Summary: This sermon does not deal with the popular book series indicated by the title, but deals with what we have left behind to follow Jesus.
Introduction: The seeker friendly Jesus.
1. The Real New Testament.
I recently read about a new Bible out that is targeted to young people into hip-hop. How is it that the Bible in the common language can no longer captivate people’s attention that we would have to go to such seeker friendly extremes? It is a funny use of the word “real.” But it is telling that Christians have become more desperate than ever to make Jesus palpable to our culture. There are drive-through worship services, bigger and louder bands, Saturday services replacing Sunday’s, and about everything you can imagine designed to make it easier for someone to come to Christ. On one level it makes sense doesn’t it? Wouldn’t we want to do everything imaginable to reach people for Christ? The only problem is that wasn’t the approach Jesus took at all.
2. Left behind before there was left behind.
You probably have heard of the popular series “Left Behind.” I have innumerable problems with the doctrine that series purports. However, I like the phrase, because it says something about discipleship. I believe that we have a crisis of discipleship. What does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus Christ? It means we leave it all behind and pick up the cross and follow Jesus. What have you left behind for Jesus? This ties into a very important concern we all have, one that the rich ruler in our story has. How can we know that we have eternal life? How we answer the left behind question reveals something about the answer to that question. If we aren’t willing to leave it all for Jesus, can we have eternal life? Today, you decide by listening to the words of Jesus himself.
Trouble in the text: The rich ruler rejects the call of Jesus (18-25).
1. The test of the commandments.
In Mark he is called the rich young ruler. Here is simply the ruler, who is later revealed to be wealthy. Jesus had just said that you have to become like little children to enter the kingdom of God. This is still the same scene and this rich ruler comes forward and he asks what is a crucial question, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” It is a good question. Jesus answers.
a. No one is good except God alone.
This response surprises many. Isn’t Jesus said to be holy and divine just like God the Father? Why would Jesus say this? It helps to understand that the ruler is someone of high status in society. He is engaging Jesus in a word game. It would have been expected that Jesus would accept the compliment by returning a compliment to the ruler. This was how it was done in their society. But Jesus had just said you have to be like little children to enter the kingdom. He continues to turn the values of the world upside down. So, what better way to do that than refusing this man’s compliment and deflecting it to God the Father, whom Jesus was submissive to on earth? Jesus was the holy one of God, but he will not play word games with the ruler and enable his thinking in the old world values.
b. Keep the commandments to inherit eternal life.
Jesus refers the man to the commandments. The five that he gives here all have to do with relationships w/other people. It is understood that they flow from our relationship with God. But yet for those that understand that salvation is not through commandment keeping, doesn’t this response surprise us? I made a joke to my F-n-L the other day that Jesus just wasn’t Pauline enough for us sometimes! But Jesus is setting up the ruler and maybe us too!
2. Jesus issues the ultimate call.
The man walks into Jesus’ trap. After hearing the commandments he feels good about himself. He says, “I have kept these since I was a boy.” It is kind like when one of us says, “I’ve been going to church my whole life.” Jesus’ response tells him that this is insufficient for eternal life. He lacks only one thing. Jesus issues an invitation, “Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” This is not the sort of thing a man does when he is chasing numbers of followers. This is not very seeker sensitive! But Jesus knows the man’s riches are the one thing that keeps his heart from him. Jesus has already said you can’t serve both God and money. He gives the man a chance to rid himself of the one thing that keeps him from truly knowing God, from entering eternal life. He directs his attention to “treasures in heaven.”