Saturday, July 5, 2014

Good 'Nuff for Glory (?)

Without question, one of my favorite New Testament narratives is the account of the rich young ruler's conversation with Christ.  

Here is a young man pondering perhaps the most important issue any of us ever can - the issue of eternal life. Here is a rich man, one who has so many things of temporal worth, actually pausing to contemplate things of eternal value.  

We'd do well to contemplate with him.

People regularly came and asked Jesus questions.  Often it was the Pharisees, but sadly they came with queries that sought to trick and trap the Messiah. This dude seems different.  He comes humbly and respectfully. In his words, posture, considerations and cogitations he appears unique. When he approaches Jesus it is not to tempt, but to be taught. 

We could learn a thing or two from him.
We can learn a lot more from the One to whom he talks!

Here's the story as Matthew tells it:
"And behold, a man came up to Him and said, 'Good Master, what good deed must I do that I may obtain eternal life?'  And Jesus said to him, "Why are you asking Me about what is good?  There is only One who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.'  He said to Him, 'Which ones?'  And Jesus said, 'You shall not murder; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; honor your father and mother; and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.'
The young man said to Him, 'All these things I have kept; what am I still lacking?' Jesus said to him, 'If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come follow Me.'
But when the young man heard this, he went away sorrowful; for he had great possessions.
And Jesus said to his disciples, 'Truly, I say to you, 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 person to enter the kingdom of God.' 
When His disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, 'Who then can be saved?'  But Jesus looked at them and said, 'With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.'" 
(Matthew 19:16-26)
We learn a lot about this man from his questions.  

Obviously he believed in eternal life.  
Clearly he was concerned about how to go about getting it.  
Without a doubt he realized something must be done to achieve it. 

What about us?  
Do we believe?  
Are we concerned?  
Have we counted the cost?  
Do eternal matters marinate in our mind as they did in his?

The Lord listens as he shares the queries of his mind.  You know, Christ is not one to ignore our questions - even though He may not always answer them as we'd like! Midst a busy schedule, Jesus pauses for a pow wow with this ruminating ruler and His answer to the inquiry is perfectly profound.

Jesus begins by interacting with the entire idea of what "good" is.  He's been addressed as the "good" master and He's been questioned about the doing of "good" things.  In response, He's about to straight shoot to the ruler's true root in order to discover what his mouth actually means. Far from being any type of harsh rebuke, Jesus is going to use the art of the interrogatory to draw out of him what he is really thinking in order to drive into him what he should be truly believing.

He poses His own questions to the young man, "Why are you asking Me about what is good?"
In Mark's account the story is filled out further with His adding "Why do you call Me good?"  He then goes on to declare "There is only One who is good" and "No one is good but God alone."

Jesus, the greatest Teacher ever, is making sure that this student understands what is true about the character of God, the nature of Christ and the condition of man - for without a proper perspective on these we may all very well find ourselves not on the road to heaven, but on the highway to hell. (Remember, it is indeed often "paved with 'good' intentions.") 

Jesus begins by pointing out that only God is goodThough we often use that word with such flippant casualty, the truth (according to Christ) is that real honest to goodness good is an attribute of God alone. 

We need to realize that. 

The holy, perfect, and righteous God ALONE is the standard, source, and essence of good. According to Christ, ONLY God is good!

Jesus then probes into whether this ruler understands that He is this good God. The young man has called Jesus "Good Master" - does He own what he has said about Christ's divine nature or are these words just a profane profession of public politeness?  

Mark's "Why do you call Me good?" is a clarifying question that would seek to have this inquisitor confess that Jesus is God incarnate or cease in calling Him "good" completely.  

We need to ponder this probing ourselves.

What do you and I believe about Jesus?  
Do we believe Him to be good?  
Then do we also believe Him to be God?  

According to Christ Himself, the two go hand in hand. Jesus leaves no room for the idea that He is merely a good man - some magnificent mortal of exquisite character and grand goodness. Instead He calls any confession in that vein a false one and bids us hush our mouths of our heresy. The whole idea that Jesus was just a "good" man is just a bad teaching!

Jesus finally proves that this upstanding citizen is a sinner in need of a Savior. Here is where I wish to hang my hat for most of the post, for here is where the rubber meets the road to redemption. Jesus is going to show this young man that he can never be good enough to gain eternal life.  

It is utterly impossible, 
     absolutely unobtainable, 
          and far beyond our ability.

This young man wants to know what "good deed" he must do to enter into heaven. It appears that he is willing to work his way to eternal peace, and apparently believes that he actually could be good enough to get it. He's not alone in his attitude, aspiration, or assumption.  How often do we think some form of the same thing?  How often do we presume that we can be good 'nuff for Glory?
But, there's a problem
      - "there is only One who is good" 
               and it's not us. (Psalm 14:1Romans 3:12.)  

You see, the human heart is desperately sick and deceitful (Jeremiah 17:9) and "he who trusts his own heart is a fool" (Proverbs 28:26). Our tricky hearts can proudly lead us to think (as did Adam and Eve) that we can be like God... ... but we can't!  

Try as we might, 
     work as we would, 
          labor as we like, 
               we will always fall short (Romans 3:23,).  

Jesus is about to prove the point.

OK young fella, "If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments."

It's as cut and dry as that.  
God has given His holy law.  
He has stated and stipulated His standard.  
If you want to gain Glory... then "keep the commandments."  

Wanting to be sure he understood correctly, the young man asks, "Well, which ones?" 

While it is always good that we inquire to make sure we accurately understand what another has said (and I hope that this is what the rich young ruler is doing), is it not also so very much like us (and our deceitful hearts) to take a hard teaching and seek to soften it, to take a clear teaching and try to confuse it? 

Jesus says  "keep the commandments" and we try to reduce that statement to the lowest common denominator.  " many commandments do you actually mean?"

God gives a clear imperative, "Thou shalt not..." and we hem and haw, fuss and fidget, twist and turn, ruminate and recalibrate until we come up with our own version of what we think God REALLY meant when He said what He clearly said... because SURELY He didn't mean what plainly appears. 

In all these interpretive gymnastics are we very different from the sneaky snake of Eden when he asked, "Did God REALLY say...?"  

But I digress...

In the text the rich young ruler asks, "Which ones?" and rather than reaming the guy out (as I would probably do), Jesus patiently plods along with this pupil.   Instead of giving him a lecture on the law which would engage only his head, He chooses to give a lesson in life which will also engage his heart.  

So, you want to know which commandments must be kept? 
You want to know the bare bones of obedience? 
You want to learn how few you must follow? 

All-wise Jesus offers him just a partial list of commands in order to prove a powerful point: we can't even keep the barest of the bare bones!  

Remember, the Bible tells us that "whoever keeps the whole law but fails in just one piece, he has become guilty of breaking them all" (James 2:10). Because the heavenly entrance exam requires 100% perfection 100% of the time, any stumble or stagger in thought, word, or deed is a righteously received automatic fail. (We're all in trouble!)

In His instruction, Jesus unfolds just the second half of the ten commandments - just the stuff about how we treat our fellow man and none of the stuff about how we treat our glorious God. It's a brilliant lesson, because if we don't love our brothers whom we do see how do we truly love our God whom we don't see? (1 John 4:20)  Let's find out how he fares...

So you want to know what commands you must keep?  Why not try these on for size:

"You shall not commit murder."
"You shall not commit adultery."
"You shall not steal."
"You shall not bear false witness."
"Honor our father and mother."

And then He closes with the summation of the latter list of the Law:  "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."

At first glance, the young man can almost seem gleeful in his response.  I can picture a glimmer in his eyes, a spring in his step, his chin held high, and his shoulders raised in an air of accomplishment.  

"Well, well, well, all these things I have kept!   Whoopee!!"

But wait... has he?  Hold on just a minute...

As we read further it appears that in his heart of hearts he knows that something is still not quite right. He asks,"All these things I have kept; what am I still lacking?"

In this exchange I think I find one of the reasons that I like this guy so much.  You see, he's a lot like me - pitifully pendulumatic.  Back and forth and back he goes.

He comes to Christ.
          He questions Christ.
He puffs up.
          He pipes down.
He seeks.
          He sinks.
He seeks again... "w... w... wait.. ...what am I still lacking?"

Jesus will show him, but it's gonna hurt.  

This "good" guy who thinks he's kept all the commandments is about to learn that truly he has not.  

Jesus, knowing that the young ruler has set his standard at exterior obedience, is going to press him where it's painful - he's going to hit him in the heart.  

He will expose this man's love of things, 
          his worship of stuff, 
                    his "god" of goods.  

You'll notice that when Jesus listed the laws of love for our neighbor (all those commands that the dude claimed he'd kept) He went and left one of them out:  
"You shall not covet."  

The omniscient One knew that the commandment of covetousness would reveal the reality of his unrighteous rebellion more than anything else ever could. So He saved it, and set it aside to use at the proper and most poignant time. This command was about to serve as a surgeon's scalpel, exposing the malignancy of  all that sinful "bad" that dwelt within - lying just underneath all of that proud surface of supposed "good".    

[Now, a side note:  it's not like this guy has REALLY kept all the other commandments - not in their truest sense.  Even if he claims he's never killed anyone remember: Jesus taught that if we've been angry at our brother then we're guilty of murder (Matthew 5:22). Even if he says he's never fallen into infidelity don't forget: Jesus said that if we've lusted after another then we're guilty of adultery (Matthew 5:28).  True obedience to the commandments is found not only in outward act but also in inward thought - and by that standard we all fall short.]

He asks: "All these I have kept; what am I still lacking?"

Jesus answers: "'If you would be perfect [because that's the standard] then, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me."

The young man heard.
     The young man turned. 
          The young man walked away...
              grieved by the Savior's sermon and left in his sinful state.

All his asking didn't accomplish anything because the answer didn't fit his fancy.

"When the young man heard this statement he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions." 

It seemed from his first questions that he was willing to do any deed to ensure his entry into heaven. But he wasn't willing to do this one!  Nope, this one would cost too much and he'd rather walk away full of sorrow than empty of his objects.  He clings to his things and lets stuff that turns to rust and dust matter more than an eternal inheritance - an inheritance "which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away" (1 Peter 1:4); one which "neither moth nor rust destroys, [kept] where thieves do not break in and steal"  (Matthew 6:19-20). 

He would rather have the trinkets of earth than the treasure of heaven.

He holds fast to his idols and let's go of his God.

This piercing proposition of selling his possessions, giving them to the poor, and following Christ was divinely designed to show him that he simply didn't love his neighbor as much as he loved himself; and that he didn't love God with all of his heart and soul and mind. When it came to the two greatest commandments, he faltered, fumbled and failed. 

He wasn't as good a commandment keeper as he claimed.
He wasn't as good a guy as he thought.  
And neither am I.

What do I love more than Jesus?  
What will I not part with?  
What sorrow would I rather savor than obey the Savior?

Covetousness was used as the clearest catalyst of conviction for him.  Jesus wasn't saying that all Christians must take a vow of poverty and get rid of everything they own (as some have misinterpreted this passage). Jesus was seizing a superb scenario which served as the best means to expose the rich young ruler's sin. 

It would show him he wasn't as good as he supposed.
It would reveal his desperate need for a Savior. 
It would expose the necessity of a truly good incarnate God to be that Savior:
   One who would come and keep all the commands that he couldn't;
   One who would bear all the judgment that his good-less guilt deserved;
   One who would cover his sin with the robe of His own righteousness;
        and bring him home to heaven on the merits of His marvelous mercy.

Jesus knew just what He was doing.

Sometimes I wonder what commandment Christ would pick to prick me with, or you with if we were to stand in the young ruler's shoes?  What false exterior facade would He peel back in order to reveal the deep interior damage done by sin?   

Would He perhaps challenge us to:
  • see our murderous hearts by exposing our angry hearts: "Lay aside the anger you direct toward your children when they don't do what you say when you say it? Take up leading and loving them patiently in their sin even as I have led and loved you in yours?"  
  • see our adulterous hearts by exposing our lustful hearts: "Cut off that TV show or movie, put down that book - you know, the one that moves your mind to some form of passion laden fantasy?  Walk away from those flirtatious conversations with that co-worker - you know, the good looking one, or the really nice one, or the very understanding one who is perhaps appearing as greener grass just beyond the brown or barren field where you feel you now feed? 
  • see our thieving hearts by exposing our selfish and lazy hearts: "Turn away from all that excess time spent on the computer or on your phone when your kids are needing your presence or your employer is paying for your labor? 
  • see our false witnessing hearts by exposing our gossiping hearts: "Cease in spreading that 'prayer request' about so and so to all the ladies in your Bible study?  
  • see our dishonoring hearts to our fathers and mothers by exposing our disrespectful hearts towards those in God-given authority over us: "Quit talking about the president in such a hateful way - even if you disagree with him? Begin to pray for him - not for his downfall but for his repentance and reformation?" 

Whatever He would say to us, unlike my words, would be perfect and piercing. 

Better yet, all that He has said to us, in His Word, is perfect and piercing. 

Throughout the pages of Scripture, Jesus has been just as clear to us as He was to the rich young ruler - possibly even clearer, for we now have the entire redemptive story fully revealed in holy writ!

In the Bible, Jesus has spoken plainly and without any ambiguity.  He has told us that we can't be good enough and that we don't love God enough. An honest assessment of my life proves it. In light of our plight Jesus (the truly good incarnate God) has come to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves - carry us home to heaven based not on what we do, but based on what He's DONE...if only we will trust in Him rather than in ourselves!!

The rich young ruler was challenged to lay down his temporal trinkets and follow Jesus.  At the heart of it all, he was challenged to lay aside himself and fall upon Christ who alone can save. the rich young ruler was unwilling - he had too much property and too much pride, and he walked away full of sorrow and empty of salvation.  

As he woefully wandered away, Jesus turned to His disciples and said to them, "Truly I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.  And 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."

The disciples, utterly astonished, turned to their Master and asked, "Then who can be saved?"

They understood the seriousness of the situation!

The Savior looked upon them and answered, "With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."

[Insert deep breath and strong sigh!]  

You know, just like that rich ruler we are all challenged to lay aside something.  Ultimately, we are all challenged to lay aside ourselves - our self-sufficiency, our pride, our personal attempts to piously carve our own path to Paradise!  

It is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.  Doggone it, truth is, it is impossible for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.  It is impossible for everyone who believes they can pay the way with the capital of their own righteous riches to ever enter the kingdom of God. 

You see,we are called to turn from our self-righteous bank vault full of supposed spiritual riches and to see ourselves not as rich but as poor. Our personal vault is filled with counterfeit currency. 

Our own "wealth" is worthless. 
     There's not a "good" bill in the batch.  
          The "funds" are a fraud. 
               We are bankrupt.  
There is not a penny of our own piety that we can pay to alleviate the deep debt we owe.   

But... "My God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus!" (Philippians 4:23)

The good news of the gospel is that though we sinners aren't good 'nuff for Glory, God has sent a Savior - Jesus Christ, incarnate God, Who is!!   "With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."

The highway to Heaven is paved by His good deeds.  

The price for our admission has been paid by His propitiation on the cross. 

The full funds have been imputed to our account by grace through faith in His work not our own. 

So, "What good deed must I do that I may obtain eternal life?"

There's not one!  

Realize it.  
     Admit it.  
          Own it.  
               Confess it.  
And flee to Jesus Who has done for us what we can't do and offered to us what we can't earn.

Another man, a jailer from Philippi, asked the same question years later: "What must I do to be saved?" He had just survived his own cataclysmic catalyst of conviction (a mighty earthquake). It was the perfect storm designed to drive him to see himself as a sinner in need of a Savior. In response he ran to Paul and Silas a broken man, pleading for an answer outside of his own merit and truly willing to give up all for the gospel.

The answer was simple:  "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you shall be saved." (Acts 16:30-31)

He did and he was.
May we follow in the footsteps of this man's faith and avoid the self-sufficiency of the other man's sorrow.

"For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor,
that you through His poverty might become rich."
(2 Corinthians 8:9)

"When the goodness and loving kindness 
of God our Savior appeared, He saved us,
not because of works done by us in righteousness,
but according to His own mercy,
by the washing of regeneration 
and renewal of the Holy Spirit.
whom He poured out on us richly 
through Jesus Christ our Savior,
so that being justified by His grace 
we might become heirs 
according to the hope of eternal life."
(Titus 3:4-7)

"Jesus said to him, 'I am the way, 
and the truth, and the life; 
no one comes to the Father, but through me.'"
(John 14:6)

1 comment:

  1. Nothing in my hands I bring (except my sin), only to the cross I cling. Thank you Lori for once again being such a vessel of Truth!! May the Lord continue to bless you in ways unspeakable!!