During one of Jesus’ teachings, He used children as an illustration of the makeup of the Kingdom of God. Basically, He told the crowd the way into the Kingdom was to become like a little child. The implication was to have simple faith and trust. After sharing the Truth with the people, He left to continue His itinerate journey to reach as many people as possible. The Scriptures say that a man came running to Jesus and “kneeled” before Him and asked Him what “good thing” he should do to have eternal life. It would seem that this individual had heard Jesus talk about the Kingdom of God and was convicted of his own spiritual emptiness. He heard Jesus talk about becoming like little children, but it did not register how that would affect him. He had to find out what he needed to do to have eternal life. I wonder, does our preaching today bring conviction or does it sustain the sinner’s status?
Jesus’ encounter with this rich man was something to behold. He started the dialogue with him at the man’s level. It seems the man thought that eternal life was something that could be achieved by actions. So, Jesus went along with what the man was thinking. If he thought eternal life was by works than he would have to do certain things. Jesus then lists five Commandments, while adding “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” Jesus purposely did not mention the first three Commandments, for those were beyond the realm of horizontal actions. Notice that the man was thinking that eternal life was contingent on doing only one thing. (He was right, but he was thinking it was an outward action rather than an inward decision.) After Jesus listed six things, the man responded by telling Him that he had done all those things since he was young. The man pressed Jesus by asking Him what he was lacking or missing. Remember, Jesus was responding to the man’s arena of thought, so He told him if he was really serious to “sell what he had and give it to the poor.” I can just see this rich young ruler move from hopefulness to hopelessness. Moments before, he had come running to Jesus hoping to know what he had to do to have eternal life. Now, he was walking away grieved because all he had to look forward to was a temporal life filled with vanishing things.
The Kingdom of God, both visible and invisible, is not achieved by our actions, but by the action of Jesus. It is not by our works, but by His work. Works are an important part of the Christian’s life, but they are not the stairs to eternal life. Works are done on the other side of salvation, not a prerequisite to salvation. Works display our faith, not initiate our faith.
This man’s possessions spoke louder than Jesus’ words. What Jesus stressed to this man was that if he wanted to try to gain eternal life by works, he would have to give up everything of worth, but even then he would fall short. Jesus put a little “diamond in the rough,” when He told the ruler if he would give all his possessions away, he would have treasure in Heaven. The rate of exchange Jesus was offering was phenomenal. That should have stirred his interest, but he was so wrapped up in earthly things that he could not see beyond the here and now. Jesus’ last words to this rich man were to “come and follow” Him. That is the invitation that Jesus is still offering to all those seeking the Truth. (Matthew 19:16-22, Mark 10:17-22, Luke 18:18-23)