Summary: A harmony of the 3 accounts of the rich young ruler, showing Jesus’ love but also His unwavering call to commitment - a sermon about eternal life.
Luke 18:18-30 – One Thing Missing
Let’s turn together to read the Apostles’ Creed, #8 in our hymnals.
Each of us is on a search, a quest, a hunt for that all-elusive creature called life. Even though each of us has life to certain extent, we all want more of it. More life, better life, longer life. Each of us has a desire to find life that will never decay, life that will never end, life everlasting, eternal life.
To have something that will last the test of time is a challenge. To be someone or create something that lasts forever is perhaps our greatest challenge. Woody Allen said this: “I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work; I want to achieve it through not dying.”
Then there are some that are afraid of the thought of eternal life. They look at their own lives and can’t imagine doing the same thing forever. Who would want to live forever like this?
But that’s based on a misconception of what life is. No, nobody would want to continue into eternity the hard life that they had on earth. But eternal life is different from most of what we have experienced on earth, not just in the length of it but the substance of it. Life everlasting is worlds away from the mortal life we have now. But what is eternal life? And how do we find it?
The search for eternal life is not new. In our scripture passage today, we can see that Jesus was approached by someone wanting to know how to have eternal life, how to live forever, some 1973 years ago. Bible scholars have called this person the rich young ruler, a man who had it all. His story is found in Matthew 19, Mark 10 and Luke 18. Each version of the incident is slightly different, but I’ll use the Luke passage with the other versions supporting it.
Luke 18:18 – What must I do? What is required of me to get to heaven? Matthew and Mark say that this man, this rich young ruler, asked what good thing he had to do to have eternal life. First who was he? Well, he likely had all he wanted. By being rich, he had possessions; by being young, he had potential and possibilities; and by being a ruler, he had pleasure and power. He had it all. Except the answer to a pressing question: how to go to heaven. How do I find immortality?
Right off, Jesus evades the question; He sidesteps the issue for a minute (v19). Well, what did Jesus mean? A couple of things, likely. #1) By saying that only God is good, and by not denying that He himself was good, He was saying that He was like God. He was good. He is good. Jesus was implying that He was God.
But #2), the main point was that He wanted to affirm that mankind is not good. We like to think we are. And by earning enough brownie points, by having a good spiritual resume, by doing enough good things, we can make it to heaven. But Jesus was saying no to this. Because we were born in sin, with sinful natures, with desires to sin, and a bent towards sin, all the good deeds in the world can’t total up to erase our sinfulness. Doing good things does not change bad people into good people. Bad people need more than good deeds to have eternal life.
Jesus went on to say some good things to do, though. He listed off some commandments (v20). Mark throws in not to defraud and Matthew throws in to love your neighbor as yourself. And the man still presses on. He’s OK with these commandments (v21). He’s been doing them since he was a kid. No problem. I grew up in church, I went to Sunday school, I’ve always tried to live a good life. No problem.
But there is a problem. If the man figured he was OK with God because of all the good things he’d done, why was he asking about eternal life? Why wonder how to get to heaven if doing all the right things would get you there, if doing all the right things could give you a clear conscience? The answer? They don’t. The man knew that there was something more, even if he didn’t know what. He knew there was something else besides a good track record, even if he couldn’t put his finger on it. There was still a hole in his heart that good deeds couldn’t fill. And Jesus told him what it was: v22.
Now Jesus didn’t tell everybody this. He told Peter and John to leave their nets. He told Matthew to give up tax collecting. And He told one man to leave his father while he was dying. For Jesus the issue with the rich young ruler was not the money – it was his heart. Jesus told Peter, John, Matthew and the man with the dying father to leave what they held most dear in their hearts. Jesus wanted not so much for the man to give away his money but give it over, to give it up. He wanted this man to surrender his heart to God’s purposes and God’s plan for his life.