A close friend of mine made a startling discovery recently. During a project to clean up some old personal records and outdated documents, she found an envelope that contained a Certificate of Deposit worth several thousand dollars that she had bought several decades ago. In the intervening years, she had gone through a series of major life changes, including residential moves, career changes, the loss of a sibling and both parents, and assorted relational and family crises. During that time, records were shuffled around and the CD became just another nondescript envelope in an obscure file box tucked away out of sight, out of mind, and basically forgotten. It’s not hard to imagine her excitement when after all those years, in the midst of shredding old, inactive documents, she discovered the CD.
A Second Startling Discovery ~
Unfortunately, her joy was interrupted by a second startling discovery later that day. The Savings & Loan that distributed the certificate had gone out of business over 20 years ago, and no vestige of the original company remained. Calls to other banks in the small town where the CD was purchased led nowhere. She couldn’t find anyone who knew who had taken over the institution’s assets when they closed their doors. Earlier excitement over the discovery of her forgotten treasure turned to frustration and regret.
A parade of phone calls and futile conversations with a variety of banking officials eventually led her to the very impressive-sounding Federal Office of the Comptroller of the Currency where she learned that they didn’t have her money either. She was told that she could file a claim, but her quest could very likely end up at the State Department of Unclaimed Money, an agency she never knew existed. It’s apparently a “catch-all” place where all kinds of unclaimed items ends up. Hers isn’t the only situation where valuable items have gone unclaimed by their valid owners. The money was real, and legitimately hers, but she failed to claim it when access was available and easy. Now she will very likely never see it at all. Sometimes treasure unclaimed is treasure lost forever.
A Burning Question ~
Sometimes treasures are left unclaimed by accident, as in the case above, but other times they are willingly abandoned, sacrificed in favor of something deemed more desirable. Jesus witnessed at least one such example. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record the episode (Matt. 19:16-22; Mark 10:17-22; Luke 18:18-23) and taken together, they create a composite picture of the person involved. Matthew calls him a young man (Matt. 19:22, NKJV), which in that culture meant someone under 40. Luke describes him as a certain ruler (Luke 18:18), indicating that he was a religious or civic authority of some sort, and Mark adds a tone of urgency to the scene by telling us that he came running (Mark 10:17) to Jesus and knelt before Him. Having gotten Jesus’ attention, he delivered the burning question that prompted his coming. Good Teacher, he said, What good thing shall I do that I may have [or inherit] eternal life? (Luke 18:18). There is no question more profoundly significant nor universally relevant and no one more qualified to give an authoritative answer than the One before whom he knelt.
A Foundational Misconception ~
Neither the man’s religious performance, nor his position, nor his wealth had afforded any confidence that he had earned God’s approval. There was a foundational misconception about eternal life that was revealed in his question, What good thing must I do? He viewed eternal life as a reward earned by personal effort. That erroneous notion was based on a superficial, ritualistic approach to God’s Law which resulted in a trivialized concept of sin. Jesus began to address those issues by answering the man’s question with another question. Why do you call me ‘good’? He asked. If Jesus was, indeed “good,” as the seeker’s greeting declared, then He must also be God, because there is no genuine, unblemished goodness to be found apart from Him, and thus doing a good thing to earn God’s favor would be impossible without Him.
Jesus continued His response by suggesting that he keep the Commandments. When asked which ones, Jesus offered a representative sampling. The man affirmed that he had kept them all since his childhood, but His presence at Jesus’ feet was evidence that his efforts to keep the rules had failed to produce what he wanted. Jesus was prepared to give him much more than the life he came seeking, but claiming the treasure demanded a decision.
It’s a paradoxical situation. The man was looking for something that the combined wealth of the world couldn’t acquire, yet when forced to decide whether it was worth the possessions he had accumulated, he was stymied by his love for possessions he would not be able to keep.
The Answer Emerges ~
The answer to the man’s question was not found in the directive to give his wealth to the poor. It was answered when Jesus said, Come, follow Me. Eternal life is not achieved through altruism or any other human effort. That command was simply a means of removing an obstacle to saving faith. Eternal life isn’t a reward for efforts exerted. John said it with profound clarity:
And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. 1 John 5:11-12 (NKJV)
Eternal life is offered as an exchange. Jesus offers hopeless sinners His sinless life and perfect moral record, but He takes ownership of all their failures in its place. He offers adoption into the royal family in Heaven and all the treasures it represents, but takes ownership of our treasures in its place. Claiming the treasure He offers demands relinquishing independent authority over ours. The young man whom Jesus loved and tried to help, turned down the greatest offer ever made to cling to possessions that he couldn’t take with him. Mark closes out the story with tragic simplicity.
But he was sad at this word, and went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. Mark 10:22 (NKJV)
Jesus offers the same treasure to us today as he offered then, and we have the same decision to make regarding the possessions we treasure. He may not direct you to give all you have to the poor, but it’s a winning proposition even if He does. So if your treasure in Christ is still unclaimed, don’t let the world’s demands distract you until it’s too late. Sometimes a treasure unclaimed truly is a treasure lost forever.
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- “Eternal life is offered as an exchange. Jesus offers hopeless sinners His sinless life and perfect moral record, and takes ownership of their failures in its place.”@GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
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