This week's Bible Study - March 22, 2015
Teachings Like No Other
Quotes of the Week:
For many men, the acquisition of wealth does not end their troubles, it only changes them.
Lucius Annaeus Seneca
What would you be willing to give up in following Jesus? As believers, many would make changes in their lives if they thought they could manage with those changes and it didn't cause that big of a ripple in their lives. God might be talking to you even now about something that you know He wants you to do. Perhaps it is to become regular in giving of your finances to the church. Maybe He wants you to become involved in some ministry at church, or maybe He even wants you to step out in your workplace. Perhaps God is asking you to change the way you spend your money, so that you are able to help when others are in need. There are some people that God might be leading to quit their jobs and go into foreign missions. Sometimes, the things God asks us to do seem well within our ability to accomplish, while other times, it may seem to be a stretch. Perhaps if we KNEW that God was asking us to do something, we'd be more likely to do it, as opposed to thinking we are making something up. Or, at least we say it would be easier.
How hard would it be for you to get rid of possessions? It seems that over the course of many years, most people amass a lot of stuff. We hold onto some things because we think there might be a slight chance that we may need it in the future. Is it just us, or do you ever find that once you decide to get rid of something you haven't used for years - within a couple of weeks, you need it again? Some people are having garage sales on what seems to be about every other week as they attempt to empty their basements and attics. For some people, possessions are not all that important and to others they are very valuable. Some people hold onto things for sentimental reasons and some times, we hold on because it's something we really like. Some people drive very old cars and live in very modest homes, while others have luxurious homes and expensive cars. No matter who we are or what we own, we all have 'something' we posses that is important to us and would be hard to part with.
All of us have things that help us establish our priorities. For some, their job or career is of utmost importance. There are some people that are solely focused on getting a degree, then another and another andů. There are those who are more into hobbies, either by playing sports or going to see a team play, or hiking or fishing. Some people are focused on their financial status, so they make deals and trade often, seemingly living and dying daily every time the stock market moves. For many church people, things like attending worship services and involvement in ministries are important priorities. There are others who are all about their families. Our priorities impact our decision making on a daily basis.
In this passage, we read what some have called the parable of The Rich Young Ruler. The same passage is also found in Matthew 19 and Luke 18. In those passages, we see the same story, but it's told just a little bit differently. Some point to these slight differences as reasons to say that the Bible is not true. However, I believe this goes to show that the Bible is true, as we read the same story from different perspectives. For example, if a group of 10 people were in the exact same location and saw a crash that happened, you would find that all of their stories would appear to be basically the same, but each person might describe aspects of the scene a little bit differently. If all of the stories in the gospels were exactly the same, you would tend to think that they were simply copied from one common source, rather than told from a personal point of view or recollection.
We read that as Jesus was on His way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. In Luke, we can read that this man was a ruler and from all accounts, he was very rich. I find it interesting that Mark says that he appeared to be desperate. What would it say if you saw someone run up to another person and then fall on their knees? It would appear that the man wasn't concerned about what others saw or thought and since he was seeking Jesus, you might think he would make a good follower. He was very direct and focused in his approach. He appeared like he wanted to learn and would be obedient. What more would you want to find in a prospective follower?
The man called Jesus "Good teacher". He apparently had heard Jesus teach before or at least had heard enough about Jesus to know that He had answers that couldn't be found elsewhere. He asked Jesus what it was that he must do to inherit eternal life, as he wanted to know what it takes to earn eternal life from God.
Jesus questioned why the man called Him good, and He replied that no one is good, except for God alone. In short, all men have sinned, which is consistent with what we find in Romans - for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Jesus, as a human, was without sin, but no other human is capable of sinless living. Perhaps this man wanted the inside scoop and he valued Jesus' opinion. To make His point, Jesus named off some of the original Commandments, of which the man was surely aware of. He said "You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud and honor your father and mother."
The man replied that he had kept all of those commands. However, it is incredulous that the man could look into Jesus eyes and say "I've kept all of these". Isn't this typical of many people today that vastly overrate their own goodness, as if to say that they are above all others (who hadn't kept these commandments)? When we find ourselves 'rating' ourselves against others, we have missed the point. When we do this, we normally rate ourselves against the mass murderer who has been apprehended or somebody else who has committed what we might call a heinous crime and is on the news. Most people will not attempt to rate themselves against a Billy Graham or Mother Teresa or the most morally upright people that they know personally. There are many people today who seem to think that if they just live well enough (by their own definition), they deserve eternal life. However, if that were true, what would be the standard to determine what is 'good enough'? When we compare ourselves against anyone else, we are totally missing the mark. Perhaps you haven't murdered someone, but in Matthew 5, 21-22, Jesus says, "You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.' But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, 'Raca,' is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, 'You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell." Even today, people will say that they have not physically murdered anyone, but who among us has not been angry with a brother or sister, or have called them "Raca" (which could be translated "good for nothing") or some other derogatory name? We all are guilty.
Perhaps you have never had an extramarital affair and been guilty of adultery, but in Matthew 5:27-28, Jesus says "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart." We may tell ourselves that there is nothing wrong with lustful thoughts associated with people we see on TV or in movies, or even read about in literature, or any others means - but Jesus says that this is adultery in the heart. Who has not been guilty?
In each one of the commandments, if you truly look into the intent and take all of Scripture, you begin to clearly understand that not one of us is innocent. As Paul says in Romans - no, not even one does good. The rich young ruler saw himself through a filter that he himself had designed. But, in reality, he was only fooling himself and he was as guilty as the next person.
Jesus looked at this man and loved him. He knew that the man was a sinner and He also knew that the man did not comprehend his own sin. There is no person who will ever truly accept Jesus if they do not first acknowledge their own need for forgiveness. Pride has kept many people from following Jesus. Pride says that we are better than who we really are and will ultimately cause us to excuse our sin as opposed to owning up to it.
Jesus told the man that he lacked one thing and He said, "Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." Note that he did not say that he needed to help the poor, but he had to give everything to the poor and in essence, he would become one of them. Then, the man would find treasure in heaven. I feel sure that Jesus would have liked for this man to be a follower, but it had to be on Jesus' terms and not the man's.
If you were the man, what do you think your reaction would be? I believe we all would be squirming if we had the same thing said to us. We read that his face fell and he went away sad, because he had great wealth. He started out squirming and then he went to grieving because of his great wealth. Isn't it interesting to think that some people think great wealth would solve all of their problems, yet here we see a man that missed out on life and was dejected because of his great wealth? He had caught a glimpse of something greater. He didn't know that he was talking to the very Son of God and though he knew something was different about Jesus, the man didn't know what that was. He went to Jesus to fill the emptiness that he felt inside, but he couldn't close the deal because of the things that he had externally. He wanted some way that he could have both - eternal life AND all of his possessions. He was willing to show honor to Jesus, but he was unwilling to submit to Him.
Do you think it would be easier if the man was poor? Certainly, if you only have $2 to your name and Jesus asks you to get rid of it, it may seem that your tie to money is not a problem. However, it wasn't really about the man's money. It was his heart. For some people, possessions and finances are not the issue that trips them up. However, we all tend to have something that we hold most precious in our lives. For some, it is an addiction or a habit that they are not able to kick. For some, it is a hobby or some relationship that they may know to be problematic, but are unwilling to let it go. For some people, it may not even be what they have done, but what others have done and they find themselves unable to let it go. Holding onto the past tends to make one bitter and unforgiving over time, and though people seek Jesus, holding onto to unforgiveness chokes even their relationship with Him. If Jesus was looking into your eyes, what it is that He would say that you had to do or get rid of in your life to receive eternal life? Thankfully, we have learned that it is not what we do or don't do, but it is all about Jesus Christ. That relationship will certainly impact how we live our lives and hopefully over time, we will find ourselves drawing closer and closer to Him.
Jesus said to His disciples, "How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!" and "With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God". In the eyes of the Jewish people, in the time of Christ, piety and prosperity are generally linked and the rich are the blessed people. In our own day, we look at some people and consider them to be especially blessed by God. They must have wondered how anyone could have eternal life if was not based on one's wealth, which was a sign of God's blessing, to them.
Today, there are people that are very talented and gifted and we may assume that their talent is a sign of God's blessing. However, we know that we as believers are all gifted individually. It does become an issue when we tend to look at any characteristic as the sign of God's blessing upon a life. When we do this, we tend to seek that characteristic in our own life, rather than focusing on our relationship with God. It can often turn out that the thing that seemed to be the biggest blessing in our lives can be the thing that makes it more and more difficult to really follow Christ.
We need to consider what God says about wealth. Is the Bible pro-wealth, anti-wealth or neutral about wealth? In Matthew 19:24, in another account of this passage, Jesus states "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". There are different schools of thought as to what that actually meant. You may have read or heard some say that Jesus was talking about the Needle Gate, a low and narrow entrance (for security) in the wall surrounding Jerusalem - good for use in stories, but some say that it didn't exist in His day. There are actually gates like this in Damascus that some will point to. In this gate, a camel would only go through it if saddles and packs were stripped off. In theory, the camel could go through without anything else. However, if you think of a physical needle used for sewing, you would believe this to be impossible. (Many of us would have a problem putting a piece of thread through the eye of a needle). In His stories, Jesus often used hyperbole, which is an exaggeration for emphasis. In Matthew 7, Jesus referred to a "plank" in one's eye, and in Matthew 23:24, he talked about straining a gnat, but swallowing a camel. The real point is not that wealth in itself is bad, but that a person cannot be saved based on any of their own merit. When we become contented with wealth and are proud of other accomplishments, we often become blind to our own spiritual poverty. The problem is not wealth, but our attitude towards it. Is it something that we have, or does it become something that defines us? When we are prideful, the qualities that are needed to come to Christ are destroyed. These qualities include childlikeness, simplicity, being teachable and the ability to be enslaved to Christ.
The teachings of Christ are remarkable, and they make it clear that we are not able to attain eternal life on our own. Sadly, some people spend their lives thinking that they are to live perfect lives. Certainly, we should strive to live moral lives, but this is not the basis of our salvation.