What Good Thing Must I Do? | Matthew 19:16-26
Welcome to Real Life. How often I have wished, “if only I had more money.” Money provides the freedom to do many things. It’s tempting to believe that if I were rich, my problems would disappear. But, what if my riches were my greatest problem?
“Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz?” –song lyrics by Janis Joplin
Jesus’ response is interesting, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only One who is good …”
He answered the man's question with a question. He did so to draw attention to the faulty premise behind the man’s question. No one is good enough to earn heaven. That is why Jesus came. This man respected Jesus as a teacher, or he wouldn't have sought his advice. However, he failed to recognize Jesus as more than a rabbi. Christ taught with authority because he held authority. He was God incarnate. Only God is wholly good. Jesus claimed to be God. By saying, “Why do you ask me about what is good? Only One is good,” he implied, “If you don’t believe I’m God, why ask me what is good?”
Jesus then tells the young man to obey the commandments. Can salvation be earned by following rules? No. The young man himself perceives this, for he tells Jesus, “I've kept these. What do I still lack?” Keeping the rules has not saved his soul. He remains on the outside of God’s kingdom looking in.
Jesus sees beyond the man’s words to his heart. One thing keeps him from surrendering his life to God. “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.”
The man’s riches are his comfort, his salvation, his God. No inherent evil lies in riches, unless they stand between me and God.
The young man’s response confirmed Jesus’ diagnosis: he walked away sad. He wanted to gain eternal life on his terms. He kept the rules. He looked great on the outside, better than most. However, he had not allowed the deeper message of the commandments to penetrate his heart. In fact, he hadn’t kept all the commandments. He’d broken the very first one, “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3).
After the young man left, Jesus made the observation, “It is hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven.”
The disciples are flabbergasted, “If the rich can’t be saved, who can?” Aren't riches proof of God’s blessing? This young man appeared saintly. But, the disciples’ eyes failed to penetrate his soul. It is far easier to trust in wealth than in God. Who, then, can be saved?
Jesus responds, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
I can’t be saved on my terms. I must come to God on his terms. Unless I surrender all to follow Jesus, I am not really following him, am I?
At the tender age of 16, I bowed at an altar and surrendered my life to Christ. I was only a teenager. I had little to surrender. Decades later, am I still willing to surrender all: husband, children, home, health, job, lifestyle … ? Surrender frightens me. What will God ask me to leave behind? Will it be hard?
However, Jesus’ words instill powerful hope, “with God all things are possible.” Recently, the Lord changed my focus regarding surrender. When he asks me to surrender something, it is because he has something far better for me. I need to switch focus from “my thing” to “his better thing.” (See “Something Better” blog.) I cling to pitiful rags when true riches await me on the other side of surrender.
“And everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or property, for my sake, will receive a hundred times as much in return and will inherit eternal life. But many who are the greatest now will be least important then, and those who seem least important now will be the greatest then.” (Matthew 19:29-30 NLT)Oh Lord, do I love anything more than you?
Taking it further …
The Practice of the Presence of God was written 300 years ago by a monk, Brother Lawrence. He surrendered all to Christ, expecting to suffer for him in poverty and servitude. Instead, Christ filled him with overwhelming joy! (Download a free copy.)
“I consider God my King, against whom I've committed all sorts of crimes. Confessing my sins to him and asking him to forgive me, I place myself in his hands to do whatever he pleases with me (surrender).
This King, who is full of goodness and mercy, doesn't punish me. Rather, He embraces me lovingly and invites me to eat at His table. He serves me Himself and gives me the keys to His treasury, treating me as his favorite.” –Brother Lawrence