And a ruler asked Him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Luke 18:18 (ESV)
Once again I am humbled by the privilege of writing for GloryBooks. The beginning of this year, more than others in the recent past, my longings for my son who died of cancer in 2008 have increased dramatically. Instead of commenting on how much I miss and long to see Andrew, I want to share what I am learning about the power of Christ in affliction.
This is especially relevant as I was recently introduced to a man whose 16 year old son was recently diagnosed with osteosarcoma, the cancer which took my son’s life. I am walking with them on the terrible journey of enduring treatment which at times seems worse than the disease. In the midst, I am trying to offer hope in what seems like a hopeless situation.
On top of that, one of my dearest friends, a brother in Christ whom I met 2 weeks after my son’s death and a man who has comforted me over these past seven years, called me the afternoon of December 23, 2015 to share with me the news that his 24 year old daughter had been killed that morning in an automobile accident. In this world you will have tribulation…
I am discovering my study of Revelation most helpful here. The author of Revelation, the apostle John, was no stranger to trials. He is writing to churches in trouble as he refers to being their partner in tribulation (Revelation 1:9). Losses & crosses are part of what we should expect in following Christ.
The closer we follow Jesus, the more likely we are to draw the enemy’s fire. And when the temptation abounds to cut & run, to crumble & collapse Revelation encourages backbone & bravery. Jesus Himself says, “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life” (2:10). This so clearly defined my son, Andrew—he was faithful unto death and now wears the crown of life.
I have learned this: The harsher the difficulties, the sweeter is God’s sovereignty. “He gives power to the faint and to him who has no might he increases strength” (Isaiah 40:29). God can do whatever He wills to do. It was the refuge Job came to rest in: “I know that you can do all things and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2). Knowledge of God’s greatness produces great faith and great praise.
Nearly 7 years after Andrew’s death I still ponder in amazement at how he patiently endured unspeakable horrors. It is clear to me that Andrew loved Jesus with all of his heart and that he trusted in his promises, walking by faith not by sight. I recently finished reading a marvelous book: “Loving Jesus More”, by Dr. Phil Ryken. It is so convicting; I must admit that picking it up to read is difficult because it is the mirror in which I see my failings.
The Source of Our Love
The source of our love for Jesus is not in us. It is a gift of the Holy Spirit. Our strongest motivation for loving Jesus with everything we have is that He loves us with everything He has. Dr. Ryken spends a chapter addressing the issue of a loveless heart. He uses the famous conversation between Jesus and the man known as “the rich young ruler”. The story is recounted in all three synoptic gospels. In Luke’s account, the ruler is extremely rich and he asks Jesus, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 18:18). The question is crucial and we must not miss the fact that this man thought of salvation as something he could gain by something he did.
How did Jesus answer? The truth is that anyone who wants to be saved by doing must keep every last one of God’s Laws (Galatians 3:12). The man’s response to Jesus is similar to the response of many in the church today who think the Ten Commandments are a short list of very bad sins they almost never commit. They deceive themselves into thinking they can keep God’s Law well enough to satisfy God & gain entrance into heaven. The problem is that what God’s Law truly requires is not so simple. According to Jesus each commandment rules our hearts as well as our actions.
The Test of Love for Jesus
Note that Jesus did not expose the rich young ruler’s pretensions to holiness by disputing his claim to sinless perfection. Instead he tested his love for God. Was God first in his life, or was something else? By instructing the man to give away his possessions Jesus was not saying that we can win our way to heaven simply by giving away our wealth. The requirement for salvation is faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ alone. The rich ruler was willing to keep some of the commandments but he refused to surrender his standard of living for the glory of God. One writer says “for this man to choose insolvency for the sake of joining Jesus’ movement was to choose a kind of social death”. What do you suppose Jesus would tell you or me to give up for the kingdom of God? Jesus would tell us to give up anything that we love more than we love Him.
Living for God, or Living for Self?
We live in a culture of takers, not givers. We want to live for ourselves, not for God. Loving Jesus more always requires that we love other things less. I am not sure we really want to hear this. Sometimes this is the very last thing we want to do. J.C. Ryle says it well: “Maybe we are ready to give up everything for Christ’s sake, except one darling sin, and for the sake of that sin are lost.”
The story of the rich young ruler is tragic because his love of the material prevented him from following Jesus. Scripture records that when Jesus told him to sell his possessions and give everything to the poor the rich young man sadly walked away from the Savior of the world, the only One who could grant the man eternal life.
When he sadly turned his back and walked away Jesus looked at him not in anger, but with compassion. This gives amazing hope for anyone who has ever rejected Jesus for some other love. He does not respond by hating us, but by loving us. Even better, Jesus continues to offer us eternal life.
When the disciples respond to Jesus’ telling this story by asking who can be saved, Jesus answers by saying that with man it is impossible. Rather than denying the difficulty, Jesus agreed that it was impossible. But then He goes on to make the promise of His grace: “What is impossible with man is possible with God (v.27)”.
I thank God that for Andrew, Barbara, and for me, Jesus made the impossible possible by the transforming power of His Spirit. “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling,” in the words of hymn writer Augustus Toplady.
Most of you know the story in Luke’s gospel of the one thief on the cross asking Jesus to remember him in His kingdom (Luke 23:41-43). Jesus told the thief that he would be with Him in paradise that day.
The word paradise is rooted in a Persian word meaning park. Adam & Eve were placed in a park where they enjoyed fellowship with God until they sinned. They were banished from the park making intimate, personal communion with the living God impossible. It was impossible unless One should open up a new & living way whereby we could have access to this amazing park, this wonderful paradise where we could enjoy all of the benefits & blessings of communion with the living Christ and with all of the saints of all time.
And for us, that includes Andrew. Here is the promise: repent & be restored through the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus promises: I will meet you in the park. I cannot wait to meet Jesus & Andrew in the park.
With love & blessings,