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encouragement theology

What Is In The Way?

Thoughts from Matthew 19…

We are proud of our individualism. After all, most of the great American accomplishments of the past 200 years have come as a result of this attitude. Great men and women have struggled to shake off the shadows that defined them and to strive for greatness. We have great inventors, great teachers, and great leaders because of this struggle to rise up above the mediocrity of our daily lives.

Even in the church, we see the benefits of this individualism. We look back at the atrocities of the medieval church, when worshippers were subservient to the priests, depending on them for what to know, what to feel, and what to believe. The common man was never allowed to read the Bible for himself, and it was unheard of to interpret scripture apart from their leaders. We are glad to be free of these hardships and happily embrace the fact that as believers, we can come to know God and to learn about Him ourselves! The priesthood of believers is real!

I am immensely grateful for these accomplishments. I can strive for greatness, limited only by my own abilities and not someone else’s oppression. I can have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and learn about Him directly from His Word. I’m not obligated to a priest or another religious leader for what to do, say, or to think. We have a lot to be thankful for!

But it is too easy to lose some important truth in our rise to individualism. Over and over again in Scripture, the Lord makes this point clear: we are responsible for each other. It’s not just all about me! I am responsible to love and care for my neighbor. 

When the lawyer came to Jesus asking for the greatest commandment, He immediately replied that you should love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind (see here). But he didn’t stop there. There is also the second commandment. It is important to love God, but we also need to love our neighbor as ourselves. We need to care for, honor, and take responsibility for our brothers and sisters.

A rich man came to Jesus with a simple question, “What do I need to do to have eternal life?” Our Lord didn’t take him through a plan of salvation, nor did He ask him to pray the sinner’s prayer. In fact, He never once told him to pray, nor to trust, nor any of the other critical steps to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Instead, He directed him to the Old Testament laws, to the commandments to help his fellow man. Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not lie, honor your parents, and love your neighbor. The man replied with confidence that he had done all that. Surely he must be ready for the kingdom! But Jesus saw that he was missing one thing. He told him to get rid of all his wealth and give it to the poor, knowing that he would have treasures in heaven. And then to come and follow him.

The man couldn’t do it, so he left in sorrow. His wealth was his barrier between him and the Lord.

How can we understand this passage? God’s word says clearly that we are not saved by doing good works. We are saved by faith in Jesus Christ, and Him alone. Jesus’ answer to Nicodemus also shows the same message. We are saved by believing in Him. So is He telling this man something different? Did this man really need to do good deeds and give away his riches in order to be saved and to have eternal life? When we look at this passage, the following points should come out.

First, the ultimate end for this man was not to help others, nor to give to the poor, nor to dispose of his wealth. What Jesus required of the man was to follow Him. He could never follow Jesus Christ as long as he held onto his riches, so the riches had to go. Whatever is standing in the way between you and Jesus Christ needs to go, whether it be big or small. We all need to follow Him!

Second, we need to help our fellow man. This is not optional. As mentioned throughout Scripture, we know that we are not saved by helping our neighbor, yet it is this giving attitude that demonstrates that we do trust and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. If we trust Him, we will do His commandments. We should be thankful that we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, but we demonstrate our true heart by our actions. See also the study here.

And finally, Jesus promises that we will have treasure in heaven. We need to have a spiritual value system, not an earthly value system. Our worldly values are meaningless in God’s eyes, but it is the treasure in heaven which is the most important. This the world that lasts forever, beyond what we can currently see here on earth!

“Make Christ the Lord of your life; trust Him as your Savior; yield your all to Him, and you will eventually receive more than you have ever left.” – H.A. Ironside3

“He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose” – Jim Eliot

Previous passage: Forgive Like God Forgives

Matthew 19:16-22
And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

Keep His Commandments!

Matthew 19:16-19
And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Mark 10:17-19
And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’”

Luke 18:18-20
And a ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.’”

This young man was well respected in his community, and despite his youth, had already attained the position of a ruler of the synagogue.a This was a similar role as Jairus, the synagogue ruler in Matthew 9, whose daughter Jesus had brought to life. The man saw Jesus as a great rabbi with the words to eternal life, and so he came for His endorsement.

The man addressed Jesus as “Good Teacher”, so Jesus started with a declaration of who He is. The Jews revered their greatest teachers, yet they reserved the title of “good” for only God Himself.6 This title of “good” isn’t a description of a skilled teacher or a “nice guy”, it means that you are in the presence of total goodness — a description for only God Himself! Jesus questioned him on this title to make sure that the man really knew who he was talking to!b

But then He immediately uses His authority as God to tell him exactly how to have eternal life. If he wanted to see life, he needed to keep the commandments.

This brings two important questions regarding this passage. First, why did Jesus select these commandments? And second, how can we be saved by God’s grace if we are told to keep the commandments?

Note that Jesus was repeating the Sermon on the Mount to this man (Matthew 5-7, see here). But then he applies the sermon to this man, showing that faith is demonstrated by its actions. God doesn’t just expect lip service to the law, but your complete dedication to Him.

Jesus gave the following commandments as the starting point to eternal life, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 19:18-19). These are similar to the commandments that He taught about in Matthew 5:

Why did Jesus select the commands relating to others? What about the commandments relating to God Himself (You shall have no other gods before me; You will not create any idols; You will not take His name in vain; Remember the Sabbath day)? It is important to remember that these commandments are the starting place, and not the conclusion for eternal life. The man thought he was set because he kept every one of these commandments, but Jesus then showed him how that was not enough!

Surrender What We Have and Follow Him!

Matthew 19:20-21
The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”

Mark 10:20-21
And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”

Luke 18:21-23
And he said, “All these I have kept from my youth.” When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”

This is often the part of confusion in this passage. When we read the rest of Scripture, we know that we are saved, not by works, but by faith in Jesus Christ. This message is repeated throughout the New Testament (John 1:12, John 3:16, Romans 3:20, Romans 4:4-5, Galatians 2:16, Ephesians 2:8-9, Titus 3:5). So why does Jesus insist that the man do good works?

It is important to remember Jesus’ conclusion. The man needed to follow Jesus Christ in order to have eternal life. He needed to follow Him, but his riches stood in his way. 

His riches were a physical impediment for the man. Jesus would live the itinerant life of a homeless man (Matthew 8:20) and even at the time of this conversation, He was headed toward Jerusalem and the cross. 

His riches were also a spiritual impediment for the man. We know of many wealthy men in scripture who received God’s blessing (e.g. David, Solomon), so we know that Jesus was not saying that God was against wealth. But we can also see by the man’s tearful reaction to Jesus’ command what was most important to him. He honestly did want to follow Jesus Christ, but it was not as important as his riches.

But it wasn’t the man’s good works or giving his riches would give him eternal life. He needed to follow Jesus Christ in order to be saved.

The Challenge

Matthew 19:22-26
When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 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.”

Mark 10:22-27
Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.”

Luke 18:24-27
Jesus, seeing that he had become sad, said, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” Those who heard it said, “Then who can be saved?” But he said, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.”

The Jews at that time believed that wealth demonstrated that a man was in favor with God.4 But Jesus showed them the opposite, including the dangers of wealth. It is not physically possible for a rich man to enter the kingdom, but all things are possible with God.c 

1 Timothy 6:17-19
As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.

Matthew 19:27-30
Then Peter said in reply, “See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.

Mark 10:28-31
Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

Luke 18:28-30
And Peter said, “See, we have left our homes and followed you.” And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.”

The final exchange in this chapter is between Jesus and His disciples. They have been attentive to what Jesus taught the ruler, realizing that they all had done exactly what Jesus required of him. They had left all of their possessions behind and were following Him. Jesus promised them treasures in heaven, so they wanted to know more about these treasures that they were promised. 

Jesus first promised the twelve apostles that they would sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.d

But the second promise is for all believers. The Lord promises that they will receive back a hundredfold of what they leave behind for His name’s sake. They will have persecutions in this world, but eternal life in the world to come.


Appendix: When did this take place?

Matthew 19:1-2
Now when Jesus had finished these sayings, he went away from Galilee and entered the region of Judea beyond the Jordan. And large crowds followed him, and he healed them there.

Mark 10:1
And he left there and went to the region of Judea and beyond the Jordan, and crowds gathered to him again. And again, as was his custom, he taught them.

By the end of Matthew 18, it is in the Fall (September-October) and Jesus is about 6 months from the cross. It is very difficult to follow the narrative of the next six months, but Luke’s account tells of three trips to Jerusalem (Luke 9:51, 13:22, 17:11), while John 7-12 records the events of three visits to Jerusalem.9 Therefore, the combined accounts from Luke and John appear to show the following:

  • September-October: Travel to Jerusalem for the Feast of Booths (Luke 9:51, John 7:2-10:21). Jesus then remained in Judea where he sent out the Seventy witnesses and visited Mary and Martha (Luke 10-12).
  • Late December: Travel to Jerusalem for the Feast of Dedication (Luke 13:22, John 10:22-39). He then crossed the Jordan to Perea to escape the hostility of the Jews (John 10:40-42, Matthew 19:1-2, Mark 10:1).
  • February-March: Brief journey to Bethany to raise Lazarus (John 12). After the visit to Bethany, Jesus stayed in the small town of Ephraim in northern Judea (John 11:54) until it was time to return for the Passover.
  • March-April: Final journey to Jerusalem for the Passover (Luke 17:11). Luke 17:11 shows that Jesus traveled north from Ephraim through Samaria and Galilee, where he joined the other Passover pilgrims to travel back down to Jerusalem. The journey culminated in the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, the Cross, and the Resurrection (John 12, Matthew 21, Mark 11, Luke 19).

Matthew 19:1-2 tells that Jesus departed from Galilee and went to Perea (the region of Judea beyond the Jordan). The next narrative event recorded in Matthew’s account is in Matthew 20:17-19, where Jesus is on the final journey to Jerusalem. The events of Matthew 19:3-20:16 likely occurred during either the Perean ministry or during the final journey to Jerusalem.

Source: Doug Bookman, Life of Christ, Audio Series, Lecture 11, https://www.christianity.com/jesus/life-of-jesus/harmony-of-the-gospels/29-jesus%E2%80%99s-strategic-route-to-jerusalem-and-the-triumphal-entry.html

Appendix: Survey of Matthew 19

We have divided the study of Matthew 19 into three sections:


References

[1] Stanley D. Toussaint, Behold The King, Kregel Publications, 1980, Matthew 19:1-30, pages 220-230

[2] H.A. Ironside, Ironside Expository Commentaries, Matthew 19, The New Law of the Kingdom

[3] H.A. Ironside, Ironside Expository Commentaries, Address 62, The Great Refusal, Luke 18:18-30

[4] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary: New Testament, David C. Cook, 2007, Matthew 19:16-26, pages 59-60

[5] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary: New Testament, David C. Cook, 2007, Mark 10:17-31, pages 118-119

[6] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary: New Testament, David C. Cook, 2007, Luke 18:18-34, pages 200-201

[7] Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Book IV, CHAPTER XXII: ON THE JOURNEY TO JERUSALEM, DEPARTURE FROM EPHRAIM BY WAY OF SAMARIA AND GALILEE, HEALING OF TEN LEPERS, PROPHETIC DISCOURSE OF THE COMING KINGDOM, ON DIVORCE: JEWISH VIEWS OF IT, THE BLESSING TO LITTLE CHILDREN (St. Matt. 19: 1, 2; St. Mark 10: 1; St. Luke 17: 11; St. Luke 17: 12-19; St. Matt. 19: 3-12; St. Mark 10: 2-12; St. Matt. 19: 13-15; St. Mark 10: 13-16; St. Luke 18: 15-17.), https://www.ccel.org/ccel/edersheim/lifetimes.ix.xxii.html

[8] Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Book IV, CHAPTER XXIII: THE LAST INCIDENTS IN PEREA, THE YOUNG RULER WHO WENT AWAY SORROWFUL, TO LEAVE ALL FOR CHRIST, PROPHECY OF HIS PASSION, THE REQUEST OF SALOME, AND OF JAMES AND JOHN (St. Matt. 19: 16-22; St. Mark 10: 17-22; St. Luke 18: 18-23; St. Matt. 19: 23-30; St. Mark 10: 23-31; St. Luke 18: 24-30; St. Matt. 20: 17-19; St. Mark 10: 32-34 St. Luke 18: 31-34; St. Matt. 20: 20-28; St. Mark 10: 35-45.), https://www.ccel.org/ccel/edersheim/lifetimes.ix.xxiii.html

[9] Doug Bookman, Life of Christ, Audio Series, Lecture 11, https://www.christianity.com/jesus/life-of-jesus/harmony-of-the-gospels/29-jesus%E2%80%99s-strategic-route-to-jerusalem-and-the-triumphal-entry.html

[10] John MacArthur, How to Obtain Eternal Life, Matthew 19:16-22, May 29, 1983

[11] John MacArthur, The Poverty of Riches/ The Riches of Poverty, Matthew 19:23-29, Jun 5, 1983

[12] John MacArthur, The MacArthur Bible Commentary, Thomas Nelson, 2005, Matthew 19:1-30, pages 1158-1161

[13] John MacArthur, The MacArthur Bible Commentary, Thomas Nelson, 2005, Mark 10:1-31, pages 1229-1232

[14] D.A. Carson, Editor, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew, Zondervan, 2010, Matthew 19:1-30


Notes

[a] The word for “ruler” is generic and can be either a political or a religious leader. This word has been used to describe synagogue leaders (such as Jairus in Matthew 9), local political leaders (Matthew 20:25), and even members of the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem (Luke 23:13). But this man had a very high level of Biblical knowledge and was devoted to God’s commandments. Therefore, most commentators agree that he was most likely a leader of a synagogue.

[b] Some critics of scripture use Matthew 19:17 to argue that Jesus was refusing to be called God. Yet in this scene, He immediately starts to tell the man how to enter eternal life. Only God can give the promise of eternal life, so Jesus must have accepted this title of God in order to make these promises to the man.

[c] Commentators have speculated on the meaning of “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle”, including the possibility that this refers to a small refuse gate in Jerusalem. However, there are no references to such a gate in Jerusalem, nor would any merchant attempt to drive his camel through such a small enclosure. The ancient Persians had the term of “it is easier for an elephant to pass through a needle” to indicate an impossible task, and it seems that the local Jews had adopted this phrase, substituting the elephant for the largest land animal in Palestine, the camel.13 Therefore, the term “camel through the eye of a needle” is most likely referring to a real camel in a real needle, thus showing that the task is impossible.

[d] Judas would later be replaced by another apostle. See Acts 1:12-26.

[e] Matthew 19:30 concludes the chapter with “But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” This verse connects the teaching of rewards in Matthew 19 with the teaching of Matthew 20, that the order of rewards is up to God. It is His sovereign will to decide when and how much he will reward each of His servants.

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