(Today’s sermon on this topic can be heard by clicking this link.) The question that the rich ruler asked Jesus was one that most of us ask as well: “What must I do…?” or as in Matthew’s account “What good deed must I do…?” (see Luke 18:18-23; Matthew 19:16-22) We all want to know what we can do. We all want to be sure that we are saved, that we will inherit eternal life. Here is Luke’s account of this discussion.
And a ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.'” And he said, “All these I have kept from my youth.” When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich.
You will notice that Jesus answered his question but there were a couple of things missing. In the first place, He said nothing about honoring God. Still, we can assume that a Israelite would understand that serving God was a necessary part in obtaining eternal life, so Jesus did not mention the first 4 commandments at all. He also did not mention the 10th commandment of coveting.
He covered the action commandments dealing our fellow man. A list of things that would not be impossible to find in a person. You can almost hear the wheels turning in the rulers head. Don’t commit adultery (Check!), Don’t murder (Check!) Do not steal (I have plenty…so Check!) Do not bear false witness (Check!), Honor parents….(Check!!!) Hey, that’s good….mmm, wonder if I need to do anything else? Uh, Jesus….what else do I lack?
Again: What do i need to do? Now Jesus brings out the 10th commandment. And this time when Jesus told him what to do, it was more like Jesus was telling him what he would need to give up! You see the 10th commandment “Do not covet” is now under consideration. This is not as much an action commandment as it is a heart and attitude commandment. It is easy to say “I don’t kill, steal, commit adultery, etc….” but to say ” I do not covet….” That is harder.
Notice that he had plenty of money. He was “extremely rich”. We tend to think of coveting as wanting something that someone else has….because we don’t have a way to get it. However, I suspect that if he had wanted the latest model of chariot that rolled out of the ACME chariot factory, he could have bought it. No, it seems clear that he was coveting his own possessions and things.
Jesus asked him to give up what he had and he was unwilling to do so. It is both a positive “Do this” and a negative “Remove this” It cut him very deeply. He went away sorrowful because he had great possessions (Matt 19:22)
What do you need to give up? You may not be a thief or murderer, you may not commit adultery or dishonor your parents but in the final analysis, what are you willing to give up to inherit eternal life? We should remember that we are encouraged to give our lives as a “living sacrifice” in Romans 12:1-2. Sacrifices always involve giving something up.
Will you give up your old friends for Jesus? Will you give up your 60 inch HDTV with surround sound? Will you give up your iPhone? Will you give up the next upgrade of the iPhone? Will you give up your Nintendo, even if you haven’t caught all the Pokemon? Will you give up a couple more hours to read your Bible, visit someone who is sick, send a card or letter of encouragement? Will you give up the one thing you want most? What is that thing? It isn’t complicated….it’s just hard.
I would suggest that for many of us, the freedom to do what we want and to live the lifestyle we want is a big draw. We have nice computers, comfortable homes, can pick up prepared food, talk with family all over the world, and pretty much be our own person.
Another thing we might consider giving up is the type of personality that we have. Some people have a way of doing things and saying things which they justify by simply saying “That’s how I am!” If I am cranky, short tempered, a loner, a party person, or what ever other flaw in character that we might have which we simply relish having or don’t care enough about it to give it up.
The process of becoming a living sacrifice can be expressed by Paul in Gal 2:20 when he says that it is no longer Paul that lives but Christ living in him. In other words, when people say Paul, they actually saw how Christ would have acted in that situation.
When people talk with you and interact with you, do they hear and see Christ? They should.
If we had asked the question of Jesus, what answer would we have gotten? It may be a different sacrifice for me than for you but it all comes down to this: If you want to inherit eternal life….what are you willing to give up?