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Lesson 8: With the Rich and Famous *

Introduction: Money is a tricky thing. In the last few weeks I've referred to Deuteronomy 28, which teaches that those who follow God's commands will be materially blessed. It was this rule of life that caused Job's friends to argue that his loss of wealth and other problems were due to Job's failure to obey God. Even Job believed this, for in Job 31 he recounted his obedience and demanded a hearing in which God would have to answer him. On the other hand, in Matthew 19:24 Jesus equates money with an inability to get into heaven. How can obedience lead to wealth, but then wealth keeps you out of heaven? Let's jump into our study of the Bible and see what we can learn!

  1. Rich Ruler

    1. Read Matthew 19:16-17. If someone asked you this question, how would you respond? (I would say "There is nothing good you can do to enter heaven. Instead, you must rely on what Jesus did on your behalf.")

      1. What did Jesus answer? (I think Jesus said essentially the same thing - only God is good so don't ask me what good thing you can do.)

      2. Some translations say, "Good Master" or "Good Teacher," but the majority of those I consulted do not include "good" to describe Jesus. The problem with translating this as "Good Master" is that Jesus seems to respond that only God is good and He (Jesus) is not God. What problem does that present? (Jesus is God! The way the NIV, and many others, translate this is consistent with the general teaching of the Bible on the Trinity.)

      3. Notice that notwithstanding what I just wrote, Jesus clearly says, "Keep the commandments." Should it be our goal to keep the commandments? (Yes, of course.)

    2. Read Matthew 19:18-19. Consider Jesus' list of commandments. What is odd about them? (Jesus only lists our obligations to others. He does not list any of our obligations to God.)

      1. The rich ruler's question assumes that keeping some of the commandments is sufficient, and Jesus replies with a partial list. Is keeping part of the commandments good enough? ( James 2:10-11 tells us that violating one commandment is a violation of them all.)

    3. Read Matthew 19:20-21. Is this the key to heaven? Selling our goods and giving them to the poor makes us perfect?

    4. Read Matthew 19:22-25. I know why I'm astonished by Jesus' conversation with the rich ruler, why are the disciples "exceedingly amazed?" (They had the Deuteronomy 28 understanding of things - this young fellow was blessed because he was good. In addition, the rich ruler said he had been obedient.)

    5. Read Matthew 19:26. Finally, we get to an answer from Jesus that seems to fit the rest of the Bible. Let's consider a series of questions:

      1. What was the consistent thinking of the rich ruler? (That obedience would give him heaven -- and he had been obedient.)

      2. What do we ultimately learn about the rich ruler? (That he could not (or did not) obey. He was unwilling to sell all that he had.)

      3. Is it possible that with His questions Jesus was "playing along" with the rich ruler in order for the rich ruler to see the truth - that he could not work his way into heaven?

      4. If Jesus was "playing along," why didn't He say to the rich ruler, "I was just kidding you, the key to heaven is grace, there is nothing you can do to be saved - including giving away your money or your life?" (Read 1 Corinthians 13:3 and compare.)

    6. Re-read Matthew 19:23-24. This hardly sounds like Jesus is kidding about money being a problem. What do you think Jesus means? Is there one theme in this entire dialog? (Jesus' conclusion ( Matthew 19:26) is that salvation is impossible for men, but possible through God. If we work back from that, we see that this rich ruler depended first on his works and second on his wealth. These were things within his power. Jesus showed the rich ruler he was wrong about his works, and Jesus shows us that the ruler was dependent on his money.)

      1. On what should the rich ruler depend? (God!)

        1. If that is true, was giving away his money about helping the poor or about saving the rich ruler? (It was all about the rich ruler. The question was whether he would trust God or his money. He decided to trust his money.)

    7. Read Matthew 19:27-28. Peter and the disciples say they have left everything and followed Jesus. What does Jesus say the disciples will have? Things? (No. Power.)

    8. Read Matthew 19:29. I see two things on this list that represent wealth - houses and fields. Does it seem that this is a discussion of money? (No! This is about putting God first. Depending on God.)

      1. Let me ask you again, why is it hard for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of Heaven? (This is about grace and dependance. We cannot depend on our works. We cannot depend on our money. We cannot depend upon family. We must depend only upon God.)

  2. Nicodemus

    1. Read John 3:1. What do we learn about Nicodemus? (He was a man of influence. In the past I've read extra-Biblical sources that indicate that the House of Nicodemus was one of the richest.)

    2. Read John 3:2. I think Nicodemus intended to compliment Jesus. If you were Jesus, would you be complimented? (No. Nicodemus comes at night, which makes it appear he does not want to be seen with Jesus. He says Jesus is a teacher, he does not acknowledge that He is the Messiah.)

    3. Read John 3:3. Has Jesus dispensed with the "small talk?" (Yes. He gets right to the point.)

    4. Read John 3:4-10. Nicodemus comes with what he thought were compliments. Is Jesus complimenting Nicodemus? (No!)

      1. What does this teach us about dealing with the rich and powerful? (Jesus shares truth with Nicodemus, but He is not compromising truth to get Nicodemus to endorse Him.)

    5. Read John 3:11. Is "you people" a compliment? Who, exactly, is "you people? (Probably the rich and powerful leaders.)

    6. Read John 3:12-15. We discussed earlier the issue about Jesus denying that He was God. What does Jesus say here about His divinity? (He says that He "came from heaven.")

      1. Unlike the rich ruler, we are not given Nicodemus' final reaction to this discussion. What does Jesus say that indicates Nicodemus was probably thinking about whether he would accept Jesus as the Messiah? (Jesus predicts exactly how He will die. This was powerful proof to Nicodemus.)

    7. Read John 7:50 and John 19:38-40. What did Nicodemus ultimately decide about Jesus? (We see that Nicodemus spoke against Jesus' arrest and that he helped claim Jesus' body and prepared it for burial.)

    8. Let's get back to Jesus' final statements in the interview with Nicodemus. Read John 3:16-18. What is the standard for the judgment? (Belief. If you do not believe in Jesus, you are "condemned already." The "already" suggests that our works do not earn salvation. If you don't believe, we don't need to get into the issue of your works.)

    9. Read John 3:19-21. Is there a connection between belief in Jesus and works? (If you do evil, you love darkness. If you live by the truth, you love the light because your works have "been done through God.")

  3. Attitude

    1. Read Luke 16:13-15 and Deuteronomy 8:17-18. What are some major attitude issues for those who are rich? (A superior attitude. First, the attitude that they are responsible for their wealth, and second, an attitude of devotion to wealth.)

      1. How does that fit into the two stories we studied: the rich ruler and Nicodemus? (The rich ruler was looking for an affirmation of his righteousness. Nicodemus, was offended when Jesus told him that he needed to do something different to be saved.)

      2. Do you have to be rich to love money? (No. Some love money (and are covetous of the rich) because they don't have any. They, too, are devoted to money.)

    2. When Jesus says in Matthew 19:23 that it is hard for a rich man (woman) to enter Heaven, what do you now think He meant? (Getting into heaven turns on grace, dependence on God. Wealthy people often have the attitude of self-dependence. The two attitudes are in tension.)

    3. Friend, what is your attitude towards money? Do you depend on it? Why not commit today to depending on God - whether for salvation or for your daily needs?

  4. Next week: Discipling the Powerful.
* Copr. 2014, Bruce N. Cameron, J.D. All scripture references are to the New International Version (NIV), copr. 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society, unless otherwise noted. Quotations from the NIV are used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers. Suggested answers are found within parentheses. The lesson assumes the teacher uses a blackboard or some other visual aid.

© 2021 Bruce N. Cameron, J.D.
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