The First Sunday After Easter April 19, 2009
1 Timothy 6:3-21
198, 430(1-6), 430(7-8), 45
Now behold, one came and said to Him, “Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?” So He said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.” He said to Him, “Which ones?” Jesus said, “‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not bear false witness,’ ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” The young man said to Him, “All these things I have kept from my youth. What do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. Then Jesus said to His disciples, “Assuredly, I say to you that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” When His disciples heard it, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said to them, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
In Christ Jesus—the Savior who has risen from the dead to give us the forgiveness of sins and salvation—dear fellow-redeemed:
After the events on Good Friday, even the Roman centurion exclaimed, “Truly this was the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:54). After the events of Easter Sunday, those who saw Jesus alive were more convinced than ever that He is the Son of God.
Being convinced that Jesus was the Son of God didn’t mean the disciples fully understood everything about Him or about what He came to do. After He rose from the dead, Jesus spent the next 40 days teaching the disciples and helping to “connect the dots” between Old Testament prophecies and what He had just accomplished. He needed to help them see what His true purpose was.
Today as well, many people have a mistaken view about who Jesus is and what His true purpose is—Jesus came to seek and to save those who are lost in sin (cf. Luke 19:10).
The rich young ruler in today’s text came to Jesus looking for salvation. We learn through Jesus’ dealing with the man that Jesus’ goal and purpose was to bring him to a recognition of his sin and then repentance and salvation. The story ends sadly because the man the did not believe the word Jesus presented. He wanted Jesus to tell him something different.
There is a lesson for us to learn in this story and in it we see the true purpose of Jesus our Savior. Today we consider THE LESSON OF THE RICH YOUNG RULER I. A man who trusted in what couldn’t save II. A man who loved what wasn’t God and III. A man who left in needless sorrow
One day this young man came to Jesus and said: “Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?” [v.16]
Jesus began to seek this lost soul by taking him to the Law, specifically, the second table of God’s Law which is: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus directed the man to all of the commandments that deal with our love for one another—do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, and so on. Jesus took the man to those commandments and the man’s response was: “Jesus, I’ve kept them all.”
Jesus directed the man to the Law in an effort to lead him to see his sin, but the man was trusting in his own goodness. He was trusting in his ability to keep the Law. He couldn’t see his sin because he was so focused on trusting in something that couldn’t save him. This man followed the belief of the Pharisees, namely, that if you kept the laws outwardly you had eternal life.
We have a clue that the man did not feel so confident that he could be sure of his salvation. Even though he believed he had kept the whole Law, he still asked: “What do I still lack?” Even though he was trusting in himself and in his goodness he knew that something was still missing. The man was trusting in what couldn’t save so he still had a guilty conscience that accused him. He still had a sense of insecurity because he couldn’t be positive that he had eternal life. The apostle Paul explains why there can never be peace and security from the Law:“ Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:20-24).
God’s Word is repeatedly very clear that there is no salvation through the Law. If—and it is a huge if—if we were able to be born without sin, if we were able to keep the Law perfectly in every way and detail, then by keeping the Law we could be saved. But we can’t be saved in that way because we are born in sin and then continue in that sin. We are sinners through and through and therefore, the Law cannot save us since God demands perfection: “You be holy because I am holy” (Leviticus 19:2).
The young man who cam to Jesus looked to the Law because he felt he had kept it perfectly… but, no. For the Law does not only apply to how we act in public, but how we act in private, and to the deeper thoughts of our minds and hearts, and to what we say. In addition to all of that, God also says that if we sin against His Law in one place, we are guilty of sinning against it all (cf. James 2:10).
There is no salvation in the Law because the Law shows us how miserably we fail in perfectly following God’s will. Yet, that is where the rich young man put his misguided trust.
After the man asked what he still lacked, Jesus said, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.” [vv.21-22]
The seeking Savior was still striving to bring this man to the realization that he failed in keeping the Law. Jesus began by taking him to the second table of the Law—loving your neighbor. The man felt confident in that. Next, Jesus took him to the first table of the law—loving God with your whole heart, soul, and mind. Jesus told the man how he could demonstrate such love to God: “sell what you have, give it to the poor, and follow Me.” The man couldn’t do it. He revealed his love for his wealth and went away sorrowful. He loved his earthly wealth more than he loved God.
This man was guilty of idolatry. He put his wealth and the things of this life ahead of his Savior. Idolatry still runs rampant in the world. In Confirmation instruction we make the distinction between open idolatry and secret idolatry. Open idolatry takes place when someone openly declares “I am worshipping this god” and it is not the true God. Buddhists, Hindus, and followers of all non-Christian religions are guilty of open idolatry. The golden calf and Baal are two examples of open idolatry in the Old Testament.
Secret idolatry is more subtle. Secret idolatry takes place when something or someone takes a higher place in our hearts than our Lord. This may even go unnoticed, but I guarantee you that each one of us has at various times and in various ways been guilty of secret idolatry. God cautions us concerning this through the apostle John. “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.” (1 John 2:15-17).
As we heard in the Scripture readings this morning, God gives us earthly blessings to use and to enjoy, but not to love more than Him. Secret idolatry does not only affect the rich. Anyone, whatever the economic status, is in danger of it. No matter how much we have or don’t have we can love things or people more than God. When possessions and the things of this earth become the determining factor in your life’s decisions, that is secret idolatry. When possessions, entertainment, and all the things associated with “living” motivate and guide our lives, beware of secret idolatry.
In Romans, Paul warns against worshipping and serving the creation instead of the Creator (cf. Romans 1:25) and that is what happens when the things of this world become our focus. Then we are worshipping and loving the gifts God gives us instead of Him—the Giver, and that is idolatry.
The psalmist prayed: “If riches increase, do not set your heart on them” (Psalm 62:10). It is a great blessing from God if He gives you economic prosperity—Praise the Lord! If riches increase, give God to thanks and rejoice, but do not set your heart on them.” Do not let those riches become your god.
Secret idolatry is not limited to money and possessions. Jesus said, “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37).
Martin Luther characterized idolatry—especially secret idolatry—in this way: “That upon which you set your heart and put your trust is your god.” For someone who is putting trust in earthly wisdom, that is his god. For someone who is motivated and guided by the accumulation of prestige and status and power, those become his god.
Our prayer can well be that of Proverbs, where the writer says: “Give me neither poverty nor riches, feed me with the food allotted to me; lest I be full and deny you, and say, “who is the Lord?” Or lest I be poor and profane the name of my God” (Proverbs 30:8-9). We stand guard lest we fall into a love for something other God. We pray that God blesses and enables us to keep Him foremost in our lives and hearts.
…[the man] went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. Then Jesus said to His disciples, “Assuredly, I say to you that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” When His disciples heard it, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said to them, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” [vv.22b-26]
Over the years people have tried to rationalize Jesus’ illustration of a camel and the eye of a needle. Some suggest that the word Jesus used doesn’t mean camel, but rather refers to a type of thicker rope that would indeed be difficult to get through an eye of a needle. But, Jesus said “camel” and it means the animal. Another rationalization is that the “eye of a needle” refers to a low tunnel or gate around Jerusalem—an opening so small that it would be difficult for a camel to pass through. But what Jesus said was the literal eye of an actual needle. We don’t need to change what Jesus said to fit our notions. Jesus said what He said and the disciples were greatly astonished—flabbergasted that Jesus would say such a thing. Humanly speaking, it is completely impossible for a camel to get through the eye of a needle, but that is the point. It is impossible for a rich man to get into heaven relying on his riches or on himself; but with God all things are possible.
There were man wealthy children of God in biblical times—Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, just to name a few. There are believers today whom God has blessed substantially. Jesus died for rich and poor alike, but what makes it particularly hard for is that the earthly prosperity creates a spiritual challenge. The challenge is to avoid loving earthly things more than God. It is difficult to overcome the challenge and love God above all things, but what makes it possible—not only for the rich, but all people—is the “God Factor.” Salvation is impossible for us, but made possible because of what God has done for us.
When the man went away sorrowful as if there was no hope, he was walking away in needless sorrow because God did send Jesus to be the Savior from sin. God sent Jesus to save all sinners including that man. Though the man’s riches were a temptation away from Jesus, there was salvation, he didn’t need to walk away. Jesus was going to die on the cross for that man and all of us. The man walked away because he trusted in what he had instead of what Jesus desired to give. He walked away because following Jesus seemed impossible to him because life without his riches seemed impossible to him.
The lesson of this rich young ruler a reminder to us of where to put our trust—not in what we can do, but in what God has done for us. It is a caution to be aware that the things of this world can present temptation. We need continually to be strengthened by the Gospel to resist the temptation to love what is on the earth. Then instead of walking away from Jesus in needless sorrow, by faith we will walk with Him in the greatest of joy. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.