Everybody Wants to Go To Heaven. Nobody Wants to Die.


September 8, 2016

Matthew 19:16-22

16 Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”

17 “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.”

18 “Which ones?” he inquired.

Jesus replied, “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, 19 honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’”

20 “All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”

21 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.”

22 When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.


As we read today’s text we need to pause for a moment, get our playbill back out and remind ourselves of the ever growing cast of characters. We started this scene with a child lifted up as the exemplar of what becoming a disciple of Jesus and entering the kingdom means. It means to become humble before God in a whole new way—the small way of the child. Next we saw the disciples moving to get the kids out of the picture. Following this, the antagonistic Pharisees swagger onto the stage to put Jesus to the test with another of their biblical inquisitions. It brings us to today’s text where a completely different kind of character enters the scene. He’s a person of “great wealth;” someone who today’s church would likely tag as a “major donor” type.

Now note the diverse mix of characters all on the stage: Small children, the religious elite, the wealthy elite, the disciples, and the Son of God. Get that cast in your mind’s eye. It’s stunning, really. Hear the rich man’s question:

16 Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”

This is the question of a person in control—someone accustomed to “getting” or acquiring things. He approaches eternal life in the same fashion he might approach getting into Yale or some other honor society. Clearly this is the wrong question for Jesus. With Jesus, it is never, “what must I do,” but who must I become.

This man, despite all he has gained, the respect and honor he commands in the community, his capacity to do great good with his wealth—and for crying out loud, he is a pillar of the church (I mean synagogue)—despite all that, he still hasn’t found what he’s looking for. He is upstanding and outstanding and in good standing on all counts. Jesus delivers the money pitch.

21 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.”

Something tells me he didn’t see that coming. I get the impression that this man was a lot like so many in the church today: long on faithfulness, short on faith. Jesus was shifting the conversation from faithfulness to faith; from duty to desire. Jesus put his finger on the real source of his faith: his wealth. And Jesus revealed to the man that he didn’t have wealth. His wealth had him. And therein lies the big issue with wealth. It’s not bad, just dangerous.

Now, about this word perfect. It’s not what you think. Jesus is not talking about perfect as in flawlessness. He’s talking about perfect as “fullness.” The Greek word is telios and it means completeness, fullness or maturity. This text is not really about money at all. It’s about mature faith. Maturity is all about becoming the kind of person God imagined when he made you in the first place.

We often read the close of the story of this man going away sad to be a bad thing. We are not told what ultimately happened. We do know that he went away in a deep internal struggle. That’s the sense of what this word “sad” means. And sometimes, sad can be the best thing for us. Sometimes we must let the hard truth do its hard work in us. That’s the path to maturity. Most often, in one way or another, the pathway to fullness involves a significant amount of emptying. Yes, for something genuinely new to come something old must usually go. Everybody wants to go to Heaven. Nobody wants to die.


Lord Jesus, thank you for being willing to tell us the hard truth and for your willingness to let us go away sad sometimes. I welcome you, Holy Spirit, to search me and examine my heart. Show me what keeps me from the kind of fullness you alone can offer. Grant me the grace to release what I’m clinging to so I can receive the gift you are offering. For the sake of your name, Amen.


1. What do you think of this seemingly harsh word Jesus speaks to the man?

2. Have you ever found yourself leaving an encounter with Jesus sad?

3. Are you ready for something more than the world can offer? Do you find yourself dissatisfied with the maturity of your faith? What hard truth might Jesus be speaking to you?


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J.D. Walt, is a Bond Slave of the Lord Jesus Christ. jd.walt@seedbed.com.


Farmer. Poet. Theologian. Jurist. Publisher. Seedbed's Sower-in-Chief.