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MATTHEW 19:13-26

THE RICH YOUNG RULER

I) INTRODUCTION

The encounter between our Lord and the rich man bears out that although eternal life is available by keeping a perfect standard of righteous behavior such as the Mosaic Law, this is not possible with man. So man's only recourse relative to eternal life is to trust alone in Christ alone.

A) [Mt 19:13-14]:

(v. 13) "Then some children were brought to Him so that He might lay His hands on them and pray; and the disciples rebuked them.

(v. 14) 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.'

[So the faith of a child and not his behavior is in view. A simple moment of faith alone in Christ alone is all that suffices to enter the kingdom of heaven]:

1) [Compare Lk 18:17]:

"I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it."

B) [Mt 19:15-29]:

(v. 15) And after laying His hands on them, He departed from there.

(v. 16) And behold, one came to Him and said, 'Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?'

(v. 17) And He [Jesus] 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.'

[If there is only One Who is good: God alone, then how can one be 'good enough' to obtain eternal life: impossible.]

(v. 18) He said to Him, 'Which ones?' And Jesus said, 'You shall not commit murder; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness;

(v. 19) honor your father and mother; and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.'

(v. 20) The young man said to Him, 'All these things I have kept; what am I still lacking?'

(v. 21) Jesus said to him, 'If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.'

(v. 22) But when the young man heard this statement, he went away grieved; for he was one who owned much property.

(v. 23) And Jesus said to His disciples, 'Truly I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.

(v. 24) 'And again I say to you, 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.'

(v. 25) And when the disciples heard this, they were very astonished and said, 'Then who can be saved?'

(v. 26) And looking upon them Jesus said to them, 'With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.'

1) [Compare Jn 6:28-29]:

(v. 28) "They said therefore to Him, 'What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?

(v. 29) Jesus answered and said to them, 'This is the work of God, that you believe in Him Whom He has sent.' "

The rich man did not reach the point of spiritual bankruptcy at the time that he spoke to Jesus as recorded in Mt 19:16-26 and Lk 18:18-27 - he still felt he had something to offer God in order to attain eternal life. Old Testament Scripture spoke of man's inability to offer God one good thing toward eternal life:

2) [Compare Isa 64:6]:

"For all of us have become like one who is unclean, And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; And all of us wither like a leaf,

And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away."

So let's look more closely at this passage in order to bring out further details in this encounter between our Lord and the rich young ruler:

II) [Mt 19:16]:

(v. 16) And behold, one came to Him and said, 'Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?'

A) [Cp Lk 18:18]:

"A certain ruler asked Him [Jesus, (v. 18)] 'Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?' "

The rich young ruler, (Mt 19:20, 22-23; Lk 18:18), thought that there was one good work or perhaps a set of good works which he could do in order to get eternal life. He thought so highly of himself that he actually felt that he could offer something to Almighty God in order to inherit eternal life. One cannot help but wonder if the young man had not been within hearing distance when our Lord just got through saying that one must merely have the faith of a child to enter the kingdom of God and eternal life, (Mt 19:13-15).

[Charles C. Ryrie states, "So Great Salvation", Victor Books, USA, 1989, p. 81]:

"He [the rich young ruler] was young, probably early twenties. In the normal course of events he still had most of his life to look forward to.

He was wealthy. Extremely so. Unlike most who spend years accumulating wealth, he already had more than his share.

He was influential. Already he sat with the Sanhedrin, the governing body of his people.

He was moral. Not many knew could even begin to claim that they had kept the commandments all their lives. He made that claim.

But deep down this rich young leader knew he lacked the greatest treasure anyone could have - eternal life."

III) [Mt 19:17]:

"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.' "

Consider that the rich young ruler was asking our Lord to tell him what he must do to obtain eternal life. One might infer from this that the young man viewed our Lord as authoritative on such matters as eternal life.

Our Lord is setting up the scenario with His response in verse 17 whereby the rich young ruler could come to the conclusion that there was nothing he could do to merit eternal life since "There is only One Who is good." Right after this Jesus said, "But if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments", indicating that the commandments must be kept unto eternal life. But this follows the statement that there is only One Who is good and can keep them. Evidently the young man did not pick up on this:

IV) Mt 19:18-19]:

(v. 18) "He [the young man] said to Him, 'Which ones?' And Jesus said, 'You shall not commit murder; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness;

(v. 19) honor your father and mother; and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.' "

A) THE YOUNG MAN MISSED OUR LORD'S POINT THAT NO ONE IS GOOD EXCEPT GOD ALONE - SO ETERNAL LIFE CANNOT COME BY ANY WORKS AT ALL, BUT BY FAITH ALONE IN HIM ALONE

The rich young ruler either missed or ignored our Lord's '''Why do you ask Me what is good?...There is only One Who is good." and only responded to the third thing that Jesus said which was: "If you want to enter life, obey the commandments."

1) [Cp Lk 18:21]:

" 'All these [commandments, (vv. 19-20)] I have kept since I was a boy,' he said."

This young man was fixated on works. He was still focusing on himself and what he could do to please God. His claim to having kept the commandments since he was a boy was outrageous. So with this mindset the young man asked the Lord:

"Which ones?" (of the commandments must I keep?) Had the young man responded as the disciples did in Mt 19:25-26 then our Lord would have told him that salvation is only possible exclusively through God:

2) [Compare Mt 19:25-26]:

(v. 25) "And when the disciples heard this, they were very astonished and said, 'Then who can be saved?'

(v. 26) And looking upon them Jesus said to them, 'With men this is impossible [to be good enough to be saved], but with God all things are possible.' "

If the rich young ruler had responded as the disciples did - acknowledging their own incapacity to save themselves - then Jesus would have given him the response He gave the disciples spoken of in Jn chapter 6:

3) [Compare Jn 6:28-29]:

(v. 28) "Then they [the disciples] asked Him, 'What must we do to do the works God requires?'

(v. 29) Jesus answered, 'The work of God is this: to believe in the One He has sent...' "

Notice that our Lord left out the first commandment in verses 18 and 19 of Mt 19. This is the one which was the rich young man's greatest stumbling block:

4) [Compare Ex 20:3]:

"You shall have no other gods before Me."

The man said that he kept all of the commandments. Later in this discourse, however, the rich man demonstrated that his wealth was his god - his first priority - not God, thus breaking the first commandment. His self assurance that he kept all the commandments was therefore false.

[Charles C. Ryrie, op. cit., p. 82-3]:

"So Jesus told him to keep the commandments, and he replied that he had done so all his life. Had he really done so? Of course not. No persons fails to covet, and no child always honors his or her father and mother. But the young man claimed he had always kept the commandments, and he likely had to some degree at least. But no one, including this man, could say he had kept them all absolutely....

Even if he had kept all of the commandments specifically mentioned in their dialogue, he had failed to keep some of the other commandments. Obviously he had broken the very first commandment of the Decalogue [Ten Commandments]. He worshiped the god of money as well as the God of Israel (Exodus 20:3). He certainly did not love the Lord with all his heart, soul, and might (Deuteronomy 6:5). His love of possessions kept him from that kind of total love for the Lord. Because he apparently did not share his wealth, he also violated the command to love his neighbor as he loved himself (Leviticus 19:18). The proof that you love someone else as you love yourself is that you want to give that person whatever is important or precious to you. In this case possessions took top priority in this man's life, and since he was unwilling to give them to others, he proved beyond any doubt that he did not love his neighbor as he loved himself. How many others of the 613 commands in the Mosaic Law he had failed to keep or violated secretly we do not know. But clearly he had broken at least these."

B) CAN ETERNAL LIFE BE GAINED BY MAN THROUGH KEEPING THE COMMANDMENTS?

This question is similar to saying, can a completely paraplegic man score perfect 10's in all gymnastic events in the Olympics and thereby win the gold medal? Answer: no more than a man can attempt even one successful moment in his life of obedience to the will of God's command that he live a perfectly righteous life. In the same way that a paraplegic individual cannot perform any gymnastic event, neither can any man do anything that is acceptable to God toward attaining eternal life. So the idea of keeping the commandments in order to have eternal life is absurd.

1) [Compare Isa 64:6]:

"All of us have become like one who is unclean,

and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;

we all shrivel up like a leaf,

and like the wind our sins sweep us away."

[Ryrie, cont.]:

"Paul answered that very question at the conclusion of his synagogue message in Antioch in Pisidia. He said that only through Jesus is everyone who believes justified and that no one could be justified by the Law of Moses (Acts 13:39)."

2) [Compare Ro 3:20]:

"Therefore by works of law [any system of good works] no one shall be justified before Him [God, (v. 18)]; for through law [any system of good works] is the knowledge of sin."

3) [Compare Jas 2:10]:

"For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it."

V) [Mt 19:20]:

"The young man said to Him, 'All these things I have kept; what am I still lacking?' "

[Carson states, (The Gospel According to John, William B. Eerdmans Publishing, Grand Rapids, Mi, 1992, p. 422)]:

"...the man approaches Jesus with a question showing how far he is from the humble faith that, as Jesus has just finished saying, characterizes all who belong to the kingdom (vv.13-15)..."

A) [Reviewing Mt 19:13-15]:

(v. 13) "Then some children were brought to Him so that He might lay His hands on them and pray; and the disciples rebuked them.

(v. 14) 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.'

(v. 15) And after laying His hands on them, He departed from there."

[Carson, cont.]:

"...He wants to earn eternal life; and in the light of verse 20, he apparently thinks there are good things he can do, beyond the demands of the Law, by which he can assure his salvation. Many Jews believed that a specific act of goodness could win eternal life...and this young man assuming this opinion is correct, seeks Jesus' view as to what that act might be.......By approaching Jesus in this way (esp vv. 16, 20), the young man reveals simultaneously that he wants something beyond God's will (v.20) and that he misconstrues the absoluteness of God's goodness."

The young man then seems unhappy with our Lord's reply:

" '''All these [commandments] I have kept,''' the young man said. '''What do I still lack?''' "

He also does not notice that our Lord left out the very commandments that he most grievously violated: the 10th concerning coveting his riches and the first which commands one to love the Lord your God and have no other gods before you - including money. His second question '''What do I still lack?''' was no surprise to our Lord. The young man truly was not sure that he was good enough to have eternal life even with his self-deceptive statement that he kept the Law since childhood.

VI) Mt 19:21-22]:

(v. 21) "Jesus said to him, 'If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.'

(v. 22) But when the young man heard this statement, he went away grieved; for he was one who owned much property."

The young man looked to his riches rather than to our Lord, he had a divided heart with respect to where he placed his faith. He would not make the choice for eternal life and let go of his god of materialism. Perhaps he would do any outward ritual that our Lord suggested but his inward mentality was set on his wealth as something of value to contribute to his status with himself and God. He rejected the idea that he must be perfect and therefore have no obstacles whatsoever impeding his eternal destiny to heaven - including his wealth. Incidentally, this is not saying that wealthy people do not go to heaven. Otherwise we will not see Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, Solomon, Joseph of Arimathea there - and that's wrong.

[Carson makes this point, (op. cit. p. 425)]:

"Most Jews expected the rich to inherit eternal life, not because their wealth could buy their way in, but because their wealth testified to the blessing of the Lord on their lives."

On the other hand Scripture teaches that God reigns blessing on good and bad alike, so wealth does not necessarily signify that one is destined for the kingdom of God or not. Consider today's wealthy crime families and drug cartels. Are they going to inherit eternal life?

[Compare Mt 5:45b]:

"He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous."

Yet this seems to be the mindset of our money grasping young man................

and of many modern day people too - some of whom speak from a pulpit. The rich young ruler was very attached to his wealth, so attached that his desire to have eternal life conflicted with his desire to keep his wealth. He became especially distressed when our Lord indicated that there was no way for him to assure the reception of eternal life without complete and utter sacrifice of everything he had. The young man did not expect such a drastic requirement. Had he responded honestly to our Lord earlier instead of claiming that he had kept all the commandments since boyhood, he would have discovered that God did not want anything but faith alone in Christ alone unto eternal life, (ref: Jn 6:27-29). The self confidence of the young man was destroyed - he became sad for he did not want to let go of that self confidence, so he went away - he went away it says in the Greek (="lupoumenos" = grieved) not just sad very grieved, distressed.

VII) [Mt 19:23]:

"And Jesus said to His disciples, 'Truly I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven."

"It is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven" =

A) [Compare Jas 2:5]:

"Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who loved Him?"

['Listen', James says to his beloved, born-again Jewish believers, 'Didn't God choose the materially poor of this world and those who truly love Him, (which means obey Him, Jn 14:23-24), to be rich spiritually in faith, (cp. Lk 6:20), and thereby become heirs, i.e., inheritors and corulers, of the world with the Lord Jesus Christ, (cp. 2 Tim 2:11-12, Eph 5:5; Mt 5:5, 10)?]

Verse 5 above indicates that material possessions are a stumbling block to a believer's faithful life.

B) [Compare Mk 4:18-19]:

(v. 18) "And others are the ones on whom seed was sown among the thorns; these are the ones who have heard the word,

(v. 19) and the worries of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things enter in and choke the Word, and it becomes unfruitful."

C) [Compare Rev 3:17]:

''' "You say, 'I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.' but you do not realize that you are [spiritually and eternally] wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked." '''

(Compare also Lk 6:20, 8:14, 16:1-15; Pro 30:8-9).

Although riches are not inherently evil, Scripture teaches that rich believers will not receive much inheritance when they get to heaven:

D) [Compare 1Tim 6:9-10, 17]:

(v. 9) "But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction."

["But those who want to get rich..." = If one has and continues in the desire to get and remain rich then the motivation behind one's wealth is the reason why riches can block faithfulness, (or even salvation, cp. Mt 19:23)]

(v. 10) For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith, and pierced themselves with many a pang.

(v. 17) Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, Who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy."

So the reason for the tragedy of the rich man's lack of eternal life is found in the definition of a rich man = 'one who retains wealth'. God, in His sovereignty, provides certain individuals with wealth for the purpose of enhancing the kingdom of heaven. The riches are not to be retained in the manner that a rich man usually has wealth: He usually is overprotective of his wealth. He develops a self centered concern about it, and he retains it in a way that only he has use of it. None of this is God centered motivation. The typical rich man self-centeredly sets aside the blessings that he receives in order to protect and cling to what he views as his own possession and not God's. Such is the pervasive extent of the sin nature within men - even believers. And the temptation of riches only serves to stir up the evil, self-centered response of that sin nature. Most men fail the test of wealth. This mental attitude and consequent action of hoarding God's blessings instead of spending them for the glory of God, (1 Cor 10:31), disqualifies a believer from doing divine good works and earning an inheritance/rewards in heaven. Often by hoarding one's blessings of wealth in order to retain them, a believer fails God's test which would have been followed by even greater blessings. The unfaithful believer who is rich sacrifices the supernatural inner happiness and peace which accompanies the child of God who spends his abundant blessings for the glory of God instead of retaining them for his own in order to be rich in the eyes of men.

VII) [Mt 19:23 cont.]:

"And Jesus said to His disciples, 'Truly I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.".

"It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle" = Although the word needle must refer to a needle in general since it is not preceded by a definite article, some interpreters incorrectly indicate that the word "needle" refers to a small gateway within city walls or a specific mountain pass in the Israeli countryside by that name which is narrow but passable if one strips down the load on the camel to the bare minimum thus manufacturing the false doctrine that one must divest oneself of one's wealth in order to go through the narrow gate that leads to the kingdom of heaven. But that would imply that man can enter into the attaining process of eternal life at least by not hanging on to one's wealth so tightly. Verse 26 of this passage, however, refutes this, so we are left with two statements that eternal life is hard and impossible for man followed by verse 26:

A) [Mt 19:26b]:

"With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible".

So man can do nothing to merit eternal life, even via the Mosaic Law.

So what was the purpose of the Law? It was given to Israel as a statement of God's perfect standard of absolute righteousness to convict Israel and the whole world of sin - that they could not meet such a standard of behavior. This was designed to cause an individual to realize his total incapacity to save himself and thus to trust solely in God's mercy and grace to save him.

And why did Jesus tell the rich young ruler that if he kept the Law he could enter into the kingdom of God - especially when at the end of the conversation with the young man the disciples realized the impossibility of living so righteously that one could indeed be saved? Jesus told them]:

VIII) [Mt 19:24-26]:

v. 24) 'And again I say to you, 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.'

(v. 25) And when the disciples heard this, they were very astonished and said, 'Then who can be saved?'

[The disciples were "exeplessonto aphodra" = "astonished exceedingly", i.e., greatly astonished; i.e., astounded, startled, dismayed.

The verb form "exeplessonto" comes from the main verb ekplesso which is defined in Vines Expository Dictionary, Revell Co, Old Tappan, N.J., 1981, p.52 as follows: "from ek, out of, plesso, to strike, lit., to strike out, signifies to be exceedingly struck in mind, to be astonished (ek, intensive)."

And to the intensity of this verb "were exceedingly struck in the mind" is added the additional intensity of the adverb, "aphodra" = exceedingly" which makes the "exceedingly struck in mind" more on the level of agonizing or excruciating:

The disciples agonized in their minds that if a rich man who appeared to keep the Law so well cannot qualify for eternal life, what chance did they have?

Recall that the Mosaic Law system materially blessed those Jews who were most faithful in keeping the precepts of the Law. But riches were not always a measure of one's faithful keeping of the Law for riches could and often were attained by other than Scriptural means also. But this did not dissuade the disciples from believing that this rich young ruler was indeed a faithful keeper of the Mosaic Law - truly a faithful servant of Jehovah God as evidenced by his wealth and his testimony to Jesus. If a rich man who appeared to keep the Law so well cannot qualify for eternal life then how could anyone like themselves merit eternal life and avoid condemnation in Hell? The disciples were greatly distressed at this moment when they asked our Lord the key question about eternal life - which the rich young ruler should have asked: "Who then can be saved?]

(v. 26) "Jesus looked at them and said, 'With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.' "

It is therefore not possible within the capability of any man to do what is necessary to be saved. Our Lord stated to the disciples that only God can save a man. Man can do nothing. So how does a man get saved specifically?

A) [Compare again Jn 6:28-29]:

(v. 28) "Then they asked Him, 'What must we do to do the works God requires [for eternal life, v27]

(v. 29) Jesus answered, 'The work of God is this: to believe in the One He has sent.' "

Salvation excludes any works on the part of man, it is solely by grace through faith:

B) [Eph 2:8-9]:

(v. 8) "For it is by grace you have been saved through faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God

(v. 9) - not by works, so that no one can boast."