In the Bible, there is a conversation that occurs between Jesus and a young ruler that I want to take a look at today.  The great commandment is spoken of in this conversation between the two and I want to make it my focus for today’s sermon. We will take a look at the recording found in the gospel of Luke, but you can find this conversation in the other synoptic gospels as well.

22 So when Jesus heard these things, He said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”

Luke 18:22 NKJV

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“You lack one thing,” Jesus said to the rich young ruler.  What did he lack?  One thing nobody wants to hear is that they are lacking something required.  You know what I mean by that?  For example, with Thanksgiving just having passed, when you’re cooking something and you believe you have everything you need but you’re lacking an ingredient – that’s an emergency trip to the store.  None of us ever want to stand before the Lord and the Lord say to us that we are lacking

The rich young ruler

I want to get into my key verse even more, but let’s take a look at this conversation and how we got to the point of Jesus saying this to the young ruler.  To setup this encounter, let’s remember that Jesus, by this point in time, is well into His ministry.  Jesus has performed miracles, healed, and taught many people.  In fact, within this chapter of Luke, we find Jesus teaching a few familiar parables.

We can imagine that this rich young ruler has heard of Jesus and has an idea about who Jesus is.  Like many, he wanted to speak with Jesus since he had likely heard so much about Him.  The young ruler approaches Jesus and calls Him “Good Teacher” (v.18) – Good Master in KJV.  There were many people who called Jesus rabbi – a Jewish scholar or teacher, especially one who studies or teaches Jewish law.

Jesus, in a way, challenges the young man right away in the conversation.  Jesus responds to the young ruler (v.19), “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God.”  It’s as if Jesus is saying to the young ruler, “are you certain I am good or are you just saying that because you have heard everybody else say that about me?”  As you heard me preach in several sermons, especially recent, faith must be genuine.  Your genuine faith is always going to be under challenge.  Jesus is challenging whether this certain young ruler was genuine in His faith.  There are many today who believe solely based on what they have heard instead of believing in Him genuinely – be careful of doing this because this leads to religion instead of genuine faith.

Now, notice what the rich young ruler asks Jesus.

18 Now a certain ruler asked Him, saying, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”

Luke 18:18 NKJV

The rich young ruler is seeking to inherit eternal life!  This is absolutely fascinating to me and I will tell you why.  Many folks came to Jesus for Jesus to heal them.  Nicodemus came to Jesus to see how it was Jesus was doing the things He was doing; he left being taught about being born again (John 3).  This rich young ruler was not sick, not in need of anything, and so he came to Jesus looking to see how he could inherit eternal life. 

We often think that folks who have great wealth are better off, but there was something else that this man wanted.  Now, I do not know if this young ruler was aware that the eternal life Jesus spoke of was a spiritual eternity but let’s assume that he understood this because no man was physically living forever.  He had likely heard of Jesus’ message and probably wanted to assure himself of eternity.

What can I do to inherit eternal life?

All of us want that same assurance of eternal life I believe.  We don’t want this physical life to be the sole life we give, so we all aspire to live a life that will lead to an eternal one after we die physically.  For those of us who genuinely believe in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, we don’t much ask the question, “what do I have to do to go to heaven?’  Why?  Because we all know that it takes genuine faith

So, this makes me wonder what exactly was the young ruler being taught.  What did this young ruler believe and have faith in?  Why did this young ruler not already know the answer to his question?  We will see that this man was living by the Law because Jesus asks him about the Law.

20 You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not bear false witness,’ ‘Honor your father and your mother.’ ”

Luke 18:20 NKJV

Now, pay close attention to this man’s response to Jesus.

21 And he said, “All these things I have kept from my youth.”

Luke 18:21 NKJV

He confidently answers that he’s kept the commandments – also keep this in mind.  At this moment, we can imagine that the rich young ruler feels he has his seat in heaven because he has kept the commandments.  It is at this point that I want to say that I believe this young ruler was a “checklist” believer.  You may recall that I preached about the checklist Christians in a sermon earlier this year – When the Praise Go Up.

We have to be wary of becoming a checklist believer.  This young ruler likely heard those commandments and thought over in his head what Jesus was saying.  “Have I committed adultery?  Have I murdered anybody?  Have I beared false witness?  Did I honor my father and mother?”  There are many who look at the commandments like it is a checklist, and because they are keeping that checklist, they believe they have a seat in the kingdom.  However, again I say to all of you, you can keep that checklist but it’s not going to get you into the heavenly kingdom if you do not have genuine faith in the only begotten Son.  If you are living solely by that checklist, all you are doing is practicing religion – you must live by God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Jesus knew that the Mosaic Law was what was being taught in this day.  However, as I often say, Jesus is the conclusion of the Law – meaning genuine faith in Him and His way is what we must also keep.  Jesus taught (Matthew 22:37-40) that we must love

Look at what Jesus says to the confident young man:

22 So when Jesus heard these things, He said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”

Luke 18:22 NKJV

Jesus knew that this young man had not been practicing the great commandment of love!  This young ruler was confident in himself, said he had been keeping the commandments since he was a boy, yet he had missed out on the importance of love.  So, Jesus challenges

The one of genuine faith would happily let go of everything he/she has to follow Christ – even Peter says this (Luke 18:28).  However, what this rich young ruler does next is very revealing.

23 But when he heard this, he became very sorrowful, for he was very rich.

Luke 18:23 NKJV

This is very revealing and here is our lesson for today.  We must take a look at the true character that has been revealed here about this rich young ruler that wanted to go to heaven. 

Does the great commandment reside in your true character?

In his true character, we find that the ruler had no problem with the first section of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20).  The first section of the Ten Commandments focuses on man’s relationship with God.  For example, “you shall have no other gods before Me,” commanded the Lord to the Israelites.  The young ruler would say he obeyed this commandment.  The second section of the Ten Commandments focused on man’s relationship with others.  In fact, a great deal of the Mosaic Law focused on how man should treat both his fellow man, the stranger, and those in need.

Arrogance & superior-minded

When the story of the rich young ruler is taught, we often make him being rich the problem.  The problem was not necessarily him being rich, but we find that the problem actually ran a lot deeper.  At the very start of his conversation with Jesus, he reveals himself to be very arrogant and superior-minded.  How can we conclude this?

When Jesus mentioned the Ten Commandments and the Law, remember, the man confidently said that he had kept all the Commandments since he was a child.  You may ask, what’s wrong with that?  The problem with this is that no man could ever keep the Commandments – it was impossible.  No man could ever fully keep the Law – it was impossible.  You would have to be absolutely perfect to do so, and nobody is perfect!  We have to admit to ourselves that we are not perfect and that we are sinners.  This young ruler thought that he was perfect, and in truth, he was greatly mistaken.  So, he was arrogant and superior-minded.

Materialistic and self-centered

In his response to Jesus’ invitation to follow Him, it is also revealed that this rich young ruler is self-centered and materialistic.  Jesus tells him to sell his possessions and he couldn’t do so; he chose to hang on to all that he possessed instead of following Jesus.  When you follow Christ, you understand that these possessions, this physical life as well, is all temporary.  You would give away all you have to follow Jesus and be with him in eternity.

There are many people who haven’t truly accepted this mindset.  They say that they follow Jesus, but they are holding on to this world with a kungfu grip!  We cannot allow the love of this world to block us from being with Jesus.

No empathy or love

He truly lacked being able to follow the great commandment of love.  This rich young ruler had absolutely no empathy for those all around, even those in need.  Again, he was truly a self-centered and self-important man.  He was too focused on himself to be concerned about others.  Even when you take a look at what he was seeking, the question was all about him instead of being about all people.  He could have asked, “how do we inherit eternal life?”  Instead, his question was focused entirely on himself.

This young ruler had no love for those around him.  Tragically there are many people who say they are believers but there is no empathy or love in them.  They are too concerned about their own concerns instead of being concerned for others and their concerns – that’s truly saddening.  For we, as genuine believers, having empathy and love for others should be like breathing – something that comes naturally.

As we wind down on 2018, if there is one thing that I hope you have taken away from my sermons this year it is this:  love your neighbor.  Remember what is said in Matthew 22:37-39 – love the Lord your God with all of your heart and soul.  Love your neighbor as you love yourself.  Jesus said this about these two commandments:

40 On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

Matthew 22:40 NKJ

All the Mosaic Law and the Prophets hang on these two great commandments which come together as one great commandment – love.  Paul said that love is the greatest of all things and I truly do believe this.  When all has passed, love will still exist because God is love.  Never be so self-centered and superior-minded that you become blind to empathy and love.  Self-importance and self-righteousness block us from genuine faith so we must move beyond both self-importance and self-righteousness.

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