by Tom Fuller
A little girl was talking to her teacher about whales. The teacher said it was physically impossible for a whale to swallow a human because even though it was a very large mammal its throat is very small. A little girl in class stated that Jonah was swallowed by a whale. Irritated, the teacher reiterated that a whale could not swallow a human; it was physically impossible. The little girl said, ”When I get to heaven I will ask Jonah.” The teacher asked, ”What if Jonah went to hell?” The little girl replied, ”Then you ask him”.
Kids have some wild ideas about heaven and how to get there – but when it really comes down to it, they possess a secret that we all need. When it really comes down to it – this is the most basic question of all – how to get to heaven – or, really, how to live forever.
Men have searched for thousands of years for the fountain of youth – today we think that we’ve found it in cloning. Of course, cloning isn’t creating life, it’s just playing around with it once its created and scientists are finding some disturbing things about cloning that make it not so much the fountain of youth that it was once thought to be.
But we know that if we get to heaven we will live forever. Despite lots of evidence to the contrary, many people have some strange ideas about how to get there. Today we’re going to meet one – but before that happens, Matthew shares a short story of kids coming to Jesus – and its very instructive when compared to the encounter with the man who wants to know the way to live forever.
13 Then little children were brought to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked those who brought them.
Children were thought of as very incidental in that society – and Jesus’ disciples apparently thought their Master’s time was worth more. You are probably aware that this part of the world was at that time a patriarchal society – men ruled the roost. Women were secondary – a distant second – and children were way way below that.
Who do you suppose brought these kids to the Lord? Probably their parents, perhaps. The word “children” here can mean anyone from babies to pre-teens. Imagine you are one of these parents – perhaps hoping that Jesus will bless your child – laying hands of blessing wasn’t uncommon – but children? The disciples, whose heads were at times still too big for their hat size – rebuked them. Now look at Jesus’ response.
14 Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” 15 When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there.
Notice that this is a double command – “let … [them] come” and “do not hinder them.” Kids are sometimes a bother – demanding, impatient, scattered – ever try to have a prolonged conversation with a three year old? So even though we don’t treat children like they did in the 1st century – we still sometimes dismiss them – we have more important things to do than follow their scattered attentions. Not that we should just do whatever a child tells us – but we should take time to spend time with them – and learn from them.
Jesus wants them to come to Him and look what He says: “for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” There is something in these kids that reveals the way to heaven. We’ll look at what it is in a moment – but first another encounter – with someone who is not a child – but, as verse 22 tells us – was a “young man.” This could mean anyone under 40 – folks – but was probably a youth who thought he had lots of assets, but really had nothing at all.
16 Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”
Notice this guy’s approach – he’s looking at heaven as something he can purchase, and as we’re going to see, was looking not so much for information but confirmation. Jesus, as usual, bears right in on the heart of the matter.
17 “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good.
Jesus is here referring to God – He is saying so much in that one little phrase “There is only One who is good.”
Jesus is telling the man that goodness doesn’t come from him but from God.
He’s forcing the man to confront just who God is – if Jesus is the source of goodness then Jesus is from God – a vital core thing to understand and embrace in the quest for human life.
Jesus is also changing the focus – from works to relationship. He’s trying to get the man to think about God, not just about himself.
This probably went right over the guy’s big head – so Jesus goes on to engage him in a philosophical discussion.
If you want to enter life, obey the commandments.”
This is true, of course – live up to all of the requirements of the law and you will go to heaven. There is only one problem – none of us can do it.
Paul says in Romans 3:10 “There are none that are righteous, no not one.”
We’ve all failed – in verse 23 he says “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”
Hebrews 7:19 says the law has made nothing perfect.
James 2:10 For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.
But this is a smart guy Jesus is dealing with here – he hears Jesus say obey the commandments – but he wants a more specific list. It’s like he’s a contract administrator or a lawyer trying to box God in.
18 “Which ones?” the man inquired.
I can just picture Jesus turning his head towards this guy, raising one eyebrow and sort of shaking His head gently.
Maybe He was tempted to say “you don’t know what you’re asking.” How many times do we play “let’s make a deal” with God. We say: “well if I go to church every Sunday and pay my tithes, then I can earn the right to sin a little bit and it won’t count so much against me.” Or we tell God that if He gives us what we want we’ll be sooooo obedient. Or we say to ourselves – if I steal but don’t murder then I’m not as bad as some …. Its ridiculous. And watch how Jesus answers.
Jesus replied, “‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, 19 honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.'”
Jesus just answers him – five of the ten commandments – numbers 5 through 9 – and then he adds Leviticus 19:18 about loving your neighbor, which the Jews believed summed up the last five commandments. Again, all of these have to do with relationships – relationship is the key. But look how the guy reacts:
20 “All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”
The guy is obviously mistaken but believes he has kept all of the commands – yet realizes that there is something missing. “What do I still lack?” he asks. Is that not the central question that we all face? When we’ve done it all – had all the riches and glory and fun, or when we’ve obeyed God and been so good we’ve got a halo over our heads – we realize that it’s simply not enough. That’s because what we lost in the Garden of Eden was a relationship with God.
After Adam and Eve obeyed Satan rather than God they hid from the Lord – fellowship was broken and man was driven out of the garden. At that time God promised that He Himself would repair the relationship – the law serving to point us to Jesus Christ who gave up His life in order to return us to fellowship with God – but it comes in relationship to how perfectly we obey the law but whether we have a relationship with a perfect Savior.
The guy asks “what do I lack?” and so Jesus answers – no more playing around, this is the real nut of the issue.
21 Jesus answered, “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.”
Matthew is the only gospel writer who uses the word “perfect” here – and in chapter 5 where He says “Be perfect, even as you heavenly Father is perfect.” It can also be translated mature, or full grown.
This guy thought he had come pretty far and was obedient to God – but Jesus is bursting his bubble and showing him just how far from God he really is. We do this – we don’t fall into a temptation or we do some good deed and we think – “man, I’m something special.” But it’s like giving a guy a toy camcorder and telling him he’s a film director.
God says His worst is better than our best. Our good deeds are like oil rags to God. And that’s the point – not to put us down or drive us away – but to show us that the standard for eternal life is God – NOT us.
Jesus tells the guy to sell your possessions and give to the poor – and I think that’s all the guy heard.
22 When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.
The real deal – the real core of the issue were in the last three words: “come follow Me.” That’s all Jesus wants – that is the way to eternal life. Its not through external obedience to a set of rules, it’s not through having a bunch of money – in fact, having possessions can actually keep you from God. It’s a relationship – it’s a realization that are nothing special but that God is something special.
Selling his possessions wouldn’t give the guy eternal life – but it was what was standing in the way of his relationship. The question all of us must answer is: what is standing in the way of our coming to Jesus? Is it riches, or the promise of riches? Is it popularity or a favorite sin or fear of rejection or self righteousness? We all have to give up something – not that we’re earning our way – but for all of us there is something that stands in the way – sometimes its just pride.
“I don’t need a savior,” we say. Let it go – it’s not worth it for what you stand to gain – and what you stand to lose by NOT coming to Jesus. Whatever God tells us to give up we need to give that up and come to Him. Repent and believe – it’s the gospel – leave the past behind and go to Him.
23 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 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.”
“Hard,” Jesus said – not impossible. Riches make it hard because they engender self sufficiency. If we don’t see any needs we don’t see our need for God. Our physical comfort masks our spiritual poverty.
Jesus wrote to the church at Laodicea:
Rev 3:17 You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.
With the camel thing – Jesus is talking in hyperbole – the point is: if you’re not willing to give up that thing that keeps you from God you aren’t going to be able or willing, really, to come to God. Riches was an idol for the young man – what is your idol? What is that thing that you serve or bow down your life to?
The disciples were understandably concerned:
25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?”
26 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
Notice the contrast – man=impossible, God=possible. No matter what we try to do to earn God’s favor it will not get us to heaven or earn us eternal life. Period. But when God reached down to us – initiated the relationship, gave His Son for US – it becomes possible. It’s still the same point – self reliance is self deception. We must rely on God for it all – our forgiveness, our salvation, our righteousness.
27 Peter answered him, “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?”
Peter and the boys did what the rich young ruler was not willing to do – give up all and follow Jesus. So he was naturally curious – what do we get, anyway?
28 Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 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 and will inherit eternal life. 30 But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.
Jesus is really saying quite a bit here – much of which the disciples wouldn’t have understood at the time. He’s talking about at the second coming, when the disciples – and the church, really – will help Christ rule the earth.
But I like what He says next – everything you leave behind here, will be repaid a hundred fold in heaven. Wow – what a promise. Now, that doesn’t mean as the Quoran mistakenly asserts – that in heaven martyrs will get 70 virgins to themselves. We as humans can sometimes only see things in human terms. Jesus is talking about spiritual blessings – and even though we can’t understand them – when we are in heaven we will realize how totally appropriate and totally wonderful the gifts God gives are.
In conclusion I want to point out two very simple contrasts between the children at the beginning of this section – and the rich young ruler – and how this paints a picture for us as we decide how radically we want to follow Jesus Christ.
The difference between children and this young man are two-fold.
Your image of yourself
Your image of your stuff
If you’ve ever noticed, children tend to get their self image from their parents – they depend on them to feed them, clothe them, keep them safe, and nurture them. If they are abused they pull into themselves, if they are nourished they flourish – but it is up to the parents to give the child their sense of self.
For the rich young ruler – his image of himself was blown up and was plain wrong. He thought he was something when he was nothing. Who do you get your self image from – how great you think you are, how intelligent or powerful or popular or good? We need to get our self image from our Father – relying on Him to provide for everything we need including our sense of self.
Secondly, children really don’t have anything to hold them back from following the Lord. Now, I’m not talking about toys that they selfishly hold on to – but as we grow up we have a tendency to collect things – possessions, degrees, property, careers, friends – and then when it comes time to decide whether we’re going to give it all up if necessary – it’s hard.
My encouragement to those of you who have not yet made a decision to follow Jesus – give it up – it’s worth it. Everything you give up He will replenish. Don’t let stuff cause you miss out on the greatest treasure of all: Jesus. For the rest of us, the stuff of this world can still choke out our real reward – don’t let it happen to you.
You know – in the end it’s all about relationships – that’s what we’re really going to care about in heaven – first a relationship with Jesus, and then relationships with our brothers and sisters – showing love and kindness and caring now, that will build lasting relationships that will bear fruit into eternity.