Reading Time: 7 Minutes
If you had a chance to have a face-to-face meeting with Jesus, what would you ask him? Please take a minute and think about that question.
Here are the first three thoughts that came to my mind, when I tried to answer the question. (1) How can I be a better person? (2) What can I do to help my family? (3) What’s the most important thing that I need to be doing with my life?
What about you? I hope you took a moment to think about your answer.
Matthew wrote about a man who came to Jesus and had a visit with him. He recorded the experience like this:
Then someone came to him and said, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” (Matthew 19.16).
That is clearly a good question. In fact, it is the most important question of life. A long life on earth is incredibly brief in comparison to eternity.
Jesus answered the man’s question with a question of his own. He said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments” (Matthew 19.17).
The man replied with another question. He said, “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; also, You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 19.18-19).
Why are God’s commandments so important to eternal life? Does God have a score sheet, where if people tally high enough they are welcomed to life eternal? If we could score high enough on God’s score sheet, Jesus would never have had to die on the cross.
So, what about the commandments? Think of the commandments as the best instructions a person can know, concerning the best life possible. How much grief does murder, adultery, theft, and dishonesty cause our world? How much good does loving people like we love ourselves bring about?
The young man wasn’t finished with asking questions. He said, “I have kept all these; what do I still lack?”
Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” (Matthew 19.20-21).
There are some key words in Jesus’ response that help explain what Jesus was offering this man. Let’s look at them one at a time.
Perfect – In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5.48).
To be “perfect” is not a burden, it is the greatest opportunity we can imagine. Jesus gives us the power to live like him. Living the Jesus-kind-of-life is not a cute slogan I have discovered from Dallas Willard. It is the way God has planned for us to live.
Sell and Follow
Sell and Follow – When people followed Jesus, the experience of some fishermen was common. “Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.’ Immediately they left their nets and followed him” (Matthew 4.19-20).
Jesus didn’t ask everyone to give up their possessions to follow him. For example, Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza (Luke 8.3), was certainly woman of some substance. Joseph of Arimathea was described by Matthew as a “rich man” (Matthew 27.57). They used their wealth to serve others, but were not required to surrender it before following Jesus.
I think Jesus knew the kind of burden that wealth was in this man’s life. He knew that possessions often possess us. If the man released his possessions, they would also release their control over him. He would be free – free to follow Jesus with the band of men and women who made up his close disciples.
We can always count on an internal struggle, when Jesus “puts his finger” on the thing that controls us and keeps us distant from him. We have to remember that his commandments are intended to give us life. Also, remember that he is calling us to live an extremely authentic and positive life with him. It is worth whatever we may give up.
Treasure – Jesus often spoke about treasure.
He told the parable of the pearl of great value. Notice, how the merchant in the parable didn’t think it was a sacrifice to sell everything he owned to obtain something of magnificent value.
Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it” (Matthew 13.45-46).
Jesus also said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6.21).
Even more pointedly, he said, “No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth” (Matthew 6.24).
The question for us is whether we see our life with Jesus as the greatest treasure of all, or is he just an “add on” to our already pretty good, self-sufficient life?
The ending of the man’s face-to-face meeting with Jesus is sad. Matthew wrote, “When the young man heard this word, he went away grieving, for he had many possessions” (Matthew 19.22).
The god of the man’s wealth won. The “cares of the world and the lure of wealth” (Matthew 13.22) choked out the words of Jesus that the man had heard.
I hope the man thought deeply about the events of the cross and the resurrection that are recorded at the end of the Gospel of Matthew. I hope he journeyed to Jerusalem and was present on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2). I hope to meet him in heaven and have a conversation with him about he changed his mind and began following Jesus without the controlling power of wealth.
This man’s story challenges me, because I can see myself in many aspects of the story. What about you? If you, like me, are challenged to be different because we have been a part of this conversation with Jesus, join me in following the impulse of the Holy Spirit toward the correct way to live.
Dear Jesus, thank you that you give people the very best counsel of all. Please help us to ask you questions about our lives and listen closely to your answers. Please help us to trust you and to follow your directions. We know you intend nothing but abundant life for us.