“God Will be a Debtor to No One ”

Matthew 19:16-30

Jesus and His followers are on a road trip to Jerusalem. This will be Jesus’ last road trip with His disciples and those following Him. He has told them what will happen when they arrive in Jerusalem. He knows He will be killed however those closest to Him were in denial. 

They started their trip in Caesarea Philippi, if you take a look at the map I drew you will find that city at the top right. Their first stop was Capernaum, where Jesus gave more in-depth details on how to live in the Kingdom of Heaven. After finishing those lessons they left Galilee and went into the region of Judea to the other side of the Jordan River. Last week we read how the Pharisees tried to test Him.

Today we read about a rich young man asking Jesus a question I wish all young people would ask, verse 16,

“Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”

This story is recorded in all four gospels. Right away that fact should tell us something. This man really did have an important question. This man’s question demonstrated his desire to make sure he was on the right path towards heaven. When we read all the accounts of this story we discover this man was young, rich and a ruler. 

Jesus focuses on the adjective “good.” And comes back with the question, 

“Why do you ask me about what is good?” 

“There is only One who is good. 

Jesus wasn’t denying His goodness, He was however, trying to get the young man to rethink what he thought of as “good.”

Jesus then goes on to answer the young man’s question,

“If you want enternal life, keep the commandments.”

Exactly what the young man was looking for, what good work or noble deed could he do to inherit eternal life. However, Jesus was setting him up. If he wanted to gain eternal life by “doing” there were laws that God had already established, they were called “commandments.” However, he would have to keep all 613 of them in the fullest sense in order to obtain eternal life. 

Therein lies the conundrum. The young man comes back with the obvious question, 

“Which ones?”

Jesus starts with the top ten commandments that deal primarily with humans relating to other humans. 

  • Don’t murder
  • Don’t commit adultery
  • Don’t steal
  • Don’t bear false witness
  • Honor your mother and father
  • Love your neighbor as yourself 

Apparently this young rich ruler was a “good” person. Note his reply, 

“All these I have kept. What do I still lack?”

He claimed to have kept all of the first list Jesus provided.

Check in time, can any of us say the same? 

Yet, he still felt like he was missing something. Deep inside he had to have felt that to do all the do’s and not do the don’ts just wasn’t enough. 

This young ruler must not have been among the thousands who heard Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. If you recall, Jesus had upped the ante a bit on what God expected in keeping the above list of commandments. But notice Jesus doesn’t confront the man with his misunderstanding of what it means to keep the commandments. Instead, we read in Mark’s telling of this story that Jesus had compassion on this man. 

I think Jesus knew this man truly did desire to do what was right and hoped he could work out a way to make sure he would get to heaven one day. However, Jesus also knew this man had bought into the teachings of the religious leaders of his day. This man thought that somehow, someway, it was up to him to justify himself before God. He had led an exemplary life, yet he was still dissatisfied. 

Jesus knew exactly why the young man was dissatisfied. He addresses the aspects of the Mosaic Law that deals with our relationship with God. 

“If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

Here was where the rubber met the road. 

Which was more important? Wealth or God? 

“When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.”

Before we jump to conclusions let’s be clear on a couple of things. Jesus never made this a general command to all who follow Him. This is not a rule that applies to everyone. It did, however, apply to this young man whose riches were clearly an obstacle to his discipleship. 

Many rich people can do more good in the world by continuing to make money and using those resources for the glory of God and the good of others. On the other hand, don’t think that this applies to no one. There are many today who could benefit spiritually by radically forsaking the materialism that is ruining them. 

Jesus called this young man to follow Him, just like He had called others to be His disciple. That was the call. But for this man it would mean leaving behind riches, demonstrating what he desired most. Money was his god. He was guilty of idolatry. 

Time to check in. 

Idolatry of this sort seeps into our lives without us recognizing it. I believe that is what happened with this young man. He worked hard to make sure he was keeping the laws that were somewhat tangible.

He hadn’t murdered anyone, he had plenty of wealth so he wasn’t tempted to steal. It’s easy to know if you have committed adultery or not.  When it comes to being honest and not bearing false witness and honoring your mother and father and loving your neighbor as yourself although these can be down right difficult at times, they are doable.  But what happened for this young man and for many of us, is, we set ourselves up when we think we are “good” people. When we take into consideration some of the commands and feel like we’ve got those down pat so we aren’t as bad as others. The term “good” also has cultural perimeters. What is “good” in one part of the world is not necessarily “good” somewhere else.

Let’s take a moment and ask ourselves, 

if we were to have this conversation with Jesus, 

is there anything in our life that 

if Jesus were to say, 

“Get rid of BLANK (you fill in the blank), 

and follow me,” 

would we have difficulty giving up the item we used to fill in the bland? 

If so, 

idolatry is at the heart of that question. 

Loving God and your neighbor is not enough. Jesus was telling us with this situation that our love for God has to be greater than our love for anything else. 


The young man walks away. Jesus turns to His disciples and gives the adage of it being easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God. This statement was meant to be humorous. 

I think Jesus may have chosen to put in a bit of humor to lighten up the moment. He knew the disciples would be astonished. Look at their response, 

“Who then can be saved?” 

They too had grown up with the same religious leaders teaching them that having wealth meant that God was shining down on you, you were doing good. I suspect there were many of Jesus’ followers who could have empathized with the young man as they too had thought they had followed all of God’s commandments. Was there anything else they needed to do to make sure they would enter eternal life? I suspect the disciples may have thought that once Jesus became “King” it would mean some kind of windfall for them. Especially those who were part of His inner circle. 

This had to be another eye opener for the disciples. 

Come on, they just had to face the fact that if they chose to marry someone, they had to work through the difficulties. Now, being wealthy wasn’t a sure thing of God’s providence? 

Stop for just a minute and think why having riches could be an issue when it comes to being a disciple of Jesus? 

  • Wealth tends to make us satisfied with life, instead of us longing for heaven
  • Sometime riches are sought after more than or at the expense of seeking God
  • Sometimes riches provide a false independence, who is actually in control?

Jesus’s antidote of a camel getting through the eye of a needle was meant to demonstrate just how impossible it is for humans to get into heaven on their own. 

He knows this and reminds the disciples and those following Him, verse 26,

“With (hu)man(s) this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

God is not against rich people coming to heaven. There are plenty of examples of rich people being saved. There are people like Abraham, David, Zaccheus, and Barnabas. God’s grace saves everyone. 

Did you notice, Peter still needs to wrap his head around being poor. Note his question, 

“We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?”

Peter doesn’t ask questions at the best moment, but he does have an uncanny way of asking the very question an average human, who has to live in today’s world, would ask. 

What does anyone who follows Jesus have to lose and what do we have to gain? 

Jesus tells Peter that the twelve disciples will sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes. Of course, Peter probably thought that would happen once they arrived in Jerusalem. They would soon realize that Jesus was talking about a millennial Kingdom. But also notice, there is a universal reward for all who follow Jesus. For everyone who gives up for Jesus, in addition to everlasting life, they will receive a hundred times over what has been sacrificed. 

Before you start taking the word, “hundredfold” literally as material sense, Jesus was again speaking metaphorically, in the spiritual sense. Basically, God will be a debtor to no human.  Jesus was making it clear we cannot out give God.

Jesus then reiterates how upside-down the Kingdom of God is compared to life here on earth, verse 30,

“But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.”

One thing we can be sure of, heaven will be full of surprises. Those seen as humble on earth may be great in heaven, and those who are seen as great on earth may be humbled in the world to come. Jesus will explore this principle more in next week’s parable.

For this week, I encourage you to take time to examine where you fit in with material things. Whether it’s money, financial security, property, you name anything our society tells us we need to be safe, happy and secure. Ask God the same question the young, rich ruler asked and wait for God’s answer. 

Let’s pray.