Does Jesus Owe an Apology?
The rich young ruler was very serious about the commandments of God, but Jesus still saw him as unfit for the Kingdom because of lacking just one thing. Do we take God's commandments as seriously as he did and still expect that we are on good terms with God? Are we looking to have our way or are we looking to change?
The Rich Young Ruler Was Serious
The rich young ruler was very serious about obeying God and doing all the things that he could possibly do to follow God, as far as he knew God. He was very serious about it. He wasn’t cutting corners. He wasn’t trying to compromise in any way. He wasn’t just playing a little religious game and going to church on Sunday, then living his own life the way he wanted to. He was allowing it to affect his life. “Do not murder, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.” From the time of his youth, in all these different areas of his life, he refused to disobey God. This man was very serious. Then he catches just a whisper that the Messiah might have come, or at least a good teacher, a very important person, somebody like that. A good teacher, right? That’s how he addressed Him. He catches just a glimpse of the fact that there might be somebody who teaches the way of righteousness. He saddles up the camel, brings his whole household and takes off after this Guy. He’s serious about it. He’s not playing games.
And yet, he couldn’t be saved. His interests were not divided very much at all compared to the way most people today are divided in their interests. They want to have this, and have that. They are not even shy about it because they think it’s perfectly okay to have God over here and to have all these other things over there. Those men will not be saved, according to the scriptures. That’s how serious all of this is. We just let our thoughts run off, and our minds go wherever we want them to go. Our attitudes, our priority systems, our possessions, we just kind of let all these things float. And anywhere they fall into a comfort zone, that’s good enough. We can live with that because, after all, we believe the right things and we hang around with the right people. That kind of thinking and functioning is what I mean.
If the rich young ruler, as he’s called, is a case in point about God’s heart and mind through Jesus His Son, then we have to really rethink this thing. God is not going to monkey around with someone who puts less effort into it than the rich young ruler, all the while thinking they are going to be saved when he wasn’t. In Leonard Ravenhill’s book about Sodom and Gomorrah, he made that famous statement, “If He overlooked America’s sin, He owes an apology to Sodom and Gomorrah.” The sin of America is worse than the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah in many respects, or at least as bad. Now why would he smoke Sodom and Gomorrah, and just let us off the hook? He owes an apology to Sodom and Gomorrah if He doesn’t bring judgment to America. I say He owes an apology to the rich young ruler if he lets a whole lot of people I know off the hook on judgment day.
We Are All Without Excuse
He owes a big apology to the rich young ruler because there are a lot of people who are not as clear-minded as the rich young ruler, and not as determined, energetic and forceful as he was. They are not as obedient in areas of their lives as the rich young ruler. But, he could not enter the kingdom of God because he didn’t give it all. He was playing a game, and Jesus called him on it. Jesus is calling alot of people on it. Fortunately for him, the rich young ruler had it right in his face where he had to make a decision there on the spot. But the truth is that God says we are all without excuse. So really, we’ve all been given those same opportunities. We’re all given the same opportunities the rich young ruler had. We are not going to be able to say, “Well, we didn’t really get the same opportunities. God never said to us, “Leave this, quit that, stop this, change your lifestyle. Do this instead of that, that thing which is to gratify your own flesh, that thing which is to gratify your own ego. Put that aside and do this instead.” We are not going to be able to say, “Well, you never told me.” In Matthew 25, Jesus was very clear about the fact that a lot of people will say, “When did we see you naked, when did we see you hungry?” And He said you did.
You had every opportunity. You had an opportunity, but you didn’t take advantage of it, and He holds you accountable for that. They said, “But we didn’t know it was you.” He said, “I hold you accountable to that because you did know it was me.” They knew clearly enough that they were told to depart into outer darkness. It was that clear, even though nobody ever said anything specifically to them about it. I suspect that at least everybody reading this has had far better opportunity than those guys in Matthew 25 who didn’t make it. You’ve probably had more opportunity than the rich young ruler, because the rich young ruler had one interchange with Jesus. He had one opportunity to try to understand it. We’ve all been given infinitely more opportunities than that, and we’ve heard more clearly, with more depth. We’ve been given more possibilities and creative options than God ever offered the rich young ruler. And he was not accepted by God.
The Standard is the Same for Us
So, I’m just telling you that it’s really easy when you read something like this to see it as just a cutesy little pun that maybe you can learn from. But it’s much larger than that! It’s so large that the twelve who walked with Jesus a pretty good while by that time said, “Who then can be saved?” They saw that this was a very serious matter. It wasn’t a playing thing. Jesus wasn’t just a good teacher who told them neat things so they could kind of follow along with it, and do the best they could with it, and work it into their lifestyle. That wasn’t good enough. He didn’t make it on those terms. It’s important that we understand that God is not playing games with us any more than He was with the rich young ruler. He isn’t going to have to apologize to the rich young ruler on the last day. That isn’t the way it’s going to work. The standard is the same for us as it was for him. There are real decisions that have to be made in accordance with all that. I’ve had to make quite a few decisions myself.
I imagine everybody reading this has been faced with more decisions than maybe you are willing to admit because it’s easy to weasel out of it. It’s easy to justify it, and try to compare this to that, and this person to that person, and my thing to somebody else’s thing. It’s easy to play those kinds of games. But, Jesus didn’t give a whole lot of room for the rich young ruler to play those kinds of games and He’s not going to have to apologize to him. He’s not going to offer an apology to the rich young ruler for having made a mistake by holding up the wrong standard. The standard remains the same. Jesus is looking for the whole thing, and every decision you make is related to the whole thing. Just listening and thinking and meditating and philosophizing, trying to “stay good” won’t cut it.
Jesus Wants it All
The rich young ruler was pretty good, probably better than any of us. I know he was better than me, if what he said was true. From the time I was a youth? No way! He’s far better off than I ever was. The zeal and intensity and humility that he put into that interchange with Jesus, it didn’t cut it. He didn’t let go of the whole thing. He only let go of part of it. Consider this as it relates to your relationships in your home with your wife and children; as it relates to other people and the believers that God has sovereignly placed around you in recent times and over the years; as it relates to your occupation, your attitudes, your priorities, golf, or any other kind of sports, any other kind of hobbies. I don’t know what kind of hobbies the rich young ruler had or what kind of sports he played, what kind of family he had or exactly what his job was that made him so rich and prosperous. But I suspect there were a lot of responsibilities and a tremendous number of opportunities for his own entertainment, as well as all these other kinds of things that could have been built into his life. And Jesus wanted every last bit of it. He wanted to give it back on His own terms.
As long as the rich young ruler held onto the right to make his own decisions about those things, he was lost, and he could not be saved. It has to be let go. Anything we have is something that He gives back. It’s not something that we own, but something that He gives back. And that’s it. Nothing more than that. He’s not going to have to apologize to the rich young ruler. And it’s going to be the same for us as it was for him.
The Real Issue is How We Handle the Decisions
There will never be a day when there aren’t opportunities to make new decisions in keeping with that consecration to God. The decisions will be there. It’s not as if anybody on planet earth has already made all the appropriate decisions and has everything perfectly in line with that. The real question is: What do we do when things come up? Do we desire the truth? Do we desire a purging and a cleansing? Are we positioning ourselves as ones willing to make those hard decisions, or are we skirting the issue, blame-shifting, hiding behind certain things? How we handle it is the real issue.
There’s no doubt in my mind that in the next few weeks I will have new decisions to make about whether I’m going to take the rich young ruler’s course, or whether I’m going to take an entirely different course, one that’s devoted to Jesus, rather than using Jesus for my own ends, or taking Him to a measure, while deciding where that line is going to be drawn based on my mind or my emotions or whatever the price may be. No doubt I’ll have more decisions to make, but the real thing that God’s looking for is what Jesus said in John 3, “This is the verdict: Some love the light, and some don’t love the light.” What do I do when those new decisions come my way? Do I desire light? Do I want to know anything that’s displeasing to Jesus? Do I want to make the necessary changes, or am I always trying to skirt the issue?
It Has to Do With Our Hearts
Am I going to try to find a way to have my way, to have my cake and eat it too? Or am I willing to pay any price? Is there some area of my life, something that I do, something that I like, which is more sacred to me than my relationship with Jesus? Is there anything at all that I would be very reluctant to give up, be it a bank account, be it a job, be it hobbies, sports, diet? Depending on who the person is and what they cherish in life, it could be just about anything. I remember when we were talking to a woman up in Burlington who had come out of a wretched background. She said something that seemed so absurd to us that we had to laugh. She said, “I’m not sure I want to give it all up.” And we laughed and said, “Give WHAT up?” Her life was so wretched! She had nothing that she could really claim as being good and wholesome, any kind of real blessing. It’s not like she had much to give up. But this has to do with the human heart, not with things. Basically, a street person was all she was at the time. She had been used and abused, deceived and dumped on in every ugly, dirty, filthy way. Yet she wasn’t sure she wanted to give it all up, because it had to do with her heart.
The key to the human heart is what Jesus is after. So, for me, maybe it’s this or maybe it’s that. Maybe for some people it is diet because they cherish and take such pride in the way that they’ve chosen to eat. It might be dress, or looks, or job, or sports, or whatever it happens to be. Just as with the rich young ruler, Jesus still expects the whole thing. I can’t ever come to a place in my life where I feel like:
“Well, I’ve done this much. I’ve accomplished this much. I’ve given up that much. So, compared to the way I used to be, or compared to the way somebody else is, I’m doing great. I’m camping out here. That’s it. Because I’m already better than anybody else I know, so therefore that’s it.”
Worse Off Than the Rich Young Ruler
That’s puts me worse off than the rich young ruler. At least he kept his mouth shut. He wasn’t prideful about it. He went away sorrowfully. He didn’t try to justify himself. It was too high a price for him. But he didn’t shove it in Jesus’ face and say, “Who do you think you are? You’re an illegitimate child. You have no Rabbinical degree. Who do you think you are, young Whippersnapper!” The Guy’s only 32 years old. Why does the rich young ruler want to listen to this Guy? Jesus has no credentials. He’s 32 years old. Who is this Guy? The rich young ruler could have justified himself very easily. But at least he kept his mouth shut and went away sorrowfully.
I’m afraid that we can create a world for ourselves where we are not even willing to keep our mouths shut. We can pump ourselves up and say, “Well, I’ve done this. I’ve said this. I’ve accomplished that. Compared to them, compared to what I used to be, I’m really okay. So don’t push it, all right? I don’t think that is reasonable. We live in the real world here.” With these kinds of thoughts, it’s very easy to justify our own sin and find ourselves in a worse spot than the rich young ruler. The guys in Matthew 25 were genuinely surprised. “You mean, I can’t come in?” The guys in Matthew 7, “Lord, didn’t we…?” They were very surprised. They were shocked.
Who Then Can Be Saved?
I don’t think it would be right or fair for us to know brothers and sisters for years, to have any depth of relationship at all, and never consider things like this. It is important that we look each other in the eye and talk in realistic terms about the fact that I certainly don’t want any of us, myself included, to be surprised. “Well, I did this…but Lord!” There are lots of guys, according to Jesus, who will be surprised. We are not talking about Buddhists and Hindus. We are talking about ones who say, “Lord, Lord” and do miracles in Jesus’ name. I think it’s important that we take a look at this guy as a real guy, not just as a teaching. The rich young ruler was a real person. We need to ask that question, “Who then can be saved?” Well, those who are consecrated to God and don’t withhold anything from Him.
Passing the Rich Young Ruler’s Test
I don’t know of anything I’m withholding. That’s the honest truth. Put me on a polygraph test. I don’t know of a single thing that I’m withholding. But if I find out something, my heart’s desire is that my brothers will tell me, and that I will be willing to listen and try to resolve it with every ounce of my being. That’s what God asked of the rich young ruler and that’s what He’s asking of us. That’s a test we’d better not fail. If you took a snapshot of exactly who we are at this exact instant, none of us would pass. But on the other hand, if someone brought something to me now and said, “Here’s an area of your life. Here is a testimony of multiple witnesses that this is not what God is calling you to be. This is not the priority system that he’s chosen for you.” I hope I would listen. If I push that off, if I’m always trying to push things like that off, and compare this to that, trying to resolve it in some way other than humbly trying to deal with it, with all of my heart, then I’m failing the rich young ruler’s test. So while my performance may not be perfect in any given instant, I’d better be responsive to the new things that God shows me. That is the test. Will I be responsive to the things that God shows me and come forward to deal with them?
A jolt comes along, and you have to decide how you are going to respond to it. How it all happened, who in the world knows? Maybe God just arranged the whole thing with mirrors for the sole purpose of bringing it to the place where you have to decide something really hard like the rich young ruler had to decide. God, bring those things on, Whatever they are, whatever the subject may be. If it’s your business, or if it’s family or whatever it happens to be God, bring it on! Let us see what our own hearts are like, because we don’t want to be surprised. Let’s at least go away sorrowfully like the rich young ruler and say, “I will not have this man to be king over me.” Let’s at least have the chance to be honest enough with ourselves to say, “I really don’t want a king. I want to be king. I want a religious environment because that’s good for my conscience.
An Additional Covenant
So maybe that’s an additional covenant: We will never let anybody in our sphere of relationship be surprised because we were just too lazy or sloppy, too out of touch with God, with no fear of God ourselves, just letting it slide on through without trying to do something.