Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Enigma of the Rich Young Ruler

So I've been bothered by the story of the so-called rich young ruler and his encounter with Jesus for several years now (see Matthew 19 for the story). The whole interaction is odd. You'd think that Jesus would be signing this guy up for the Finance Committee as quick as he could but he keeps pushing him and pushing him and almost toying with him. It might seem cruel if we didn't know that Jesus genuinely cared for him. That's the thing that bothers me most is that we know that Jesus really did care for this guy and he cared enough to push him on the particular issue that was holding him back from so much more.

But even more than the way JESUS dealt with this guy, I'm disturbed by the way folks in the church do their hermeneutical gymnastics to say that what Jesus really meant was that we just need to believe in him and not really ever give anything up to follow Jesus.

But we've got all sorts of people watering down the call of Jesus for us. "Oh, Jesus doesn't really mean for us to sell our possessions or give up anything to follow him" in other words, "Jesus is just fine with us being fat, gluttonous, uber comortable Americans living house-poor and frazzled with busyness." Preachers and teachers write off the socio-economic, evangelistic and holy living implications of this story. Just throw your 2.3% in the plate and dislocate your shoulder patting yourself on the back for how fantastic you are.

For my Doctrine of Grace class this semester one of the books I read was John MacArthur's "The Gospel According to Jesus." Now...before you throw up in your mouth a bit because of the title, apparently it was originally written in the late '80s before there was the gospel according to everyone and their mom. The book's terrific and focusing on the teachings of Jesus, duh. The main gist is confronting easy-believism.

Anyway...MacArthur says this in his chapter on the Rich Young Guy:
He left not because he heard the wrong message, not even because he did not believe, but because he was unwilling to forsake what he loved most in this world and commit himself to Christ as Lord. Instead of taking him from where he was and getting him to make a "decision," Jesus had laid out terms that were unacceptable to him. In a sense, Jesus drove him away.
What kind of evangelism is this? Jesus would have failed personal evangelism in almost every Bible college or seminary I know! He began by preaching law to the young man and at this point did not even mention faith or the facts of redemption. He did not challenge the man to believe. He failed to get closure. He did not draw the net. After all, when a man comes along saying he wants eternal life, you cannot let him get away, right?
Wrong. Our idea of evangelism cannot indict Jesus; rather, he must judge contemporary methods of evangelism. Modern evangelism is preoccupied with decisions, statistics, aisle-walking, gimmicks, prefabricated presentations, pitches, emotional manipulation, and even intimidation. Its message is a cacophony of easy-believism and simplistic appeals. Unbelievers are told that if they invite Jesus into their hearts, accept him as personal Savior, or believe the facts of the gospel, that is all there is to it. The aftermath is appalling failure, as seen in the lives of millions who have professed faith in Christ with no consequent impact on their behavior...
The ultimate test was whether this man would obey the Lord. Jesus was not teaching salvation by philanthropy. He was not saying that it is possible to buy eternal life with charity. In effect, he was saying, "Here is the test of faith: Are you willing to do what I want you to do? Whom do you want to run your life, you or me?" The Lord was putting a finger on the very nerve of this man's existence. Knowing where the man's heart was, Jesus said, "Unless I can be the highest authority in your life, there is no salvation for you." By placing himself alongside the man's wealth and demanding that he make the choice, our Lord revealed the true state of the man's heart.
Quite a good book. It's relevant and indicting, which makes for a good, challenging read. I am more and more convinced that we need to "rediscover" Jesus' teaching, take a good hard look at our lives and methods and everything, avoiding pat answers and see what might come. Jesus was pretty wild and defies a whole lot of systems and formulas.

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