It could have been anyone! It could have been me, it could have been you. It seemed simple enough at first. After all he was a pretty good guy. Wasn’t he? He was respected in his community, honored and a good businessman who had made good provision for his family. He had the reputation of treating people respectfully and decently, even fairly. Things were going well for him and most of his associates. He had every reason to have a smile on his face – things were going very well, indeed!
So, when Jesus came to town, he took opportunity to insure his eternal reward. He asked Jesus saying, “What good thing must I do to get eternal life?”
Surely he must be qualified to gain eternal life!
For a moment everything goes well. Jesus told the young man, “Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother, love your neighbor as yourself.”
You can almost feel the slight tension in the room become relaxed as everyone listens with anticipation and the young man confidently states, “All of these I have kept.” And in a moment of presumption he goes on further asking, “What do I still lack?” With his heart racing and everyone else in suspended animation, waiting for Jesus’ reply. Certainly, with all this young man has going for him he will meet with approval from Jesus.
In the silence, you could of heard a pin drop before Jesus speaks again. Then he does, and what he says shakes up not only the young man, but everyone else as well. Jesus’ reply, “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.”
Scripture then says, “When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.”
What had gone so wrong? Everything was looking so good. What is it that Jesus is truly asking for from this fine young man?
Jesus has just taught one of the most significant lessons that we must learn to enter into heaven and if we are not careful we will miss it! There are two temptations that we have to effectively deal with here. First, there is the very human temptation to believe that because we have kept the legal code, the law, that we are worthy of heaven. The belief that we are “good enough” to meet with God’s approval due to our own good works falls short though. Here is how: at the very moment that we accomplish living the law perfectly we are so tempted to proudly declare our own praise for our own goodness that we fall into the idolatry of worshipping self rather than God.
The second and more common temptation has to do with the Lord’s second command to the young man about going and selling his possessions and giving to the poor and then following him. The temptation for many of us here is to think that the issue here has to do simply with the young man’s wealth; but it is not the core issue. The core issue, rather than wealth, is actually self! The young man’s wealth can easily be replaced by anything in our lives that we demand as our right to have in this life. Maybe it is a house or some other possession; maybe it is the presence of some person or thing. But it will always be something very close to a person; as a matter of fact it will in the end simply be “self.”
The trouble with the rich young man is that he was not willing to give up his love and trust in the things that lavishly provided for him in this life so that he could be free to love and trust the One who would make simple provision for him here and riches in heaven. He placed his trust therefore in his own wisdom, his own wealth rather than in the wisdom and wealth of Jesus. Truly, he was unwilling to die to self and live for Christ. And that, ultimately, led to sorrow for a rich young man because for the first time in his life he realized that his love for self and the riches of this old world were now keeping him from the greatest prize anyone may have – a real relationship with Jesus and lasting treasure in heaven.
What is it that Jesus is asking you to give up before you can truly follow him?
Giving it all up for Him!
Keith C. Brown