“‘If you want to be perfect,’ Jesus said to him, ‘go, sell your belongings and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’” (CSB – Read the chapter)
When Jesus was in Jerusalem ahead of His final week on earth, there was a moment when a bunch of children came up and were shouting praises to Jesus. In a culture when children were expected to be seen and not heard, this was a pretty significant break with tradition, so naturally, the Pharisees fussed about it to Jesus. He responded by quoting a line from Psalm 8:2 praising children for spouting of divine wisdom. “Out of the mouths of babes,” Well, I had an out-of-the-mouths-of-babes moment this week. If you’ll indulge me this morning, I’d like to tell you about it.
I am a big believer in church camp for kids. I have not only witnessed, but personally experienced what a profound difference it can make in someone’s life. That goes for kids and even chaperones. Personally, in addition to some great bursts of spiritual growth, I have camp to thank for my profession, my wife, and because of that, my kids. So, yeah, I’m in favor of camp.
This past summer, I got to chaperone camp for our middle and youngest sons. For the most part, it was a terrifically fun week. More importantly than any of the fun we had that week, though, our middle son came back determined to start a consistent habit of having a daily quiet time. He began to set aside time each and every night to read his Bible, work through a devotion (I think he’s on his second or third devotion book by now), and pray. He uses some highlighters designed specifically for writing in Bibles and highlights every single passage he reads.
It’s hard to express the pride I have as a father watching him pursue growth in his relationship with Jesus with such intentionality as this. I can trace pretty much every good thing in my life back to the fact that I started a daily habit of engaging with the Scriptures about the same time he did. I once walked in his room to tell him goodnight as he was praying. After waiting for a minute, I gave up, went to tell another child goodnight, came back, and he was still going. All of that is to say I’m a proud dad.
In any event, the other night I walked in as he was finishing up and asked what he had been reading about that night. It was the story in Matthew 19 about the so-called “rich young ruler.” I suspect you know the story. A young man comes up to Jesus asking what he needed to do to inherit eternal life.
Jesus starts by pointing him to keeping the Law. The man affirms that he had spent his short life endeavoring to do that very thing. As it turns out, the man wasn’t simply a pretentious rich brat. He was both thoughtful and sincere. He wasn’t just trying to blow some righteous-smelling smoke into the air. He really wanted to know how to get into a right relationship with God.
Jesus was thrilled at his sincerity, but, being Jesus, recognizes the real hurdle the young man is facing is not his willingness and ability to keep the Law. The real obstacle to the man’s ability to enter into a relationship with God was something else entirely. It started with his many possessions. The man’s real temptation was not disobedience to the Law, but rather to place his trust in his stuff rather than in God. So, Jesus called him to sell it all and give the proceeds to the poor.
This is what the devotion that night focused on with the challenging question of whether there was anything the reader had that was threatening to take God’s place in his heart. It was a good lesson. All of us should stop every now and then to consider what things are threatening God’s place as number one in our hearts.
As we were talking about this, something caught my attention. There’s more to the verse. What caught my attention was when I kept quoting the passage along with him, he stopped while I kept going. The reason I kept going is that’s not the last thing Jesus said to the young man. He told him to go and sell everything and give it to the poor, yes, but then He gave him one more instruction: come follow Me.
Without this last part, the man’s selling all his possessions would have accomplished one thing and one thing only for him: making him poor. That would have eliminated his ability to rely on his stuff instead of God, but it wouldn’t have necessarily led him to do it. There are plenty of wildly materialistic poor people who are fully convinced having more stuff would solve all their problems. Selling all of his stuff without subsequently committing himself to following Jesus would likely have put him in these ranks. No one would have benefited from that. Least of all him.
This same principle applies to all of our lives. We do all kinds of things that are ostensibly being done for Jesus. Sometimes we do them because we think of them. Sometimes we do them because we think Jesus commanded us to do them. Sometimes He actually did command us to do them. As good as these things may seem, though, unless they are paired with our following Jesus, they will accomplish as much good for us as this young man’s selling his stuff without following Jesus would have accomplished for him. In other words, if we aren’t following Jesus, nothing else matters.
So, are you following Jesus? It’s a simple question, really, but one of vital importance. Are you following Jesus? Doing good things in His name is fine, but without following Jesus, such efforts aren’t accomplishing very much. Not a few folks have used doing good as a cover for following all manner of things other than Jesus, all while convincing others and even themselves that they are on the right track. They aren’t. And you aren’t either if you aren’t following Him.
Who knew a devotion meant for kids could lead to such an important point? Out of the mouths of babes indeed.