(If you would like to download the PowerPoint presentation for this sermon, Click here – 159 How to Obtain Eternal Life)
Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
March 4, 2018
Introduction – Review
Before I get to this morning’s text, I want to quickly remind you of last week’s sermon on The Nature of Marriage. Since we live in a society which has largely rejected God’s design for marriage, and tragically that includes a large portion of those professing to be Christians, it almost seems shocking to find out what Jesus actually says about the nature of marriage. Jesus simply went back to Genesis and pointed out God’s original design in creating humans as male and female (Genesis 1:27), and that the “man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). Jesus then added, “What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.” (See: The Nature of Marriage)
People today, just as the Pharisees back then, actively look for any excuse to get an easy divorce thinking that somehow that will be better for them. Jesus was also very direct in explaining that not only did Moses not command for divorce to take place, it was only permitted because of the hardness of their hearts. That is still true today. Rejection of God’s design for marriage occurs because the heart of at least one spouse is hardened by sin and selfishness. If you face divorce, make sure that the destruction of your marriage is due solely to the hardness of heart of your spouse and not your own. Pursue godliness to follow the example of Hosea and offer forgiveness just as God has forgiven you in Christ Jesus.
Jesus neither advocates nor sanctions divorce, but He does give a strong warning that divorce increases adultery with the one exception of divorce due to porneiva / porneia, any of the sexual sins listed in Leviticus 18. The innocent party in such a divorce does not commit adultery upon remarriage. Other than that one exception, divorce multiplies adultery among those divorcing and those marrying those divorced. That is the ugly and ungodly nature of divorce. It only occurs because of sin, so it is serious. (See: The Exception Clause) If divorce is in your background, healing begins with the forgiveness found in Jesus Christ. Wholeness is restored as you walk in holiness with Him.
If you were not here last week, get a copy of it and listen to it or read it. It is available on the website or ask for a physical copy. Also on the website is my paper on the exception clause of Matthew 5:32 and 19:9, or I can make a paper copy of it for you upon request. Do not be led astray by the ungodly nature of our society and its lax views on marriage. God has made the nature and design of marriage very clear in the Scriptures and He holds us accountable for knowing what He has revealed and living according to it.
Turn to Matthew 19:13 and put a bookmark there, then turn to Luke 18:15 and put a book mark there, then turn to Mark 10:13 where we will begin our study this morning. All three of the synoptic gospels coincide with each other at this event. I will refer to all three, but I will begin with Mark since he gives the most comprehensive description of this particular incident.
13 And they were bringing children to Him so that He might touch them; but the disciples rebuked them. 14 But when Jesus saw this, He was indignant and said to them, “Permit the children to come to Me; do not hinder them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 15 “Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all.” 16 And He took them in His arms and began blessing them, laying His hands on them.
This event occurred some time after Jesus finished teaching His disciples on God’s plan for marriage (Mark 10:1-12 and Matthew 19:1-9). Luke did not record that particular event, but all three gospels include this one because it prepares the way to understand what Jesus says in the next section to the rich young ruler who wanted eternal life, but who would not follow Jesus in order to enter it. It explains the nature of the kingdom of God and gives a great contrast between those Jesus invites into His kingdom and those who want to enter it but refuse to meet the qualifications.
Mark 10 gives the most detail and Luke only slightly less, but Matthew has already given considerable detail about Jesus’ view of children in chapter 18. Matthew would expect his readers to have that in mind when they come to this passage. The contrast between children who can enter the kingdom of heaven and the rich young ruler who will not is great. Jesus is powerful to be able to let in those He allows and keep out those who do not meet His criteria. Those are characteristics of the Messiah, the Son of God, who is powerful.
All three accounts begin with children being brought to Jesus that He might touch them, specifically, to lay His hands on them (Mt. 19:13). Luke 18:15 also notes that some of these children were just babies. All of this was being done according to traditional Jewish custom. The Talmund taught parents to bring their children to the Rabbis for a blessing and prayer. Usually, a dad 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. They took action in expressing their strong disapproval by rebuking those coming with the children. They did not receive from Jesus the reaction they expected.
Mark 10:14 states that “when Jesus saw this, He was indignant.” He was angry about the wrong way they were treating these families, and He expressed it by an open rebuke of them. He commands them, “Permit the children to come to Me; do not hinder them. . .” The grammar here combined with His being indignant indicates the strength of His rebuke of the disciples. Perhaps I can convey to you how strong this is by translating this as, “You let those children come to Me, and don’t you dare prevent it!”
There are still a lot of people around that have the same view of children as the disciples. I have been told about churches that do not allow children into their worship service. That is usually for a two-fold reason. First, to give the benefit of the doubt, from a positive viewpoint, many churches have some sort of concurrent children’s program going on during the worship service. The effort would be to direct the children to something that might be more understandable for them. We have a children’s church program for that same reason. However, having such a program should not exclude children from being with their parents in the worship service. It does not here. In fact, we do not start the children’s church program until the start of the sermon because we want your children to be here with the rest of the congregation and worship the Lord with the adults. That is how they will learn. When children are prohibited, it is because the children are not wanted among the adults. The reasoning for that can be varied, but it still ends up communicating that the children are not wanted among the adults. Even when there is justification such as the decline in self-control among children who then disrupt the service by being noisy and getting out of their seat, the answer lies in teaching the parents to properly control their children, not in excluding them.
Why did Jesus want the children to come to Him? “for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Mark 10:15 adds, “Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all.” Matthew had included that same truth in 18:3 in which Jesus said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” While 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. A child’s faith is simple because a child recognizes both his own inferiority and reliance on others. When my son’s were young, they knew that mom and dad knew more than them and so were humble to learn from us and follow our directions. They also trusted us to do for them the things they knew they could not. We provided them the food, clothing and shelter they needed and protected them from the dangers all around them, many of which they were not even aware. That same humility and trust is needed to enter the kingdom of God.
You are inferior to God, so learn to humbly follow His commands. Even if you have PhD, you are an imbecile compared to God. He is omniscient and you have very limited knowledge. His is all wise, and you cannot put to full use even what knowledge you do have. Besides, obeying God is always in your best interest since He created you and His commands enable you to function according to His design. Learn to trust Him to keep His promises including providing a means of forgiveness granted to those who will believe in Him. The proud and arrogant will not do this for ultimately, they think they are wiser than God and trust their own efforts to secure their eternal future.
Keep in mind what Jesus says here about the nature of the kingdom of God as we examine the next passage, for it is the key to understanding not only Jesus’ response to the rich young ruler, but also how to obtain eternal life.
Mark 10:16 states that Jesus then received the children and “He took them in His arms and began blessing them, laying His hands on them.” He fulfilled His role not only as a Rabbi, but as the loving Messiah. It was proper for Him to bless the children. After He had done this, Matthew 19:5 states that Jesus departed from this unnamed place. Mark 10:17 then states that the next event begins “As He was setting out on a journey.” He is somewhere in Perea heading South.
I will again be citing all three gospel accounts, but I will focus on Matthew’s account which begins, “And behold.” The interjection calls the attention of the reader to take careful notice for what is about to be told is very important. It then continues to recount that “someone came to Him.” Mark 10:17 adds that the man ran up to Jesus and knelt before Him, which indicates both urgency in the quick arrival and humility in the kneeling. He then asked a most excellent question. “Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?” It would be wonderful if that was the kind of question people were asking us all the time.
This is not a question concerning a desire to just live forever, for 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. The quest for eternal life is not the search for just eternal existence. It includes the idea of securing 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.
The significance of the question increases when we note from verses 20 & 22 that this man is young and rich, and that Luke 18:18 identifies him as a “certain ruler.” This is not a reference to a political ruler, but to a very important and respected position as a “ruler” in the synagogue. That would have required him to be an outstanding student of the Mosaic Law in both in knowledge about it and in keeping it. This man was exceptional in every way. He was still young, past puberty, but probably not yet married, yet he was already held in high esteem by the community. This is an exceptional young man asking an exceptional question.
The manner of his asking his question shows a certain amount of both humility and courage in his character as well as respect for Jesus. He not only knelt before Jesus, but he also addressed Him as “Teacher.” Men who attain wealth and prestige at a young age usually tend to be arrogant. This man is humble before Jesus. There is also a risk he is taking in coming to Jesus like this. As we have already seen, the Pharisees in Perea were also against Jesus and they could cause a lot of problems for this young man including the possibility of getting him removed from his position as a ruler in the synagogue. This man is courageous even though the Pharisees intimidated men such as Nicodemus to keep his belief in Jesus hidden.
It is also significant that as a synagogue ruler he would have been seen as someone who could lead people to God, yet he knew that there was something missing. He was not going to let his pride keep him from getting the answer to this most important question, so he humbly comes to Jesus to find out how he could obtain eternal life.
Modern evangelists would consider this man to be a “hot prospect.” He had all the evidence of being ripe for the harvest, and I am sure that most evangelists would have him on his knees and praying the sinner’s prayer in no time and then assuring him that he now had salvation. But verse 17 reveals that Jesus would not be a good modern evangelist. Instead of immediately getting this guy into the kingdom, Jesus prods the man’s heart.
Jesus responds by questioning him and taking him back to the law.
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.” Mark and Luke add that Jesus was more direct about the man calling Him good. It is a question that was designed to challenge the man about Jesus’ identity. Only God is good (1 Samuel 2:2), so did the man describe Jesus as good for flattery or did he recognize Jesus’ deity?
Jesus immediately points the man back to the law just as He did the last time He was asked this question in Luke 10:25 by a lawyer. Jesus is not teaching righteousness through works. He is challenging the man about his understanding of the law and its purpose. The man’s quest to find out what good thing he must do to earn eternal life indicated that he did not understand. Jesus prods him about this effort instead of following the example of Abraham and having belief in God reckoned to him as righteousness (Genesis 15:6).
The man responded immediately, “which ones?” An obvious indicator that the man understood he was not perfect. A common debate among the religious Jews concerned which aspects of the Mosaic Law were necessary to obtain righteousness before God and which ones were optional. He should have known from Leviticus 18:5 that it required obedience to all of them. “So you shall keep My statutes and My judgments, by which a man may live if he does them; I am the Lord.” He does not understand that to be guilty under any point of the law is to be guilty of all of it as stated in James 2:10.
It is interesting that in verse 18 Jesus did not point out the more difficult of the Ten Commandments dealing with the heart of man, You shall not covet, nor did He point to those related to God, You shall have no other gods before Me; You shall not have an idol; You shall not take the name of the Lord name in vain, and You shall remember the Sabbath, to keep it holy. Instead, He pointed out five of the commandments which dealt with the actions of a man’s relationship with others. These would be the most easy to recognize a transgression; “You shall not commit murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; 19 Honor your father and mother.” Those should have been enough to bring the man to conviction, but they do not with the man claiming “Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up” (Mark 10:20).
Perhaps the man did not know what Jesus had taught about murder and adultery so it would have been reasonable for him to think he had avoided breaking those commands because he did not physically act upon any hatred or lust in his heart. If he defined stealing as only taking things of great value that did not belong to him, he could have justified himself. If he defined bearing false witness as only cases involving legal testimony, then he may have avoided that too. It is doubtful he thought he was a perfect son, but if he defined honoring his father and mother as something he generally did or as being a better son than most other people, then he would conclude he past muster on this command too.
Matthew records Jesus also added, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” That should have brought the man to conviction even if the others had not, however, most of the Jews sought to limit the command by restricting the meaning of neighbor to something they thought they could handle. That was the issue when this question came up before in Luke 10 resulting in Jesus explaining its meaning with the story of the good Samaritan. By limiting the scope of who was his neighbor, he could believe he had even kept this command.
However, he knew something was still wrong. Matthew 19:20 records him saying, “All these things I have kept; what am I still lacking?” Though He believed he had kept the law, he also knew he has not yet obtained eternal life. What was still missing?
What a perfect opportunity this man’s question would have been for the modern evangelist who would have told him, “believe in Jesus” and pray the sinner’s prayer. But apparently, Jesus was not a very good evangelist for He did not do that. The problem was that the man was self-righteous and did not recognize his own sin, and without that, the sinner’s prayer would only be mouthing words. Jesus could have responded with condemnation has he had for the Pharisees for their self-righteousness, but instead Mark 10:21 remarks that “Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said . . .” Perhaps it was because the man did recognize that he still lacked that Jesus extended His own sacrificial love to him and gave him a challenge that would expose that lack and his sinful heart.
Matthew 19:21, Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be complete, go and sell our possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” This was not an offer for the man to work his way to heaven. It was challenge for the man to put into action what he was claiming. If eternal life was so important to him and he believed he was keeping all the commandments, then he needed to demonstrate greater concern for the things of heaven than things of earth. He could show a true love for his neighbors by selling all he had and giving it to the poor and then following Jesus, for eternal life resides with Christ.
Tragically, the man does not take up the challenge. Matthew 19:22, “But when the young man heard this statement, he went away grieving; for he was one who owned much property.” He left very sad for he was very wealthy and was unwilling to give up his earthly treasures to follow Jesus and receive heavenly treasure. He wanted eternal life, but only if he could bear the cost.
Why did Jesus make it so difficult for this man? Jesus did not ask others to sell their wealth, give it to the poor and follow Him. The gospel of John has plenty of verses which contain the idea that whoever believe in Jesus will have eternal life (John 3:15,16, 36; 5:24; 6:40,47; 10:28; 17:3). Why not just tell the man to believe so he can have eternal life? Isn’t the goal to get as many people into heaven as possible? Actually, no. The goal is the glory of God, and God will be glorified by both the vessels of mercy that receive His grace and the vessels of wrath that He endures (Romans 9:22-23). God is not glorified by a gospel that changes what is to be believed in order to be saved.
Because eternal life is based in faith in God, and specifically that God sent His own son, Jesus, who is the Christ, and who paid the penalty of sin with His own life to redeem man and offer forgiveness of sin to those who repent and trust Him to keep His promises. Without repentance, a change of mind about sin, self and the savior, resulting in a change of direction, there cannot be saving faith in Jesus.
It is the object of faith that saves, not faith itself, and therefore the object must be Jesus Christ and not something else. Prayer is great, but it is the one to whom you pray that saves, not the prayer itself for the words you pray are not magical incantations. Walking the aisle or raising your hand in response to the evangelist’s prodding is fine, but neither of those can save you. Only faith in Jesus can do that. Getting baptized is good if it is in obedience to Jesus’ command, but Jesus, not the baptism, saves you from sin and gives you eternal life.
The multiplicity of gimmicks used by evangelists to get people to make “decisions” for Christ are tragic because they provide a substitute “good thing” for them to do to obtain eternal life instead of actually believing and following Jesus Christ. Jesus’ challenge to the rich young ruler exposed his self-righteous heart. He called Jesus “good teacher,” but he did not believe Jesus was the Messiah, otherwise he would have gladly sold his possessions and followed Him. Eternal life comes to those who come as a child does with humility and trusting in God to do and believe whatever He says. We need to follow Jesus’ method of evangelism to make sure our gospel message is calling on people to trust Jesus for salvation and not some good thing they might do to obtain eternal life.
Jesus concludes the encounter with the rich young ruler with a series of statement that shock His disciples. Mark 10:23, And Jesus, looking around, said to His disciples, “How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!” 24 The disciples were amazed at His words. But Jesus answered again and said to them, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 “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.” 26 They were even more astonished and said to Him, “Then who can be saved?”
It was the common belief at the time that being rich was a sign of God’s blessing and so an indicator that person would go to heaven. Jesus’ statement that it was hard for the wealthy to enter the kingdom startled them. Jesus then repeated His point more forcefully describing something that would be impossible, a camel going through the eye of a needle. There have been many efforts to make this statement into something that is just difficult, such as a fictional needle gate camels would have to get on their knees and crawl through, but there was no such gate, and seeing the way that camels get up and sit down, it is beyond my imagination how they could crawl through a low gate. The astonishment of the disciples shows that they understood. It was an overwhelming thought to them, for if the rich could not be saved, then who could be saved?
The wealthy actually have many things against their coming to Christ including: Trust in themselves or their riches (Revelation 3:17); 1 Tim 6:17f); Pre-occupation with their wealth or accumulating it (Matthew 6:21); and pre-occupation with what wealth brings such as materialism and hedonism (Luke 12:18-21). Jesus states it plainly in verse 27, Looking at them, Jesus said, “with people it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.”
That is the point. Man cannot save himself. There is no good thing a human can do to obtain eternal life. It is only possible through God Himself (John 6:44). It comes from the God who is good and not from doing good (Titus 3:5). 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). Is your trust in the mercy and grace of God to save you, or in your ability to do a good work to obtain eternal life?
Introduction – Review
Jesus went back to ______________ 1 & 2 to explain the nature of marriage
Divorce only occurs because of the ____________ of heart of sinful people
The exception clause (Mt. 19:9) only explains when ___________does not also occur for the innocent party
This passage explains the ______of the kingdom of God and explains Jesus’ reaction to the rich young ruler
Children, including babies, are brought to Jesus to be ___________, but are prevented by the disciples
Jesus was ____________at this and commanded that the children be permitted to come and not prevented
Children exhibit the characteristics needed to be part of the kingdom of God – ____________and trust
No matter your age or intellect, before God, you need to come as would a ____________
Jesus received the children and blessed them fulfilling a role as a _____________
Matthew calls ________to this incident of a man coming and asking what he should do to obtain eternal life
The question involved both length and ______________ of life in living with God
The young man was both wealthy and a “__________” in the Synagogue
His manner & question shows some humility and ___________- openly calling Jesus, “Teacher”
He knew there was something ____________and he did not let his pride block him from seeking an answer
Jesus points the man back to the __________ (as He has done before – Luke 10:25)
Which ones? A common debate was which aspects of the Law were necessary and which were __________
Jesus points to five of the 10 Commandments related to actions within ____________ relationships
These should have convicted him, but he believes he has kept them – defining each to fit within his _______
_____________the scope of the command to “Love your neighbor” enabled him to think he kept this too
He believes he has kept the law, yet still recognizes that he is still ____________in something
Jesus could have condemned him for his self-righteousness, instead He loved him & ___________him more
Jesus challenges him to put into ________what he was claiming – it is not an offer to earn his way to heaven
He left very sad because he was unwilling to give up his ____________treasures to obtain heavenly ones
The goal is the glory of __________, and God is not glorified by redefining the object of faith in the gospel
Without _________________ there cannot be saving faith in Jesus
Jesus, and only Jesus, is the __________ of faith that can save and grant eternal life
The gimmicks used by evangelists __________the object of faith with doing a good thing to gain eternal life
Jesus’ challenge exposed the man’s self-righteousness and lack of ___________ in Jesus
It was commonly believed that the rich were ___________ by God and therefore more likely to go to heaven
The repetition and illustration point to the ______________- not just difficulty – of the rich being saved
Wealth brings additional ___________:
Trust in riches (Rev. 3:17);
Preoccupation with wealth (Matt. 6:21);
Preoccupation with wealth can bring – materialism and hedonism (Luke 12:18-21)
It is impossible for man to save himself. It takes God’s gracious ___________which is given to the childlike
Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help. Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Count how many times a reference is made to the young rich man. 2) Discuss with your parents why this man walked away instead of followed Jesus
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others. Matthew 19:1-26 and Mark 10:1-26 both include three passages dealing with Jesus’ teaching on marriage, children and the kingdom of God, and interaction with the rich young ruler. Where do these events occur and what connects them together to be included in their gospel accounts? What does Jesus teach about divorce and remarriage? How is that different from the common understanding and practice in American culture? Why were children being brought to Jesus? Why would the disciples want to stop them from being brought to Jesus? Why did this make Jesus indignant? How does a child represent the qualities necessary to receive the kingdom of God? Some churches do not allow children to attend their main worship service. What legitimate reasons could there be for such a practice? Why is that practice still wrong? What would be a proper attitude and response to the issues that make children detrimental in a worship service? Why does Jesus introduce the passage about the rich young ruler with the interjection, “and behold”? Why does it show both humility and courage for this man to address Jesus as “teacher”? Does the quest for eternal life seek length of life for something more? Explain. Why is it significant that this man is both young and rich? What does it mean that he was a ruler in the synagogue? Why is that significant? What does the man’s question reveal about how he thought eternal life is obtained? Why did Jesus challenge him about using the word “good” to describe Him? Why does Jesus point the man back to the Law? What does the man’s response, “which ones,” indicate about his understanding of the application of the Law? Why does Jesus cite the particular commandments He lists and not the rest of the 10 Commandments dealing with man’s relationship to God and about coveting? Matthew adds in the command to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” How had Jesus explained that command earlier in Luke 10? How was this man able to sincerely claim to have kept all those laws? The man’s recognition that he still lacked something kept the door open for him to still be brought to salvation? Why did Jesus make that difficult by calling on him to sell his good, give to the poor and follow Him? Jesus did not require that of other people? What does the sad departure of the man reveal about what was important to him and what he believed about Jesus? What is necessary to believe in order to be saved and obtain eternal life? How do the gimmicks of evangelists to obtain a “decision” for Christ make it confusing about what the person believes? What is the object of your faith and will that object save you from sin? Why would the disciples be astonished at Jesus’ teaching of the difficulty of a rich man entering the kingdom of God? What factors make it difficult for a rich man to be saved? What does Jesus’ illustration about a camel going through the eye of a needle mean? Why was the story about a gate camels would have to crawl through invented? (There was no such gate and camels do not crawl). What does Jesus specifically in Mark 10:27? Why must God intervene if man is to be saved from sin and obtain eternal life?
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