And a ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 19 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. 20 You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.’” 21 And he said, “All these I have kept from my youth.” 22 When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 23 But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich. 24 Jesus, seeing that he had become sad, said, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! 25 For 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.” 26 Those who heard it said, “Then who can be saved?” 27 But he said, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.” 28 And Peter said, “See, we have left our homes and followed you.” 29 And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, 30 who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.”
Come, follow me. That’s the most important thing Jesus says to the man in our text. Come, follow me. There is a lot implied in it. Implied is that to do so would be worthwhile. Implied is that whatever would prevent it must be excluded.
Come, follow me. It’s what Jesus says to you this morning, too.
With sincerity, with reverence for Jesus, a man says, Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life? Matthew, in his account, says the man is asking what he still lacks (19:20). So, he really wants to be a godly man. He thinks Jesus (about Whom many have remarked: He speaks with authority!) is the one to point him in the right direction (Remember: Come follow me is where Jesus is going to be headed with this).
What must I do? The man is asking it like it’s something that needs to be checked off his list; but like there isn’t any question in his mind that he can do it, so long as he knows what it, is. What thing is it that’s still eluding him; still leaving him with this feeling that there’s something yet unaccomplished? What stands between him and the peace he’s really desiring? What stands between him and God? It’s secret knowledge that he’s looking for, something to really put him over the top on this thing (so many today are looking earnestly for that same peace, that same sense of righteousness, that they think will come from some secret source).
Imagine the man’s disappointment, then, when Jesus starts talking about the old Commandments. Commandments! Really? Of course, he’s kept the Commandments. He has been trained properly as a Jew, hasn’t he? He’s typical of people of his time. He has found a way to justify himself under the Commandments. Jesus wants him to look into those Commandments like in a mirror, and see that he has fallen short of God’s requirements. He wants him ultimately, to desire God’s mercy. But the Commandments aren’t a sin-revealing mirror to him. The Law that’s really meant to condemn him and bring him to his knees before God, doesn’t scare him. He doesn’t see the commandments as excluding him from eternal life. (Just a reminder: Jesus is still heading toward Come, follow me).
It leaves the man a little empty, if the truth be told, to know that he has come to Jesus for secret knowledge, and merely been directed to the old Commandments (his mother could’ve done that!). He doesn’t see himself as being any better off. He still has this feeling that he’s missing… something. The man has responded to Jesus. He has said, “All these [Commandments] I have kept from my youth.” At this point, Mark says in his Gospel account that Jesus looked at this young ruler, and loved him (10:21).
That’s an important detail, isn’t it? It gives insight into what it’s like on Jesus’ end of these encounters He has with people. They come to Him sometimes with such a helplessly skewed view of the world and their place in it. He sees everything. He knows every argument they’re going to make, every thought they have. Nothing’s a secret from Him. And, what is His angle on these people? Does He think, Oh, you pathetic thing. Stop wasting my time (His disciples had thought that about people on some occasions). No, He looks at a person like this, and loves him.
Remember, we said in the beginning, that Jesus is saying to you the same that He says to the young man, Come, follow me. His motivation is the same toward you as well. His motivation in this entire exchange will be to direct him to God’s kingdom (though He won’t be telling him what he’s been hoping to hear).
He does tell him, that in addition to the Commandments, there’s this one other thing. What a relief for the man, huh? Maybe he doesn’t have to go away disappointed after all. The one who seems to know what must be done to gain eternal life has something else to say to him. “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” In other words, Jesus is saying to him, Picture this: Just you and Me, and nothing else. Is it enough?
The man has been wondering, What is it that’s preventing me from being with God? What is it that prevents my confidence before Him? Why am I still unsure that I will attain eternal life? The man has thought that what’s between him and God (since he has kept the Commandments from his youth), is some additional duty he hasn’t previously thought about, some task he could take care of (maybe even this afternoon yet) in order to tie everything up just right. Is it that he should say an additional prayer of some kind that he’s been neglecting? Is there some person he needs to make peace with? He’s been looking for a way to get this taken care of, that will give the softest blow. He’s hoped there will be an easy fix, something that doesn’t affect his life too much.
Huh. Sell…everything. We can imagine the wheels turning in his head, now. He’s picturing his lavish estate - the beautiful home, perhaps, on many acres of scenic property (Luke describes him as extremely rich - extremely. This is many servants type rich. This is movie star rich. You think? You think…that’s it? Sell…everything?
Remember that throughout this conversation Jesus has been heading toward, Come, follow me. Seeing into the man’s heart (as He does), He has been heading there. Knowing everything, knowing how this man thinks and what he values, Jesus has given him this particular advice (He wouldn’t give this exact advice to everyone; He gives it to him). The man has been thinking that he lacks something. Something is preventing his confidence before God. Something is causing him to hesitate, even though he has this overwhelming desire to feel close to God. Something is taking up the space between him and God.
It has been clear to Jesus the whole time, what that is; it hasn’t until this moment, been clear to the man. It hasn’t, until Jesus has said it out loud, occurred to him that with God holding out His hand toward him and saying, Walk away from all of that, and to Me, the man has to think about it for a minute.
You’re not movie star rich (and just because the love of wealth is this man’s problem doesn’t mean it would be yours even if your were). That you walk away from your vineyards, your Italian sports cars - this probably isn’t the specific advice Jesus would be giving to you. What would it be, though? In this Lenten Season in which we take stock of our spiritual lives, consider that. What would it be? What would you have to think about for a minute when Jesus says, Come, follow me? Would it be a person? This is the kind of thing Jesus is talking about a few chapters earlier in Luke’s Gospel, when He says, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple…” By hate, He means, be willing to walk away from them, and to Him. He means recognizing that to do so would be worthwhile (and even, that if He requires it, there isn’t any alternative to doing so, if eternal life is what you want).
It might still be hard to see ourselves putting other things between us and God. Do we really do that? Here’s the thing: for the man in our text, Come, follow me means literally, put himself in Jesus’ geographic location, and walk behind Him listening to Him as He speaks and following His instructions. He lives in that time and place to have that sort of contact with Jesus. For you, it means devoting yourself to His Word, right? That’s the specific advice Jesus has given to you: don’t consider anything else more important than devoting yourself to God in this way. Don’t consider this world more important than God’s kingdom. Don’t let it be the case that on a regular basis, when God’s Word is being put forth, you have something more important to do. Because, then you would be hesitating at Come, follow me, just like the man in the text.
There’s no need to think about it. Every one of us is convicted in that. God’s Word is available to us every single moment of every day. It would impossible for us to count all of the times we have chosen what has stood between us and God, chosen what has prevented us from following Him. The man in the text, it says, became very sad at having it revealed to him that the peace and the closeness to God, and the confidence of eternal life wasn’t going to be had with some little unimposing task that he could perform this afternoon, something that didn’t affect his life too much. It was going to require a complete change of heart. It was going to require repentance of his sin of idolatry - of making something in this world more important to him than God. He was going to have to acknowledge that he has fallen short in God’s requirements and has no hope for eternal life apart from His mercy.
Remember what we have been saying throughout this entire message: Jesus has known the heart of this man, and has been lovingly leading him toward the conclusion that hopefully sees him in God’s kingdom in the end. He has led him to a painful place. He’s had to acknowledge something about himself that’s hard to see: he has been pushing God’s inviting hand away in favor of something else.
That same revelation has been painful for us, too, right? The same Lord remains there with His inviting hand extended to you. Everything is forgiven. The perfect Christ satisfied every one of your requirements. No amount of your idolatry is held against you. No secret knowledge is required, no hoops to jump through. Jesus has accomplished all of it for you.
Come, follow me, He says. To do so is most certainly worthwhile. It is to avoid the just punishment for sins, and to attain a treasure to which nothing in this world compares. The man was right to seek eternal life. He came to right person, Who provides it. There’s reason to hope that he eventually overcame his sadness over what he might lose, and allowed the Lord’s inviting hand to grab hold of him.
The Lord grabbed hold of you in your Baptism (or through your conversion by means of God’s Word). He has lovingly led you toward God’s kingdom ever since. He makes Himself available for you to follow Him. He’s available to you right now, in this message, and through the nourishment of the Sacrament. He leads you to a painful place sometimes. He must help you to recognize that this world encroaches; it threatens to get in between the two of you (between you and Jesus), and to prevent you from being with Him.
Come, follow me, He says. Think of those words every day, as you repent of your sins. Let those words lead you to a deeper relationship with Him through daily Bible reading. Come, follow me. Let them stir you on Sunday mornings when it’s difficult to get up and get over here to be with God’s people to hear Him. Eternal life is what is offered. It is worth any trade. Amen.
Other Lessons for this week:
Thus says the Lord: “In a time of favor I have answered you; in a day of salvation I have helped you; I will keep you and give you as a covenant to the people, to establish the land, to apportion the desolate heritages,
saying to the prisoners, ‘Come out,’ to those who are in darkness, ‘Appear.’ They shall feed along the ways; on all bare heights shall be their pasture;
they shall not hunger or thirst, neither scorching wind nor sun shall strike them, for he who has pity on them will lead them, and by springs of water will guide them.
And I will make all my mountains a road, and my highways shall be raised up.
Behold, these shall come from afar, and behold, these from the north and from the west, and these from the land of Syene.”
Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth; break forth, O mountains, into singing! For the Lord has comforted his people and will have compassion on his afflicted.
Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman. But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise. Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia;[a] she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother. For it is written,
“Rejoice, O barren one who does not bear; break forth and cry aloud, you who are not in labor! For the children of the desolate one will be more than those of the one who has a husband.”
Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. But just as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so also it is now. But what does the Scripture say? “Cast out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman shall not inherit with the son of the free woman.” So, brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman.
For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
St. John 6:1-15
After this Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberias. And a large crowd was following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing on the sick. Jesus went up on the mountain, and there he sat down with his disciples. Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand. Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. Philip answered him, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?” Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, about five thousand in number. Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted. And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.” So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves left by those who had eaten. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!”
Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.