Session #121 Pride’s Plight
Scripture Matthew 19:16-26
Summary In Matthew 19:16-26, after meeting the young man, Jesus mentioned to His disciples that it is hard for the rich to enter the kingdom of God. Is it still the same today as it was then? Or has it been made possible and easier now by simply believing in Jesus? Considering this passage in its context will reveal so much more than what we typically understand of this familiar account.
Now behold, one came and said to Him, “Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?” So He said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.” He said to Him, “Which ones?” Jesus said, “‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not bear false witness,’ ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ ” The young man said to Him, “All these things I have kept from my youth. What do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “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. Then Jesus said to His disciples, “Assuredly, I say to you that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. When His disciples heard it, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said to them, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Matthew 19:16-26
Considering the context will give us a good start. Matthew 19:13-15 is about Humility and how that relates to receiving the kingdom of God. In contrast, Matthew 19:16-26 is about Pride. In this teaching, we meet a rich young ruler and sadly, instead of receiving the kingdom, he misses the kingdom.
In Matthew 19:16-22, we will consider Man’s profile, his posture, his perspective of eternal life as well as his presumption. In Matthew 19:23-26, we will consider the punchline of Jesus that punctured the pride of Man; pride’s plight, and the possibility of missing the kingdom if we are not careful. We are thankful that God has made all things possible but what does that really mean for us?
The one who came to meet Jesus is a young adult with great potential and a leader (Luke 18:18), with performance (keeping all the commandments, serving and doing everything right) and with great possessions and possibly popular. This sounds like someone we would like to have in our church and ministry, a very precious member to have and protect.
Man’s Posture of Pride
He approached the Lord in the presence of the multitudes and Jesus’ disciples. He was more likely proud and presumptuous and considered himself quite perfect because of his profile and track record. He probably expected Jesus to invite him to be His protege. The one who thought he was so very good met the One who is truly good and asked the question, ‘Good Teacher, what good thing must I do that I may have eternal life?” Was he fishing for compliments or probably thought he had all the answers already. In answering him, Jesus is probably telling him to be careful where he is headed. In thinking that he is good and almost like God, he may end up like Herod in Acts 12.
Man’s Perspective about Eternal Life
The only mention of eternal life in Matthew 19 is in verses 16 and 29. In the Old Testament, it is mentioned in Daniel 12:2 where the words “everlasting life” is used. Our typical understanding of the Jews is that they are working for their salvation. The Jews are very proud of their covenant status as Abraham’s children and God’s people. They are saved and as good Jews, they are expected to keep the Law. Through their study of and living out the Torah, they are not working for but living towards a final salvation/deliverance to everlasting life in the everlasting kingdom (Daniel 12:2) instead of everlasting contempt. The rabbinic understanding of “everlasting life” was literally a lasting life or a life of eternity as opposed to “a fleeting life”, focusing on the temporal, everyday things. Everlasting life is a life focused on matters of eternal importance and significance and achieved through the study and living out of scriptures. Another observation is that eternal life is mentioned together with the kingdom of heaven and salvation in this passage and used interchangeably and how we define one, will define the others. The next table gives the typical Christian view of the terms and a better perspective:
|Typical Christian View
|A Better Perspective
|Eternal Life (19:16-17)
After this life
Future, in heaven
|A life of meaning and significance according to God’s ways; of eternal value (starts now, a process, not only in heaven)
|Kingdom of Heaven (19:23); of God (19:24)
Already in (saved)
Nothing else to do
Waiting for heaven
|Being under the rule and reign of God now; entering into the fullness of the kingdom when Jesus returns.
A point in time
|A process- saved, being saved, will be saved into everlasting life & kingdom.
Now, we can better understand why Jesus answered that way He did: “But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments” This is not wrong as the Jews searched the Torah for eternal life (John 5:39) and in fact in Romans 2:13, Paul wrote that “the doers of the law will be justified”. However, they missed the One who gave the Scriptures (John 5:40) and Jesus revealed this point later. The young man confidently replied that he had kept all the commandments from his youth and probably expected Jesus to praise him for being perfect.
When the young man asked “What do I still lack?”, his presumption was that he did not think he lacked anything or that he would be ever last in life i.e., behind or inferior to anyone, and that surely he would have an everlasting life. In the concluding verse in this chapter, Jesus says that “many who are first will be last and the last first” and again in the parable in Matthew 20:16, “so the last will be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few chosen”. The man presumed he would be first but would he be first or last?
We get to Jesus’ punchline in Matthew 19:21: “Jesus said to him, “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.” It is a conditional statement and there are two parts that we have to consider both together.
The first part of the statement: “If you want to be perfect” implies that the young man is not perfect and he has first to go and sell all that he has and give to the poor. Jesus was addressing his pride and security first. If Jesus had just said “follow Me”, the man would have missed the point entirely and thought that Jesus called him because of who he was, what he had, and what he had accomplished. It is also not about giving to the poor to have treasure in heaven as what is the use of having treasure in heaven if you do not finally enter the kingdom.
Next, Jesus asked him to “come, follow Me”. If it is still about eternal life, entering the kingdom, and salvation, then is it not just by faith as Jesus just taught Nicodemus to believe and be born again. Unfortunately, we have made it only about faith in Jesus without the need to follow Jesus. To believe Jesus is to follow, serve and obey Him. All believers are followers/disciples of Jesus Christ. Nothing has changed from what Jesus required of the young man and of us and this is mentioned at the end of the punchline as it is the emphasis. The first part is useless if not followed through with the next part. In other words, we have to believe and follow Jesus to enter into eternal life, to enter the kingdom, to be saved,
Jesus’ punchline knocked out every point and premise of pride. Performance is not enough as no one is righteous by what they do and it does not result in eternal life. What matters is to know the one who is righteous and gives you righteousness through faith and this is done by having a real relationship with Jesus (John 17:3, John 5:39-40).
Next, possessions/earthly treasures have no eternal value. Jesus does not need or want what we have. He has everything. What we want to keep usually keeps us from Jesus. Finally, the young man has also to give up his position as a leader to be a follower; no longer a master of his own destiny, his own program or agenda. He has to follow Jesus and do things that he may not always like and enjoy and may have a lot of uncertainty.
A simple paraphrase of this punchline is “Humble Yourself, Follow Jesus”. It is similar to what Jesus said to His disciples: “if anyone desires to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up the cross and follow Me.” (Mark 10:21, Matthew 16:24). For the young man, the direct application to deny self is through getting rid of all his possessions.
In Alignment Check, we use these phrases “Dealign from self” and “Align with Christ”. This punchline wakes us up and invites us to align with Jesus that we may be assigned for Him.
Punctured Pride of Man
The man’s pride was punctured by Jesus’ punchline but his pride remained persistent. His identity was tied to his possessions, position, performance, etc and he relied so much on himself and his own abilities and assets and as a result, could not bring himself to submit to the Lordship of Jesus. His source of pride, his many possessions (Matthew 19:22), and his great wealth (Luke 18:23) became his reason for grief. This man came wrapped in pride but left surrounded with grief. He came full of himself but left full of sorrow. This is what pride does to us. We think we have everything but are left deflated, punctured to know we have nothing if we do not have Jesus.
After the man leaves, Jesus addresses the disciples and presses home the point about the plight of pride. Jesus wants to make His point so clear that He uses a hyperbole again in Matthew 19:23-24. His main point is that it is very hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom because he holds on to his possessions, his position, his prestige and is not willing to humble himself to follow Jesus. There were many testimonies of how the rich came to Jesus when they lost everything or had major problems which money could not solve. Hence, it is always better to humble yourself than be humbled by God. We must beware of the plight of pride for it is dangerous and can cause one to miss the kingdom of God.
Pride can happen to anyone of us, not just the rich or super rich.It is too easy and tempting to think that we are not rich and that we are alright. A better question to ask is “Are possessions, position or performance, even presumption producing pride in our hearts? The main point here is not about just believing in Jesus but being disciples of Jesus, to follow, serve and obey Him.
To safeguard against pride, do we have to give away everything to follow Jesus? This instruction is possibly given specifically to this young man. For some, the Lord might be telling you to do that but we examine two other stories in Luke that follow after this account. In Luke 19:1-10, Zaccheaus was not instructed to give away everything but his salvation resulted in him making restitution, using his wealth correctly. In the parable of talents in Luke 19:11-27, it was about stewarding and investing wealth correctly for the sake of the kingdom. What we need to get rid of is pride and if that means getting rid of something that is dear to us, e.g., money or even ministry, we need to do that and follow Jesus.
The disciples reacted in shock and great astonishment, wondering who then could be saved? (Matthew 19:25). The disciples still did not understand and we may be the same too. In their minds, to be rich means to be the blessed and favoured of God, and they must surely be God’s first pick. If these are scarcely saved, then what hope do others have or is there even a possibility at all?
With men, left to our own devices and thinking, only the wealthy and powerful will qualify but not the others, i.e., the rest of us who are nobodies and have nots, the last. This is not so with God because He looks for those who are humble, willing to trust in Him, rely on Him, submitted and obedient to Him, in and through the person and work of Jesus Christ, by faith, according to grace and not by possessions, position, potential or power.
What is impossible with pride, God makes it possible through humility. Matthew 19:13-15 declares that the kingdom of God belongs to the humble and it is very hard to be humble, hence very hard to follow Jesus to be saved, to have eternal life, to enter the kingdom. Finally, there will be many surprises. The tables will be turned and ‘many who are first will be last, and the last, first” (Matthew 19:30). The humble will be exalted and the proud will be rejected. Those who think they are never last in life will find themselves without everlasting life.
Eternal life, entering the kingdom of God, salvation and following Jesus all refer to the same thing. It is really all about Jesus and it is a process, a journey, a relationship with Jesus. To believe in Jesus means to follow Jesus, to obey and serve Him wholeheartedly.
This is only possible with humility. Humility draws us near to Jesus. Pride keeps us from Jesus. This is why we must guard against pride’s plight because pride blinds us to what matters most – the King and the kingdom of God.
If we are not careful, our position can result in pride if we do not acknowledge the grace of God. Our performance can result in pride if it’s only outward piety and not obedience to Jesus. Our possessions can result in pride if we treat others as less deserving.
It is not wrong to be rich but we must be careful that pride and deception come with riches. It distorts our perspective of the kingdom and deceives us into thinking we are on the right track when we may be totally off-course. This is why the prosperity gospel is so dangerous and it is focusing on the wrong indicators.
Here are some biblical reminders to the rich:
- Love Jesus, not riches. Trust Jesus, not riches
- Serve Jesus, not riches. Follow Jesus not riches
- Use earthly treasures to lay up heavenly treasures
- Be content, not greedy. Be humble, not haughty
We close with another proud, rich, young leader: Paul. After meeting Jesus, he considered everything as loss, as rubbish, as dung. In humility, he pressed on to know and follow Jesus, even to suffer for Jesus, that he may attain the resurrection (salvation, kingdom, eternal life). That is what it means to be truly rich.
Humble Yourself. Follow Jesus