Ron Halvorsen, Jr.

Sligo Seventh-day Adventist Church

Takoma, Maryland

Summary: Jesus calls you gently, calmly but authoritatively to true discipleship. In the story of the rich young ruler, he had a choice just as we have a choice. Jesus will not force you to leave your game. He will just ask. While there is a lot that Jesus will take. There is one thing that he will not take—and that’s second place.

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21).

Imagine what it would be like to be rich. As a minister, that will take a lot of imagination. But try. The more you can get the feel of rich, the better you will understand the challenge of the words of Christ. To help you get into that mind frame, I want to share an email I got back in May of 1997. A professor at the University where I pastored sent it to me. Most emails I delete. Not this one.

The email was concerning the 97-98 basketball season for Michael Jordan. Just let these amazing numbers sink in. I will share it in the present tense. “Michael Jordan will make over $300,000 dollars a game: $10,000 dollars a minute, assuming he averages about thirty minutes a game. He will make $178,000 dollars a day working or not. If he sleeps seven hours a night, he makes $52,000 dollars every night while visions of sugar plums dance in his head.

If he goes to see a movie, it will cost him seven dollars, but he will make $18,550 dollars while sitting there. (That’s some major popcorn money!) If he decides to have a five minute egg, he will make $618 dollars while boiling it.

In one year he will make more than twice as much as all of our presidents for all of their terms combined. But get this. Michael Jordan would have to save 100% of his income for 270 years to have a net worth equivalent to that of Bill Gates. Geeks win!

A rich young ruler

It is hard to even imagine that kind of money isn’t it? But try imagining having that kind of money and having Jesus ask you to give it up. In Matthew nineteen there is the famous encounter between the rich young ruler and Jesus. For much of my life I found it hard to relate to this young man. After all, he was rich, he was young and he ruled. For years I could only relate to one third of his description. Now, not even the young part fits!

I found it easy to pass over this encounter or write it off, as far as having very much in it for me. After all, I am a pastor that struggles with money issues, but not the issue of having too much of it. I think it’s easy for many of us to speed read right past this passage. To the casual glance, it doesn’t look like we have too much in common with this uncommon young man. To see just how much we have in common with him takes time.

It takes reading and praying over it carefully. When we do that, it is amazing how many scriptures come clear. Sometimes painfully clear. Maybe that is why we don’t spend a lot of time here. Things can become painfully clear here. Maybe the real reason we don’t spend a lot of time here is that this passage of scripture frightens us. This scripture scares us and we usually like to stick to scriptures that will scare others and not ourselves.

And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?

And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.

He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness,

Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

The young man saith unto him, All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet?

Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me. (Matthew 19:16-21)

Giving and holding

After reading Matthew 19:16-21, it seems clear that the rich young ruler is willing to give God a lot. He is willing to give Jesus his sincere questions, his full attention, and his respect. He is even willing to give his grade point average, his family tree and pedigree, his spotless history and citizenship grade. He doesn’t even mind giving Jesus his church attendance and giving records.

But the point of this passage is not all the things the rich young ruler is willing to give for God. It is about what he isn’t willing to give to God. You see, the point is that he isn’t willing to give everything. There is something he is holding back. There is something that he is holding on to. There is something that is holding him back and that has a hold on him. That is what this passage is about.

And maybe that is the reason we don’t like to spend too much time here. We are afraid of what Jesus might ask us to give up for him. Afraid of what it would mean to follow Him fully. Afraid of where He might lead us. Afraid of what He might ask us to do and what He might ask us to leave behind. Reading these verses, it becomes clear that the rich young man is willing to give Jesus a lot, but not everything. Not his toys. Not the login to his bank account. Not the key to his safe. Not his personal treasure. Not his heart. And that is really the heart of it all, isn’t it? Jesus said, “Where your treasure lies, there will your heart be also.”

For a few minutes, looking into Jesus eyes, the rich young man thinks he has it made. But Jesus eyes are searching more than the young man’s handsome face and spotless exterior. Jesus is looking into his heart and He sees something the young man does not see. So He will help him gently. Then He will call him boldly.

But for all that he has and knows that he has done, he knows he is lacking something. He knows something is missing. The young man still doesn’t get it. He should have but he doesn’t see his true sinful condition. Yet, at the same time he feels that there is something missing, there is an emptiness.

Notice verse twenty.

“The young man saith unto him, All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet?”

He knows he is lacking something but he can’t put his finger on it. There is a small place in his heart that is aching, hurting, empty. The natural thing is to try to fill the emptiness with something. The rich young ruler tries to fill it with stuff, but he can’t. For there are empty places within the human heart that Jesus alone can fill. He doesn’t need stuff, he needs a Savior. He needs Jesus, but the question is will he see that and then reach out for Him.

The call

This isn’t an ancient story. I have met hundreds of people who like this rich young ruler try to fill the emptiness of their soul with stuff. I see them at Wal-Mart, Sears, the Mall, trying to heal the pain of their emptiness with plastic.

He needs Jesus but will he realize that in time and choose Him? By the way if you have an emptiness that you are trying to fill with stuff perhaps you too need Him. Watch the master teacher at work. See how he handles the problem.

He goes deeper and gets closer to the emptiness within the rich young ruler’s heart, the need.

Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.

I could not say this to my congregation or to my friends or enemies, only Jesus could. He gets to the real problem. We don’t like to stay very long in this chapter at this verse. It scares us. It does me. I have so little. I want to hold on to what I got. Whether a rich young ruler or a poor young preacher. Yet, Jesus says:

Go sell your possessions and give to the poor, And you will have treasurer in heaven. Then Follow me.

There it is in black and white. Clear as spring day. Jesus is after two things.

First: He wants the young man to know that he is not really perfect.

Second: He wants him to understand that as much as he loves Jesus (or claims that he does), Jesus will not take second place in the young man’s life. Discipleship, following Jesus is all or nothing.

Idle worship and hypocrisy

Jesus is saying to the young man something He said long ago. In the very beginning of our sinning.

Thou shalt have no other Gods before me.

In other words you cannot serve two masters. He wants this young man as he wants us to know that you can’t save yourself. Keeping the commandments is not enough. There is something more to it than a legal commitment. Love must enter into the agreement. Jesus puts his finger on the real problem.

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Amazing, the insight of Jesus. He sees beneath the surface. He gets down to the depths of the heart and tells the young man that as well behaved as he is, he is still a idol worshipper. Jesus wants him to know unequivocally that he is still a conservative pagan, a well behaved legalist a self righteous sinner, a man in need of salvation.

Amazing, the courage of Jesus. He wants the man to know that he needs to follow Jesus wholeheartedly. Jesus will not play second string. And will not play the religious game of hypocrisy.

Playing the game

It is easy for us like the rich young ruler to play games with Jesus.

I don’t know what games you play. It may be the stock market, play the field, the martyr, the sinner, spiritual hide and seek. Maybe you play spiritual yo-yo. Or judge and jury or critic or gossip. There are other games religious young rulers and old rulers play. Maybe you are playing church cop, or church skeptic, maybe you play wounded or you pout or feel sorry for yourself or play cool. Pastors, maybe you even play God. But God will not play games. He knows how serious you are and knows when you are just playing games.

Perhaps that is why we are afraid of this passage, and do not linger in this chapter at these verse very long. For here in this place we see that God won’t play games, yet we like to fool ourselves but we don’t fool Him.

This story is so compelling because it is so insightful into our own human nature. Like the rich young man we act out a part and obey the law but still will not let go of what really holds us and keeps us from following Him. Through His word I am sure that each of us have a game we play and a choice we must make.

I don’t know what your game is. But I do know that the rich young ruler’s was Monopoly. But then Jesus came along and said two words that threatened his game, two words that could be wipe him off the Monopoly board. Looking at him in love Jesus said:

“ Follow me.”

The rich young ruler had a choice. Jesus will not force you to leave your game. He will just ask. Jesus did not give him a Halvorsen look. He gave him a heavenly look of love, and said the words, gave him the choice.

“Follow me.”

The young man looked down at the board. He looked at all his money, stacked so neatly and so high, he saw all of his land. His houses and hotels, and he chose. There were tears in his eyes, but he chose.

He decided to keep playing.

Ellen White in that beautiful book entitled, The Desire of Ages captured this story in one sentence.

He loved the gifts of God more than he loved the Giver. (Oh my. Oh no.)

Jesus answered, if you want to be perfect:

Go sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven: then come follow me. When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth” (Matthew 19:22).

Final call

He walked away from Jesus, so he could keep his stuff. That rich young ruler, will probably be, one of the best behaved, best mannered, and best dressed men in hell. But that won’t matter will it? Jesus said, “What profit is it, if you gain the whole world and lose your own soul?”

And, Jesus never said anything he did not mean. Do you see the nice young man, in the nice suit? He’s walking away from Jesus. Do not follow him, he is lost! Jesus had looked deeply into his eyes and saw his heart, and Jesus knew what the young man needed. Jesus said gently to him, let go of your stuff, let go of the game, then come and follow me.

Jesus was offering him discipleship. He was calling him to real life, an abundant life. He was calling him to eternal life. It was really what the young man wanted and needed. But when Jesus called, the young man looked down at the board. He looked at all his money, stacked so high and neat. He saw all of his land, houses and hotels and decided to roll the dice a few more times rather than follow Jesus to and through eternity.

Whether you are serving as a pastor, stewardship leader, or layman, I don’t know what game you play. I do not know what you are holding on to, or that is holding on to you. But Jesus calls you gently, calmly but authoritatively to true discipleship. While there is a lot that Jesus will take. There is one thing that he will not take—and that’s second place.

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January–March, 2008

Ministry