Good Morning Calvary. My name is Dan Sadowski and I serve on the teaching team of this church.
I would like to start by asking you this question: have you ever felt a spiritual hunger in your inner self? In your relationship with God have you ever felt a longing for something more, something deeper?
So, we are going to talk about this today as we continue our teaching series in Matthew, “An Invitation to the Kingdom”. We are going to look at an encounter between Jesus and a young man who was experiencing spiritual discontent. My hope today is that by the end of this teaching you will grasp the Christ-centred way of working through this common spiritual state.
Matthew Chapter 19:16-26
Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”
“Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.”
“Which ones?” he inquired.
Jesus replied, “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother, and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’”
“All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”
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.”
When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you; it is hard for someone who is rich to 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 someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?”
Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
So, Jesus meets this young man. What do we know about him? We see that he was young and he was rich, as opposed to old and rich. Somehow he had aquired wealth at a young age. We also learn in Luke’s parallel description of this encounter that the man was also a ruler in the Synagogue; he was a leader, he commanded respect from others. This is a man who had his life together. He was devout, he followed all the commandments. But despite all of his wealth, for all of his moral excellence, there is something missing in his life: This man was aware of a spiritual hunger.
So, what does he do with that? Well, he does one thing right, he brings it to Jesus. But then he asks Jesus two questions that reveal a dysfunctional understanding of what it means to follow after God.
The first question he asks Jesus is what good thing must I do to gain eternal life? What must I do now? This question reveals a religious or a performance-oriented spirituality. This young man had an assumption that following God means doing the right things. That the almighty God is someone who has to be pleased and appeased in order to be granted eternal life. The reality is that as flawed human beings we can never do enough of the right thing to please God. To demonstrate this to the young man Jesus engages in a bit of a back and forth conversation with him about following the Ten Commandments.
Here is where the young man asks his second question. “I have kept all the commandments” the young man said. “What do I still lack?” I am doing all the right things Jesus, but what is the one thing I still need to add so that my life is complete? I am so close Jesus, what is the one last ingredient I need to add to my spiritual mix to be fulfilled? Here is where Jesus brings spiritual reality home to this young man. So, you think you are following the commandments? How about if we just start with the first one which says “You shall have no other God’s before me”. That is there are to be no idols in your life. What about your wealth? Is that an idol for you? Why don’t you give your money and possessions away and then come follow me?
Here is what Jesus is saying to this young man. The Kingdom of God—the way of Jesus—is not something that you add to your life. It is not one more part of an already busy, crowded life. The way of Jesus is your life. When Jesus gave him an invitation to join this Kingdom—by giving away everything He owned—the young man turned away, sad, because there was something in his life that meant more to him that God.
Did you notice the reaction of the disciples as they see this young man walk away from the Kingdom invitation? Verse 25 says, “they were greatly astonished and asked, ‘Who then can be saved?'” Perhaps you are feeling the same way after hearing this brief story. This man was so together. He was a leader in his religious community, he was morally excellent, and he also had a hunger for more of God. Is that not the right posture we need when we come to God? I think that this is the point of this whole story: that having it all together, being a good person through and through, is actually not that important to Jesus when we come to Him.
So, what is important then? How do we respond to these feelings of spiritual yearning, a sense that something is missing in our walk with God?
Earlier this morning, I was trying to find words to describe what this feels like. It’s not really an emotion is it. To me, I would use words like “yearning” or “longing”, sometimes a sense of incompleteness or wanting more, sometimes a feeling of distance from God.
Can we all be honest with ourselves and with each other right now? Can we acknowledge that we experience these feelings frequently? Perhaps you actually feel guilty about this, you are in some way failing God and that He is displeased with you.
Can I lay that fallacy to rest for you right now? Because Holy discontentment—wanting more of God in your life—is actually normal. Just read the Psalms and you will see. Being aware of spiritual hunger is actually part of a vibrant spiritual life. It is the essential work of the Holy Spirit in you.
My prayer for you it that you experience more hunger for God in the days to come. That this hunger will begin to extend beyond yourself and will flow into a desire to see God at work in your family, friends, and people in your life. That you would ache and yearn for renewal and revival in our church and in our city. That you would long to see God bring healing and justice to the hurting and oppressed.
This is what spiritual hunger looks like. Rather than try to avoid it and cover it up I encourage you to foster it, to become more aware if its presence in your life. But let’s avoid the pitfalls and traps that we can fall into here. But how do we do that?
First, we must avoid the “what must I do now” mentality. The dysfunctional response it to get busy with something, to cram our heads with self-help books or the latest podcasts and online sermons from amazing preachers. Not that these things are bad in themselves—they can be useful tools to deepen our relationship with Jesus—but the danger is that we only gain information about Jesus not relationship with Him. It’s the equivalent of spiritual self-medicating. We replace time spent with Jesus in prayer and in His Word with activities that are only peripheral to our walk with him. As Tim Keller said, “Following Jesus is not something you do it is something you receive.” We receive our relationship with Him as an act of His grace in our lives. As Rusty said last week, we belong to God as His children well before we become like Him. In fact, we are becoming people. Spiritual hunger is part of the becoming process. As we become more like Jesus we experience more of His power and presence in our lives.
Secondly, spiritual hunger is an invitation to worship God with your whole life not just add Him as part of it. What do I mean by that? Well, let’s go back to the story: what was the barrier for this young man in following Jesus? It was that he could not follow the first commandment. He was worshiping something else (his wealth) rather than God. He had an idol in his life. What is idolatry? To quote Tim Keller again, idolatry is turning a good thing into an ultimate thing. It is taking something like wealth, security, entertainment, your reputation, social causes, and worshiping them and serving them more than God. You cannot fulfill spiritual hunger if you have idols in your life. Spiritual hunger might be a sign that you and Jesus have some work to do here.
Can I speak frankly here? Sometimes I think that we have been guilty of teaching and modelling a compartmentalized gospel. That following Jesus is something that we add to an already full life. It is taking time to pray occasionally, showing up to church and home group once in a while. It’s like one more app on our phones that we can click on whenever we are anxious or lonely. This is not the kind of Kingdom life that Jesus is preaching here.
The Kingdom of God is intended to be all-encompassing, infiltrating every nook and cranny of your life, not just the most important thing in your life, it is the only thing in your life.
I hope that you have picked up on this as we have gone through the book of Matthew. Some examples to refresh your memory:
- The parable of the treasure hidden in the field (Ingrid spoke on this back in July) where the man sold everything he had to gain the treasure of the Kingdom.
- Or Parables of the Mustard seed, the yeast and the dough (Cheryl spoke on this also in July), where the Kingdom of God is intended to permeate and saturate every aspect of life.
This is the kind of life that Jesus is inviting us to. This is the kind of life that we are hungering for in the depths of our being. It is the kind of life that is spent in worship of God and God alone.
So, let me say it again, spiritual hunger is an invitation to worship God with your whole life not just add Him as part of it.
When you feel like something is missing in your spiritual life, in your relationship with God, this is a good thing; this is part of the process of becoming a child of God. The proper response is to come to Jesus who will send the Holy Spirit to examine your heart and bring conviction to the areas of your life that are not in alignment with worship of the Living God.
I don’t know about you, but to me this kind of sounds like a big task. What if Jesus asks me to do something really hard like he did this young man? But I just love how this chapter ends: “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
It actually isn’t up to you. Your response is to bring it to Jesus, and it is His working in our lives to help us rightly order our priorities and the things that we worship.
And so, Calvary. If you are feeling a bit dry today, or spiritually restless, or perhaps a bit burned out or wounded, there is hope today. This is the work of the Holy Spirit in your life, inviting you into a deeper life with Jesus in the Kingdom of God.
As I close here are two questions to reflect on either by yourself or with your family or others who are with you today:
- In what ways this week have I been doing rather than being with Jesus?
- What are the things that Jesus is pointing to in my life that I need to give up and give away so that I may worship Him alone?
May God bless you today and this week as you seek to follow Jesus and live as Kingdom people.