Wealth and God's Kingdom/September 24, 2017

Second Baptist Lincoln
Sept. 24, 2017

Wealth and God’s Kingdom

Matthew 19:16-29                  

16 Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”  17 “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.”  18 “Which ones?” he inquired.  Jesus replied, “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, 19 honor your father and mother,’[a] and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’[b]”  20 “All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”  21 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.”  22 When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.
23 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” 25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?” 26 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” 27 Peter answered him, “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?”  28 Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife[c] or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.

As you know from the past couple weeks as I talked about some of Jesus’ more difficult sayings on hatred and of reconciliation, we encounter another difficult passage of Jesus. He deals with the issue of WEALTH.  

If I were to ask you, “How do you know you’re going to heaven, your response would be “Because I invited Jesus to come into my life and redeem me from my sin. Because of his death on the cross and resurrection from the tomb, I can have new life.”  Today in our passage of Scripture, we’re going to see a young man approach Jesus and ask Him the very same question.  “What must I do to have eternal life?” It’s an age-old question!  His response was a typical response.  I did this, I did that.  There were a lot of things this young man did right. But he made a series of mistakes that led him to missing out on the power of God in His life. This passage is likely to surprise us and confuse us a little, since the standard answer we give about “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved”, is not the answer he gives.

At this point, Jesus was still very popular. Crowds of people were still gathering around to listen to Him teach. People were seeking Him out because they wanted to hear what He had to say. During this time of teaching, a rich, young ruler approached Jesus and asked Him a question all people want to know the answer to. “What must I do to have eternal life?” I love the question! But there was a problem with it. He was looking for an answer that wouldn’t inconvenience him. And because that was his natural bent, he ended up, like so many of us, walking away sad.

This story is found in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. And when you combine the stories, here’s what you come up with. We learn the man who asked Jesus this question was rich, young and a ruler. Ruler of what? Very likely the ruler of the local synagogue. He was probably of the more traditional sect of the faith which would’ve been ruled by the Pharisees because he was asking about eternal life. The liberal sect of the faith, the Sadducees, didn’t believe in eternal life. It appears at the beginning of this story that this man was on the right track in so many ways. First, he came to Jesus! Next, he came to Jesus with the RIGHT question! You can see Him being asked about controversial subjects like divorce and runaway slaves. Mothers were bringing their children to be blessed by Jesus. So this rich man knew there was something different about this Jesus. He realized Jesus was a man worthy of his respect. But his recognition stopped short. While he saw Jesus as a worthy teacher, he didn’t see Jesus as LORD. Now maybe there is a reason for this. He didn’t have our VANTAGE POINT He didn’t have the full gospel of the cross and the resurrection. He didn’t have Paul’s letters to the churches across Asia Minor. 

My fear is that many of us, even with our complete scriptures and the testimony of the Apostles and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, we still don’t see Jesus as Lord either. We see Him as a good teacher. We see Him as a nice guy. But the whole idea of Him being “Lord” is a little much for most people.Why? Well, think of what the name “Lord” means. In a nutshell it means “Master.” It means “Boss.” And most people I know have very little interest in someone being their boss. Most of us had rather BE the boss, or at least we’d rather be free from having anyone hold us accountable. My feeling is this young man saw himself as Lord and was looking for advice on how he could keep hold of being in charge of his own life and yet reap the benefits of God being the Savior. How can I say that? Because when you look at the entire context of the story you see the man is trying to figure out how he could remain in charge of all that he had.

Think about the question logically. What do we gain if we live under our own will and leadership? Well, we get to do what WE want. We can accumulate a lot of stuff. And those things can be fun! It’s nice when everything revolves around us. But how long does that stuff last? Only as long as you do, and that’s not very long. It’s why Jesus said in Matt. 16: 24-26, “If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will find it. What will it benefit a man if he gains the whole world yet loses his life?”

The young man had asked Jesus how to have eternal life. What’s very intriguing about this is that it’s not like it was some secret. It’s not like there are a bunch of hoops to jump thru in order to “earn” your way into heaven. So how did Jesus answer the question? He starts off by telling him that if he wants eternal life it begins with obedience to Him. He asks Jesus which ones he’s supposed to follow.  Jesus responds by suggesting 6 of the 10 commandments. What about the first 4? By not mentioning them, Jesus wasn’t saying they weren’t important. The 1st 4 commandments deal with our relationship with God. The last 6 deal with the very practice of the first four. So the idea is that it’s not just enough to KNOW the commandments, but it is to LIVE them; to put them into practice. Jesus said in John 14:15, “If you love Me you will keep My commandments.”

The young man gives a good response. He tells Jesus he’s kept all of these commandments! Then he says, “What do I still lack?”  I will have to say, this was a pretty good guy.  I think he really was.  He was checking off all the little religious boxes, just like we do. I went to church this morning...check. I read my Bible...check. I prayed...check. I put money in the offering plate...check. I helped my neighbor…check! None of those things are wrong! But we can’t forget that God doesn’t just look at our outward actions, but He also examines the motivations of our heart! The young man said, “I’ve performed all these tasks! What else do you want from me?” And Jesus goes right to the man’s heart. In v. 21 He tells him to give away all he has to the poor and then come follow Him. 

There are a lot of strange interpretations of this passage.  Some believe that Jesus hates wealth.  Others believe you have to get rid of your wealth to be a follower of Jesus.  The problem wasn’t the man’s wealth, it was his heart.  His heart was focused on his wealth and nothing else.  Jesus said in Matt. 6: 21, “For where you treasure is there will your heart be also.” It is a question of: What is it you value most in life? What is it that you refuse to relinquish in your life? Because whatever it is, that’s what you treasure and that’s where your heart is. And if your heart is with anything other than following God; if your heart is with anything that pulls you AWAY from obedience to the Lord, you’re called to let it go. Why? Because the stuff of this world weighs us down. It trips us up and causes us not to run the race of life well! Take an inventory of your life to see if there are any hindrances to your walk with God. As for God’s health in removing that which stands in the way of a life with Christ.

This same story is told in Mark 10. And from that reading of this story we learn that when the young man came to Jesus, he did so running to Him! But by the time he leaves Jesus we see him walking away grieving. There is no doubt in my mind that this man was concerned for his soul. It’s why he asked Jesus what he had to do to have eternal life. He was absolutely committed to finding out how to have eternal life. In our text he prods Jesus a little deeper when he asked him what he lacked in his life that was keeping him from life eternal. It’s obvious he knew he was lacking something so he asked Jesus what it was he was missing. What was he missing? A TOTAL surrender of his life to God! Where he made the mistake is that when he heard what Jesus wanted him to do he was grieved. Another word for “grieved” is “sad.” He was sad because Jesus was asking him to give up that which was most important to him in his life...his possessions. See, it isn’t just bank accounts.  It is possessions.  It isn’t just gold or silver, it is that which we surround ourselves with.  Do you realize that the more possessions we have, the less time we have, because each one of those additional possessions takes time and attention to attend to? If we buy a bigger house to obtain more possessions, we spend more time caring for those possessions. 

During the 1940's, a man named Alex Jordan discovered a 60-foot chimney of rock in the beautiful Wyoming Valley of Wisconsin. It was here he decided to build a house on the sandstone formation called Deer Shelter Rock. Jordan built the house as a weekend retreat and never intended it to be a tourist attraction. However, people kept coming to see the architectural wonder they had heard about. Jordan eventually started asking for 50 cent donations. That was only the beginning. The 14-room house is the original structure of what is now a complex of many buildings, exhibits, and garden displays. Alex was a collector all his life and enjoyed visiting museums; however, he did not want The House on the Rock to be a museum. He intended it to be much more than that. It wasn’t long before his collections became vast.   It included European medieval armor, coin operated musical instruments,  the world’s largest carousel, guns, replica collection of the British crown jewels. His house became his life.  Rather than a place to hang his hat, it became the object of his interest and affection. 

What’s important to us?  Does it keep us from taking up our cross and following Jesus?  I’m afraid I have a few of those obstacles in my own life.  I wonder how many of us would walk away sad and distraught when Jesus calls upon us.  AMEN.