“Nearer my God to thee.”
“My Focus on you has been and is and will continue to be on fulfilling the desire which you expressed in that song. Through all of the good and the bad in your life there is one golden thread – My love, drawing and wooing you to come nearer to Me. I understand you better than you could ever imagine – I understand your emotions which sometimes lift you high and other times drag you down as you take your eyes off me. Throughout all this, My love is constant and powerfully active and has as a central purpose drawing you near to Me so that you can see Me more clearly to be able to appreciate Me in all My glory. So continue to hunger and thirst for Me as a deer pants for water and I will continue to draw you nearer and nearer to Me.”
Now to Matthew again. Chapter 19:13 ff. Jesus is once again shown as pointing to the need to become, “as little children”, if we are to enter the Kingdom. Remember at the beginning of this section in 18:1, the attitude of the disciples, “Who is the greatest?” Jesus turned that around to telling them rather to becoming as a little child (18:3). So here Matthew returns to this theme to highlight the next story, by contrast. The well-known story of the rich young ruler.
Let us look again at it, to hear what Jesus is saying to us today. I think the key phrase is in vs 21, “If you want to be perfect.” The word used here for perfect is “teleios”, which describes the completion of a work. eg: Luke 18:31 “Everything that is written through the prophets about the Son of Man will be accomplished (teleios).” So Matthew has already said in 5:48 that the purpose of God for each one is perfection. “Be perfect even as your heavenly Father is perfect”. This is the standard required if you wish to enter the kingdom on your own merit. So the question the young man is asking Jesus is actually “How can I attain perfection”.
Rather than enter into a theological debate with him, Jesus simply points to his greatest love which he needs to repent from if he wants to reach perfection, his money. As he slinks away Jesus’ hyperbolic comment to demonstrate the impossibility of attaining your own perfection, the camel and the needle, draws exactly the response He wants from each one of us. If it is so difficult to enter the kingdom, who then can ever be saved? (19:25)
His reply is so profound yet so simple that many miss it. vs 26 (my paraphrase) “No amount of trying to be perfect will ever get you to heaven, it is a work that only God can do”.
This discussion, if wrongly interpreted can have drastic consequences. Someone who is a smoker or maybe drinks too much, someone who is living in a wrong type of relationship etc, thinks that they first have to deal with their sin before God will accept them. I have seen people struggle for years with this idea. A number of times I’ve heard , “I can’t become a Christian until I have managed to give up smoking”. Instead, our recognition of our impotence to deal effectively with our sin is the starting point of casting ourselves on Jesus for His help, to rescue us. Jesus was the only one who could achieve a perfect life. This places Him alone in the position that He can present His life on your behalf to the Father as a substitute according to which you will be accepted.
So, “What about repentance?” You ask me. Repentance is the starting point where we realize what I have just told you. The point at which you turn from trusting in your own ability to achieve the perfect life and and place your trust in Jesus instead. The gospel message is just that. We recognize our impotence to live the perfect Christian life and turn to Jesus to give us the strength. Our acceptance by Him does not depend on how well we are doing in giving up certain sins or actively doing the good He asks us to do. Our acceptance depends rather in or placing our trust in Him and what He has done on our behalf.
Can possessions be an idol in your life? Absolutely! It is one of the most common idols. As we struggle with, “Going out and selling all our belongings and giving them to the poor” 19:21, if that is your idol, Jesus will slowly empower you to do what you need to do to get the right result.
The message to me this week is again: “Become as a little child before Jesus again. Depend on Him to empower me to live the true gospel life. When I fail, I must confess and come to Him again”. Never get tired of this simple gospel message because it is the most powerful and releasing way to live with Jesus. That is authentic Christianity.