Well, you can turn in your Bibles to Luke 18 as we continue Jesus’ encounter with the rich young ruler, the rich young ruler and Jesus. Last week I introduced the sermon with a question for you to think about, and it was a question that caused you to reflect on your personal evangelism. And I’d like to do something similar this morning and ask you to consider another question. This time, not so much doing, dealing with personal evangelism, but maybe dealing with your sense of assurance.
What would you be willing to do? What would you be willing to pay if such a thing could be bought with money, and it cannot? But what would you be willing to give, to be assured fully? Beyond the shadow of any doubt, about your salvation. What would you be willing to do? What would you be willing to give to have full assurance sealed away that you do indeed possess eternal life? Now notice the question is not what would you do to get eternal life, to buy salvation? Obviously buying salvation, that’s theologically impossible.
It’s biblically reprehensible. The idea salvation is not for sale, it’s, it’s the gift of God. Salvation is always the gift of God. Ephesians 2:8-9. It’s not a matter of money or effort or any human work “So that no one can boast.” But the question I’m asking you is about the assurance of your salvation. Would you be willing to do something? Would you be willing to do anything to gain a full and continuous and ever abiding sense of assurance that you do in fact possess eternal life?
I believe, that one mark of the degradation of sound religion in our time is that professing Christians don’t seem all that interested in fighting for assurance. Many professing Christians today seem less than diligent to do what Peter commands in 2 Peter 1:10 to make certain, to be diligent, “To make certain about God’s calling” and God’s choosing of themselves. In fact, I think quite the opposite seems to be true in our time.
Many Christians, many professing Christians that I meet. They’re fully assured that they will go to heaven when they die, that they have eternal life, but outwardly no spiritual fruit can be seen. There’s scant evidence that they possess spiritual life or any life, even a pulse. And yet, no doubt in their minds, they’re headed to heaven.
Even a bit offended by the question, by the supposition that they may need to examine themselves and find a sense of assurance. In times when spiritual giants walk the earth, when the word of God was preached powerfully with great personal conviction, when the doctrines of the Bible were articulated and explained to the people of God and were pressed into the consciences of a church going public. And by the way, most of the public in our country at one time were churchgoing people.
People during the time of powerful preaching and clear doctrine and understood theology, they had questions about their salvation. Questions about their assurance developed in their hearts. It was a very, very common pastoral duty and function to apply the balm of the gospel to sensitive consciences. Today, not so much. Growing up in modern American evangelicalism, people have been taught, actually taught not to question their salvation.
Not to listen to any nagging concerns about assurance. They’ve been taught to say I settled that question a long, long time ago. When I prayed the prayer as a child, when I walked the aisle, when I went forward, when I got baptized, when I won Awana awards, or whatever the thing is. Jesus died for my sins, I’ve been told that from a young age, so of course I’m going to heaven when I die. I’m good to go. No need for you to ask these questions to trouble me with all your pharisaism. I’m good to go.
They’ve been told, “Don’t ever, ever, ever, ever question your salvation.” They’ve been told to question your salvation, it’s to give in to the whispering doubts of the devil that insinuates his doubts into your mind. His slanders into your minds. So push away all doubts, don’t listen to any negativity. Don’t listen to those Pharisees, are always your fruit inspectors. Hold on to that decision you’ve made, and hold on to it tightly of when you asked Jesus into your heart that day.
When we study the Gospels, we learned that our times are not so unique as we might think. Easy believeism, spiritual presumption, shallow views about personal sin. External forms of moralism, and an absolute lack and absence of spiritual fruit. The general expectation that I’ll go to heaven when I die. Listen, our modern religion has a lot in common with 1st century Judaism. A lot in common.
And what disrupted the complacency of the self- righteousness and the self-satisfied sense of assurance among 1st century Jews? Was the Ministry of Jesus Christ. He entered into the world, God incarnate, walked into the synagogues, and troubled everybody. He walked into the cities and towns and villages, and he preached the Kingdom of heaven and demanded repentance. And he did mighty acts of healing and power, and, and wonder, miracles that were miracles of mercy and compassion.
God has done miracles in the past you see all through the Old Testament, but they were miracles and supernatural acts of what? Judgment. Jesus comes with equal power, and he shows mercy and compassion and kindness and tenderness and his actions and his words were prophetic and powerful. They called people to repentance. His teaching pressed the consciences of the people and it unsettled them. It disturbed their peace. It did not leave them comfortable. But rather provoked them to ask questions.
He was saying things that no one else was saying. Things like a “tax collector will go down to his house justified from the temple rather than a Pharisee.” Luke 18:14 at shocking news to everybody. He was saying things like the Kingdom of heaven belongs to those who are like children, those who are like infants, totally unable to do anything. They’ve got nothing to offer, utterly dependent on others, and unless you’re like that. Like an infant, Luke 18:17, you’re not getting into the Kingdom.
There was a young man present on this occasion hearing this teaching. And all of a sudden his sense of peace is disturbed. In a strong confidence in his religion, he’s untroubled, he’s self-assured that he’d been doing everything right, that he’d be a shoe in for heaven. He’s going to enter into the Kingdom of God. But now, having seen Jesus, having witnessed the divine power evident in his ministry, having heard Jesus’ teaching, now he’s not so sure about himself.
Verse 18, a ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life? And Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments. Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.’ And he said, ‘All these I’ve kept from my youth.’ When Jesus heard this, he said to him, ‘One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.’ But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich.
“Jesus, seeing that he had become sad, said, ‘How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the Kingdom of God! For 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.’” We’ll stop there for a second. We started into the text and used a little outline to organize our thoughts. And I told you last week that that was Part 1, and this is Part 2. So I’m going to finish the outline today, but let me give you a little bit of review.
Our first point in that outline just looked at the ruler and his question, the ruler and his question. We called this man the rich young ruler because of the composite picture that’s painted by all three synoptic writers, Matthew, Mark and Luke. And all three of those writers tell us that the man was rich. Matthew is the one who tells us that he’s young, and Luke is the one who tells us that he’s a ruler. So we put that together: Rich young ruler.
He’s probably the ruler of a local synagogue, which is quite remarkable considering his young age. But this really is the result of using his youth well, using his young energy well, putting his wealth to good use, not for selfish gain. He was self-controlled. He was a disciplined young man, and he put his wealth to use. Not only to increase the wealth he inherited from his family, but also to use his businesses and his connections and his affiliations and his influence and his money to give alms, to donate to projects, to enrich the community in which he lives. He’s been growing up with this Jewish religion since his, since childhood, if we take his profession at face value in verse 21 that he kept the commandments of Moses since his youth, we understand that that was referring to his bar mitzvah probably around 13 years of age.
He’s saying I’ve kept the law since I’ve had a responsibility to do so, and he’s not claiming sinless perfection here. He’s following the law of Moses. And the law of Moses, as we know, contains provisions for dealing with personal sins. So he’s saying, “I’ve done that when I’ve broken the law, I offer the sacrifices, I, I’ve followed the law.”
Raised as a faithful Jew, he’s practiced his religion since he was young. And his life, his external life, has become proof for himself and certainly for many others, that God indeed blesses the righteous. I mean, look at this guy. He’s got a resume like the pre-Christian Paul, circumcised the eighth day, he’s of Israel. He’s of the, he’s a Hebrew of Hebrews. Added to his inherited privilege, he’s worked hard. As to the law he’s a Pharisee. As to righteousness under the law he’s blameless.
This guy is young, he’s strong, he’s healthy, he’s extremely wealthy, and his wealth, he’s trying to use well, he’s comprehensively prosperous. This guy is the result of health, wealth and prosperity. He’s living it. This is his best life now. He’s been an exemplary man. Which is why he’s been elevated to this position of authority and influence and prominence. Likely he belongs to the Pharisee party, which provided the social, political, religious bona fides that were necessary for him to ascend into this seat in the synagogue. And he’s become a synagogue ruler, which is no small feat at his age.
From the outside, he looks to have everything going for him. He’s born to a wealthy family. He’s got a solid Jewish heritage. He’s made wise connections, wise decisions. Religiously, politically, he’s been elevated to a place of prominence and influence. He’s got public recognition, social esteem, prominence, future looks very, very bright for him. Lots of promise, good things to come. But he’s bothered at this point he’s troubled. He’s ill at ease.
As a pastor, and all of us as elders, how we wish people today were bothered about their spiritual condition. In fact, I often pray that the spirit would awaken people to this sense of sin and need. I mean, it’s a, it’s a difficult world we live in, in some ways, with all the gifts of modernity blessing us with everything that we could need.
If you lack bread in the home, you don’t stop, get on your knees and pray. You go to the store and buy some bread. If you’re just maybe a little bit bored or trouble, what do? What do people do? Go online, search the Internet. Fill their mind with things and images and distractions and entertainments. This modern world has all different kinds of food selections and entertainment choices, and I mean things that kings of the past could only dream of.
The common person now has it all over the world. In the middle of tribes, in middle of Africa, they have no running water, but they’ve got cell phones and access to the Internet. It’s a strange world we live in. That’s really a world that’s been covered with distraction. And I pray, we as elders pray pretty much every Sunday morning that the Holy Spirit would trouble people’s minds, awaken them from this sense of dullness. This opiate of the masses that is the modern world and awaken them to the truth about their spiritual condition.
That people would be convicted of sin and righteousness and coming judgment. And we pray often that people would let go of any false sense of assurance, much of it based on a paper thin understanding of the Bible and its doctrines, little proof texts of the Scripture cobbled together to insulate themselves and inoculate them against powerful preaching from the word and clear doctrine. And how I wish they’d take the time to examine themselves before God, before it’s too late.
And that’s what this man is doing, isn’t he? That’s what he’s doing. He comes lacking assurance and look, he’s coming to the right person, isn’t he? He’s coming to the person he should come to. He’s asking, “Jesus, good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Mark tells us in his gospel, Mark’s so picturesque isn’t he? That he ran up to Jesus. So he’s, he, he’s doing what rulers of his stature didn’t do in public. He runs to Jesus and he kneels down before him.
We should see this man is sincere. Is coming to Jesus to seek relief for his soul. He needs to know how do I live in such a way right now, so that I can know I will have eternal life in the future? His sense of assurance has been shaken and he must have it shored up. So what can he do to rectify this.
Pointed out last time, this man understands what he’s asking about. He understands he knows this concept of eternal life. It’s not primarily about quantity of life living forever, it’s about quality of life. And he has all the, the, the history and the promises of the prophets in the Old Testament. That he’s banking on being a part of a restoration of fulfillment.
He’s familiar with Scripture. He knows the meaning of olam, the term for eternity, the term for everlasting. He knows what that means, and especially in reference to God’s future Kingdom. And so, because he knows it, he wants in. But what if he’s missing something? Especially when he considers this stark contrast between himself and these infants that Jesus is holding in his arms and blessing.
When he considers the contrast between himself, a rich ruler, and a helpless infant with no wealth, no power, no ability, and thus the question, “Good teacher, what doing life eternal shall I inherit?” Let’s, let’s see, teacher, how do we seal the deal here?
And brings us to the second point in our outline, verse 19, the teacher and his investigation, the teacher and his investigation. We noted last time that there are lots of ways we might have engaged this conversation. As evangelicals, we might have gone about this differently. Our Lord goes right to the heart of the issue. We need to realize that every time he’s not skirting the issue, he’s going directly to the heart and he investigates this man’s thinking and he draws it out and he exposes it. And he doesn’t do this just for like, for his own sake. Jesus knows all men. He knows what’s in the hearts of a man.
He does it for the ruler’s sake. He does it for the sake of the disciples who are listening in, he does it for our sake, for whom this is recorded. Verse 19 Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” Jesus starts with God. Jesus points the man to the goodness of God, verse 19. As we said, the phrasing that Jesus uses here would have been familiar to a synagogue ruler, because it alludes to The Shema very clearly. Deuteronomy 6:4 “Here oh, Israel, the Lord our God is one.”
So he’s, he’s using that same kind of terminology here. Why do you call me good? No one is good except the one God. So he starts, Jesus starts the conversation with God, and he makes sure this conversation is theologically centered. Factor that in to your evangelism, right? We talked about that last time.
Make sure the conversation starts and ends with God, because God is the gospel and the gospel is all about God. That’s what Jesus does. And he points the man to an expression of divine goodness. Here’s exhibit A in the goodness of God. It’s the revealed holy Law of God, verse 20. Jesus says “You know the commandments. There’s no one good but God. But you know the commandments, what do you think of those, good?” “Don’t commit adultery, Don’t murder, Don’t steal, Don’t bear false witness on your father and mother.”
What’s Jesus doing here, is he preaching salvation by works? Is this a contradiction of all other biblical teaching that says salvation is by the grace of God alone through faith alone and the atoning work of God in Christ alone? No, not at all, may it never be. Jesus is trying to expose and ferret out and draw out this man’s experience in practicing the law. He’s exposing the man’s view of the law. He’s exposing really his heart attitudes.
And what is revealed here is a man who has no true vital living acquaintance with God, with his goodness, and with the law. What’s revealed is a man here, who is still lost in his sins. A man who truly is needing a savior, but he doesn’t really know it. He’s not only an unregenerate man, he’s an unaffected man. Yeah, he’s under no true condition at all, unregenerate, unaffected, no conviction.
“Jesus knows all men. He knows what’s in the hearts of a man.”Travis Allen
What’s the experience of a regenerate person with the law? What’s your experience with the Old and New Testament of God’s word as a believer? What’s your experience as you observe the statutes and the wisdom of God’s law, the commandments of God, and rejoice to obey them? You have pure joy, don’t you? As a Christian in the word of God. You have contentment, and satisfaction, and nourishment from the life of God, which comes in and through the word of God, and by the power of the Holy Spirit in your life applying that word, and that life to you.
That’s what Moses said in Deuteronomy 8:3 man lives, “He lives by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” That’s how he lives. It’s life to him. So studying God’s law, meditating on God’s law, observing and obeying God’s law. We’re like kids running through a treasure house and opening treasure chest after treasure chest and finding wisdom and knowledge. And we learn the fear of the Lord.
We, we behold wondrous things in the law. We’re like David in Psalm 19, we find “The law of God revives the soul, gives wisdom to the simple, it rejoices the heart, enlightens the eyes, endures forever.” The law of the Lord it is, whether to us or not, it is objectively, and it becomes subjectively “Perfect and complete, certain and sure, right and true, and pure and clean,” as David said in Psalm 19. And as such, the law contains and teaches and conveys the life of God to the believer. It reveals the manifold goodness of the one true and living God, who alone is good and he’s the giver of all good.
So if the rich young ruler had been a regenerate believer, his question about assurance would be answered in his love for God’s law. You’d see the evidence of a regenerate life. You’d see the evidence of life within him coming out like fountains of living water. If he had loved God, if he had found God’s goodness and what God had already revealed, well, he would have had assurance about his future as well.
As we said last week, if we are experiencing the life of God now, we can have every assurance we will participate in the life of God then as well. And the life of God is found in what? Objective truths of the gospel. Our salvation is based on objective realities, historically, historical facts, truths that exist whether we know them or not. But there’s a subjective experience of that life of God in the believer that provides ongoing assurance, we truly know him.
By his response in verse 21, we can see that this man is not regenerated, but he’s he affected at all. Does he have any sense of conviction? Is the ruler having any experience of the conviction of sin? Does he sense his spiritual neediness because he knows that he fails to measure up to the law? Does he sense his own, this an old word, but it’s a really good word, his naughtiness? Does he sense his depravity? Which is provoked by the law.
Remember the Apostle Paul’s testimony of his own experience in this? In Roman 7:7-8? He says, “If it had not been for the law, I would have not known sin.” What does he mean by that? Well, I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet, but sin seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness.” I think many of you kids in here can understand my testimony in this, when I was a kid, and I would walk by and walk down the street, walk down a sidewalk, and I’d see a fence, and there’s just a fence there.
And I just walk past it thinking, well, it’s just probably a yard or whatever, and I keep walking. But if I came across a fence that said “No trespassing” come on kids, what does that do in your heart? What are they hiding from me, right? And so you want to climb that fence and you want to go snooping around. And if you’re a good kid in here and you don’t know anything of what I’m saying, just talk to your parents and they’ll say, well, Pastor used to be a very bad kid, but he’s been saved.
When we see the sign, thou shalt not, sin takes occasion to say ohh, but I think you shall. That’s what Paul is saying here. Does the rich young ruler have a similar sense? Or does he saying he’s doing just fine? Verse 21, where he says, and it comes across rather blithely. He’s almost, it’s almost like he’s bored with this little investigation. He’s even a bit impatient, Look, “All these things I’ve kept from my youth.” Look, I’m there, Jesus.
In the other gospels, “What do I still lack?” Like, let’s get to the part that I’m after, really. Proverb says, Proverbs 21:2 “Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the heart.” And that is what our Lord is doing here. He’s weighing the heart of this rich young ruler, and he is exposing his lack of personal experience with the divine grace of regeneration, his lack of experience with the conviction of sin.
He senses no need whatsoever, and so he does not know God. Jesus starts by pointing the rich young ruler to God, to the goodness of God, revealed in the perfect law, he exposes his sinfulness, his need for salvation. So what now? Well, now Jesus tests where the man really meant it when he addressed Jesus in the very beginning. “Good teacher,” Is he gonna be a good student? Mark says, “And Jesus looking at him, loved him.” And then he proceeds to answer his question, which points the way to salvation, which points the way to assurance.
We come to verse 22 in the text and point three in our outline. Here’s point three. I didn’t mention it last time, so you might want to jot this down. Point three, the Savior and his instruction. The Savior and his instruction. In verse 18 the ruler had asked Jesus, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And we read here in verse 22 after his investigation “When Jesus heard this.” Heard what?
Well, the result of his investigation versus 19-21, he heard this, he heard what he needed to hear, and now he’s going to answer the man’s question. “When Jesus heard this, he said to him one thing you still lack sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. And then come follow me.” Now, as we mentioned last time, I think it’s probably still true today that when we read that, we find that pretty stunning. We’re, we’re left to wrestle with what Jesus really meant by what he said.
One thing you still lack. You want eternal life? You want assurance, eternal life? Sell your stuff. Give it away. Become a beggar and a, then come follow me. You’ll have treasure in heaven. Come, follow me. Really? Um salvations through poverty? Are the social justice warriors right? After all, we’re supposed to become radical. Give it all away. And then? I guess beg off the government to get money. What is Jesus saying here? What does he mean by what he’s saying?
Well, as I said, he’s answering the man’s question, but I wanted to correct a couple of thoughts. Some people see Jesus here as being pretty, pretty stern in his response to the man. They see Jesus as seeing right through this man’s spiritual pretension. And I’ll just say he does, see through this man’s spiritual pretension. He sees the man’s self-reliance, that he trusts in his works, that he elevates himself, and necessarily by elevating himself, demotes God.
And so, as this view goes, Jesus rattles him with this impossible demand, he shocks him. He exposes his pretentiousness and sends this false seeker away. Because after all, and it is true Romans chapter 3, “There is no one who seeks after God.” Listen, all these seeker ministries, mega churches that are built on appealing to the felt needs of seekers, that is a false paradigm completely because Romans says, “No one seeks after God.” So who’s right? Them or Bill Hybels? Or I should say Jesus or Bill Hybels, Romans or Bill Hybels, Romans or Rick Warren?
They see Jesus as being stern, as shocking his senses, as exposing the fact that his seeking is false. I think all that is done, true. But I have a hard time seeing sternness in Jesus here. I don’t see that. What Mark noted in Mark 10:21 paints an entirely different picture, and it really does set the proper tone through which we need to see this, interpret this, understand this. “Jesus looking at him, loved him and he said to him, you lack one thing, go sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven and come follow me.” There’s no sternness in this, it’s love.
However we understand this, our interpretation has to take into account a genuine love of Jesus for this man, a love that addresses him sincerely and straightforwardly. That really draw, does address his concern here, that really does answer his question. There are others who have a hard time seeing Jesus make such an impossible demand, so they want to kind of file off the hard edges of what Jesus says.
And they say, well surely this is a test, right? I mean, does Jesus raise an impossibly high bar just to expose his love of money? I mean, you can’t possibly expect this level of commitment, divestment of personal wealth, abandoning civic responsibility just to become a Christian, just to follow Jesus as disciple. I mean, Jesus can do that, sure, but would he?” He didn’t really require a personal impoverishment of all his other disciples when he called them to discipleship, did he? No, he didn’t. Jesus didn’t command the total liquidation of all assets for all of his disciples as a prerequisite for all discipleship.
Many were counted as disciples and followed him as disciples, who didn’t divest himself of all their wealth. In fact, Luke 8:1-3 shows a number of women who are financially connected who had those resources and helped support Jesus’ Ministry. I mean, how did they eat, when they’re on the road? Some appointed as apostles, they didn’t sell all. Down in verse 28, Peter said, “See, we’ve left our homes and followed you.” Jesus, answered Peter. We’ll see this next week. He answered Peter with words of comfort and assurance, right? He’s affirming him as a true disciple. He’s an apostle.
These two Epistles have some of the richest comfort and encouragement you can read in all of Scripture. But we notice about Peter and John 21:3 after the resurrection, Peter is getting ready to go back after the resurrection, to do what? Fish, he’s going back to fishing. That’s his occupation before Jesus called him into discipleship. So Peter had a fishing business. He had boats, nets, tackle, all the necessary equipment. So Peter had not sold all, hadn’t divested himself of all his property and all his stuff and all of his business. Yet he’s still a disciple, he’s still an apostle.
What does this tell us? Tells us that this is a unique case, this is a unique account. And we can see that as evidence by all, the fact that all three synoptic gospel writers record Jesus’ encounter with a rich young ruler. They see this as unique, as remarkable, very important. There are lessons here. So what are they? What’s going on here?
At the most basic level, we need to start with this, that this is a confrontation with the Lordship of Jesus Christ. This is a confrontation with the Lordship of Jesus Christ, because as the Lord, Jesus has every right to make whatever demands that he wants to. He can say whatever he wants, he’s sovereign Lord.
“All authority has been given unto me,” Jesus said. And we’ve all had to reckon with that fact, haven’t we? Whoever refuses to accept the Lordship of Christ is not a Christian. But the rich young ruler he had to come face to face, and reckon with the demands of Jesus as Lord, he had to reckon personally with the authority of someone who is infinitely his superior by every single measure. The man may have been rich, verse 23 says, “extremely rich.” What do we make of his wealth? Whatever it was, whatever his portfolio was, whatever his bank account said, whatever his holdings are, what do we make of his wealth in light of what Jesus just offered him?
Treasure in heaven? I mean, who do you have to be to offer treasure in heaven? Got to be the owner of the treasure, right? The young man’s wealth is a paltry sum, whatever it is, in comparison to what Jesus owns, it’s a mere pittance. It’s laughable. Man may have been young, strong, capable. Consider the one standing before him, the Almighty. The one who’s coming forth is from old, Micah 5:2, from olam, from ancient days.
What is youth and strength in a creature compared to this ancient creator? This man may have been a ruler. He had authority over his synagogue. Standing here, though, in the presence of the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords, this man needs to realize he’s exercising authority that’s been delegated to him by this Christ. So Jesus speaks to this rich young ruler as the Supreme Lord to one of his earthly vassals.
As Jesus, he didn’t come just to exercise authority and oversight of his role as a synagogue ruler, Jesus comes to command this man’s heart, to direct his entire life. The rich young ruler, he has to come face to face at this point with someone who is his better by an infinite margin, and he needs to submit himself, and do so immediately, and bow the knee. So it’s certainly, clearly a confrontation with the Lordship of Christ. But there’s more going on here as well. When Jesus commands the rich young ruler, he’s not issuing some arbitrary command. This isn’t arbitrary, it’s not disconnected with what the man was actually asking.
He’s not saying this just to test his heart, just to elicit a response, just to provoke something. I mean, all that is true. But it’s not just to do that. It’s not an arbitrary command. In telling the rich young ruler to divest himself of his riches, listen, Jesus is actually loving him. He is truly addressing this man’s question, and this man’s deepest need, and he is truly offering to set him free. How do we know? Because Jesus said, “one thing you still lack.” One thing you still lack. What’s the one thing? What’s his deepest need? Again, think about who it is who’s asking the question. Consider what Jesus just exposed in taking his spiritual temperature when feeling around for a pulse.
Nothing there, right? No pulse, which means no life. So when Jesus says one thing you still lack, the commands that follow, there are four commands but one thing he needs, commands that follow are targeted, they are graciously aimed, they are love motivated, and they are specifically designed to address this man’s one need. Jesus commands this man, he’s addressing the question he asked in verse 18, if the rich young ruler will trust the good teacher here, if he’ll submit to Jesus, if he’ll obey him as Lord, his question about eternal life, his question about assurance, will be settled once and for all.
Look back at verse 22. Notice how Jesus here, he provides this man a complete remedy for his lack of assurance about eternal life. Complete remedy, leaving nothing out. But this remedy comes in two stages. Sell all that you have, and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven, and come follow me. Two stages in the remedy, two pairs of commands.
First, sell and distribute, and second, come and follow. First stage in the remedy, sell and distribute. Second stage, come and follow. In the first pair of commands you see the offer of eternal life, and in the second pair of commands, it’s the pathway of assurance of eternal life. And together this is the whole package. This is the complete remedy. It’s the complete answer to this man’s question and it addresses his deepest need.
If you’d like, just to help keep this straight, I can give you two sub point headings here. So sub-point A, you could say Jesus offers the gift of eternal life. Sub-point A, Jesus offers the gift of eternal life. Jesus is speaking, as we said, he’s speaking to an unregenerate man. He’s speaking to a complacent man. And he’s complacent not because he’s truly at ease before God, but he’s complacent because he’s truly dead before God. He’s dead in his trespasses and sins. He’s got no movement because he’s got no life. No assurance of eternal life because he has no eternal life. It’s proven to be unmoved by the law, with no joy in God’s law, no sense of God’s goodness. He is utterly unaffected.
So no love of God and therefore no love of man. So what the man needs at the deepest, most radical, most basic level, he needs life. He needs religious affections, and those are found only in a new nature. Where’s that new nature come from? From God. That new nature comes only by the grace of God, by the miracle of spiritual regeneration. It’s the work of the Spirit of God, being born by the spirit he is, he would be able to believe. He’d be able to love. He’d be able to rejoice. And so, Jesus says, first two commands in verse 22, “sell all that you have and distribute to the poor,” and then Jesus attaches this gracious promise for him to believe, “and you will have treasure in heaven.” Done. You’ll have it. Get rid of your stuff.
Don’t worry about your stuff. Don’t let your little tiny hands cling onto your stuff. It’s so small. Don’t you realize I’m opening the treasure vault of heaven to you? Just believe me. To obey those commands, obedience wouldn’t give life, but to obey those commands would be evidence of life. Because he would need to trust Jesus. He would need to put his faith in Jesus. He’d have to believe what he says in order to do what he says. Does that make sense? Obedience would not give faith, but it would be the true evidence of faith. As Paul says in Galatians 5:6, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only [what?] faith working through love.”
So all that you have. Man. This is not, go empty your savings account and go give that away. This isn’t cash in your life insurance policy or your health insurance or whatever policy and give that away. This is a comprehensive matter in the Greek, all things, as much as you possess. Put it all up for sale, is what Jesus is saying. The way Jesus states this, it is absolutely extensive. He is to liquidate all his assets. Think about this for yourself. I mean, businesses, real estate, vehicles, farms and fields, family holdings. Do an estate sale. Get rid of all the furniture, the fine China family heirlooms, forks, and spoons, and even your knickknacks. Sell the house, and leave nothing out.
By liquidating all that he has, and then Jesus says distribute to the poor. He doesn’t simply say give to the poor, that is, take all that pile of cash and go put it in the marketplace and walk away. No, the verb involves him. It says, go and distribute. So Jesus is sending him into the highways, and the byways, and into the alleyways to meet these people, to see them in their need, to love them, and to dole out money with wisdom and care. Listen, that’s what Jesus did, right? Village after village, town after town, Jesus preached the Kingdom of God. He healed the people of all their infirmities, all their ailments and diseases, all their sicknesses, he cast out all their demons. He mixed with the people. He touched them. He even touched the lepers.
And he distributed divine mercy individually and particularly, meeting particular needs. What’s he doing? Jesus, he’s pulling this man into his work. Looking at this again, taking another run and coming at this from the outset, we need to see that this is a direct confrontation with this man’s idolatry, with his idolatry. Jesus is saying, “If you want to inherit eternal life you need to kill your most familiar and most cherished idols and it’s going to cost you. Topple your idols, chop them up, burn them, throw the powder into the river and be gone forever.”
Man, this is a lot for this guy. He was extremely rich, verse 23. There’s a lot to do. Here’s a, there’s a nexus between his, his, uh, his wealth, his family, his social standing, his esteem, his prominence, his position of authority, his place in the community. Listen, all that is tied together, and his wealth is the cord that weaves through it all and then fastens it securely. His wealth accounted for everything. By doing what Jesus commanded here, sell all that you have, think about this, can you imagine the blowback that’s coming his way from other people? I mean, think about the outcry from his family. Think about if you did this.
Think about if Jesus looked you in the eye and told you to go divest yourself of everything. Liquidate all your assets. I mean, that’s going to be a hard conversation with the wife, isn’t it? Honey, hand over the credit card. We don’t know if he had a wife and kids, but can you imagine, as the one controlling and managing, not only just his own families personal assets, but his family, his extended family, their assets managing those assets. His decision is going to affect all of them and it is going to anger them.
To add to the offense, he’s got to take all of that stuff, and this command to distribute the proceeds of, of selling everything to the poor, that’s going to put them in the company of the most reputable people in, in the town, the Amhara Arets, the lowest of the low, the unclean ones. In his mind, in the mind of all of his Jewish contemporaries, certainly in the mind of his family and his friends, wealth is an indication of divine blessing.
‘He loves people and he loves his own, his elect, with a particular love, a redeeming love, with a zealous love, and a jealous love. And he loves us like that for God’s glory. “Travis Allen
You know the opposite is true also for them, that poverty is evidence of a divine curse. “Leave the place of blessing and go to the place of a curse and mix with them,” Jesus is saying. It’s a shocking behavior that he’s commanding. If he takes this course, if he obeys Jesus, he is setting a course for offending his family, which is going to ruin his reputation, which is going to diminish his social standing, reduce his esteem, his prominence, and not long, not long before he loses the rulership in the synagogue, that’s going to be gone. He’s no longer going to be sought after, no longer respected, no longer admired. He’s gonna become a pariah in the city that once loved, and admired, and respected, and adored him. It’s going to have no place there.
Well, let’s look at next sub-point of what Jesus is saying here, part two in the remedy. Sub-point B, Jesus offers the assurance of eternal life in what he says. Jesus provided two stages to the remedy of this man’s condition, sell and distribute. And here’s the second one, come and follow. In the first stage, the offer of eternal life, which is by faith working through love, and in the second stage Jesus offers the assurance of eternal life. And how does he offer assurance? Lifelong discipleship, come follow me. What’s he doing? Jesus is calling him to the same discipleship that he’s been offering to everyone else.
Luke 9:23, if anyone, anyone, rich or poor, young or old, ruler or beggar, anyone. “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake, that’s the one who will save it.” No one comes to Jesus. No one finds salvation. No one possesses eternal life while at the same time holding fast to his life, and his job, and his ambitions, and his money, and his wealth, and his prerogatives, his status, his personal opinions, his love of influence and prominence.
Listen, all that’s gotta go. “Deny yourself,” Jesus says. And when coming to Jesus, divesting yourself of all personal prerogative when that offends others, when that offends those who are closest to you, like your own family, Jesus said, Matthew 10:37, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” Even your closest relations, they need to be put on the block.
Comes across even stronger in Luke’s gospel, doesn’t it? We went through that, Luke 14:26, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he, he cannot be my disciple.” Is Jesus being unkind? Is he being overly stern? Is this unreasonable?
No, not at all. Remember Mark 10:21? “And Jesus, looking at him, loved him.” Loved him. Jesus loves people and he loves his own, his elect, with a particular love, a redeeming love, with a zealous love, and a jealous love. And he loves us like that for God’s glory. He loves us like that for our good. Listen, he, like his father, will countenance no rival. There can be no competing affection in our hearts, no idol, no other God before him.
So what Jesus intends to secure for this poor soul, this rich young ruler, who in ex, by external measure seems like he’s reached the pinnacle of everything you can reach in this life, and he is a poor, decrepit soul. The lost. And what Jesus intends to secure for this man is to deliver him from his idols, to set him free from his stuff.
He wants to unburden him from his, unburden his soul and give him the gift of eternal life. And he wants to let him experience the joy of that life in lifelong discipleship in following him. It’s a privilege that he’s offering him to know Jesus Christ as savior, to follow along after him as Lord, to follow on, walking in his steps, and to know both the joy, and the suffering of Jesus Christ.
Make no mistake, there is suffering in this path. Look down at verse 31, after our account, we’re going to get to this in two weeks time, hopefully. “Taking the twelve aside, he said to them, ‘See, we’re going to go up to Jerusalem and everything that’s written about the Son of Man by the Prophets will be accomplished.’” Notice he doesn’t say, I’m going up to Jerusalem. He says we. That is, if you’re my disciple, you’re going with me. For he, now it’s singular, himself. “He will be delivered over to the Gentiles, he will be mocked and shamefully treated, spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.”
He’s going there. You guys are all coming with me. You’re gonna be there. Are you gonna claim me when I suffer and die? Are the reproaches that fall upon me gonna spill over to you too? Listen, there’s joy in walking with Christ. Through the scorn, through the rejection, through the suffering, through the ignominy of the cross. Following him as Lord, through lifelong discipleship. That’s the path to constant encouragement. That is the path to full assurance and the faith.
Colossians 2:2-3, “That we would reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” And Jesus is offering this. To this man. This gift of unburdening his life, of disentangling his affections, of unhitching his soul from all that bound him, and gain the joy of eternal life and walk in freedom of Christian assurance.
So will he make the trade? Whatever he has by way of wealth, even extreme wealth, will he trade what he has now in exchange for what Jesus promised, which is treasure in heaven? Sounds like a great bargain to me. Missionary martyr, Jim Elliott, said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”
So true, but sadly we have to add a tragic footnote to the end of this encounter is this fourth point in our outline. Number four, the ruler and his rejection. The ruler and his rejection. Verse 23, “But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich.” Luke doesn’t include it, he doesn’t tell us this, but the man actually turned around at this point and he walked away. Didn’t even stick around. No follow up questions are recorded, and so he walked off the pages of Scripture. Never to be heard from again. Matthew 19:22 says that “when the man heard this, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.”
Mark 10:22, “Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.” And then Luke 18:23, “But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich.” All three synoptic writers, who use some form of the verb lypeo, which means to become sorrowful, to become sad, even to grieve, experience deep distress. And then, once again, we’re indebted to Mark’s Gospel for another very descriptive verb, stygnazo. It means to be dejected, to be gloomy, and that’s noted by the downcast expression that came across his face.
It’s an evidence that he became appalled in his spirit, even shocked. Remember last time? He said that Jesus exposed the heart of this rich young ruler in his attitude toward the law of God and the fact that he neither rejoiced in it as a true believer does, and that he didn’t have any conviction from the law at all, which would really have been a prelude to saving faith, conviction of sin. And remember how Jesus basically said, “What’s your experience in keeping the law?” And the ruler answered in verse 21, “The law, check. Got that down. All these things I’ve kept from my youth is in the law.”
Listen, Jesus, that’s not what I wanted to talk about. I’m coming to you and I’m asking what I can do. As in I got the law down. What more can I do? That’s what I want to know, what great work? This ruler’s ascendancy to prominence was through almsgiving. Through charitable donations he contributed to building projects, community improvement, political campaigns, mega donor, used to being courted by the famous, those who see him as a means to get stuff done. But Jesus has disappointed him here on all counts.
First, Jesus becomes rather pedantic about the compliment. He tried to pay him good teacher, and he kind of picks apart his use of the word good. He asked about mundane matters of law keeping, treating him as if he was still a schoolboy. And now this is absolutely impossible command, I mean, come on, “Sell all distributed to the poor, come, follow me.” That is completely depart from the life that he’s had, which is not only financial suicide, but family suicide, social suicide, political suicide. It’s death in every way imaginable.
Don’t you realize what my money can do for you? You’re headed to Jerusalem. You’re the Messiah. I got money to contribute to you. Absurd, just too much. So, dejected by the saying, downcast and disappointed, he went away sorrowful for he had a lot of stuff. He’s extremely rich. We’re going to look at this in more detail next week, but Jesus issues a warning to the rich, and by extension to all who love the things of this world who are whether rich or poor.
And by the way, you don’t have to be rich to love money. I’d actually wager that it’s more common for the poor to have problems with covetousness and greed and longing for richness, riches than the rich do. Jesus, seeing that he had become sad in verse 24, said “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the Kingdom of God.” Why? Because they’re so entangled into it. Because it did insinuate itself all through their lives like tentacles. It’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God.
Why? What’s the problem? They just don’t have the heart for it. The good seed fell into thorny soil, didn’t it? And Jesus said, “Those for whom the gospel falls among the thorns. They are those who hear, but as they go on their way, they’re choked out by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit doesn’t mature, and like this man, they walk away.” Picture Luke paints here, along with Matthew and Mark, he got just again. It’s no wonder all three synoptic writers record this encounter, but this picture that’s painted here is absolutely tragic.
This man is in deep, deep bondage. Like many wealthy people are, his heart is hopelessly ensnared. It’s entangled by the world. He’s enslaved to sin, to self love, to pride. He’s used to being in charge. He’s used to telling people what to do. Desperate to cling to all that influence, desperate to have that prominence. This is a warning to us all, isn’t it? Wherever we are in life, wherever we are in the social scale, social ladder, it’s a warning to every single one of us. The rich young ruler, he’s virtually looking out through the cold iron bars of his prison cell. He’s trapped. He can’t even see it.
He’s looking out and right next to where he stands, Jesus has taken out a key and he’s unlocked the door to his cell, and he’s swung that door open wide and he’s motioned to him to come outside, and he’s called to him to come outside and to come into freedom and to joy and to live in the power and certainty of eternal life. Inexplicably, the man reaches out and closes the door to his cell. And then he turns and locks the door with the key and throws the key out, and then walks back to the back part of the dark, dank corner in his cell to sit in his filth and remain in his stank and hunger and thirst, and eventually die there, a prisoner of his own choosing.
It’s such a shockingly tragic picture. And again, folks, this story is not a parable. This is not a story that Jesus told a fictional account, and it illustrates a deeper principle. This actually happened, and it’s such a powerful record of what actually happened. But it does teach a deeper principle. What holds on to your heart? Rich young ruler here is a real man. He’s a real human being. He’s got an immortal soul. He is meant for so much more, but he opted for the scraps.
He traded eternal life treasure in heaven for temporal gain. For rotten moth eaten, corroded junk, James chapter 5. What about you? What about you, my friend? I asked you at the beginning. What would you be willing to give to be fully assured of eternal life? It’s true, Jesus has not looked you in the eye as he did with this man and commanded you to liquidate everything distributed to the poor and follow him. But could he?
Does he have that right in place in your life? If he exercised that right to issue this command to you, would you obey it? Truth is, our resolve is tested every single day with much less dramatic and more mundane sorts of commands. Wives, submit to your husbands; husbands, love your wives; children obey your parents; parents, raise your children in the fear and admonition of the Lord. We’re called to the daily sacrifice of self. The daily mortification of sins, the daily pursuit of holiness, and the fear of the Lord.
Truth is, in obeying any of God’s commands, whether they seem to us to be small or great, they all require us to kill the idols of the heart. All of them requires to turn from temptation and die daily to self, don’t they? All obedience to him requires to love God with all our heart and soul and strength and mind, to love our neighbors as ourselves and all of that. Every single command, seem it small or great to you, all of it is impossible, impossible, apart from divine grace, working through faith and love.
Consider this, though Christian, when we find within ourselves by the grace of God, when we find righteous affections, loving what God loves and hating what God hates when we define within us the desire and the will to do what God commands, when we find within ourselves a love for God, a love for his word, a love for others, rejoicing in righteousness and truth and justice. When we are mortifying sin, when we’re walking in the truth, when we’re eager to be obedient to the truth, we count that joy.
When we see the spirit of God producing in us fruit of the spirit fruit in our lives, when he’s producing good works in us, bringing glory to God and blessing other people. When we say with Peter verse 28, “See we’ve left our homes and followed you.” One of the greatest benefits of all of that, my friend, is the joy and the confidence that comes from Christian assurance.
That’s what Jesus wants to provide, and that’s what we’ll turn our attention to and learn more about next time. Let’s pray. Our Father, you have been so kind to us. Showing your goodness to us every single day. Indeed your mercies are new every morning, and great is your faithfulness and even in our day, with all of our technologies and all the benefits of the modern world, we have most of us, a copy of your word written in our own language, translated into our own language, into our own tongue, and we can read and study and understand and rejoice in your goodness.
We can learn your commands for ourselves and be eager to obey them and do them, and we by the grace that you’ve provided in Jesus Christ, by the faith that you have allowed us to exercise because of spiritual regeneration, you’ve allowed us to hear your word. You’ve allowed us to see your goodness. Our hearts respond to the truth, and that is by your grace and by your mercy. And we have given ourselves to you. We, like Peter say, “See we we’ve turned away, we’ve denied ourselves, we’ve taken up our cross. We’re following you. We are only doing what we’ve been commanded.” And yet you’re pleased to say to us, well done. Continue to come and follow me.
And so we pray that you would be pleased to continue to show us your Grace in Christ, that you continue to conform us to Jesus Christ, that we would every single day die to self, mortify sin, pursue obedience to your commands and live our Gospel life in this world that so desperately needs to hear the message Jesus, our Savior and Lord, preached to this rich young ruler, please help us to be living this out. And to be faithful in our articulation of this gospel for your glory and for the good of many we pray in Jesus name. Amen.