The Rich Young Ruler (Luke 18:18-30)
“And 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 have 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.” Those who heard it said, “Then who can be saved?” But He said, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.” And Peter said, “See, we have left our homes and followed You.” And He said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.” – Luke 18:18-30 (ESV)
• The Question
How does one obtain eternal life?
• The Rich, Young Ruler
Calls Jesus “Good Teacher” in a manner of flattery, as there is not one example in the entire Talmud of a rabbi being addressed this way; addressed with an attribute possessed only by God. Jesus doesn’t correct him by saying He is not good, but rather that only God is good and invites the young man to reflect on his own words. Have you ever heard someone say something and thought they should take a moment to think about what they just said, and maybe the answer they are looking for already resides in the very words they spoke?
His question carries the assumption that salvation or eternal life must be earned and that something in addition to the work he was currently doing was required.
• One thing you lack…
But is it really just one thing, or three?
It sounds like three things: 1) sell what you possess, 2) give it to the poor, 3) follow me. How are these three (commands/demands) requests really one?
The young ruler claims that he has kept all the commands Jesus mentions since his youth, but Jesus only mentions the commandments dealing with our fellow neighbors, not those that deal directly with God. He uses His request to expose what the young man lacks, and how he desperately fails to measure up to the law. The very first of the commandments is to have no other God before the one true God of Israel… Jesus shows how money is sitting in the place of God in this young man’s heart, and it deeply grieves him when asked to depart with it.
These demands may be summed up like this: “Your attachment to your possessions needs to be replaced by an attachment to Me.” It’s as though the man stood there with his hands full of money, and Jesus said, “You lack one thing; reach out and take my hands.” To do this the man must open his fingers and let the money fall. The “one thing” he needs is not what falls out of his hands, but what he takes into his hands.
The poor are always the beneficiaries when this transaction happens — when a person treasures Jesus above money. That’s why Jesus mentions the poor. We are all spiritually poor without Christ. But the main focus is what is happening between this man and Jesus. Jesus does not merely expose the closed-handedness of the young ruler, He alludes to the truth that if the young man rightly understood who Jesus was, if he knew the good character of God, he would cry out for mercy, not complacently seek reward. All the fitness God requires is for you to feel your need of Him…
• God loves to give good gifts.
Illustration — “Delighting in our cat, Winston”
Kathryn and I do not have children (at least not yet), but we do have a young cat. Even in the caring for this small animal, as two imperfect people, we delight in providing good things for him. We love giving him wet food, treats, new toys of any kind, letting him sleep in our bed and snuggle with us. We truly enjoy giving him good things, and watching him respond with excitement and joy.
The Father enjoys delighting in His children by giving them good gifts… but how does one receive something when their hands are full? Often times our hands are full of idols, unready to receive God’s love. And we mistakenly think that idols are just bad things, but that is almost never the case. The greater the good, the more likely we are to expect that it can satisfy our deepest needs and hopes. Anything can serve as a counterfeit god, especially the very best things in life.
“… I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak… We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” – C.S. Lewis
• The One Thing
Jesus tells the rich young ruler, He tells all of us: You lack one thing. You lack Me. Stop treasuring money and start treasuring Me. You want to inherit eternal life? You want truth? You want to enter the kingdom of heaven? You want to be justified? You want to be righteous before God? Only by your attachment to Me will you inherit eternal life, be saved, find truth, enter the kingdom, be justified, and have any real meaning to your life. If you would be perfect — which is the only way into God’s kingdom — follow Me. Be connected to Me. Depend on all that I am for you.
There is no “go and do likewise” command present here in the discussion. Jesus isn’t asking this of everyone He talks with; He doesn’t tell everyone everywhere to give away everything they have. That is not the point here. Jesus uses a humorous illustration to explain how difficult it is for those who appear materially blessed to have God first in their heart; Jesus doesn’t say that anybody who has material blessings cannot be saved.
If you gain the whole universe, and have not Jesus, you are infinitely impoverished compared to the one who doesn’t just have the treasure, but is the Treasure. If you are bankrupt and indebted beyond your ability to ever reimburse that whom you owe, the option to just do a little more seems rather silly, doesn’t it? “One thing you still lack. . . . Me!”
• Disordered Love & Trust
Illustration — “The pain of the illusion of loss”
Winston’s need for what appeared to be torture in order to heal… the rich young ruler’s need to let go of his idol of wealth in order to see God as what he truly needs.
While Christianity was able to agree with pagan writers that inordinate attachment to earthly goods can lead to unnecessary pain and grief, it also taught and teaches that the answer to this was not to love things less, but to love God more than anything else. To rightly reorder your love. Jesus even tells people that they should hate their family in a hyperbolical (extreme, purposefully exaggerated) comparison. You should love God so much, that other relationships look like hate by comparison, but actually, if you love God that much, you cannot help but pour out your love for all of His creation.
How weird would it be if I enjoyed my wife’s material possessions more than I loved and interacted with her? Wouldn’t it seem odd if I was faced with a decision to choose our TV or our marriage, and I chose the TV? That would look like a pretty dumb decision and quite a dysfunctional relationship, would it not?
The disciples (viewing this through their cultural lens), ask who then can be saved?! Jesus makes is clear no man can save himself, it is impossible. But God saves. As long as we think we are not that bad, the idea of grace will never change us. Only when our greatest love is God, a love that we cannot lose even in death, can we face all things with peace. Grief and sorrow is not to be eliminated, but seasoned and supported with love and hope.
“God is not only more demanding than people care to think, but also more generous than they have dared to hope.”
• So, what are you holding onto?
There is nothing wrong with being wealthy, it is not inherently evil to be considered financially rich. But Christ called this young man to give up his wealth in order to follow Him, exposing that he valued cash above Christ. Today we see two VERY controversial issues constantly talked about in the media: homosexuality and a women’s right to “reproductive freedom.” For some, those are two hot topics they are not willing to let go of. For others, it may be literally anything… Whatever materials, family, pets, rights, liberties, etc. that we possess, we were created not to view the created as ultimate. Does that make sense? We are valuing created things above the Creator Himself when we see things merely as our own, to do whatever we wish with our possessions. Jesus is showing us here that we should consider it all worthless compared to Him.
So try to take some time to search your heart for what things you may be holding onto or valuing more than a relationship with God. I pray that we don’t make the common mistake of thinking extensively about someone we know who should really hear this message, and consider these words ourselves… because just like me, without Jesus: You lack.