01/29/17 Riches and Idols

READING: Exodus 21-22, Matthew 19

“Teacher, what good must I do to have eternal life?”

Matthew 19:16

I’ve always wondered what made the rich young ruler come to Jesus in the first place. Something made him think about eternal life. Was it that he had a near-death accident that made him think of eternity? Did he develop some kind of illness? Did a loved one die, and now he faced his own mortality? Perhaps he heard about someone else who followed Jesus and now had a supernatural peace about death? Whatever it was that compelled him there, the rich young ruler came to the right person – Jesus, the giver of eternal life.

He came to the right person, but he came with the wrong understanding. His question, “Teacher, what good must I do to have eternal life?” (Matt. 19:16) implied an understanding of a works-based righteousness, and his claim to have followed all the commandments revealed a self-righteousness that would be problematic. It’s funny how often we land there. The idea of grace is so foreign to us that we assume we must earn our salvation. After all, who’s ever heard of a religious faith where the follower doesn’t have to work his way into the kingdom? And then work equally hard to stay in? Even those of us who claim to proclaim grace sometimes still find ourselves trying to prove our salvation by our works that we then turn into legalism. Our words may be different than his, but our actions make us like the rich young ruler.

I’m struck, though, by the young man’s response to Jesus’ command to keep the commandments: “'I have kept all these,’ the young man told Him. ‘What do I still lack?’” (Matt. 19:20). On one hand, he asserted that he had done all that the commandments demanded; on the other hand, though, he apparently recognized that his obedience didn’t solve all the issues. Was he religious? Apparently so. Would others have thought him holy? I suspect they would have. Did they see him as blessed and “together”? I’m guessing so. Yet, inside his soul was an uneasiness that his riches couldn’t settle. To his credit, he had come to the One who could settle it all.

Still, the cost of giving up everything for Jesus was more than the ruler wanted to pay.  He wanted peace, but not at any price. He walked away grieving, leaving behind the One who was Peace and apparently carrying more anguish in his soul than he had when he first approached Jesus. I can almost hear the tragic sound of his choice bouncing off the page of scripture.

It’s sad . . . and it happens all the time. We cling to our stuff when the Redeemer wants us to cling to Him.


  • Consider what you have been unwilling to give up for God.
  • Thank Jesus for giving up everything for us while we were still sinners.

PRAYER: “God, I don’t want anything to stand between me and You. Show me any idols to which I’m still clinging.”

TOMORROW'S READING: Exodus 23-24, Matthew 20:1-16