Luke 18:18-25 18 A certain ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 19 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good–except God alone. 20 You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.’ ” 21 “All these I have kept since I was a boy,” he said. 22 When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” 23 When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was a man of great wealth. 24 Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! 25 Indeed, 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.” Silent Prayer
In the hit TV show, the “Biggest Loser” is the person who winds up losing the most weight. A great monetary award is given to the person who sheds the most pounds. Losing the most weight makes that person the big winner.
Hebrews 12:1 in the New King James Version reads, “Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.” The Hebrew writer compares our walk with Jesus, our discipleship, to a race. We are supposed to be runners who run without extra weight. In other words, we are to become like the “Biggest Loser” who sheds unnecessary weight in order to win the prize.
The race is our love relationship our love walk with Jesus. Anything that sabotages or competes with that relationship is dead weight and must be removed. Practically speaking, it might mean we let go of a relationship. Jesus said in Matthew 10:37, “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” The emphasis is on the phrase “more than me.” In order to be the big winner in our walk with Jesus our priority over all other relationships-over family relationships, work relationships, boyfriend/girlfriend relationships-our priority above all of these is our relationship with Jesus.
In order to pursue our love relationship with Jesus, we might have to alter our lifestyle. Jesus went on to say in Matthew 10:38, “Anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” To get the Christian life right, we will have to walk in the footsteps of Jesus. He carried a cross. That means he didn’t live His life for Himself, but He lived it as one on a mission from God for the sake of others. That’s what the cross symbolizes, Jesus’ willingness to be on mission for God even at the cost of His own life for the sake of you and me. In the same way, we have been called to carry our cross which means we are willing to be on mission for God at any cost. Any other path will lead to disaster because it will compromise our relationship with Jesus which IS the most important thing.
Maybe in order to pursue our love relationship with Jesus we have to forget about our “successes.” The Apostle Paul had it going on from birth. He was born a Roman citizen which gave him a certain clout. He had studied with the best of the best, Gamaliel, a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin and renowned teacher of Yahweh’s law. He was good at making money as a tent maker. He was an expert in persecuting the church before his conversion. Everything he had done, he had done extremely well and he was well-known because of it. After his conversion he became a preacher par excellence, but what did he say about it all? He said it meant nothing compared to knowing Jesus. Paul says in Philippians 3:7 “But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ–the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.”
So the main point of this message is simply this: Being the biggest loser means that we willingly surrender everything for the sake of knowing and following Christ. As a result, we become the big winner. Now, to our main text for this morning. The rich young ruler comes to Jesus to get Jesus’ take on eternal life. Allow me to make some observations about being the biggest loser in order to win it all or lose it all as seen in his encounter with Jesus:
He had the APPEARANCE of security. He appeared to have it all together. He already looked like a big winner. When you synthesize the accounts of this man in Matthew, Mark and Luke, you observe that he is young, he is rich, and he is in a position of authority. He was an impressive man. He had succeeded early in life. He was a man not only of affluence, but influence as well as he was in some position of authority. Yet something wasn’t quite right. Something was still lacking in his life or he wouldn’t have come to Jesus to ask a spiritual question. You know, that’s true of every individual no matter how impressive they may look on the outside. There’s something not quite right without the Lord. Outside they may look impressive, but on the inside they’re insecure and afraid.
He had the right APPROACH.
Marks gospel in chapter 10:17 says, “As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him.” Here we see Jesus was about to leave town, and it was this young man’s last chance to catch Jesus. It was his last opportunity to ask the question that had been burning on his heart. The fact that Mark tells us he ran up to Jesus suggests an urgency in his heart. He didn’t want Jesus to be gone before he could get his answer.
And so this rich young ruler, who was used to being served and honored, now fell on his knees before Jesus to ask his question. There was a sincerity and a humility about that man. There was an element of respect for Jesus’ authority and wisdom that the man demonstrated even before his question was answered.
Picture it with me. An immaculately groomed wealthy leader is now kneeling in the dirt, sweaty from his run to meet Jesus on his way out of town. Listen, Jesus loves to share truth with people who approach Him with sincerity and humility. That’s the right way to get answers; with a sincere and humble heart.
The question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life,” tells us He had an ACHE in his heart.
No one who believes they have it all has a need to ask the kind of question the rich young ruler asked. He was well fed, no doubt. He was self confident, for sure. He was admired by many who would like to trade places with him, but there was something still nagging at his core. Something still wasn’t quite right. There was one matter his accomplishments and status hadn’t been able to settle for him. “What did he have to do to inherit eternal life?” His worldly success hadn’t guaranteed spiritual success. There was some kind of inadequacy he felt about his eternal destiny.
He had obviously concluded that there was life after death. I wonder what got him thinking. Perhaps he had just buried a relative. Maybe his father? Maybe he had inherited the wealth he possessed and wondered how he would inherit blessing in the life to come. Maybe after conquering the affairs of the earthly life, he restlessly thought, “What is next?”
Most of the wealthy, religious people who asked Jesus public questions were trying to trick him into some imprudent statement — “Should we pay taxes to Caesar?” (Luke 20:22). “Why do your disciples pluck grain on the Sabbath?” (Luke 6:2). “This lady was caught in the very act of adultery. Shouldn’t we stone her as Moses directed?” (John 8:4). But this man’s question was no trick. It was a sincere question to which he needed to know the answer — how to inherit eternal life.
He ASKED a great question.
“Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Great question. The most important question anyone could ask. He called Jesus “Good Teacher.” The usual term would have been “Rabbi,” not “good teacher.” The term “good” was reserved for God. Only God is truly good. Did the young man think Jesus was God? Was he trying to flatter him in order to get an answer?
The motive behind the title isn’t clear, but Jesus jumped on the opportunity to talk about goodness in order to lead the young ruler to an understanding. He needed to help correct the young man’s thinking about himself and his own goodness. He brought up the Jewish standard the Jewish conception of goodness, the Ten Commandments. Jesus said, “You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.’ ‘All these I have kept since I was a boy,’ he said.” Really? Did he really just tell Jesus he had never broken a commandment? Seriously. I love what Mark says about Jesus after this young ruler made that statement. Mark 10:21 says, “Jesus looked at him and loved him.” I think the young ruler absolutely believed he had been faultless where the law was concerned. Maybe he had led a pretty clean life. I’m sure his attempt to live up to the law was commendable. What does it mean that Mark said Jesus looked at him and loved him?
No commentator that I read was definitive. I think, and it’s just my opinion, that Jesus could have had several thoughts go through his mind. Maybe he thought, “If he’s that committed to the law, just wait until he is invited to commit to a person that he can have an actual relationship with.” Maybe he thought like I do sometimes when our kids are trying to explain something and they have it about half right, but they believe they have the whole understanding. And their naïve approach is so sincere and endearing that I just love them to the whole truth as I fill in the blanks for them. Jesus was about to try to love this guy to the truth.
Maybe as Jesus looked at him and loved him he thought, “Alright, you want to play Ten Commandments for a thousand J?” Jesus decided to get to the nitty gritty regarding the commandments. He wanted the man to think about his relationship to his material possessions. He wanted him to dissect what it means not to covet and what it means not to have any other gods before the Lord God.
Jesus wanted the man to see that all of his outward righteousness couldn’t cover the fact that he was still a law breaker. You may not know you covet something until you’re asked to give it up. You may not realize you’ve made something into a god until you’re asked to walk away from it. Anything you can’t walk away from you don’t possess, it possesses you. That was the problem. It wasn’t a money problem, but a possession problem. He was money-reliant. It possessed him. He couldn’t walk away from it.
John Redhead tells about a man walking along with a bucket filled with water. He said, “Just suppose for a moment that the bucket of water represents your will for yourself. All your dreams, all your ambitions, everything that you hope will come true for you.” But then someone offers to give you all the precious oil that you can carry. And let’s suppose that the precious oil represents God’s will for your life. Now he said, “It just makes sense that you can’t take the oil and put it in the bucket filled with water because there isn’t any room left in that bucket. Besides that, oil and water don’t mix.” “But,” he said, “When you empty your bucket of the water, then there is room for the precious oil to be put in.”
That is exactly what Jesus said to the rich young ruler. “Your bucket is full of yourself. And I can’t get in there until you empty out the contents. Empty the contents. Let me fill you. Let me come in.”
So Jesus told him to sell everything he owned, give away his money to the poor, and then follow him. Right there, on the spot, as the man’s countenance fell and his head hung low it was revealed that the man wasn’t perfect. He hadn’t kept the commandments. Money had become his god. And he walked away from the challenge to follow Jesus with an even greater ache in his heart.
He was more ATTACHED to this world than the next.
Jesus had taught his disciples about the importance of faithfulness with regard to money: “No servant can serve two masters. 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 both God and Money” (Luke 16:13). Now his disciples who were watching had an object lesson to learn from — an actual rich man, fabulously wealthy. Would he become a disciple? They saw the young ruler turn the offer down, the same offer to follow Jesus that they had themselves accepted. Henry Blackabey in his book, “Experiencing God,” says “You can’t stay the same and go with God.” The price for our salvation has been paid, but there is a cost to our discipleship.
What was Jesus asking the rich young ruler to walk away from? It wasn’t just the money. There were the possessions, the things that money would buy. There was status and influence that wealth affords. People make way for the wealthy, hoping that some of that wealth might rub off on them. At the very least, people kowtow to the wealthy to keep from becoming their enemies. There was power. Wealth is power. It buys influence. There was status. The man wasn’t very likely to continue as a respected ruler without his wealth. If he gave up his wealth he would be misunderstood and resented by the other influential people in his community. No, he wouldn’t be a ruler for long. Why did Jesus ask him to leave those things behind? Luke 18:24 gives us a clue. “How hard it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God.” The Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God isn’t of this world. Possessions aren’t necessary in the Kingdom of God because everything we need in the Kingdom, God will supply. Matthew 6:33. “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well.” It’s not that people of the Kingdom don’t have money, but it’s that they don’t rely on money for Kingdom life. Solomon was rich. His riches were given to him by God. When God gave him essentially a blank check to ask for anything he wanted, Solomon asked for a wise and discerning heart so he could rule with justice.
I Kings 3 reveals what the Lord did. “The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. 11 So God said to him, “Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, 12 I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be. 13 Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for–both riches and honor–so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings. 14 And if you walk in my ways and obey my statutes and commands as David your father did, I will give you a long life.”
The Kingdom of God has never been about possessions, but about relationship. We walk with God. We follow Him and blessing follows our obedience. People in the Kingdom of God don’t need status and influence, but humility and faith. People in the Kingdom of God don’t need earthly power when the Power of the Universe is available to them through their relationship with Jesus. Earthly power relies on making sure those who give you power are happy with you, that those who support you stay happy. Kingdom power and authority is given to those who simply please and follow Jesus.
But the rich young ruler couldn’t wrap his mind around the Kingdom of God. He couldn’t trade in everything he possessed for total dependence upon Jesus.
The challenge this morning isn’t about money. That just happened to be the rich young ruler’s particular issue. No one else in the Bible was issued that exact same challenge. Jesus told Peter and John to leave their nets. He told Matthew to give up tax collecting. And He told one man to leave his father while he was dying. For Jesus the issue with the rich young ruler was not the money – it was his heart. Jesus told Peter, John, Matthew and the man with the dying father to leave what they held most dear in their hearts. Jesus wanted not so much for the man to give away his money but give it over, to give it up. He wanted this man to surrender his heart to God’s purposes and God’s plan for his life, but he couldn’t see that he would be more secure if he followed Jesus than he would be if he relied on his wealth.
This morning’s challenge is simply, “Are you willing to totally rely on God?” “Are you willing to love God with your heart, soul, mind and strength?” “Is God number one in your life?” “In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:33)
“For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it” (Luke 9:24).
The rich young ruler held on to what he couldn’t keep in eternity and as a result, he lost everything Jesus would have provided for him in the Kingdom throughout eternity. A wealthy man and his son loved to collect rare works of art. They had everything in their collection, from Picasso to Raphael. They would often sit together and admire the great works of art. When the Vietnam conflict broke out, the son went to war. He was very courageous and died in battle while rescuing another soldier. The father was notified and grieved deeply for his only son.
About a month later, just before Christmas, there was a knock at the door. A young man stood at the door with a large package in his hands. He said, “Sir, you don’t know me, but I am the soldier for whom your son gave his life. He saved many lives that day, and he was carrying me to safety when a bullet struck him in the heart and he died instantly. He often talked about you, and your love for art.” The young man held out this package. “I know this isn’t much. I’m not really a great artist, but I think your son would have wanted you to have this.” The father opened the package. It was a portrait of his son, painted by the young man. He stared in awe at the way the soldier had captured the personality of his son in the painting. The father was so drawn to the eyes that his own eyes welled up with tears. He thanked the young man and offered to pay him for the picture. “Oh, no sir, I could never repay what your son did for me. It’s a gift.”
The father hung the portrait over his mantle. Every time visitors came to his home he took them to see the portrait of his son before he showed them any of the other great works he had collected. The man died a few months later. There was to be a great auction of his paintings Many influential people gathered, excited over seeing the great paintings and having an opportunity to purchase one for their collection. On the platform sat the painting of the son. The auctioneer pounded his gavel. “We will start the bidding with this picture of the son. Who will bid for this picture?” There was silence. Then a voice in the back of the room shouted, “We want to see the famous paintings. Skip this one.” But the auctioneer persisted. “Will somebody bid for this painting. Who will start the bidding? $100? $200?” Another voice yelled angrily, “We didn’t come to see this painting. We came to see the Van Goghs and Rembrandts. Get on with the real bids,” but still the auctioneer continued. “The son, the son. Who’ll take the son?” Finally, a voice came from the very back of the room. It was the longtime gardener of the man and his son. “I’ll give $10 for the painting.” Being a poor man, it was all he could afford. “We have $10, who will bid $20?” “Give it to him for $10. Let’s see the masters” “$10 is the bid, won’t someone bid $20?” The crowd was becoming angry. They didn’t want the picture of the son. They wanted the more worthy investments for their collections. The auctioneer pounded the gavel. “Going once, twice, SOLD for $10” A man sitting on the second row shouted, “Now let’s get on with the collection” The auctioneer laid down his gavel. “I’m sorry, the auction is over.” “What about the paintings?” I am sorry. When I was called to conduct this auction, I was told of a secret stipulation in the will. I was not allowed to reveal that stipulation until this time. Only the painting of the son would be auctioned. Whoever bought that painting would inherit the entire estate, including the paintings. The man who took the son gets everything.”
When you take God’s Son, Jesus, you’ll find you get everything you need. The biggest losers in the Kingdom wind up with everything.
Bill and Gloria Gaither wrote a song many years ago that says,
I had won all I could win, there was no place I hadn’t been
But my heart was so needy and so poor
Then, I heard Him gently say, “Lose it all and find my way.”
So, I gave it up, and found it all and more
I lost it all, to find everything, I died a pauper, to become a king
When I learned how to lose, I found out how to win
Oh, I lost it all to find everything
Jesus does not ask all believers to sell everything they have. He does ask each person, however, to get rid of anything that has become more important than God. If your basis for security has shifted from God to what you own, you may need to get rid of those possessions.
Is there anything you hold more dear than Jesus? Is there anything the Holy Spirit is calling to your attention that is competing with your ability to follow Jesus with your whole being? If so, are you willing to become the biggest loser in order to win it all?