Today’s Scripture: “So when Jesus heard these things, He said to him, ‘You still lack one thing. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.'” (Luke 18:22)
I read the story of a lighthouse along a bleak coast that was tended by a keeper who was given enough oil for one month and told to keep the light burning every night. One day a woman asked for oil so that her children could stay warm. Then a farmer came. His son needed oil for a lamp so he could read. Still another needed some for an engine. The keeper saw each as a worthy request and measured out just enough oil to satisfy all. Near the end of the month, the tank in the lighthouse ran dry. That night the beacon was dark and three ships crashed on the rocks. More than 100 lives were lost. When a government official investigated, the man explained what he had done and why. “You were given one task alone,” insisted the official. “It was to keep the light burning. Everything else was secondary. There is no defense.’”
Loving Jesus Christ is the ONE THING above everything else that matters in life. Everything else is secondary. Stephen Covey, author of the book, “The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People,” once said, “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” I would modify that to say, “The one thing is to keep the one thing the one thing.” The possibility exists in our lives to allow a plethora of things to keep us from the one thing that matters most. Instead of being our ‘one among many,’ Jesus is to be our ‘one and only.’
Simply looking on, the young man in this passage really seems to have it all together. We see him showing an interest in spiritual things. He seems to be a real promising disciple. He is wealthy and no doubt well respected. He is very religious and has an obvious grasp of the law of God. Yet none of that ever impresses Jesus. Jesus looks deep into the young man’s soul and puts His finger on the ONE THING that was lacking, the ONE THING that was the main thing that was simply not there—love for and submission to Jesus Christ. The tragedy that we see in this text is that a person can have it all, yet not really have anything at all. A person can appear to have it all when it comes to riches and religion and respect, while at the same time, be lacking in a real relationship with God.
Jesus gave this rich young ruler a test. He had to make a choice between following Christ or living for himself, and he failed the test. Regardless of what he may have claimed to believe, because he was unwilling to forsake all, he could not be a disciple of Christ. Salvation is for those who are willing to forsake everything for Jesus. Several things about this young man stand out in the text:
1. His MISGUIDED opinion of Jesus (18:18)
“Now a certain ruler asked Him, saying, ‘Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ So Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. You know the commandments: Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and your mother. And he said, ‘All these things I have kept from my youth.’”
No person can ever come to faith in Christ without acknowledging who He really is. I have found it to be true that many people want the benefits that come along with salvation, but they refuse to submit their lives to the lordship of the Savior. They want the perks of salvation without the lordship of Christ over their life. They come to Jesus because of what He gives, not because of who He is. Such was the case with the rich young ruler.
Consider the young man’s ENTHUSIASM. It is worth paying close attention to. He eagerly approaches Jesus and shows keen interest in spiritual things. He desires eternal life and longs to obtain it. He comes to Jesus and refers to Him as “Good Teacher,” which explains why Jesus asked the young man what he meant, for if he really believed that Jesus was GOOD then he had to confess that Jesus was GOD. It was a test of the man’s heart. The man was eager about coming to Jesus.
Consider the young man’s EMPTINESS. His search brought him to the feet of Jesus, and he asked Jesus about how to obtain eternal life. Mark’s account says that he came running and fell down at the feet of Jesus, indicating how much he truly desired eternal life. “Eternal Life” is to know God and to possess the life of God and have deep intimate knowledge of God; it is the life that God possesses in the heart of man so that man and God have fellowship. Eternal life is the life of Christ in the follower of Christ.
This young man wasn’t like the phony Pharisees. They lived with the illusion that they had eternal life, and in their smug hypocrisy, they convinced themselves. This young man, in spite of all that he did have, knew that he didn’t have eternal life. Yet he wanted it. This is where coming to Christ begins. You have got to know that you don’t have what you need and you want it above everything else. In Matthew 19:20, he asks Jesus, “What do I still lack?” In other words, he asks, “What is the missing puzzle piece in my life?” He knew that his life was missing something. He essentially comes to Jesus and says, “I don’t get it. I have done a spiritual inventory in my life, and I am as good as I can get. What is there left for me to do?” He feels the absence of God in his life. He was searching for the fountain of living water, and the fountain was there before him all along. He was so preoccupied with himself and his own righteousness that he failed to see Christ for who He is. Jesus said:
John 17:3—“And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.”
The word “know” speaks of an intimate and experiential knowledge. It is not merely factual knowledge, but is experiential knowledge. Many within the church can claim Christ as their casual acquaintance but not their intimate Friend. Despite all of his religion and impressive resume, the young man acknowledged that he was lacking the true life of God within his own life. There was a void deep down in his soul that he longed to fill.
2. His MISTAKEN view of himself (18:21)
“And he said, ‘All these things I have kept from my youth.’”
This young man comes to Jesus and asks the single most important question that a person could ever ask. Yet the way that he frames his question and the way he answers Jesus reveals his mistaken belief about salvation and the way one obtains it. He came to Jesus relying on his own effort and good works. When he looked back on his life, he simply did so from an external perspective. He had not killed anyone. He had not been involved in an affair with another man’s wife. He had not robbed anyone. He had not dishonored his father and mother. In his own estimation, he had kept the commandments as far as the letter of the law went. But he missed the point of the law altogether. He had totally failed to see that the law was not given as a means for achieving righteousness, but for picturing righteousness. The law was given to show men how impossible it is for them to live up to God’s standard of righteousness in their own strength. Jesus held the law before the young man to reveal his sin, but the young man looked into the mirror and would not see the stains and blemishes in his life. His was a passing glance instead of a penetrating gaze. In fact, the Bible says that the law of God is like a mirror, and its purpose is to show us how desperately we need a Savior. Paul even said that the law was a “schoolmaster” to bring us to Christ.
The problem with this young man is that he had only given himself a casual glance. This is the problem in our day. There are plenty of people who casually glance at their outward appearance and determine that they are good, but Jesus always carries us beneath the surface. Jesus isn’t concerned with the leaves; His concern is with the root! Someone has well said that human goodness apart from Jesus Christ is the worst form of human badness.
Paul spends three entire chapters in Romans declaring the sinfulness of man before he ever discusses the way of salvation. Law must always precede grace. Before the good news is ever good news, one must be aware of the bad news.
Romans 3:10—“There is none righteous, no, not one.”
The rich young ruler had too much pride in his life to acknowledge that he was sinful by nature and that his whole life fell short of God’s holiness, and therefore was an offense to Him. Thus, his desire for eternal life was eclipsed by his refusal to repent and humble himself.
John MacArthur—“Salvation is for people who despair of their own efforts, who realize that, in themselves and by themselves, they are hopelessly sinful and incapable of improving. Salvation is for those who see themselves as living violations of His holiness and who confess and turn from their sin and throw themselves on God’s mercy. It is for those who recognize they have absolutely nothing good to give God, that anything good they receive or accomplish can be only by His sovereign, gracious provision in Jesus Christ.”
Until a person understands their sin guilt and their total inability to do anything about it, they are not ready to receive salvation. Before a person will ever accept Christ, they must first see their need for Christ.
Samuel Bolton—“When you see that men have been wounded by the law, then it is time to pour in the gospel oil.”
Instead of being wounded by the law and seeing his need for a Savior, the rich young ruler was decieved in his own self-righteousness. Though he diligently sought eternal life, he was seeking it on his own terms apart from confessing his sin and demonstrating repentance.
3. His MISPLACED love for wealth (18:22-23)
“So when Jesus heard these things, He said to him, ‘You still lack one thing. 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 this, he became very sorrowful, for he was very rich.”
I like how Mark’s account renders this verse:
Mark 10:21—“Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, ‘One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.’”
The word “looking” literally means to look in, or to fix the eyes upon intently. It means that something is known and observed by close inspection. Jesus was reading the man’s heart. While we would be impressed by what we saw on the outside, Jesus was looking at the man on the inside.
Nowhere in Scripture does it ever say that a person is saved by giving. The point is not what Jesus is asking the man to do; the point is that Jesus knew the ONE THING that was most important to the man, and it wasn’t a relationship with Jesus. Jesus puts His finger on the man’s covetousness. His money was his god, and his god was his money. And no matter how promising he looked on the outside, and regardless of the interest he had shown, deep down inside of this man, there was only ONE THING that mattered above EVERYTHING else—his money and his possessions. Jesus singled out the ONE THING that the man was not willing to part with if it meant gaining Christ. A true disciple desires Jesus above everything else and would willingly part with any thing if it meant gaining Christ.
Matthew 13:44-46—“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it.”
The ultimate test was whether or not the man really wanted Jesus. His actions and allegiance proved to be for himself rather than Christ. The test only revealed what he really loved. The bottom line is that no matter how upright and religious he appeared to be, the rich young ruler didn’t want Jesus as his Savior, and he didn’t want Jesus as his Lord. The ONE THING that mattered most was lacking in his life. Jesus was simply a means to an end. I’m afraid that far too many in the church have responded to Jesus the way that the rich young ruler did, but someone along the way told them that they were fine. So, they casually pay their respects to Jesus, but they live for self.
Compare the rich young ruler to Zaccheus. He too was a wealthy man. But when Jesus called him, the Bible says that he hurried down from the tree, “and received Him gladly.” Spontaneously, without even being told to do so, he volunteered to do what Jesus had commanded the rich young ruler to do.
Luke 19:8-10—“Then Zaccheus stood and said to the Lord, ‘Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Today, salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham; for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.’”
Zaccheus was saved because he confessed he was lost. And he could easily part with his material goods because he knew that he had found the ONE THING that really mattered—the treasure of Jesus Christ.