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Matthew 19:16-26 2BC

Matthew 19:16-26 
Lesson for March 18-19, 2017 
Reagan Reynolds 

There was an HBO comedy show from 2007-2009 called Flight of the Conchords. The show followed a comedy folk musical duo as they participated in antics and played their songs. In one particularly hilarious bit, the two friends, Bret and Jemaine, are talking about Bret's love life. Bret wants Jemaine's feedback on a song he wrote for his girlfriend, and so he plays it for him. The song lists a litany of things that Bret claims that he would do for the girl that he loves. Some of the lyrics are as follows: 

"I'd climb the highest mountain, I'd swim the deepest ocean, I'd walk along the longest path: to be with you." Later on, more of the lyrics continue, "I'd solve the hardest puzzle, I'd race the fastest animal, eat the biggest meal: to be with you." 

After he finishes playing the song, Bret asks Jemaine what he thinks about the lyrics, and this exchange follows. 

Jermaine: The song says 'I'd climb the highest mountain.' Would you actually do that? 

Bret: Probably not. 

Jemaine: Well, you're sort of promising that you would. 

Bret: Well, it's a metaphor. 

Jemaine: Ah ok. What's it a metaphor for? 

Bret: For the fact that I'd do anything for her. 

Jemaine: Well would you climb the highest mountain for her? 

Bret: Ah, I see. Well, no. I guess I probably wouldn't do a lot of this stuff. 

Jemaine: (holding the sheet with lyrics) Would you swallow a whole sword? 

Bret: Ok, I probably wouldn't do that one either. 

Jemaine: Ya maybe you should make the song about more realistic things you would do for her. 

There are many love songs that try to do something similar to Bret's song, naming all the things that one person is willing to do for his or her significant other. But as anyone who has ever been in a long term relationship probably knows, it is one thing to say "I would do anything for you," but it is a completely different thing to follow through with such promises. 

Our passage today illuminates an essential truth to following Jesus: Jesus expects us to put away all other allegiances and loves as we follow Him. 

1) Following Jesus often means giving up the things we hold most tightly 

16 Now someone came up to him and said, "Teacher, what good thing must I do to gain eternal life?" 17 He said to him, "Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments." 18 "Which ones?" he asked. Jesus replied, "Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, 19 honor your father and mother, and love your neighbor as yourself." 20 The young man said to him, "I have wholeheartedly obeyed all these laws. What do I still lack?" 21 Jesus said to him, "If you wish to be perfect, go sell your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." 22 But when the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he was very rich. 

At this point in the story, we are in the latter part of Jesus' ministry. He has collected disciples, He has taught in a unique way that astounded His audiences, He has healed people and cast out demons, and He has done all other kinds of miracles. To anyone listening or paying attention in Israel, it would be clear at this point that there was something unique and special about Jesus. 

Because of this, Jesus is approached by a young man who wants to know how he can attain eternal life. Jesus already knows what is in the young man's heart, so he directs the conversation to hit the young man right where it hurts. Jesus begins by telling him that he needs to keep the commandments, specifically these commands: don't murder, don't commit adultery, don't steal, don't give false witness, honor father and mother, and to love one's neighbor. The young man responds by telling Jesus that he has obeyed all of those laws, but asks what he is still missing. The young man had been keeping the Law his entire life, and in most respects would have been considered a righteous Israelite, but he feels that he still lacks something. This is where Jesus gets to the heart of the issue, and He tells the man that if he wishes to be perfect, then all he has to do is sell his possessions and give them away, and then to follow Him. The young man became sad and left because he was very rich. 

So what exactly happened in this passage? The young Jewish man was a faithful follower of the Jewish Law, by and large keeping the commandments. He asks Jesus what he needs to do to have eternal life, and Jesus tells him that he must sell his possessions and join the ranks of Jesus' followers. Why does Jesus say this? Does Jesus require all people to sell their possessions and give them away to have eternal life? No, but it seems pretty clear that Jesus gave this commission to the young man because for this particular young man, his wealth was the thing that he treasured above anything else in his life. It didn't matter how closely the young man followed the Law because the way we inherit eternal life comes from following Jesus. And for this young man, the thing that was keeping him from truly being able to follow Jesus was his love for possessions and wealth. A couple of chapters ago, Jesus told his disciples "If anyone wants to become my follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me" (Matthew 16:24). What does it mean to have eternal life, and to experience the purpose that comes from the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in this life? It means putting aside the things we used to love in favor of a new, greater love: Jesus Christ. 


TEACHERS: This is a point in the lesson where it would be good to get your people asking themselves the question: 'what is the thing that I love most in my life right now'? Or the next question: 'What is the thing that I love too much right now that is keeping me from following Jesus'? If you think it necessary, it might be helpful to prompt your class on some of the things that many of us end up loving too much. It is essential that we communicate to our classes that anything we choose to hold on to too tightly can lead us to miss the plans and purposes that God has for us. Here is a list to start (you can add more as you think of them). 

  • Wealth 

  • Possessions 

  • Kids 

  • Social Status 

  • Career 

  • Personal Comfort 

  • Entertainment 

  • Individual Achievement 

2) If we are not prepared and careful, wealth can be hazardous to our spiritual life

23 Then Jesus said to his disciples, "I tell you the truth, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven! 24 Again I say, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter into the kingdom of God." 

Jesus says a lot about money in the gospels. The reason He does this is because a great deal of human behavior is tied in with the way we respond to money and possessions. Very few aspects of human life other than money can force us to grapple consistently with making decisions about our selfishness, wastefulness, laziness, self-control issues, kindness, altruism, and all other kinds of vices and virtues. In Financial Peace University, which a large portion of our church just completed, Dave Ramsey explains this concept by saying that 'having more money just makes you more of what you already are.' This means that if you are a kind, selfless person, then having more money gives you more ability and influence to use that money for purposes of kindness and compassion. However, if you are a selfish, short-sighted, petty person, then giving you more money will just make you and your family even more miserable. 

Jesus is absolutely right in these verses, being a rich person can make it hard to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. If a person has wealth without being mature enough to be prepared for it, it is easy for that person to miss the reality of his or her desperate need for God. Wealth and possessions can put temporary blinders on us because money can buy a lot of things. Money can buy security, pleasure, status, comfort, and all other kinds of perks. When these needs and wants are met through money, it can be easy to forget that we desperately need the mercy and providence of God to even exist moment to moment. There are a million ways that people have tried to explain away this passage because it is inconvenient to hear for many people who do have great wealth, but we would be making a serious mistake to miss Jesus' warning. Those of us who have wealth must be incredibly careful and watchful of our own hearts, making sure that the comforts and perks that come from having great wealth don't blind us to our purpose and calling that come only from Christ. 

3) God can overcome our mistakes and shortcomings and give us true life and purpose 

25 The disciples were greatly astonished when they heard this and said, "Then who can be saved?" 26 Jesus looked at them and replied, "This is impossible for mere humans, but for God all things are possible." 

While this passage begins with negativity about possessions and how they can keep us from eternal life, Jesus follows up by telling the disciples that God is able to overcome these things. Previously, Jesus said that it is remarkably difficult, if not impossible, for a rich person to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven, so the disciples ask, 'Then who can be saved?' Another way of asking this questions would be, 'How can anyone be saved?' Jesus gives a simple answer: it is impossible for humans to save themselves, but for God all things are possible. Nobody can be saved apart from God's grace. What exactly does this mean? Jesus wants everyone to know that even though we all have things that we have come to love too much. Human sin perverts our hearts and puts our priorities and the things we love into incorrect alignment. However, Jesus makes it clear that God is in the business of breaking humans free of these falsely ordered loves that leave our hearts in bondage. Is it extremely hard for a rich man would enter into the Kingdom of Heaven? Yes, but God saves rich people all the time! Is it hard for a selfish person to become a Kingdom-minded, selfless person? Of course, but God saves selfish people all the time! Even beyond the scope of people becoming Christians, God continues to overcome these deficiencies and these false loves for the entire time that we are here on Earth. 

It doesn't end when you pray to receive Christ, because that is only the beginning. When we take up our cross daily and follow Jesus, He slowly (and sometimes quickly) strips away all of our falsely ordered priorities and molds us to become more like Him. But what does He require of us in order to do these things? He requires that we get into the daily discipline of following Him, denying ourselves, and finding the future and the purpose that He has for us.