IF YOU WANT TO ENTER LIFE
Key Verse 19:26
“Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.’”
Look at verse 16. “Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, ‘Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?’” This rich young man came up to Jesus to ask him what good thing he should do to get eternal life. In other words, he wanted to know what good thing he should do to save his soul. Most people had come to Jesus asking for a healing for themselves or a favor on behalf of another person. But no one had ever asked this particular question. So, this young man’s question basically gives meaning to why Jesus had come into the world in the first place. Jesus once said, “I have come that they may have life.” (John 10:10) Most people believe that life is only physical and it ends in death. But then there are those who believe that life has to be more than just a physical existence and therefore cannot possibly end in death. These are the ones who believe in some form of eternal life, and so they put their trust in different religions and philosophies to help them explain how they can enter into eternal life. This young Jew had a very good question to this effect, and this tells us quite a bit about him. To start with, he must have already absolutely believed in the existence of eternal life. He believed that life as we know it isn’t only physical but spiritual as well. So he believed that his own life isn’t going to end in death; He believed that there is another life waiting for him which he must prepare for. Because he was a Jew, we also know that he believed that there is a certain way a person may be saved— or as he puts it— in what a person must do to get eternal life. But there is something he was not sure about! He wasn’t so sure if the way of salvation he was taught was valid and even effective. Let’s think about that for a bit.
We know he was a Jew. And the Jews were the only people in the old world who had a grasp on the meaning of life. They believed in the One True God. They believed in life after death. They also believed that God had set them apart as a people and has given them special privileges to reach God and then through God to also gain eternal life. He must have attended the synagogue and learned the history of the Jewish nation which began with God calling Abraham. He learned the prophesies made about the coming Messiah. He had teachers who taught him all about God’s laws. And judging from what he later said, he must have taken all those laws to heart and obeyed them passionately. These laws he learned were laws about how to live and how to act in one’s life. They showed him the things that pleased God and the things that didn’t. And all throughout his young life, he was convinced that as long as he followed these laws, God was pleased with him and would someday welcome him into eternal life. For a long time, he was confident that he was living the right way; that he was doing the right thing before God and people. He’d done his best to obey all the laws he learned from the Bible. He really had no need to question his own life works nor his eternal destiny. According to all standards he knew, he had been a good man and had done what is good in the sight of God and others. So why then did he come to Jesus with this question filled with his own doubts?
But it isn’t hard to understand why he would come to Jesus with such a question! He was a good Jew who followed every law taught to him by his elders. But here’s the thing! While he was comfortably living his life, carrying on his own business, something happened that shattered all his confidence in everything he knew and was. Jesus happened! In that comfortable Jewish society, Jesus began to preach the gospel. The gospel Jesus preached didn’t conflict with the Jewish religion he had been brought up with. It actually came right out of the teachings of the old prophets; but it came with a fire the likes of which were not witnessed in generations! Jesus’ gospel seemed to touch the heart of people in a way no other teacher was able to. It touched places in human life and heart which no one had ever been able to touch. Jesus spoke of God’s love for sinners. He spoke of the urgency of repentance. He spoke of the beauty of God’s laws and the hypocrisy of those who only pretend to live by them. Jesus spoke of forgiveness and of mercy; he spoke of zeal for God. He spoke of how a person should live a life of faith and a life of sacrifice and of servantship and of self denial. Of course, this rich young man thought he understood what faith is; he had thought that faith is simply to believe in God and the Bible. But Jesus had explained faith and taken it to levels no one had ever taken it before. Jesus spoke of the faith to forgive— always forgive without limit; He had spoken of the faith to obey God’s word even when it’s impossible to obey; he had spoken of faith to sacrifice anything and everything out of love for God.
This rich young man had also heard of servantship and mission. He had thought that servantship and mission are to be the best Jew he could be, to do the best he could do. Maybe servantship and sacrifice were only for the Rabbis who teach the Bible. But Jesus was teaching that every one who loves God is also called to serve both God and man alike with their lives. Jesus was even sending his own disciples out to serve and to engage in godly mission to bring the light of the gospel to dark and dead hearts of people. He knew about sacrifice. But his idea never went beyond giving a few coins to the poor or fill to give a generous gift to the synagogue he attended; that usually bought him many privileges. But this Jesus was teaching strange new teachings about sacrifice; that sacrifice is genuine from the heart; that sacrifice is to give of yourself for the benefit of others. Jesus was teaching that a person aught to lay his life down for another person, even for one’s enemy! Jesus was teaching to love a stranger as yourself, to be kind and gentle, loving and compassionate and forgiving, even when others hated you or mistreated you. Jesus was teaching repentance for the kingdom of God is near! Mostly, Jesus was teaching that a person must be born again before he or she can enter the kingdom of God. Jesus’ teachings were as radical and troublesome as this young man had ever heard. And it had stirred his heart; it had shattered his self confidence; And it had severely challenged his faith.
The man’s whole concept of God and of how to live a life pleasing to God, were shaken! He now had doubts. Especially his idea about eternal life— something he’d been so confident of— was rattled. He wasn’t sure about anything any more. So, he asked Jesus:. “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” It was truly a sincere question. Maybe it’s also the sincere question of any one who thinks that life doesn’t end in the grave, but one day a soul must stand to be judged by the Creator! While there are probably many sincere people wanting to gain eternal life, in reality there is only one way to do so. This young man was a Jew brought up in the strict Jewish religious way of life physically and spiritually. But his idea about how a person may be saved are not much different from most people who have sincerely wanted to gain eternal life. And for this reason, Matthew thought it was necessary to mention his story! His question speaks to many hearts. And therefore, Jesus’ answer also speaks to everyone who would listen. There is only one way to be saved— to gain eternal life— and Jesus tells us about it in helping this man.
Look at verse 17. “‘Why do you ask me about what is good?’ Jesus replied. ‘There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, obey the commandments.’” Amazingly, Jesus taught this young man a few things in this. First of all, Jesus taught him that no one is good; that there is only One who is worthy enough to be considered Good— God. Like most good people think, this man also thought that he was a good man! He had always tried to do what is good. He had lived a good life. He tried his best to maintain his good image and standing. If he did anything bad he usually went to the Rabbi to make a sacrifice and to atone for his sin. Of course, he was a good man! But he was good only when compared with other people. Compared to many, he was good; he was even better. Jesus never said that he wasn’t good by human standards. But Jesus certainly didn’t agree with him that his human goodness had anything to do with whether a person deserved eternal life or not. Jesus told him: “Why do you ask me about what is good?” It means that being good and receiving eternal life have nothing to do with each other. Jesus went on to tell him: “There is only One who is good.” It meant that even if one should do good to gain eternal life, no one can measure up to God’s standard of “goodness”. In other words, even if he had been good, and even if goodness was the measure by which one can be saved, this man would never be able to gain it. He couldn’t be saved based on his own goodness, because compared to God, he was really not good at all, since, only God is truly good! So, he couldn’t possibly gain eternal life based on his own goodness, no matter how much good he’d done in life.
Look at verse 17 again. Jesus also tried to teach this man something else about himself. “If you want to enter life, obey the commandments.” What he’d learned in Sunday school was true. It’s true that the Bible teaches us that if a person wants to be saved they must obey the commandments— all the commandments! Jesus really loved him. So, he tried to help him see God’s requirement for a person to gain eternal life. The requirements are enormous. You must obey the commandments— all the commandments! Who on earth can do that? No one can! We’re sinners at heart. And the sin that rules in the human heart defies every one of God’s commandment. Even those who sincerely try their best to obey them, cannot. Why then did God give us the commandments and require that we obey them? God gave the Jews the commandments so that they might recognize God’s impossible standard which he expects every human being to live by. He gave the commandments so that his people would see that no one can obey them, and having accepted this truth, to then turn to God for mercy and ask him for help. And then God in his mercy would provide them with a gift— the Savior. And the Savior would then atone for their sins, and also help them live up to God’s ultimate standard— which is faith— faith in Christ and in his gospel of grace. That’s what God really wanted from us when he gave us the commandments to obey! This young man then should have immediately been convicted of his sin before God. He should have know that he couldn’t possibly obey the commandments— not all of them. Then he should have fallen to his knees before Jesus and said, “Lord, I am a sinful man. Show me the way to God and to eternal life.” But of course, he didn’t say that.
Look at verses 18-19. “’Which ones?’ the man inquired. 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.’” Amazing! This young man was a bit dense spiritually. He had the nerve to ask Jesus, “which ones”. Which ones? All the commandments of course! But Jesus did not reprimand him. Jesus was certainly stunned at this man’s sky high pride. Jesus loved him and decided to help him further. So Jesus merely pointed out to him, not all the commandments, but only a few of them— the ones that deal with his relationship with other people. When God gave his people the ten commandments— do not murder, do not steal and such— God intended them not to murder and steal and such simply because such crimes are great sins in God’s eyes. But these commandments meant much more than that! God wanted his chosen people to be like him and act like him in every way. He wanted them to go beyond what they shouldn’t do, and do what they should do instead. Do not steal isn’t necessarily simply a refraining from stealing. It intended for us to be sacrificial and generous with one another. A thief steals for many reasons. They take from others because they do not have what others have. Or they take from others what they like. Theft stems from inner selfishness and from greed. So when God said do not steal, he wanted his people to be mindful of their neighbors, sacrificial towards them, giving rather than taking from them! When he heard Jesus’ words, the young man should have again fallen to his knees and begged forgiveness for broking all the commandments. He should have realized that even if he hadn’t literally stolen from others, the truth is he really hadn’t loved his neighbor either. Yet again he didn’t see himself in the mirror of God’s standard. He was too proud to realize the condition of his wretched soul!
Look at verses 20, 21. “’All these I have kept,’ the young man said. ‘What do I still lack?’ 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.’” Amazing! All these I have kept! How on earth could he have kept all these commandments! He couldn’t because no human being could ever go his whole life without breaking the commandments. Jesus should have turned his back on him. He seemed to be spiritually handicapped or “challenged”. But Jesus loved him and once again wanted to help him. This time Jesus was teaching him that unless a person perfectly obeys the word of God he or she can neither please God nor make it to heaven. Jesus’ words: “If you want to be perfect” meant that you cannot enter life unless you are perfect! Jesus showed him yet again that God’s standard for gaining eternal life is for him to be perfect, otherwise he can’t enter heaven.
At this point again he should have fallen to his knees and sobbed in repentance before the Lord. But Jesus expected that he wouldn’t! He wouldn’t because of a serious problem in his life that had been keeping him far away from God. So in love Jesus tried to show him his basic life problem. He wasn’t only a proud sinner who thought of himself as worthy of God, but he also loved other things much more than he loved God or people. God’s full law as well as God’s own heart is grounded in love— in loving others and sacrificing everything we have to imitate God’s love and purity of heart. So Jesus challenged him to seek perfection— God’s perfection. Jesus challenged him to sell what he has and then prove his love for God and desire to follow God’s way by giving all he had to those who suffer in poverty. But let us be clear about one thing! Even if he sold everything he had and given to the poor, and then followed Jesus, it still wouldn’t gain him eternal life. Jesus wasn’t giving him a formula for gaining eternal life. Jesus only wanted him to see what’s blocking him from God. He was a materialist. He was a money lover. He loved his comfort and his riches. He enjoyed the good life, while others were suffering. He really loved no one but himself. That was his life problem. He needed to see that his true love wasn’t God, but money and comfort and prestige and the good life. He needed to see that his real desire was not eternal life as he had thought his desire to be. His true love was himself. He loved himself. So Jesus challenged him, and he couldn’t stand up to the challenge.
Read verses 22-25. “When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth. Then Jesus said to 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 taught humanity that day that their biggest hindrance in coming to God is themselves— and their own love for their life and for the things that perish. Jesus tells us that as long a person puts his or her hope in what they do, and trust in what they have, they can never gain eternal life. To gain eternal life, a person must seek eternal life with a pure desire; he or she must be willing to depend on God for life and the afterlife; he or she must also be willing to sacrifice all things for the love of God. This man wanted eternal life. But he also wanted to hold on to everything else in his life that made him comfortable. He wanted to hold on to this life while he sought eternal life. He couldn’t do so, because God cannot be mocked! When the disciples heard this revolutionary truth from Jesus they were stunned.
Look at verse 25 again. Even Jesus’ disciples were confused. They thought that if a good man like this couldn’t gain eternal life, who on earth could? They were the same as this young man in thinking that a person could do something to gain himself eternal life. For this reason Jesus gave them the gospel all over again. Read our key verse, 26. “Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.’” Jesus taught us that with man it is impossible. This means that there is nothing one can “do” or “not do” to gain eternal life or to be saved from God’s wrath. How then can we gain eternal life? Jesus said that “with God all things are possible”. It means that only God can provide you and I with eternal life. And he already did so when he sent his Son Jesus to bring us salvation. Jesus died on the cross for our sins and was raised to life that we might have a new life— a life that we can live and serve him with. God has also given each of us the gift of faith so that we might fix our faith on Jesus and trust him to lead us to provide us with and lead us to eternal life. The only thing we can actually “do” in order to gain eternal life is to turn our hearts away from sin in repentance and then believe the gospel of God’s grace. God knew that no one of us can do anything to gain eternal life on our own, and has given us Jesus to save us. Jesus tried to help this young man to gain life. He tried to help him discover himself, and then see the amazing grace of God. But he did not.
Jesus’ disciples proved that they too didn’t fully understand the grace of God. Peter was baffled again! (27) They all wondered what was the point of leaving everything behind in order to follow Jesus, if it doesn’t gain a person eternal life. So, Jesus assured them that although eternal life is a gift of God, you and I should do everything possible to sacrifice everything for God and his kingdom work. None of us can serve God and his work if we hold on to anything that weighs us down and binds us to this world. God’s work, especially the work of serving others’ souls requires sacrifice. And Jesus assured us that whatever sacrifice we make in the process is pleasing to God and won’t be forgotten. Look at 28-29. “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. 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.’” Eternal life or salvation is God’s gift to us who are unworthy, we who can really do nothing to save ourselves. But God calls us to leave the things of the world behind and to follow the gospel way of life, whatever the cost! “Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.’” (26)