Preaching the Gospel from Matthew, Part III

Title: Preaching the Gospel from Matthew, Part III

Text: Matthew 19:16-30

Time: July 15th, 2007

Last week I taught on the message of the Rich Young Ruler and Jesus, found in Matthew 19:16-30 (read). I pointed out that the focus of the story was not the money but was on faith; the man failed not because he wouldn’t give up his riches, but he failed because he wouldn’t trust to do what Jesus told him to do – which could have been anything, but in this case it was a specific thing that he failed to do which showed his lack of trust in Jesus. I pointed out that for each and every person the challenge of Jesus is different, but the objective is the same: to test whether we trust Jesus supremely or something else. For one person, Jesus might require that he give up his career – if that was the person’s supreme love of life. For another person, it might be that Jesus would ask him to do something that would cost him standing and reputation in the community – if that was the person’s number one concern in life. For still another person, Jesus might require that they take a low prestige position in society, if status in the eyes of the world were that person’s top value in life. For other persons, Jesus might want them to give up their comfort and security, to leave a position of safety and predictability – if that meant more to them than anything. Whatever keeps a person from full and absolute trust in Jesus Christ alone, that thing has to be removed or at least put in its place in the true order of a person’s life. Jesus always knows what test a person needed to reveal their heart, to identify what is most important to them in life. In the case of the rich young man, Jesus identified his wealth — and all the things that it brought — was most important, so he deliberately challenged the man to sell it all and give it all away; or in other words, lose all of what this man valued most in life above all things – and then, value Jesus most by following Him – flat broke! Now the man would either repent, that is, change his value system, give up what he had put number one – his wealth, and sell it. He would either sell it, give it away, and then follow Jesus, or he wouldn’t. He would either remove wealth from number one in his life and put Jesus number one, or he wouldn’t. There can’t be two number ones in a person’s life. There is only room for one number one, that’s why it’s called number one. This man showed that he didn’t trust in Jesus supremely, but rather he kept on trusting in his wealth supremely; that’s why he walked away from Jesus. Now we all have to ask ourselves whether we have anything in our lives that we trust or value more than Jesus. For some people there are many things, for other people there are only a few handful of things, and for some other people there is only one thing above Jesus in their lives. But whether many, a few, or just one thing, until Christ is the most important thing in our life, we aren’t saved, we don’t have eternal life. Until we trust Christ over anything and everything else, we are just like that rich young man; no different. But what I’d like to do today is explore the different options that were open to this man as he stood before Jesus that fateful day; what could have been, and in so doing I’ll be outlining our options in respect to the salvation Jesus offers us as well. Maybe you will see yourself in one of these options; maybe you won’t be comfortable in what you see; maybe you’ll be motivated to change.

#1 Option: he walked away from Jesus, but later decided to obey — and did, and returned to Jesus. Or in other words, he failed the test of faith, he passed up eternal life through the salvation Jesus offered him at that moment, but he later decided to put whole-hearted trust in Jesus. There is no evidence in the Bible that this man in fact did this, but I hope he did for his own soul’s sake. Yes, he rejected Christ at that specific moment, but maybe he later took the leap of faith and placed absolute trust in Christ for his present life and for his eternal life. If he did eventually trust Christ, how long did it take him? One day? A week? Months? Years? A decade? Now remember that Christ’s public ministry only lasted 2 or 3 years, so if the man eventually did come to give his heart to Christ it would have had to have been within a couple of years from the time he was challenged, or else he would have had to do it without meeting Christ face-to-face again. He would have had to do it in prayer to the invisible and risen Lord, but that would have been acceptable as well. After all, today, that is how anybody who comes to Christ must come to Him, in prayer and spiritually, since there is no physical, visible Christ to approach like the man did at first. But if he did carry out this option and eventually responded to the challenge of faith Christ gave him, if he did put Christ number one in his life and removed his wealth as his ultimate concern in life, then he was truly saved to eternal life. After all, it doesn’t matter when a person puts their whole-hearted trust in Christ just as long as they do so before they die. It’s better to do so earlier, but what’s important is before this earthly life is over our soul is in the hands of the Savior and ready for eternity. That’s why we must keep praying and witnessing to friends, relatives, family members, co-workers, neighbors, etc. about the gospel, in order that at some point, sometime, they might get saved. The goal is for everyone to place his or her complete and utter trust in Jesus for spiritual salvation. The goal is for each and every individual to trust in Jesus completely, to rely on Him and Him alone for this life and the life to come. That’s why when someone rejects Christ initially we shouldn’t get discouraged or give up on the person, because they may eventually at some point come to the place in their life where they are willing to trust Christ supremely and be saved. We must keep witnessing and explaining the gospel over and over again so that at some point, somewhere, people might embrace it and be saved.

#2 Option: he walked away from Jesus and never did do it, he may or may not have felt bad, but persisted in unbelief the rest of his life. It’s interesting that Jesus and the disciples let this man walk away; they gave him his freedom of choice in the matter. So often today, super sensitive seeker churches almost make it impossible to actually reject Jesus because they keep accommodating and compromising to the world’s opinion to the point that whatever anybody believes is almost considered enough. There are some churches and church leaders that actually teach that a person can believe and trust in Christ without even knowing it; they can be saved without their even being willing to follow Christ. In this case, the church and church leaders are actually doing someone a disservice because they are confusing the person into thinking that no matter what they believe or do, they are counted as saved already. Some churches and church leaders leave people with the impression that any kind of positive response to Jesus saves a person. They would never challenge anyone like Jesus did to the rich young man because they would fear that they would “lose the person” from every following Christ in the future. So they make is so easy, incredibly easy to follow Jesus, so easy that one doesn’t even need to follow Jesus to follow Jesus! But this is foolishness. Either a person trusts Christ supremely in life or he doesn’t. If he doesn’t, Christ is challenging him, as He did the rich young man, to dethrone whatever is number one in value and enthrone Christ in that top spot in life. Salvation comes by putting Christ number one in trust. It does people no good to have churches and church leaders and other Christians assuring them that they are saved when in fact they are not. Actually, it hurts people to be told or reassured that they are saved when they are not. Why? Because they won’t seek out true salvation from Christ if they already think they are saved, especially if they are told they are saved by misguided churches and church leaders. Again, we must be willing to let people walk away and reject Christ. Not that we give up on people who walk away and reject Christ, but we must give them enough space to walk away from Christ in order that they might return to Christ with true faith, not a confused mix of half-hearted faith and optimism. We must let God work in people’s lives and not rush things.

#3 Option: he walked away from Jesus but later returned and tried to follow Jesus on his own terms. Or in other words, he ignored the instructions of Jesus, he avoided the challenge of Christ – the test of faith, but still wanted to follow Jesus generally. Or in other words, he wanted things both ways. He wanted to trust in his wealth, but he also wanted to trust in Christ too. This is a popular method in the Christian world today, in churches, and with many people. They want to follow Jesus – in a general way, but they don’t want to follow specific instructions from Christ. They desire to trust Christ generally, more or less, but some of the specific things Christ commands are difficult if not impossible for them to do, so they pick and choose what parts they will follow and what parts they won’t. Like I said before, this is very popular in churches today, and even among people who don’t attend church. But how would this approach have worked with Jesus? It wouldn’t have worked at all! When Jesus saw the man coming back he might have said, “O, you’re back, I’m glad to see you are willing to trust me and follow me. Did you sell everything, give to the poor, and now come to join us?” What if the man replied, “Well, I was thinking about it, but I’ve decided to come and follow you generally, as much as I’m able, but not specifically in all the details.” Jesus and the disciples must have laughed – or cried! This man was trying to have it both ways, but Jesus would never have allowed him to get away with it. The man wanted to trust Jesus but he also wanted to trust himself when it all came down to it. He wanted to follow Jesus, but he wanted the final say how and when that would take place. He’s typical with a lot of people today. They want Jesus, but they also want control of their own lives, they want to follow Jesus but they also want to follow their own dreams, desires, feelings, plans, etc. They want to maintain control, but they want to go along with Jesus just so long as things go according to their plans. Well, it’s obvious that this won’t work with Jesus. The whole point of the test that Jesus gives this man is to demonstrate whether he trusted Jesus supremely or not. He showed that he didn’t trust Jesus with his life, and even his return shows that he still didn’t trust Jesus with his life. But the requirement for salvation is to trust Jesus with one’s life, and if one can’t trust Jesus with one’s temporal life hear on earth, he certainly can’t trust Jesus for his eternal life in heaven. So the man’s human plan won’t work. One can’t trust Jesus partially for salvation. One must trust Jesus totally for salvation. Do you trust Christ completely?

#4 Option: he walked away from Jesus but later sold all he had but kept it for himself and came back to follow Jesus. In other words, he partially completed the challenge that Jesus had presented him. He rejected Jesus and walked away, but later decided to obey, so he sold all his wealth, but he just couldn’t get himself to give the money away, yet he came back to Jesus to follow him. Maybe he thought Jesus would accept a partial fulfillment of the challenge. Maybe he thought that the real test was in the selling of everything he had, all his property and possessions, and that Jesus would be pleased and satisfied with what he had done. We must admit that it was a great accomplishment wasn’t it? If this man was wealthy like it says he was, and if he eventually decided to sell all his possessions – which included property, possessions, investments, etc. – then that shows a lot of commitment and a lot of faith. It was the first step in fulfilling the instructions of Christ to this man. But while he had started to obey, he had really failed to obey. He had sold everything, yes, but he still retained the overall material value of everything; he was still in control. All his possessions were gone, but he still had the money, the material value of all his wealth was still in his hands. Until he let that go, he wasn’t demonstrating pure trust in Christ. He was still trusting in his wealth, although now it was all in the form of cash. What started out looking as a great expression of faith and obedience was really nothing at all. And him coming back to Christ thinking that he had met the challenge was a mistake. He still didn’t have the kind of faith that saves, because he still left himself an out, an escape hatch – if following Christ doesn’t work I can always fall back on my money that I saved from the sale of my possessions, etc. But the kind of saving faith Christ requires is the kind that leaves no extra options, no escape route, to plan B. Saving faith is the kind of faith that figures that if Jesus isn’t able to save, there is no hope. If Christ can’t save, I perish, period. With Christ, there is no back-up plan. If Christ isn’t the Savior of my soul, my soul is lost – and I’m willing to accept that because I believe in Christ absolutely. It is said of Elvis that he was once asked why as a Christian he possessed statues of Buddha and Hindu goddesses in his house. He replied, “I don’t want to miss heaven on a technicality.” That’s an example of hedging one’s bet, but that isn’t saving faith. Saving faith, according to Jesus, is total, absolute confidence and trust that Christ can and will save me from sin, judgment and damnation, and save me to eternal life in heaven.

#5 Option: he walked away from Christ but later returned and falsely claimed to have given away everything and wanted to follow Christ. In other words, the man offered a false confession of faith. Unfortunately, this is very common in churches and in the culture in general. It seems at least in the United States that everyone is a Christian, or most everyone claims to be. The difference between now and then is that back then if the man had tried to falsely claim faith in Christ, he would have been exposed because nothing was hidden from Jesus. But today, people can fool and be fooled by false professions of faith. After all, who can really see into another person’s heart? If someone claims faith in Christ, who can doubt that? But that’s why churches should be careful to instruct people in baptism and membership so that false professions are not allowed to continue. Sometimes it’s necessary for church leaders to hold people back from baptism and membership until it is very clear they understand what saving faith really is. Sometimes it’s even necessary for churches and church leaders to remove people from their rolls who professed something that obviously isn’t something they truly believe. It’s so easy to simply go through the motions of making a decision for Christ, or attending a baptism class, or fulfill the requirements of membership, but not really have whole-hearted faith in Christ. One of the main functions of the church is to carefully instruct and actually discourage people who aren’t ready for baptism or membership to wait. But how many churches do this? Not many, because they fear losing people. But it’s more important to get things right, especially on salvation, than it is to increase church membership rolls. I remember reading about the great evangelist of the 19th century D.L. Moody who began to seek Christ in his early years, but couldn’t meet the membership requirements of his church! Here was the next great spokesman for Christianity of his time and he couldn’t even pass his church’s membership class. Actually, it was the best thing that ever happened to him; it secured his salvation. Would that all churches were so careful and conscientious about spiritual things. That church acted just like Jesus did with the rich young man (although Moody was no rich man); they required a person to demonstrate an authentic faith, nothing more, nothing less. Until he did, he couldn’t join the church as a member. Again, it’s easy to pass classes and get on the rolls of a church or find a pastor to baptize you or get an evangelist to pronounce you saved, but it doesn’t mean a thing unless Jesus says it’s so. Are you willing to trust Christ above all things? If not, don’t claim to be a Christian.

#6 Option: he agreed to do what Christ instructed him to do, but never did. Picture the situation – the man eagerly agreed to follow Jesus whatever it took, even if it meant selling everything and giving away all to the poor. He told Christ that he so much trusted in Him that he was willing to do whatever Christ told him to do. So the man went off excited and eager. But they never heard back from the man. What happened to him? Did he die in pursuit of fulfilling Christ’s faith challenge? No, but if he had, if he had died in the process of trusting Christ completely he would have been saved, because remember, that it wasn’t about selling this, or buying that, or giving up this or that, it was about trusting Christ with absolute faith. It was the very same thing with Abraham in the Old Testament. In that account, it wasn’t about Abraham sacrificing his only son Isaac, it was about trusting God enough to be willing to do it. If it had been about the actual sacrifice of Isaac, then Abraham failed because he didn’t actually sacrifice his son. But it wasn’t about the actual sacrifice; it was about the faith it took to actually go about doing it. God stopped Abraham when he saw the old man was actually going to do it. That meant Abraham had trusted God completely even to the point of sacrificing the thing he most loved in all the world – his only son. Abraham had put God first before anything and anyone in the whole world. He demonstrated his absolute trust in God. That is what Jesus was challenging this rich young man to do – put his faith in God, specifically in Christ, first, above all earthly persons, places, or things. The man said he would do it, but never did do it. Again, that’s like a lot of people today, especially in our western culture that is steeped in historical Christianity. A lot of people agree to follow Christ. At last count, over 1/3 of all Americans claim to be born again Christians; that would be about 100 million people claim to have a conversion experience with Christ. That’s not counting all the other millions of people who claim affiliation with Christianity or the church in some form or fashion. Like the rich young ruler, all of these people claim to trust Christ for salvation, but if this is so, why is our nation so rapidly declining in basic Christian moral standards? Why is our society so rapidly becoming totally secular and spiritually rebellious against God’s will? Clearly not everyone, maybe not even most of the people who claim to be Christians are actually following Christ in their lives. Or in other words, if such a huge segment of society that professes Christ doesn’t trust Him enough to control their lives in this earthly life, how can we seriously believe that they are trusting Christ for their eternal life?

#7 Option: he agreed to do what Christ instructed him to do, sold everything, gave away most of it, but couldn’t get himself to give it all and kept back some, but presented himself to Christ anyway. What can we say about this man? It all depends on his heart attitude in returning to Christ. Because after all, it’s all about one’s heart attitude in the first place. Remember, it never was about the money, it was about one’s heart faith and trust towards Christ. The selling of the possessions, the giving away of the money to the poor, all of these things were indicators of the state of the true faith in the heart of the man. So, it all depends on the man’s heart and his attitude as he presented himself to Christ for the second time. Let’s summarize the man’s actions so far. He comes to Christ seeking eternal life. Christ challenges him to absolute and unconditional trust — which in his case would be proven by his abandoning all of his earthly wealth and joyfully following Jesus. The man agreed and so went out and did sell all his possessions, and nearly distributed all the money to the poor when something inside of him just kept him from completing the task. He was like Abraham would have been if he had traveled up to the mountain with his son, bound the boy on the alter but then suddenly stopped — before God stopped him — not able to fulfill his assignment from God. But wait, isn’t that what the rich young man did actually in the account? It says that after Jesus challenged him to take the step of faith and sell everything, it says that the man walked away sad. Isn’t that the same thing? No, because the man couldn’t start to do it, not that he couldn’t finish doing it. In this scenario, the man has done everything except the final thing – he hasn’t given up the last bit of money from the sale of his possessions. He hasn’t completed his assignment from Jesus. The question is, where does this man stand before Jesus in this incomplete state? I think it all depends on his attitude. If he is mad at Christ for demanding such an extreme assignment, then I don’t think Christ accepts him as a disciple. But if he comes to Christ broken, humble, and begs Christ for the power to finish what he started or begs Christ’s forgiveness for failing, Christ accepts him. Isn’t that what mercy and grace is all about? Isn’t that at the heart of the gospel? Isn’t that the point of the law, to demonstrate to us that we are failures in respect to keeping it perfectly? The man had failed strictly speaking, but because his heart was broken and humble and sought grace and mercy from Christ, I believe he would have passed the test and would have been permitted to become a disciple. But this is not a common problem with most people today who profess Christianity. Most people don’t come to Christ broken and humble, confessing and repenting of their failures and sins. Most come far too easily and casually seeking salvation. It’s questionable whether Christ accepts them as disciples or even saves them with such attitudes.

I think the sincere and honest person who truly wants to trust Christ completely, although it is hard for them to do so, will return to Christ, having failed to totally trust him, to beg for his help in doing so. This person will cry out like another man in the New Testament who cried, “I do believe, help my unbelief!” And isn’t that what we all have to cry? Who perfectly trusts Christ? Even among the disciples we see doubt and mistrust of Christ at times, even among those who literally left all to follow Christ – although it doesn’t say that Christ required them to sell everything – they certainly left everything behind (wives, children, homes, businesses, possessions, etc.) when they were with Christ. It doesn’t say what would have happened if the man had almost or nearly fulfilled Christ’s challenge and returned, but knowing the mercy and grace of Jesus we can only guess that He would have either granted the man salvation for the faith he had demonstrated or He would have helped the man complete the expression of faith supernaturally as was asked. But either way, it’s hard to imagine the Lord rejecting the man for a second time if he came with a sincere and humble heart. But if the man returned angry, proud, and mad at Christ for giving him such a test, then, under this situation Christ would probably have rejected him a second time. Was it unfair of Christ to initially ask him to sell everything? Not if the point of the whole episode was to expose his true heart condition. Remember, the man initially came in self-righteousness: “I have kept all these law perfectly from my youth.” Clearly, initially, he was trusting in his own righteousness for salvation. And he even was bold enough to ask Christ for something else to do in order to save himself by his own good works. But Christ totally shocked him by asking him to put aside his own trust in his own goodness as a means to salvation, and instead trust Christ for salvation. The man had to die to himself and his own self-dependence. He had to trust in something outside of himself, and to prove it, he had to get rid of everything else in his life except Christ. Now he would either trust Christ enough to do it, or he wouldn’t. But if the man couldn’t do it, but came back mad at Christ for asking such a thing – that would show that he’s still trying to hold onto self. If he came back broken as a failure at even this, Christ would have probably granted him his request for eternal life, because in returning he was showing that he trusted Christ for help in even trusting Christ! That is the task of the church today, to help people trust in Christ. And even when people fail, if they are humble and confessing and repenting, the church must encourage them that Christ will take them as long as they trust in Him. Even when their prayer is, “Lord I believe, help my unbelief.”


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