And as he was setting out on a journey, one ran up to him, and fell on his knees, and asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” But Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good, except God alone. You know the commandments: Do not commit adultery; Do not murder; Do not steal; Do not bear false witness; Do not defraud; Honor your father and mother.” He answered and said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth.” Then Jesus, looking intently at him, loved him, and he said to him, “One thing in you is lacking. Go and sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, take up the cross, and follow me.” But he was appalled at this statement, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.
The wealthy young ruler in the story above had obeyed the commandments of God his entire life, and Jesus loved him for that. He loved him so much that he invited him to come follow him – if the young man would first sell his many possessions and distribute the money to the poor. Jesus loved this young man so much that he wanted to heal him of the one thing that was lacking in his soul. But in order to do that, the young man had to follow Jesus . . . to Pentecost.
Pentecost, the day when Jesus’ followers would receive the kind of life God has, was the point of following Jesus. That would be the day Jesus’ followers would at last be delivered from their fallen, sinful nature and be given eternal life, God’s life. The holy Spirit is what Jesus was talking about when he said, “I am come that they might have life, and have it more abundantly.” And if any of Jesus’ disciples quit following him before receiving God’s life on the day of Pentecost, their previous faith in Christ profited them nothing. In fact, it would have been better for them to have never followed Jesus at all, for “it were better for them not to known the way of righteousness than, after they have known it, to turn away from the holy commandment delivered unto them” (2Pet. 2:21).
Merely selling all his possessions and then giving the money to the poor was not going to perfect that young man’s faith. He had to follow Jesus all the way to life, not just until Jesus said something to him that made him uncomfortable. The apostle Paul said that even if you give all your goods to the poor, it will not benefit your soul at all unless you have the love of God, which is brought into the heart by the life of God (1Cor. 13:3; Rom. 5:5). Jesus knew that. He knew that what that young man lacked in his soul would not be supplied just by getting rid of earthly possessions; Jesus wanted him to follow him to Pentecost! The rich young man had to do what Jesus’ other disciples had done; that is, leave all things behind and follow Jesus, but, alas, he was unwilling to do it.
We, too, have to do what Jesus told the young man to do. We must deny ourselves, leave it all behind, and follow Jesus to Pentecost to be healed. The young man could not make himself do that, and many others who tried, turned away from Jesus when he taught them just how narrow the road to life was. Many are still trying to follow Jesus without leaving the world behind, but they will be offended before they reach the goal. Something Jesus says to them along the way will offend them, and to save face, many of them will turn to religious activities instead of walking with Jesus in the Spirit. But all the religious works, and all the good deeds, and all the sacrifices men can make will not heal them of their sinful nature. It is following Jesus to the place he wants us to be that makes us whole.