LISTEN TO THE MUSIC SERMON SERIES
FOR THE LOVE OF MONEY
SEPTEMBER 28, 1997
Just a week ago this past Thursday, Ted Turner electrified a mid-town New York City ballroom with the news that made headlines around the world. He boldly proclaimed that he personally was going to give a billion dollars of his money to UN programs. When he made this announcement, he kind of challenged the priorities of every person on the planet with a healthy balance sheet. And did you hear what Turner said? He said, “I am putting the rich on notice.” You have got to like that.
In Mark 10, Jesus put the rich on notice when he electrified a Judean crowd while challenging a young brash heavy hitter known as the rich young ruler. Today we are going to take the same words that Christ used and allow them to infiltrate our lives because Jesus, one more time, is going to put the rich on notice in this auditorium. Now when I said that, some of you are saying, “Oh, boy, this message is not for me because I am not rich.” And already you are thinking of ways to occupy your mind for the next couple of minutes. Some of you are thinking, “I’ll take a nap.” We always have two or three sleepers in the bunch. Others are saying, “Why, I can work on my golf game, because golf is a mental sport.” or “I can go through my calendar for the next week.” Well, let me tell you something. Being rich is relative, especially if you have a rich relative. According to the world’s standards, every person hearing my voice is loaded. You are wealthy. You are rich. Why? Because if you have a change of clothes, you are rich. I think that all of us have a change of clothes, don’t we? So today’s message is for everyone.
We are going to look at Christ’s account of dealing with the rich young ruler. Now this account can be found in the books of Matthew, Mark and Luke. If we combine all the facts about this young man we see that he did a lot of things right. You kind of like him. You like where he is going. You like what he is about, because he was doing things right. Tragically, though, this ruler, this heavy hitter, was the only person in the Bible who came to Christ and yet left in a worse condition then when he came. Here is what happened.
Jesus is walking down a road and a man runs up to him, hits his knees, looks up at him and says these words: “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” The guy was doing a lot of things right. First of all, he came to Christ at the right time. Wouldn’t you agree? He was young. Jesus likes anyone to come to Him at any time but He is especially thrilled when a young person comes to Him. A young person has his or her whole life before them.
I will never forget when six years ago a man in his sixties came into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ here in this church. After he made that decision, I watched him grow. A couple of years later he walked up to me and said, “Ed, I wish I would have made this decision earlier. I burned up so much of my life. I wish I had done this earlier.” I think about Solomon. Old Solomon was searching for the meaning of his existence. He spent billions of dollars, went through hundreds of women, built dozens of projects and at the end of his life he looked back and said, “Remember the creator in the days of your youth.” Ecclesiastes 12:1. Follow the Lord at the right time, when you are young so that you can be His person and reach the potential that He has for you.
This man came to Christ at the right time. He also came to Christ with the right posture. He was doing the Donovan Bailey thing, he ran to him, knelt before him. He had the morals and manners but he knew that there was something out of whack. He knew that he had something that wasn’t fulfilling about his life, so he came with the right posture.
He also went to the right person, didn’t he? Jesus. God, in flesh. The Messiah. The Son of God. The lifechanger. The one who could give him eternity. He came to the right person. He also was a man who lived the right lifestyle. He probably coached Israeli soccer, gave to the United Way, attended the temple as much as possible. He was a guy you would like. He was a guy you would like your daughter to date. He was rich, he was young, he was a ruler. Hey, hey, hey. He would be really popular in a singles area here in our church.
He also did something else right. He asked the right questions. You know, we have got to ask the right questions. He ran, he hit his knees and asked, “Jesus, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” It doesn’t get any better than that, does it? At the feet of Jesus, he asks a question. But, from this question, we can see that this young man had a superficial view of spiritual things. Here is where the wheels start to fall off. He thought that he could earn his way into heaven. That idea was very popular during that day, especially in the Jewish mind and in the Jewish culture. They thought that if they kept all the given rules and regulations, jumped through this hoop and that hoop, that one day such action would merit them eternity. People think the same thing today, don’t they? People believe that God is sitting up in heaven with His giant cosmic ledger sheet, checking off our good deeds and bad deeds. They think that at the end of our lives, if we are in the black instead of in the red, spiritually speaking, He will kind tussle our hair and say, “Welcome to eternity. You performed your way in. Come on in. Here are the streets of gold. There is your mansion.” Yet the Bible says that we are not saved by works. Religion is a do thing. Christianity is a done thing. I don’t deserve spending eternity with Christ, nor do you, nor does anyone on the planet. But, if we bow the knee and turn to Christ and receive Him, that is all that it takes.
So when he asked Christ this question, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” what do you think Jesus said? Jesus kind of changed the course of the conversation. He said, “Why do you call Me good? Only God is good.” Now for us it doesn’t mean very much because we say this is good, that is good, the other thing is good. But in the Jewish culture then, they reserved the word good for speaking about God. Throughout Jewish literature you will never see the word good tossed around. A rabbi was not called good. The temple was not called good. A tree was not called good. Nothing was good expect God alone. So in essence, Christ was saying, “Do you know who you are talking to? Do you realize that I am God? I am good. You called me good.” Then Jesus did something else that was interesting. I would not have responded to this young man like Christ did. He held up a mirror in front of him. Just a mirror. Let me ask you a question. How many of you looked in a mirror this morning before you went to church? We all did. We wake up, look in the mirror and think, “Oh, my goodness.” You have got lines on your face, stuff in your eyes, and your hair is a mess. The mirror tells you what you need to do. Take the shower. Take the bath. Put the makeup on. Shave. Whatever. A mirror is really a good thing. It tells us what is wrong with us, it shows us the areas we need to correct on our face. I have never taken the mirror off the bathroom wall and shaved with it. I have never seen my wife put makeup on with her mirror. Jesus brought up the mirror. You know what the mirror is?
James 1:22. “The law is the mirror.” In other words, the ten commandments. Jesus shows this rich young man the law. He says for him to look in the mirror and see that he is a sinner. Christ said in Mark 10:18, “You know the commandments. Do not murder. Do not commit adultery. Do not steal. Do not give false testimony. Do not defraud. Honor your father and mother.” That is the law. The law cannot save us. The law can lead us to Christ but only grace, given in response to a personal decision, can save us and secure our eternity. The law is great. It shows us our blemishes, our stains from sin, but only Jesus can cleanse us.
It is amazing. When Jesus said that you would have thought the rich young ruler would have said, “Oh, I fumbled. I have stumbled. I have committed cosmic treason. I have messed up before a holy God. Oh, no, I need to bow my knee and follow You.” He didn’t say that. This man had a superficial view of spiritual things. You know what he said? He said, “Jesus, I am with You. I have kept all of these since I have been a boy.” He thought that everything was external. He was lying to himself and lying to God.
Then, the Lord kind of nailed him. He put it in his face. Look at verse 21. “Jesus looked at him….” Now let me stop right there. Can you imagine Jesus locking eyes with you? You know if Jesus looked at us, if we could see Him in the flesh, He would look past all the external and into the internal. He would see our motives. He would see what makes us tick, what gives us pleasure, why we are doing this and doing that. He looked at him, a penetrating look. “….and He loved him.” Don’t ever forget the simple fact that our God is a God of love. We matter to God more than we can ever, ever realize. He loves you and He loves me. And when He looked at this young man, he saw what he could become. He saw the sphere of influence he could have. He saw how he could use his abilities to serve God. He loved him. His heart went out to him.
And then Christ said something that is pretty tough. This young man seemingly had everything but Christ said that there was one thing he lacked. Christ saw his stumbling block. You know what it was? Money, money, money, money. His stumbling block was money. He held onto it. He worshipped it. He loved it. It was his God. It was his thing. It was his fuel. Money, money, money, for the love of money. Christ saw it.
Jesus talked a lot about stumbling blocks. One chapter earlier, in Mark 9, He said that if your foot causes you to stumble, amputate it. Then is said, if you hand causes you to stumble, chop it off. If your eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out. Was he talking literally? No, He was using word pictures. Christ was saying that whatever your stumbling block is, whether it is money, lust, greed, deception, whatever it is, when you deal with it, release it, ask for God’s help with it, it will oftentimes be as painful as losing a leg, chopping off a hand or gouging out an eye. The rich young ruler didn’t realize something. If he had only released his grip, turned his palms heavenward, Christ would have come to the rescue and could have helped him with the stumbling block. But he didn’t and he couldn’t because he was obsessed with money.
Now this next part, verse 21, is going to scare some people. Please do not head for the exits when I read this. Jesus said, “Sell everything you have and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come and follow me.” If he had only said, “OK, Lord, I am following You.”, God would have helped him go through this process. This is the only circumstance in the Bible where we see Christ asking someone to sell everything. So don’t let it freak you out. He might ask you to do it but I doubt it. He never asked Bartimaeus to do it, or Zacchaeus to do it. Why did He ask the rich young ruler to do it? Because it was his stumbling block.
We have got to come to the point where we will do anything that Christ asks us to do. The great thing about it is that we have just got to turn and say, “God, have your way. I am going to release my grasp on this stumbling block.” He will then come in and take care of it. He would have helped this rich young ruler to go through the process of selling everything and giving things to the poor. Who knows what Christ would have done in his live after this. What is your stumbling block? When Christ looks at you, loving you, what stumbling block does he see? Have you dealt with it?
When Lisa and I bought our first house in Houston, the previous owner, for some reason, left a big, old cement block in our back yard. I think it held some kind of clothesline thing. Every night when I would go out to feed the dogs, I would have to walk past the cement block. And I can’t tell you how many times I jammed my toe on it, hit my knee on it. This block would test my Christianity every evening. I said, over and over, that I was going to get rid of the block. I never did. I never did. I never did. But finally, about a year later, I determined that the day had arrived. I got shovels, chains and a rope and I pulled the cement block out of the yard. It was tough but I felt so good because nothing was impeding my progress when I went out to feed the dogs for the next four or five months that we lived in that home. It takes work to remove the stumbling block in your spiritual life, but it is much better than the story that I just told you. You are not doing it alone. You have got Jesus working with you. He will infuse a supernatural strength and energy that you never thought possible. Stumbling blocks.
So that is what Christ said and here is what the rich young ruler did. Verse 22. This is a sad verse. “The man’s face fell.” The word fell is a very strong word in the original language. It means an ominous rain cloud descended upon him. In other words, he left the sun and went into the rain. Then the Bible said, “He went away sad because he had great wealth.” The word had is another strong word. It means that he held onto great wealth. He wouldn’t let it go. That was his stumbling block. He had great wealth.
What is this saying to us? How can this account of the rich young ruler change our lives today in 1997? I think that it challenges us to do two things. It challenges us, I believe, to realize the neutrality of money. This text helps us realize the neutrality of money. Did you hear the song? Money, money, money. Some people do bad things with it. Some people do good things with it. Money is just neutral. The song is incorrect because it says that money is the root of all evil. That is not true. The Bible says that the love of money is the root of all evil. But money can do bad thing. What are some bad things that money can do? Money can give a false sense of security in your life and in mine. When we are making money, we think that we have cracked the code. We think that we can do it. We think that we have arrived. We think that we can buy our way out of things. When we kind of feel empty, we go to the mall and buy something new and it fills the void for awhile. Then the void is back and we will buy something else, and buy something else, and buy something else. We will say, “I am self-sufficient.” But little do we realize that our self-sufficiency is our greatest deficiency.
Another bad result of money is that it causes selfishness. I am 36 years old. I have lived a diverse life. I have grown up with a lot of people of different races due to athletics. I have been around a lot of poor people, a lot of inner city people. But I have also met a lot of wealthy people. And there is one thing that I have found about most wealthy people. Most of them are selfish. They are holding onto their money, money, money. They are trying to protect it. They are trying to insure it. And life becomes a frenzied activity of trying to hoard all this wealth. And they think it is theirs. And they think they did it. Early on some of them realized that God gave it to them but as they get older and the interest compounds daily, they say, “I am something special. This is mine.” What they fail to realize is simply this. What they keep, they lose. What they give, they gain.
I was reading this past week about Bill Gates giving over 200 million dollars to charity. That is pocket change. He is worth 38 billion. Who gives a flying flip about that much? That is not giving. That is like me giving you a dollar. “Whoa, Ed gave me a dollar. Incredible. Let’s put his picture in the Wall Street Journal.”
I like what Jesus said, too, to the rich young ruler. If you will do this you will lay up for yourself treasures in heaven, for you and your wife and your family one day. You will be able to do that.
Now let me change and tell you what some of the good things that money can do. Money can assist us in investing in heaven. It can help us touch eternity. People have all sorts of investments these days. Many invest in the stock market. But if you begin to invest in things of God, you will lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven. Now how do you invest in heaven? You put your money into people who are going there, into places that are helping people to go there. That is why we talk about giving. The Bible talks about it. If you are part of this church, give to this church. If you are part of another church, give to that church. Give at least 10% of what you make to the local church. Help the poor. Help others. Give. Giving always breaks the back of greed. It will help you take a major shot at materialism. Giving. Giving. Giving.
This past week I was out of state. Thursday I had the opportunity to tour a home like I have never seen before. Words cannot describe this house. It has taken four years just to build this house. It is still not finished. The whole home is built around art work and different forms of architecture. This home costs about what our brand new church is going to cost, well over ten million dollars. When I walked into this house I said the proverbial, “It must be nice.” I didn’t say that. Anyway. When I went back to my hotel room, I was just flabbergasted by this home. I reflected that this man has laid up for himself some serious treasure on earth. Then I wondered how much treasure he had put up for himself in heaven. One day the house will be, poof, gone. Some day this man will stand before God and he will be asked what he did with his blessings, with his money. Yeah, you built this incredible vacation home. Yeah, you wheeled and dealed in the stock market. Yeah, you are worth hundreds of millions of dollars but what did you do to help the church, to help people? What did you do with what I blessed you with?
I have got to ask you the same question. I asked myself the same question. This is the most critical time in the history of our church. I am talking to church members now. We are going to move into a phenomenal building, a venue to reach tens of thousands of people. And church, we need to give from now until the end of the year like we have never given before. So I want you to pray about your end of year gift and pray about what God wants you to do concerning your generosity towards the local church. If you don’t give with joy, God does not want your money, nor do we. But pray about it. Giving breaks the back of materialism and greed.
Yes, we need to realize the neutrality of money but also we need to ruthlessly remove those stumbling blocks. We have got to be ruthless. Go back just for a second to the early portion of the message. We can really connect with the rich young ruler. We are here at the right time. Most of us are young. We are here with the right posture. We are listening attentively, especially since I am not talking about money any more. We are going to the right person, Jesus. We are hearing His words today. Most of us are living the right lifestyle. We are good people. We are asking the right questions. Why do I know that? Because we are here.
Well, now Jesus is looking at you and looking at me and seeing the stumbling blocks. He is saying, “Won’t you just let go? Because the moment you let go, I will come and rescue you, help you and empower you to remove that stumbling block. Won’t you just let go?” We have got to become ruthless in removing stumbling blocks like Christ talked about in Mark 9, amputating a foot, cutting off a hand, gouging out an eye. It might be that painful, yet Christ will assist us in the process.
So, today, God has put the rich in this place on notice. He has put us all on notice. And when we walk out of these doors in just a couple of moments, we will leave in one of two ways. Let me illustrate. Do you hands like this, like you are gripping something. Some of us will leave like this, still white knuckling that thing that is keeping us from true freedom and from really knowing Christ in a profound way. Turn your palms heavenward and life your hands. That is the second way. Many of us will leave like that, saying, “God have Your way in my life. God, the stumbling block is here. I admit it to You. Now come in, Lord, right now.” The choice is up to you. I think you know the way that God wants you to live.