Have you ever asked a question that you didn’t really want answered?
Or have you ever asked for an opinion, while looking for validation of a decision you had already made?
This seemed to be the case with the rich young ruler when he questioned Jesus:
And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter 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 I have kept. What do I still lack?” (Matthew 19:16-20)
A Surprising Response
The young man seemed surprised when Jesus responded by telling him to keep the commandments. Surely, this was a mistake. Wasn’t Jesus aware of all the good he had accomplished to date? What was left undone?
Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” (v. 21)
He was probably equally surprised when Jesus told him to sell his possessions, give to the poor, and follow Christ. Rather than one more manageable task, Jesus asked something costly, public, and seemingly impossible (vv. 23-24). We read about the young man’s response to this command:
When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. (v. 22)
We can identify a couple reasons why the young ruler may have gone away sorrowful:
- Until this point, the rich young ruler was able to follow God out of his wealth, but Jesus was asking him to follow out of poverty by selling his possessions and giving to the poor.
- The young man came looking for one “good deed” to perform, but Jesus didn’t require one more deed; He required everything. The thing Jesus asked of him wasn’t a rule to satisfy, but the sacrifice of his life.
A Sure Reward
We may shake our heads at the rich young ruler and wish he would have responded by following Christ instead of clinging to his wealth. Yet we may be no different from this young man if we answer the following questions truthfully:
- Am I following Jesus on my own terms, choosing how, where, and to what degree I obey him?
- Have I come to Jesus asking him to agree that I’ve met his expectations under the circumstances, or have I come asking him to expose the areas where I have fallen short?
Instead of asking Christ to validate what we think obedience should be, Christ asks us the difficult question of whether we will obey his command to give up everything for the joy of following him.
The Help of Christ
Does Christ ask the impossible? The disciples asked the same question:
“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 the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (vv. 24-26)
Jesus says here that salvation is impossible for us to achieve. But what is impossible for man is possible for God. The rich young ruler was trying to save himself by doing everything the law required. His best efforts fell short because he could not earn what only God can give through Christ.
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. (Romans 3:21-25)
The rich young ruler went away sorrowful because he clung to the physical blessings he had been given. Likewise, we can grow too attached to the blessings that God brings into our lives, making them a greater treasure than Christ himself.
If you find yourself facing the same impossible call to sacrifice your life to Christ—counting him a greater treasure than all the blessings he can give—will you join the rich young ruler and go away sorrowful, or will you respond like these:
1. Like Job, acknowledge that he is the sovereign Giver.
If you’re in a season of loss that seems impossible to overcome, remember the words of a man who suffered great loss:
Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:20-21)
2. Like Peter, acknowledge the Lordship of Christ.
If you struggle with the impossibility of submitting to Jesus’ authority in your life, remember Peter’s response:
Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:68-69)
3. Like Paul, acknowledge God’s provision of sufficient grace.
If you’re facing a season of trial—maybe an impossible health crisis, financial circumstance, or relational struggle—remember that God’s grace is sufficient and his power is perfect:
Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:8-10)