In Tim Keller’s book, Counterfeit Gods, he describes the ways that we put other areas of our life in the role of ‘god of our lives.’ Though the handmade idols that the Israelites worshipped – like the Baals and Golden Calves – may not exist anymore, idolatry is still very present in our modern day life. Keller describes how we, as humans, have a tendency to make good things god things, and consequently, we allow those things to turn our focus away from God. Sex, marriage, money, wealth, (self-)righteousness, and status can all be good things, but these things cannot be the ultimate thing.
In today’s passage, we meet the Pharisees who were trying to trip Jesus up with a question about divorce. They wanted to know if Jesus was going to contradict the law of Moses by saying that divorce was not legal. After Jesus responded that divorce should not happen outside of sexual immorality, the disciples were amazed and said, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry” (v. 10). Jesus agrees with them in v. 12 when he talks about the eunuchs who chose to live that way for the sake of the Kingdom.
Then, later on in Matthew 19, a rich young ruler comes and asks Jesus what rule he needs to follow to get eternal life. Jesus tells him the thing that he needs to do is give his possessions to the poor. He “went away sad, because he had great wealth” (v. 22). When Jesus tells his disciples that it is incredibly difficult for a rich man to enter the Kingdom, they are amazed and asked “Who can be saved?” (v. 25). Jesus responds in v. 26, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
In Matthew 19, Jesus focuses on 3 areas of life, and in each case, he shows the disciples that they need to obediently follow what God says, despite how contrary it looks to the world. These 3 areas of life can be areas where we all easily fall into idolatry. They are good things – but they cannot be the ultimate thing. These things cannot be our god, but we try to put them in that place.
The pharisees (and the rich young ruler) struggle with self-righteousness. They wanted to be good enough to be their own god – so that in effect, they wouldn’t actually need God. Though no one in the story seemed to struggle with marriage and sex, the question the Pharisees asked brings up this next idol that so many people make an ultimate thing. Both of these marriage and sex are created by God, but so often, we do not act with obedience to God’s word in these areas, and we step out of God’s design for us. By doing so, we are making these things an idol. The last area is money and wealth. The rich young ruler had so much wealth that he went away grieving. We don’t know if he made the choice to act with obedience to what Jesus commanded him to do, or if he decided that his wealth was too important to him to follow Jesus and ‘enter life.’ What we do know is that he mourned for his wealth. The disciples were amazed that Jesus spoke so harshly of wealthy people. In a culture that values money and possessions (like our own), the pursuit of wealth always seems like a good thing. However, like we’ve read this past week in the book of Luke, money can become an idol in our life, and the Bible says plainly that we cannot serve two masters: God and money (Matt. 6:24).
When it’s so easy to fall into idolatry, who then can be saved? Jesus reassures us that “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” If you find yourself in a place of idolatry – putting good things in the place of the ultimate thing, turn back to God. He is the one with whom all things are possible.
~ Cayce Fletcher
Tomorrow, we will read Matthew 20-21.