By J.R. Miller
Matthew 19:1-2, 13-26
The words, "He departed from Galilee," have significance, when we consider the circumstances, which give them a peculiar sadness. This was our Lords' final departure from Galilee. He had been brought up there. Much of His public ministry had been wrought there. In that part of the country, He had met with the kindliest reception. He had multitudes of friends in Galilee. He had performed countless miracles there, and had been a comforter of numberless sorrowing and suffering ones. Now He was leaving the dear familiar scenes--and the people He loved so well. No wonder the throngs followed Him. The farewell must have been tender.
Some incidents of the journey are given. One was a discussion with the Pharisees concerning divorce. Jesus in His words gave most important teaching on the sacredness of marriage. "So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate."
Another incident was the bringing of little children to Him that He might bless them. It is not said that the mothers brought them--but this is probable. The language in Luke strengthens this inference. "Then little children were brought to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them." The disciples probably thought their Master ought not to be troubled with babies and little children, and so they rebuked those who were bringing them. But Jesus was moved with indignation when He saw what His disciples were doing, and said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these." This was one of the few times when it is said Jesus was angry. It grieved Him to have his disciples try to keep the children away from Him. He would not have anyone kept from coming to Him--but if any are more welcome than others, they are children. Very beautiful is the picture we see. He welcomed the children to Him, took them in His arms, laid His hands on them and blessed them.
Another incident in this journey to Jerusalem is that of the rich young ruler who came to Jesus with such earnestness, and then went away from Him so sadly. All that is told to us about this young man's coming to Jesus, shows us his sincerity and earnestness. "A man ran up to Him--and fell on his knees before Him" (Mark 10:17). The running shows how eager he was, and his eagerness tell of an unsatisfied heart. He seems to have attained the best that a young man could reach, without taking Christ into his life. He was young, with powers fresh and full. He was rich, with the honor, ease, distinction and influence that riches give. The fact that he was a ruler shows the confidence his fellow men put in him. Is moral character was above reproach, for he said, without boasting, that he had scrupulously kept the commandments. He was a man of winning disposition, for Jesus loved him and was drawn to him in a peculiar manner. It would be hard to conceive of a man--with more to satisfy him.
Yet with all his good qualities, his worldly advantages, his good name and his conscience void of offense--he was not satisfied! He needed something more to make his life complete.
The question which this young man asked of Jesus is the most important question ever asked in this world. "What shall I do that I may have eternal life?" We do not know how much he understood about the eternal life concerning which he inquired. The fact, however, that he asked the question, shows that he had at least some glimmering of the better life for which he hungered. No matter how much pleasure, or how great success, or how high honor one may gain in the world, if at the end of three score and ten years--he passes into eternity unsaved--what comfort will it give him to remember his fine success on the earth?
A rich man failed in business. He gathered up the fragments of his wrecked fortune--a few thousand dollars. He determined to go to the West and start anew. He took his money and built a splendid car, furnishing it in the most luxurious style, and stocking it with provisions for his journey. In this sumptuous car he traveled to his destination. At length he stepped from the door of his car--and only then thought for the first time of his great folly. He had used all his money in getting to his new home, and now had nothing with which to use there. This incident illustrates the foolishness of those who think only of this life--and make no provision for eternity.
Answering the young mans question, Jesus turned his thoughts to the commandments. "If you would enter into life, keep the commandments." He referred him to the law, which he might show him how he had missed the mark, how far short he had come of gaining life by his own obedience. "You know the commandments." It is easy enough to imagine one's self quite obedient, while one puts easy interpretation upon the Divine law. But when one has seen the law in all its lofty purity, in its wide spiritual application, in its absolute perfection, and then has compared his own life with it--he soon learns that he needs a Savior!
A pupil may think his writing is good--until he compares it with the copy at the top of the page, and then all its faults appear. The young artist may think his pictures are fine--until he looks upon the works of some great master, and then he never wants to see his own poor painting again. So long as on has no true conception of the meaning of the commandments, he may think himself fairly good; but when he undertakes what the commandments really require, he is at once convicted of sin.
There must have been pity in the heart of Jesus, as He looked upon the young man and heard him say glibly, "All these things have I observed from my youth." He did not know what he was saying, when he spoke thus of his own obedience. But Jesus very frankly answers his question, "One thing you lack!" (Mark 10:21). He was not far from the kingdom of God, and yet he was not in it. Many men are good, almost Christians, and yet not Christians. It may be only one thing that is lacking--but that one thing is the most important of all, the last link in the chain that would unite the soul to the Savior. It is the final step that takes one over the line--from death into life, out of condemnation into glorious blessedness. One may go to the very edge--and not step over; he may reach the door--and not enter. Almost a Christian--is not a Christian. Almost saved--is still lost.
Jesus made a very large demand upon this young man. He said to him, "Sell everything ou have, and give to the poor... and come and follow Me." This is not a prescription for being saved by good works--that is not the way Christ saves men. He saw this young man's weakness, that with all his excellent qualities--his heart was still wedded to the world, and the test which He gave, required him to give up that which stood between him and eternal life. He would not be saved by giving his riches to the poor. Charity is not a way of salvation. But the young man could not be saved until his idol was broken! So the demand was to get him to give up his money--and take Christ into his heart.
It was a hard battle that was fought those moments, in this young man's heart. It grieved him not to be able to enter the circle of Christ's followers--but he could not pay the price. "At this the man's face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth." He wanted to go with Jesus--but he could not accept the conditions. Let us think of him after this day. He kept his money--but every time he looked at it--he would be forced to remember that he had give up Christ and eternal life for the sake of it. He would see written over his piles of gold and his deeds and bonds, "These things cost me eternal life!" His experience was just the reverse of the man who found the pearl of great price (Matt. 13:46) and then sold all he had--and bought it. The young ruler found the pearl, asked the price, and considered the purchase--but did not buy it, because he was not willing to pay so much.
As the young man turned away Jesus was grieved, and said to the disciples, "How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!" Just so, it is not easy to be rich--and to be a Christian. Christ spoke many earnest words concerning money and the danger of loving money. Yet not many people seem to be afraid of getting rich.
One morning a pastor found on his pulpit desk a bit of paper with these words on it: "The prayers of this congregation are requested for a man who is growing rich." It seemed a strange request--but no doubt it was a wise one. No men more need to be prayed for--than those who are becoming prosperous, becoming rich.
A priest said that among all the thousands who had come to him with confession of sin--not one had ever confessed the sin of covetousness. Men are not conscious of their danger--when they are growing rich.
Jesus did not say that a rich man cannot be saved. He said, "With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible." This means that every man growing rich, needs God in order to be saved. If riches master him, he is lost. Unless God is his Lord--he cannot enter the heavenly kingdom.
There is a story of a rich man, one of whose ships was delayed at sea. When one day had passed with no tidings, the man was anxious, and with each added day his anxiety increased. At length, however, he awoke to the fact that his money was having a tremendous hold upon him. He then ceased to worry about the ship and became anxious for his own soul. He was determined to break the perilous mastery, and taking the value of his ship, he gave it at once to a charitable object. We all need to deal thus rigorously with ourselves, whether we have only a little money or much--that money may never be our master--but that Christ may be Master always; and money our servant, to do our bidding and Christ's.