Idol Talk

It has become fashionable in the last several years for churches to make themselves more seeker friendly, a term that refers to those who are seeking to know more about Christianity in general and Jesus in particular. And there’s nothing inherently wrong with churches exploring ways to attract those who are seeking to find the Truth. Paul himself said…

“I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings” (1 Corinthians 9:22-23 ESV).

Paul was a “Seeker Friendly” Apostle.

But there’s a difference between Paul’s Seeker approach and some of today’s Seeker Friendly churches.

Prior to Paul telling us that he became all things to all people that he might save some of them, he said…

“To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak” (1 Corinthians 9:20-22 ESV).

What Paul is saying is that he began his gospel message with Seekers at the point of their current understanding of God, Jesus, and Christianity. Few gentiles would have the same knowledge of Yahweh as Jews. So his message would be tailored with that in mind. His message to Pharisees, who would certainly qualify as those under the Law of God, would be different from those who believed the laws in the Bible were suggestions rather than commandments. We certainly see this today.

But regardless of where Paul started his Gospel message, he always ended up in the same place. In the end everyone who listened to Paul preach knew that they were sinners in need of forgiveness and that that forgiveness was only found in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. They knew that…

“The sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11 ESV).

Paul (and Jesus) met Seekers where they were spiritually, but told them the truth, even if that meant the Seekers might become uncomfortable and leave. The intent of speaking the Truth is not to make them uncomfortable or for them to leave, but neither is the intent of speaking the Truth meant for them to remain in their sins.

Not everyone Paul preached to became Believers. Not everyone Jesus preached to became Believers. Often the Seekers left.

What we’re going to talk about this morning is an episode in Jesus’ life where a Seeker came to Him, Jesus preached the Gospel to him, and the Seeker refused to accept the Truth. He left Jesus.

This episode is told to us in Luke 18:18-23…

“And a ruler asked him (Jesus), ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: “Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.’” And he said, ‘All these I have kept from my youth.’ 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.’ But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich” (Luke 18:18-23 ESV).

I want to point out several things about this encounter between this Seeker and Jesus.

The parallel accounts of this episode are found in Matthew 19:16-22 and Mark 10:17-22. They shed extra light on certain aspects of this story that I think are important.

We know from Luke’s account that this man, this Seeker was a ruler. It doesn’t say a ruler of what, but being a ruler necessarily implies a person of authority. In that respect he differed from the rest of Jesus’ closest disciples. Peter, James, John, and Andrew were common fishermen for example. The rest of the Apostles, with the possible exception of Judas Iscariot, were ordinary working men; certainly not rulers. Also, we learn later in the story that this man was very rich. Again, this is a stark contrast between himself and at least most of those who followed Jesus who were generally poor.

The point is Jesus’ preaching touched something deep within the hearts of all people, rich or poor. He didn’t preach one sermon to the rich and another to the poor. He preached the Truth. And it’s the Truth that exposes the deepest part of man’s need which is found in his spirit, a spirit that has a hole within it that is shaped like God.

When the Truth is uncompromisingly preached the Seeker’s spiritual hunger pangs awaken within him compelling him, driving him to find the “food” that will satisfy his hunger. You see, there’s an emptiness within man, a gnawing hunger, whether rich or poor, that money, pleasure, leisure, fame, and even good deeds can’t satisfy.

This rich ruler was spiritually hungry which is revealed when he asks Jesus the question…

“Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life” (Luke 18:18 ESV)?

And he was urgently seeking food to satisfy that hunger.

Think for a moment, if you were really hungry, starving, and you smelled food cooking somewhere, what would you do? How would you react? Would you look at your watch and see if it’s suppertime? Would you take a shower, brush your teeth, comb your hair, put on nice, clean clothes, put on your favorite cologne or perfume? Probably not.

If you’re truly starving all you want to do is get food – as quickly as possible. And if you have to beg for it, so be it. Dignity is not a consideration when you’re starving.

What’s that got to do with this ruler coming to Jesus seeking what he must do to inherit eternal life?

This ruler, this Seeker, didn’t just happen to see Jesus walking along the road and decide on a whim to ask Him about eternal life. He eagerly sought Jesus out, just like a starving man would seek out food. How do I know that?

Listen to how Mark describes how this ruler sought Jesus out.

“And as he (Jesus) was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him” (Mark 10:17 ESV).

Notice Jesus was leaving when this ruler saw him; Jesus was setting out on a journey. Who knew when He would be back again, or if He would be back again? So this ruler, spiritually hungry, desperate to know what he needed to do to satisfy the gnawing hunger he felt within his spirit, threw aside all decorum and ran, ran toward Jesus before He could get away, and not only ran toward Him, but kneeled before Him.

Now it would have been one thing for a commoner or a beggar to desperately run toward Jesus and kneel before Him to ask a question, but for a rich ruler, someone dressed in expensive clothes and probably decked out with gold rings and jewelry to have ran after Jesus and knell before Him would have been a sight to see.

Image if you had been teaching or preaching to crowds about Jesus and as you were leaving Bill Gates runs up to you as fast as he can and kneels down at your feet to ask you what he must do to inherit eternal life. That would be news. Well, that would be similar to what this scene would have been like with Jesus and the rich ruler.

This rich ruler’s, this Seeker’s, heart was in the right place and right position when he came to Jesus. That is, he had run to Jesus, the only One who could spiritually feed him, and he had shown reverence to Jesus by kneeling before Him. Then he asks the question…

“Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life” (Luke 18:18 ESV)?

Good question. Very good question. People ask it all the time in one form or another. But it often reveals an inherent misconception of the truth concerning salvation or gaining eternal life as it did here. Asking this question usually implies that one must earn his salvation. What must I do? What act must I perform? What commandment must I obey?

From his question Jesus knew this Seeker believed he must obey a commandment or commandments to earn eternal life. So, rather than immediately pointing out that one can’t earn one’s salvation, but rather it’s by grace that one is saved, not by works, Jesus does something we should take note of and learn.

Since this ruler, this Seeker, believed he needed to do a good deed in order to inherit eternal life Jesus asked him…

“Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone” (Luke 18:19 ESV).

Ever wonder why Jesus told him that? There are various reasons given by various scholars. I think most of them lean toward the thought that Jesus was asking this ruler if he thought that He, Jesus, was God since he called Him good. And only God is good. That’s possible and I’m no scholar, but I don’t think that’s what was going on in Jesus’ mind.

I think Jesus, because He was able to discern the true spiritual condition of those He met, knew immediately what this ruler’s problems were. And one of those problems was that he thought he was good. He needed to learn he wasn’t. So, Jesus began His answer to him by saying that only God is good and since only God is good, that meant that he, the ruler, wasn’t good. And since he wasn’t good any good deed he did wouldn’t really be good because it would have an element of evil in it – most likely, pride.

Paul once said…

“For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh” (Romans 7:18 ESV).

And that’s true for all of us outside of Jesus for only He is good for only He is God. Therefore, if we are to truly be good we must have the Holy Spirit living within us. For outside of Christ we are not good – no matter how many commandments we obey.

And this was what Jesus was trying to teach this Seeker. That’s why He immediately after telling Him only God was good said…

“You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother’” (Luke 18:20-21 ESV).

Matthew’s Gospel includes in the list…

“You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 19:19 ESV).

Why would Jesus recite these commandments to this ruler, this Seeker? Jesus knew that simply obeying the commandments he listed wouldn’t save this man. Obedience to them wouldn’t qualify him to inherit eternal life. Jesus listed these commandments to him because He was leading him from where he was spiritually – thinking he could inherit eternal life by being good – to where he needed to be – inheriting eternal life is a gift freely given by God’s grace.

Where the ruler was at spiritually was a good-works based religion. Jesus needed to lead him to a grace-based relationship with Himself. So, how’s Jesus going to do that?

Where did these commandments come from that Jesus quoted to this ruler, this Seeker? The Ten Commandments. “Do not commit adultery” – commandment number 7; “Do not murder” – commandment number 6; “Do not steal” – commandment number 8; “Do not bear false witness” – commandment number 9; “Honor your father and mother” – commandment number 5.

Just as an aside, notice Jesus didn’t name the commandments in numerical order. Why? I believe it’s because He was emphasizing that these laws are equal in importance.

This is what James teaches us when he says…

“For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. For he who said, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ also said, ‘Do not murder.’ If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law” (James 2:10-11 ESV).

Now, when this ruler heard Jesus’ answer to his question about what he needed to do to inherit eternal life he quickly answered…

“All these I have kept from my youth” (Luke 18:21 ESV).

This ruler was telling Jesus he had never committed adultery, never murdered anyone, never stolen anything, never lied, and always held his father and mother in honor. That’s impressive. And it’s possible he was telling the truth, at least as far as his understanding was of what it meant to keep those laws. Jesus certainly didn’t question his integrity though he could have used this opportunity to quote to this ruler the part of one of His sermons that said…

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:27-28 ESV).

Jesus could have done that, revealed to this ruler what it meant to truly keep the spirit of these commandments and possibly convinced this Seeker he hadn’t kept them, or at least not kept one or two of them anyway. But Jesus didn’t do that. Why? Because this Seeker had a greater need than just keeping these five commandments. Jesus knew that even if he kept these five commandments perfectly he still would not inherit eternal life. Jesus knew that even if this Seeker kept these five commandments perfectly he would still feel the need for something more, he would still experience the hunger pangs he was experiencing that drove him to Jesus in the first place.

So what was that greater need this Seeker needed in order to inherit eternal life? The answer is revealed when we look at the commandments Jesus didn’t mention to the ruler when Jesus first answered his question…

“Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life” (Luke 18:18 ESV)?

When Jesus responded to the ruler’s question as to what he needed to do to inherit eternal life He recited five of the Ten Commandments. He did not recite the first four of the commandments or the 10th commandment. Do you know why?

The answer is discovered when we realize that true worship of God is lived out in the shape of a cross, a “T”. That is, true worship is two-fold – horizontal and vertical. Did you realize that the way we treat others is part of our worship?

For the most part this ruler’s horizontal worship, his treatment of others was fine, but not perfect. It was the ruler’s vertical worship that was causing his sense of lacking something, his spiritual hunger pangs.

You see, the commandments Jesus recited to the ruler, the ones he told Jesus he had kept from his youth – “Do not commit adultery”, “Do not murder”, “Do not steal”, “Do not bear false witness”, “Honor your father and mother” – are all horizontal worship, worship that pertains to one’s fellowman. And it appears his relationship with his fellowman was in pretty good shape. And no doubt many people considered him a good man.

But what Jesus was doing when He talked with this ruler, this Seeker, was to try and get him to see that his faith was founded upon a horizontal lifestyle of worship only by making a contrast between the five commandments He recited and the ones He didn’t recite. What were the commandments Jesus didn’t recite?

“You shall have no other gods before me.

“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God…

“You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.
“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy…
“You shall not covet” (Ex 20:3-5, 7-8, 12, 17 ESV).

Notice, all of these commandments except the last one – “You shall not covet” – which is the 10th commandment, directly involve man’s relationship with God; that is, they involve his vertical worship.

This is why Jesus, after first reciting the five commandments that relate to one’s fellowman and the ruler confidently telling Jesus he had kept these commandments since he was young, He told him…

“One thing you still lack” (Luke 18:22 ESV).

When Jesus said this I can imagine this ruler anxiously waiting to hear what the one thing was that he lacked. He was going to get his answer at last. He was going to find out what he needed to do to fill his spiritual belly so that he could satisfy the hunger that gnawed at his spirit and inherit eternal life. I can picture him leaning closer to Jesus to make sure he clearly heard everything Jesus was going to say to him. And then I can imagine the pain and disappointment he experienced when Jesus told him…

“Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven…” (Luke 18:22a ESV).

That must have felt like a punch to the gut to this rich young ruler; and unreasonable. I can hear this ruler saying…

“You want me to do what? Sell everything I have and then give away all the money? Why? I already give to charity. I already help others. Just ask them. I’m a good man.”

Then Jesus’ words would likely come back to him, haunting him…

“No one is good except God alone” (Luke 18:19 ESV).

At this point in Jesus’ conversation with this Seeker the Gospel of Mark tells us…

“He (the rich ruler) was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions” (Mark 10:22 KJV).

This word “grieved” is a strong word. I would say it borders on agony of mind. It’s the word used in Matthew to describe Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane after He said to His disciples…

“‘Sit here while I go over there and pray.’ And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and distressed” (Matthew 26:36-37 NASU).

Jesus then told Peter, James, and John to stay where they were as He went a little further on. He was all alone now. And it is at this time that Luke tells us that Jesus…

“Being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:44 ESV).

There was an intense war going on within Jesus. He faced unspeakable pain, both physical in the form of being scourged with a whip that would rip the flesh from His body with each strike, and the actual crucifixion itself, and spiritually as the sins of the whole world would be placed upon Him that He might pay the price to redeem mankind from every sin providing forgiveness for everyone. And Jesus prayed…

“Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will” (Mark 14:36 ESV).

Jesus was seeking for an alternative for Him having to endure the pain of the Cross, and the pain of paying the price for sin. And He could have left. But He stayed.

When a similar war was going on within the rich ruler he was saddened to the point of being in agony of mind when Jesus told him what God’s will was for him. Again, I can almost hear him saying to himself…

“What should I do? Should I sell everything I have and give it away? I’ve worked so hard for it. My money provides me with everything I need. It makes it possible for me to eat, to buy clothes, to have a place to live. Why should I give it all away?”

What was he really saying?

“Money is my god.”

Money was his idol – and that’s what Jesus was trying to teach him.

He was telling this Seeker:

“You are an idolater. Your god is not Yahweh; it’s money. The coins in your pocket bear the image of your god. You call yourself a follower of God, but you are a follower in name only. You don’t trust God to provide for you. And besides all that, for all your goodness toward your fellow man, you still see things others have and want them for yourself. You obey the commandments that make you look good to others, but not the ones that make you good as God is good because Yahweh is not your God.”

But Jesus was telling this ruler that even selling everything he had and giving it to the needy wasn’t enough. To drive the point home that money was his idol, his god, in case this ruler wanted to argue with Him, Jesus added one other stipulation to what this Seeker must do in order to inherit eternal life. When Jesus told him to sell everything he had and give it to the poor He added this…

“And come, follow me” (Luke 18:22b ESV).

It’s possible, just possible that if Jesus had told the ruler to sell everything he had and give it to the needy he may have thought something like this…

“Hey, I know how to make money. I’ve done it before and there’s no reason I can’t do it again. If selling everything I currently own and giving it to the poor is what it takes to inherit eternal life I’ll do it.”

But when Jesus added the stipulation…

“And come, follow me” (Luke 18:22b ESV)…

and he looked at how meagerly Jesus and His disciples lived, the places they lived, the food they ate, the clothes they wore, all the very opposite of the type of lifestyle he was used to living, and realized he would probably never be rich again if he followed Jesus he turned and left. What he needed money couldn’t buy. But that’s all he had because money was his god, his idol.

Jesus was once asked…

“‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?’ And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets’” (Matthew 22:36-40 ESV).

The ruler obeyed the second greatest commandment admirably. For the most part he loved his neighbor as himself. But for all the good he did for his fellowman he was unable and unwilling to obey the greatest commandment to…

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37 ESV).

Rather, he loved his god, his idol with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his mind. And he loved his god more than eternal life.

This is why you can be a good, moral person and still not be saved. Satan doesn’t care if you worship God horizontally as long as you don’t worship him vertically.

This Seeker had been plainly told by Jesus the answer to his question…

“Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life” (Luke 18:18 ESV)?

But he couldn’t bear the answer.

Jesus said…

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself” (Luke 9:23-25 ESV)?

If you ask Jesus what you must do to inherit eternal life don’t be surprised if Jesus begins idol talk with you. Or if someone asks you what they must do to inherit eternal life you need to begin idol talk with them.

As the Apostle John warns us…

“Little children, keep yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21 ESV)…

because that’s what you must do to inherit eternal life.

#idoltalk #eternallife #richyoungruler #goodteacher

2 thoughts on “Idol Talk

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