17 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’”
20 “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”
21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
22 At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.
23 Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”
24 The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
26 The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?”
27 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”
28 Then Peter spoke up, “We have left everything to follow you!”
29 “Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel 30 will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life.
Around age two or three, children get a terrible case of the “whys.” Why is the sky blue? Why do I have to take a nap? Why can’t you play with me now? Why? Why? Why?! Little children are constantly asking why. Have you ever stopped to think “why” they do that? There’s a good reason. Children learn more about the world around them by asking questions.
In our text for today a young man came to Jesus with a question. Not why, but what. He brought an urgent, earnest request to Jesus. In fact, his question was one of LIFE’S MOST IMPORTANT QUESTIONS. His question and the questions that follow are questions each person must answer. Thankfully, Jesus gives us those answers.
Jesus was leaving the Judean countryside to get to his final destination. Jerusalem. As he left, a man came running up. He had a question so important, it couldn’t wait. The man needed to know the answer. He fell on his knees, recognizing Jesus as a man of God. “Good teacher,” he says, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” The man’s question was: what do I have to do to get to heaven?
How would you answer the man? Many might say: “Nothing—just believe in Jesus.” But not Jesus. He knew exactly what this man needed to hear.
First Jesus raises another issue. “Why do you call me good?” he asks. Few people doubt Jesus’ teaching credentials, even today. But in our times of things being either “the best” or “the worst,” we miss out on something. “No one is good except God alone,” Jesus says. In other words, Jesus asks his own question: what is good?
Do you ever stop to consider what “good” actually is? We use the word to slap approval on something. We often muddle it. “It’s pretty good,” we say. We mean it has room for improvement. It’s good, not great. But what is good? Good is the absence of evil. Good is when no flaw is present. Nothing bad. Complete and total excellence.
So when Jesus says no one is good except God, he’s saying no one is perfect. Only God is. But wait a second—don’t we say Jesus is God? So why doesn’t Jesus just accept “good” with his title and move on?
Jesus doesn’t ask questions for his own benefit. He already knows the answer. This question is for the man to ponder. Jesus moves on: Keep the commandments, he says. Don’t murder. Don’t make marriage dirty. Don’t steal. Don’t lie. Don’t cheat. Honor your parents. Do you see what Jesus is saying here? Jesus tells the man: “be good.”
Most Americans today think that way. Many believe in heaven. But ask them how you get there, and they will give you mixed results. Perhaps the most common answer people give is that they are going to heaven because they are “good.” The problem with that? Jesus already said only God is good.
The man in our text thought the opposite, though. “I’ve been good. I’ve done all that since I was a kid.” Maybe he wanted something to do something great, not just good. This man’s confidence is like a child riding on a cross-country trip. Right at the start he asks, “Are we there yet?” confident they must be close. In reality, they’ve only just left town.
Jesus looked at this man with his urgent, earnest question. The most important question that has ever been asked. And Jesus loved him with a love that sacrifices personal needs for the good of another. With that love, Jesus reaches out to the man and…breaks his heart to pieces. “If you want to do something good enough to inherit eternal life, you only need to do one more thing. Sell all you have, give it to the poor, and leave your old life. Instead, follow me. Become my disciple. Share in my struggles; you’ll also gain everything I can give you.”
The man went away crushed. He had come confident he could do anything to make God happy. So Jesus gave him one thing. Just the one thing he wasn’t willing to do. The man’s problem was the commandment Jesus skipped, the very first: you shall have no other gods. The man’s trust wasn’t in God, but in his own ability to make God happy. It’s in his question: What must I do?
Some people think God should let everyone in to heaven. God is good, and if he’s good, won’t he just love everybody and give us all a free pass? Bothe Jesus and the Bible say the opposite. Jesus loved this man with the deepest kind of love the world could ever see. In love he showed the man his error. Love doesn’t just accept people for what they are. Love tells the truth. This time, the truth broke the man’s heart.
What does that mean for us? Maybe you don’t, like that man, have great wealth. But unless you know what it’s like to live out on the streets, or what it’s like to wonder if you’re going to eat today, I would say most of us are doing fairly well. Do you trust in your wealth? Here’s a test: If you gave up every dime you have today, would you survive? Have you left your money to follow Jesus?
Maybe you don’t trust in money. But the same Jesus who saw the idol in the rich man’s heart can see through you. Have you left everything to follow Jesus? Family? Friends? The comforts of home? Maybe your idol is your own reputation. Whether it’s success, screen, or self, the human heart is an idol factory. When Jesus unravels the ugly facade we’ve put on and points out how utterly incapable we are of doing good, we are forced to admit we aren’t good. We aren’t God. We are, like that man, hopeless,.
That’s the right place to be. Twice Jesus says it’s hard for rich people to get into heaven. Fitting a camel through the eye of a needle is easier than getting wealthy people on God’s good side.
Like now, the rich were considered the “winners,” the influential, blessed by God. Shocked, the disciples ask another of LIFE’S GREATEST QUESTIONS. Who can be saved? If even the great people of the world can’t get into heaven, who can? Jesus answers, You can’t. People can’t. It’s impossible for man to get on God’s good side. I cannot, by my own reason or strength, come to Jesus Christ as Lord. We have nothing to offer him. If we give everything we have to him, it already belongs to God. We can do nothing to contribute to our salvation.
But Jesus’ answer still matters. How do you get to heaven? It’s impossible for people, but not for God. God can do all things. So where does that leave us?
Think through the account again. Jesus asked the rich man why he called him good. He looked at him and loved him. In a look, in a question, Jesus gave him—and us—what we need. “Come, follow me,” he said. Be my disciple. Follow my way. I will give you all the good that is coming to me.
Jesus didn’t deny he was good. He raised the issue so we would think. What man can’t do, God can. And God is good. The good teacher set out on his way to do it. Remember, Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. He had already come a long way. He had left everything behind—his Father in heaven, his earthly family, people’s admiration, much more—to follow God’s will. He moved on to certain death—to make the impossible possible.
On his way, he took time to answer the question of a self-righteous man. He looked at and loved a man who had all sorts of wrong ideas about who he was and what he could do. That same Savior looks on you and loves you. He loves you when you’ve got all the wrong ideas, and he loves you when you give up everything to follow him.
Children ask their parents how much they love them. It’s a game. Parents stretch out their arms to an extent the children can’t reach. “I love you this much,” they say. With that same love, Jesus stretched out his arms to say, “I love you more than life itself.” He gave up his life to save you. The good God made the unsaved saved, loved the unlovable, did the impossible. He died on a cross for mankind’s evil, because he is good. He defeated evil. He did one more impossible thing: he rose from the dead.
He did it to put you back on God’s good side. That’s the answer to LIFE’S MOST IMPORTANT QUESTIONS. How do you get to heaven? Only by the love of God through Jesus, who earned what we couldn’t. Who can go to heaven? Only those who have given up any notion of garnering favor with God. God will never turn away those who in desperation turn to him, begging he do the impossible: save you. By his grace, he did. He creates faith in you to trust his promise. Those who trust in Jesus as Savior can be sure. You have eternal life because it doesn’t depend on you, but on the good God who can do all things.
But what does that mean for us now? That’s what Peter, who had left everything to follow Christ, asked. What do I get for following Jesus?
Jesus doesn’t say, Come on, Peter, you’re already getting eternal life in paradise; what more could you want? No, Jesus says you’ll get more than you could imagine. Those who abandon their idols and cast away the things nearest to them because they trust in Jesus as Savior will receive more than they’ve asked for. You’ll gain more than you ever lost. Houses, fields, brothers, sisters. So is Jesus affirming our materialistic world that says the guy with the most stuff wins? Hardly. All those things, “along with persecutions,” he says. You good things and bad. But the good God will make the bad things good. He’s in the business of making impossible things possible. He will give you enough good things so you don’t become discouraged and lose your way. But he’ll also send you enough trouble to keep you from thinking you can handle everything yourself. He will make sure you cling to him, so you don’t forget that this world isn’t all there is. Even now, your salvation depends on God.
Children are always asking questions. Even if it annoys mom and dad, it’s good for them. That’s the way they learn. God never grows tired of our questions. So ask him. More importantly, make sure you know the answer to life’s most important questions. How do you get to heaven? Only through the work of Jesus, who loves us. Who gets to go to heaven? Those who trust in him as their Savior. What do we get for following him? Both good and bad, that God will use for our good. He will preserve you until the end.