Luke 18:18-30-A "certain ruler" asked Jesus what he had to do to inherit eternal life. It is helpful for us to know more about this man. Luke (18:18) tells us that he was a “ruler”. Matthew (19:20) tells us that he was “young”. Matthew (19:22), Mark (10:22), and Luke (18:23) all tell us that he was “rich”. He is therefore commonly referred to as the “rich young ruler”. Mark tells us that this man “ran up to Him and knelt before Him” (10:17). Perhaps something had happened, something that made him think about spiritual matters. That despite all that he had…something was missing. He had heard about Jesus and now he discovers that He is in his very community. Quickly he makes his way to Jesus, finds Him, and drops to his knees before Him…seeking His wisdom concerning the issue that is plaguing him. He addresses Jesus, “Good Teacher…” At face value, this is a polite way to speak to Him. But Jesus knows this man’s heart, before he ever even speaks. Jesus replies, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone.” There are some who read those words and suggest that Jesus is denying that He is God. Just the opposite is true. Jesus is directing the man to the reality of Who He is. This man needs to recognize Who Jesus is…because He is about to answer his question in a way that is going to cause him much distress…and Jesus wants him to know that He is not just some ordinary, run-of-the-mill, itinerant teacher that dispenses a few good sounding, optional, non-compulsory self-help philosophies. No, not at all! Jesus is in fact God, and what He has to say is the absolute truth, the decisive answer, and is not open for arbitration. Many people come to Jesus like this young man. They want His advice, but not His authority. They don’t want it to be binding. They are looking for suggestions, not commands…proposals, not demands. Jesus wants this young man (and us, as well) to realize that when He answers…the deliberation ceases. He is God…and His answers are final.
Jesus responds by quoting the 5th through the 9th of the 10 Commandments. The man tells Jesus that he has done all of those things from his youth. Mark writes, “Jesus felt a love for him…” (10:21). Isn’t it amazing? Jesus knew that, indeed, the man had done what was required. But had not really done what was intended. He had only done what was prescribed...he had met the requirements, the letter of the Law, but nothing more. His intent had been to keep the Law, with precision...but not to fulfill the intent, the spirit of the law. He was more concerned about keeping the Law, than about loving people. He was more intent on loving the Law, than loving God. And yet, Jesus still loved him.
Then Jesus said, “One thing you still lack…” Matthew adds, “if you wish to be complete” (19:21). Suddenly the man was listening…this is what he had come for. This was the reason that he had run to find Jesus. Here was the answer to his empty heart. That one thing that he sensed that he was lacking. But what Jesus had to say, was nowhere near what he had expected to hear. Remember that Jesus had already referred to the 5th thru the 9th Commandments. Then He said, “One thing you still lack…” What He is about to tell the young man is a direct reference to the 10th Commandment concerning “coveting”. This young man had stopped short of the 10th Commandment in his obedience. Jesus did not confront this young man’s belief in God, nor the practice of his religion. Instead, He confronted the core issue of his life…his ultimate values, what he cherished more than anything else in life…what drove and determined his life…the fact that he coveted the possessions of this world more than he loved God.
“One thing you still lack…” This one thing was the main thing, the sole thing, the only thing that truly mattered. He had done everything else but not based it on the right thing…this one thing. His motivations were wrong. He was doing the right things, for the wrong reasons. Jesus was telling him to get rid of that which was adversely affecting why he did these things…so that he could do it for the right reason. He had wanted to know what to “do” to have eternal life. Jesus was showing him that it wasn’t a matter of doing, but of being. Jesus directed him from his actions, to his reasons for his actions. Was “eternal life” just one more thing that he wanted to add to his portfolio? One more thing that he had to “do”? It should have been the entire content of his portfolio. Had he heard someone talk about spiritual matters, realized that he was lacking in this area, and wanted to add it on? God is not an add-on, an optional accessory to the values of earth.
“…sell all that you possess, and distribute it to the poor…” Those words must have hit him like a ton of bricks. They were devastating. Luke says, “he became very sad” (18:23). Matthew says, “he went away grieved” (19:22). Mark adds, “his face fell” (10:22). And the reason was that he “owned much property” (Matthew 19:22; Mark 10:22) and “was extremely rich” (Luke 18:23).
RYR: (A man ran up to Jesus, falling at His feet…after all, it was the proper thing to do.) “Teacher, what do I have to do in order to be certain that I have obtained eternal life?”
Jesus: “You know what the Law says…’Don’t commit adultery, don’t murder, don’t be a false witness, honor you parents.’”
RYR: “I’ve done those things my whole life, since I was a kid. But, I still feel like there’s something missing. I’ve heard some of my friends talk about Heaven…it’s almost like they already have it in their grasp. How can I have that?”
Jesus: (Jesus loved this honest admission. It meant that the man was close to the truth.) (What the Jesus said…) “There is only one thing that you still lack…”
RYR: (What the man heard…) “You’ve done everything else, there is only one more thing to do.” (He thought: “I knew it! I’ve been so diligent, so determined, I’ve worked so hard. I’ve got everything else. But what could I possibly lack? What…me worry?”)
Jesus: “You’re so consumed by the things that you possess…all that you’ve accomplished and accumulated...that you have no room in your life for God. You no longer posses them, but they posses you. Listen closely. There is no half-way, for you. If you want to have treasures in Heaven, you’re going to have to trade in your treasures of earth. It’s either them, or God. Then come and follow Me…and I promise you, you will never miss what you have given away.”
RYR: (For a moment the man just stared back in disbelief, thinking: “This has got to be a joke. He just told me to keep the Law, and now he tells me that I have to give away all that God has blessed me with for keeping the Law! That doesn’t add up. That can’t be the answer. I come to Him asking about Heaven, and all He can do is talk about earth. Doesn’t He know the difference? The next thing this guy is going to tell me is that you can’t take it with you!” With that, the man turned, shook his head in disappointment, and walked away…he was really bummed out. He was so disappointed in this teacher…”I guess I shouldn’t have expected much from Him…I hear that He was just a carpenter…probably never even thought about franchising. I wonder what’s going to happen with this Roman tax situation. Maybe I’ll invest in some water-front property down by the Dead Sea…I hear there’s a group of Essenes moving in there…”
Jesus: (Watching the man as he walked away with his head hanging down.) “It’s so hard for a man who thinks that he has everything, to realize that he has nothing…if he doesn’t have eternal life. They seldom go to Heaven.”
Disciples: (They have been listening in on this conversation. With astonishment, almost at the same time, they all respond to Jesus’ comment…) “If a rich man can’t be saved, then who can be?”
Jesus: “Remember guys, it is impossible for anyone, rich or poor, to save himself. But, it is possible for God to save anyone. Anyone who comes to Him, in faith.”
Peter: (He’s thinking about what Jesus told the RYR.) “Lord, we left our treasures behind and followed You.”
Jesus: “You are exactly right. And I’m telling you, as a result, you’re going to be blessed here on earth with a kind of treasure that exceeds anything this world has to offer. And Heaven…well, just know this, there’s no end to the treasures that you will have there.”
The man had it exactly backwards…180 degrees. He thought that having riches on earth would guarantee happiness on earth and in Heaven (eternal life). Jesus told him that having correct priorities on earth would guarantee treasure in Heaven. He offers no such guarantee for earth. But, He does tell him how to identify those correct priorities on earth…” come, and follow Me” (18:22). In other words, Jesus is the priority of earth. When we have that priority in place, then we have the treasures of both Heaven and earth.
Jesus then makes a statement that startled His disciples, “How hard it is for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!” It was a common misconception that those who were wealthy were already enjoying the treasures of Heaven. This was the obvious sign of God’s blessings on their life. It would be a natural, easy transition for them to go from earth to Heaven. Jesus corrects this by saying that wealth, instead of being a blessing, was often a distraction and a deterrent to people since they were so consumed by it, that they valued it above God, Himself. Like the rich young ruler…they are unwilling to let go of the things of the world (riches), in order to grasp the things of Heaven (treasures).
One might find a subtle play on words, here. The word “riches” generally speaks of things that are valued…such as gold, precious stones, land, etc. But the word “treasure” speaks of the place where they are stored…not just the riches, but something of such grandeur that the riches are kept in it. How much better to have the place where the riches are stored and the riches within…than just the riches. How sad…that we might be deceived into valuing the wrong thing!
Treasure (Noun and Verb):
(1) "a place of safe keeping" (possibly akin to tithemi, "to put"),
(a) "a casket," Mat 2:11;
(2) "a treasure," Mat 6:19-21; 13:44; Luk 12:33, 34; Hbr 11:26; "treasure" (in heaven or the heavens), Mat 19:21; Mar 10:21; Luk 18:22; in these expressions (which are virtually equivalent to that in Mat 6:1, "with your Father which is in Heaven") the promise does not simply refer to the present life, but looks likewise to the hereafter; in 2Cr 4:7 it is used of "the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ," descriptive of the Gospel, as deposited in the earthen vessels of the persons who proclaim it (cp. ver. 4); in Col 2:3, of the wisdom and knowledge hidden in Christ.
The disciples, still thinking that somehow wealth must be a qualifier for entrance into Heaven, ask, “Then how it is possible for anyone to go to Heaven?” If your wealth is not necessarily a blessing from God and it will not meet the criteria for entrance into Heaven…then what is a person to do? Jesus tells them again, it is not what you do that will get you into Heaven, but what God does (:27).
So, are we to sell all that we have, give it to the poor, and follow Jesus? The answer is an unequivocal, “Yes, and No.” For this man…he valued his riches more than he valued God. Jesus knew that and told him that he must dispose of everything that fit into that category. For others, riches may not be the most important thing in life. It might be acceptance, respect, recognition, success, prominence among their peers. It might be power, a position of authority, leadership, a management role in business, to be the CEO. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing. It could be marriage. It could be love. No matter what it is…if it is of more value than God, if it has a greater prominence than God, if it dictates your life more than God…then you need to realign your values and place God in first position.
Luke 18:28-30-Peter says that they have done what Jesus told the man to do. They have left everything to follow Him. Jesus says that anyone who has done so will receive much more in return, in Heaven. The privilege to follow Him is the treasure on earth.
Luke 18:31-34-Jesus tells His disciples that they are going to Jerusalem and He mentions all that will happen to Him there...trial, death, burial, resurrection. But, at this time, they did not understand what He was talking about. Consider the timing of this disclosure concerning the future. It falls right on the heals of Jesus’ teaching concerning ultimate values. And indeed, if these things were going to happen to Jesus and the disciples were going to follow Him…then they had better have decided ahead of time what was of ultimate value. Otherwise, it would be far easier to return to the riches and comfort of the world…than to follow where His cross would lead them.
Luke 18:35-43-As Jesus came into Jericho a blind man called out to Him. The people tried to make him stop…but he refused to quit. Jesus called him over, healed him, and said, "...your faith has made you well.’ And immediately he began following Him, glorifying God; and when all the people saw it, they gave praise to God" (:42-43). Oh, that we would as quickly give glory to God for what He has done in our lives, follow Him faithfully, and bring others to Him.
Prayer: Lord, I am blessed with so much...family, home, possessions. I truly want to be Your follower and to be 100% faithful to You. Please show me, Lord...what it means for me to "leave" these things for the "sake of the kingdom of God". It can be difficult for me sometimes to be sure if I have truly made that commitment...or, if I just think that I have done so, but am deceiving myself. Trying to have the best of both...calling You Lord, and still holding onto the things of this world. Please, Lord, help me to see these things clearly and to understand how to forsake all things for You.