When the young man of Matthew 19 came to Jesus asking about eternal life, he had an opaque view of what was really needed to be a faithful child of God. He came to the right source and it is clear he realized that Jesus was not just a carpenter’s son but the Son of God. “Good teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life” (Matthew 19:16). No other question is so important than what happens in the eternal realm of man’s existence. The answer from Jesus was rather simple and direct. “If you want to enter into life, keep the commandments” (Matthew 19:17). The Law of Moses was sterling clear of God’s requirement to keep the statutes and laws of the Lord. “You shall observe My judgments and keep My ordinances, to walk in them: I am the Lord your God. You shall therefore keep My statutes and My judgments, which if a man does, he shall live by them: I am the Lord (Leviticus 18:4-5).
Matthew is the only writer that records the response of the ruler: “Which ones?” (Matthew 19:18). The heart of the young man was not truly seeking an honest answer to the question of eternal life but rather as so many people do when they come before God seeking salvation he wanted to know the minimal amount of service given to receive eternal life. Consider the reason he would ask this question. Which laws did he think he did not have to keep? What reason would there be to exclude any law as applicable to his life? Did he view the law as a buffet to be chosen on the whim of the moment?
Jesus summed up the fullness of law keeping in Matthew 19:18-19 and feeling gratified he had successfully passed the litmus test the young man boasted he had kept all these laws from youth and “what do I still lack?” (Matthew 19:20). An arrogant spirit drove the heart of this young man. He first wanted to limit the commands of God to a select bullet-list of do’s and don’ts; he then proclaimed his commandment keeping virtue of suggesting he had been a noble servant of the Lord since birth; and confidently felt eternal life was his. It was then the Lord spoke directly to the root of the problem. “’If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.’ But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions” (Matthew 19:21-22).
His first question was the right question: “What shall I do to have eternal life?” The next two question’s he tried to corral the commandments of God into a neat package of limited responsibility by asking which commandments must he keep (as if there was a limitation) and since he had kept all six of the specific laws illustrated by Jesus then what would he lack. Self-confident to a fault. Limiting requirements of law to only a few chosen commands. His heart was not prepared to give up his riches. He served God faithfully but only so far as he had to do what was required of him and nothing else. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone. Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel” (Matthew 23:23-24).
The story of the rich young ruler is a story for the religious man today. Many are seeking the answer to eternal life. Most would believe that when they die they want to go to Heaven. Everyone wants to go to Heaven but few are willing to pay the price. When the ruler asked Jesus, “which ones” he had to look at the Law as a minimal code book. “What little can I do to be saved” is not what the people asked on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:37). Noah did not want a smaller boat; David did not let someone else step into the valley of Elah; Paul did not bear a cross with wheels; and Jesus did not seek another way but only the way of His Father!
Cross bearing is hard business. “He who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me … If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple … whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple’ (Matthew 10:38; Luke 14:26-33). What do you mean “which ones”? What commandments of God are not needed in my life? Can I pick and choose which commandments I want to follow and expect the Lord to be pleased? Jesus died on the cross for my sins and I want to ask “which ones?”
Too often people complain about what the Lord requires of them. This comes from a spirit not unlike the rich young ruler who agreed to serve God on his terms and not God’s terms. I will obey you but only so far as it does not make me uncomfortable. Don’t expect too much from me, Lord. Expecting me to assemble with the people of God on a regular basis is asking too much. Having to give of my wealth is pushing the envelope far beyond reason. Making me sit for more than 20 minutes to a sermon is not fair. Letting people see God living in my life is too awkward and don’t expect that. I WANT TO DO AS LITTLE AS POSSIBLE PLEASE!
“But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone” (Hebrews 2:9). When did Jesus say to His Father, “which ones”? He gave His all that we may be all with Him. The Lord paid our salvation with His blood. HIS body was nailed to a cross. Glory was given up with the Father to humble Himself as a man and became obedient to the point of death. And I worry that the Lord is asking too much for me. Shame on me. Shame on my arrogance. What right do I have to complain about anything? What will I ever do to repay the Father and the Son for the sacrifice at the “Place of the Skull?”
The Philippian Jailor did not ask for the minimal. He came “trembling before Paul and Silas … and said, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:29-30). He did not ask ‘which ones” but with fear in his heart and a desire for salvation willing to do whatever was commanded of him. “Thy will be done” excludes the idea of small minded salvation. “Speak, Lord, for Your servant hears” (1 Samuel 3:9).