And he said, “All these things I have kept from my youth.” So when Jesus heard these things, He said to him, “You still lack one thing. 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 this, he became very sorrowful, for he was very rich. And when Jesus saw that, he became very sorrowful. (Luke 18:21-24a)
Sorrow Does Not Change Truth
A young man came to Jesus wanting to know what good thing he should do to have eternal life. The young man was a ruler of the Jews and very wealthy. His life was characterized by all the blessings of God with success and glory. When his fellow Jews looked at his life, they saw an exemplary individual that any young Jewish boy would seek to emulate. The spirit of the young man was entirely devoted to the Law of Moses. He had striven to mold his life in perfect harmony of the will of God, zealous for righteousness, and a keeper of the law. Jesus had struck a chord in the heart of the young man, and it was the man from Nazareth that had shown His miracles and power influencing the young man to come to Him. As Jesus answered the ruler, his heart was filled with satisfaction and joy for the knowledge he had done everything needed for eternal life.
There is little doubt the rich young ruler was a model citizen of the nation of Israel. As far as he could see, he had accomplished righteousness to a high degree with meticulous and careful detail. When he asked what he lacked, it was more of a statement than a question. In his mind, there was nothing more he could do to assure him eternal life. His heart was filled with a righteous pride of self-satisfaction. Jesus faced a crossroad as He looked into the eyes of the young man. He could tell the assurance the young man felt about his place with God. Jesus could hear from his voice a confidence of faith. It would be easy to let the man go and live a full life of devotion to the Father, but Jesus knew the young man lacked one thing. Only one thing? Was it necessary to wreck his life over one thing? The ruler seemed to be all that God wanted His people to be – save one thing. There was a danger that if Jesus told him the one thing he lacked, he would walk away and never return. Could Jesus afford to tell the rich young ruler what he needed to hear?
The words fell like a torrent of unyielding water as Jesus answers the young ruler. If the man wanted to find perfection before the Lord God, he would need to dissolve his life of every privilege he held dear. He would have to sell everything he had with no exception and no holding back. All of his wealth would be given to the poor. He would be without the comfort of riches, the privilege of position, and probably held in derision by his peers. Only after selling all he had and giving everything to the poor could the young man have eternal life. Why did Jesus tell him to do something so drastic? This is not a requirement for everyone to follow Jesus. What Jesus saw in the heart of this young man was a covetous and greedy heart. The young man had exemplified himself as a model citizen of Israel, but there was a dark secret seen only in the eyes of the Divine. Salvation for the rich young ruler required walking away from everything he held dear.
Sorrow filled the heart of the young man as he walked away. Jesus was filled with His own sorrow to tell the young man what was required, but the Lord could not answer any other way. The one thing lacking was the one thing necessary. The sorrow of the young man did not change the truth. Jesus told Him what the Father demanded. Truth is a two-edged sword that brings hurt, sorrow, and despair. It is hard to inflict truth, but there is no other course a man can take but teach the truth. Preachers face the daunting task of preaching the truth and not shying away from the truth that will hurt. They must remember it is the word that brings sorrow because the heart is unwilling to accept the will of God. There will be many who stand before the judgment bar of a Holy God, who will appeal the task required asked too much, but it will not change the reality of truth. Sorrow does not change the truth.
The spirit of compromise comes from a refusal to teach the painful truth. Churches are filled with hearts deceived by the appeal of a kind and wholesome gospel. Sin is not condemned, immorality is not challenged, and truth falls by the wayside to the whims of human wisdom. If the rich young ruler were alive today seeking the same answer, most would accept him with great fanfare and confidence, assuring him of eternal life. Sadly, he would be lost along with those who refused to tell him the truth. Jesus said there are few saved. The gospel is narrow. Truth does not change to pacify the feelings of the entitled. There is one body of truth. If the truth hurts, accept the pain and repent. The rich young ruler walked away from eternal life. Do not make the same mistake. Sorrow did not change the truth. Jesus did not rush after the young man and apologize. Truth was the will of the Father.