“Jesus + Nothing = Everything” by Ricky Echeona

“Jesus + Nothing = Everything” by Ricky Echeona

So math and I weren’t the best of friends from about 7th grade and on. I was always in advanced classes and excelled in most subjects except for math. Me and math had the same relationship that me and swimming do, I never officially learned to do it but I know enough to survive. Being in that precalculus class full of polynomials and  most days I left that class defeated and confused.

There are days you leave church more confused than when you came in. This passage has messed up Christians for centuries. My prayer is you don’t walk out of here trying to multiply polynomials. But that the whiteboard would become clear and you’d say “Oh I can get that”

We pick up this story in the middle of Jesus’ teaching on what the kingdom of God is like. He shares the parable of the widow teaching teaching us to be persistent about spiritual things. He tells the parable about the tax collector and the Pharisee. Don’t be like the Pharisees (don’t take pride in what you have), be like this tax collector who says I deserve nothing but can I have your mercy, and right before he says don’t keep the little kids from coming to me (that’s how you come- humbly, dependent, with no claims on God.) He says this is the kingdom of God, now let me show you a man that’s wrapped up in the kingdom of self.

Let’s go there. It’s Luke 18:18-30. You know this story if you’ve grown up in church or been around here for a while or maybe have heard it in passing. And it’s been one that I think has been misunderstood or mismanaged in it’s telling. Matthew, Mark, and Luke will tell us this story. Matthew will tell us he’s Rich, Mark will emphasize he’s young, Luke will tell us he’s a ruler. It’s where we get the title Rich Young Ruler. 

Mark will tell us this young man of esteem runs to Jesus and kneels before him. This moment of desperation, for someone of renown to run and kneel.

Luke 18:18-30 ESV: 18 And a ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 19 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. 20 You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.’” 21 And he said, “All these I have kept from my youth.” 22 When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “One thing you still lack.

Stop right there. One thing?!
If I saw Jesus in the courtyard right after service and I’m like hey Jesus, I’ve been coming for a while. Can you let me know what else I gotta do, what I gotta work on and Jesus, I feel like he’d be like, “Ricky you may wanna sit down for this one. Take out that journal too.” Jesus tells him one thing you lack, if I’m this guy I’m like just one? Ok ok for context how many did these 12 have, I mean i know its not a competition or anything. Sorry, sorry go ahead Jesus.

And Jesus says something that messed people up back then and continues to mess us up today. 

Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 23 But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich. 24 Jesus, seeing that he had become sad, said, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! 25 For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 Those who heard it said, “Then who can be saved?” 27 But he said, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.” 28 And Peter said, “See, we have left our homes and followed you.” 29 And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers] or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, 30 who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.”

If we’re not careful though we can create distance from this story. We hear Jesus talk to the Rich and say “That guy, get him Jesus, I work for that guy”. But no this is a story FOR ALL OF US. This is a study of ALL of our lives.

Rich. Young. Ruler

  • Rich– possessions, things I don’t have yet, wealth.
  • Young– youthfulness, body image, sexuality, vitality.
  • Ruler– power, influence, title, social identity. This guy is the poster child  for the American dream, the Human dream.

This story is about me!
Car chariot, garage- secondary and tertiary stuff.
Plumbing. Toilet. Refrigerator.
UberEats. TV (paintings talk and move). Electricity.
I am rich not just compared to him but compared to 88% of the world today.
You and I are the wealthy!

The man runs to Jesus and calls him “good teacher”
And Jesus goes “Why do you call me good?”
Good = sinless, perfect, worthy (only God is blameless).
“Oh that’s Jesus praising God” Jesus did a fair amount of calling himself God. He wasn’t opposed to that. And maybe that’s exactly what he’s doing.

  • Really, am I just a good teacher or am I God? Am I just a guy that gives you good advice or am I God? 
  • It is the question we pose indirectly or directly all the time here, who do you say Jesus is?

God will only be God in our lives

Jesus goes, I refuse to be good teacher. I’m going to show you I’m not YOUR God, and since I’m not YOUR God. I can’t be YOUR Savior.
The disciples are like Jesus aren’t you gonna go get him, and Jesus goes “NO. I’m not his God”

I think this has far less to do with money than a lot of Christians make it out to be.
Often people have made this passage all about material wealth, when it’s so much more. “See Jesus wants you to be poor” But we know this isn’t the case.

The Bible teaches so much about money- work hard, tithe, enjoy life, save, invest, give generously.
It also teaches us what not to do with money- don’t Love it. Don’t put your hope in it. Don’t be enslaved by it.

You may be thinking, but he told him to give it all away!

  • Zaccheus encounters Jesus Luke 19 and says he’ll give away half and pay back 4 times if he’s cheated anyway. Wait a minute that’s unfair- you told rich dude #1 to give away 100% and rich dude #2 only gave away 50% and Jesus goes, oh you’re in. Some of us are like I hope he tells the next guy 2%, is there a skim milk Jesus- somewhere I’ll find a percentage I can live with lol.
  • Jesus how can you change the script?? And it’s frustrating, I wanna know the formula. Ahhh it’s precalculus all over again. I knew I shouldn’t have bought more Christmas decorations, Jesus hates all this stuff. Except baby Jesus. Which is it?!?
  • Jesus doesn’t say downsize, or live below your means, he says get rid of it all. Maybe this has nothing to do with our stuff.
  • James 1:16-17 ESV- 16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. 17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.
  • 1 Timothy 6:17 ESV- 17 As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.

Maybe it has everything to do with who God is in our life. Jesus saw this man and immediately knew I’m not God in your life. Money is. And I won’t play second fiddle. 

God will only be God in our lives.

When I was asked a couple months ago to speak today I realized I’d probably land on this message. It’s something Jesus has been taking me back to over and over again. And to be honest I’m still wrestling with it.

Jesus + ________ = Everything

Because everything inside of me says, fill that equation with something, many things.

In church context, in Christian circles, we talk a lot about what God adds to your life, when you decide to fully follow Jesus.

We do this with jobs too. “What are the benefits?”

What I think gets ignored is what it will cost you.

I think one of the biggest things that hinders people from becoming fully devoted followers of Jesus, isn’t theological doubts, it isn’t church hurt, it isn’t the historicity and accuracy of Scripture, it isn’t liberalism, it isn’t nationalism, and I don’t diminish any of those things but I think it’s this- which all those things find their roots in.

“I’m not willing to give this thing up. I’m not willing to surrender the reins of my life. I’m not willing to stop playing God in my life.” 

Spoiler alert- salvation is free.

It’s God’s grace, his unmerited favor you can’t do anything to earn it. But following Jesus, seeing his kingdom come in your life, inheriting eternal life. It’s going to cost you something. And many of us come to this nexus point, and I wonder how many times directly or indirectly we say Jesus, that’s too much. And Jesus goes I know, but I love you too much to play anything less than God in your life.

If God will only be God in our life then there is always something else to surrender.

Following Jesus is a life-long process of surrender

Jesus sees this man and sees you have this idol in your life called money. You have this idol in your life called your career, your hobbies, your equity, your kids, your spouse, your future. And if you want to experience the REAL life I have to offer you gotta put it on the table.

I love this encounter Eric Bryant has shared. In Los Angeles this young woman comes up to him and asks: “If I follow Jesus do I have to give up my sexuality?”

Eric responds: “It’s worse than that. You have to give up EVERYTHING! And as you surrender everything to Jesus He will give you back what’s best for you.”

Can you imagine if this rich young ruler would’ve said yes?
How would the story have played out?
He walks away sad and we don’t even get a first name.

Now in the next chapter Zaccheus has the same encounter and is so in awe of Jesus that without being prompted goes “I’m all in” and now we sing songs of how short he is, instead of all he gave up.

Following Jesus is a life-long process of surrender

Luke 9:23 ESV- 23 And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. 25 For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?

Mark’s Gospel tells us Jesus looked at this man and loved him. The context for surrender is always love. Jesus loves us too much to let money rule us, to let relationships be our idol, to let our sexuality be our god, to let our family be the compass for our lives.

Matthew 6:24 ESV24 “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.

Jesus says if you really want to do this thing It’s all or nothing.

We held a class some of you were a part of called Supernatural during our Angels & Demons series. We had a young lady a part of the class whose journey has just blown me away. She started coming to Gateway right around our series on what is the Bible good for, and it’s in the midst of her rediscovering her faith after years of being in what she describes as a school for the occult. It’s disguised under new ageism and light work, but towards the end her eyes were opened that this is spiritual darkness.

She emailed Amber and I a few times and the latest one was a few weeks ago when she said this:After our last supernatural meeting, and a few other things, life has intensified for me, and after a long contemplating weekend full of prayer, reflection… I have officially left the School I was associated with, formally, and let my three best friends / guides of over 6 years know via text… I immediately went and I just repented & rebuked my past life, specifically, and gave my life back to Jesus Christ, God, & the Holy Spirit through prayer in the shower. All in the name of Jesus Christ. I gave my life and burdens, sins fears – laid it all down and gave it to him.” 

This may not seem like a big deal to you but this school and the relationships and spiritual work she was doing consumed her life and time for many years. When I spoke to her she said this that got me so fired up. She said, “It was all deception, disguised as light work and love. It makes you the hero of your story. It makes you think you’re your own god.”

We might hear this and go of course, THAT’S obvious it’s occultism. But so many of us worship the idol of money, sex, success, and self all the time we just don’t come to see it as destructive.

What idols is Jesus asking you to surrender?

  • Idol = Usually a good thing that becomes a God thing
  • Worship = what we love and pursue most with our heart and actions
  • Wider context- entire OT God is dealing with people worshiping idols. Baal and ashteroth- success and sex.
  • Jesus goes get rid of your idol. And the guy goes “No way!”. Jesus goes then go, I’m not here to just be savior, I’m here to be God.
  • God is always after the good things in our life that we try and make God things
  • He doesn’t say get rid of part of your idol, never has, never will. Am I God or not?… Well no you’re my good teacher, you’re my savior, I’ve been coming once a week since I was a kid. And Jesus is saying if I don’t get everything, then I’m not your God and you will always walk away sad and unfulfilled.
  • For all of us who are willing to admit the last two years have revealed who and what are gods REALLY are.

You want to find your idol, follow the money. In Christianity we have a habit of saying “Oh I have a heart for single moms, I have a heart for teens, I have a heart for missions but if your checkbook and time does not reflect that, then it’s just our way of making ourselves feel good.

What am I constantly asking God that I need and I want? Follow your money, follow your prayers. It’ll help you find your idols. Money will either be a tool or a goal. Jesus realizes in this man, your money is your goal, it is your identity, it is your status. Hear me again, you don’t have to have wealth for it to be your idol. It’s the relentless pursuit of it, it’s the desire and love of it.

So how do we wrestle with that? And I realize this preaches like it’s easy but it’s far from it. So I want to go first, in moments of transparency? Because I think we think oh that’s easy for you to say preacher boy, that we forget this is ALL of our story.

So here are some of my idols:

  • Home ownership
  • Fitness
  • Gifts
  • Wife
  • Kids

Some of you are like am I not supposed to have a family or get married, or be fit. Now I’m back to precalculus… But it’s not that at all, it’s putting those things back in the right priority. Their rightful place.

How to find your idols

  1. What is it that consumes my life?
  • If I just had this….
  • Is it an extra 20-30 grand?
  • What is it that you desire MOST out of life and
  • I’m not your savior until I’m your God. “You’re my god” Let me prove I’m not, get rid of it…
  • It’s enslaved you but man it’s got your heart

2. What do I try to manipulate God to get?

  • God I’ve come 4 weeks in a row you better now payoff with ______.
  • What is it you’re being spiritual in hope of getting _____?
  • Instead our disposition should be: “You are God, I am not. Make me more like you. Show me what parts of my life need to go and change.”
  • Or do we come to him more like this: “God I’ve been coming for a while and you still haven’t fixed my marriage?”

May I remind you God cannot be manipulated. Be careful. There’s a difference between praying for something and trusting God no matter what vs. making this relationship transactional.

Some quick examples:

  • “We can’t have kids we’ve tried 4 times- we’re showing up and praying, we know God will come through because of that.”
  • “I keep showing up, I keep praying God I should’ve had a spouse I’m a certain age and I don’t want to die alone. God if you just….”
  • “God I’ve been working for this company for a decade, when is it my time to shine? You said you made me the head not the tail but Here I am wagging for my paycheck. I thought it wouldve changed years ago, God if you’d just….”
    We’re trying to manipulate God, and He doesn’t play the game.

Be careful!

Idols aren’t bad things they are good things that become GOD things if we let them.

3. What am I consumed about keeping?

That thing that once I have it I cannot live without it.

That when I wake up it’s the screensaver that says, here’s the cavings, here’s the stocks, here’s how your crypto is doing.

Matthew 6:19-21 ESV19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Is it the kids college fund? Is it the title that comes before or after your name in your career? This goes hand in hand with number 4.

4. What would destroy me if I lost it?

When it comes to the wealth and possessions often that’s low hanging fruit. That’s easy to point out.

If God ever took this speaking gift, who am I without it? Well that would tell me where an idol was.

Those things maybe easy to identify. But when it comes to the people in our life, this question bugs me.

I’m going to step on some very thin ice, please give me some grace. I have not lost an immediate member of my family as far as a spouse or a child and I pray I never do. It’s my biggest fear. But I know in a church this size many have.

But there’s a difference between what would devastate me vs. what would destroy me. When that loss happens are you done because our identity,our goal, our everything was wrapped up in it. Let me challenge you…

God calls this man Abraham, out of you I will make a great nation, out of you all the nations of the earth will be blessed. It’s going to start with a son. Abraham gets well into his twilight years. He’s not over the hill he’s getting ready to be buried under it, he’s old old. Finally at 100 him and his wife conceive. And when that boy grows up, old enough to carry some wood God says “Abe I need you to go on a walk with your boy. I need you to go up the mountain and sacrifice him to me.” Gen. 22– may i remind you that is descriptive what God did with Abraham not prescriptive what God wants you to do with your middle schooler. Some you are like yea i can see, those teenage years.

The boy says pop what are we killing. Abe says God will provide. He lays the wood on the alter and then his son on the wood, he raises the knife and God goes hold on hold on, I just wanted to make sure- that the love of your life is the love of your life an not an idol. Put the knife down, there’s a ram caught in the thickets- thats’s your sacrifice. But I had to be clear where you stand.

We will pray for kids, family, a spouse but it can become an idol. We’re supposed to love and protect and provide.

Young family’s protect your marriage bed, protect your marriage.

If your idol is your goal, than this life is as close to heaven as you’ll ever get.

But if you put it in its place or get rid of it, this life is as close to hell as you’ll ever get.

Jesus tells this man, sell it all, everything Jesus? I looked up the greek translation of everything… it’s everything. Jesus says can you do it? The man says no, and Jesus goes- you don’t get a savior until you get a God.

An inheritance goes to family, not fans.

Using hyperbole he says it’s easier for a camel to make it through the eye of a needle. Idk if someone ever preached it to you differently like “oh no Jesus was talking about this certain gate”… no he said what he said. Jesus was funny, He points out the biggest animal in the region, and says try putting that through a needle. That’s how hard it is for a rich man, and where you read rich man read you and your idol.
Helicopter parent, workaholic single, political fanatic.
Jesus says can you get rid of it, the man says no, well good luck with your camel.

It’s impossible, by yourself, but thank God for grace and the power of the Holy Spirit that goes transforming the heart and tearing down the idols when we open our hearts and hands.

Peter, Zaccheus, and others passed the test not because they sold everything but because they allowed God to be God. Even when they had some gross missteps as in the case of Peter denials.

Here’s what I’ve found:

Jesus will always take you to the place you last hesitated.

God will often take you to the place you last hesitated

  • Israel in Canaan after wandering for 40 years
  • Jonah 
  • Jesus asks Peter 3 times about his love/loyalty after he denied him 3 times

My story of being called into ministry:

  • Called into ministry
  • Prodigal
  • Come back to Jesus, I need you to give me everything

Jesus never asks us to do something that he hasn’t already done. He went all in for you. He’s worth it.

Hebrews 12:1-2 ESV- …let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Jesus gave it all up for you and for me. For a chance at relationship with you. Here’s the question

What is the __________ that Jesus would ask me for today?

Luke 18:28-30 ESV 28 And Peter said, “See, we have left our homes and followed you.” 29 And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers] or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, 30 who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.”

Peter gives me hope. He suffered from foot in mouth disease. I sympathize with that. I’m like that. Peter’s like you not gonna say anything, yall scared. Jesus what about ya boys we done left it all.

There is always beauty and reward on the other side of sacrifice. 

Jesus + Nothing = Everything

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