I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.
Someone came to Jesus with this question: “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” Matthew 19:16 NLT
Is this a profound question? Not really. It is a very shallow and selfish question. The person asking this question is only interested in their own prosperity. A profound question would be, “How can I express my love for you Jesus?” Or “How can I be a better member of my community?” But the man asking the question is not interested in any of that as we will soon see. He just wants to know, how do I make sure I get to live forever.
“Why ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. But to answer your question—if you want to receive eternal life, keep the commandments.” Matthew 19:17 NLT
Jesus’ answer surprises some people that, even here in the New Testament Jesus is referring to commandment keeping. In the New Testament. Where we have grace, Jesus is still talking about obedience. The New Testament never removed obedience to the commandments. Jesus told the man, if you want eternal life, keep the commandments. Later, Paul said,
In this way, God qualified him [Jesus] as a perfect High Priest, and he became the source of eternal salvation for all those who obey him. Hebrews 5:9 NLT
But actually, by telling the man to keep the commandments, Jesus meant more than just doing good deeds to get eternal life. By telling the man to keep the commandments, Jesus was wanting a relationship with Him. When the man asked which commands to keep, Jesus quoted a few, which all dealt directly with relationships.
You must not murder. [No murder sounds pretty important to a relationship to me!] You must not commit adultery. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely. Honor your father and mother. Love your neighbor as yourself. Matthew 19:18-19 NLT
Yes, those are all pretty important to relationships. But as we read further, we see the man is clearly not interested in a relationship. He is only interested in himself and his own eternal prosperity.
Jesus told him, “If you want to be perfect, go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” Matthew 19:21 NLT
Jesus told him to sell all he had, but He did not necessarily mean to give it all to the poor. Maybe Jesus just meant for him to downsize. You know, sell your Porsche and buy a Hyundai, and give what is left over for the poor. But one thing that is clear, is Jesus wanted the man to follow Him. He wanted a relationship with this person. But remember, the man was not interested in a relationship with Jesus. In His original question he clearly was only asking, “what good deed must I do to have eternal life.” People do good deeds for me all the time, who desire no relationship with me whatsoever. Why just today, a stranger helped start my car with some jumper cables and then ran off. They were happy to do a good deed but did not desire a relationship with me. The man in our story is not interested in following Jesus, but he is interested in doing good deeds if it means he can live forever. Sound familiar? Do we sometimes get so worked up performing good deeds that we forget to actually spend time with Jesus, and enjoy His company?
Fact is, you can’t truly keep the commandments without a relationship with Jesus. Keeping the commandments to get to heaven is not really keeping the commandments! Keeping the commandments in order to achieve an award is very self serving, and a self-serving spirit is totally contrary to the spirit of the law. Earlier the man claimed to be a commandment keeper.
“I’ve obeyed all these commandments,” the young man replied.Matthew 19:20 NLT
But in reality he was no commandment keeper at all. The first four commandments tell us how to serve Jesus in our relationship with Him, and the last six commandments tell us how to serve others in our relationship with them. You can’t keep the commandments without serving God and others, and the man was quite direct in his questioning that his only purpose was to serve himself. Some may be able to keep the letter of the law and pretend to be serving others, but to keep the spirit of the law one must be all about relationships, serving God and others.
he went away sad, for he had many possessions. Then Jesus said to his disciples, “I tell you the truth, it is very hard for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. I’ll say it again—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!” The disciples were astounded. “Then who in the world can be saved?” they asked. Jesus looked at them intently and said, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God everything is possible.” Matthew 19:22-26 NLT
The man went away sad, because he found no joy in serving God and others. The man may have been happy to give a large one sum offering to help build a temple, but a continuous relationship of serving God and others day in and day out was just too much to ask of this man. Keeping the commandments every now and then, or on a whim whenever it just happens to work out to be self-beneficial is really not keeping the commandments at all.
Even the disciples were amazed that a rich man could not buy his way to heaven. This scared them, because if a rich man could not buy his way to heaven, then how could a poor man possibly afford it? Peter reminds Jesus of the price they had paid.
“We’ve given up everything to follow you. What will we get?”Matthew 19:27 NLT
Now put yourself in Jesus’ shoes and tell me what would be your reaction to Peter’s question? I mean, what if your spouse told you on your golden anniversary, “I’ve sacrificed my own independence so I could live with your for 50 years now. What do I get for it?” Wanting a prize at the end of the 50 years kind of makes the 50 year relationship look meaningless doesn’t it? I mean did you get married for a prize and reward, or did you get married to spend the rest of your life with someone you love? By asking the question, Peter puts himself in the same situation as the rich man. Both are asking about a reward, not realizing a relationship with Jesus is its own reward! Peter got to walk with Jesus for 3 1/2 years. What more could he want? If the Queen of England came to Florida to visit me for a couple days, at the end of two days I sure would not be asking her, “What do I get for spending time with you?” If she graced me with her presence that would be reward enough-how much more so with God!
Sure you can read on in Matthew 19:28-30 NLT, where Jesus tells Peter He will be well taken care of temporally as well as spiritually, But Jesus does add in verse 30,
But many who are the greatest now will be least important then, and those who seem least important now will be the greatest then.
Those who “seemed” least important are those who were keeping the commandments, not with a self-serving agenda of becoming great, but rather keeping them simply because they love Jesus and consider their relationship with Him to be their greatest treasure.
He regards more the love and faithfulness with which we work than the amount we do. –Ellen White, Christ Object Lesson, Page 402
You may study this week’s SS lesson here.