Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
I identify with the rich young man who came to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” (Matthew 19:16; ESV).
One of the reasons why I identify with him is because he is rich. I may not be rich by American standards, but compared to the rest of the world I am rich. Americans are able to enjoy luxuries that most people throughout the world, and throughout history, only dream of experiencing. The reality is that I am probably richer than this young man the Bible identifies as rich.
I also identify with him because he strived to be moral. He told Jesus that he had kept the commandments, and I don't believe he was being arrogant when he said that. I believe that he did keep the Law to the best of his ability, and when he sinned he had the appropriate sacrifice made to cover his guilt. Likewise I have tried to be moral, and when I have sinned I have sought forgiveness from God.
This young man had money, which the world says is necessary to have a good life. He had the morality that religious people say you need for a good life. Yet, when he evaluated his life, he discovered something was missing.
I don't know what was missing for his life, but I know the missing part of my life has been meaning. In other words, I felt like no matter what I did my life lacked significance. That is what brought me to Jesus with the question: “What must I did to have eternal life?”
We need to remember that eternal life is not just about the length of life. The young man's question was not, “Jesus, how can I live forever?” Eternal life also has to do with quality. This is the question the young man is asked Jesus, “What must I do to have a life of hope and meaning?” Eternal life would not be valued if it just meant life without end. What makes eternal life desirable is that it is life filled with meaning and hope.
If there is something missing from your life you do whatever it takes to find it. The rich young man determined there was something missing from his life, so he went to Jesus to find it. I am certain he came to Jesus looking for a new commandment to follow, a new discipline to add to his life, or a new teaching to believe. He knew there was something missing from his heart, so he assumed he needed to add something to fill the empty space.
Isn't this how we present the Gospel to people? “There is a God shaped hole in your heart that only Jesus can fill,” we say, “and once you add Jesus everything will be wonderful!”
The problem is that life it isn't doesn't live up to the promise. Life continues to be a struggle and we face the same issues that everyone else does. This experience can lead people away from God as they wonder if Jesus really makes a difference in the lives of people.
This is the lesson we need to learn from the rich young ruler: The life Jesus wants to give us is found on the other side of sacrifice. Rather than giving the young man something to add to his life, Jesus gave him something to remove. The young man's identity, security, and hope were all wrapped up in his possessions. It is easy to understand why this was the case, since the vast majority of people lived below the poverty line. For them each day was a struggle to survive, but the rich young man did not have to worry about survival. He had the security of his wealth to get him through. He had found his life in his possessions, and those possessions were an obstacle to him in following Jesus and trusting God.
What is Jesus asking you to lay down so you can follow him and trust God?
Often what Jesus asks you to give up centers around your security and your identity. He might ask you to be generous with your money, and to give away some of that nest egg you have stored away. Perhaps Jesus will ask you to lay down your patriotism and politics, because your beliefs are driving a wedge between family and friends, and creating an obstacle for others to come to Jesus. He might ask you to stop allowing your family's expectations to dictate the direction of your life, and to trust him to lead you to where you need to be. Perhaps Jesus will ask you to switch jobs, to home school, or to figure out how to live on one income instead of two. I don't know what it is, all I know is that the abundant life Jesus promised to us is found on the other side of sacrifice.
You know what happened to that rich young ruler? He got old and he died. His wealth didn't do him any good then. I wonder if he had any regrets about choosing his wealth over Jesus. We know that he went away from Jesus sad.
I don't want you to walk away from Jesus sad. Make the sacrifice and follow him. That is the way to experience eternal life.
Questions to consider:
- Do you identify with the rich young ruler?
- Do you feel like there is something missing from your life?
- Why is it important for us to sacrifice in order to follow Jesus?