If you ask Jesus questions, prepare for answers you never would have expected.
This post was adapted from a message given by Jeff Friess,
a preacher at Grandview Christian Assembly
A year or so ago, psychologists said we were in the honeymoon phase of the Covid pandemic. This referred to spikes in personal productivity, an upswing, before the long term despondency that eventually settled in. During those few months I read a half dozen books myself.
One of them was called America’s Forgotten Pandemic, about the Spanish Flu of 1918-1919, that claimed over one hundred million lives globally. The demographics of the casualties were especially interesting, because it killed mainly the very old and the very young. The book said one of the startling features of that pandemic was its sudden flare up and equally sudden decline. It was reminiscent of a flame consuming highly combustible material, and then dying down as soon as the supply of material was exhausted.
Put yourself in the shoes of someone who made it through that particular time, especially a young Christian. You’re reflecting upon how you did during the pandemic, how you reacted and behaved as a person of faith. You’re thankful you made it through the death and the fear. Gradually, the masks go away, as well as the threatening headlines. You breathe a sigh of relief, sorry for the many casualties, but thankful God was kind to you, in letting you survive a particularly dark time of history.
You made it.
Certainly, nothing could be as trying as an apocalyptic flu, you think. But in another ten years, something will come along that will also be devastating—the Great Depression. U.S. unemployment rates alone will hit twenty-five percent. The average family income will drop by forty percent, and the stock market will lose ninety percent of its value. Eleven thousand banks will fail. One billion dollars in private savings will be lost. Hundreds of thousands of families will not be able to pay their mortgages and will be evicted from their homes.
It will no longer be a threat of sickness, but a loss of wealth, financial ruin. Faith will face a different hurdle, the extent of which it hardly anticipated.
Of course the young Christian of 1920 couldn’t have known that future, and so he settles into a peacetime faith, and begins to enjoy an era of plenty, called, “The Roaring Twenties.”
Beware of the comfortable Christian life that coasts, without growing. It always gets caught by surprise. Comfort masks areas of the Christian heart that need tending, but have been overlooked, ignored, because there is no point bothering with them. Why upset the apple cart?
One of these areas has to do with money and possessions. When one day the Lord decides to touch them, the experience may be unlike anything we’ve ever felt before, indeed, rocking our very world.
Take this famous encounter with Jesus in Matthew chapter 19.
“And behold, a man came up to him, saying, ‘Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?’” (v. 16).
At first this man looks good. It’s an individual who wants to be better, or have a better relationship with God, or follow Him in a deeper way. However, looked at from another angle, it could also mean a person who thinks salvation is based on his goodness, and works, and not what Jesus accomplished on the cross. He is like a lot of religious people (or even non-religious), who are secure in their righteousness, and looking for the next box to check, that next milestone in their personal development.
“And he said to him, ‘Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments’” (v. 17).
Jesus’ challenge about goodness should cause us to think of Romans chapter 3, where it says,
“None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one” (vv. 10-12)
Maybe then, this is Jesus beginning a gospel message to lead this man to repentance, sort of like what He did when He told the Samaritan woman to go call her husband (a man she was living with that wasn’t her husband). It’s a challenge to any and all presumptive goodness.
Here, Jesus goes on to mention keeping the Commandments, but the man asks, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (vv. 18-19).
At this point it’s beginning to look like the man is truly comfortable with his accomplishments, however, there’s still a veneer of respect about Him. The parallel account in Mark chapter 10 tells us he ran up to Jesus, and knelt down before him. Which account more accurately portrays the man? Both. We’re more complex than what we think.
We respect the idea of obeying God, but we also expect obedience to follow only a well-worn, predictable path. And so as Jesus begins to lay it out, you can almost hear the box checking going on. Murder? Nope! Adultery? No way! Stealing? Absolutely not! Bearing false witness? Never! Honoring your father and mother? You bet! Loving your neighbor as yourself? Of course!
He tells Jesus, “All these I have kept.” At this point, the man’s confidence was probably sky-high. He had worked on his goodness, achieving in his own eyes a level of decency others did not bother with. But here’s an added detail: as the coming verses will show, the man was young. Youth is the haven of idealism, and an inflated view of self. Typically, under a certain age there hasn’t been enough failure yet to remind a person of reality. Advancing still further under the influence of self-ignorance, he finds the guts to ask the Lord Jesus, “What do I still lack?” Without batting an eye, he gives Jesus permission to touch any area of his life. Why? Because, he actually doesn’t want to coast. He is proud, and self-righteous,
but seeking, all at the same time. His recklessness in its own way, is admirable. Had we invited the Lord to assess our own spiritual condition, we might have quickly followed up with, “But please don’t hurt my feelings, or tell me to do anything I don’t want to do.” For sure, this fellow has some grit, although it is grit in the dark.
Before Jesus responds to him, consider what Mark 10 has to say: “Jesus looked at him and loved him.” The next thing the Savior will say will come from love, and a desire to lead this man unto repentance. That’s when Jesus said, “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” (Matt. 19:21).
This was not a challenge to simply enter privation and go nowhere in life. In fact, Jesus could have easily told this man to talk to Peter, and find out what it was like to follow the Master. Peter could have told him about the glories on the Mount of transfiguration, and the time he walked on water with Jesus, and the time he received a revelation from the Father that Jesus is the Christ. It would be a life bursting with possibilities, and there was still a lot more to come, when faith would spread, and churches would spring up throughout the gentile world, nourished with the abundant revelation of God’s eternal plan.
“Come follow me,” means a lot. But only if you can get free of the money that’s holding you back.
You might say this young man was blindsided. He had grown comfortable with his personal moral accomplishments, and expected any further development to be more of the same. But liquidate his possessions? That was a bolt from the blue, outside of what the Lord should deal with. Surely, only moral or immoral behavior was subject to God’s touch. And yet now Jesus was commanding something completely off the grid.
For someone caught in the grip of earthly riches, it should have been a time for confession, and prayer. Lord, when I asked about what I lacked, as though I meant to do something about it, I lied. I’m under the control of my stuff. I can’t imagine my life without all the extras and conveniences. I thought you were going to tell me to do something easier. Mercy, Lord. Free me, please.
It would have been wonderful had he petitioned in such a way.
Instead, though, verse 22 says, after hearing the command and invitation of Jesus, “he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.” He simply couldn’t trust that there was something better than his belongings. The scripture calls them “great.” But that considerable bank account did nothing to make him “great,” for we hear nothing more of him in the Bible. He vanishes into obscurity with his earthly treasure, just one more casualty of an unforeseen faith challenge.
Money is probably the greatest of our hurdles, and yet for some odd reason, the one we don’t expect to deal with before God. Perhaps it is because we think only the filthy rich must answer for their material attachments. Surely, we believe, this is not an area of concern for common, middle class folks. We unwittingly keep a death grip on our stuff, and yet nothing is so frail, so flimsy, than the things we call ours.
In the wake of the great depression’s losses, the United States got busy trying to minimize any future financial meltdowns. For one, it created the FDIC, which would protect depositors and regulate the banking industry. But the world of money is both fickle and fragile, and the government cannot protect the heart of man from its own greed. Between the years of 2001 and 2007, mortgage debt rose nearly as much as it had during the rest of the nation’s history, combined.
In the midst of the crisis, Lehman Brothers, a 158 year old company, and the fourth largest investment firm in the USA, went bust. It had boasted 25,000 employees, and 639 billion in assets. This plunged our nation into the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.
Once more we were faced with the failure of “great possessions,” another reminder that nothing of the world lasts forever. This is especially pertinent to me, a person who makes his living in sales. As I pray over the verses in 1 Timothy, that warns against the desire to be rich, and the love of money, I ask for grace to hang on to something that I can really take to the bank.
And like me, if you have trouble letting go, remember that your prayer will find the ear of the One who looks at you and loves you.