What’s Keeping You From Jesus?

Posted: October 21, 2012 in Matthew

Matthew 19:13-22, “What’s Keeping You From Jesus?”

It’s a simple question: what keeps you from Jesus?  For the children in Matthew 19, it was the most surprising of choices: the disciples!  The people who were supposed to be bringing others TO Jesus were actually keeping them FROM Jesus.  Thankfully, Jesus called the children to Himself in all their humility.  In the case of the rich young ruler, it was himself & his love for his stuff.  He actually kept himself from the Lord and all of the grace that Jesus offered, and he walked away in sadness and tragedy.

May God forbid that we would do the same!  And yet many people will.  They hear of grace, forgiveness, and life offered by Jesus.  They will know and understand that Jesus died for their sins at the cross, and lives today – that He is the Lord of all creation Who loves them.  And yet they will still keep themselves from Jesus because they love the delusion of their stuff rather than the reality that Jesus offers.  Their pride prevents them from the promise of God, and they miss out on eternity.

Matthew 19:13–22
13 Then little children were brought to Him that He might put His hands on them and pray, but the disciples rebuked them.

  1. Where the “little children” came from, we don’t know.  Multitudes had been following Jesus around the east side of the Jordan when the Pharisees had come to test Him – perhaps they came from the crowd.  We don’t know anything about their identity, but we do know a little bit about them: they were extremely young.  The word used here specifically refers to very small children – anything ranging from an infant to a toddler.  We had seen this age-range with Jesus back in Ch 18, when He called a child of this age to Himself to teach the disciples about humility.
  2. Apparently, the disciples had forgotten all about the lesson, because they attempted to turn the children away.  Their parents had come to Jesus, looking for prayer and a blessing (quite the right thing to do!), but the disciples had other ideas and “rebuked them.”  We’re not told what motivated the disciples to do such a thing.  Perhaps they thought the children were a nuisance – perhaps they didn’t have a lot of time & wanted to move on – perhaps they thought the children didn’t have any value to Jesus…we just don’t know.  Yet the fact that the disciples would rebuke anyone from coming to Jesus for prayer is rather shocking.  After all, who better to receive prayer from, than Jesus?  Here they were, in this mission going on for almost 3 years at this point, travelling throughout the land proclaiming the kingdom of God, wanting people to come to Christ and follow Him, and now here comes some children to do exactly that…and the disciples rebuke them and their parents.
    1. How easy it is for us to get in the way of someone else seeing Jesus!
  3. Maybe the disciples had some right motives with the wrong action – maybe they were wrong altogether.  Whatever the case, Jesus disagreed with them.  See vs. 14…

14 But Jesus said, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” 15 And He laid His hands on them and departed from there.

  1. Jesus wanted the children to come to Him!  He had healed multitudes – He had taken time with the Pharisees – He had taken much time with the disciples – certainly He had no problem taking time for children.  This is what He wanted to do. … And this is what Jesus still wants to do.  Children are beloved by God!  God wants children to know Him and to trust Him.
    1. People who serve in Sunday School understand this well.  It’s not a time to babysit some kids while their parents sit in the “regular” service; it’s a time to actively engage in ministry and take kids to the feet of Jesus.  Jesus wants children to come to Him, and those who serve in children’s ministry are acting right in line with the will of God in helping that take place.
    2. Helping children come to Christ is a far bigger task than what can be accomplished for 45 minutes on a Sunday morning.  That 45 minutes can be undone by the time lunch is over on a Sunday afternoon if parents are engaged in activities that undermine the gospel.  Certainly the other 6 days of the week can work directly against the desires of Jesus by taking our kids in the opposite direction of Him.  Parents have a God-given responsibility to bring their children up in a way that lays the foundation for them to know Jesus.  We obviously cannot force our children to come to faith, but we can certainly do everything in our power to help them have the opportunity to come to faith.  (And we can also work against it as well.)
  2. Notice there are two aspects of Jesus’ command here: (1) Let the children come, and (2) Do not forbid them.  There is an open invitation & allowance for the children to come freely unto the Lord, and there is a warning against prohibiting the children from coming at all.  We want to give them the opportunity, and we don’t want to stand in their way either. 
  3. Why does Jesus want the children to come? “For of such is the kingdom of heaven.”  This is basically a repetition of what Jesus was saying back in Ch 18.  Children have the humility and faith necessary to come to Jesus as people need to come.  Matthew 18:3–4, "(3) and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. (4) Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven." []  It’s not that only children go to heaven – it’s that we must come with the same faith as a child might express.  We must come with the same humility that a child has.  A child cannot offer his parents anything in order to be loved; the child simply trust that his parents love him.  A baby cannot do anything to earn favor with her parents; she’s got nothing to offer.  The only thing she can do is receive the love that her parents freely give to her.  That’s the idea of our relationship with God.  We have nothing to offer our Heavenly Father apart from our sinful fallen selves.  We are not deserving of anything from God except His wrath; yet He freely offers us His love and grace.  We must come to that point that we humble ourselves before Him and actively receive the love and grace of Jesus in order to be saved.  That’s the moment that we “convert” and become as children in His sight, and thus gain entrance into the kingdom of heaven.
    1. That’s what Jesus wants of literal children, and that’s what Jesus wants of us.  He desires that all of us would trust Him as a child, and thus receive the promise of the kingdom of heaven.
    2. Have you done that?  Have you personally trusted Christ as Lord – have you been converted?
  4. Finally, Jesus “laid His hands on them,” presumably to pray over them and bless them.  He wanted them to come – they came – and He responded to them.  I love the fact that the Bible includes this part for us!  Certainly we could assume that Jesus would have responded to them, even if the Bible never recorded a word about it, but because the Bible does record it, we don’t have to guess or assume.  We KNOW that Jesus responded to them.  They came in faith, and Jesus responded in His faithfulness.
    1. The point?  Jesus always responds in faithfulness.  To those who come to Christ in humility and trust, you don’t have to guess whether or not Jesus will save you.  When you ask for Jesus’ forgiveness and surrender your life to Him as your Lord, you don’t have to wonder if you will be included in the promises of God.  Jesus responds.  Jesus always responds according to His word.  When Jesus says, “Come unto me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest,” we can know that Jesus WILL give us rest.  When Jesus says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever shall believe in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life,” we can know without a shadow of a doubt that Jesus WILL give us that everlasting life once we believe upon Him.  Jesus will respond to you when you trust Him according to His word!

16 Now behold, one came and said to Him, “Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?”

  1. The children have gone, Jesus has moved on to a different location, and now someone new comes up to Him: the famous so-called “rich young ruler.”  Interestingly enough, the actual text of the Bible never uses that label for him.  Matthew’s account shows that he was young & Luke’s account tells us he was a ruler, and all of the accounts demonstrate that he was wealthy – but the phrase “rich young ruler” doesn’t appear anywhere except in the editorial notes and headings.  It’s doubtful that he (or anyone else) identified himself as a rich young ruler, though undoubtedly people saw him as important.  He certainly did have means and influence, and probably was seen as a man with a bright future ahead of him.  As he came up to Jesus with this question, we can almost see the wheels turning in the disciples’ minds, thinking, “He sure would be a great person to convert & follow Christ!  He would really help our cause!” (Which makes him an interesting juxtaposition to the children.  The disciples didn’t see enough value in the children, because they stopped them from coming to Jesus.  The rich man comes and captures everyone’s attention all at once, and people are later amazed to think that he isn’t closer to the kingdom than everyone.)
  2. The question the young man asked Jesus was a good one, at least on the surface.  He politely asks what he could do to assure himself of eternal life.  Many of us perhaps asked ourselves the same question at some point.  It is a good thing for people to wonder how they know they can be saved, and then look to Jesus for the answers.  That said, there is more to this question that what is on the surface.
    1. Good Teacher.”  No doubt, the man is simply being polite.  Depending on your translation, vss. 16-17 read a bit differently.  The man is still polite in his conversation, but the goodness isn’t focused upon Jesus, but upon the deed (the difference is due to textual variants in Matthew – the accounts in Mark & Luke both show the focus on Jesus).  Either way, the conversation leads him to the same place.  Jesus was indeed a teacher in Israel, and Jesus’ teachings had stirred up the entire country.  But if the man is thinking of Jesus only as a teacher (even a good teacher), but nothing more, there’s a problem.  Jesus is a teacher, but He is vastly more than a teacher!  All over the land, Jesus had demonstrated His authority as God.  Even when He taught the Scriptures, He did so as one who had authority & not like one of the regular scribes (Mk 1:22).  By approaching Jesus only in terms of a teacher, the man was looking at Jesus as someone infinitely less than who He actually is.
    2. Notice the focus on self.  He is looking not for God to assure him of eternal life, but he wants to know how he can assure himself of eternal life.  He is the person who is in control – he is the man with the power over eternal life and death.  Things don’t work that way.  Eternal life can be given to us, but it can never be earned by us.  This rich young man was basically looking for one more thing he could purchase, and eternal life is not for sale.
  3. BTW – note that the man was asking about “eternal life.” At least this much is good!  The man realized that there is life beyond the grave, and that this is a question that needs answering before we go TO the grave.  To know that we have eternal life is not a question that can be put off – it’s not something that we can try to resolve on our death-bed, simply because we don’t know when that death-bed is going to come.  Any one of us could be facing eternity at any given moment.  To know where you are headed after death is THE most important question you can possibly answer, and you need to know the answer before the moment that it is actually needed.
    1. Where are you headed after death?  Death is a certainty.  All of us are going to have the moment that we take our final breath, and we go to see our Maker.  Do you know where you are going?  How can you be sure?  When you have received Jesus as your Lord and Savior (when you have been converted), you CAN know.

17 So He said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.”

  1. The man may have wanted to be polite, but Jesus goes past the niceties to a teachable moment.  It’s not that Jesus is correcting the man regarding His own goodness (Jesus is of course good because Jesus is God); it’s that Jesus is trying to help the man with the definition of goodness.  What goodness are we talking about here? Are we talking about men’s watered down definition of "good" – relative to how good we might be in comparison to someone else?  Or are we talking about true goodness – absolute goodness?  Any of us might seem to be pretty good if we compare ourselves with something bad enough.  Just like a kid who washes his hands think they are clean after 5 seconds in the water.  The mud may be washed off – but it’s not as if he’s ready to enter into a surgical room.  His hands are relatively clean, but certainly not germ-free.  The problem with our comparisons is that we’re always comparing ourselves to something worse; not better.  To compare ourselves to other people, sure we might find ourselves to be pretty good.  But that’s comparison in the wrong direction.  We cannot compare ourselves against one another; we need to compare ourselves against the standard of good – the very definition of good.  That takes us back to Jesus’ question.  If the man is talking about what is really good, then there is only one person who qualifies: God.
  2. God is truly good.  He is supremely good – He is perfectly good.  God is the standard by which we can judge all other goodness.  He is loving, merciful, faithful, compassionate, and kind – He is holy, righteous, and takes vengeance upon evil.  There is none as good as God because any variation whatsoever from His standard is less than absolutely perfect.  God is good in all aspects in all circumstances at all times.  Is God truly that good?  Yes!
    1. Are we truly that bad?  Yes!  Don’t misunderstand.  It’s not that the Bible declares that we do not show good traits from time to time, or don’t treat one another with decency.  There are many very moral, upright people in the world who strive to do their best to leave at peace with one another.  That’s a good thing!  But the problem is that it’s not perfect.  God’s standard is not “a whole bunch of goodness with some bad occasionally mixed in along the way” – it’s perfection.  That’s what Jesus showed during the Sermon on the Mount.  Matthew 5:48, "Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect." []  And the fact is, we’re simply not perfect.  The Bible tells us candidly about our propensity to evil deeds.  Romans 3:10–12, "(10) As it is written: “There is none righteous, no, not one; (11) There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God. (12) They have all turned aside; They have together become unprofitable; There is none who does good, no, not one.”" []  Without the intervening work of Jesus in our lives, we simply don’t have any hope.  If He didn’t do something on our behalf, we would truly sin ourselves into oblivion.  Even the best of our works cannot measure up to the perfect holy goodness of God.  As Isaiah wrote, “all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags,” (Isa 64:6)…i.e. even the best things we can do are like bloodied, toxic rags in comparison with God.  Yes, we are that bad, and we need help!
  3. In fact, it was because of our badness that God gave the law.  We needed a righteous standard that would show us our sin.  After all, if we’re driving 70 mph on the freeway, we might not think anything about it until we see a speed limit sign that shows us the limit dropped temporarily to 60.  That’s what the law of God does for us.  It points out to us our sin, so that we might understand the things we do are truly sinful against God.  As it shows to us our sin, we all of a sudden understand that we are the ones who have found to be sinful & guilty before God, and then we are to fall upon our knees asking for God’s forgiveness and grace.  The law is supposed to be as a schoolmaster that would bring us to the feet of Christ, so the law is truly useful & good.  But it was this aspect of it that this young man before Jesus missed.  He is looking for the magic bullet – the one good thing he could do so that he could know he sealed the deal with God, and that eternal life for him was guaranteed.  And that’s why Jesus took him back to the law. “But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.
    1. Question: Is Jesus telling the man that he can be saved by his good works?  No.  As God the Son, Jesus knows exactly what is in the heart of the young man, and Jesus needed this young man to see that his own heart did not match up to the righteous requirements of the law.  The man thought it did, but he is soon going to discover otherwise.  Jesus takes him back to the commandments to show again to him the standard.  The law was the starting point, and the young man was looking at this starting point incorrectly.

18 He said to Him, “Which ones?”

  1. Already we see a problem here.  To ask “which” commandments should be kept presumes that there were other commandments that could be ignored.  The man was looking for the minimum that needed to be done.  The minimum is irrelevant, because (again) God’s standard is perfection.
  2. Keep in mind, to keep the whole law, yet just fail in one point is to be guilty of breaking the entire thing (Jas 2:10).  The minimum wasn’t going to come close to cutting it for the man.  For Jesus to tell him to “keep the commandments,” was for Jesus to tell him to keep ALL the commandments perfectly for every day of his life, ranging from birth to death.  Every action, every thought needed to be absolutely perfect, exactly as revealed in the commandments of God.  There was no specific commandment that needed to be kept that would trump the rest; the man needed to keep them all.
  3. To drive home this point, Jesus began to list them off…

…Jesus said, “‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not bear false witness,’ 19 ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”

  1. The commandments that Jesus lists out are basically the second tablet of the 10 Commandments, along with what James and Paul describe as the royal law & the fulfillment of the law, to love our neighbor as ourselves.  These are the commandments governing the relationship of men between men.  Jesus wasn’t giving an exhaustive list; He was simply reminding this man of some of the basics of what the law said.  Because this young man is described as a ruler by Luke, some have conjectured that this man might have been a ruler in a local synagogue.  Obviously he does not seem to be a Roman, considering his familiarity with the law – thus the only real leadership position available to him would be within the Jewish religious community.  Jesus is reminding this man of the things that he should have already known.  If he’s asking about the commandments, he should well know what the commandments of God are.  (Of course, the fact that he’s asking at all shows that he didn’t really understand the truth behind the commandments, nor the purpose of them.)
  2. Question: will someone go to heaven if they keep these commandments?  No.  What about all 10 Commandments?  No.  What about all 613 of the statutes of Moses?  No.  Does Jesus imply otherwise here? No.  Jesus simply starts listing off the law, and His whole point is that the man had NOT kept the commandments, and his protests to the contrary were really futile.  Jesus had taught on much of this during the Sermon on the Mount, showing the heart of God behind the law.  To even look at a person with lust was to commit adultery.  To hate a man is to commit murder.  The law is perfect, and demands perfection.  Our obedience to God’s commands never justifies us; it only underscores our continual need for grace.
  3. Think about it: no one can be justified by looking at the 10 Commandments.  Get personal with it and go through it yourself. [ppt]
    1. No other gods.  Have we loved anything more than God?  Have we given our worship to another?
    2. No graven images.  Have we substituted any idea for God other than how He revealed Himself?
    3. Do not take God’s name in vain.  Have we used God’s name callously or without thought? (OMG – curse words)
    4. Remember the Sabbath day.  Have we given God our first?  Have we worked to please God instead of resting in Jesus?
    5. Honor parents. Have we ever brought shame to our parents? (Through perhaps any of the other sins we already did!)
    6. Do not murder.  Have we ever hated anyone?
    7. Do not commit adultery.  Have we ever looked with lust?
    8. Do not steal. Have we ever taken anything that wasn’t ours?
    9. Do not bear false witness.  Have we always told the complete truth?  Have we ever insinuated something about someone else that might not be accurate?
    10. Do not covet. Have we ever wanted something that belonged to another?
  4. If you’re like the rest of us, this list just decimates you.  Most of us have broken all 10 of the 10 Commandments – sometimes all in one day!  It ought to be impossible to look at the commandments of God and justify ourselves…to pat ourselves on the back & say, “Great job in being perfectly holy today!”  It just can’t be done.  To look at it honestly just goes to show what kind of desperate straits we are in.  It shows how badly we need to be forgiven by Jesus.  (And the good news is He DOES forgive!  Just ask!)

20 The young man said to Him, “All these things I have kept from my youth. What do I still lack?”

  1. Baloney.  There is no way anyone can keep any of the law perfectly all his life, despite his protests to the contrary.  At this point, his own self-righteousness becomes evident to everyone, except himself.  He is blinded to his own pride.  If he had been looking at the law rightly, he would have understood his poverty of spirit and need for grace.  But he wasn’t looking to the law to see the righteousness of God; he was looking to the law to see his own attempts at righteousness.
  2. People are blinded by their deeds all the time.  They think, “I’m a good neighbor – I pay my taxes – I provide for my family – I go to church a couple of times a year…I’m good to go.  Surely, there’s nothing I lack in regards to eternal life in heaven.”  The truth of the matter, they lack everything.  Without the grace of God extended through Jesus Christ, NONE of us have any hope at all of eternal life!  Our deeds simply cannot justify us, no matter what our protests might be to the contrary.
  3. Jesus understands this young man’s problem perfectly, and says the very words that open his eyes to reality for the first time.  See vs. 21…

21 Jesus said to him, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”

  1. It was the man’s pride and self-righteousness that Jesus points out.  Here he was, so proud of what he had accomplished, and how close he thought he was to the kingdom…and Jesus shows that he was infinitely far from it, and in fact, headed in the opposite direction.  The young man claimed that he had kept all the commandments from his youth – even the commandment to love his neighbor as himself.  OK then, if he truly loved his neighbor as himself, he should go sell all of his possessions, and give them away to the poor, and that would demonstrate how well he kept the commandments.  The man had great possessions for himself, so there was no doubt he loved himself.  Now he is challenged to love the poor to the same extent – go & give it all away, and then come follow Jesus.
  2. If he had given it away, what would he have received? “Treasure in heaven…”  The young man was looking for eternal life, and Jesus was offering it.  He was offering treasure that would not rust nor be corrupted, where thieves could not break in & steal.  He was offering abundant life for all of eternity.  All the man needed to do was lay his current life down to take up the life Jesus offered.  …
  3. Question: Can charity purchase us eternal life?  No.  As Paul wrote, we could give all our goods to feed the poor, but if we still lack the love of God, we have nothing. (1 Cor 13:3)  Riches aren’t the way to eternal life, whether we are blessed with riches, or if we give them away.  But riches can certainly be an obstacle to eternal life (as Jesus goes on to show in the rest of Ch 19).  Riches can get in the way of surrendering everything we are to God.  Riches can be just as much of an idol as a giant pagan statue.  The issue isn’t giving away money; it’s giving your heart to God.
    1. That said – are you willing to give it all away?  What if Jesus asked you to do the same thing as the rich young ruler – how would you respond?  Sometimes in our efforts to show that eternal life is not gained by giving away our money, we think that there is never a situation in which God would ever call us to give our money and possessions away.  Be careful!  To take too much pride and comfort in that might mean we hold our possession in just as much of an idolatrous way as the young man.
  4. Please note Jesus’ invitation here.  Jesus didn’t just tell him to sell everything; He invited the man to follow Him.  Don’t miss this!  Without following Jesus, giving his money away would have done the young man little good whatsoever.  All that would have done would have kept him at the place of the law and commandments.  He would have done the “one thing” and thought that he had earned his place in heaven.  That’s not it at all!  He needed to give up his pride & his idol (no doubt!), but what he most needed was to follow Jesus as Lord.  He needed to get past the polite niceties of the Good Teacher, and leave everything behind to follow Jesus as one of His disciples. …

22 But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

  1. In the end, he turned away from Jesus.  How tragic!  Even after being invited by Jesus to follow Him as a disciple, the rich man refused.  His riches were more valuable than other people.  His riches were more valuable than God.  His earthly riches were more important to him than heavenly riches for all of eternity.  And guess what?  He knew it.  “He went away sorrowful” because he knew exactly what he was giving up: eternal life.
  2. Some people still make this same choice. They choose stuff over Jesus – they choose self over Jesus – they choose the things of this world over that which is infinitely better and lasts infinitely longer.  Jesus offered this man everything – He offered the eternal life that the man truly desired.  But he loved what he had at the time more than what he would gain otherwise.  Matthew 16:26, "For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?" []  Apparently the young man had a price point he wasn’t willing to pass.  Don’t make this same mistake!

Conclusion:
What do you trust in for eternal life?  The blessing and grace of Jesus, as with the humble children – or the things you think you can do to impress God?  One is borne out of humility and faith, and the other is a pure declaration of pride.  It is to love ourselves more than God, and thus to lose out on the promises Jesus offers.

Even those who already follow Christ as Lord can fall into this trap.  We joyfully turned to Jesus on the day of our salvation, but as time went on we started becoming entranced by the things of the world again.  We started thinking how God is really lucky to have us as His children, because we are so holy & righteous.  Be careful!  That is to forget who we are, who Jesus is, and what Jesus has done for us.  We are to not only come humbly to Jesus, but we are to stay humble with Jesus.

How wonderful it would have been if this story had turned out differently!  We remember the rich young ruler because of his tragedy; not his joy.  But what would have happened if he had followed Jesus?  Who knows…  Perhaps we’ll see in heaven one day that he came to his senses and repented.  We can ask the “what if” about him, but we certainly don’t want to be asking “what if” about ourselves!  Today, is there anything that stands between you and the Lord Jesus Christ?  Is there anything of which you’re hanging on to that prevents you from humbly coming to Him as a little child and receiving Him as your King?  For the young man, it was his wealth.  For some, it’s the attraction of sin.  For others, it’s their stubborn pride.  Whatever the case might be in your life, examine that thing closely.  Is it worth one year of your life – 10 years – 50 years?  What about 500-5000 years and beyond?  We’re talking about questions of eternity.  What do you want for the rest of your existence?  Things of this world will last only as long as we live to enjoy them – and then, maybe not even that long.  Afterwards you must meet your Maker, and the terms of how you meet Him will have already been set.

Today, surrender everything to follow Christ.  Take Jesus up on the invitation He gave to the young man, and do what the man did not: leave your old life behind to follow Jesus as a disciple.  Turn to Jesus in faith and prayer today, and tell Him your belief in Him and your desire to be made His own.  Just as Jesus did with the children, He will receive and respond to all who come to Him in humble faith.  He will receive you, as well.

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