The Rich Young Man
August 25, 2019
17 And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up a1005nd knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’ ” 20 And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” 21 And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
23 And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24 And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” 27 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” 28 Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you.” 29 Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” 
This is the Word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God.
Prayer for Illumination:
Lord God, give us eyes to see; ears to hear; and hearts that understand. Apply your word to us. In Christ, amen.
Jesus has been on the eastern side of the River Jordan. He crossed over to the eastern side as he slowly makes his way toward Jerusalem. While he has been on the eastern side of the River Jordan, Jesus has been teaching the people. He taught on the meaning of marriage, that it is between one man and one woman for life. While there are biblical exceptions for divorce, adultery, abuse, and abandonment, the meaning of marriage is a lifelong commitment between a husband and wife.
As he was teaching, parents were bringing their children to Jesus for him to bless them. The disciples tried to prevent that from happening. They tried to stop the children from coming to Jesus. As we saw last week, that make Jesus indignant. He was infuriated that his disciples would prevent anyone – including children – from coming to him. So he commands that the children be brought to him. And we saw that we should be bringing our children forward for baptism and that they should be in worship with us where we can teach them the faith. Jesus continued saying that the only way to receive the Kingdom of Heaven is to receive like a child, as a gift from our heavenly Father.
As he is finishing teaching and preparing to resume his journey to Jerusalem, Jesus is approached by a man who asks him a question. The man asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. As we examine this passage, we’ll look at it in two headings first, man’s inability and second, God’s ability.
And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
This man desperately wants to see Jesus. On the face of it, this man seems like an ideal candidate to become a disciple. He has run to Jesus and when he reaches him, the man falls down at Jesus’ feet and asks Jesus a heartfelt question. He asks, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” None of the other people who have come to Jesus with a question have asked such an honest spiritual question. The Pharisees have often sought to trick and trap Jesus in their questions. The Twelve haven’t asked an honest, spiritual question like this man.
Jesus responds, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone”. Some people take this as a confession on Jesus’ part. They take this as Jesus confessing he is not God. That’s not what he is saying. Jesus is doing two things. First, Jesus is implicitly acknowledging that the man is right to call him good. He doesn’t correct the man and say, “Actually, I’m not good. God is good”. He very intently says “no one is good except God alone”. He is implicitly affirming and acknowledging that he is God and as such it is right to call Jesus good.
Secondly, he is saying this because the man thinks he might be good himself. When Jesus tells him that if he wants eternal life, he must keep the law the man replies by saying “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth”. This man thinks that he is good. He thinks his goodness can earn salvation. He thinks he can merit salvation by being good.
Because he thinks salvation is something he can earn, he is insecure. That is what is behind his question. This man thinks that if he is good enough he can earn salvation and he is incredibly insecure that he isn’t doing enough. He is insecure that his goodness isn’t enough.
When someone thinks that they can earn salvation, they are often incredibly insecure. They’re insecure because they are never certain they’re doing enough. They’re never certain they’re good enough. So they try to do more; they try to be more. But as they try to do more, they are uncertain they’re doing enough. And since they’re uncertain they’re doing enough, they’re insecure. It’s a vicious cycle.
So this man in his insecurity tells Jesus that he has kept the law since he had his Bar Mitzvah when he was twelve. Because he is insecure about whether or not he’s good enough, he wants Jesus to give him a specific answer so he knows for certain that he is doing enough.
And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”
Jesus hears the man’s response, and he looked at him. I can imagine this made such an impression on Peter that he reported it to Mark. Peter saw Jesus looking at the man. Now, Jesus is not giving the man the look. You know the look; I know the look. Growing up, I got the look at lot. No. What Jesus is doing is looking deep into this man and seeing his heart and mind. Jesus is looking and seeing everything about this man. And seeing his man, he loved him. Isn’t that a remarkable statement? Jesus, seeing this man for who he truly is and in all of his sin, he loves this man.
And because Jesus loves this man, he says to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Jesus sees the man’s heart and he puts his finger on the issue. The issue is what this man loves. The thing the man loves most in the world is his material possessions. The love of God is not first and foremost in his heart as it should. It is a distant second. That is why he is insecure. He is insecure because he doesn’t truly love God and wants to earn his salvation. So Jesus calls the man to repent of his sin and leave his idolatry behind by selling all he has.
Now, this is not a general command for all disciples of Jesus. Jesus is not commanding that his disciples sell all they have to give to the poor. Some groups have taken this verse as such but that is not what Jesus is teaching us in this verse. He does want us to be radically generous but he does not command each and every disciple to sell all they have and give to the poor.
Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. 23 And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24 And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” 27 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible”.
The man leaves because on his own he is unable to leave behind his sin and idolatry. On his own he freely choices the love of money over love of God. He is unable to choose God. And so he walks away.
Jesus makes clear that salvation is impossible for man. We cannot earn it or merit it. Salvation is impossible for man on his own because our hearts are dead to God. Because of original sin, we are dead in our trespasses and sin. The Apostle Paul says just that in Ephesians 2.
The Westminster Confession of Faith puts it like this:
Man fell into a state of sin by his disobedience and so completely lost his ability to will any spiritual good involving salvation. Consequently fallen man is by nature completely opposed to spiritual good, is dead in sin, and is unable by his own strength either to convert himself or to prepare himself for conversion.
Doesn’t that just perfectly summarize the man? He is dead in sin; he has lost his ability to will any spiritual good involving salvation. He is unable to turn to the good that is
Now, maybe you’re thinking, “Wasn’t he keeping the law? Doesn’t that mean that he had some ability to save himself?” The reason that the man was keeping the law was not because he loved God. He was keeping the law to justify himself. The reason the man never murdered anyone was because he feared hell not because he loved God and those who bear his image. The reason the man never stole was because he feared punishment not because he loved his neighbor. He was keeping the law to justify himself not out of love for God.
That is sin. That is the sin of the older son in the Parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15. The older son stayed and worked but all the while he hated the father. And even though he never left the father’s house, he is farther away than the younger son who had gone off to a far country and spent all of his father’s gifts. It is sin to not love God with your whole heart, mind, and soul. And because the man does not love God with his whole heart, mind, and soul, he is unable to earn or merit salvation.
The same is true for us. In our natural state, we are dead in trespasses and sin, opposed to spiritual good, and unable to convert ourselves. We hear the call to love God with all our hearts and all our minds and all our souls and we choose not to. We are unable to choose to love God. We are unable to provide salvation for ourselves.
If man is unable to do anything for salvation, is there any hope?
Jesus continues explaining that while salvation is impossible with “but not with God. For all things are possible with God.”
Jesus is making clear that salvation is only possible with God. That teaches us two things. First, God is the one who provides salvation; God has that ability. The entire story found in the bible is that God is the one who provides salvation. We’re told that in the very first pages of the bible. In Genesis 3, God promises that from the woman Eve a son will come who will defeat Satan, even though it will appear that Satan wins. The rest of Genesis is following the promised seed until there is an entire nation.
Then years later, when the nation of Israel is enslaved in Egypt God is the one to redeem them. With a strong hand, God proves that he alone is God and that he alone has the ability to redeem his people out of slavery. He mightily and vividly shows he has the ability to redeem his people through the plagues and the crossing of the Red Sea. He does so in such spectacular fashion so that everyone recognizes God alone is God and God has the ability to save his people.
Then two generations later after Israel is living in the Promised Land, they find themselves in need of a redeemer again and again. The book of Judges shows the truth that the people of God need God to redeem them. They find themselves every generation enslaved to the Moabites, the Ammonites, the Philistines, and the Canaanites. Each time Israel finds herself enslaved, the people recognize they are unable to save themselves. They remember that the only one who has the ability to save them is God. So God raises up various judges to save his people and he is the one who enables and empowers those judges to redeem his people.
That is the story found throughout the bible. This is the story in David and Goliath. Israel needs someone to save her and God raises up David and enables and empowers David to defeat the giant Goliath. This is the story in Esther. God’s people are about to exterminated and God saves them through Queen Esther. God is the one who provides salvation and the bible is filled with stories proving it.
The place where God provides ultimate salvation is at the cross. All of the other times and places God saved his people were preparing and pointing to the cross. On the cross, Jesus, God incarnate, bore the consequences of his people’s sin. There God poured out all of his wrath on Jesus so that those in him would be redeemed from our sin. Jesus’ name points to this fact. Jesus means “YHWH saves”. The first thing this passage teaches is that God is the one who provides salvation and he does that through Jesus’ death on the cross.
Second, this teaches that salvation is only possible because of God applies it to us. Because we are unable to choose salvation ourselves, God has to make it possible for us. He does that by renewing our hearts and minds. That’s what Jesus says in John 3. In that passage, Jesus is talking with Nicodemus and he says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). The word again, could also be translated as “from above”. Jesus is saying that we need to be born from above.
The way we are born from above is through the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit renews and regenerates our hearts and minds. He does that by blowing on us. He blows on our hearts breathing life into our dead hearts. That’s what Jesus says in John 3:8. It is only possible for us to have renewed hearts and minds because the Holy Spirit revives us.
The Holy Spirit when he revives us, he applies the redemption of Jesus Christ to our hearts. He applies the saving benefits of Jesus’ death and resurrection to our hearts. He seals the benefits of the Jesus’ redemption on our hearts like a king seals a letter with his signet ring.
Now, once he has renewed our hearts and minds we can and do choose God. That is when it is possible to love the Lord our God with our whole hearts and minds and souls. Before the Holy Spirit renewed our hearts and minds by blowing life into them, we were able to sin and unable to not sin. We could freely choose to sin and we could only choose to sin.
But once the Holy Spirit renews our hearts and minds, we are enabled to not sin. Yes we continue to sin because sin still affects us but we can now choose not to sin. It is because the Spirit is dwelling within us that we are able to choose the things of God and to love him with our whole hearts, and minds, and souls. We then choose not to murder because we love God and those who bear his image. We then choose not to steal because we love our neighbor.
That is only possible because God has the ability to save his people, which he has done through Jesus’ death and resurrection. The Holy Spirit then applies that redemption to our hearts.
God alone is able to provide salvation to his people and he alone can apply that salvation to their hearts.
Now, I know that this isn’t the most popular doctrine. Maybe some of you are sitting there and objecting thinking that this doctrine impedes mission and evangelism; if God is the one who causes someone to come then why do mission? I find this to be comforting. This takes the pressure off of me. If God is the one who renews hearts and minds then I don’t need to have an airtight argument for Jesus. If God is the one who renews hearts and minds then I don’t need to have an answer for every question. It takes the pressure off of me and I feel freed up to share the gospel to the best of my ability and if God so chooses he will work through me to renew someone’s heart and mind. God is the one who has the ability to save and to renew hearts and minds.
And because God has the ability to save his people, we respond. We respond by obeying his command to follow. In following Jesus we might leave behind wealth, as Peter, Andrew, James, and John almost certainly did; we might leave behind our mothers and fathers; we might leave behind pet projects. But Jesus promises that those who have been born from above and given renewed hearts and renewed minds will receive infinitely more in the life to come.
Where we are unable to provide salvation for ourselves, God is able. His strength is made perfect in our weakness.
 Westminster Confession of Faith, IX.3