Stumbling Blocks: What’s Tripping You Up & Holding You Back from Being Complete?
There’s more. I mean, there has to be, right? We’ve been struggling along trying to “do good” and it just seems like there is still something missing. A greater fulfillment than just raising kids, going to work, paying bills, going to church, and going on vacations. Surely there must be some sense of greater completeness in this life.
There is. But what exactly is it? There’s a story in the Bible about a man who discovered what it is, yet he decided not pursue it and, in the end, that decision cost him everything. So he was never really complete in this life and he missed out entirely on eternal life. (Spoiler alert! It’s not an “it” to pursue but a “Who.”)
The story is told in Matthew 19 but to properly provide the context, we need to look at a couple of prior passages so we don’t miss the moral of the story, which can be easy to do. There’s a moment that turns on a dime in Matthew 16:23 right after Peter has made a grand profession of Faith in Jesus as the Messiah:
“But He [Jesus] turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.'”
From this we get a great working definition for anything that trips us up or holds us back from being complete in this life. The “Bible word” is stumbling block. In essence, anything that subordinates the best interests of God is known as a stumbling block.
Fast forward to Matthew 18:7-8 to see the instructions Jesus Himself gave for how to deal with stumbling blocks, once discovered:
“Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks! For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; but woe to the man through whom the stumbling block comes! If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; it is better for you to enter life crippled or lame, than to have two hands or two feet and be cast into eternal fire.”
So two things we learn from this passage: 1) Stumbling blocks, once discovered, MUST be removed; and 2) Removing them will seem extremely costly at the time of removal, but worth it in the end nonetheless.
Now on to the familiar story of the Rich Young Ruler, as told in Matthew 19:16-26. For the purposes of our study, however, let’s temporarily forget this guy is rich and just focus on what he’s asking and how his question gets answered.
Notice first of all that, in verse 16 he asks, “what good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?” Now notice that Jesus re-frames the discussion in the next verse by pointing out that it is not about a good what but a good who: “Why are you asking Me about what is good? There is only One who is good.”
To further re-frame the dialogue, Jesus then reminds the man to keep the commandments but He leads with the commandments that center around mankind’s “horizontal” relationships with one another. In verse 20, the man affirms that, “All these things I have kept; what am I still lacking?”
And there it is! That’s the right question. The rich young ruler has effectively been raising kids, going to work, paying bills, going to church, and going on vacation – basically being a nice boy to everyone around him – but deep inside he knows there must be more. There is something still lacking.
Now Jesus can answer the right question by revealing the essence of the “first and greatest commandment” which deals with mankind’s “vertical” relationship with the Lord. That is, we are to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. To truly love someone is to put their best interests ahead of our own. But how do we ever keep an unseen God’s best interests ahead of our own? It can be summed up in two words: Follow Jesus!
“If you wish to be complete…follow Me.” – Jesus (Matthew 19:21)
Once the decision is made to follow Jesus, however, there will definitely be some stumbling blocks along the way. Big ones. Do you remember what Jesus told us about them? Once discovered they must be removed and, removing them will be costly but worthwhile. Let’s look at five stumbling blocks common to man as he weighs the decision whether or not to truly follow Jesus and therefore be complete.
- Riches. The story in Matthew 19 is of course about the Rich Young Ruler. We know he’s rich because that was the stumbling block he was not willing to remove to follow Jesus. He couldn’t imagine having to put Jesus ahead of his stuff. Doesn’t mean you can’t be rich and follow Jesus. Doesn’t mean Jesus is going to ask you to give up your stuff to follow Him. Just means this guy couldn’t. And because Jesus went on to point out that “it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven,” maybe there are a lot of people who honestly are not willing to remove the stumbling block of riches from their life in order to follow Jesus.
- Relationships. Often the decision to follow Jesus will mean there are relationships that might either need to be abandoned or mended. In order to follow Jesus, is it time for you to “change your playground and change your playmates?” Or maybe it’s time for you to repair a broken relationship by begging for forgiveness or lavishing forgiveness?
- Rights. God bless America, we love our rights. Are you willing to give up some of your “rights” to follow Jesus or do you often think, “I deserve better” and “I’ve to look out for me because no one else will”? Do you really think God won’t have your back if you have to give up some of your rights to follow Jesus?
- Reputation. On more than one occasion after Jesus rose from the grave and restored Peter, Peter insisted it was more important about what God thought about him than what people thought about him. What about you? Would you be willing to give up your reputation and maybe even risk having some people call you a “Jesus freak” because you decided to follow Him?
- Regret. Is there some junk in your past that is a stumbling block to you following Jesus? Can you not shake who you used to be or what you’ve done? I’ve got Good News for you. The same Jesus you are deciding to follow is the same Jesus Who throws that junk as far as the east is from the west.
Finally, what about those who really do decide to follow Jesus? If it is so costly, is it even worth it? Will it at least one day be worth it? His disciples who had “left everything and followed Him” wondered this too after witnessing the Rich Young Ruler walk away sorrowfully. Let’s see what Jesus had to say about it:
And Jesus said to them, “Truly I say to you, that you who have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or farms for My name’s sake, will receive many times as much, and will inherit eternal life.” – Matthew 19:28-29
Yes! It is worth it and will be worth it. He is worth it and will be worth it. Let’s do what it takes to destroy the stumbling blocks in our life, even though it will be costly and painful at first. Let’s leave everything, if that’s what it takes, and follow Him.