A HARMONIZATION of MATTHEW 19:16-30, MARK 10:17-31, & LUKE 18:18-30 (NIV)
Context = Jesus instructed a crowd on the east side of the Jordan River, His last teaching before going to Jerusalem for the final time.
As Jesus started on his way, a certain ruler ran up to Jesus and falling on his knees before him, asked, “Good teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”
“Why do you call me good or even ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good – God alone. If you want to enter life, obey the commandments.”
“Which ones?” the man required.
Jesus replied, “ ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’ ”
“All these I have kept since I was a boy,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”
Jesus looked at him and loved him. Jesus answered, “One thing you lack – if you want to be perfect, go, sell all your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
When the young man heard this, the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he
had great wealth.
Then Jesus looked intently at his disciples, “I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man 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 a rich man 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 not with God; with God all things are possible.”
Peter answered him, “We have left everything to follow you! What then shall be there for us?”
Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man is on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields – and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.”
(Inspired by John MacArthur’s book, One Perfect Life.)
An example of faith not found.
Although he didn’t ultimately get it, the rich young man had a good focus: he was fixed on ETERNAL LIFE and how to possess it. Part of his failure can be accounted for by the fact that he didn’t understand what it was. It is access to God in this life and in the life to come.
The intensity of his focus is seen in how he ran up to Jesus, knelt before him, and spoke in a deferential tone. I can picture this guy having gone to numerous “experts” with this question. As he’d never been satisfied with their answers, he kept looking. Jesus was probably just the latest rabbi to come across is “radar.”
He also didn’t understand Jesus’ simple statement, “OBEY THE COMMANDMENTS.” His question “WHICH ONES?” may indicate he was looking for the one thing that made heaven a sure thing.
When Jesus singled out some of the Ten Commandments and added one, the rich man made the paradoxical comment that he’d kept all those but was still sure that he lacked something. This is at once both ridiculously confident and insecure, a mixture of hubris and humility you don’t see.
One thing he understood clearly about ETERNAL LIFE; he was sure that he had didn’t have it. He was convinced there was some GOOD THING that he’d left undone, but couldn’t figure it out to save his soul.
Instead of focusing on ETERNAL LIFE, Jesus offered him the best focus instead: focus on GOD alone. This is why Jesus said, “THERE IS ONLY ONE WHO IS GOOD – GOD ALONE.” He effectively said, “Why bother yourself with anyone’s goodness – yours or mine? Only God is truly good. Focus on Him.”
The man’s question “WHICH ONE?” might reveal his search for the path of least resistance. That’s human nature isn’t it? The path that leads to God is NOT that path.
Could he have kept all the commandments and still be unsure about his salvation? Of course. Because of the New Testament, we understand that keeping the commandments is not a means of salvation. God offers eternal life as a gift. It is His grace that makes it possible.
Jesus exposed what held him back: his WEALTH. Let’s analyze Jesus’ reply.
- “IF YOU WANT TO BE PERFECT” means having undivided loyalties. The source of the rich man’s “eternal insecurity” was that he’d placed his trust in his wealth. All his talk about commandments was a red herring. He believed he could earn or buy anything in this world and the next. At a deeper, subconscious level, he knew that was wrong but he wouldn’t admit it even to himself, hence his insecurity.
- By “SELL ALL YOUR POSSESSIONS AND GIVE TO THE POOR” Jesus meant to refocus his attention on God. Any kind of self-sufficiency can come between us and God. It can be a subtle idolatry. The world prizes independence and self-sufficiency, but God’s will is for His people to depend on Him and find Him sufficient for all needs, esp. ETERNAL LIFE.
- “YOU WILL HAVE TREASURE IN HEAVEN” looks forward to heavenly rewards. Jesus taught this up on the mountain; “DON’T STORE UP FOR YOURSELVES TREASURES ON EARTH, WHERE MOTH & RUST DESTROY, & WHERE THIEVES BREAK IN & STEAL. BUT STORE UP FOR YOURSELVES TREASURES IN HEAVEN, WHERE MOTH & RUST DO NOT DESTROY, & WHERE THIEVES DO NOT BREAK IN & STEAL. FOR WHERE YOUR TREASURE IS, THERE YOUR HEART IS ALSO.” (see Matthew 6:19-21) This is a matter of priorities.
- “THEN COME, FOLLOW ME” teaches that priorities precede discipleship. Eternal life is received by true faith manifest in discipleship. When we put God first, it is a life-long commitment, one that continually develops and deepens.
This command is given nowhere else in the New Testament. It was an individualized response to this one man because Jesus LOVED HIM and knew the condition of his heart. It was exactly appropriate to him personally. Jesus exposed the condition of the man’s heart; the man’s reaction verified Jesus’ verdict.
- HE WENT AWAY SAD. What an awful, dramatic picture that must’ve made.
- BECAUSE HE HAD GREAT WEALTH. We are given no other reason. For all the enthusiasm he’d shown earlier, this is a step he was unwilling to take.
An example of faith found.
Jesus explains WHY the rich man’s WEALTH caused his dejection when He said, “IT IS HARD FOR A RICH MAN TO ENTER THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN.” It is not that poverty is automatically more spiritual – the problem is the self-sufficiency, the idolatry that was based on his wealth. The word HARD is key.
- HARD, not “impossible.”
- HARD for us, not for God.
- HARD to focus God because the world has distracted us so thoroughly.
Jesus’ statement about the camel and the needle is an exaggeration and is intended to make us appreciate t difficulty. Forget about pseudo-scientific ways you could reduce a camel to a medium that could be shot through the eye of a needle. Forget about a “Needles Eye” gate that has no basis archaeological fact; it’s a persistent medieval legend. Jesus is exaggerating for effect, a teaching device He sometimes employed (i.e., moving mountains by prayer).
The disciples were surprises because Jesus’ explanation challenged their assumptions. They assumed that wealth was a sign of God’s favor and poverty His curse. This was a popular belief, not a biblical one. So what Jesus said and what the disciples heard were two different things. What they heard was something like, “It’s impossible for the people whom God blesses to get ETERNAL LIFE!” Shocking! If this were true, then what chance did they, as middle and lower class folks, have?
What we learn through the New Testament is what the disciples eventually understood; ETERNAL LIFE can’t be earned or bought because it is God’s grace. It really is humanly impossible, not just improbable or inconvenient. Like putting a camel through a needle’s eye, we just can’t do it. (This is why the whole camel thing must be a metaphor of impossibility or we dilute the radical nature of grace along with the shock value of Jesus’ statement.)
Jesus answered Peter’s plea with a promise and a principle.
- Peter’s plea is heard in his answer to Jesus. He’s saying, “What about us?”
- Jesus’ promise assures Peter that those who sacrifice everything to put God first will not be disappointed with what God gives them, both in this life and especially in the next.
- Jesus explains a principle in His last statement. Worldly thinking ends in a confusion that is a complete reversal of heavenly truth. The worldly person has got it completely backwards. What’s first and most important in this world is least in heaven. People whom this world despises most – because of their faith – are going to be first to receive God’s love.
Taken together, the promise and the principle assure Peter – “Keep your eyes on God and trust Him to handle what’s fair. He has His eyes on you and will not forget your faith and sacrifice.”