16 Now behold, one came and said to Him, “Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?”
17 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.”
18 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,’
19 “‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'”
20 The young man said to Him, “All these things I have kept from my youth. What do I still lack?”
21 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.”
22 But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
If there is any defense against the “prosperity gospel,” any rock-solid teaching from Jesus against “name it and claim it” preaching, these verses are it–or, to be more specific, verse 21 is it. All of that teaching that has swept through Christianity here in America that says God wants us “fat and happy” is laid bare as a lie right here, torn down by the very Word of God made flesh, Jesus Christ. No prayer of Jabez, no appeal to obscure cherry-picked verses, nothing in all of Scripture can stand up to the teaching in these verses above and the ones that follow them.
23 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.
24 “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.”
“But doesn’t God want us to be happy?” some will say. No, God wants you to be full of the joy of loving and being loved by Him. Happiness will come and go, but the joy of the Lord is our strength at all times and in all situations. Besides, as a recent survey on happiness and wealth has shown, rich people are no happier and are most often LESS happy than middle class and poor people. Your dream house, two fancy cars, a summer home, stock options, bigger TV sets, etcetera–all of that means nothing if you are not storing up “treasure in heaven” by serving God.
Of course, when we try to tell people that they will best serve God by following Jesus, they get defensive and say, “Well, I have to eat! Besides, who is going to pay for your glorious mission work if not the rich giving their tithes?” But that’s actually Jesus’ point here: if the rich sell EVERYTHING they have–and are not just giving a small percentage to save on their taxes–then mission work will be financed for a long time to come. If the rich CEO’s give up their big salaries, then the guys who barely eke out a living on minimum wage will be provided for. If the richest 1% in America gave up even just half of their wealth, then there would be no more world starvation. It really is mathematically that simple.
But Jesus isn’t just talking here about giving to the poor. He’s talking about following the commandments. And the rich man asks, “Which ones?” In other words, “What must I do to get by? Haven’t I been doing enough?” The fellow has followed the simple commandments of being a “nice guy” since his youth, even the one about loving his neighbor as himself. Are there some commandments missing? Certainly, most especially the first one: “You shall have no other gods before Me.” (Exodus 20:3) That relates directly to the commandment that Jesus later tells us is the most important of all:
36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?”
37 Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’
38 “This is the first and great commandment.”
If we love God with all our heart and soul and mind, then we will follow His Son wherever He may lead. We will put down all that we own, leave behind family, wealth, and home, and pick up the Cross of Christ to follow Him through persecution and death into eternal life. No, that doesn’t sound very prosperous, and it doesn’t sound very comfortable, and it certainly doesn’t sound very healthy. But it is what we are called by Jesus to do.
24 Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.
25 “For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.”
Jesus never promised us wealth and prosperity, He promised us persecution. A pastor friend of mine is fond of saying, “If everyone loves me for what I’m saying, then I am not following Christ and preaching the true Word; but if some revile me and fall away because of what I preach, and if others’ hearts are convicted, then I am saying the proper Word of God.” That lines up with what Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount:
10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake.
12 “Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
That’s a part of the Beatitudes that we prefer to forget. We would rather be comforted in our mourning, rather become rulers of the earth in our meekness, rather be filled when we thirst for righteousness, rather be called sons and daughters of God for being peaceful, but we would rather NOT be persecuted. And so, like the rich man in today’s verses, we follow the easy commandments and neglect the hardest one of all: putting God first above all things in our lives.
You see, following Christ is not about doing “enough,” not about getting by on the bare minimum. It’s not about saying the right number of prayers or following all the “Thou shalt not” commandments to the letter of the law. Following Christ is not about getting rich nor about making lots of friends at church. Following Christ is not about scrubbing the outside of our lives with lots of bleach to appear squeaky clean. Following Christ is about leaving all that we know and love behind for the One we love above all others.
27 Then Peter answered and said to Him, “See, we have left all and followed You. Therefore what shall we have?”
28 So Jesus said to them, “Assuredly I say to you, that in the regeneration, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
29 “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life.
30 “But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”
The kingdom of God is the greatest treasure we could ever have. Why would we settle for earthly wealth and worldly honor when Jesus has so much more in store for us in His kingdom? Why would we settle for our “best life now” when there is a better life awaiting us? Why would we want to do just enough to get by when we can be perfect? The Greek word used in verse 21 for “perfect” is one of my favorites in the New Testament: τέλειος (“teleios”), which means complete, perfected, finished. If we would be complete in Christ, then we must have no other gods before Him. If we would be perfected in Christ, then we must love God as He does, with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. If we would be finished with mortal life and enter eternal life, then we must give our lives up for Christ.
So when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit.
Yes, on the Cross, Jesus used that word again, showing that by giving up His life, our salvation was perfected, finished, completed in Him. He is, as the writer of Hebrews said, the author and FINISHER of our faith. (Hebrews 12:1-2) And He is “the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the END”–the Completion, the Finish, the Perfection. (Revelation 22:13) If we would be complete and perfected in our faith to receive eternal life, then we must put God first and be ready to give up all we have and follow Jesus wherever He may go. No, it will not be an easy road, nor may it even be a familiar road, but it WILL be the path to eternal life.
Following all the commandments as the rich man did will get us nowhere unless we hit the dusty trail behind our Master. Making a point of being nice and giving a bit to the church or the poor now and then means nothing if we do not love God first in all things. No amount of wealth that we might turn back to God’s use will ever compare with giving our very LIVES to serve Him. There is no measure of doing enough of this or that thing that will ever compare with the completeness, the perfection, to be found in taking up our cross and following Jesus Christ.
Father God, Your Son gave so much to bring us to perfection, to brings us redemption from our sins and into the grace of eternal life. Jesus showed us Your mercy, Lord God, and He showed us what it truly means to give up all we have to serve You. Let us be such faithful servants, Father, and teach us how to be so humble and so loving toward You. Amen.