Matthew chapter 19 can be summarized with the understanding of three different stories. First, we see Jesus being tested and questioned by the Pharisees about divorce. Second, Jesus praying for the children. And third, a rich man questioning Jesus on how to obtain eternal life.
The first story begins with Jesus leaving Galilee and going into Judea. When Jesus gets there the Pharisees try to trap Him by asking Him questions about the law in order to make Him say something wrong. They ask Jesus about divorce and when it’s lawful. Jesus answers the question with knowledge that comes full circle starting back in the beginning when God created man and woman.
From there Matthew goes into blessing and praying for the children. The disciples thought that Jesus had more important things to do then bless the children people had brought.
Next, Matthew goes into the story of the rich young man. A man comes to Jesus wanting to know how to obtain eternal life. Jesus answers with some commandments then tells him to sell everything and follow Him. With this the man leaves Jesus truly sad for he has great wealth. Jesus then turns to His disciples and tells them that it is hard for any rich person to get into heaven. Then He goes on to tell them that with God all things are possible and that anyone who leaves anything and everything to follow Him will receive a hundred times as much and will obtain eternal life.
If you’re like me the story of the rich young ruler always jumps out at me. In this story, Jesus calls out this man’s so called goodness and tears away his self-righteousness to expose the reality of his not so good heart. And how Jesus addresses his issues with the Word is fascinating. Take a good look at verses 18 and 19. Here Jesus does something very interesting with the Ten Commandments. He omits from them (if I can put it that way). He makes two omissions.
First, He left out the first four commandments, the first table of the Decalogue. Why do that? Why, to this particular man, does Jesus leave them out? Jesus’s quote from Leviticus 19:18—“You shall love your neighbor as yourself”—provides the answer. By quoting only from the second table Jesus places the mirror of neighborly love before this man’s face, saying, “Hey, how do you look? Have you defrauded anyone to make your fortune? Have you made your riches through exploiting the poor? Have you been generous and compassionate, rich man with your wealth, young man with all your strength, rich young ruler with your judgments? Have you truly loved your neighbor as much as you love yourself?”
The first intentional omission is the first four commandments. The second omission is the last commandment, the Tenth Commandment, which is, “You shall not covet” others’ possessions (Exodus 20:17). You would think that out of all the commandments Jesus would have cited to this rich man, the last commandment first. So why, to this particular man, does Jesus make this small but significant omission?
The reason is that the rest of Jesus’s response will focus exclusively on this command. This man’s vice, his obvious moral defect, is his failure to obey to the Tenth Commandment. This man is filled with the disease of coveting. And so, after this man declares his innocence, he said, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?”—Jesus lovingly drops some truth. Jesus asks him, “Have you really kept all the commandments? All of them? Every single one of them? Well, how about, ‘You shall not covet’?” He puts it this way: “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” (v. 21). Jesus calls him to perfection - “perfect” in the sense of keeping both tables of the Law. He is to love others, especially the poor (i.e., widows, orphans, blind beggars, and perhaps Christ’s followers), and then do what? Follow Jesus!
The rich man knew he lacked something. That is why he asked Jesus this question. But he thought whatever it was he lacked could simply be added to his life. But the one thing he lacked was a childlike dependence on Christ. So, Jesus, seeking to bring this man to that kind of dependence, challenged him to cut off his riches (“sell all that you possess and give to the poor”) and challenged this rich ruler to cut off his self-rule (“come, follow me”). Here, Jesus demands everything. ffffffff
Give everything to others—love your neighbor.
Give everything to Christ—love the Lord your God.
The weight of just the Tenth Commandment crushed him. This man who only moments ago knelt before Jesus with enthusiasm stood up, turned his back to Jesus, and “went away sorrowful” (v. 22). Why? There is only one reason given: “for he had great possessions”, or his great possessions possessed him.
In "Teaching a Stone to Talk", Annie Dillard recalls the tragic story of the Franklin expedition to the North Pole. In 1845 a group of English explorers died because they weren’t prepared for the challenges they would face. Instead of providing room on board their two ships for additional coal for the steam engines, these careless adventurers used the space for a large library, a barrel organ, china place settings, and cut-glass wine goblets. Needless to say, when they ran out of coal, as they did, their books, teacups, and ornate musical instruments were not enough to warm their freezing bodies. Every member of that expedition died. Sadly, 128 men lost their lives.
Years later when the search party found the remains of the men who had set off to walk for help, they discovered one skeleton dressed in a beautiful blue uniform with silk braids, sadly grasping in his hand a place setting of sterling silver flatware. What a tragic picture of their foolishness.
This rich young ruler in Matthew acted as foolishly as the British explorers. But instead of trying to carry sterling silver through the frozen Arctic, this man was trying to carry all his possessions through the tiny entrance into the kingdom of God. And just as all those explorers had to do was make sure their ships had more coal and fewer luxuries, so too all this rich man needed to do was unhinge this massive weight from his back and walk as a humble man, walking in faith uprightly through the small and narrow way.
Friends, idolatry comes in many forms and fashions. It’s very easy to allow the things of this world to capture our hearts. Is it wrong to want or to have? No, but what we can’t allow is the want to turn into worship. And, in turn, causing the possessions we have to turn and begin to possess of our hearts.