He went away sad, because he had great wealth. (Matthew 19:22)
The “stuff” of this life can blind us to what matters most, especially to our intimate, personal relationship with our Savior. The Bible relates the heart-wrenching story of a rich young man who had an unsettling encounter with Jesus Christ. So important is this story that we find it in all three of the synoptic Gospels: Matthew, Mark, and Luke.
A man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, obey the commandments.” “Which ones?” the man inquired. Jesus replied, “‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’” “All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?” Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth. (Matthew 19:16-22)
This man had what most people want. He had money and possessions. He had social status. He had an education. He had his youth. In the eyes of the watching world, this rich young man had it all! But deep down in his heart, he knew there was still something missing that all the stuff in this world could never satisfy. At the end of the story, we learn that what he did not have was the one thing he really needed: a Savior.
The young man could not see his own sin. He claimed to have kept the law, yet, we know he actually had broken every commandment, starting with the first: “You shall have no other gods before me.” His stuff was his god, and his stuff had blinded him to what he needed most. Surely when he was speaking with Jesus about the commandments, he should have recalled verses from the Old Testament Scriptures:
There is no one who does not sin. (1 Kings 8:46)
If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? (Psalm 103:3)
All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags. (Isaiah 64:6)
Jesus pierced the man’s misplaced confidence and went straight to the heart of the matter: “Sell your stuff and follow your Savior!” It is important to understand that this is not a command to every Christian. Many who follow Jesus have great wealth; they understand that the reason they have this wealth is to witness to the One who has given it to them. You may remember that Zacchaeus offered to give half of his money away (Luke 19), and Jesus was pleased with this response.
You see, Jesus knows exactly what we all need. He knew that the stuff this rich young man possessed had lured his heart away from a personal relationship with his Savior. What had given this man such great social status — wealth — stood in the way of a saving relationship with Jesus. If the rich young man had let go of his stuff, he would have received unimaginable riches in his Savior (Ephesians 3:8). And along with that, he would have acquired a new family with whom to share what matters most in life: the love of God and the God of love.
Is there anything standing in the way of your right relationship with your Savior? Remember, it is never what you possess, but what possesses you.
One final thought: I don’t believe this young man went away sad just because he had great wealth. He loved his great wealth; if he hadn’t loved his stuff so much, he would have been willing to set it aside. The gospels are telling us that he went away sad because he was choosing to walk away from the only thing he truly needed: the love of Christ.
This account reminds me to heed the exhortation from the letter to the Hebrews:
Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus . . . (Hebrews 12:1-2)
This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!