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The One Thing We All Lack

And a ruler asked him, “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. Jesus, looking at him with sadness, said, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” (Luke 18:18-24 ESV)

At first glance it looks like Jesus is telling this man that all he has to do is sell all his possessions to gain eternal life.  But look closer.  Jesus is simply giving him an example of why he can’t inherit eternal life.  It’s as if I went to a NBA coach and asked him, “What must I do to be on your basketball team?”  Let’s say this coach wanted me to try and see how hopeless it would be for me to be a NBA player, and he said, “Let me see you dunk a basketball.”  I might become “very sad,” because I would realize there was no way I could dunk a basketball. Obviously, I can’t be in the NBA just because I can’t dunk a basketball— that’s just an example.  I can’t be in the NBA because my entire being would be a complete failure in a NBA game.  I don’t have what it takes.

In the same way, Jesus just took an example, an example he knew would sting this man’s heart, an example of how “no one is good except God alone,” how there was no way in his own efforts this man could merit eternal life and enter the kingdom of God.

The actual “one thing” the man lacked was the ability to value Jesus and the treasure of heaven above this world.  The man turned away, because he knew that he didn’t, indeed he couldn’t value Jesus above all.  So it is with all of us— we all lack the ability to value God above anything and everything else in our lives.  Humanity lost the ability to choose God above all the moment that Adam and Eve chose the fruit above God.

The good news of the gospel is that God has made a way for our hearts to be regenerated, a way through faith in Christ for us to be born again so that we might once again learn to cherish Him above all else.  This one thing we all lack and can never attain God Himself has graciously provided for us if we will come to Him in faith.

The Opportunity of a Lifetime

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 18:22-23 ESV)

The rich young ruler was sad.  In fact, he was “very sad.”  However, I did not realize how sad he really was until I found the only other place in the Bible where this Greek word form is used.  Jesus uses the same word in the garden of Gethsemane:

Then Jesus said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” (Matthew 26:38)

Think about this for a minute: The rich young ruler was in the same category of sorrow (in the Greek) at the thought of giving up his riches as Jesus was at the thought of going to the cross.  

Why was this young man so distressed?

The answer is obvious: He loved money and he had lots of it. He cherished and valued his money above anything, even above his eternal soul, even above God.

Jesus gave him an opportunity, his “opportunity of a lifetime”—He told the young ruler the secret he had been searching for, He gave him the chance to have eternal life and walk with God.  All he had to do was to walk away from the one thing that he had cherished most, the one thing that he had loved with all his heart.

He had the opportunity of a lifetime.   And he chose to walk away.

But the young ruler wasn’t the only one in anguish of heart that day.  In the next verse, Luke tells us that as the ruler walked away Jesus “looked at him with sadness”—yes, the same Greek word.  Picture it: a man walking away from his Savior and eternal life because he couldn’t let go of some baubles that he could keep for only a few years, and Jesus deeply grieving because of the foolish man’s choice to embrace a lesser treasure than himself, to his own eternal dammnation.

This is exactly why Christ told us that the first and greatest commandment was that we should “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”  (Matthew 22:37).  Nothing should take the place of God in our heart; nothing should be before Him.

As we encounter Jesus, He will give us our own “opportunity of a lifetime”—He will tell us what we need to walk away from, He will show us what we are cherishing in our heart to the detriment of our love for Him.  Whenever Jesus shows us what we must give up, it will be a time of anguish.  May we choose the path of life, the path to give up whatever “riches” we hold in our heart or in our hands, and to wholeheartedly follow Jesus.