When Jesus spoke with the rich young man of Matthew 19, the conversation was quite interesting. The young man wanted to know what he needed to do to go to heaven. He claims to have kept all the law from his youth. But we find out that he was lacking.
Jesus gives the man an odd command. And that odd command exposes his heart.
Matthew 19:21-22 – 21 Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
Jesus touches the man where it hurts. Jesus shows what is lacking in the man’s quest for heaven. And what Jesus shows is true for us all. But what Jesus shows is not what you might think. You have to read this carefully, in the light of other Scripture, so as not to form a wrong conclusion from the words of the Master.
Jesus tells the man that if he wants to go to heaven, he should go and sell everything he owns, give the money away, and then come and follow Jesus as a disciple. Keep in mind a couple of truths before you let this shock you. First, this is not the same command that Jesus gives to all wealthy folks. He did not say this to Zacchaeus. Nor did he command this of Lazarus, Mary, and Martha, a family that seems well-off. We know from other Scriptures that giving away your money will not purchase for you salvation. Paul writes, “If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing” (1 Cor. 13:3). So, there is clearly more going on here than a call for the selling of goods.
Also consider that, when Jesus cited the Ten Commandments earlier, he did not point to the sin of coveting. But here, we see that Jesus now presses hard against this man’s love of wealth and possessions. It is as if Jesus has saved this particular sin, the one that the man is most consumed by, as the linchpin for his whole heart.
What Jesus is up to is actually shown in the man’s response. This young man, this man eager to know what he must do to earn his way to heaven, comes to a point of crisis. For him, the crisis has to do with his possessions, but it is more. The crisis has to do with his heart. Will this man want Jesus more than things? Will he want Jesus more than status, wealth, security, or whatever it is that ties him so closely to his fortune? And we see that he does not. The man hears what is required, decides the price is too high, and walks away.
What should we learn here? Desire God above all. At the end of the day, the young man was faced with a dilemma. Will he yield himself, all of himself, to the Lord, or will he cling to his possessions, his rights of ownership, and turn from the Lord? Does he want God or things more? And in the end, we see that he chose self above the Lord. The lesson to learn is that, if you want heaven, want God. Want God more than you want your stuff. Want God more than you want your freedom. Want God more than you want status or fleeting pleasures or earthly comforts.
When we look at the issue of salvation or lostness, the question is one of repentance and faith. It has always been so. Faith asks if we believe we are sinners and that Jesus, through his life, death, and resurrection, can and will give us the forgiveness we need. Repentance asks if we are ready to lay down the right of ownership of our lives and give it to Jesus, making him our Master. Are we willing to follow him and treasure him above all else? Are we willing to trust him, to obey his word, to submit to his authority; that is the question of repentance. And all that requires that we want God more than we want other things if we want heaven.
Does this mean that if you want to go to heaven, you have to sell all your stuff? Probably not. But it does mean that you surrender to the Lord and allow him to have the right to tell you to sell all your stuff if he wants. It does mean that you are willing to let go of anything in your life that moves you away from glorifying him.