Monday, March 18, 2013

Eternal Life How-to: Matthew 19:16-26

The Scripture
16 And someone came to Him and said, "Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?"
17 And He said to him, "Why are you asking Me about what is good?  There is only One who is good; but if you wish to enter into eternal life, keep the commandments."
20 The young man said to Him, "All these things I have kept; what am I still lacking?"
21 Jesus said to him, "If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me."
22 But when the young man heard this statement, he went away grieving; for he was one who owned much property.
23 And Jesus said to His disciples, "Truly I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.
24 "Again I say to you, 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."
25 When the disciples heard this, they were very astonished and said, "Then who can be saved?"
26 And looking at them Jesus said to them, "With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."
Brief Notes on the Approach to This Study
I know that for people who have been Christians for a while, they've heard this story over and over.  But stick around - I hope we'll all walk away with some new nuggets from this important story. :-)
Also, sometimes I approach a passage topically, with neatly organized notes separated out based on what's related to what.  For this passage, it's framing itself out chronologically in my mind, so that's what you'll find below. :-)
What Good Thing Shall I Do...
From our perspective where we know that eternal life is the result of accepting Christ's forgiveness, not earning it through good works, this man approaches Jesus with the absolute wrongest question.  But - he is indeed seeking the Truth...and Jesus answers him.  This tells me two things about our God: (1) God wants humans to come to know Him so much - no matter how far away a person is from Him, if that person seeks the Truth even the slightest bit, God will reveal Himself to him/her.  (2) We can apply this after we are saved, as well: We can come to Christ any time with any question about His will or His truth and ask Him to reveal the answer to us, and if we pay attention to the various ways He speaks to us (Bible verses/passages, life circumstances, spiritual insight/"words" from mature beleivers, "speaking" to us in our hearts, etc.), we will find that He is answering.
The first part of verse 17 has been taken ways.  We know from the rest of the Bible that Jesus is God, so in saying that only God is good here, He is not denying being God (see this fantastic list of Bible verses declaring Jesus to be God).  So, what's Jesus saying here?  I interpret it as Him saying it sort of tongue-in-cheek.  He is pointing out what the man is either unwilling to admit verbally or perhaps even to himself - that he truly believes that the "Teacher" he questions is God, the Messiah.
Now, Jesus's answer, at face value, appears as if He's telling the man that he really can achieve eternal life by living a perfect life - but we know that to be impossible.  Note also that this is not an exhaustive list of all that's required - He's giving examles representative of the Mosaic Law.  But the point of this list is get to the final item, "love your neighbor as yourself," which sticks out like a sore thumb because it's the only one on that list that's not part of the ten commandments, one of the two most important ones (because loving God and loving others have to do with motives, not rules), and, most importantly for our discussion, it was the commandment this man had failed at!
I highly doubt that this man really had managed to keep the commandments - I think he was probably pretty self-disillusioned.  But, regardless, Jesus focuses on his biggest problem: He was selfish, treating money like an idol and neglecting the poor.  But there are two points to this story - the first is salvation through grace alone, and the second is not that we need to donate our stuff to charity.  The point is that we all have that one thing that battles with Christ for holding first place in our lives.  For you or me, it may be popularity, reputation, a sense of control over your life, a particular relationship, a pasttime, a lifestyle, whatever.  But if Christ is truly our Lord, we need to be willing to give that up for Him and obey His simple call to "Follow Me!"
At the same time, however, I think money is quite a common idol for many people, especially in America, so I don't want to gloss over the seriousness of that facet.  I'd like to challenge us all to take a deeper look at how much we value money in our lives.  What do we spend it on?  Do we spend any on what God asks of us?  How much time do we spend obtaining more money?  How much time do we spend serving and getting to know God?  How much time do we spend longing for more money?  How much time do we spend thinking about God?  What do these answers reveal about how our love of money compares to our love of God?
Finally, Jesus's brief analogy about the camel tells us two things.  First, it is a reiterration that it is God's forgiveness, not our good works, that grant us salvation from our sins.  Second, it demonstrates that God can forgive absolutely any sin - no person, no matter what they have done, is beyond God's grace.
If you haven't accepted God's forgiveness and would like to, click here to find out how in English or here in your own language.
Questions for You
What have you asked God to reveal to you?  What did He reveal?
What "one thing" that competes with Christ for lordship in your life causes you the most difficulty?  How has God helped you in making progress to conquer it?
Image Citations
Number One: Chinese depiction of Jesus and the rich man.  Wikipedia, uploaded by Ai.kefu.  {{PD-ART}} Public domain in source country and the United States.
Number Two: Bimarin Casket.  Wikipedia, used by permission.

No comments: