It occurs to me that we live in an age which, for the most part, has been duped into asking the wrong question. We’ve become focused on the preliminaries and not on the main event. We’ve come to believe that success is found in majoring on the minors. We’ve so lost sight of real victory that we’re willing to settle for lesser prizes. But that wasn’t the case for a guy I was reading about this morning.
And behold, a man came up to [Jesus], saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?”
(Matthew 19:16 ESV)
The man who came to Jesus was, by this world’s standards, a successful man, “for he had great possessions” (v.22). He’d made it. Been part of a successful start-up or two. Had invested in the market wisely. Had worked hard and fast so that he could own a big house, afford to buy all the boy toys he wanted, and have the cash in hand to be the first on the list to purchase the new self-driving chariot. But inside he knew there was something more. He knew the question wasn’t really about how to get the most out of this life, but was really about how to possess eternal life.
In fact, when responding to the man’s question, Jesus doesn’t even refer to it as eternal life but talks of it simply as entering life. He removes any confusion as to the life of the here and now somehow being disconnected from the life of the there and then. To have eternal life is life. To not have it is not life at all but merely “vanity and a striving after wind” (Eccl. 1:14). To be successful in this life without having secured the assurance of the life to follow is to miss out on life altogether.
And so, too often, we’re asking the wrong question. We’re listening to the wrong answers. And thus, finding our fulfillment, or lack thereof, in the wrong achievements, or lack thereof.
The young man, to his credit, wanted life and life to the full and somehow knew that he wasn’t there yet. He wanted to know what to do. Jesus told him to get rid of his attachment to this world’s riches and markers of success, to focus instead on laying up “treasure in heaven,” and to trade the pursuit of the American dream for following heaven’s King.
However, though he asked the right question, the young man wasn’t willing for Jesus’ answer to be the right answer. He wanted something he could do. Instead it was all about where he must set his heart.
And, for this rich young man, his heart was too much to pay. And so he walked away sorrowful (v.22). Heaven apparently beyond his grasp. Costed out at too high a price. The reality of his present riches too much to give up for the hope of an eternal inheritance. The grip of worldly success so strong that it prevented him from pursuing eternal glory. It was easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, said Jesus, than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven (v.24).
When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
(Matthew 19:25-26 ESV)
Hard to make the break from this world’s intense focus on short-term pain for short-term gain? Yup. Impossible? Nope.
With God all things are possible. It just starts with asking the right question. With recognizing that life is so much more than a few decades on planet earth. That real life, abundant life, eternal life is grasped by letting go of that which prevents one from coming to and holding on to the Author of Life (Acts 3:15).
And when we do that, it’s by God’s grace. And when we do that, it’s for God’s glory.