Teaching Sermons For Pastors and Laymen

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

By: Tom Lowe





Scripture: Matt. 19:16-22



“Almost Persuaded” is a beautiful hymn which is usually sung at revivals. Listen to the words of the 1st stanza.


         “Almost persuaded” now to believe;

“Almost persuaded” Christ to receive;

Seems now some soul to say,

“Go, Spirit, go Thy way,

Some more convenient day

on Thee I’ll call.”


Almost... It’s a sad word in anybody’s dictionary. It keeps company with expressions like “if only” and here in the South; “near ’bout.”  Almost is a word that smacks of missed opportunities and fumbled chances.


In the swimming competition which occurs every four years in the Olympics the difference between first and second must sometimes be measured in thousandths of a second. It’s the same with the running events. They come so close, they almost made it, but only the winner gets the gold medal.


Max Lucado gives us these sad statements that revolve around “almost”:

“He almost got it together.”

“We were almost able to work it out.”

“He almost made it to the big leagues.”

“I caught a catfish that was bigger than me. Well, almost!”

As they say, almost doesn’t count except in horseshoes and hand grenades.


Our Scripture lesson focuses on an “almost” kind of guy. We call him “the rich young ruler.” In terms of disciples, he was the big one that got away. He could have been the powerful establishment figure who might have won half the Jewish power structure to Jesus. One day he met Jesus and hovered on the brink of commitment. He almost claimed Jesus as the Lord of his life. But almost is not good enough.


The story of the rich young ruler is in three of the four gospels—Matthew, Mark and Luke. Each version is slightly different. We tend to blend the three into one composite story. All three tell us that the man was rich. Only Matthew mentions that he was young. Only Luke notes that he was a ruler. Mark’s Gospel tells us that the man ran up and knelt before Jesus, indicating that he was earnest and respectful.


“Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, ‘Teacher, what good things must I do to get eternal life?’” (Matthew 19:16).

The Greek word translated here as “eternal life” really means joy, fulfillment and peace with God. It is the most wanted commodity on earth, in the first or the 21st centuries. The rich young ruler had everything in the world except what he wanted most—this eternal, or abundant, life.


There is a book that tells about a Presbyterian conference that was held in Omaha. It began with a worship service. As the people entered the auditorium, they were given helium-filled balloons attached to strings. They were instructed to release those balloons at any point during the service when they felt real joy in their hearts. Because they were Presbyterian, they were not free to say, “Hallelujah! Praise the Lord!” Sometimes we Baptists have a hard time with that, too. Our problem is that we don’t want to be the first to shout “Praise the Lord!” And what if no one else says it or worse than that, what if we say it at the wrong time. It’s a real problem.


Let me get back to the conference. All through the service, balloons ascended. But when the service was over, it was discovered that one-third of the worshipers were still holding on to their balloons. They had not felt the joy. It’s sad but true. Lots of folks in churches have never felt the unique joy of knowing Christ personally.


Well, let’s continue the story of Jesus and the rich young ruler. Jesus responds to the young man by asking a strange question: “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only One who is good” (Matthew 19:17). Jesus was really asking, “Do you have a clue as to who I am?” In the Living Bible, Jesus’ question becomes this statement: “When you call me good, you are calling me God.” Jesus was gently probing to see if there was within the young man a smidgen of faith, the kind of faith that could transform his life.


You know, we are about to the end of 2015. Actually, the year is 2015 A.D. “A.D.” means in Latin Anno Domini or “in the year of our Lord.” In our secular society we usually omit the A.D. Nevertheless, all of history is divided into two parts—B.C., or before Christ, and A.D., in the year of our Lord.


Not only that, each person’s life is divided into B.C. and A.D. Until you meet Christ and receive him by faith, you are living in a B.C. world, regardless of the year.


Jesus asked the rich young ruler long ago, “Are you still living in a B.C. world? Do you have that glimmer of faith necessary to cross over into the beautiful land of Anno Domini?”


I am an old man now—73; but 64 years ago I was 9. I was no worse than other Kids my age, but I was no better either.  I don’t like to use myself as an example, however, my salvation was such a wonderful experience that I want to share it with you. 


We had a small neighborhood theater that I would attend on weekends with some of my friends.  The way home took us past a Pentecostal church known as the “Rosedale Tabernacle.”  We would do something disgraceful which showed that God and Jesus were not important to us. We would stand under their open windows and act like we were speaking in tongues—then we would run for it, hoping that we wouldn’t be caught.  We never were.  We thought we were having fun. One day in December of 1951, at nine years old, I walked into that church and sat down on the last row. I don’t know why I did it; no one in my family ever went to church. Back then, I didn’t know why I went to church, but today I know the Holy Spirit drew me into that church.  Well, I joined in the singing of hymns, listened to the special music, listened to the preacher, and I don’t think that there was anything special about any of it.  When the invitation was given, I had this tremendous urge to go to the altar.  Friends, I was “almost persuaded.”  I did get one thing out of it, a desire to go back.  The next Sunday I moved up a couple of rows and set by myself once again. I sang, I prayed, I listened, and when the invitation was given I stood up and I never hesitated—I couldn’t, because the call of the Holy Spirit too strong for me—I walked down the aisle and knelt there at the altar.  Several adults knelt beside me and I must tell you that I was terrified.  A couple of them were speaking in tongues and they all laid their hands on me. Believe me, I wanted to run out of there; but I couldn’t leave because the Holy Spirit restrained me, and He began the long process of changing me.  That’s the Sunday I received Jesus Christ as my savior.  I must’ve had a thousand wonderful experiences since then, and all are related to my personal relationship with my Jesus.  I’ll only add this: My parents never encouraged me, and before long I began to go to church less frequently, and then, not at all. It took another meeting with God at Long’s Peak, Colorado, before I came back to him. Isn’t it wonderful that He is so patient with us?


In Matthew 19:21, Jesus makes both diagnosis and prescription. Since the signs of wealth were all over this young man, Jesus suspected that his soul might be in the bank with his stocks and bonds. So Jesus said, “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.”


That gives me a slight touch of the “willies” every time I read it. What if Jesus were to tell you or me in a vision too real to deny: “Son or daughter, I want you to quit your job, sell your house, cash in your investments, and become a missionary.” I always try to be mighty gentle with the rich young ruler because I’m glad Jesus doesn’t deliver the same challenge to me.


Jesus was not saying that all persons should liquidate their material assets in order to be good disciples. When Jesus talked with another rich man named Nicodemus, He did not order him to sell off his possessions. Jesus had nothing against wealth. Money is morally neutral. It can do great good or terrible harm, depending on who is in control of it. But money is dangerous. It is the most seductive false god on earth, and more Americans go to hell because of love of money than all other sins put together.


Jesus was really saying to the rich young ruler: “You are carrying a security blanket that you rely on more than God. God will not agree to be co-champion in your tournament of favorites. That false god must be dethroned in order for you to experience the glory of God.”


Then in Matthew 19:22 we find one of the saddest statements in all of Scripture: “When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth. The young man had caught a glimpse of a magnificent, God-centered way of life. Something in the eyes and spirit of Jesus sent shivers of excitement down his spine. It was as if his whole life had been preparation for this pivotal crossroad.


But oh, the price was so high! His money had always been his magic carpet to comfort and connections and opportunities. How could he live without this familiar security blanket? So he went away sorrowful. One doesn’t have to be a psychiatrist to conclude that the young man probably became a grumpy old man, unhappy with his money, always looking back sadly to that day when, face to face with the Master, he almost became a disciple—he was “Almost Persuaded.”


Let me give you a slice of truth that you won’t hear very often in nice respectable churches like this. Not everybody here is going to hell; but everybody, including the preacher, deserves to go to hell. Why? Because all of us are sinners. Most of us don’t realize how awful sin is in the sight of our holy God. It’s cosmic treason. It’s a puny little sinner like you or me shaking his fist in the face of Almighty God, saying, “I don’t care what You command or prefer. I’m going to do what I want to. If You don’t like it, tough!”


God’s patience with us is incredible, and His grace is truly amazing. Because He loves us so much, He arranged for all of our sins and foul-ups to be transferred to the shoulders of Jesus when He died on a cross. In exchange, we can be clothed with the righteousness of Jesus. What a trade! But that gracious offer can be accepted only if we endorse it by faith. Each of us must confess our sin and trust in this risen Christ as our personal Lord and Savior.


Larry, a well-known pastor from Greenville, South Carolina, was on an airplane one day. The passenger beside him asked Larry what he did for a living. When he replied that he was a minister, an interesting conversation ensued. The man said, “I believe in God, but I don’t attend church. I don’t see why I need it. I am an honest guy, and I try to treat other people decently. One day when I die and meet God, I believe that my record will be acceptable to Him.”


Larry took a legal pad from his brief case and said, “I agree with you that God will judge all people. Let’s do some preliminary figuring on how we might stack up before God. I’m going to draw a line across the middle of this page. Let’s say that this line represents a passing grade with God. Who is the best person you can think of, the one who grades out highest with God?” The man thought for just a moment and replied, “Billy Graham.”


“Fine,” said Larry, “let’s put Billy Graham on our chart, but we must place him here where Billy Graham himself says he ought to be. Billy Graham has said repeatedly that he is a sinner who deserves to go to hell; but in fact he is going to heaven, only because Jesus paid for his sins on the cross. So, we must put Billy down here beneath the middle line.” Then Larry said, “I’m going to put my own name on this chart well beneath Billy Graham’s name. Like Billy, I’m a sinner whose only hope is the cross.”


Larry noticed that his new friend had suddenly become strangely quiet, perhaps anticipating the next question.

Larry turned to him and asked, “Brother, where should we put you on the chart? You don’t want to be ranked above Billy Graham, do you?”

After a considerable pause, the man replied, “You have certainly given me food for thought.” "Almost persuaded"!

Today is a day of decision and commitment. Don’t be like the rich young ruler who was “almost persuaded.” He walked away from the best offer on earth, and his life thereafter was a tale of sorrow. Today is a wonderful time to become a forgiven, redeemed child of God!


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