Encounters With Jesus: The Rich Young Ruler

Good morning my name is Phil Human and it’s my pleasure to speak with you today about Jesus.  And for whatever reason you are here today we are glad you are here.  Maybe today is the first day of your spiritual Journey with Jesus.  I’d love that, because we started Journey just for people like you.


We have a huge heart here to help people get to know the real Jesus and discover what he is like.  And it’s important actually because when we discover what Jesus is like we discover what God is like. 

We are in a study leading up to Easter about people’s encounters with Jesus.  Often people run into Jesus and walk away completely changed for the good, but occasionally we read of people who have an up front and personal encounter with Jesus but then walk away from him unchanged. 

The first kind of person we read about who had a difficult time receiving Jesus’ teachings were the very religious.  The Pharisees and teachers of he law – often were so steeped in legalism they missed out on the truth that God wants a relationship with his people, not just a contractual agreement of rules and bylaws.

Today we are reading about another person who walked away unchanged – even saddened by his encounter with Jesus.  He is called the Rich Young Ruler, and we read about him in Luke chapter 18.

And since baseball season is right around the corner, and I know we have some baseball fans – I thought I’d frame the talk today using baseball terms.  This guy we are going to read about struck out.  Walked away from his encounter with Jesus like a baseball player that struck out to end the game.  Just a sad head down walk away with his encounter with Jesus.

He struck out looking on three straight strikes.  So let’s read and see for ourselves.  We can learn from him how to not strike out in our on encounter with Jesus.  See if you can spot the three strikes. 

18 A certain ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

19 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 20 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.’”

21 “All these I have kept since I was a boy,” he said.

22 When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

23 When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was very wealthy.

Strike One:  He starts with the wrong question.

This might surprise you.  Many people think this is the 64 thousand dollar question.  Tell me what I need to do to get into heaven when I die.

What’s the secret knock.  Shave and a haircut, two bits.  Who would have thunk?  What must I do to get into heaven?  How do I get in?

I will tell you something that might sound shocking.  I believe much damage has been done to Christianity in the last 100 years in a well-intentioned effort to share the good news about Jesus with people, especially in America.

We are bottom line people.  And so somewhere along the line someone wrote out a prayer to pray that will guarantee your entrance into heaven.

When I was in college I learned the “right way” to share the good news about Jesus. And it started with two questions.  If you died tonight would you go to heaven or not? 

Now I understand why we started there.  It’s a fast way to indicate where people are placing their faith.  I understand it was well intentioned, and in fact not entirely unhelpful.  There have been many people who started their spiritual journey with Jesus because someone cared enough to ask them that first question.

But often well-intentioned efforts have unintended consequences. 

What was the unintended consequence of asking people if they are going to heaven?  there’s a couple I can think of that have damaged Christianity.

First – it implies that it’s the most important question.  That Jesus died to get you into heaven.

I want you to listen to every word flowing from my ruby red lips.  Jesus did not die to get you into heaven.  Heaven is a spectacular benefit of faith in Jesus, but it’s not the enough.

It’s not enough that God would provide for our afterlife, and leave us in this life to muddle and struggle our way through a daily existence as though we are alone adrift in this cruel kind of world.

Jesus, in his own words, came to bring you life, and life abundantly.   

Yes, I am the gate. Those who come in through me will be saved. They will come and go freely and will find good pastures. 10 The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.

11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep.

John 10:9-11 NLT

That word rich, it doesn’t mean money in your wallet rich, it’s a different kind of rich than the rich young ruler has, right.  This life is full, purposed, satisfying, joyful, meaningful, whether you have money in your bank or not.

The rich young ruler asks Jesus – what do I need to do to get into heaven.  Jesus didn’t come to get him into heaven.  He came to provide life for today within the right now, present, Kingdom of Heaven.  That Kingdom where God governs and supervises and provides and protects for all of it’s inhabitants.

Eternal life begins the day you decide to place you faith in Jesus.  When you surrender your life to Jesus he becomes your good shepherd, who will lead and direct you all the days of your eternal life within the right now kingdom of Heaven.

Jesus extends the same invitation to us that he gave to the rich young ruler – come follow me.  Have you accepted his invitation?  Then your life is already eternal.

Somewhere along the line there will be a blip in your timeline when you close your eyes for the final time in this world, and you will open them for the first time in the next,  in a place where there will be no more sorrow, no more death, no more tears – where the glory of God himself will warm us like the sun. 

It’s understandable why people want to get in that place.  But the problem of fixating on it is that we end up wasting the days of this life, because we think that only thing that matters is the next one.

Don’t be so heavenly minded that you are no earthly good.   Jesus came to bring you a life.  Purposed.  Useful.  Exciting.  He came to be our good shepherd today.

The other unintended consequence of asking people if they will get into heaven if they die, was the way we presented the invitation to follow Jesus.

See, how does Jesus respond to the rich young ruler?  Sell everything and follow me. Now we’ll talk more about that, but – For some reason – in my training – I was not taught to tell people that they should sell everything and follow Jesus. 

I have a feeling it might have greatly reduced our statistics.  Instead, we said to people. it’s as easy as ABC. I’d say, just say this prayer.  ABC.  Admit you are a sinner.  Believe he died for you.  Confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and you will be saved.  You discovered the secret prayer – God himself will not be able to keep you from getting in.

And as a result millions of people have prayed a prayer like that and have never learned how to live this life with Jesus as our guide and shepherd.  And there is no discernable difference between them and the rest of humanity.

No statistical difference in how they live their life.  There is no transformation.  They don’t become more loving, more forgiving, and to explain it they buy bumper stickers and say, I’m not perfect only forgiven.

You don’t have to be perfect, but please tell me you are more than just forgiven. 

Don’t make the mistake the rich young ruler made.   Don’t start with heaven.  Heaven will take care of itself. 

What should he have asked?  Something like, “Teach me how to live my life.”  Jesus, how can I live my life with you in charge?  How do I live a life a significant life?  Teach me what you mean when you say “Follow me.”  I want to live that kind of life.  Your kind of life.  How do I become the kind of human being you describe – the kind of human being you were – full of love and compassion and kindness and courage.

Strike one – he started with the wrong question.

Strike two – He was looking for a sage, not a savior.  He has determined that Jesus is no more than a good teacher. 

He wants to assign to himself a title that Jesus doesn’t offer.  He doesn’t call himself a good teacher.  He is much more than a life coach, an advice columnist, a guru.  He never calls himself any such things.

We looked at a passage from the book of John where Jesus called himself the good shepherd, and the gate, let me share you some of the other things Jesus says about himself.

“I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger” (John 6:35).

Second, Jesus said, “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12).

John 11:25, “I am the resurrection and the life.”

“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” John 14:6

John 8:58 Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, before Abraham was even born, I am!”

These are not the statements of a good teacher.  We must come to him on His terms.  And his terms, he wants all of us.  Listen to Jesus in Luke 14,

25 A large crowd was following Jesus. He turned around and said to them, 26 “If you want to be my disciple, you must, by comparison, hate everyone else—your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple. 27 And if you do not carry your own cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple.

28 “But don’t begin until you count the cost.

See the rich young ruler?  He thought he already had it going on.  He wasn’t interested in Jesus’ insights into how to live his life.  He had money.  He had youth, He had power.  What could Jesus offer him?

And unfortunately, many people approach faith in Jesus the same way.  What do you have to offer me Jesus, that I can’t already take care of on my own.  Forgiveness of sins?  Okay – you cover that, I’ll take care of everything else. 

Listen to the guy – he has a fairly high assessment of himself.  I am a good guy Jesus.  I don’t need much from you.  Let’s hammer out a deal to make sure I start the next life with as advantageously as possible.  Let’s you and I strike a deal where you fill in the gaps.

But Jesus doesn’t offer the ‘disciple light’ version.  It’s not in stock.  He wants it all from the rich young ruler. 

After a brief assessment from Jesus – Jesus goes right to the place the rich ruler didn’t want him to meddle with – and that was his finances.  Jesus says – sell everything – give it to the poor, and then come and follow me.  The invitation is yours.  The ball is in your court.

Now – let me stop here to talk briefly about Jesus and money.  And someone might say I’m trying to water down Jesus’ teaching, and that is certainly not my intention. 

The fact is that talks a lot about money.  Someone did a study once and said about 25% of Jesus teaching involves money.  Jesus knows that money can really do damage to our soul.  Although money is only paper, it can be burned with a match, or used to wipe your nose with it, somehow, if we are not careful, money becomes a conduit for great evil.

Greed, Pride, deceit, theft, how many more sins are energized in life by the prospect of putting more of it into our wallet?

So Jesus rightly teaches us, and we here rightly preach, to be on guard with your money.  And I feel I am doing you a big favor by telling you to give it away.  How amazing to think you can trade your dollar for a bowl of food to give to a haitian orphan. 

That said, sometimes the bible describes things, but that doesn’t mean it prescribes it.  In other words, we are reading this one interaction and it describes what Jesus told that person.  It doesn’t mean that Jesus was writing out a prescription for all of us to follow.

In other words, you do not need to sell all of your possessions to be a follower of Jesus.  One is not saved by poverty. 

What is a prescription for us?  Is obedience.  That we trust him enough to do what he asks us to do.  That we are willing to sell everything should that be asked of you from God.

This morning we are saying goodbye to Ryan Albano, who worked with us here at Journey two years as an assistant pastor.  One day Ryan heard from God, who spoke to him directly to his heart – and God said – become a chaplain.  He as in the air force – had zero desire to become a chaplain.  But he was willing to do what Jesus asked him to do.  He went to seminary.  Got a degree.  Today is Ryan’s last day here at Journey.  He leaves this week to hop aboard an aircraft carrier, where Ryan will be the pastor to 5000 young men and women serving our nation abroad.

God didn’t ask Ryan to sell everything.  But he did ask Ryan to leave a job he loved, and he asked Amber to be willing to make these kinds of sacrifices.  Both of them said Yes Lord.

Why?  It wasn’t so they could get into heaven.  It’s because they want to be obedient to Jesus – for him to lead them into an abundant life here now.  And you know what, you don’t have to leave your career and start another one.  It might be that God has called you to be a teacher.  And you don’t want to go to school tomorrow because it’s hard.  But you will because Jesus said, I want you there.  I want you in those kids lives.  I want you to be a source of love and joy to the staff.

And some of you teachers are like, if that’s the case then I’ve blown it!  That’s okay – tomorrow’s a new day! 

The point is that Jesus is more than a good teacher.  He is Lord – he is the creator and sustainer of life.  And he wants us to trust where he is leading us – it doesn’t matter if you are a chaplain, or a teacher, or an attorney, or out of work. 

Jesus wants us to follow him on His terms – he is more than a teacher –  he is the good shepherd, and you can trust him.  Wherever he is leading me, I fear no evil.   For thou art with me.  Thy rod and staff, they protect me.  I lack nothing.

Had the rich young ruler understood that he would have happily traded his wealth, but he didn’t.  He trusted his money instead.  He approached Jesus as a sage, instead of a savior.

And so after Jesus correctly assesses the idol in this man’s life, he does a favor to the rich young man.  He offers him a chance to put down his idol and follow the savior of the world.  A personal invitation from Jesus to be one of his disciples.

Strike three – He was unwilling to lay down that thing he idolized the most. 

If you’ve been to a baseball game, the past few years many batters have theme music they ask to play when they come up to bat.  A favorite clip of music to get them psyched up.

This guy has music that plays as he walks away – it’s meatloaf – I will do anything for love, but I won’t do that.  Do you know this song?  I will do anything for love.  But I won’t do that!

How many people come to Jesus on their own terms.  I will do anything for Jesus, but I won’t do that.

What is the “that” in your life?  What are you unwilling to do?  See, we get pulled right into this story when we think that way. 

I won’t do that.  Ask the Holy Spirit, even now, to bring to mind anything that is hindering your walk with the Lord?  Are there any idols in your heart or life? 

It might be anything.  Kids.  Jobs.  Spouse.  I will do anything, just don’t ask me to do that.  It’s too much.  You are over stepping your authority, oh creator and sustainer of life.  Don’t meddle.  Don’t take that job away.  Don’t ask me to give up that dream.  Don’t ask me to live without that loved one. 

You know this is such a personal thing, it’s such a holy thing that is going on inside of you right now that I dare not run it over with too many words.  Jesus wants you to lay down the idol of your life and trust him.

And all I will say is that Jesus promises it will be worth it.

It’s interesting to me that the man walks away sad and Jesus lets him go. Jesus doesn’t chase the guy down and say, okay, listen, I might have come across a little harsh back there, let me re-phrase it in a way that sounds a little less costly.  Let’s make a deal here – because I want you on my team and I think you’ll bring some great things to it, and I think I can help out. 

Nothing like it.  The man gets sad and walks away. 

24 When Jesus saw this, he said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God! 25 In fact, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!”

Wonder why Jesus talks so much about money?  Wealth obscures the face of God.  People would rather look into the face of  Benjamin Franklins.

So Jesus tells it like it is.  It’s hard.  And he kind of makes a little joke here.  Because it’s difficult to get a camel through the eye of a needle.  And so someone takes the bait.  The set up man in the audience says,

26  “Then who in the world can be saved?”

27 He replied, “What is impossible for people is possible with God.”

Jesus says, don’t sweat it – I can do that too.  It’s not too hard.  It’s just a fairly uncommon sight.  When it happens, it tends to be something you wouldn’t forget.  Both a camel through a needle, and people laying down their treasures. Both are rare and unforgettable. 

28 Peter said, “We’ve left our homes to follow you.”

29 “Yes,” Jesus replied, “and I assure you that everyone who has given up house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the Kingdom of God,30 will be repaid many times over in this life, and will have eternal life in the world to come.”

It will be worth it! 

Why does Jesus let the man walk away?  He is doing him a favor.  Jesus would rather wait until the man counts the cost and sees that it’s worth it.  That whatever God asks us to give up, we will receive in return will be exceedingly, abundantly beyond, anything we could have thought or imagined.  And NOT just when we die.  Right now!  The kingdom of God is a right now kingdom. 

As I pray I’d invite you to put yourself in this story.  What if it were you in these pages.  What might Jesus have asked you to surrender to him? 

You might not even be willing to do it.  And if that’s the case, ask God to make you willing to be willing.  Start there.  Bring him what you can.  The good shepherd knows the way from there.

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