Well, it’s that time of the year again; the lights are hung, the malls are full, and Christians are deciding they should probably take their faith seriously again. But how to go about it? Should I get an advent calendar with Bible verses instead of chocolates? Maybe a good Christmas themed devotional with a cool winter scene on the outside and warm spiritual truths on the inside? But before we get to the “what” to do when we approach Jesus we should start with the “how” to approach Jesus. Or, in this case, how not to approach Jesus.
In Luke 18 we read the story of a rich ruler who came to Jesus asking how to inherit eternal life. By all accounts this wealthy, well-liked, and moral young man was a seemingly perfect candidate for heaven. Why did he leave sad after talking with Jesus? The problem is how he came to Jesus and what he was seeking. How he approached Jesus influenced what he experienced afterwards.
The rich ruler came to Jesus full instead of empty. In this short story of the rich ruler we learn only a few things about the man. He had wealth, he was respected by people, and he had a moral resume Mother Theresa would be jealous of. When he came to Jesus he was already full of things from this world. Why does this make it hard to approach Jesus? Wouldn’t his morality, especially, make it easier to approach him? It’s because he was holding onto these things so tightly. He wasn’t willing to give up his riches to follow Jesus which shows that ultimately he didn’t want Jesus himself. He wanted to keep his riches, his status, and his morality and for Jesus to accept him like that.
Another man, Paul, who had an even greater resume than this rich ruler, later wrote that he counted it all “as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 4:8) Why would he count good things as loss? Because they prevented him from coming to Jesus feeling empty. Having wealth makes it hard to desire Jesus’ provision. Having status makes it hard to desire Jesus’ acceptance. Having morality makes it hard to desire Jesus’ grace. If you are already full why would you need Jesus?
Jesus wants us to approach in emptiness. We need to acknowledge our great need of Jesus before we can truly come to him. Approaching Jesus when we’re full tells him that we don’t need him. The truth is that we are empty people. We don’t have enough wealth, status, or morality to make it close to earning Jesus’ love and our own salvation. Romans 3:23 says that we have all fallen short of the glory of God. None of us measure up. If we approach Jesus thinking we’re full, we are deceiving ourselves. It would be like going to a barista with a cup holding a single drop of coffee and casually asking for a top up. We need to lay down our pride and hold out our empty hands desperate for the wealth, acceptance, and grace Jesus has to offer.
When the rich ruler came to Jesus, he was seeking to get something from him. He wanted Jesus’ affirmation that he was on the right track. He says “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” The rich ruler has made two assumptions in his question: that Jesus is simply a teacher, and that the rich ruler himself could do something to earn eternal life. He doesn’t realize that the answer to his question is Jesus himself. Jesus challenges these assumptions. “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” Why does Jesus say this? The problem is that Jesus isn’t simply a teacher. Jesus is God. Furthermore, the rich ruler can’t earn an eternal inheritance, only God can give it to him. He comes seeking affirmation from Jesus for already doing the right things to earn eternal life. Jesus tells him that what he needs is Jesus himself. Then he invites the ruler to follow him, but he won’t do it if it means giving up his wealth. The rich ruler comes to Jesus full, seeking to get something from him. He needed to come to Jesus empty, knowing that only Jesus could fill him up.
In the end the rich ruler leaves feeling very sad. He was a rich man who thought he had enough and had done enough to inherit eternal life. Instead he found that despite everything, he still fell far short of God’s standard. Everything he put his hope in had failed him. The rich ruler teaches us how not to approach Jesus. He comes full and seeking to get something from Jesus, rather than empty and seeking Jesus himself.
Earlier in the book of Luke we find a group of people who approach Jesus very differently. A group of shepherds was near Bethlehem, where Jesus was born, tending to their sheep. When angels came to them and told them of the birth of Jesus they ran to him. These were not the richest nor the most moral people in Israel. They didn’t come to Jesus full of the things of this world and when they came they were seeking Jesus himself, not something they could get from him. In the end they left praising God and full of joy at what they had seen.
When we approach Jesus, we shouldn’t do it like the rich ruler. Our hearts should reflect the attitude of the shepherds. Jesus is eager to offer us all that he is. Don’t walk away sad because you were full and had no more room for Jesus. Approach Him empty and walk away with more than anything this world can offer you.