"THE RICH MAN WHO WAS POOR"
Dr B R Lakin
 

    "Jesus said . . . Come and follow me. But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions" (Matthew 19:21-22).

    Here is a moving picture from the New Testament that strikes a tender chord in our hearts. It is the narrative of a good man who wanted eternal life but failed to meet the conditions laid down by Jesus. He was a bit twisted in his theology, but wee cannot help catching a note of sincerity in his conversation with Jesus. Let us analyze this visit that this rich young man made to Jesus.
 

I. HE CONSIDERED JESUS AS A TEACHER RATHER THAN A SAVIOR

    "Good master, what good thing shall I do?"

    A master in those days was a teacher. The young man had heard of the great teachings of Jesus in His mass meetings along Galilee. He had possibly heard the remark that was spoken by the Pharisees when they confessed one day that "never man so spake." Even Jesus' enemies admitted that He taught them as one with authority.

    This young man no doubt was a cultured young Hebrew who had a thirst for knowledge and learning. During the period of Jesus' life on earth, the Roman culture and philosophies were seeping into the Holy Land, and there was a revival of learning and knowledge. So it was natural for this young man to address Jesus as "Master," or "teacher." But it is not enough to recognize Jesus as the world's greatest teacher. He is more than a teacher; He is a Savior and Redeemer.

    Somebody wrote me a letter from up in New York state the other day and said: "Why do you make so much of  Blood of Christ? Why don't you talk about the life of Christ, and His example, and His teachings?"

    Well, this poor man has much company in his material philosophy. We are not saved by the life of Jesus, as beautiful and exemplary as it was. We are not saved by the words He taught the people along the shores of Galilee. But we are redeemed by His death on the cross.

Alas! and did my Savior bleed,
And did my sovereign die;
Would He devote that sacred head,
For such a worm as I?

    It is true that Jesus performed many healings while here on earth. He raised the dead, cleansed the leper, and opened the blinded eyes. But Jesus came to be more than a Healer. This was an avocation with Him, and not His chief task.

    He also wrought many miracles. He calmed the troubled sea, He fed the multitude with a little boy's lunch, He walked on the water, and He broke up several funerals. But He did not come to the world merely to show his miracle-working power.

    He taught with a wisdom and an insight into human nature that no other teacher of history ever had. But he came to be more than a teacher.

    He came "to seek and to save that which was lost." This was the true purpose of His coming, to be a Savior of lost men. He lived for this, He prayed for this, and He died for this.

    The rich young ruler made the philosopher's approach to the gospel. He acknowledged Jesus only as a teacher, and this is where he made his first mistake.
 
 

II. HE THOUGHT HE WOULD BE SAVED BY GOOD WORKS
 
 
    "What good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?"

    This young man appeared to be a splendid example of a good, moral man. He took great pride in his goodness and in his strict observance of the Commandments. As a matter of fact, he was a bit self-righteous in his life. He was confident that if there was any particular act of goodness that one must perform to be saved, he was capable of doing that good thing.      

    Sinful humanity finds the gospel of grace revolting. The holy men of India are proud of their suffering on beds of spikes; they proudly feel that they are meriting happiness hereafter. They feel that if they have suffered so much here, there must be some peace for them hereafter. Heathen religions are filled with pageantry and ritual, and great demands are made upon the communicants in carrying out certain observances, the burning of incense, candles, the fondling of sacred beads, etc.

    All of these things have nothing to do with salvation. The rich young ruler was confused at this point. He wanted to earn his eternal life by doing certain difficult and good things.

    In the gospel of grace it is not so much what you do for God, but it is what God has done for you. It is not so important that you hold on to your faith, but it's imperative that you possess a faith that will hold you. You may work for Christ, and of course every Christian should, but it is the work that Christ did for you upon Calvary that really matters. "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God" (Ephesians 2:8).

    If you want to go swimming, you may swim after you get to the river, but you can't swim to the river. You may work for Christ after you are saved, but you cannot work your way into the kingdom of God. You must be born into it — "By grace are ye saved."


III. JESUS REVEALED THE WAY

    "If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou host, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me" (Matthew 19:21).

    The young man confessed that he had kept all of the negative Commandments. He was not a murderer, adulterer, a robber, or a liar. But he didn't say that he had kept all of the positive Commandments. He did not say that he had not put other gods before Jehovah God. He did not say that he loved Him with all his heart, mind, and strength.

    There are lots of people who have a negative salvation. They brag about the things that they don't do. Like the Pharisees, they say, "Thank God, I am not as other men." They are like the old, twisted lady who got up in a testimony meeting and said, "Thank God, I don't dance," and sat down. That was the only thing she was thankful for. Her gospel was one of "don'ts."

    A friend of mine was conducting a meeting, and a lady got up and in a loud voice said, "Thank God, I don't go to picture shows, I don't go to dances, and I don't smoke nor play cards!" My evangelist friend, somewhat chilled by the self-righteous attitude said, "Sister, how many souls have you led to Christ during this meeting?" She blushed as she quietly answered, "None."

    Now, it is a splendid thing to be saved from the things of the world, but we should not parade our self-righteousness and piety in the presence of those who practice these things; we might drive them away from Christ.

    Jesus told the young man if he wanted to be a disciple to sell all that he had and give to the poor. Now, he didn't tell him to give it all to the poor. But he meant for him to get his funds in shape so that he could "rescue the perishing and care for the dying."

    Jesus looked down into the heart of this prosperous young Jew and saw that the love of money was his besetting sin. He enjoyed his feeling of security. He was self-sufficient and wanted for nothing. When Jesus told him to sell all that he had, he struck a tender place in his heart, and the young man revolted at the idea of giving up his riches.

    Now, rich men are not lost because they are rich. If they are lost it will be because they let riches claim first place in their lives, instead of Christ.

    Jesus told his disciples after his interview with the rich young man: "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for  rich man to enter into the kingdom of God." A chemist has stated that he can get a camel through the eye of a needle by chemical processes. "Just soak him in nitric acid and squirt him through with an eye dropper," he said. Before a rich man enters the kingdom of heaven he must be broken down by spiritual processes until he is rid of all self-sufficiency and comes to Christ in complete humility and surrender.

    But it was the "Come and follow me" that caused the young man to turn away. There are lots of people who want eternal life, but they cannot face the reproach of being disciples of Christ. It cost something for a Jewish boy in those days to be a disciple of Jesus. It cost him his social standing, his reputation, his business clientele, and his family relationship. This was more than the young man could pay.

    The liquidation of his finances was a small thing compared to the social cost of his becoming Christ's follower. He would like to have been a secret Christian. Certainly he was interested in eternal life, but this giving up all and following Jesus was a little too much for him, so he went away sorrowful.

    Salvation is free, and we can in no way merit it, but it costs something to be a disciple of Christ. There is a difference between being a Christian and a disciple. It costs nothing to be a Christian. But it costs something to be a disciple of Christ and to follow Him. It cost Peter his fishing business, his home, his friends, and finally his life.

    Every one of the disciples of Christ was martyred except one. Their discipleship was expensive, but it was worth all that it cost them.

    If you will tell me how much your discipleship cost, then I will tell you how much it is worth; for it is worth no more than it cost. I believe that it was Henry M. Stanley who said, "When I watched David Livingstone carry out the 'leave all and follow me' spirit, I became a Christian in spite of myself."

    The rich young ruler thought that he couldn't afford to pay the price; but if he had only known it, he couldn't afford not to. "He went away sorrowful." That is the way souls always go away from Jesus. When they turn their back on Jesus and His challenge, they go away to a life of sorrow, selfishness, and sadness.

    Two boys sat in a revival meeting one Sunday morning. The evangelist made the appeal to the young people; he challenged them to accept Christ. One of these boys turned to the other and said, "Come on, let's go!" But the other shook his head and said, "Not now! I'm going to wait until I'm older. I want to see the world first."

    The one boy went forward and accepted Christ. The other went out to see the world. In a few short months, the boy who would not accept Christ fell into sin, committed a crime, and was sent to the Indiana State Prison. The one who did accept Christ is my musical director today, and God has used him to give to the world many beautiful gospel songs and hymns. He has traveled around the world. He took Christ's way, and he got to see the world. The other boy took his own way. He saw the world, but through prison bars. He, like the rich young ruler, "went away sorrowful "

B R Lakin