A young man and woman may meet casually, but later see the relationship develop into a life-long commitment. If you enter the military, you undertake a commitment to serve for a certain number of years. What kind of commitment does the kingdom of God require? Matthew 19:16–30 records Jesus’ teaching.
Give up everything! This rich young man was searching for some good thing to do. A man came to Jesus, asking what he must do to inherit eternal life. Matthew is sparse in the details of introduction, but does tell us that the man was young, and we find out that he was wealthy. Jesus responds to the question with another question, implying that there is something basically wrong with the man’s approach. His focus should have been, not on some good thing he could do, but on the One, the only One, who is good. The man is seeking eternal life, verse 16. Later in the conversation this is described as “entering the kingdom of God,” verse 24, and being “saved,” verse 25. God’s good character is reflected in his commandments. Jesus points the man to his Father’s revelation of his will. God has not left us ignorant of what he expects of us. In response to the man’s question as to which commandments, Jesus quotes portions of the law dealing with our relationship with those around us, and concludes with the command to love our neighbor as ourselves. The man has an inflated view of his ability to obey. His response is glib (yet he still senses a need). When you appreciate the deep nature of God’s commands, as Jesus had pointed out earlier (Matthew 5:17–48), you cannot claim that you have earned favor in God’s eyes by your obedience. Note that in that context Jesus requires that your obedience exceed that of the teachers of the law and the Pharisees, Matthew 5:20.
Surrender everything! Jesus shows this man what he lacks. Jesus gives him the command to sell his possessions, give to the poor, and to follow Jesus. The command is specific to this particular situation (and those who share this young man’s problem). Jesus does not require a vow of poverty of everyone who follows him. However, this man left sad, because he had great wealth. Apparently his wealth was more important to him than entering the kingdom of God. “[H]ence the demand imposed upon the rich young ruler… to sell all that he has and give to the poor (Matt. 19:21). This is the ‘perfection’ required by Jesus, viz., the holding of nothing back, the unconditional surrender to the will of God with all that one is and has.” (Herman Ridderbos, The Coming of the Kingdom, page 315) Jesus tells you that it is harder for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God. Jesus uses a humorously impossible scenario to make his point. It is impossibly difficult for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. No, Jesus is not teaching that there are no rich people in his kingdom. Joseph of Arimathea and Abraham are notable exceptions. Nor is poverty a guarantee of easy entry into the kingdom. A grasping concern for things can be just a life-dominating in a poor person as in a rich. Jesus calls you to surrender everything and follow him. The only One who is good has sent his Son into the world. You must follow Jesus, verse 21. That involves giving up anything that comes between you and him. Note the sweep of what some of Jesus followers had given up for him, verse 29. Also note the impact in that culture of putting Christ and his kingdom ahead of family. The commitment that the Lord Jesus Christ requires of you is total, and it is permanent, life-long.
Live by God’s grace. Remember that with God all things are possible. The disciples have a very sound question. “Who then can be saved?” verse 25. Jesus makes explicit that you cannot do it yourself. No one can keep the commandments well enough to earn salvation (which appears to be the direction the rich young man was taking). Original sin has affected all of us. We are totally depraved, not as evil as we could possibly be, but sinful enough to be utterly unable of doing anything to make things right with God. The good news is that what you cannot do, God does for you. Jesus is the Son of Man who will sit on his glorious throne, verse 28. Yet he is trudging the roads of Judea, Matthew 19:1, on his way to Jerusalem to suffer and die for his people, Matthew 20:17-19. There he will offer himself as the sacrifice for your sins of greed, selfishness, and every other offense that comes between you and God. In saving you, God has accomplished what was humanly impossible. Your salvation is unearned. It is a free gift of God’s grace.
By God’s grace, put Christ first. Peter, never slow to speak, reflects on the commitment that he and the other disciples had made, verse 27. By God’s grace Christ’s followers do leave everything to follow Christ. Just as that process was imperfect in Peter’s life, so it is still incomplete in yours and mine. But those who belong to Christ do have their lives centered on him. You don’t do this in your own strength and will power. You certainly don’t earn your salvation by doing it. Rather, God does the impossible. He replaces your natural self-centeredness with a commitment to him. “[T]he spiritual world is infinitely more real and infinitely more powerful than the thing s which our eyes can see. Hence the Christian, while not having seen it, loves it and rejoices in it greatly with joy unspeakable and full of glory. He fashions himself according to it. He purifies his soul in harmony with the purity that intrinsically belongs to that world. He abstains from fleshly lusts because they war against the the spiritual nature of the soul by which he is related to that spiritual realm which is the object of his hope. He is of sound mind, sober unto prayer. In all these things he conforms himself and responds to the claims which his heavenly destiny has upon him. He lives in the presence of the world to come and allows it to be the ruling factor in all he thinks and does.” (Geerhardus Vos, “The Christian’s Hope,” Grace and Glory, page 153) The first will be last, and the last first. Once again, Christ turns the standards of the world upside down. It may appear to be a poor bargain to give up wealth, power, and prestige for the sake of the kingdom. But Christ promises that in the fullness of his kingdom, those who, by God’s grace, have had their lives centered on him, will be the ones in positions of honor and authority. What you are inheriting is eternal life. What you are giving up is, at best, something that perishes. Live this week as a people who are willing to leave anything and everything else, and follow Jesus Christ.
This is a commitment that is more stringent than a term of service in the Marines. It is more lasting than even the commitment of marriage. It is a commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ for eternity. But it is based on something you wouldn’t have thought possible — God’s prior commitment to you in Jesus Christ.