Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
May 3, 2015
16 And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” 17 And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” 18 He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, 19 Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 20 The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” 21 Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. 23 And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person 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 a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” 26 But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” 27 Then Peter said in reply, “See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” 28 Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit 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 children or lands, for my name's sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. 30 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”
— Matthew 19:16-30, ESV
As the Gospel of Matthew progresses toward the end of Christ’s first coming, this passage points for a moment to His second coming. The first time Jesus came to provide salvation, the next time He comes He will bring judgment. Those who do not secure the former will have to endure the latter, forever.
What appears on the surface to be a very unique meeting with a most unusual person is actually something quite common. The man who approaches Jesus here is simply like most men and women, wanting what most men and women want in this life, and apparently getting what most men and women will get in the life to come. His life stands in stark contrast to the simple fisherman who were the first followers of Jesus Christ. They stood apart before Christ in their day, and will land in drastically different places at the end of days. Let us look into this a little further by seeing the fool, the followers, and the final days.
The Bible gives a distinct definition of a fool as someone who denies the existence of God (ref. Psalm 14:1). However, the broad road to foolishness is paved with more than atheism. Foolishness before God consists not only of people who do not believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, but also the people who say they do, but live like they do not. I am afraid that puts most people on the planet on this path, just like the man who approaches Jesus in this passage.
We call this man the rich young ruler. All three synoptic Gospels agree he is rich, Matthew points out his youth, and Luke adds that he ruled over other people. We are tempted to view him as one of the elite, an exceptional person, a rarity. But at the end of the day, he is everyman. He is a mediocre model of most people, or at least a caricature of what most people crave.
Most people want to be rich, young, and rule over other people. That’s why people buy lottery tickets, go to casinos, obsess over the stock market, and make monumental decisions based on money. That’s why cosmetic companies and plastic surgeons are raking in record profits. That’s why there is so much strife in government, churches, and homes, where too many chiefs live with not enough indians. Few things are more foolish than the obsessive pursuit of the almighty dollar, old people trying to look young, and sparrows who strut like roosters. But the people who do these things are not few, they are most people.
Most people are good moralists and terrible theologians. This man, like the Pharisaical party to which he may have belonged, believed that people go to Heaven by being good. He also viewed Jesus as merely a good teacher, not as God. For both of these errors, the penalty is death, eternal death. The most popular religion on the planet is not Christianity, Judaism, nor Islam. The most popular religion is religion itself, the vague notion of a distant God who is the gatekeeper of Heaven allowing everyone in except for murderous dictators, serial killer psychopaths, child abusers, and those who claim the SEC is not the best football conference in America. The religious make up most of the people in the world; therefore, most of the people in this world are merely foolish.
Foolish people who place riches, pleasure, power, or personal accomplishments above the gospel of Jesus Christ cannot be saved. Foolish religions, even variants of Christianity, that deny the deity and direct atonement of Jesus Christ cannot save anyone. Neither money nor morals will get you into Heaven. Going through confirmation or walking the aisle of a church will not grant you a pass through the pearly gates, either.
There is only one way to be saved, and Jesus said it in this text. “Follow Me.” The rich young ruler wouldn’t do it, will you? Will you be a fool or will you be a follower? And if you are a follower, the one you are following has to be the Lord Jesus Christ.
We find a real fool in this folly, represented by this immaculate rich young ruler. But we find some genuine followers, too, personified by the imperfect and impetuous Simon Peter and his pals. The Lord’s answers to their spoken and unspoken questions provide proof of what it really means to be a follower of Jesus Christ.
A follower of Christ is created by God. Self-salvation is as impossible as a camel climbing through a needle, not difficult, impossible. There is nothing good in man that enables him to save himself (ref. Romans 3:10-12). Man must be saved by the enabling of God (ref. John 6:44,65). God chooses (ref. John 15:16; Ephesians 1:4), God convicts (ref. John 16:8), God calls (ref. Romans 8:29-30), God changes (ref. 2 Corinthians 5:17; Titus 3:5), God saves by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone (ref. Ephesians 2:8-10).
A follower of Christ is completely committed to Jesus Christ. The rich young ruler was intellectually curious, emotionally connected, but lacked true commitment. He thought Jesus was special and he wanted to join Christ’s merry movement. Most churches would have taken him on the spot, led him in some sinner’s prayer, and told him to never doubt his salvation. But Jesus doubted his sincerity, and as always, the Lord was right. The grace of God in salvation informs the mind, captures the heart, and moves the will. It identifies Jesus as Lord, mortifies sin and pride, and causes a person to love Jesus and desire to follow Him immediately and totally.
A follower of Christ has nothing in this life, but everything in the life to come. In true communism, everything belongs to the state. In true Christianity, everything belongs to Christ. The rich young ruler did not get this, but the simple fishermen did. Say what you want about Simon Peter, but can you say, like Simon Peter, that you have left everything to follow Jesus? His home was Jesus’ home. His tools of the trade were dropped and used at Jesus’ word. His life was invested in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, so that his life would never end but experience a resurrection itself. Have you committed your life to Christ, so that death will be your gain (ref. Philippians 1:21)?
We are either fools or followers, and we will all know which one when the final days come.
The Final Days
The final days will be drastically different for rich young rulers and poor fishers of men. The rich, the young, and the powerful are first in line in this life, while those who are deeply committed to Christ have often been persecuted, marginalized, or otherwise ordered to the back of the line. But there will come a time when the times will be a changing. It will be the last time, the finals days.
Some claim that the rich young ruler was Saul of Tarsus, who became the imminent Apostle Paul. That is a noble thought, and no doubt Paul’s path to conversion cost him money, health, and privilege. But I rather believe that the rich young ruler became a forgotten man, a nobody, a soul lost for all eternity. This is what happens when you hold on to stuff, to sin, to earthly pursuits at the expense of pursuing God in Christ. You will be absolutely, totally forgotten on the final day.
This is not so with those of simple faith. We will receive infinitely more than mere earthly possessions. And contrary to the false prophets who urge you to name it and claim it now, Jesus said such blessings will be delivered “in the new world” in the next life. This is not to say that blessings do not abound in this life, for they certainly can and do. But those who gladly give up everything for Christ now will gain everything with Christ when the final days arrive.
As we approach these final days, let us remember some final things:
Works without faith is dead, but so is faith without works (ref. James 2:17,26). The rich young ruler was a commandment keeper, but he was not a Jesus follower. You cannot be saved by being good, but you cannot be saved if you are not a good follower of Jesus Christ.
God knows who you really are, and who you really want to be. Christ saw right through the young ruler’s religious disguise. And, He can see through yours, if you are wearing one. You may not be rich, but do you covet riches? You may not be young anymore, but do you revel in youthful lusts? You may not have much power, but if you did, what would you do with it, enrich yourself or advance the kingdom of God? God knows who you want to be, and who you want to be is who you really are.
Finally, let me again us this Jim Eliot quote, for it fits so many terrific texts in Scripture: “He is no fool to give up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” This is the gospel truth. Simon Peter learned its valuable lesson and now enjoys values unlimited. And so can you, if you cast off foolishness, follow Jesus Christ, and worship Him until the final days.