This story is in all three synoptic Gospels: Matthew, Mark, and Luke. When you see this account in the light of all three Gospels we find this is about a person who is rich, young, and a ruler. In fact, this story is called by many, “The rich, young, ruler.” This is the story about a young man who in very dramatic fashion does a running, kneeling slide right at the feet of Jesus. This encounter like so many is complicated. This is about a very affluent man who had beaten the curve in terms of gaining the power of influence and wealth at an early age. He’s probably a nice looking man who was a young Jewish man who may have been a chief in the synagogue. The title “ruler” is what Luke gives him (Lk. 18:18) and for a Jew this meant in the synagogue. He was young according to Matthew’s record and wealthy according to all three. We find out this man was moral, so he had gained his money through honest means. All of this being the case, he still felt an acute emptiness inside. Something was missing and this hole in his heart was the lack of confidence that he possessed eternal life. This man did not have what Christians call “the assurance of salvation.”
This account is found in three Gospels for a reason. There’s a point that the Spirit of God wants us to receive and it’s what makes this man’s encounter so complex. We can seemingly have it all and even have the discernment to see the real need that remains in our life. And then go to the One true person who can show us the way only to turn on our heels and reject Him. There is a pull on everyone of us that comes from what have called “false gods.” In fact, there are three false gods which I believe are rooted in the core center of Satan’s schemes which paralyze people from giving themselves wholly to Jesus. There are two represented here, in this young man. There is the god of “self.” Worshipping “self” which in the form of religion is “self righteousness.” Then there is the god of “money.” When money becomes a god this too is worshipping “self” in the form of “self preservation” and personal “security.” The third top god not dealt with here is the god of “sensuality” or “worldliness” or “sexual immorality.” This too is worshipping “self” in the form of “satisfactions.” This is the idol Mark sited where Jesus addressed the radical amputation of the “eye”, “hand”, and “foot” at the end of Mark 9. All three of these gods are worshipped by more people in the church than we’d care to admit. People name the name of Christ, say they worship Christ, and they really don’t. They worship these three.
This is what’s pictured here. A seeker. A man who’s got his life together but not all the way. He wants to address what remains as missing and wants to add it on. He wants to add Jesus into his life. And Jesus demands more than that. You can’t hold onto gods and grab onto Jesus. You have to let go of these gods to have Jesus. Wholly give yourself, your heart, your life to Jesus and then you will have all of a him and he will have all of you!
In my outline I have personified these gods to make the application more graphic. These gods are sucking the life out of some of you. For some you are in eternal danger for others you are experiencing relapse. I want to go on the attack this morning. You need to cut the femoral artery of each to be free. To freely follow and love Jesus!
Two false gods that paralyze people from giving their whole selves to Jesus
1. The god of self-righteousness (vv. 17-20)
Jesus’ ministry has been a traveling one. He’s journeying down to Jerusalem now in a place east of the Jordan called Peraea. A crowd had gathered, some who were parents with their children wanting Jesus’ blessing. You remember that Jesus welcomed these “infants” taking them to himself and offering them as the supreme example of what it takes to “receive the kingdom” (v. 15). How do you gain eternal life? You have to reduce yourself to the helpless state of a child. Helplessness. Jesus makes this point and Mark says in verse 17 that Jesus “was setting out on his journey” (v. 17). Before Jesus could stride out of there this young man who probably was taking all this in runs up and slides into Jesus’ feet.
What’s remarkable to me is how this man came in humility. Matthew introduces this scene saying, “Behold.” This was dramatic and startling posture. This was a man raised up in religious society but at the same time this man knew something of Jesus. Jesus who had been attacked and rejected by the Pharisees was nevertheless esteemed by this ruler. This man like Nicodemus would say, “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher come from God” (John 3:2).
There was genuine reverence here but this man still had an idol. His idol like all idols is a mirror reflecting “self.” His words about Jesus were really words about how he felt about himself. This feeling is what fed his idol.
a. It gains power from having a superficial definition of “good”
“[He] asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (v. 17). Calling Jesus “Good” is the right thing to say because Jesus is good. But the key factor is knowing why Jesus is “Good” or what actually makes Jesus “Good.” This man quantifies “goodness” in terms of “doing”. In other words, if I “do” enough or “do” the right thing then I will “inherit eternal life.” Something I “do” will get me in the will, the “inheritance.”
Jesus uncovers this wrong-headed perspective with his question. “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone” (v. 18). The word “good” [agathos] is different than [kalos]. [Kalos] is more superficial, like looking good where [agathos] points to being internally good. Jesus asks this question to expose who he truly is as God and to expose that this man is not yet connecting the dots. He’s saying you need a kind of “goodness” that is God’s “goodness” not your own self-spun “goodness.”
In fact, Jesus in verse 19 tells this man exactly what he’s clinging to by citing the second half of the Ten Commandments. This is what’s called the 2nd Table. The 1st Table or the first five of the ten commandments point vertically toward obeying God directly and the 2nd Table deal horizontally in terms of how we treat others.
Jesus in verse 18 basically summarizes the point of the 1st Table as recorded in Exodus 20:
“You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.” (Exodus 20:3-7 ESV)
b. It loses power from comparing one’s moral worth with God’s holiness
Jesus said, “No one is good except God alone.” For the point to sink in he would have to see his own sinfulness measured against God’s righteousness. When you do this you see the 2nd Table listed in verse 19 in an entirely different light. You see “Do not murder” and “Do not commit adultery” in light of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. “Murder” as anger. “Adultery” as heart lust. “Stealing” as coveting.
Remember Paul’s testimony in Romans 7?
What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For 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. For apart from the law, sin lies dead. I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. (Romans 7:7-10 ESV)
The Law then becomes exposure to our own sin. It kills us to awaken us to Jesus. This is Paul’s testimony in Philippians 3.
“…though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—“(Philippians 3:4-9 ESV)
Verse 20 is a sad statement. This young man missed it. Missed Jesus’ point. The man’s heart is proud. “I’ve kept them all from my youth” (v. 20). This is a far cry from the Tax Collector of Luke 18. Right in the same teaching strain in Luke’s account of the Rich Young Ruler is the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. The Pharisee believes he’s just fine having done everything right and nothing wrong. And compared to the Tax Collector he’s squeaky clean. The Tax Collector instead compares himself with God, the goodness of God and he is undone.
But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ (Luke 18:13 ESV)
as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. (Romans 3:10-11 ESV)
Listen, people are trapped in this cycle of “self-righteousness.” All you have to do is ask people about what it takes to make it to heaven. Even in our post modern world people still have a sense of eternity. People will still say, “If my good outweighs my bad then I will make it into heaven.” I challenge you to ask someone this question and I would venture to say 9 out of 10 people will give you this answer in some form or fashion. On a more personal level. How do you in your heart of hearts answer this question? You might have come to Jesus by faith alone but then slipped back into “self-righteous” or a self-justifying mindset. My question is, “Are you free?” “Do you freely worship Jesus?” Or are you empty like this man?
There is a second idol Jesus addresses. This idol is perhaps worse than the first!
2. The god of money (vv. 21-22)
a. It lives within split affections between Jesus and money
There’s a mix of hope and sadness in verse 21. Do you see how Jesus “looking at him, love him?” (v. 21). Jesus wasn’t confused about the state of this man’s heart. He looked good on the outside but on the inside he was split in half. Jesus loved this man even though he knew he loved himself and his money more. Mark includes this note of Jesus’ love to let us know that Jesus’ question is in no way bait. Jesus isn’t trying to push this man away but instead to clarify this man’s confusion. This man was caught between worshipping money and worshipping Christ.
“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. (Matthew 6:24 ESV)
Jesus’ point in Matthew 6 is that your heart cannot be in two places at once. You are either resting under one master or another.
[Ryle] Let us watch against the love of money. It is a snare to the poor as well as to the rich. It is not so much the having money, as the trusting in it, which ruins the soul.
So you can have it and not worship it and not have it and worship what you do not have. We might say, I have a lot and Jesus will make me the total package. He’ll make my life complete and moral, make me feel better about myself as I live for money.
How do you know if you are worshipping money instead of Jesus? Test yourself about Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 6.
for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life (1Timothy 6:7-12 ESV)
Now how do you kill an idol like money?
b. It dies within the knowledge that Jesus is incomparably worth more than money
This is what Jesus is bringing this man to see through his challenge in verse 21. Jesus boils everything in this man’s heart away. He burns it down to its core. “You lack one thing” (v. 21). Sell it all – give it all away to the poor! – “and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (v. 21).
This really sounds ridiculous unless you realize who he was talking to. If God tells you to drop what you’re trusting in to follow him- you do it. This is actually what Peter, James, and John did when they dropped their fishing business to follow Christ. This is not a general call to asceticism. (the doctrine that a person can attain a high spiritual and moral state by practicing self-denial, self-mortification, and the like.) We are all called to work, earn money and provide. We work and earn money to give money away! We understand this but we also need to see the heart of what Jesus is saying. In this man’s case, Jesus knew that he needed to drop what he was basing his security in so he could gain eternal life.
Conclusion: Some of you have been through this. Jesus sometimes ends careers. Ends health. Ends relationships. Sometimes you lose the one thing that made you feel complete so that you realize that all you really have is Christ. There are a lot of gods that need to die: The god of self-esteem, fame, politics, philosophy, perfect family, bank accounts, careers, self-sacrifice, do-gooding, giving, business success, supermom, provider, protector. Pious Religion. All of these things can be biblically acceptable or can slip in to idol-status. Kill idols, follow Christ!