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How to misunderstand scripture: Matthew 19:16-269 min read

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Here’s the complete sermon outline:

A. Good Teacher

The Mistake:  Jesus is denying his deity
The Truth: Jesus is challenging the man’s idea of ‘good’

The Problem: The man is a self-made success and now wants to excel in spiritual matters.

B. Keep the commandments

The Mistake:  Jesus is teaching that salvation comes through obeying the commandments

The Truth:  Jesus is setting him up to see that no one does or can keep the commandments, hence the need for faith and obedience.

C. Which Ones?

What is happening here:

1. This man is either a religious person who has been very observant, better than the people he knows, and wants praise for such.

2. He is a good person who is impressed by his goodness, and is daring enough to believe that any commandment Jesus can name, he has kept well.

3. Darker Motive:  He knows there are many commandments, and that no one can keep them all.  This intellectual and moral dilemma can be used as an excuse to not obey God.

a. Dietrich Bonhoeffer – The Cost of Discipleship

Once more the young man tries to evade the issue by posing a second question: “Which?”…Of course, he knows the commandments.  But who can know, out of the abundance of commandments, which apply to him in his present situation?  The revelation of the commandments is ambiguous, not clear, says the young man….He neglects the unmistakable command of God for the very interesting, but purely human concern of his own moral difficulties.

His mistake lies not so much in his awareness of those difficulties, as in the attempt to play them off against the commandments of God…All his difficulties are shown to be ungodly, frivolous and the proof of sheer disobedience.

We often use our moral and intellectual questions and difficulties as excuses to not obey the clear commandments of God.

On Asking Questions

1. We all wrestle with the harder questions of existence that challenge our faith in God.

2. Asking questions is OK, but the problem comes when the answers are not what we would like, or hard to understand, or impossible to figure out.

Honest questions and doubts are part of growing in faith, deepening our understanding.

When we turn to blame God and use these difficulties as an excuse to reject God’s claim on our lives, we are on the wrong path.

Why I left Christianity

1. I had experienced a very narrow, controlling Christianity that I had to UNlearn.

2. Some questions really bothered me, like
– eternal hell, seems too harsh
– what about ‘good’ people of other faiths or those who have never heard?

I know what it is like to have hard questions, and you can’t play along anymore.

Don’t use unanswered questions as an excuse to blame God.  Make sure that, even though you are asking questions, you are also LISTENING to what he is telling you.

On Atheists

NOTE:  I frequently listen to podcasts on Common Sense Atheism, where philosophers of religion are interviewed.  Many are ex-Christian atheists.

While they often start out with good and meaningful questions, they eventually get caught in a cycle of rejecting God because of the intellectual difficulties that the Bible and obedience present.

They get into this cycle of trying to UNDERSTAND what often goes beyond reason.  They BLAME God.

SCRIPTURE:  Always learning, never coming to the knowledge of the truth (2 Tim 3:7)

They should eventually say like Job:

Job 42:1-6
Then Job replied to the Lord:

I know that you can do anything, and no one can stop you. You asked, “Who is this that questions my wisdom with such ignorance?” It is I – and I was talking about things I knew nothing about, things far too wonderful for me. You said, “Listen and I will speak! I have some questions for you, and you must answer them.” I had only heard about you before, but now I have seen you with my own eyes. I take back everything I said, and I sit in dust and ashes to show my repentance.


“Now we see how the astronomical evidence supports the biblical view of the origin of the world….the essential elements in the astronomical and biblical accounts of Genesis are the same. Consider the enormousness of the problem : Science has proved that the universe exploded into being at a certain moment. It asks: ‘What cause produced this effect? Who or what put the matter or energy into the universe?’ And science cannot answer these questions.

“For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountain of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.”

From God and the Astronomers (1978), by Robert Jastrow, (1925 – 2008) American astronomer, physicist  and cosmologist, Founding Director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in 1961, and served until his retirement from NASA in 1981.

D. Jesus’ List of the Commandments

  1. You shall have no other gods before me
  2. You shall not make for yourself an idol
  3. You shall not make wrongful use of the name of your God
  4. Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy
  5. Honor your father and mother     
  6. You shall not murder
  7. You shall not commit adultery     
  8. You shall not steal
  9. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor
  10. You shall not covet anything that belongs to your neighbor

You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

The Mistake:  The essence of all real spirituality boils down to loving others.  All the specifics about God don’t really matter that much.

The Truth:  Jesus is again setting him up, knowing that the sins he left out are the ones in this young man’s way.
– covetousness
– does not love God, but rather, loves his own excellence

Matt 22:35-40
Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

E. All these I have kept

This was really a ‘good person’ compared to others.  But Jesus is about to actually answer his question.

F. One thing you lack

One thing you lack if you want to be perfect.  Sell all you have and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.

The Mistake:  Jesus is teaching voluntary poverty as part of real faith and salvation.

The Truth:  Jesus is asking him to give up his God of money and security.

In the story of the Tax Collector Zaccheus, he tells Jesus that he will pay back four fold to anyone he has cheated.  Jesus does not make these same demands on Zaccheus.

Another Mistake:  Jesus is telling him that if he adds this to what he is already doing, he will be keeping the commandments perfectly.

The Truth:  Jesus is asking him to abandon his life of being a self-made, self-righteous, covetous person, and start fresh.  It is the life of FAITH and OBEDIENCE that he is lacking, and all of his efforts at building a self-styled spirituality that he can brag about must be replaced by simple obedience.

G. Come and follow me

This is what it means, in the Christian sense, to be spiritual, and to inherit eternal life.

H. One last mistake

We don’t see ourselves in the rich man, but everyone of us who lives in the west must consider the fact that we are rich and unwilling to follow Him aright.

In other countries, people don’t have 401K’s and retirement accounts, nor even health care.  Yet we often fail to follow God because we are so focused on getting the big house, the Mercedes, the fat savings account.

These things are not bad, but are they keeping you from doing what you believe or know God has asked you to do?

This year, I lost both my house and most of my retirement savings.  This keeps me awake at night, esp. since I have debt.  Yet God is asking me, will you do my will rather than spend the next twenty years trying to get all that back?

What has God asked of YOU?  Do you know?  If not, find out.  That’s where the real joy is.