Last week we looked at the story of Paul & Silas, and we were reminded that the Bible never promises that following Jesus will be easy. In fact, it tells us to expect trouble and persecution and hard times. The good news is that the Bible does promise that it will be worth it.
Paul and Silas had to endure some pretty rough stuff – being arrested and beaten and thrown into jail. But God was with them. And even in that dungeon, God gave gave them hope for the future, joy in every circumstance, and an unusual love for the people around them – even the ones who hurt them. And because of that joy and that hope and that love for others, Paul & Silas were able to sing and praise and worship God even in their suffering – which is pretty incredible! Its a great example for all of us!
And as God always does, He took their lousy situation and He turn it all around and used it for good. Through God’s miraculous intervention, Paul & Silas were able to tell the jailer how to be saved and he and his whole family where baptized and became followers of Jesus that night.
It was a great reminder that God can redeem any situation and use it for his glory.
Now today I want to follow this train of thought a little further as we look at the cost of following Christ. You see, the Bible teaches us that while salvation is a free gift from God – following Jesus always comes with a cost. I think we tend to emphasize the free part, but we neglect to talk about the cost. But both sides are important. It’s important to understand that there is nothing we can do to earn our Salvation – it’s was completely paid for by Christ’s death on the cross. Romans 6:23 says…
“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 6:23
Salvation is certainly a free gift from God, but accepting that free gift comes with a cost.
It’s like winning the Stars Home Lottery! You win the gigantic mansion of a house – and it’s totally free – but owning a giant home will cost you in heating, repairs, insurance, and all those other things that come with owning a home. The house is a free gift, but there’s certainly a cost that comes with it.
Following Christ is like that. Salvation is absolutely a free gift, but following Christ comes with cost. You can’t have one without the other.
So this morning, I want to look at the story of the rich young man as found in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 19, to see an important crossroads in his spiritual journey. You see, he was pretty excited about gaining the free gift of eternal life, but he wasn’t so sure about the cost that went with it.
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,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’”
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.
Matthew 19:16-22 NIV
So that’s the passage I want to look at this morning. It’s not a very long or complicated story – but there’s a lot packed in there, so let’s see if we can work our way through this.
We start off with this young guy who, so far, has lived a pretty good life. He isn’t the rebellious type. He’s tried to follow the rules to the best of his ability and to be a good person. You know, He’s never cheated on his taxes. He’s never committed any crimes – He’s never even kicked his dog. He’s an upstanding citizen. He calls his mom every week. He volunteers in the community. He’s just one of those good people. Very much like all of you – very much like just about anyone in Penhold.
But you get the sense by his questions to Jesus, that somewhere deep inside him, something is missing. He feels that for all his goodness – it’s just not good enough. He’s doing everything he thinks he ought to do, but there’s something missing in his life. Perhaps that’s also like you? I think most of Penhold could identify with this guy pretty well. I think most people here try to live a good life, they work hard, they try to honest, they try to be a good neighbor. And for many Penholders, like this rich young guy, things are working out pretty good so far. Maybe they’ve got the house and truck and the toys they want. We’re a pretty wealthy town – all things considered. But even with all that, I wonder how many in our town, like this rich young guy, feel that there’s still something missing in their life? Based on the broken families, the loneliness, the addictions, and all that other stuff we see, I would guess there is probably a lot.
Well, somehow this guy hears about Jesus. Maybe he’s sat in one some of Jesus’ teaching sessions – maybe he’s heard some of his parables. Maybe he even saw a miracle or two? But whatever he knows of Jesus, he figures that if anyone know the way to eternal life, Jesus, this great teacher, would be the guy. So he comes up to Jesus and asks Him – in verse 16…
“Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”
This guy seems to understand heaven in the same way that many in our culture do – and that is that heaven is a reward for the good things we do. He asks, “What good thing must I do to get eternal life?” There’s this underlying assumption that heaven can be gained by doing some good thing. Now that not what the Bible teaches, but certainly everything in pop culture tells us that it is – our music, our movies, our commercials, our cartoons.… I was just thinking about some of the tv and movies from my childhood – All Dogs Go to Heaven, those annoying commercials for Philadelphia cream cheese – all those tv shows like “Touched by an Angel”… things like that. They all try to tell us that heaven is a reward for the good things we do.
And you can see, even in Jesus’ reply to the young man, how we might get that idea. Jesus says to him in verse 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.” Matthew 19:17
And at first glance, you might think that Jesus is affirming that idea of heaven being a reward for the good things we do because he says “If you want to enter life, keep the commandments”. It seems like he’s saying – do good and you’ll go to heaven. But you have to look at the whole statement.
“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.”
Jesus is actually making a couple points here.
First of all, Jesus is pointing out that there is only One who does good. God. God is the standard for what is good. Anything short of God’s standard is sin. We talked about that last week – how everyone of us has sinned (we’ve missed the mark – to use the archery term). We’ve sinned and missed the bullseye of God’s perfection.
Romans 3:10 tells us…
As the Scriptures say,
“No one is righteous—not even one.
11 No one is truly wise;
no one is seeking God.
12 All have turned away;
all have become useless.
No one does good,
not a single one.” Romans 3:10-12
And then jump down to verse 23 for the summary….
23 “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.”
In fact, even when we try to do good, our good deeds are tainted by sin. Isaiah 64 paints a vivid picture for us on how even our good deeds appear as filthy rags because of our sin.
We are constant sinners;
how can people like us be saved?
6 We are all infected and impure with sin.
When we display our righteous deeds,
they are nothing but filthy rags.
Like autumn leaves, we wither and fall,
and our sins sweep us away like the wind.
So even if we were to try to do some good deed to gain us eternal life, we would fail. And that’s why Jesus says, that indeed, there is only One who is good.
The irony is that the young man was talking to that One. I don’t think he realized it, but Jesus was not just a good teacher, he is THE GOOD teacher. He is only one who has done good every time. Jesus never missed the mark. Never sinned. He is the only one who has perfectly kept the commandments, which means, he is uniquely qualified to enter eternal life.
And so when Jesus says “If you want to enter life, keep the commandments” – He’s not misleading us to think that heaven is a reward for the good things we do. He’s actually emphasizing his point. If we could in fact, perfectly keep the commandments without messing up ever, we could most certainly could enter eternal life. The problem here is that we can’t. There is only One who is good. We can’t possibly, perfectly keep God’s commandments. All have sinned and fall short of God’s glorious standard.
Which is exactly why Jesus went to the cross. God knew that we had no chance of entering eternal life on our own merit – and so he offered us a trade. We could trade our sin-filled life for Jesus’ sinless life. Jesus would take our sin and its consequences and would die in our place – and we would receive his righteousness and thus be qualified to enter eternal life. Salvation really is an incredible free gift of God.
But to get back to our story, after Jesus lays out the parameters for gaining eternal life, and in a subtle way, reminds the young man that there is no way he can do a good deed that would gain him eternal life. I don’t think the young man quite got it, because he then wants some clarification on exactly which commandments he needs to keep in order to gain eternal life… Verse 18
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,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’” Matthew 19:18-19
And it’s interesting that Jesus didn’t just say “You have to keep all of the commandments, of course.” Instead, he just lists off these few here. And I think he chose these particular ones for a reason, and I’ll point that out in just a minute. But in response to these commandments, in verse 20, the man replies:
“All these I have kept” the young man said. “What do I still lack?” Matthew 19:20
Now somehow I doubt that this young man truly could have kept all these commands. I’ve never met a kid yet who didn’t stretch the truth a little. And I know from experience that it’s awfully hard to love your neighbor as much as you love yourself. But regardless, at least in his own thinking, this guy figured that he had kept all those commands – I think he’s a bit delusional to think that, but regardless, he says to Jesus, “All these I have kept – what do I still lack?”
And that’s the million dollar question. What do I still lack? Despite all his goodness – despite the good life that he had lived – Despite the fact that he had kept all those commands (at least in his way of thinking), he still lacked something.
And of course, Jesus, knowing all things, knows exactly where this guy is in his spiritual journey, and he knows exactly what it is that he is still lacking. So he says in verse 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.” Matthew 19:21
Now understand that this is not a command for us to live in poverty. The issue is not that the man simply had too much stuff and he needed to downsize. The issue was his heart. He loved his possessions much more than he loved God.
And that’s why I think Jesus chose to mention those particular commandments that he did. You might have noticed that in all those commandments, everyone of them had to do with how people are to relate to other people.
“‘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,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’” Matthew 19:18-19
All these have to do with how people are to relate to other people. Jesus left out all the commands that had to do with how people are to relate to God.
- He left out – “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.” – which at other times, he stated was the most important command of all.
- He left out “You must not have any other god but me.”
- He left out – “You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind.”
I think Jesus left all these out, because I don’t think that young man could have said “All these I have kept” to those commandments. You see, that was what the young man was lacking. A right relationship with God.
So when the young man asked Jesus “What do I still lack?” Jesus told him to get rid of his possessions – get rid of his idols. Get rid of anything that he loved more than God – and to completely trust and follow Him. The young man was missing the most important thing.
You see, God is far more interested in having us learn to love Him – than for us to do all these good things – to go to church, to keep the commandments, to be good people. I’m not saying that stuff is bad – in fact, I encourage it. I want you to be part of the church, and to follow the commandments and to be good people… But if you do those things without any love for God – its meaningless.
The young man asked “What do I still lack?” And Jesus told him, in a way that cut right to the heart of the issue, that what he lacked, was genuine a love for God.
I wonder what Jesus would tell us, if we asked him “What do I still lack?” Are you brave enough to ask God that question? Cuz you might not like the answer. The young man didn’t. Jesus told Him what he lacked, and he told him exactly what to do about it. But the sad part, is that the young man wasn’t willing to take that step. Verse 22 says…
“When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.” Matthew 19:22
Jesus had laid it out. He told him exactly what he needed to do to take the next step forward in his spiritual journey. But the man just went away sad. He wasn’t willing to take that step.
In his mind, what Jesus asked him to give up was worth more to him that what Jesus was offering. His wealth, his idols had become more important to him than the free gift of eternal, abundant life. It seems crazy for us think that, he wasn’t willing to give up his wealth – which would soon be gone anyway – in order to gain a priceless everlasting treasure.
I’m reminded of a quote by Jim Elliott. Jim Elliot was a missionary pilot who was one of the first missionaries to the Auca Indians in Ecuador in the 1950s. He was actually killed by the very natives that he had tried to reach. But in his journal he had written…
“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose.” ~ Jim Elliot
In other words, there is nothing on this earth that we can give up that would not be completely worth it in order to gain eternal life. There is no cost to high to pay for the life that God has promised us! Money, pleasure, comfort, position, fame – it’s all fleeting. It doesn’t last. Why wouldn’t we trade that for joy, hope, peace and an abundant life that will last forever? If the promises of God are true, it seems like a no-brainer!
Maybe like this young man, you’ve been living a good life, you’ve gotten pretty good at obeying most of the commandments – and you’re a fine upstanding citizen. But if you still lack that genuine relationship with your Creator, you’re missing the most important thing in life.
Perhaps you know that despite all your good deeds, you are still a sinner in need of God’s grace. You know all about how God so loved the world, that He sent his one and only Son, Jesus to die on the cross and take your sin and to give you his righteousness. You know how he rose from the grave three days later and ascended into heaven shortly thereafter. But maybe you’ve never made that decision to trust Jesus Christ as your risen Lord and Saviour? To trust him with every area of your life? To give up trusting in any other thing, and to trust in Him alone. And I wonder, will you take that step, or like the young man, walk away sad? This is a critical crossroads.
For some of us, we’re still holding on pretty tightly to our idols. Maybe like that young man, it’s our possessions? Maybe it’s our comfort? Maybe it’s a relationship? Maybe it’s our right to decide what do to with our life? None of those are necessarily bad things, but if we hold onto any of those things more than we’re holding onto God – those are idols. And the question for you this morning is: Do you trust God enough to give up those idols and fully trust in him?
If God asked you to give up your possessions, maybe your house, your money or your job, your comfort, a relationship, your right to decide what to do with your life – if God asked you to give those things up so that you could follow Him – would you obey? Or would you walk away sad?
I don’t know what idols you struggle with – but I’m sure we’ve all got something. That one thing that we just don’t want to give up. For whatever reason, its so important to us. Can I encourage you: He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep, in order to gain what he cannot lose.