and so saddened that Jesus challenged him to get rid of it all. It never occurred to him that his connection to his wealth could be a problem. Why would Jesus want to mess with that? What would Jesus challenge him to get rid of the comfort and security that came with his money? What gave Jesus the right to tell him to do this? The command was too radical. Too revolutionary. It was just too much. This man wanted to follow Jesus without changing his life.
But what the man didn’t understand is that to follow Jesus, you’ve got to be willing to change or give up anything.
This guitar hangs on the wall of my house. It probably doesn’t look like much to you. Truthfully, it’s not much to look at. But if you were to have this guitar appraised, it could be worth as much as a few thousand dollars. Seriously.
This guitar belonged to my grandma. She gave it to me a few years ago. She bought it when she was a kid. She saved and saved and saved to buy this guitar. I believe she spent about $10 on it. She wanted this guitar because it had Gene Autry’s name on it. Some of you remember him. You can still faintly see the print of his signature on the guitar.
As it turns out, very few of these guitars were manufactured. Most have been lost or destroyed, so it’s now quite a collector’s item. So why is this one in such bad shape? It’s cracked. The neck is bent. It’s missing a string and the rest of the strings could break at any time. Why is it in such bad shape? Because my grandma let all of us grandkids beat the fire out of it. I remember being at my grandparents’ house and strumming this guitar as hard as I could. Probably while I was singing the bluegrass song, Rocky Top. I sang that song all the time as a kid. I don’t know why.
Now think about this…my grandma has someone offer her more than $1,000 for this guitar. And she wouldn’t take it. But she would let all her grandchildren treat this valuable heirloom like a toy. Why? Because she wasn’t willing to give it up for a collector…but she was willing to give it up for her grandchildren.
What you think of someone and what you are willing to give up for them are directly connected. The man in our story respected Jesus. He admired Jesus. But when it came down to it, he didn’t love Jesus. At least not enough to give up what he valued the most.
Following Jesus means that you are willing to change or give up anything for him. If think that sounds harsh, you should know that this is what Jesus demands from you and from me.
Earlier in the book of Matthew, Jesus said, “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.
Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:37-39, NIV)
That is self-denial of the most radical kind. When it comes to your allegiance to Jesus, nothing supersedes him. Your family relationships are secondary. Your possessions are secondary. Your goals, your plans, your dreams are secondary. Your own life is secondary. They all take a backseat to Jesus.
In our story, Jesus told the rich young man, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Matthew 19:21, NIV)
Jesus told him, “Get rid of everything that is taking my place in your life. Then, just follow me.” Jesus wasn’t calling him to do something to earn his salvation. His call was to just follow him. But that simple command is the most difficult thing you’ll ever do. Jesus’ call to follow him means getting rid of everything that distracts us, everything that competes for the throne of our lives.
What would you have done? Put yourself in the place of the rich young man. What would you have done? You’ve met Jesus. You ask him what you need to do. And he answers, “Get rid of everything you have. Everything. Then, come follow me.” What would you have done?
You’re probably glad that it wasn’t you in that story, aren’t you? I know I am. Thankfully Jesus doesn’t ask us to do that today. Or does he?
Actually, he does. Nothing has changed. Jesus demands haven’t changed. Not even a little bit. If there is something that is taking priority over him in your life, he demands that you get rid of it. He doesn’t expect you to try to reprioritize or realign your life. He expects radical life change. If there is something else on the throne of your life, he doesn’t expect you to try to alter it. He expects you to get rid of it.
Look at verse 21 again. Except this time, focus in on just two words. Go and come.
Jesus said, “Go, sell everything you have. Go, get rid of everything that is more important than me in your life. Go chuck it all. And then, come. Come and follow me. But don’t try to come and follow me if your allegiance is divided. Don’t try to come and follow me if I don’t own you. Go and get rid of it all. And if you’re not willing to do that, don’t come back.”
Think that’s a bit harsh? That’s Jesus. I promised you uncomfortable and offensive, didn’t I? This doesn’t fit our nice, comfy, preconceived picture of Jesus. The Bible says that Jesus is the Lamb of God. But it also says that he is the Lion of Judah. And that Lion has some teeth.
What do you do with this command to get rid of everything and anything for the sake of Christ? You do some prayerful self-evaluation…and if there is something in your life more important than Christ, if there is something that gets more of your time, talent, money, and allegiance than Christ, you go and get rid of it. And you don’t come back to him until you’ve done that.
Somebody in this room needs to put a car up for sale this week. Somebody needs to put a big screen TV on Craig’s List. Somebody needs to forfeit the big vacation they’ve been planning. Somebody needs write a seriously big check and give it to God instead of allowing their money to stay on the throne in their lives.
I bet that there isn’t a person in this room who doesn’t need to go and get rid of something. And if you think this is radical…if you think that I’ve lost my mind…that means we’re on the right track. Following Jesus was never supposed to be something comfortable and convenient. It requires the most radical devotion and sacrifice that you can imagine. We can’t claim to be Christ-followers if we’re following something else…anything else.
But let’s remember who it is that is calling us to this level of self-denial. It is Jesus Christ. The one who gave absolutely everything he had for us.
And look at the promise that Jesus makes later in Matthew 19. “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.” (Matthew 19:29-30, NIV)
In God’s economy, the first will be last and the last will be first. Those who give up everything for the sake of Christ will receive a hundred times as much in heaven.
And ultimately, we’ve got to remember why God demands that nothing take his place in our lives. Because he loves us.
In Exodus 20, God says, “I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.” (Exodus 20:5b-6, NIV)
God loves you more intensely and more passionately than you could ever understand. He loves you so much that he is jealous for you. He is jealous for your love and devotion. And if anything comes between him and you, it kills him. It angers him, but it also breaks his heart.
I am jealous for my wife. I love her and I am jealous for her love and commitment to me. If I ever sensed that something was coming between us, that something was keeping her from loving me fully and completely, I would do anything to restore the relationship. I would get rid of anything that was coming between us.
In your relationship with God, there was something that had come between the two of you. Sin. Your sin and my sin had separated us from God. God gave everything he had to get rid of it. It cost him his own Son. Jesus died to pay the price for your sin and restore your relationship with God. He held nothing back. He gave it all for you.
And so that’s what he asks for in return. All. Everything. If something is keeping you from following Jesus with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, are you willing to get rid of it? Are you willing to give up anything and everything for the One who gave up all he had for you?
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