What Is Required?

             I.      Introduction

Today’s scripture is a familiar one; Jesus has been teaching and preaching in Judea when He was approached by a rich man, and they had a conversation about sewing and zoo animals.  Let’s read the entire conversation and see if I understood it correctly.  Matthew 19:16-26:

Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”

“Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.”

“Which ones?” he inquired.

Jesus replied, “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’”

“All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”

Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven.  Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?”

Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

 

When I was younger, my entire takeaway from this conversation is that rich people can’t go to heaven.  You can’t take it with you.  Only Mother Theresa can go to heaven because she was poor.  Also, this was a very big needle or a very tiny camel.

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But, as simple as this conversation is, there is so much more here than “you can’t take it with you.”  So today we’re going to do our best to understand all the nuances of what’s going on, one verse at a time.  And we’re going to begin with the question every soul wants to know: what do I have to do to go to heaven?  How much is good enough?  What good thing must I do?

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          II.      Obey the Law

I heard a pastor say recently, “Everything in the bible is for you, but not everything in the bible is about you.”  That’s partially true in this passage if we understand who Jesus is talking to and why.  Jesus is talking to a Jew who is under the Law.

Here in Matthew 19 the man is identified only as “a young man,” but this discussion with Jesus is so important to understanding the New Testament that it’s also reported in Mark Chapter 10 and in Luke Chapter 18.  Luke 18:18 refers to him as “a certain ruler,” so most likely he was a ruler of a local synagogue, a Jewish leader.  And he is asking Rabbi Yeshua about theology, and it sounds to me like he’s asking with brashness and confidence.  Wealth from man’s perspective is often associated with success, so if you’re a religious leader with money, then you must have God’s blessing.  The evidence is all around you.  The Prosperity gospel has a long, long history.

So the man, being a young, rich, religious leader, considers himself pious and full of religiousity and good deeds.  But something gnaws at him, he wants to know of all the good things he has done, what one thing must he do to inherit eternal life?

Jesus’ initial response, though, is not to the young Jewish leader’s question about eternal salvation, but Jesus answers,

“Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good.”

The root word for “good” implies “from God,” although those words are from 12th century Middle English.  But similar words exist in Greek; “agathos” vs “theos” or “ἀγαθός” vs “θεός”.  Jesus’s response is a question that can be rephrased,

If you ask me what is good, do you acknowledge me as God?

Jesus continues then, to answer the question accurately as God would answer Israel:

Be obedient to the law I have given you.

If you want to earn your way to heaven, then earn it through obedience.  Start with the Ten Commandments, work through the 613 mitzvots,

Jesus replied. “If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.”

“Which ones?” he inquired.

Jesus replied, “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’”

Before sin entered the world, God had one command for man.  “Do not eat the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”  Just one rule and be obedient.

 

But man was not obedient, he ate the fruit and gained knowledge of good and evil.  Without the knowledge of evil, then our actions before the Lord are innocent.  We are like innocent children that do not know things that are wrong.  We are untainted by the knowledge of evil, so all we have to do is be obedient and we have a close relationship with the Lord.

But once sin entered the world, and we gained a knowledge of good and evil, so did the laws increase.  One of the first sins in Genesis 4 were between the children of Adam and Eve.  Genesis 4:2-8,

Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil.  In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord.  And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor.  So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.

Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast?  If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”

Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.

Cain offered “some of the fruits” but Abel offered the best of the best of his flock.  The Lord appreciated Abel’s offering, but knew that Cain wasn’t giving the Lord the best, and gave Cain instructions and a warning.  Do what is right and your offer will be accepted.  Otherwise, sin is crouching at your door.

So we need more rules.  One of the first commandments springs from Cain and Abel, “thou shalt not murder.”  And as man’s sin have multiplied themselves over and over through the centuries, so did the Law with God’s instruction continuing to be: just be obedient.

We have our Ten Commandments, we have our 613 mitzvots.  We have our human governments and our US Constitution and 25 volumes of United States Codes and US Statutes at Large that contain not just an overwhelming number of laws, but every year we pass new laws, some laws are passed to amend existing laws, and some new laws are passed that repeal old laws.  Then we have case law and regulations that have the force of laws.  I checked the US Federal Register ( https://www.federalregister.gov/ ) and there are currently 745,213 pages of laws, rules and regulations that we are required to obey, 109 new documents from 39 agencies are added every day.

My bible has 1,281 pages.  The Federal Register is 581 times bigger.  We’ve come a long way from, “Please don’t eat the fruit.”

       III.      Be Perfect

So Israel asks the question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus says, “Obey the Law.”  And incredibly, the young ruler responds with,

“All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”

I’m guessing he might be lacking humility.  Or maybe wisdom.

Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

To be in the presence of a Holy God, have no sin in you.  Be perfect.

If you want to go to Heaven, you cannot drink or smoke or dance.  If you want to go to Heaven, you must belong to a certain church.  If you want to go to Heaven, you must attend church services every week and tithe 10% and attend bible study and sing in the choir and donate shoes for orphans and participate in Serve Houston.  And since we are also supposed to be good citizens, there another 746,213 pages of federal regulations we have to obey.

I thought Theresa’s quote from Mohammed Ali’s eulogy captured our thinking pretty well,

“For his part, he saw the good soul in everyone.  And if you were one of the lucky ones to have met him, you know what I mean.  He awoke every morning thinking about his own salvation, and he would often say, “I just want to get to heaven and I’ve got to do a lot of good deeds to get there.”

Have to do a lot of good deeds, obey a lot of rules.  By the way, I looked up the Bylaws of USA Boxing, and there are 50 pages of Bylaws, 31 pages of Technical Rules of Boxing, 47 pages of Competition Rules, and 35 pages of Medical Rules.

I think sometimes we recognize that it’s not all these laws we have to obey if we want to be a good Christian.  But other people?  *They* have to obey certain laws if they’re going to be good Christians.   My children have to clean their room, my spouse has to do what I tell her to do.  Even if I cannot follow all the rules, it doesn’t stop me from demanding that *other* people have to follow the rules.

 

If you look at this last question and answer between the rich young ruler and Jesus, you may notice that Jesus didn’t answer the question.  The question is wrong.

Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”

Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

It illustrated the central error of the Pharisees, the central error of many legalistic churches.  It is not by *doing* something that man can inherit eternal life, but by *being* something.  The ruler asks, “What shall I do?” and Jesus answers, “This is who you have to be.”  If you want eternal life, you have to be perfect.  And apparently to be perfect, it appears Jesus is saying you can’t have money.

Or at least that’s the way some have interpreted this verse.  Jesus says give away all your money to follow Him, and if you don’t, you’re a camel trying to fit to the eye of a needle.

That doesn’t seem right, though.  What is Jesus saying?

          IV.      But What About the Money?

Is money evil?  Is giving away all our money something Jesus is really asking us to do? Let’s start with this familiar verse, 1 Timothy 6:10,

Money is the root of all evil.

Actually, that’s not what 1 Timothy 6:10 says.  The full verse is,

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

Money by itself is not evil.  Jewish teaching establishes that your own needs are your primary concern, but not your only concern.  Caring for your own needs is essential to survive, but not to thrive.  Therefore, helping to provide for the needs of others is an essential part of living a fulfilling life.  The Jews celebrate this idea at the end of each Sabbath on Saturday night with a Havdalah service.  They fill a cup of wine to the brim and then let it overflow into a saucer beneath the cup.  The idea is to continue to fill your own cup so that it overflows even after it’s full so the excess can provide for others in need.

How big is your cup?  Our modern society tells us our cup is huge.  Fill it with everything you can get your hands on, look out for yourself.  All of your wants are needs.  And the cup never overflows because you are constantly trying to satisfy all of your needs and all of your wants.

But some say Christians should give away everything and have a small cup, live poorly.  But that’s not biblical, either.  1 Timothy 5:8 says,

 Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

Ultimately, the size of the cup is between you and the Lord.  Your cup must be large enough to enjoy the fruits of your labor, but small enough to allow the blessings God has provided to overflow to those around you.

There have been plenty of people, both Old Testament and New Testament, that had money.  David, a man after God’s own heart, had a palace and a kingdom.  Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, was also the wealthiest who ever lived.  But Solomon said this about money in Ecclesiastes 5:10.

“He who loves money will not be satisfied with money.”

And Joseph of Arimathea is described in the book of Luke as a “good and upright man” and a follower of Jesus, who donated the use of his wealthy family’s tomb after the crucifixion of Jesus.  Interesting to me was that the wealth of Joseph was part of prophecy, Isaiah 53:9 –

He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.

Slide24Besides, the absolute worst way to care for the poor is to give away all your money and become one of the poor that need help.

 

            V.      It’s About the Heart

So it’s not about the money.  It’s about the heart.  Do you treasure the things of God, or the things of this world?  Matthew 6:21,

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Slide25That’s the central point of Jesus’s message to the rich young ruler.  If you want eternal life, where is your heart?  Is it with your possessions, or is it with heavenly things?  And the ruler went away sad because he was a wealthy man.

If one problem with money is that it becomes our idol, our focus in this world, then another problem is that money keeps us from remembering that all blessings come from God.  I have this passage from C.S. Lewis, and it’s a little on the long side, but I think very appropriate to the dangers of complacency when one has too much:

C.S. Lewis – “One of the dangers of having a lot of money is that you may be quite satisfied with the kinds of happiness money can give, and so fail to realize your need for God. If everything seems to come simply by signing checks, you may forget that you are at every moment totally dependent on God. Now, quite plainly natural gifts carry with them a similar danger. If you have sound nerves and intelligence and health and popularity and a good upbringing, you are likely to be quite satisfied with your character as it is. “Why drag God into it?” you may ask. A certain level of good conduct comes fairly easily to you. You are not one of those wretched creatures who are always being tripped up by sex or dipsomania or nervousness or bad temper. Everyone says you are a nice chap, and between ourselves, you agree with them. You are quite likely to believe that all this niceness is your own doing, and you may easily not feel the need for any better kind of goodness. Often people who have all these natural kinds of goodness cannot be brought to recognize their need for Christ at all until one day, the natural goodness lets them down, and their self-satisfaction is shattered. In other words, it is hard for those who are rich in this sense to enter the kingdom.”

 

          VI.      Old Testament Vs New Testament

So money can’t buy you a ticket to heaven, but then neither can a lack of money.  So neither wealth nor poverty leads to eternal life.  Who then, can be saved?

And that’s exactly what the disciples of Jesus asked after the ruler went away sad.

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven.  Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?”

Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

I spent a lot of time on this last sentence, and one of the things that dawned on me is that this is the line that separates the Old Testament from the New Testament.

You see, God made a unique covenant with Israel.  Be obedient and the Lord will deliver you to the Promised Land.   But those 745,213 federal regulations turned out to be too hard to follow, and the only reason there are so many regulations is that sin had entered the world and the wages of sin is death.

What’s the right size of your cup to make sure it’s overflowing?  That’s between you and God.  But what if you get it wrong?  What if getting the size of the cup built to the right size as specified in the regulations was necessary for eternal life?  It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is to get my cup and your cup sized perfectly.  Man’s heart is full of deceit and we will get the size of the cup wrong, even if we give all we have to the poor and become a pauper for Jesus.

But the Lord can accomplish His will.  And with God, all things are possible.  Instead of trying through our own efforts at complying with all the regulations, I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.  The rules I don’t satisfy?  Christ paid the cost for me.  The rules I break?  Christ paid the punishment for me.

For Israel, it was indeed about “What can I *do* to inherit eternal life?”  But for those of us who have accepted the sacrifice of Jesus, it’s now, “Who can I *be*?”  We can be believers and trust that Jesus Christ, our Advocate, will satisfy all the requirements for us.  That’s what Jesus meant in Matthew 5:17,

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”

Christ satisfies every federal regulation we have to meet.  And now the laws we have to follow now are simple:

Romans 13:8-10,

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.  The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor.  Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

Galatians 5:14,

For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Galatians 6:2,

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

Jesus somehow takes those 745,213 federal regulations and reduces it to this:

Love one another and carry one another’s burdens.  Let me handle the details.

 

       VII.      Conclusion

So let’s remember today that in order to inherit eternal life, we have to be perfect.  In order to be perfect, we have to cover ourselves with the shed blood of Jesus Christ because He alone is perfect.  And that on our own merits, we cannot work our way to eternal life.  We cannot be perfect at fulfilling the Ten Commandments and 613 Mitzvots and 745,213 Federal Regulations, not to mention the boxing rules.  But we believe the Lord fulfilled the Law and took our punishment.

Pray that the size of your cup if large enough to enjoy this world and what God hath created, but small enough that it overflows.  Love one another and carry each other’s burdens.

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They say you can’t take it with you.  However, if you trust in Jesus, you can let Him take you with Him.

To God be the glory.  Amen.

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