Greetings in the name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
“Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” (Matthew 19:16b)
As Jesus was starting out on his way to Jerusalem, a man came running up to him, knelt down, and asked, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?”
This is the most profound question for mankind, because it is the deeply rooted in everybody’s heart and soul, whether one believes God or not. We are yearning for eternity, and eternal life in the eternity. This is also a hope for us because on earth we are suffering for one reason or another, such as sickness, heartbreaking, broken relationship, lacking of food and housing, and having no job. Of course, some have a totally opposite problem. They have too much of earthly wealth, power, fame and reputation, which easily make people corrupt and enslave them to what they supposedly master over. Regardless each one’s situation, each of us has the same deeply rooted yearning desire – having an eternal life.
There was a young man, who ran up to Jesus. He was rich and a religious leader. In his town, he was getting respects from people, and possessed a lot. Thus, nothing was lacking in him. His life was truly blessed while enjoying all kinds of riches and respects on earth. Even so, he had the same fundamental yearning: “How to get eternal life?”
Why ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. (Matthew 19:17a)
Jesus heard the young man, and saw his fundamental yearning in his heart. Rather ten directly answering his question, Jesus asked “what is good?” Why did Jesus make the question first? “Good” is really subjective. One person’s “good” does not directly translated to another person’s good. Instead in this world, one’s good often harms on other’s “good.” “What is good?” This question caused the young, powerful and rich man to think. By the way, what would be our own answer to this question, if Jesus asked about “What is good?”
Jesus gave time for the young man to think. Then Jesus answered to the young man. The answer was God is only One who is good. Unlike us, God is always good, and His goodness is incomparable. In fact, we cannot fathom His goodness, and cannot describe, but we experience His goodness everyday and every moment by moment. This is the truth, which gives us strength to move forward, having hope on our journey with Him, Our God. He is our Eternal and Ever-Loving Father, who is infinitely good to us on every account of our lives.
After explaining God’s goodness, Jesus turned to the young man’s question:
“But to answer your question—if you want to receive eternal life, keep the commandments.” (Matthew 19:17b)
Then Jesus pointed to him that doing good deed is keeping God’s commandments. God is good, and all of His commandments are also good (actually absolutely good.) Without knowing this truth,
“Which ones?” the man asked. (Matthew 19:18a)
Jesus heard and fully understood his question. Then Jesus started gently teaching the young man. If a kid asks a question without knowing the entirety, what would be the best way to answer? To be very specific with elementary facts.
And Jesus replied: “‘You must not murder. You must not commit adultery. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely. Honor your father and mother. Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matthew 19:19b)
Jesus provided an answer by quoting the 2nd half of the ten testaments, which were for the commandments between people who were visible rather than God, invisible. Yes, the young man was readily answering to Jesus because all he had to was doing to other people who were visible. Jesus also added the most important commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18b). Although this was not a part of the ten commandments, later it was given to the Israelites as a part of God’s commandments. Jesus later told to His disciples that “love your neighbor as yourself” is one of the two greatest commandments along with “Love your God.” Without fully understanding the implication of “love your neighbor as yourself”,
“I’ve obeyed all these commandments,” the young man replied. “What else must I do?” (Matthew 19:20)
The young man was really a good person, especially in his eyes. He kept the commandments from his youth. He was truly exemplary. Even Jesus was actually pleased with him. Then Jesus gave the real meaning of “love your neighbor as yourself” by giving him an explicit direction.
Jesus told him, “If you want to be perfect, go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Matthew 19:21)
In the book of Mark (10:21), Jesus actually looked at the man, and felt genuine love for him. The young man was rarely good at the time of Jesus, and even now also. For the human’s point of view, the young man was righteous, and good. However, it was not enough to God.
Let’s examine the deeper motive of the young man – why keeping all commandments, and of coming up to Jesus while asking “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” To prove his righteousness in view of the “good” teacher, Jesus, which was achieved by his own might. He wanted to get Jesus’ approval of his self-made righteousness. However, Jesus knew the real motive of the young man by seeing through the young man’s heart. Jesus gave the rich and young man the real challenge that finally he could not do by his own might and will power. Jesus lovingly but sternly told the young man:
“If you want to be perfect, go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Matthew 19:21b)
As soon as hearing Jesus’ last request, the young man’s heart sank. He could not sell everything, and give to the poor. The young man was very rich.
But when the young man heard this, he went away sad, for he had many possessions. (Matthew 19:22)
The rich young man had never had such a huge challenge. He was so much closely tangled with the earthly possession. His wealth was himself, and he was the wealth. He could not give out himself for his neighbors. Jesus wanted to see how to love his neighbors as himself, and to focus on the things in Heaven by following Him, but he could not do because he did belong to the world.
What was the young man’s initial question to Jesus? “what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” His question already includes his own heart for himself and this world. The question has a fundamental issue. It was a simply wrong question out of a wrong motive. The rich and powerful young man tried to get the eternal life by his own might and strength, while focusing on himself only.
Obviously, the rich and powerful young man could not keep all of the commandments included in the short list given by Jesus. He did not know how to love his neighbor as himself. Later Jesus gave a parable to His disciples about one Samaritan who was only one stopped and helped a man beaten by a robber. A priest and a pharisee passed by while avowing the man laying on the road while suffering. Jesus pointed out the Samaritan as a true neighbor who loved the other as himself. The power of rich and comfort on the earth is so powerful. The power was so strong that it sent young man, who tried to be righteous since he was a child, away in sadness because he could not overcome the power. The power is not for the young man, but equally overpowering all of us, as long as we fixing our eyes on the things on earth.
Then Jesus explained to His disciples, it was harder for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of Heaven because it was easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God. That is, it was impossible.
The disciples were astounded. “Then who in the world can be saved?” they asked. (Matthew 19:25)
The disciples were confused. They could not understand wat all.
Jesus looked at them intently and said, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God everything is possible.” (Matthew 19:26)
Jesus kindly answered. It is impossible as a human, but God can do. What does really mean? Nobody can enter Kingdom of Heaven by his/her own effort, but through God is it possible. Faith is the answer. Still today, many people come and ask “what good deeds should I do to inherit eternal life?” This is a wrong question. It is impossible to be righteous by one’s own might, strength and will power, as Jesus told to His disciples. In short, nobody cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven by his/her own deeds and efforts because nobody can do. Only by the saving grace of God, we can enter the Kingdom of God, which is our faith.
So it is clear that no one can be made right with God by trying to keep the law. For the Scriptures say, “It is through faith that a righteous person has life.” (Galatians 3:11)