Week of May 7

Solid Hope in Liquid Times

Read: 1 Chronicles 16; Psalm 106; Matthew 19

“And behold, a man came up to him, saying, ‘Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?’ . . . ‘And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.’”
Matthew 19:16, 29-30, ESV


Accessing many of the most beautiful and meaningful places on earth requires getting into a boat and riding there. I liken Matthew 16-19 to a boat ride on increasingly stormy seas. The ultimate goal is to reach the place of ultimate meaning. We see increased challenges and questionings of Jesus like stormy seas (19:1-12). We also see the consistency with which He communicates “who” will be brought to safety (19:13-15; childlike welcoming of the Father; 16-30, salvation not merited, but by grace). Christ shows us a laser-focus on completing the gospel requirements at the Cross and nothing will deter Him from fulfilling that purpose. He informs our witness today by the example He set.

The Meaning of the Text

The big picture
We quite often divide chapter 19 into sections, and I imagine that many folks zero in on the moral issue of divorce (19:1-12). Others use the passage on children during an emphasis on little ones at church (19:13-15). The rich young ruler provides preachers and teachers with material for stewardship emphases (19:16-30). But what if we take a step back and examine these circumstances through a kingdom view (19:28-30)? Today we will view Matthew 19 from that perspective.

This chapter presents us with a clear view of the situation Christ often faced (cf. Matthew 10:34-39; esp. v. 39; not peace but a sword). The religious leaders asked adversarial questions of the Lord, but the rich young man approached Jesus sincerely. He realized that all he had done to bring satisfaction in life had not brought fulfillment with it! Do you see it? Jesus faced challenges but continued to keep His face on Kingdom of God goals. We all face many cultural and religious challenges to this goal, so we need Jesus to teach us how to keep our focus.
Keeping the Christ-view in focus despite cultural challenges
Think for a moment about how we define the pinnacle of success. For example, a young, wealthy man, who also held a prominent position as, perhaps, a synagogue ruler, comes to Jesus (cf. NAC). The gentleman had it all but found that “all” was not enough! This life crisis represents a common cultural challenge (Matthew 6:19-24). The young man truly wanted to know how he might close the hole that was left in his heart (19:16). His search was for ultimate meaning, and Matthew shows us that the meaning is wrapped up in “eternal life.” He, like all humanity, longed for the transcendent because he had been made that way by his Creator!
Liquid times call for solid truth
Zygmunt Baumen writes about the lostness of our current age. He states, “it is now left to individuals to seek, find and practise [sic] individual solutions to socially produced troubles, and to try all that through individual, solitary actions, while being equipped with tools and resources that are blatantly inadequate to the task” (Liquid Times, 14). This situation should never be the case! Our generation calls such a moment an “existential crisis.”

The rich young man in Matthew 19 was looking for solid ground upon which to stand, and many in our day are doing the same thing. Have you ever been in such a position to finally achieve your dreams, only then to realize that something else was lacking? Or have you sought mightily to fill the aching void in your soul with things that enslaved you, only to come up empty?
The point: on shoes and solid ground
To be “saved” is equivalent to entering the Kingdom of God (cf. v. 24) or receiving eternal life (v. 16). So, if rich men, who are blessed of God, are not shoe-ins for the kingdom, then who is going to fill those shoes?! Perhaps Jesus motions His listeners to turn their eyes away from the rich young ruler by pointing towards heaven. The salvation of any person, including the wealthy, is impossible, but with God all things are possible (v. 26; cf. Genesis 18:14; Job 42:2; and Psalm 106: 8, 47). He speaks the truth that liquid times call for the solid ground that God’s Kingdom provides.

Peter raises his hand and speaks for the group: “We have given up everything to follow you . . .” (v. 27). In other words, “What are you saying?” “How can this be?” “We thought that we were giving up a fairly good lifestyle to receive even more.” “We deserve better than this.” Jesus does not criticize them for being mercenary, but opens their eyes to see the greater scope of a new world where they cannot even begin to imagine the blessings. One thing they can know for certain is that the key to this new world will not be placed in the hands of the unbelieving, wealthy, powerful, or influential (v. 30a).

The Message for Our Lives

Zygmunt Baumen, whom I quoted above, was a social theorist who spent a career examining social issues common to postmodernity. He stated that part of the problem with humanity is that their lives are “fragmented.”

Here is the point! He writes that this fragmentation, in their minds, stimulates “lateral” rather than “vertical” orientations. I would say, “rich, young ruler” lateral orientations rule the hearts of many today. This perspective means that people are looking side-to-side for peace in every way possible—e.g., possessions, status, relationships—but never looking up for the transcendent. Why? Because, for many, God is dead, or at least He is unconcerned. What?!

Jesus has an entire Kingdom awaiting those who yield their lives to Him in full trust (19:25-26; “with God [i.e., the transcendent] all things are possible”)! Jesus tells each of us that God can and does regenerate hearts and makes it possible to find meaning in this life and to have complete assurance that life with the Father lies ahead.

Here is your purpose today as a Christ-follower. Do not be overwhelmed with the cultural noise around you; instead, keep your ears tuned to Jesus’ words. Anne Graham Lotz says, “Just give them Jesus.” Helping people to make the moral connection between the liquidity of this life and solid foundation of eternal life is not as challenging as it may seem. Show Christ to people by reaching into their moral lostness and giving them a hand up onto the Savior’s solid ground!

For Thought and Action

1. Ready for a climb? I believe that people who are experiencing “lostness” are actually vertically challenged. They are caught in life’s clutter and have lost their view of the transcendent. Ask the Lord to help you to be seen as one who points up to Christ, their Deliverer.

2. I have long felt that many churches are doing a wonderful job of helping people to know the stories of Jesus’ rescues from swirling seas. The difficulty lies in the fact that they are not providing postmodern people with any clear moral help to get to solid ground. Christ is reaching, but church members are not intent (laser focused) on helping people to get to Him. The church needs to equip spiritual “water-rescue teams” in these liquid times. Design a church strategy that helps people come to Christ.

3. For Families: Are your children laser focused on being Gospel Kids? To help them know the difference between “normal” vision and “laser” vision, let them make a “telescope” or “binoculars” (if they don’t have one of their own). Use paper towel rolls, or tape bathroom tissue rolls together, paint or decorate them, and attach a strap with a ribbon or string.

Take your kids to your backyard, a meadow, or a park, and train their vision on one object. Let them look carefully until that one object is all they see. Ask them to hold steady and look at it for 2 minutes, learning everything they can about it. Then quiz them to see what they saw. Now ask them to look at the same object while they sweep the landscape with a quick glance. Can they see as many details?

The answer is no. Share with them that God wants our vision each day to be sharply focused—laser vision—trained on introducing Jesus to other people. Encourage your children to train their spiritual eyes on others, while their hearts are praying for their salvation.

May your paths be straight,
Larry C. Ashlock