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TO GET ETERNAL LIFE

Matthew 19:16-19:30
Key Verse: 19:21

Thank Jesus for the blessing of the kingdom of heaven. We always need to be like little children in coming up to Jesus so that we can possess the kingdom of heaven in our hearts. Today’s passage is about how to get eternal life, which is the same as how to enter the kingdom of heaven. The theme seems to be the same as in the previous passage. But in this passage, not little children but a young man comes to Jesus. Jesus talks with him and then talks with his disciples. Let’s pay attention to these conversations.

First, Jesus talks with a young man (16-21). Look at verse 16. “Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, ‘Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?’” According to Mark’s gospel he ran up to Jesus and fell on his knees before him. And in Luke he was a certain ruler. And this passage depicts the man young and rich with great wealth. Probably he studied economics, political science and law at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He attained great success in his young age. But despite his success, wealth and social position, he came up to Jesus for help. He was desperate in coming up to Jesus. He asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” In his question his concern was eternal life, and he felt that he had to do good thing to get eternal life, but he did not know what good thing he must do. So he came to Jesus and asked. He related “good things” to eternal life, and doing good thing to gaining eternal life. The notion of “doing a good thing to gain eternal life” is often considered as the main teaching of all religions and is even accepted by non-religious people who try to be moral and sincere. The quest for true happiness in eternity is in the hearts of all people, although the degree of the quest varies. People want to live a good life, doing good things in the hope of gaining true and eternal life. They are encouraged to do good things in this world. But this young man was not sure about what good thing he must do. This was the agony of the young ruler, and can be that of many young campus students including freshmen. Freshmen are seeking for proper campus clubs to do something good and meaningful.

How did Jesus respond to his coming and question? Look at verse 17. “‘Why do you ask me about what is good?’ Jesus replied.” The man asked about what is good, saying, “What do thing must I do…?” But Jesus asked back, saying, “Why do you ask me about what is good...?” meaning, “I am not the person who can answer to your question.” Here Jesus talks about what is good in an absolute sense. Then who can answer the question about what is good? Only the person. But there is no one among human beings who can rightly say of what is good. Romans 3:10-12 says, “…There is no one righteous, not even one…there is no one who does good, not even one.” Ever since man’s fall, no one is good in God’s sight. Jesus continued to say “There is only One who is good.” Only God is good. Jesus was turning his attention from what is good to the One who is good. Without knowing the One who is good, doing good things does not make sense. Jesus was helping the man fundamentally. Jesus wanted him to look up at the only One who is good prior to trying to do good things.

Christianity is not just doing what is good, but rather it is having a right relationship with the One who is good and doing good things out of that relationship. It is more concerned about our being than our doing. It is a clear teaching of the Bible that our Lord Jesus wants our being made good in the relationship with the One who is good so that we can truly do good things. Jesus said in Matthew 7:17,18, “…every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. Again, he said 12:13, “Make a tree good and its fruit will be good.”

Jesus said continually, “If you want to enter life, obey the commandments.” In this postmodern generation, people don’t like to hear “obey” or “obedience.” But we should understand what it means when Jesus said, “obey the commandments.” Jesus did not say, “…keep the commandments.” Obeying the commandments is more than just keeping the rules and commandments. Obeying makes us think of the One who gave the commandments. Through obedience we can have a right relationship with the One who commanded. This is life. It is exactly what the Old Testament teaches. Leviticus 18:5 says, “Keep my decrees and laws, for the man who obeys them will live by them. I am the LORD.” God granted his people the commandments, so that they might obey them and enter life. Adam’s sin of disobedience broke the relationship with God. God wanted to restore the relationship through obedience. True love can be expressed through obedience. Those who truly love can obey. God wanted to restore the love relationship with his people through their obedience. God expects such obedience from his people, the obedience that comes from faith out of love for him. This obedience is life and blessing, while disobedience brings death and curse. God is more than willing to bless those who obey him with all kinds of blessings. Deuteronomy 28:1-2 says, “If you fully obey the LORD your God and carefully follow all his commands I give you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations on earth. All these blessings will come upon you and accompany you if you obey the LORD your God.” And Deuteronomy 28:15 says, “However, if you do not obey the LORD your God and do not carefully follow all his commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come upon you and overtake you.” Deuteronomy 30:19 says, “This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.” This is the reason Jesus said to the man, “Obey the commandments.”

Then how did the man respond? Look at verse 18. “‘Which ones?’ the man inquired.” He seemed to be confident. His saying sounded like “No commandment is a problem to me.” Jesus replied, “‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honour your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’” Jesus mentioned only the second part of the Ten Commandments and then the summary of those commandments, that is, to love one’s neighbor (Mt 22:39; Ro 13:9); God is invisible and loving God cannot be seen. But loving God can be expressed through loving one’s neighbours, which can be seen. Then how did the man respond? Look at verse 20. “‘All these I have kept,’ the young man said. ‘What do I still lack?’” Wow! This young man looked so self-assured, too confident to examine himself.

Who can help this kind of man? What kind of help can be proper for him? One could say, “You should be honest with yourself; take time to think of your life and find yourself truly. How does Jesus help him? Look at verse 21. “Jesus answered…” First of all, Jesus answered. Jesus knew the young man’s problem exactly and was going to give him an unambiguous answer. Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’” “If you want to be perfect…” Jesus knew that this young man wanted to lack nothing and be perfect. He was pursuing perfection to get eternal life. Jesus furthered saying, “…go, sell your possessions and give to the poor.” It was a big challenge to him. But Jesus said this so that the young man might know whether he truly loved his neighbor. The man also needed this kind of direction in life. So far he lived his life to possess and accumulate the things of the world. Now it was the time for him to share his possessions with the poor, if he truly wanted to love his neighbor and thus be perfect before God. Otherwise his possession would possess him and make him a prisoner. Jesus promised, “…and you will have treasure in heaven.” Jesus wanted him to store up treasures in heaven, not on earth (Mt 6:19-20).

Finally Jesus said, “Then, come, follow me.” This is a final command of Jesus for this young man. He came to Jesus to know how to get eternal lie. Jesus first command was “Obey the commandment.” When the man did not truly understand this word, Jesus said, “Go, sell…give.” Now finally Jesus said, “Come, follow me.” No one can say, “Come, follow me” for eternal life. But Jesus said. “Follow me” this command is revelatory. Eternal life and Jesus go together. Apart from him there will be no eternal life. At first Jesus had said to the young man, “Why do you ask me about what is good?” because the man approached Jesus from human viewpoint, calling Jesus merely, “Teacher.” Now when Jesus said, “Follow me,” he was revealing himself. He is the very One who is good. He is the image of the invisible God (Col 1:15). He came to this world so that we might see him and follow him. He came to be with us and lead us to the kingdom of heaven. He is God with us, Immanuel. Eternal life is not something abstract or theoretical. It is life together with Jesus, following him day by day in this world which leads to eternity. When one follows any great man in the world, the person can get a certain position or glory of this world. Yet, it will end in death without exception. But when one follows Jesus, he or she can be guaranteed with eternal life here and now, and forevermore.

“Follow me” can be the two most important words in the Bible. In the Old Testament God promised to send the Messiah. Jesus came according to God’s promise. He is the promised Messiah, Jesus Christ. “Follow me” with these words Jesus called his first disciples. “Follow me” these are the words with which Jesus called Matthew. After his resurrection and just before departing from this world, Jesus still said to Peter, “You must follow me.” Jesus would be not be in this world anymore. But he said to Peter very personally, “You must follow me” meaning “You must follow the footsteps of my life I showed you.” This is the reason we study the Bible so that we may also follow him, his footsteps of life. Through Bible study Jesus also called Jemmie personally with these words, “Follow me.” We cannot follow Jesus living as we want. In this world Jesus live a life of obedience to God and a life of love. Jesus wants us to follow him learning the life of obedience to God and loving our neighbours. In this noisy and distracted world may we should lose the object of our following. May we hear his words faithfully and follow him in this world to eternity.

Second, Jesus talks with his disciples (22-30). Look at verse 22. “When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.” This is a sad story. He came to Jesus with such a desperate spirit to get eternal life. Eternal life was right there before him. But he was so attached to his great wealth that he was blind to see what was before him and went away sad. He could not see beyond the things of the world. Jesus’ heart must have been broken. Here we see Jesus’ truthfulness. Jesus did not manipulate or persuade this young ruler with his powerful speech and wisdom so as to make him his disciple. He told the man the truth of God with no compromise at all. He is the One who is good and righteous. His words are trustworthy.

Look at verses 23,24. “Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.’” Why did Jesus say this to his disciples with double emphasis? The disciples were not rich at all. The words can be a warning to rich people. Most probably Jesus said this to his disciples so that they might know the spiritual reality and depend on God and pray for the people, not envying the rich. Also, Jesus did not want them to be affected by the wealth of the world in anyway.

When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?” It is not easy to understand astonishment. Why did they respond in this way? We see that the disciples were also not free from the materialistic world. Looking at themselves and the reality of the world, the disciples looked dark inside and were negative to God’s salvation work. Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Jesus wanted them to look up at God with whom all things are possible, not just seeing the impossibility of man. The salvation work is possible because God does his own work, making the impossible possible. Jesus wanted his disciples to be men of faith through whom God’s power can be revealed for his salvation work.

How did the disciples respond to this? Did they say, “Amen. Praise God with whom all things are possible.” No. Look at verse 27. “Peter answered, ‘We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?” Peter’s answer seemed to be out of nowhere. At this point Peter could not think of what God had done for him but what he sacrificed to follow Jesus. He was not thankful but felt a sense of loss with not much prospect for the future work of God through Jesus. How did Jesus help Peter? Look at verses 28, 29. “Jesus said to them, ‘I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children of fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.’” Jesus gave Peter and other disciples amazing promises, the renewal of all things, sitting on the throne along with Jesus, receiving a hundred times as much and inheriting eternal life. And Jesus revealed himself as the glorious king in his eternal kingdom.

Look at verse 30. “But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.” This is Jesus’ warning to Peter and the other disciples so that they might not be complacent but thankful and faithful in following Jesus.

Thank Jesus who is good and truthful, and is our eternal king. He will renew all things and will sit on his glorious throne. Those who have followed him will inherit eternal life and rule in his kingdom. May we follow Jesus in this world learning obedience to God and life of love.

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