If you stumbled onto a flux capacitor—you know, like the one in Back to the Future—and you could travel back to any time in your life, what year would you choose?
I think I’d choose 1997. It’s the year I met my wife, Veronica, and the year I left to serve as a missionary in Southeast Asia. There are so many things I’d like to tell my 24-year-old self.
One piece of advice I’d give him is to make a small investment in an up-and-coming company called Amazon—instead of using that $1,000 to get a DVD player. If I would have invested, I would have more money now than I’d know what to do with. But 24-year-old J.D. didn’t care about a random company trying to sell books on the internet. Young J.D. wanted the DVD player.
In Luke 18, a young man walks away from Jesus—an opportunity far greater than my hypothetical investment in Amazon, with stakes far higher. As I read this story, I can’t help but want to ask him, “Don’t you realize what you’re walking away from?”
As the ruler and Jesus converse, it’s clear that the man has a superficial view of goodness. He thinks he’s a good guy. Jesus questions him, essentially saying, “Do you really think you’re good enough for God? Do you really think you’re good enough to inherit eternal life?”
But he’s ignorant to Jesus’ point (He says, in essence, “Actually, yeah, I’m a good dude.”), so Jesus presses a bit more, saying, “You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother’” (v. 20). Jesus is holding him to the universal standard for goodness in the Bible: the Ten Commandments.
This should have given the man pause, because each of these commandments reveals something about the heart. It’s not enough to say “I’ve never murdered anyone,” or “I’ve always told the truth.” A truly good person would never desire the harm of someone else or the perversion of the truth (cf. Matthew 5). At this point, any honest and thoughtful person would realize they’re in trouble. But the ruler, like many of us, insisted, “I’ve kept all these things since I was young.” Translation: “Jesus, you’ve shown me all the rules. I get it. I’m still a good dude.”
Do you see his problem? He has no concept of how “not good” he is; he has no idea how insufficient his goodness is for earning God’s favor.
Having tried twice to help this man see the depravity of his heart, Jesus makes one more attempt.
Luke 18 says,
When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich. Jesus, seeing that he had become sad, said, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! …” (vv. 22–24)
The man left saddened. And as I imagine him walking away, my heart breaks for him, too. One day, presumably, that rich young man would become a rich old man. Did he ever look back on this moment and wonder, What did I walk away from? He hung on to his crusty old “DVD player” when true wealth was staring him in the face.
Riches you can never keep; Jesus and an eternal inheritance you can never lose. So the question is, do you actually trust Jesus?