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A man once took up the hobby of metal detecting. Recently retired and an empty-nester, the pastime allowed him to be outside in the fresh air, not to mention give his wife a break. With kids far away at college and no grandkids yet he needed something to do with all his time now. At least, that seemed to be the message from his wife when an entry-level Metal Detector package arrived under the Christmas tree.
At first he thought it was a Geek’s sport. But the more he went out the more he found he liked it. He liked the anticipation of finding something valuable and the thrill when the detector went off. This Geek sport seemed to bring out something buried inside of him since his boyhood.
One day while treading through the woods across State land his detector signaled something. Taking out his folding shovel he started digging. After a few shovelfuls he heard a clank. Brushing the dirt aside he suddenly froze, unable to take his eyes off what he saw. Slowly he brushed aside the dirt and there peeking out before him was a gold bar. Carefully dislodging it revealed more beneath the first. After 5 minutes of digging he had liberated 15 dirt smeared gold bars – with more still to be freed.
Then he had an idea. He reburied all of them but one, which he took with him as he rushed home. Bursting through the door he told his wife, showed her the gold bar and explained his plan. Over the next few weeks they sold their 2 stall garage home, cashed in their 401k’s, drained their savings, and convinced the State to sell them that land (naturally keeping quiet about the treasure on said land).
After digging up their gold and finding the full extent of their treasure, they were now at least 100 times richer than they were before.
Let me ask you a question: Would you have sold everything you had to buy that field? If you knew that gold was there certainly you would.
Our story is an expanded version of a parable Jesus told in Matthew 13: “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.”
The parable, like the story, is presenting a very important point: if you find something more valuable than what you have, then if you have to, sell everything you have to get it. Entering the kingdom of God is worth more than anything this world can offer. And, anyone who knows what awaits them in the kingdom wont hesitate for one moment to trade away everything they have to get in.
Our sermon today is about another man – not a man in a parable or a story, but, a real man. He came to Jesus seeking the treasure of eternal life. He came to Jesus wanting to know how to get into the kingdom of God. But when Jesus told him to sell everything, the man refused. He refused the riches Jesus was offering to hold on to the earthly riches he had. He didn’t get it that what Jesus offered was “100 times” more valuable than all he owned (v30). Because he loved his wealth so much he would miss heaven.
Our sermon title is “The Wealth of Hell and the Poverty of Heaven.” My point with that title is not that the rich go to hell and the poor go to heaven. There will be plenty of rich people in heaven and plenty of poor people in hell. No, the point of that sermon title is that many wealthy people will go to hell because they love their wealth more than anything else. Heaven will be populated only by people who admit they’re poor, no matter how rich they were.
We are going through our passage today under 4 Headings: 1) Only One Good, 2) Giving It All, 3) Getting In, 4) Gaining More
#1: ONLY ONE GOOD (v17-20)
This is the story of a guy who went to Jesus but never came to Jesus. He got himself in front of Jesus to ask the question that was burning inside of him. But, coming to Jesus is something that happens inside of you. Coming to Jesus is when you humbly ask Jesus to save you.
Think about that for a minute. He’s no scoundrel, he’s no embarrassment to his family, he’s not the reproach of society. He wasn’t like Matthew was as a tax collector. No this is the guy you wanted your daughter to marry. This is the son that made you beam with parental joy and pride. He never rebelled in his teenage years, but, he always pleased his parents and brought them honor. His siblings probably always had to hear “Why can’t you be like your older brother? They’ll probably write stories about him someday!” This guy was wonderful: he was young, and yet he was already a man of great stature and probity. He was the kind of guy we need more of in politics: he had impeccable integrity, he was serious about his religion, he was successful, politically powerful, and wealthy, and admired.
You are maybe noticing what I noticed with this guy: no matter how hard he worked materially and how hard he worked morally, he had no peace. Despite his moral and material capital he was on his knees in front of Jesus. What’s a guy like that doing to his dignity getting on his knees in front of Jesus? He had a deep, agitating sense that while he had secured wealth, position, power, and integrity, he had not yet secured eternal life. He was desperate to get spiritual answers – more desperate than men are to get rich in this world. Every night he lay his head down worried if enough credit had been earned and every morning he woke up ready to try harder to do more to enter into the kingdom.
Application: Don’t ask unless you’re ready for the answer. The man was asking, he was seeking, and he was knocking. Jesus was answering, Jesus was finding, and Jesus was opening the door. But the man did not go through.
Application: This is the mental plague of anyone who is trying to earn their salvation: no matter how much good you’ve done you never really feel like you’ve done enough. You want to know something? The peace this guy was looking for was looking him right in the eye, but he missed it. Jesus was looking right at him. But the guy was so focused on himself he missed Jesus. He was so focused on what he was trying to become he missed what Jesus could become for him.
Application: Have you sought the treasures of heaven even half as much as you’ve sought worldly treasures?
At this point we have to ask what the man’s motivations were for coming to Jesus in the first place. He asked what he had to do to gain eternal life, which implies he was ready to do whatever Jesus said. The fact that he was on his knees shows he was quite distressed that he didn’t have eternal life. Jesus tells him what to do. Then the man says he’s already doing that, and has been since childhood.
He had to let go of the idea that he could be good enough. “Why do you call me good? No one is good” “I have kept all these laws my whole life”. “What must I do to have eternal life?” His whole approach was to rely on himself to earn eternal life, like eternal life was a payment for a good life. But no one is good, Jesus informed him.
Now, Jesus tells the guy two confusing statements. First Jesus seems to be saying that He, as Jesus, is not good and that He is not God. Second, Jesus seems to be saying that salvation is by works, that is, by following the commands. Let’s look closer.
First, why does Jesus seem to tell the guy, “Hey, guy, I’m not good, only God is good.” Was Jesus denying that he was good and denying that he was God?” No, not at all. Jesus was replying to the man’s misconceptions: his misconception about man and his misconception about Jesus. Jesus was like, “Alright, you think I’m merely a man, so why do you consider me good if I’m just a mere man? If I’m just a man then I can’t be good because no man is good. Only God is good.”
The man’s first misconception was that men could be good – good enough, that is, before God. Compared to others he was really good, but, compared to God and God’s standard, which is God!, the man fell far short, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” Rom 3:23 says. “There is no one righteous, no not even one” Romans 3:10 says. “There is not a righteous man on earth who does what is right and never sins” Ecc. 7:20 says. Montaigne said, “There is not one man, not even the best among us, who if his every thought and action were subjected to the law wouldn’t deserve hanging 10 times in his life.” Everyone agrees they aren’t as good as they could be, but, they also tend to think that that’s not as bad as it really is. This guy thought that as a man he could merit eternal life, that it was within his grasp if he just reached up high enough. But eternal life is a gift.
Application: If you are trying to earn it you will refuse to receive it when its offered as a gift
Second, was Jesus teaching that salvation comes by works? Did Jesus mean that eternal life could be achieved by following the Law? Yes and no. Yes, in this regard: if someone were capable of following the Law perfectly, then yes that man would be without sin and enter into eternal life, Leviticus 18:5 says, “Keep my decrees and laws, for the man who obeys them will live by them. I am the LORD.” But No, because no man is able to keep the Law, Romans 3:20
The point being that the Law doesn’t make anyone good. The Law exposes how far we fall short of being good. No one is good. Only God is good. The Law is His character in written form. Man can’t live up to God’s goodness. Only God is good.
#2: GIVING IT ALL (v21-22)
I love how it says, “And Jesus looked at him and loved him.” Matthew and Luke tell us the same story but they don’t mention that Jesus loved him. Jesus loved him because He was Jesus, He was God, and God is love according to 1 John 1. Jesus loved him because the guy was made in His image, for sure, and, he loved him because the man was a son of Abraham, an Israelite. But there was even the sense that Jesus loved the guy because the guy loved the law. He was careful to keep it since he was young. He had a high regard for God’s law and sought to please God by keeping the law to the best of his ability.
Jesus never contradicts the guy’s assertion that he kept the law, by the way. Surely failures could have been pointed out, but, he was one of those Jews who loved the law because he loved God. He had a Psalm 119 spirit, a King David heart that sought the heart of God. This added a special affection in Jesus heart for the guy. Which means that Jesus speaks to him from a place of love when he says what He says next: One thing you lack. His love for the guy made him point out where the guy was lacking.
That one thing was the key to unlocking everything the man was seeking. Leave all your stuff behind and follow me. (Leave your treasure behind to go forward with the treasure of Jesus). You think the man would have said, “Alright, I’ll be back soon and follow you wherever Jesus.” Instead he left dejected and more distressed. The man gave all he had morally but he wouldn’t give all he had materially. He was thinking in terms of merit. Perhaps he accumulated his wealth and position of power through his merit: shrewd and savvy business deals, smart investments, effective networking and so on. He worked hard and earned everything he owned. His whole approach to eternal life was the same: he was trying to “earn” it on his own. He was trying to earn it through his moral achievement.
So why is he so distressed? Because he lacked one thing. I love how Jesus says it that way: “One thing”. Its because Jesus knows that “one thing” was “the thing”. It was the core of the man’s heart. It wasn’t like the guy had 99 out of 100 boxes checked and so he could rest easy not worrying about one little thing. That one thing was “the” thing in his life. It was what mattered to him most. It was what made him who he was. It was how he felt important, secure, in control. He was willing to do anything and everything else but he would not forfeit that one thing. That “one” thing wasn’t just “one” thing, it was every thing! It was everything to him.
And Jesus, being God and thus all-knowing, knew what this guy’s “one thing” was. And Jesus doesn’t mess around – He goes right for it. “Sell everything you have.” But Jesus doesn’t leave him with that alone. Jesus is offering a trade up, if the guy can see it: “Then come follow me.” Leave behind everything that YOU have gained, and go forward with me into the surpassing wealth that I have waiting for you.
Think about Jesus here: either He really is worth more than everything that guy owned or He is the most arrogant person you’ve ever heard of. Note Jesus didn’t tell him to give it to him, but, the poor.
Earlier Jesus taught that if something causes you to sin to cut that thing out of your life. Here the rich young ruler’s love of his wealth was preventing him from entering the kingdom of God. Jesus’ prescription is severe: cut off all your wealth. It was a merciful prescription because had the man done it he would have discovered that he could in fact live without it, and, that Jesus was a vastly greater treasure (Php. 3:6-8).
Application: Idols can’t be treated with kid gloves. They are fit only to be smashed on the ground and utterly destroyed. That is the treatement everywhere in the Bible when people turn back to God. They don’t put them in the attic, they don’t box them up and store them in the basement: they burn them, break them, and bring them to the trash dump. Never to be returned to again. This man’s idol was wealth ( you can’t serve God and money, Jesus said), so Jesus was telling him how to be free of his idol and step into wealth on a whole new level.
Application: What is your “one” thing? What are you holding on to that you won’t give up? What in your life do you think is of greater value than Jesus? Sometimes we are like this young rich ruler: we work tirelessly to be good at everything else to mask our “one thing” that we refuse to deal with. If we can just do everything else right then, hey, doing this one thing wrong isnt that bad. Php 3:7-9…
Howell Harris is a man whom history has allowed to live in the shadow of the great Evangelist George Whitefield. Like me, if you discoverd Harris, he would become one of your heroes in the faith. A Welshman in the 1700’s, Harris was the youngest of 3 boys and lived a rowdy, raucous and rambunctious life until one day he found himself in church and heard the Gospel. He was convicted right down to his bones and put his faith in Jesus to save him. From there he burned with one desire: to save the lost. He was beaten, mocked, avoided and harassed, but, he was a tough guy anyway and his burning for Jesus drove him one unflinching. Let me read an illuminating passage from his journal:
Jesus I my cross have taken
All to leave and follow Thee
Destitute, despised, forsaken
Thou from hence my all shall be
Perish every fond ambition
All I’ve sought or hoped or known
Yet how rich is my condition
God and heaven are still my own
#3: GETTING IN (23-27)
He had to let go of the wealth he had to receive a greater wealth. How much would you pay for real inner peace? He made the wrong deal here. How did the disciple Matthew feel here? He left all his wealth behind to follow Jesus and didn’t regret it one bit. He may have felt sad for the guy.
Jesus knows our hearts. Woman at the well. Simon the Pharisee. He sees this guys heart and knows what’s going on.
Being rich, having riches, and seeking riches is not in itself wrong. Do not love riches though. But the riches we gain in this world, if done ethically, morally and honestly, are a tremendous blessing to us. But the riches are not to be seen as an end in themselves. Our riches in this life are to be put to use in service to God and to honor Him, to advance the cause of christ
The rich are not going to miss heaven for being rich. They are going to miss heaven because their riches are their heaven. Jesus is putting his finger on the danger that accompanies wealth: loving it so much that it becomes your god. It is not the acquiring of wealth it is the attitude towards wealth. It’s the security and the status that we allow riches to become for us. This is why “greed” is called “idolatry” so often, “Put to death therefore whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed – which is idolatry.” (Col. 3:6) Also in Ephesians 5:5, “no immoral, impure or greedy person – such a man is an idolater – has any inheritance in the kingdom of God.” Greed is idolatry. Why? Jesus explained it when He said, “You cannot serve two masters. You will love one and hate the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” You can be rich, you can get rich, you can pursue riches, but don’t ever worship riches. Don’t ever “live for” riches. Don’t become a Laodicean Christian. Paul told Timothy to warn the rich. He said in 1 Timothy 6:17-19….
This is the whole “camel through the eye of the needle” analogy. The eye of the needle is very small, and, a camel is too big to go through such a small opening. To get into heaven you have to go through a small opening. To go through it, you have to become small, and the problem with wealth is that it can make someone become too big in their own eyes. used to your wealth getting you access and respect. nothing is so offensive tk a man arrogant over his wealth than hearing his wealth and status gets him no respect from God and not one step into the kingdom. Like Naaman the leprous General who was refused to wash in the Jordan because he thought it was beneath him. He nearly foefeited his healing had it not been for his servant talking sense into him. Humbling yourself means seeing yourself as small not thinking too much of yourself. Our egos are too big to get through the small opening that leads to eternal life. We have to shed our egos, humble ourselves and then we can fit.
4: GAINING MORE (28-31)
In contrast to the rich young ruler, Peter declares that they have done what Jesus said, they have left everything to follow Him. Whatever you give for Christ now will be peanuts compared to what you get from Him. The wealth of the next life for those in the kingdom is unimaginable. You’re giving pennies now for Benjamins later.
Live for your reward. Be motivated by what God is going to give you.
- “Run in such a way to get the prize!” Paul said to us in 1 Corinthians 9:24. Christian behavior now is motivated by the reward that is coming. There is nothing wrong with that – and there is everything right with that.
- “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth…but store up treasures in heaven” (Mt. 6:20).
- “In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves…” 1 Tim. 6:19
- You can’t read Paul’s letters and not be impressed with his preoccupation with his reward. Colossians 3:23-4, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart as if working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward.”
- Then in 1 Corinthians 9:27, “No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”
- “I press on” he said in Philippians 3:14, “toward the goal to win the prize…”
- At the end of his life he said, “Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day…” (2 Tim. 4:8).
- The last words of the Bible are from Jesus, “Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done.” That means our eyes need to be focused on our reward in how we live this short life.
Don’t let anyone talk you out of being motivated by your reward. Don’t think its selfish. God wants you to be motivated by the rich reward He has for you. It’s one of many motivations He lays out to get us going to be more like Jesus.
Discover The Wealth of Hell and the Poverty of Heaven.
One of a kind piano dropped…one of a kind kingdom…the rich young ruler dropped the kingdom to keep his wealth. He turned back to his worldly riches and turned his back on Jesus and the treasures He gives.
What about you? What are you holding on to that holds you back from Jesus? Jesus said, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and yet forfeit his soul?” Your