But when the young man heard this, he went away very sad, for he had many possessions. Matthew 19:22 (NLT)
The above verse is one of the saddest verses in all of Scripture. It comes at the end of a remarkable encounter with Jesus. The young man came to Christ with courage, hope and curiosity; “Good teacher, what do I need to do to have eternal life?” He had life already, a good life: he had youth, position (Luke tells us he was a “ruler”), and possessions. He lived a good life, keeping at least four of the 10 Commandments from his childhood. By all accounts, he was probably living much better than the majority of the population he lived among. But something was missing; something kept him restless, kept him seeking and searching for something… something else.
In spite of his position, his possessions, and his prospects for future success he was incomplete – he lacked peace… peace of mind, peace in his spirit, peace that comes from knowing who you are and where you are going. So he kept searching. Maybe he was like Solomon who indulged himself in every worldly pleasure and production (See Ecclesiastes in the Old Testament). Yet nothing brought him peace. Maybe he looked for it in relationships? Maybe he numbed himself with drink? But nothing brought him what he was looking for.
But then he heard about Jesus who was preaching peace, and rest, and hope that comes from God. Maybe Jesus had the answer to what he was looking for and how he could find it. And so he comes in sincerity; Mark says he kneeled before Jesus, and he asked his question with hope. Jesus gives him an answer – “keep the laws.” Already done! Been keeping them since he was a kid. Then Jesus gives him THE answer: “If you want to be perfect” – Ahhh, there it is, what he has been looking for all of his life. The Greek word is teleios, “to be complete, finished, perfect”… to be at peace with who you are and where you are going. What does he need to do to be complete? Find the right job? Be in the right relationship? Live in the right neighborhood? Have the right financial portfolio? (None of those had worked for him before). No, Jesus says, “…go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” Matt 19:21 (NLT)
What? Get rid of all the “things” the world says he needed to be happy and secure? Yes, get rid of everything and give to those who have nothing – store up some valuable heavenly treasures instead of temporary worldly treasures. THEN follow Jesus. What he has been looking for all of his life is right in front of him. (Don’t miss this) He’s given an opportunity to be complete, to be at peace, to finally be truly happy. But for that to happen he has to go against everything his culture, his heritage and even his own mind has told him is right. What would he do? What would you do?
What he did was the easy thing; he walked away. He walked away from the One person who could give him the one thing he had never been able to find. He walked away from treasures in heaven and eternal life. He walked away from completeness, peace and true happiness.
We shake our heads in disbelief – doesn’t he understand? Doesn’t he know who Jesus is? Doesn’t he know what he’s giving up? He knew… and so do we. He took the easy way out and it happens every day. We walk away because the reality of the situation doesn’t match the vision in our minds. We walk away from relationships, from family, from community, from friends, from ministries, from responsibility, from churches… It’s not what we thought it would be, we’re not in love anymore, we’re not being fed, we aren’t making connections, nobody understands me… so we do the easy thing, we walk away. And when you walk away from one situation, it becomes easier to walk away from any situation.
Jerry Rice is a Hall of Fame football player and may be the greatest wide receiver to ever play the game. He holds five career records, four single season records, and twelve Super Bowl records. He was a first-ballot Hall of Fame inductee in 2010. He was also legendary for his off-field conditioning regiment. Hardly anyone would work out with him because his workouts were so grueling. Jerry Rice had a commitment to excellence that took him to the top of his profession, and brought him great success both on and off the field… but he almost never made it as a football player.
Jerry joined his high school football team in tiny Crawford, MS as a sophomore. One hot, sultry day while running wind-sprints in full pads, up and down a small hill, Jerry decided he had had enough. He was hot and tired and figured no one would even notice him slip off the course. He had walked part of the way across the field when something caught in his spirit. There was a struggle going on within him. The easy thing was to quit, but was it the right thing? His body said, “Give up. Go home. It doesn’t matter.” But his mind said, “NO.” Jerry decided that if he walked away from those sprints on that sultry day, it would make it easier to quit the next time faced a challenge in anything. He decided he didn’t want to begin a pattern of quitting and taking the easy way out. He knew if he quit on football, there would be other things he would quit on. He decided that quitting was unacceptable, so he put his helmet back on, turned back to the hill and finished out his sprints. Jerry says that day was a turning point in his life, and he attributes his success as a professional football player to one day in his life when he didn’t walk away, when he didn’t quit. It made all the difference in the world in his life.
“But when the young man heard this, he went away very sad…” Matt 19:22 (NLT) As far as we know, he never found what he was looking for (eternal life, completeness, peace) because he walked away.
What about you? What are you walking away from because it’s not what you thought it would be? What are you walking away from because …it’s hard, it’s painful, it’s just easier to walk away than to obey? Who are you walking away from? Scripture is full of warning to those who would walk away:
There is a path before each person that seems right, but it ends in death. Proverbs 16:25 (NLT)
“You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it.” Matt 7:13-14 (NLT)
Choose wisely what/who you walk away from… for what you are walking into may not lead where you want to go.