One Thing Thou Lackest

Bible Book: Matthew  19 : 16-26
Subject: Life, Purpose of; Money; Purpose; Salvation; Jesus, Following

Matthew 19:16-26

This is one of the saddest, and yet one of the most instructive, stories in the Bible. It contains some powerful lessons for all of us. So, let’s look at it together. Although I will deal primarily with the passage here in Matthew 19, I’ll also make occasional reference to the accounts of this same incident recorded in Mark 10 and Luke 18. To begin with, let’s zero in on...


Matthew 19:16 says, “Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, ‘Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?’” Mark 10:17 begins. “As Jesus started on his way….” Jesus was probably headed toward Jerusalem, where he would be crucified.

A. Let’s first of all look closely at THE PERSON ASKING THE QUESTION.

Looking at all three gospel accounts of this event, we see that there was much to commend about this individual.

1. Matthew 19:20 refers to him as a “young man.” What a great thing it is for a person to show an interest in spiritual matters while still in their early years. Ecclesiastes 12:1 says, “Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them.”

2. All three gospel accounts refer to the fact that he “had great wealth.” It could be, of course, that he had received his wealth from his parents or some benefactor--but it could also be that he was simply a very successful business man. Wherever he got his wealth, at least he hadn’t thrown it away, but apparently had managed it wisely.

3. Luke 18:18 describes him as “a certain ruler”--which means that he must have been highly regarded by his fellow Jews, to have been given a leadership position while still a youth.

4. He was enthusiastic about the issue of eternal life. Mark 10:17 says that he “ran up to him” [to Jesus]. Thank the Lord for people who are zealous about spiritual matters.

5. He had a reverend attitude. Mark tells us that as this young man approached Jesus, he “fell on his knees before him” [before Jesus]. Whatever misunderstandings he might have had about the identity of Jesus, he sensed that he was someone unusual, someone surely sent from God, and he wanted to show proper respect. That certainly is commendable.

B. We’ve looked at the questioner, now let’s look carefully at THE QUESTION ITSELF.

1. He addressed Jesus as “Teacher.” Obviously he had heard about the power and wisdom with which Jesus spoke, and was anxious to learn from him. The wisest thing anyone can do is to look to Jesus for the answers to life’s crucial questions.

Here is the great invitation that Jesus gives to everyone in Matthew 11:28-30 (KJV):

“Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Multitudes of people are so terribly weary--not just physically, but weary emotionally, mentally, morally and spiritually. They have been so battered and bruised by the storms of life that they feel they’re just about at the end of their tether, and they yearn for relief. They are desperately grasping for answers, so as to make some sense of their lives. If you’ll turn to Jesus with all your heart, and let him teach you, you’ll find that relief, and you’ll find the answers to life’s foundational questions.

2. The young man asked, “...what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” Jesus had spoken often of eternal life, and of how to receive it--and apparently this young man had heard others talking about some of those teachings and wanted to hear from Jesus first-hand. One of the statements Jesus had made is recorded in John 3:14-15 (KJV): “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up. That whosever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.”

The term “eternal life” in the Bible denotes a special kind of life--spiritual life, imparted by God himself. The person who receives eternal life receives forgiveness of sin, a new nature, and has access to God’s resources for victorious living in the here and now, and then when he dies he goes to heaven to be with the Lord forever.

This young man apparently realized that, in spite of all his assets, something vital was missing in his life, and he wanted to fill that void--and, if he understood the concept of heaven, he surely must have wanted to go there when he died--so he posed the question: “…what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”

Many people today, for all of their outward successes, feel that same emptiness within, whether they talk about it or not. They know that deep down inside, something isn’t right.

Now, having looked at the questioner and the question; let’s look at...


A. A Matter of Identity

In verse 17 (NIV) we read, “‘Why do you ask me about what is good?’ Jesus replied. There is only One who is good.’” At this point the KJV more accurately translates the Greek: “And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God:”

Apparently Jesus was challenging the young man to face up to who he, Jesus, really is. Jesus was saying, in effect, “Are you just being respectful in calling me ‘good,’? Do you not realize that I AM God and therefore I AM good?”

Now, it’s important to understand that Jesus had looked down into this young man’s heart, and had seen the confusion and misunderstanding that was there. 1 Samuel 16:7 says that “man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.” In John 2:24 we read that Jesus “knew all men,” and verse 25 says that he “needed not that any should testify of man: for he knew what was in man.”

B. A Misconception Addressed

Jesus saw that this rich young ruler was under the illusion that by keeping the ten commandments he could earn eternal life. The young man was woefully wrong, of course, but the ten commandments do have a PREPARATORY role to play in regard to salvation, and here’s what I mean: the Bible teaches that as we try to keep the ten commandments we see how miserably far short we fall and how sinful we are. Romans 3:20 says that “by the law is the knowledge of sin.”

God’s plan is that when we see our inability to keep the ten commandments and thus realize our sinfulness, we should then turn to Jesus in repentance and faith and receive the gift of eternal life. In Galatians 3:24 Paul said to a group of believers, “Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.”

So, Jesus was endeavoring to help this young man get started down that road of preparation for seeing his sin and his need. In verse 17 Jesus said to him, “If you want to enter life, obey the commandments.” Verse 18: “‘Which ones,’ the man inquired. Jesus replied, ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother, and love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus knew that even that partial list was enough to help any right-thinking person see how pathetically short he had fallen of God’s standards set forth in the ten commandments--and once the young man had acknowledged his sin, then he would be ready for the next step--namely, turning to Jesus for salvation.

However, this young man totally missed the point. Instead of facing up to how far short he had fallen, he had such an inflated ego and such a shallow, superficial understanding of what is involved in keeping the commandments, that he gave this response, recorded in verse 20: “‘All these I have kept,’ the young man said. ‘What do I still lack?’” Mark 10:20 says, “‘Teacher,’ he declared, ‘all these I have kept since I was a boy.’”

C. A Mandate Issued

The young man’s pride and naivete had blinded him spiritually, and Jesus’ heart was moved with compassion. Since the young man had utterly missed the point, Jesus changed his strategy. Somehow he must help this young man see that faith which involves a total surrender to the Son of God is the way you receive the gift of eternal life, so he decided to use a different approach. Mark 10:21 says, “Jesus looked at him and loved him.”

Now to Matthew 19: 21: “Jesus answered, ‘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 is how Mark 10:21 records it (KJV): “Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me.” In other words, there was one thing keeping that young man from surrendering in faith to Jesus.

That strong statement took the young man totally by surprise. In so many words, Jesus was saying: “The only way to receive the gift of eternal life and thus have treasure in heaven is to believe in me to the point of totally surrendering your life to me. And in your case, here is how you can demonstrate that you have, indeed, made that total surrender: go sell all your property, give the money to the poor, and come and take up the cross [in other words, willingly take on a burden of responsibility in the kingdom of God], and follow me.”

Jesus was not saying that everyone should demonstrate their surrender by divesting themselves of all worldly possessions. That was not given as a universal requirement. That was simply the Great Physician’s prescription in that specific case, because that young man’s wealth was what kept him from yielding to the Son of God. In other cases, it might be something else. For some, surrendering to Jesus might require breaking off some wrong relationship, or giving up some questionable activity. But when you truly commit your life to Jesus and are saved, you’re going to be willing to get rid of anything that the Lord tells you to get rid of.

But alas, this young man wasn’t willing to make that great surrender. Look at...


Verse 22 says, “When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.” He was remorseful, but not repentant.

A. The Tragic Loss

What a tragedy. Here he was, face to face with the God of the universe who had come down to earth in human form. Jesus had sought to help this young man see his sin and how he needed to surrender to the Son of God in order to receive the gift of eternal life--and he had shown the young man how he could then prove that he had, indeed, made that surrender.

But the young man loved his wealth too much. He refused to yield to the one and only person who could meet his deepest need--and, not being willing to make that surrender, he continued in his lostness. So far as I know, the Bible never speaks of him again.

B. The Modern Counterpart

Also sad is the fact that that same tragedy is reenacted, in principle, over and over in our own day.

1. Individuals confront the gospel. The Holy Spirit reveals to them their sin and their need for the Savior--but they’re unwilling to give up whatever it is that has a hold on them--in some cases it may be money, in others, sinful indulgences of one kind or another. But instead of yielding to the Son of God, they go on worshipping whatever it is that has priority in their lives--and consequently they go on in their misery and defeat, and then they wind up in an everlasting hell when their earthly life is over. What a shame!--and how needless.

Paul Lee Tan tells a fascinating story that appeared in a publication called The Pilgrim. It’s the story of how the natives in North Africa capture monkeys. They make a hole in a gourd just barely large enough for a monkey to place his hand in it, and they fill that gourd with nuts and fasten it firmly to a tree branch at sunset. During the night a monkey will smell those nuts, follow that scent to its source, and reach into the gourd and grasp a handful of nuts. However, the hole is too small for the monkey to remove his clenched fist full of nuts, and he doesn’t have the intelligence to release the nuts so as to get free. So he pulls and strains all night, and when morning comes there he is, with his fist still stuck in the gourd, and he is quickly and easily captured.

That is sadly illustrative of that rich young ruler, and of many people today who refuse to let go of whatever it is that they’re grasping, and as a result miss out on eternal life!

2. It is also true that sometimes Christians come to a crossroad, and have to choose whether or not to follow the will of God and move forward spiritually in growth and effectiveness, or go the way of the world and become backslidden and mediocre.

I’m thinking right now of a Christian young man who came to such a crossroad. It was in 1932. He had come to this country from Canada with his parents. Finances were tight in their family, and he had to drop out of college to help pay the bills. He took a job with an insurance company, but was making a very meager income. He was blessed with a wonderful, unusually powerful singing voice, and began singing in churches in the area. When he was 23 years old, he was invited to become a part of a small evangelistic team that was just getting started. There appeared to be little hope of more than just a bare living, but he would be involved in reaching people for Christ, and that had a great appeal to him as a believer.

However, as he was pondering whether or not to accept that invitation, there came to him another offer, which also had a strong appeal. He was invited to join a secular music program in New York, which had the potential not only for big money, but also for fame--and he had always had a desire to sing before great crowds of people. So, he was faced with a hard decision, which would prove to be a major turning point in his life.

One day he was at home, when he happened to see a piece of paper lying on the piano. On it was a poem that had been written by Rhea F. Miller, a friend of his mother, and his mother had purposely placed it there in the hope that he would see it. He was deeply moved by the message of the poem, and he sat down at the piano and right then and there composed music to go with it. He made the decision which would determine the course of his life, as he sat there and for the first time ever, sang these words:

I’d rather have Jesus than silver or gold;
I’d rather be His than have riches untold;
I’d rather have Jesus than houses or lands,
I’d rather be led by His nail pierced hand.

Than to be a king of a vast domain
Or be held in sin’s dread sway,
I’d rather have Jesus than anything
This world affords today.

I’d rather have Jesus than men’s applause;
I’d rather be faithful to His dear cause;
I’d rather have Jesus than world-wide fame,
I’d rather be true to His holy name.

He’s fairer than lilies of rarest bloom;
He’s sweeter than honey from out of the comb;
He’s all that my hungering spirit needs,
I’d rather have Jesus and let Him lead.

You realize that I’m talking about the late George Beverly Shea. For decades he was the soloist for the Billy Graham crusades, and was been used of God to help lead literally millions of people to Christ--and, remarkably, continued singing for the glory of God long after retiring from crusade participation.

Let me ask each person here today a question: Would YOU rather have Jesus than anything this world affords?

If you’re already a believer, had you rather have the inner peace that comes from putting Christ first, or go the world’s way and be a backslider with the result that God will have to chasten you to get you back on course?

If you haven’t yet been saved, what will you do with Jesus? Will you, in repentance and faith, surrender your life to him and receive the incomparable gift of eternal life? Or, like the rich young ruler had you rather place your life’s priority elsewhere and go on through this earthly sojourn empty and defeated, and then spend eternity in hell? That decision ought to be a “no brainer,” but unfortunately, a lot of people make the same decision that the rich young ruler made.

What will your choice be?