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Jesus, the Rich Young Ruler, and Us

Over the past two weeks I’ve preached on Matthew 19:13-20:16.  Because our Bibles have chapter and verses breaks, we tend to view 19:13-30 as one part, and 20:1-16 as a separate part; however, this is one long narrative.

In the first part of the passage we find Jesus’ conversation with the man who wanted eternal life. The Bible tells us he was rich, young, a ruler, and overall a good guy (cf., Mark 10:17-22; Luke 18:18-23). From all appearances he had it all. In his attempt to gain eternal life he asks Jesus, “what good deed must I do?” This man thought that by doing something good he could get something from God. His idea of eternal life was based on exchange or merit, rather than grace. Jesus tells him to keep the commandments. Jesus’ words do not imply that one can earn salvation by keeping the law, but are meant to show the man that he isn’t really a law-keeper, but a law-breaker. The man argues that he has kept all these commandments. The man had done many good things in his life and believed that his own goodness entitled him to something from God.  But when confronted with the call to give away his wealth and follow Jesus, he left sorrowful. Jesus’ challenge to the man revealed that he loved his money more than God.  In other words, he loved his money more than Jesus (God in the flesh). Therefore, in actuality he had broken the first and most important commandment of the law (you shall have no other gods before me, Exo 20:3).

Having heard Jesus’ discussion with the rich young ruler, the disciples logically ask, “what about us?” The disciples did forsake all for Jesus (cf., Matt 4:20). Jesus assures them that they will be rewarded accordingly, but also quickly warns them not to misunderstand God’s grace. In some sense, the disciples are like the rich young ruler. They were asking Jesus to look at their goodness.  Jesus’ warning to his disciples in this parable is that God’s grace is not conditioned on your hard work or goodness, but is freely given according to his sovereign grace (cf., Matt 19:23-26).

Too often we are tempted to think that our goodness earns us something before God; because our mindset is framed according to our own sense of goodness, rather than God’s definition of goodness (which is perfection). When we define goodness according to ourselves we will always use it to justify ourselves and will always view God as unfair. Yet, the gospel teaches us something entirely different. The gospel is never good news until we first hear the bad news. The gospel reminds me that God is fully justified in sending sinners to hell. The fair thing for God to do is to pour out all of his judgment and wrath against us. God does not owe us anything; he doesn’t even owe us the opportunity to hear the gospel. But what God does for us in Jesus is that he seeks us, saves us, and gives us everything that is his. Jesus becomes my sin bearer; he takes my punishment upon himself at the cross. Jesus is the true rich young ruler who gave up his home in heaven and became one of us. Jesus is the perfect law-keeper, who always did the Father’s good will. In Jesus we find perfect goodness; and when we trust in him we get all of his perfect goodness to stand before a perfectly good God. The gospel is not what we must do for God, but what God has already done for us in Christ.  Logically, this means that true change happens in our lives when we stop believing the lie that we need to do something for God, but instead start believing the truth of what God has already done for us in Jesus.  Satan’s primary way to destroy us is to tempt us to forget what God has done for us in Jesus and to get us to believe that our acceptance before God is based on something other than Christ’s perfect righteousness.

And so, what is it you are still depending on for your salvation?  Have you fled to the Lord Jesus Christ?  If you have fled, do you continue to flee to Christ as your only hope, your only salvation, and as your only source of satisfaction?

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