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Faith Bible Church
July 17, 1994
How to Obtain Eternal Life
The Nature of the Kingdom(13-15)
Turn with me this morning to Matthew 19. As I was preparing for today’s sermon, I became intrigued with verses 13-15. We find that Matthew records a particular incident between some children Jesus and his disciples. Matthew writes, ““Then some children were brought to Him so that he might lay His hands on them and pray; and the disciples rebuked them, But Jesus said, ‘Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.’ And after laying His hands on them, He departed from there.
My particular interest in this text is why Matthew includes it in his gospel. There is so much that could be said about Jesus and what He did during the years of His public ministry and what He taught, that it was impossible for everything to be recorded. Each writer carefully selected what they would include so that they could emphasize the truths about Jesus in a concise manner. The Apostle John even states this fact plainly in John 21:25. I began to wonder why Matthew recorded this particular event.
How does it fit? What is the point? How does it further the theme of his account of Jesus which stresses Jesus as the promised Messiah and presents His kingdom program? It does not fit with the topic of the preceding verses regarding divorce and marriage. The time sequence does not connect it to the account of the rich young ruler that follows. Jesus’ view of children had already been presented in chapter 18, so why bring it up again?
I pondered about it. I prayed about it. In fact, it blocked me from being about to do anything else in preparing this morning’s message until I understood it. I even considered changing the message to concentrate just on those three verses. Finally, it began to make sense.
The time sequence is right after Jesus finishes teaching His disciples on God’s plan for marriage and for serving Him in verses 10-12. But Matthew records this incident because it prepares the way to understand what Jesus says to the rich young ruler in verses 16-26. Matthew includes this story in his account because it demonstrates once again the nature of the kingdom of heaven.
The parallel account in Mark 10 gives more detail which Matthew leaves out because Matthew has already given considerable detail about Jesus’ view of children in chapter 18 (See: God’s Care for His Children, Pt 1). Matthew would expect his readers to have that in mind when they come to this passage. So what does occur here and how does in demonstrate the nature of the kingdom and prepare us for understanding the rest of the chapter.
In verse 13 we find that some children have been brought to Jesus to be blessed according to traditional Jewish custom. The Talmud taught parents to bring their children to the Rabbis for a blessing and prayer. Usually a father would bring his infant to the Synagogue and pray for the child himself, then he would give the baby to the elders who would each hold it and pray for God’s blessing on this young child. If there was a distinguished Rabbi nearby, then the child would often be brought to him for his blessing as well. That is what we find going on here. Parents are bringing their children to Jesus so that He might bless them.
However, the disciples were obstructing this from happening. Evidently, they did not think this was a very important activity for Jesus to be involved with, so they were trying to keep it from happening. There are still a lot of people around that do not think that children are important. (Then again we also have a lot of people around today that act like children are the center of the universe). Even within the church there are some that act as if only adults are important, but children are precious in God’s eyes too. We find Jesus rebuking His disciples again. Mark records that Jesus was angry with the disciples.
“Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me.” The grammar here indicates the strength of this to be something along the lines of this – “You leave those children alone, NOW! And don’t you hinder them from coming to be again.”
Why did Jesus want the children to come to Him, “for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” A fitting reminder to the disciples about what He had just taught them only a short time before, “unless you are converted and become like a child, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven.” And as we said when we were examining chapter 18, conversion is the work of the Holy Spirit, your part is to be humble and trusting as a child. The proud and arrogant who trust themselves will not enter the kingdom. Only those who come to God in humility and trust Him to provide a way will enter the kingdom. Keep the nature of the kingdom in mind as we examine verse 16-26 for it is the key to understanding not only Jesus’ response to the rich young ruler, but also how to obtain eternal life.
Jesus then went on to bless the children and pray for them (vs. 15), and after that He left and continued on His way to Jerusalem. As we come to verse 16 we find Jesus is now in an unnamed place and a man has come to Him to find the answer to a very important question.
Righteousness and the Law (16-20)
The Man and his Question (16)
“And behold,” Matthew sets this up as being very significant by introducing it with “behold.” The idea being that we should take careful notice of what is now going to occur because it is very important. It is also the tie back to Jesus’ statement about the kingdom of God belonging to those who are like children. “one came to Him and said, ‘Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?'” What an excellent question! Wouldn’t it be wonderful it that was the kind of question people were asking us all the time. Let us understand from the very beginning that his desire to obtain eternal life is not a desire to just live forever, because even the pagans knew that unending existence may not be desirable. Such was the point of the mythological story of Aurora, the goddess of the morning, who got Zeus to grant eternal life to a mortal named Tithonus, whom she loved. However, she forgot to get eternal youth for him, so Tithonus just got older and more decrepit. Eternal life here is not just eternal existence, but also having the quality of existence of being able to live in the divinely-endowed ability to be alive to God and the things of God. The hope of eternal life involves both the quality as well as the quantity of that life.
This question becomes even more significant when we understand a little more about the man who posed it. We know from verses 20 & 22 that this man is young and rich. Mark and Luke give us a little more information. Luke tells us that he was a “certain ruler.” This is not a reference to a political ruler, but to a “ruler” in the synagogue, a very important and respected position. This man was exceptional in every way. Not only was he held in high esteem by the community because he had wealth, but much more importantly, he had achieved an extremely important and respected position in the synagogue while he was still young. This tells us that he was an outstanding student of the Mosaic Law, both in knowledge about it and in keeping it. This is an exceptional young man asking an exceptional question.
Even the manner of his asking the question shows there was a certain amount of humility and courage in his character as well as respect for Jesus. Mark tells us that when he came to Jesus he bowed down before Him to ask his question. In addition he addressed Jesus as, “Teacher.” Usually men who attain wealth and prestige at a young age tend to be arrogant. This man is humble before Jesus. We should understand that he took a risk in coming to Jesus like this. The Pharisees, priests, and scribes were against Jesus and trying to make trouble for Him. They certainly could cause a lot of problems for a young man, possibly even get him removed from his position as a ruler. Remember, there were quite a number of Jewish religious leaders, like Nicodemus, who believed in Jesus but would not openly state so simply because of their fear of those who hated Jesus.
Also significant is the fact that as a ruler he would have been looked to as someone who could lead people to God, yet he knew that there was something missing and he was not going to let his pride keep from getting the answer to this most important question. So now we find that this rich young ruler has come to Jesus and with humility questioned Him about how he could obtain eternal life.
This man is what some evangelists would call a “hot prospect.” This guy gave all the evidence of being ripe for the harvest and I am sure that most evangelists would have him on his knees in no time praying the sinner’s prayer and assuring him that he now had salvation. But in verse 17 we find that Jesus is a lousy evangelist. Instead of picking up another one for the kingdom, He prods the man’s heart.
Who is good? Keep the Commandments. (17-19)
And He said to him, “Why are you asking Me about what is good? There is only One who is good; but if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.”
This is the man’s first opportunity to understand that there is only one who is good. Will the man recognize Jesus as that One?
Second, Is Jesus teaching righteousness through works? NO! Jesus is a lousy evangelist, he prods man about his understanding of the Law and whether or not he has kept the Ten Commandments. The Law was to bring men to understand their need for God’s grace (Rom. 3:20)
In verse 18 the man wants to know which commandments bring eternal life. He should have already known that it would be all of them (Lev. 18:5). He does not understand that to be guilty under any point of the law is to be guilty of all of it (James 2:10).
Rather than point out the most impossible of God’s commandments, those dealing with man’s relationship with God, Jesus points out to him those parts of the law most easily understood, most easily kept, those dealing with man’s relationship with man (murder, adultery, stealing, bearing false witness, honoring father and mother, loving neighbor as yourself). However, impossible is impossible. These should have convinced the man of his sinfulness. Instead, in verse 20 he claims to have kept all these laws. Yet he still wants to know “what is still lacking?” This is significant. He knows that something is still wrong, but what?
What do you Believe? (21-22)
Jesus could have said, “believe in me,” and led him in prayer. Instead, Jesus exposes the sinfulness of his heart. If he wants to work his way to heaven, let him try this: demonstrate greater concern for the things of heaven than things of earth and demonstrate true love for his neighbors by selling all he has, giving it to the poor and then following Christ (which is where eternal life resides). This man who seemed so ready went away sorrowful. He owned too many material things and was unwilling to give them up. Why didn’t Jesus just accept him the way he was? Because eternal life is based in faith in God, not faith in a prayer, trusting in walking the aisle, believing in a raised hand or whatever other gimmicks evangelists have used to help people make “decisions” for Christ. Eternal life comes to those who come as children. Humble and trusting in God to do and believe whatever He says. We need to follow Jesus method of evangelism.
The Source of Salvation (23-26)
Jesus further comments verses 23,24 that riches cannot get you into heaven. A going camel through the eye of a needle is impossible (and no, there is no “camel gate” or “needles eye” gate). Rich have many things against their coming to Christ: They trust in themselves or their riches: (luke 12:18-21); 1 Tim 6:17f). Pre-occupation with their wealth or accumulating it (Matt. 6:21): Pre-occupation with what wealth brings is materialism and hedonism (Rev. 3:17).
The disciples are astonished. They thought it was easier for the rich to make it to heaven. Being rich was supposed to be a sign of God’s blessing. They could give more to God and be more generous with alms. Who then can be saved?
Ete rnal life is possible only through God Himself (John 6:24). It comes from the one who is good, not from doing good. It comes to those who approach God as a child does with simple humility and trust of Him. (Psalm 34:18; 51:6; Isa 57:15; James 4:6).
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