We are here this morning to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Easter is not about bunnies or colored eggs or candy. Easter is about the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. His victory over the grave. This is a subject that should be of interest to all of us, seeing we will all die someday.
Job 14:14 (NKJV) If a man dies, shall he live again? All the days of my hard service I will wait, Till my change comes.
Have you ever asked that question? Is there life after death? This seems to be a common concern. A Gallop poll reported that 73% of Americans strongly believe in life after death, and even the 27% who aren't sure if they believe in life after death, think about it a lot. People want to know, "Is there life after death? Is there something beyond the grave?"
Jesus was crucified and died on the cross on Friday evening, he was placed in a borrowed tomb. On the third day--Sunday morning--he was raised from dead.
This is the significance of Easter. This is what distinguishes Christianity from all the other world religions. We're not here to pay homage to our dead founder; we're here to celebrate the one who died and had the power to defeat the grave and rise from the dead.
Recently Michael J. Fox was the guest on a late night news-talk show on ABC. Every night the guest is asked a special question. Michael's question was "If you could meet anyone in history, who would it be?" His answer was "Jesus." He explained his answer by saying, "It all comes down to him. He is an amazing character. Whether you believe exactly what the Bible says about him or not, you cannot deny that he has had a positive impact on history."
That is putting it mildly. He was the first person to ever defeat death and rise from the dead. So, if you're looking for information about life after death, Jesus Christ is the foremost authority. Jesus not only conquered death for himself, but he conquered death for everyone who trusts in Him.
John 11:25 (NKJV) Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live.
This morning we want to look at the story found in the synoptic gospels of the rich young ruler who asked Jesus how to obtain eternal life.
Matthew 19:16 (NKJV) Now behold, one came and said to Him, "Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?"
When we compare all three of the synoptic Gospel accounts of this story, we see that Mark adds that he "came running, and knelt before Him" and Luke adds that he was a "ruler." We also see from verse 22 of Matthews account, that he was "young." So, we have a rich young ruler who comes running up to Jesus and kneels before him and asks, "Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?"
That's a good question, isn't it? And he is asking the right person. I mean if you had the opportunity to go up to Jesus and ask him a question, I can't think of a more important question to ask.
What exactly is eternal life?
Let's define it by first explaining what it is not. Eternal life is not the escaping of physical death. All men will die physically!
Hebrews 9:27 (NKJV) And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment,
Men die, all men die. It is an appointment that all of us have.
Ecclesiastes 7:2 (NKJV) Better to go to the house of mourning Than to go to the house of feasting, For that is the end of all men; And the living will take it to heart.
In case that is not clear to you, notice how it is translated in the "God's Word" translation.
Ecclesiastes 7:2 (GWT) It is better to go to a funeral than to a banquet because that is where everyone will end up. Everyone who is alive should take this to heart!
That makes it a little easier to understand but notice how the NIV translates the last half of the verse.
Ecclesiastes 7:2 (NIV) It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of every man;the living should take this to heart.
Physical death will one day come to everyone. It is our destiny! George Bernard Shaw said, "One out of one dies." The whole earth is pock marked with graves to support this fact. Sixty million people die every day, two every second. One D.C. undertaker signs his name, "Eventually Yours."
Genesis 3:19 (NKJV) In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread Till you return to the ground, For out of it you were taken; For dust you are, And to dust you shall return."
Our physical bodies came from the dust and to the dust they shall return. All human beings die physically. It's fixed and part of being human, no matter how much we desire to escape it.
So, what is eternal life then? Biblically defined, eternal life is life in the presence of God. It is a resurrection from spiritual death. It is spiritual death, not physical death, that is man's real problem. Spiritual death is separation from God which results in condemnation and punishment after physical death.
John 3:16-19 (NKJV) "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. 17 "For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. 18 "He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. 19 "And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.
Here we see that everlasting life, or being saved, is contrasted to condemnation. Those who believe in Jesus Christ are not condemned. But the person who does not believe in Jesus Christ is condemned already. In the book of Genesis, we see why man is condemned.
Genesis 2:15-17 (NKJV) Then the LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it. 16 And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, "Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; 17 "but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die."
God, the Creator, gave His creation a command. Adam disobeyed God and the result was death. Adam didn't die that day physically, but he did die spiritually.
Romans 5:12 (NKJV) Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned;
We see here that Adam's sin was passed on to every human being, which resulted in all men coming under the judgement of God. What was the condemnation that Adam received? He died spiritually. He became separated from God, Who is life. Jesus said:
John 14:6 (NKJV) Jesus said to him, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.
Jesus is life! To be separated from Him is death. To die physically in the condition of spiritual death is to experience the second death.
Revelation 20:14 (NKJV) Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.
So, eternal life is the absence of condemnation and judgement after physical death. Eternal life is life in the presence of God. For a believer to die physically is to live in Heaven with God for all eternity, as opposed to going to the Lake of Fire for eternity.
When I say that "good people go to hell" I am using the term "hell" in its contemporary usage. The true biblical term would be the "Lake of Fire." But since most people understand "hell" as the "Lake of fire" I am using it in that sense-- the eternal destiny of the damned.
Alright, so this rich young ruler comes to Jesus asking how he can escape eternal damnation and spend eternity with God in heaven. I think that that is a question that most everybody would like to have the answer to. Let's look at the question again:
Matthew 19:16 (NKJV) Now behold, one came and said to Him, "Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?"
What is wrong with his question? Do you see it? His question presumes that he can "earn" eternal life. "What good thing shall 'I' do?" I would have to say that this is, without a doubt, the most common idea of how a person gets to heaven-- they earn it by being good. This is why I want you to understand that "good people go to hell."
Notice what Jesus says to him:
Matthew 19:17 (NKJV) 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."
Before Jesus answers his question, he asks a question. "Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God." He had addressed Jesus as "Good Teacher." No doubt it was glibly said, no matter how respectfully it was intended. But was He really good? In the definitive sense of that word, He could not be "good" if He was a mere mortal man. The Old Testament bore witness to that fact (and Paul appealed to it!) when it affirmed, "There is none who does good, no, not one" (Ps. 14:3; cf. Rom. 3:12).
Only God was good and that could mean only one thing. Jesus could not be good unless He was also God. The young man perceived Him to be a teacher, and such He was. But He was very much more than that! So he tells the ruler, "No one is good but One, that is, God." The ruler didn't realize that Jesus was God nor did he realize that he was a sinner in need of a savior. Only God was good. The young man himself was not good. But he thought he was good. To show him that he was, in fact, not good, Jesus tells him, "But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments."
How would you fair if the Lord said to you, "If you want to get into heaven, keep the commandments"? I'm sure that we would respond just like the ruler did, "Which ones?" Some are easier than others, so which ones do we need to keep? So Jesus lists several for him.
Matthew 19:18-19 (NKJV) 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,' 19 'Honor your father and your mother,' and, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'"
If your obedience to these were what it took to get you into heaven, would you make it? James said;
James 2:10-11 (NKJV) For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all. 11 For He who said, "Do not commit adultery," also said, "Do not murder." Now if you do not commit adultery, but you do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.
James is saying that if you break one law one time, you are guilty of breaking them all. Now, with that in mind, let's look at these commands. I think that it is probably safe to say that none of you have ever murdered anyone, but look at what John says about hate:
1 John 3:15 (NKJV) Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.
I would be willing to bet that everyone here has hated someone at sometime in their life. So, we are all guilty of breaking the first commandment that Jesus gives. On the basis of obedience, none of us will get into heaven. Then Jesus says, "Do not commit adultery." You may have never committed adultery, but look at what Jesus said:
Matthew 5:27-28 (NKJV) "You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not commit adultery.' 28 "But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
How many men in here have never looked at a woman in a lustful manner? We're not doing so well on working our way to heaven, are we?
Then Jesus says, "You shall not steal." Is there anyone here who has never stolen anything? I really doubt it. Then he says, "You shall not bear false witness." Who in here hasn't lied at one time or another. We lie all the time. If in order to work your way into heaven, you have to never have lied, we're all in trouble. Then Jesus says, "Honor your father and mother." Oh boy, it seems like these commands just keep getting harder and harder. We have all dishonored our parents at one time or another. But just in case you think you're doing well so far, Jesus concludes by saying, "Love your neighbor as yourself." That's it! We break this one every day. We are selfish and self-centered and we love ourselves to the exclusion of our neighbors.
If obedience to the commands is the way that we get eternal life, we are all in trouble. I'm sure that you all realize that you have fallen far short of the obedience that God requires. But notice the rich young ruler's response to Jesus:
Matthew 19:20 (NKJV) The young man said to Him, "All these things I have kept from my youth. What do I still lack?"
What do you think about that answer? This man's response to Jesus is the most self-righteous boast to be found anywhere in the New Testament. He saw himself as good and good people go to hell. He didn't see himself as a sinner, and Jesus came to save sinners.
1 Timothy 1:15 (NKJV) This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.
Luke 5:31-32 (NKJV) Jesus answered and said to them, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 32 "I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance."
This man didn't think he needed Jesus to save him, he felt that he was good enough to save himself. Jesus told him to keep the commandments in order to show him his sinfulness. The purpose of the law is to reveal sin.
Romans 3:20 (NKJV) Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin.
Galatians 3:24 (NKJV) Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith.
Obedience to the law can never save anyone because no one could ever keep the law.
Galatians 3:10-11 (NKJV) For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them." 11 But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for "the just shall live by faith."
To not keep every bit of the law is to be under the curse. This man had broken God's law and was not good, he was a sinner. The problem was he didn't see himself as a sinner. He thought he was good. And good people go to hell. He thought he could earn his way to heaven.
Matthew 19:21 (NKJV) 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."
Mark and Luke put it this way, "One thing you lack." What was it that he lacked that would make him perfect? The answer should be obvious to every Christian with a New Testament in his hands. The one thing he lacked was faith-- saving faith! What he lacked was full reliance upon God's grace to give him eternal life.
Can anyone suppose that selling all and giving to the poor are really conditions for going to heaven? Were they even really conditions for this particular man? And if they are, or were, how can that conception of things be harmonized with the simple offer of a free gift of life to needy men?
John 3:16 (NKJV) "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
No, this man lacked saving faith, just as does every unsaved man. He lacked the simple spirit of trust. But the young man didn't realize his need. He was much too self-righteous to feel the need for a Savior.
When Jesus said, "Sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me." He was pushing him to consider;
1. Himself-- was he really good if he was selfish and wanted to keep his money? Did he really love his neighbor as himself?
2. The person of Christ -- How can Jesus make a guarantee like this unless he is God? He is God, and as God, he died for us, he paid a debt that we could never pay, and he offers us the gift of eternal life through faith in him.
Romans 5:8 (NKJV) But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Romans 4:5 (NKJV) But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness,
Good people go to hell because they trust in their goodness, but those who realize they are sinners and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ are given the gift of eternal life.
Matthew 19:22 (NKJV) But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
Was the young man prepared for this? Naturally not. In fact, he goes away saddened since his wealth was considerable. But why did he go away? Above all, because he had more faith in his money than he had in Jesus.
This man was confused about who was good. He, himself, was not good and his response to Jesus proved it. He was selfish, as are all sinners. For if he truly loved his neighbor as himself (as he had claimed to do from his youth), it wouldn't have mattered to him whether he, himself, had his money or his neighbor. But it did matter. The rich young ruler was not good.
But Jesus was good, since He was God. If he were not God, His demand to give up all for Him was both fantastic and egotistical. Could a mere human Teacher talk like that and still be sane? How could a mere man offer eternal treasure to his followers on no other authority than his own? Would it not be foolish to trust an offer like that?
Matthew 19:23-24 (NKJV) 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. 24 "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."
Let me ask you a question, "How hard is it for a camel to go through the eye of a needle?" Is it hard? No! It is impossible! Jesus is not talking here about some needle gate in the wall of Jerusalem, he's talking about a sewing needle. The Greek word used here means: "a sewing needle." That Jesus was talking about something that was impossible is clear from the disciples response.
Matthew 19:25-26 (NKJV) When His disciples heard it, they were greatly astonished, saying, "Who then can be saved?" 26 But Jesus looked at them and said to them, "With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."
Salvation was impossible for the rich man, precisely because he trusted in his own riches. He found it difficult, therefore, to feel totally dependent on Another, particularly on Jesus.
But the disciples need not worry, Jesus assures them. Salvation was always a miracle of God. That which man could never bring to pass in the humblest of sinner, God could accomplish even in a rich man:
How can we overcome spiritual death and have eternal life?
1. We must see ourselves as sinners, we are not good. We have sinned against a holy God and deserve to spend eternity in the lake of fire because of our sin.
2. We must put our faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Nothing we can do will ever save us. We must abandon all trust in ourselves and trust totally in what Christ has done for us.
If you were to die today and stand before God and he asked you, "Why should I let you into heaven?" What would you say? Would you say, "I was a good person" or "I went to church" or "I was baptized." Remember, good people go to hell. The only correct answer is, "I am a sinner and I deserve hell. But I am trusting in Jesus Christ, and him alone, to get me into heaven." No other answer will do.
In the book "The Teaching of Elementary Science and Mathematics " Dr. Alexander Calandra wirtes:
Some time ago I received a call from a colleague who asked if I would be the referee on the grading of an exam question. He was about to give a student a zero for his answer to a physics question. This was the final test and the student claimed he should receive a perfect score and he would if the system were not set up against the student.
The instructor and the student agreed to an impartial arbitrator and I was selected. I went to my colleague's office and read the exam question. This is the question: Show how it is possible to determine the height of a tall building with the aid of a barometer.
The student had answered, 'Take the barometer to the top of the building, attach a long rope to it, lower the barometer to the street. Then bring it up measuring the length of the rope. The length of the rope is the height of the building.'
I pointed out that the student really had a strong case for full credit since he had answered the question correctly and completely. On the other hand, if full credit were given, it could well contribute to a high grade for the student in his physics course, and a high grade is supposed to certify competence in physics but the answer did not confirm this. I suggested that the student had another try at answering the question and was not surprised that my colleague agreed but I was surprised when the student agreed.
I gave the student six minutes to answer the question with a warning that his answer should show some knowledge of physics. At the end of five minutes, he had not written anything. I asked if he wished to give up, he said, 'No, he had many answers to the problem he was just thinking of the best one.' I excused myself for interrupting him and asked him to please go on. In the next minute he dashed off his answer which read: 'Take the barometer to the top of the building, lean over the edge of the roof, drop the barometer, timing its fall with a stop watch. Then using the formula S=1/2 at second power calculate the height of the building.' At this point I asked my colleague if he wanted to give up? He conceded and gave the student almost full credit. In leaving my colleague's office, I recalled that the student had said he had other answers to the problem. So I asked him what they were. 'Oh, yes' said the student, 'There are many ways of getting the height of a tall building with the aid of a barometer. For example, you could take the barometer out on a sunny day and measure the length of its shadow and the length of the shadow of the building and by the use of simple proportion determine the height of the building. 'Fine', I said 'and the other answers.' 'Yes', said the student, 'there is a very basic measurement method you would like. In this method you take the barometer and you begin to walk up the stairs, as you climb the stairs you mark off the length of the barometer along the wall. When you have reached the top story you simply return and count the number of marks and this will give you the height of the building in barometer units.' 'This', suggested the student, 'is a very direct method.'
'Finally', he concluded, 'there are many other ways of solving the problem, but unquestionably the best is to take the barometer to the basement and knock on the superintendent"s door. When the superintendent answers, you speak to him as follows, 'Mr. Superintendent here I have a fine barometer. If you tell me how tall this building is I'll give it to you.'
There may be more ways than one to answer many of the questions in life, but that is not true when it comes to eternal life. The student was very cleaver and came up with several answers to the physics question and passed the test. But there is only one answer that is correct before God when it comes to eternity.
What must we do to have eternal life? Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and him alone!