This week I have asked our summer intern, Simon Summers to share with you, the readers, the devotional thought he delivered to the Keller church of Christ this past Wednesday. Simon just completed his sophomore year at Freed-Hardeman University. He is a very gifted young man who has a deep passion for the Lord and His Word. In the few short days he has been with us, Simon has already been a blessing to me and our church family. It is my prayer that this entry serves as a blessing to you as well. Thank you Simon for taking the time to share your thoughts.
Matthew 19:16-26 – This is one of the most well known stories in the Gospels. The Rich Young Ruler and Jesus. This passage has been explained many ways and used for a variety of causes. It has been used to warn against the love of money, it has been used in explaining the cost of discipleship, it has been used to caution against complacency. The list could go on and on.
And while these are all good uses of this passage there is another way to look at it. And perhaps this other point of view will bring out something new.
So this Rich Young Ruler comes to Jesus and he asks a very legitimate question. He asks, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” Jesus responds in a way that is unexpected, if you have never read or heard this story before. He doesn’t say, “Do this deed” or “Do that deed”. He doesn’t give a straight answer (which is probably due to the fact that he knows this man and he is directing the conversation in the way that it needs to go for this man to see what he really needs to do). He doesn’t give a straight answer and instead asks his own question.
After asking his own question Jesus does finally give the man an answer, a loaded answer. He says, “If you would enter into eternal life keep the commandments.” The man inquires, “which ones” and Jesus rattle off a list that sounds very much like the Ten Commandments: 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 Ruler replies that he has keep all these commandments since his youth.
This is where it gets interesting. In Jewish thought, there are many ways to emphasize points when making and argument, while preaching or teaching or just in normal dialogue, as there is in all cultures. We know that if something is put first it is probably important. If it is last on a list it might be important. We make points that all start with the same letter to emphasize them and so on. And the same is true of Jewish thought in Jesus’ day there are many ways to emphasize your point and one of these ways is to “leave it out”. Now this may sound a little crazy but after thinking about it, it makes sense. The Ten Commandments was a well-known list to the Jews (and it is still well known to us). It’s kind of like the Lord’s Prayer. If some one started saying the Lord’s Prayer, but then left parts out, we would know and we would think to ourselves, “Why did he leave that out?” The left out part would be the first thing on our minds. And this may have been what Jesus was doing.
You see, the list that He gave to the young man was a list that he could have kept. Most of us could have had the same response to Jesus. I haven’t committed adultery, I haven’t murdered anyone or stolen or lied. I honor my parents and I love my neighbor. Now we may not be experts at all of these but these are things we do fairly well at. But that is the point of what Jesus is doing. If he had put in His list the first or second commandments – You shall have no gods before God and do not make any idols – in His list, I wonder if the young man would have been able to give the same answer? Would we be able to give the same answer? Jesus knew this man. He knew that he had the bulk of the commandments down. But he also knew that God was not number one in this Rich Man’s life. There were gods before the Lord and there were idols in this man’s life. Money. Wealth. Richs. Power. It can be called many things but it was still getting in the way of the Rich Man’s relationship with God. And the same can be true for us. It does not have to be money. It can be possessions, that girl, or that guy, our spouse, this or that problem, this or that issue, that person that annoys us, our pride, our ignorance. This list can also go on and on.
The thrust of what Jesus is saying comes near the end of this passage. The young man leaves saddened, Jesus makes a famous statement in verse 24, and the disciples are stunned. They ask, “Who then can be saved?” and Jesus responds, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” This illustrates clearly the importance of putting God first in our lives. Making Him number one on our list and making sure we do what we need to avoid having idols and gods before the Lord. We need to make sure that if we were in the Rich Man’s place that Jesus would not “leave out” what He did for this man.
We need to make sure that if we were to meet Jesus and ask what good deeds we need to do, that Jesus would not emphasize the fact that we had God second or third or tenth on our list. We should try to live our lives in such a way that Jesus would include for us, what he left out for the Rich Man.