Luke 18:23

“And when he heard this,
he was very sorrowful:
for he was very rich.”

~ Luke 18:23

Matthew, Mark, and Luke each relay an account of the exchange between the rich young ruler and Jesus. They each gauged his reaction to Jesus’ words the same way:

“he went away sorrowful” (Matthew 19:22)

“he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved” (Mark 10:22)

“he was very sorrowful” (Luke 18:23)

His reaction is interesting, but to see why, we need to flesh out his character from the accounts. The most obvious fact about him is his wealth. Matthew and Mark reported that “he had great possessions.” Luke added that “he was very rich.” The words here indicate an abundance of possessions, meaning the number of them was a great number. He owned many more things than the average person in his community.

The next fact is that he was a man of morality and integrity, or at least appeared to be. He seemed to have a good reputation, which is not exactly the same as being worthy of the reputation. He responded to Jesus’ statement of the commandments by saying he had kept them from his “youth.” I believe it’s safe to conclude he probably lived a careful life concerning the laws and customs of the Jews, though he missed the point of Jesus’ words. Nevertheless, he had a good standing among the people of his day.

Luke reports the next fact that this man was a “ruler” (Luke 18:18). The word indicates a magistrate. He was a ruler among the Jews, some sort of civil magistrate. In addition to his wealth and good standing, he had power and influence. The people honored him. He was a public figure.

Matthew adds to his profile that he was a “young man” (Matthew 19:20). It is hard to put an exact age on him. Given his accomplishments, he was at least an adult. His reference to his youth in response to Jesus was probably a reference to his early childhood. To our modern way of thinking, we would put him somewhere between 18 to 35 years old. That’s probably not a bad assumption.

The importance is not in his exact age but in the fact he was young. With a normal life expectancy, he had many, many years ahead of him, and many years of health and strength. Jesus was not telling an old man to sell his stuff and give Him the last couple of years remaining of his life. He was telling a young man to do this, and it grieved him to hear it.

Now we come back to his reaction. He was sad, sorrowful. The words indicate a great sorrow, an exceeding or heavy grief. This man was deeply saddened by Jesus’ words. His reaction is very interesting when you consider the alternatives. Why was he not angered? Why was he not offended, or insulted? Why was he sad?

He could have stormed off thinking that Jesus really was mad and didn’t know what He was talking about. He could have thought to himself, “How dare Jesus try to tell me how to live my life. Who does He think He is? Who does He think He is talking to?” He could have thought Jesus had publicly humiliated him by suggesting he was not “perfect.” It could have been an affront to him for Jesus to tell him to give up everything and become a poor, wayfaring disciple. Instead of any of that, he was sad. Why?

Sorrow was an appropriate response if his request was genuine. If he only wanted praise from Jesus for his assumed perfection, he would have been very angry and insulted by Jesus’ words. If he was only curious, it could have been possible that he would have been indifferent to Jesus’ words. If he was being deceptive in hopes of humiliating or exposing Jesus as a false teacher, he would have been angered by what happened. If, on the other hand, he did have a sense that something was missing and truly wanted to know the way to eternal life, sorrow was appropriate. He was sad that he could not do what had to be done to gain what he truly desired.

I believe the young ruler was sincere and there are a few reasons for that in the text. We can find sincerity when we take the account as a whole and then look at some of the parts. Mark wrote of how this man came “running, and kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life” (Mark 10:17). His approach suggests an urgency that is consistent with sincerity. He knelt before Jesus and addressed him very respectfully with his question. It could be supposed that he was mocking or even just being courteous, but when kept in context, his manner suggests genuineness.

Another indicator of his sincerity is how Jesus responded to him. Mark wrote, “Then Jesus beholding him loved him” (Mark 10:21). I cannot think of any time in the Gospels that this is said of Jesus about the rulers, Pharisees, or Sadducees that came to Him with sinister motives. His manner and words were pointed, harsh, and enigmatic. Jesus had compassion on this young ruler.

The other indicator is the young man’s reaction. It was the very words of Jesus that brought sorrow and heaviness to him:

“But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful” (Matthew 19:22)

“And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved” (Mark 10:22)

“And when he heard this, he was very sorrowful” (Luke 18:23)

He was grieved that eternal life would cost more than he could pay. It saddened him that eternal life would not be his because he could not do what was required. His sorrow reveals that he believed Jesus and he was wounded by what He said. Of himself, he could not pay the cost.

Men of the world will give up everything and suffer much to buy a few more moments of life on this corrupted, painful earth, but they will not do the same for eternal life. They gain the whole world and lose their soul. They save their life and find they have lost it.

This man had won life’s lottery. He was rich. Most men would choose riches if they could have nothing else. He was also powerful. He was also young. Men are striving, grasping, and selling their soul today to be in the same position. Some few get there and cannot let go their idols. But multitudes more are nowhere near this man’s status and yet they don’t find it any easier to turn from their idols to the living God.

We don’t know what became of this man, but it is a hopeful sign that he was grieved. He discovered the paradox of eternal life—it cannot be bought and paid for like a commodity, yet it comes with a great cost. When Jesus afterward spoke of the difficulty of rich men going to Heaven, He explained that He meant it was “impossible” (Matthew 19:26; Mark 10:27; Luke 18:27). It is only by the grace and power of God that our hearts can be turned to the true treasure of Heaven and earth—Jesus Christ.

2 Corinthians 4:17

“For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory”
~ 2 Corinthians 4:17

This verse seems paradoxical to life. While it ends on a high note of glory, it is eclipsed by the dissonant chord in the beginning. To read of a “light affliction” that is only “for a moment” is difficult for many who have suffered or are suffering in significant ways. Why? Because their suffering doesn’t feel light and it doesn’t seem momentary.

You might be tempted to roll your eyes at Paul as though he were a fifteen-year-old prattling about the hardships of life. The earlier part of the fourth chapter is sufficient to disabuse us of any notion that Paul does not know suffering. He wrote:

We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed
~ 2 Corinthians 4:8-9

A brief survey of his life reveals many afflictions:

But in all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God, in much patience, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses, In stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labours, in watchings, in fastings; By pureness, by knowledge, by longsuffering, by kindness, by the Holy Ghost, by love unfeigned, By the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armour of righteousness on the right hand and on the left, By honour and dishonour, by evil report and good report: as deceivers, and yet true; As unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and, behold, we live; as chastened, and not killed; As sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.
~ 2 Corinthians 6:4-10

For, when we were come into Macedonia, our flesh had no rest, but we were troubled on every side; without were fightings, within were fears.
~ 2 Corinthians 7:5

Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches.
~ 2 Corinthians 11:24-28

When we put the words of our text against the background of Paul’s life, we cannot think that he did not know what he was talking about from experience. He walked through the valley of the shadow of death and he also found comfort in the rod and staff of the Shepherd.

Two juxtapositions give us our perspective. The first is our “light affliction” compared with the “weight of glory.” This isn’t levity nor is it a denial of the severity of afflictions human suffer. Even the sharpest affliction is but light in comparison to future glory. Paul wrote in Romans 8:18: “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” There is no unit of measure that compare the two and that future glory is such a weight that afflictions are hardly a feather when compared.
The second is the “moment” of afflictions compared with the “eternal” glory that awaits. What are a few years in light of eternity? Even if we suffer our entire life, it is but a moment in light of eternity. The Bible consistently reminds us how short life is. The span of our suffering does not merit a blip on the timeline of eternity.

Our suffering is a light moment. That does not mean it isn’t real or painful. It does mean that there is an end to our suffering—a final, forever end.

The two ends of the verse are joined in the middle by working. The affliction is neither random nor pointless. It is not some sort of hazing on our way to eternity. The affliction that comes to us from the hand of our loving Father is working glory in us and for us. It is sanctifying.

Before we close, let me touch on an objection. I just said that our affliction comes from the hand of God. This is exasperating to some. How can such a thing be? A lengthy defense could be provided, but rather let us look at an example. The great affliction of Jesus was from the hand of His Father.

“For of a truth against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together, For to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done.”
~ Acts 4:27-28

Christ’s death was from the hand and counsel of God. It was the fulfillment of His will and He permitted that cruel slaughter by evil men. Christ knew this as He told His disciples that this was the reason He had come into the world (John 12:27). Christ accepted the affliction, knew it was momentary, and knew it was accomplishing a greater good.

“Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
~ Hebrews 12:2

2 Chronicles 12:7-8

“And when the LORD saw that they humbled themselves, the word of the LORD came to Shemaiah, saying, They have humbled themselves; therefore I will not destroy them, but I will grant them some deliverance; and my wrath shall not be poured out upon Jerusalem by the hand of Shishak. Nevertheless they shall be his servants; that they may know my service, and the service of the kingdoms of the countries.”
~ 2 Chronicles 12:7-8

Rehoboam had thought to lead Judah and Benjamin to war against Jeroboam and Israel. He had gathered an army for that purpose and was prepared to strike. Then God sent Shemaiah, His prophet, to tell Rehoboam not to go up against their brothers. Rehoboam obeyed the Word of God and a three year revival began. The kingdom of Judah was strengthened, Rehoboam was strengthened, and they walked in God’s way.

Chapter twelve begins with the sad report: “And it came to pass, when Rehoboam had established the kingdom, and had strengthened himself, he forsook the law of the LORD, and all Israel with him” (verse 1). After the Lord blessed them remarkably, they left off from God’s Word to go their own way. In God’s purpose, He sent the king of Egypt up against Judah, “because they had transgressed against the LORD” (verse 2). Shishak captured the fenced cities of Judah on his march to Jerusalem.

With an innumerable host arrayed against them, Rehoboam was holed up in Jerusalem with the princes of Judah in council together. Shemaiah came once again to them with the Word of the Lord: “Thus saith the LORD, Ye have forsaken me, and therefore have I also left you in the hand of Shishak” (verse 5). At this word, Rehoboam and the princes humbled themselves in repentance and made the only right confession: “The LORD is righteous” (verse 6). The Lord would not allow Shishak to destroy them because they had humbled themselves before Him.

We could draw a number of lessons from chapters eleven and twelve, but we will confine ourselves to one in particular for this devotion. The thoughts are provoked from part of God’s response in our text: “Therefore I will not destroy them, but I will grant them some deliverance” (verse 7). God said He would prevent their destruction, but He would only grant them some deliverance. God did not sweep away the Egyptians but rather allowed them to bring Judah under tribute and into service to the king of Egypt. Though He received their repentance, He still chastened them.

This brings us to what we want to consider in this event—the sovereignty of God and the consequences of wrong choices. Let’s consider a brief summary of this account:

  • Rehoboam and company made a wrong choice—to fight against Israel.
  • The Lord warned them about it—He sent Shemaiah with His Word.
  • They obeyed—chose the right course.
  • The Lord blessed them—three years of prosperity.
  • Rehoboam and company made a wrong choice—forsook God’s Word.
  • The Lord chastened them—sent Shishak against them and he took their cities.
  • The Lord rebuked them—He sent Shemaiah with His Word.
  • They were convicted and humbled themselves—confessed the Lord’s judgment against them was right.
  • The Lord delivered them from destruction—restrained Shishak.
  • The Lord yet chastened them to teach them—brought under tribute to Egypt.
  • Things worked out in the end—in Judah things went well.

There is a way of reading these events and jumping to the end with an erroneous conclusion:

Well, everything worked out well in the end and it really doesn’t matter what happened before that.

God is sovereign. He will work everything out to His glory.

No matter what, what is done is what God intended to be done.

Though many would not put it in those exact terms, the practical application of this misunderstanding of God’s sovereignty is not uncommon among those who most profess to believe it. Though there may be some grains of truth in those statements, they exude flippancy and fall far short of our responsibility before God. Quite often, they merely mask our desire to do what we want or they cover up our refusal to do the hard work of finding direction in God’s Word.

It is tempting to expand on this subject, but I want to stick to the main point. We need to learn the lesson of Rehoboam: We are responsible for what we do and there are consequences for doing the wrong things. Their impending destruction was abated but God yet chastened them with service to Egypt. God had warned of this chastisement before:

    Because thou servedst not the LORD thy God with joyfulness, and with gladness of heart, for the abundance of all things; Therefore shalt thou serve thine enemies which the LORD shall send against thee, in hunger, and in thirst, and in nakedness, and in want of all things: and he shall put a yoke of iron upon thy neck, until he have destroyed thee. (Deuteronomy 28:47-48)

All decisions do not have the same significance in our lives, the lives of others, or the life of the church. Some are small, near trivial, and some are profoundly important. Of course, wisdom is required to discern the difference. But all decisions should be submitted to the lordship of Christ. The desire of the regenerate heart is to “do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).

In His Word and in His Spirit, God has given us everything we need to live godly in this present world (2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:3; Psalm 119:105; Proverbs 6:23; Psalm 1:1-6; John 16:13; 1 Corinthians 2:14). Let us ever seek His face and never abuse His sovereignty to justify our laziness, selfishness, ignorance, pride, or rebellion. If we seek our own way, God may well deliver us into the hands of our enemies to learn better to see, love, and seek His service.

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