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Where is your Righteousness?

Baseball has always been one of my favorite sports. I grew up one block away from my elementary school, and every night I would grab my bat bag and head to the park to see if anyone was putting together a pick-up baseball game. I lived for it! I was also fortunate enough to play in my town's junior sports league for the Dodgers! I played first base because the glove I had was a first baseman's mitt. In this game, however, I played 3rd base when the batter blasted a line drive right down the 3rd baseline. I was in position to make the play but completely unprepared. I did, however, catch the ball with my face.

My memories are blurry, but I remember looking down at my glove and watching blood from my face pour into my palm. I remember my coach walking me to the dugout, where I would eventually be taken to the emergency room. I had a broken nose, bruised cheek, and two black eyes. The next memory is me laying down on a hospital bed with several doctors looking down at me, pressing on different parts of my face and asking if it hurt. They were no doubt trying to determine the significance of my injury. Nothing hurt that bad until they started pressing on the end of my nose. That hurt, bad. Fortunately, I was in good hands, and they took care of me, but my promising baseball career was seemingly over.

The passage I want us to look at tonight is found in Matthew 19:16, and it's a somewhat familiar passage that details the conversation between Jesus and a wealthy young man who has a very important question for the Messiah.

Matthew 19:16:

And behold, a man came up to him, saying, "Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?"[1]

The answer to this question is straightforward, Jesus outlines the commands that were given at the base of Mt. Sinai generations before, commands that this rich young man had been taught his whole life. The conversation continues,

"If you would enter life, keep the commandments." Jesus said to him, "Which ones?" And Jesus said, "You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself."

The young man said to him, "All these I have kept. What do I still lack?" [2]

Jesus gives this man the simple Jewish answer,

The interesting thing about this is if the rich young man kept all of these commands, why does he feel the need to ask Jesus what he needs to do for eternal life?

Let me ask you something,

Is your righteousness based on your ability not to commit murder?

Is your righteousness based on your ability not to cheat on your spouse?

Is your righteousness based on your ability not to break into your neighbor's shed and steal his leaf blower?

Is your righteousness based on your ability not to lie?

Is your righteousness based on your ability not to???

Let me remind you that this faith is not about what we can do to earn God's love. This faith, this relationship is about a God who loved us.

But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. [3]

I believe this young man is feeling the inadequacy of human legalism and the weight of the sins that we all carry. His final question in verse 20, "What do I still lack?" I'm doing everything that I am supposed to be doing, but for some reason, I still feel like there is a chasm between my Father and me.

Ever felt this way?

When we depend on ourselves, on our actions, we lose sight of all that God has done for us. There won't be a single person in glory who got there based on their goodness, not Billy Graham, not Mother Teresa, none of the disciples, nobody. We are rescued from our sins.

Back to the Young Man

To answer this man's questions, Jesus began to essentially do what the doctors did to me on that emergency room table. Jesus presses in to see the nature of this rich young rulers questions, and Jesus simply says to him,

"If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me." When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.[4]

Hollow faith collapses under adversity. When the first problem, that we cannot carry hits, we tumble. Let me tell you, we're made in the image of God so that we can carry a lot of things, but we're not God, and there are some things that we just can't carry on our own. When that day comes, if you've built a sandcastle, it will wash away. But if you've placed your foundation upon God, you will weather the storm. But here is the best part, Amid the storm, Jesus pulled Peter out of the sea.

Seek to build a Genuine Faith

My first car was a 1972 orange Super Beetle; it was a family car that my grandfather bought brand new. Back in 2006, it had been sitting for almost a decade, and it needed a ton of work. During the spring break of my junior year in high school, my papaw and I (mostly papaw) set out to rebuild the car. I loved this car, and I also loved the community that came with driving an old, air-cooled Volkswagen. They used to have an event in Sevierville called "Circle your wagons," and I and several others would make the 2-hour trip to camp and just have fun. Now, remember I was in high school, so I ensured that my old bug was outfitted with the best sound system that my minimum wage job could afford! I loved it; my neighbors hated it!

I always made a point to enter my car in the sound system contest, and I'll never forget when my orange bug got second place to this old beatdown beetle that was rusted out. I thought it was a joke when the car owner entered it into the competition, but once he turned up his stereo, the results were clear. On the inside, this car had a great sound system. He won convincingly, and I was reminded that it wasn't a competition of how nice the car looked; it was all about how it sounded.

Sometimes, we get caught up in how we look outside, and we forget that God is more concerned with what is on the inside. Remember back in the Old Testament, when God was looking for a King to realign Israel, God spoke to Samuel in 1 Samuel 16:7,

"Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart." [5]

God Looks for what is important

This leads me to one final observation about this rich young ruler,

Jesus said to his disciples, "Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God." [6]

When I think of "rich," I think of Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, or Bill Gates. But the fact is, if you work a full-time minimum wage job here in Athens, 40-hours a week, annually, you'll net $15,080. It doesn't sound like a whole lot, does it? But that income, according to the Washington Post, falls in the 62nd percentile globally. According to another website I googled, the average hourly pay for a worker in the United States is $19.33, which if you worked 40 hours a week for 52 weeks, your income would be $40,206.40, which puts us in the 85th percentile globally. Where am I going with this?

It was the possessions that kept the rich young ruler from following Jesus.

The disciples were stunned to hear Jesus say this because Jewish tradition equated riches with God's blessing. How could it be that those viewed as most blessed by God are the most unlikely to make it into the Kingdom of Heaven? The disciples asked, "Who then can be saved?"[7] But Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible." [8]

Too often, we depend on our security net and not on God our father.

I can't count the number of people I grew up going to church with who have fallen away from God, and it breaks my heart and drives the way I teach our students on Wednesday nights. I think we often try to make church an event where we fill up the room, and indeed there is nothing inherently wrong with trying to fill up a church, but what are we teaching the ones who are here.

Tonight, I want to remind you of Jesus' words, "with man this [salvation] is impossible, but with God all things are possible"

We need to place God at the front of every aspect, every detail of our lives because:

If he is not "Lord of all," he is not "Lord at all."[9]

So in closing, where is your righteousness?

Isaiah wisely said,

We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags. [10]

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Mt 19:16. [9] Craig Blomberg, Matthew, vol. 22, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 299. [10] Tyndale House Publishers, Holy Bible: New Living Translation (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2015), Is 64:6.

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