Humble and Reverent Are Not Enough.
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
The story of the Rich Young Ruler brings us face to face with the nagging question, “How good is good enough?” We learned three vital lessons in our previous sermon. Money cannot buy us Heaven; sincerity even in our young adult years is not enough to earn merit; moral integrity cannot acquire Heaven.
Matt. 19:16b (Holman) “Teacher, . . .”
The Rich Young Ruler is presented as a person of amiable temperament, likeable and pleasant. A huge reason for his attractiveness was his humility.
Mark (10:17) tells us he ran to Jesus, knelt before Him, and reverently called the Galilean carpenter “Teacher.” These acts were all serious breeches of decorum expected from religious leaders of his day. He made a better entry on the scene than did Nicodemus, who came to Jesus by night to avoid detection.
Others felt he had “arrived” spiritually, but Jesus’ words and miracles had shaken his confidence, and made him want more of what Jesus had. He humbly knew he had not arrived yet, and admitted he lacked a vital spiritual ingredient.
He feared Jesus’ departure would make him miss the opportunity to have his gut-wrenching question answered. If he waits too long, Jesus will be gone. Thus, impulsively casting pride to the wind, he eagerly ran, knelt, and revered.
The Rich Young Ruler’s humility is a sterling example for us. But still, the gnawing question remains unanswered. How good is good enough?
Many people humble themselves with regard to the disciplines of spiritual learning. Multitudes take pride in their spiritual humility, calling themselves learners or seekers. They would never boast about having the corner on truth.
Yet still, the unanswerable question is, how humble is humble enough to earn Heaven? Do any of us have the gauge that for sure measures it adequately?
No seeker was ever humbler than the Rich Young Ruler, but his winsome humility was not enough. Money, young adult sincerity, good deeds, and humility were not enough to gain merit. What else did he bring to the table?
Matt. 19:16c “. . . what good must I do . . .”
Notice his willingness. He believed he would do anything to be made right with God. “Name it; I’ll do it!!” But two serious problems dogged him. One, he thought he would do anything, but did not know his own heart. It had fooled him, lied to him. One chamber was locked shut, but he did not realize it.
This reminds me of my favorite Spurgeon quote, in nothing do people err more grievously than in self-analysis. One of the last realities we ever come to understand and comprehend for sure is our own heart’s true spiritual condition. Two, his request contained a fatal flaw. His whole worldview was tainted by his belief that eternal life was earned by works. He believed his future was totally in his own hands; he could fix it by himself by what he did. He assumed, to go to Heaven certain good deeds had to be done. He wanted to know for sure if he had already performed enough good things to earn the reward, and if not, whatever other deed needed to be done, he was ready to do it. Or so he thought.
Money, young adult sincerity, good deeds, humility, and self-perceived willingness were not enough to gain for the Rich Young Ruler everlasting merit. But he was not finished yet. He still had more positive traits to bring to bear.
Matt. 19:16d “. . . to have eternal life?”
In addition to his other fine qualities, he also had the advantages of coming to the right Person, and raising the right issue. “Heaven or Hell?” is the most important question we can ever ask, yet many never think about it at all.
The Rich Ruler was not totally obsessed with earthly realities. He rightly had Heaven on his mind, and longed with hopeful expectation for assurance.
He yearned for eternal life. Life by definition entails actively responding to one’s environment (Hendriksen). A plant is alive if it responds to light, water, and nutrients. An animal is alive as long as it responds to food and other stimuli around it. Eternal life means active interaction with the eternal realm.
He wanted to relate to the spiritual world. His motive was pure. He was not seeking personal advantage, healing, or more wealth. He was not trying to trap Jesus with his words. His eyes were focused on the right prize: eternal life.
Nothing is wrong with wanting Heaven as long as we are seeking to enter it with Godly motives. It is possible to desire Heaven for the wrong reasons. Wanting Heaven can be nothing more than an extension of earthly selfishness.
The determining factor in whether or not we will go to Heaven is not our preferring Heaven to Hell. Even the wicked do this. The question to confront is, do we prefer Heaven to Earth? Are we willing to give up anything of this existence in order to have that existence? He wanted eternal life; we all do, but is that life more important to us than physical life, material life, financial life?
How long is the impressive list now? Money, young adult sincerity, good deeds, humility, self-perceived willingness, coming to the right Person, asking the right question. And yet, even all of these combined were not enough to gain the Ruler everlasting merit. “Jesus, what’s going on here? Please help us.”
Matt. 19:17a “Why do you ask Me what is good?” He said to him. “There is only One who is good.”
Jesus, knowing the young man’s thoughts, now began painfully probing his heart. The Ruler would have to deal with his real, not perceived, inner self.
Jesus took a circuitous route to help him draw his own conclusion. The torturous surgery began with the scalpel, “What did he truly think about Jesus?”
Let’s carefully follow Jesus’ thought process. He began by stating the obvious. Only God is absolutely, inherently good. (Our word “God” in Old English meant “the good One.”) From this starting truth, Jesus went on to draw a logical conclusion: only the good One should be consulted about what is good.
Jesus’ words, elementary thus far, set the stage for ultimate profoundness. Since Jesus later presumed to define goodness, His words had built a case for claiming His own deity. He was saying, “If I know the good, then I am God.”
In Mark and Luke, the Young Ruler actually called Jesus “good.” Since the Ruler saw Jesus as a Rabbi worthy of veneration, but as deserving nothing more, his use of this adjective for Jesus was deficient, far short of the mark.
By thinking of Jesus as someone who was good, the rich man was using the right word, but giving it the wrong meaning. Using “good” solely as a compliment to Jesus is never adequate. It is to be used as a word of worship.
“Just about everybody has good things to say about Jesus. . . .But Jesus never claimed prophet status. He claimed far more. . . .Quite an ego, huh? Unless, of course, he was right” (Stanley, “How Good is Good Enough”, p. 59).
Many will say Jesus was a good man, a good teacher, a good prophet, etc. Be careful. Kudos are not enough alone. They must be expressions of worship.
Matt. 19:17b “If you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.”
In these words, Jesus continued His circuitous route to reveal to the man his weakness. Our Master opted not to go straight to the issues of repentance and faith. Jesus was saying, “You want to talk about goodness; let’s do so. To have Heaven you must do what the good One says to do. Obey His commands.”
Jesus seemed to be leading the Rich Young Ruler down a path of salvation by works, but don’t be fooled. That is not the road He’s pointing out.
Instead, Jesus took the man on an excruciating stroll down the path of self-acknowledged sinfulness. To be saved we must hate our sin. To hate our sin we must know our sin. None can be saved till they humbly admit they are unsaved. Often, the hardest part of convincing people to be saved is convincing them they are lost. Many believe in Hell; few believe they’re headed there.
Up to this point in our story, the stage has been set for one of the happiest endings ever in the Bible. The seeker was headed toward spiritual greatness. “Peter, James, and John, scoot over! Here comes the Rich Young Ruler.”
Our mounting expectation as we read this account is what makes it one of the saddest, most disappointing stories in the Bible. It is said a Greek Tragedy was a story in which the main character brought about his own demise. The worst tragedy was in the fact no one else was to blame. He did it to himself. By this definition, we are reading a true tragedy. Don’t let your story be one, too.