|RPM, Volume 20, Number 49, December 2 to December 8, 2018|
What would you think if I told you today that you needed to quit your job, sell your home, sell your cars and enter the ministry?
What would you think if I insisted that you sell everything you owned?
You would think I was crazy, wouldn't you? You might say, "What right does he have to suggest such a thing?". After all, we know Christianity isn't about money and it's only the TV evangelists that demand that we give them our life's fortune.
The truth is, however, there were instances where Jesus made material demands on His "would-be" followers. Jesus asked Peter, Andrew, James and John to leave their jobs as fisherman. No doubt many of the other disciples left jobs and family to follow Jesus as well. And just when we are ready to call these "instances" exceptions rather than norms, we are faced with the story of "The Rich Young Ruler" (Mk.10:17-27).
In this passage Jesus gives the Rich Young Ruler essentially the same challenge I just gave you. Jesus challenges this man to sell everything, distribute all the proceeds to the poor, and, as if that wasn't already enough, Jesus challenges this man to come follow Him.
I want you, for the moment, to put yourself in the shoes of the rich young ruler. I want you to ask yourself if Jesus confronted you today what would he ask you to give up. ?
For who here has given up everything to follow Christ? Who here has given Christ absolute, unconditional, control of every single aspect of their life? More simply, is there anyone here who would pass the test the Rich Young Ruler failed the day he met Jesus?
I wish I could say that I would have passed, but I'm not so sure. And for this reason, I find the story of the Rich Young Ruler to be one of the most challenging passages in the entire New Testament.
Like many gospel stories, the story of the "Rich Young Ruler" occurs not only in Mark, but also in Matthew and Luke as well. I will draw from all three today, but for the sake of simplicity, I will ask you to follow along with me through Mark's account.
Only Matthew calls this man young, and only Luke describes this man as a ruler, but all three agree that this man was quite wealthy and that he owned much property.
An important distinction in Mark's account is the manner in which the Rich Young Ruler approaches Jesus. Mark's account tells us that he ran up to Jesus, and even knelt down before Him (v.17).
This is significant because in the First Century, the speed with which you moved usually reflected your status in society. That is not so different than our own society. How many of you have ever seen the Queen of England run, or even walk fast? Has anyone ever seen the Pope in even a brisk walk?
For this reason, Mark finds it noteworthy that such a wealthy man would run and then kneel before a poorly dressed, itinerant preacher on the dirty roads of Palestine.
Mark's point here is that this man came humbly. Kneeling down before Jesus, the young man asks "Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" (v.17). So not only is this man's disposition humble, but his apparent motivation for searching out Jesus was quite noble - this man was seeking eternal life.
Jesus deals with the young man's first statement by asking him, "Why do you call me good?" and reminds him that "No one is good except God alone" (v.18).
It is here I began to wonder about Jesus' method of evangelism. This man calls Him "Good Teacher" and Jesus is giving him a hard time about it! Rather than encourage this young man for showing respect and humility, Jesus questions him. Instead of building this man up, Jesus begins to pry into the young man's motivations.?
In Matthew's account, Jesus answers his question about acquiring eternal life by telling him to simply "keep the commandments" (v.17). This is a peculiar answer coming from our saviour who usually exhorts us simply to "believe in Him" (John 3:16). It seems like a strange answer from the Redeemer who saves by grace.
We need to take a closer look at the young man's question to get a sense for why Jesus might tell him to "keep the commandments". The problem with the Rich Young Ruler's question is that he suggested that he wanted to do something to merit eternal life, he asks "what must I do to inherit eternal life?".
The young man is under the assumption that eternal life is gained by somehow "doing" the right things, whereas Jesus taught that eternal life is a gift to be received (v.15).
We too, in the 20th Century, often make this mistake. We think that our impeccable church attendance will ensure our entrance into heaven. Or, as I've heard numerous people say, "I just always try to do the right thing and treat people right".
That sounds nice - go to church, be good to your neighbour - but is that at the heart of what God requires?
In response to Jesus' challenge to "keep the commandments", the young man promptly replies by asking "Which ones?" (Mt.19:18).
Jesus answers, "Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honour your father and mother" (v.19). Again the young man promptly replies "but I have kept all these things from my youth up!" (v.20).
The young man must have sensed that he was still missing something because in Matthew he asks, "what am I still lacking?" (v.20).
Before Jesus answers his question, Mark observes and records that Jesus "had a love for him" (v.21). This is significant to note. Jesus genuinely cares about this young man whom he is confronting.
Jesus goes on to tell the young man that he lacked "one thing" - that he needed to sell all that he possessed, give all the proceeds to the poor and then he was to come follow Jesus. Essentially, Jesus was asking this man to put away his god - his wealth. If he did this, Jesus told him he would have "treasure in heaven" (v.21).
Again, instead of encouraging this young man for the commandments he had kept, Jesus brought to the forefront those which he had neglected. Instead of building this man's self-esteem, and sense of eternal security, Jesus tells him what he is lacking. Jesus tells him what is preventing him from receiving eternal life.
The Rich Young Ruler was the perfect evangelistic target. He was humble and he was searching. He was ready to raise his hand, walk the aisle, pray the prayer, join the church, or whatever it took. This man was ripe. He was eager. There was no way he would get away without receiving eternal life. But he did.
Instead of taking this man from where he was at and convincing him to believe, Jesus laid out terms which he was unwilling to submit to. Jesus must have known what type of barrier he was setting up. It's almost as if Jesus chased this man off.
The challenge was too much for the young man. As the passage indicates, he went away grieved. Yes, he was grieved. He genuinely wanted salvation, but he wanted his riches as well. The young man couldn't answer the call for undivided loyalty.
He was willing to discipline himself to observe all the outward stipulations, but because of his wealth, he had a divided heart. His money was competing with God. His tragic decision to turn away reflects a greater love for his earthly treasures than for the heavenly treasure Jesus was offering.
Jesus was asking the Rich Young Ruler, and he is asking this of us, that we be willing to surrender everything for the sake of the kingdom. What is it that you need to surrender?
I find it helpful, in looking at my own life, to examine where my time, in particular, my free time is being spent. We tend to invest the most time in what we hold as the highest priority. Now of course, most of us spend the majority of our time at work. The question we need to ask then is, how much overtime are we working and why are we working so much? Is it because we are determined to climb the corporate ladder and thus improve our social status? Or is it because we, like the Rich Young Ruler, covet wealth beyond all else?
Wealth and prestige aren't the only things that compete for our attention. We may be distracted by things as ordinary as playing too much golf or spending too much time on the computer. We may even be distracted by noble tasks such as community work or helping friends and family out.
All of these things, in and of themselves, aren't all that bad - some are even quite good. We run in to trouble only when we begin to set these "good things" above the One true Good thing - our Worship of God, demonstrated by following Christ.
Do we spend more time reading the newspaper or our Bible? Do we spend more time working on our yard or helping out at church?
You may ask, "Which is it? Are we saved by grace? Or are we saved by following Christ and giving up everything?".
The biblical answer is grace, but BOTH are necessary.
On one hand, for those who thought that the power of gaining salvation lies within us, Jesus makes the point that only by the power of God can anyone be saved. On the other hand, the story of the Rich Young Ruler must be seen as a radical call to discipleship, an unwavering commitment to following Christ. Thus this passage emphasizes both the helplessness and the responsibility of humankind.
When the young man went away Jesus said to his disciples, "How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!". The disciples were speechless. "How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God".
Jesus went on to say, "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God" (v.25). Jesus might as well have said "it is easier for pigs to fly" than for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. At this the disciples were even more astonished and asked the question, "Who then can be saved?!!" (v.26).
It took some time for me to understand the disciples question "Who then can be saved?". Jesus didn't say that it was hard for everyone to enter the kingdom of heaven. Jesus just said it was hard for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven.
A better question would have been "Why are only the poor and middle-class saved?". Only when we understand 1st century Jewish thought towards wealth can we clearly see why the disciple's question was in fact the appropriate question.
Jesus is not saying that all poor people and none of the wealthy enter the kingdom of heaven. That would exclude Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, Solomon, and many other prominent biblical characters.
Most Jews expected the rich to inherit eternal life, not because their wealth could buy their way in, but because their wealth testified to the blessing of the Lord in their lives. It was absolutely inconceivable to them that riches could ever be a barrier to the Kingdom, since a significant strand of the Old Testament regarded wealth as a mark of God's favour.
In 1st century Jewish culture if you followed the Law diligently and if you were rich, then you were first in line for salvation. If anyone was going to merit salvation it was the Rich Young Ruler. If there was a list of candidates for eternal life, the Rich Young Ruler would have been the leading candidate. He feared the law, he was humble, and he was extremely rich - blessed by God.
The disciples reaction was simply a reflection of the common Jewish view of the wealthy. They asked that if this rich man, blessed of God, cannot be saved, how in the world can anyone else be saved? If he can't be saved we have no hope!
The peculiar danger confronting the rich, however, must not be ignored. We all run the temptation to trust our material resources and personal power. The problem with this is that the gospel demands a singular reliance upon God alone for everything that we need and enjoy.
After hearing their question "who then can be saved?" Jesus looked at His disciples and said, "With men it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God" (v.27).
This is to say salvation by works is impossible, but salvation by God's grace is possible. Jesus' point is that salvation is completely beyond the sphere of human possibilities.
Every attempt to enter the Kingdom on the basis of merit is futile. Though we are called to surrender all, God knows our inability to do that perfectly. It is grace alone that makes salvation possible.
Do we not surrender all then? May it never be! It is just like the call to be holy. Just because we will not be perfectly holy in this lifetime does not mean we forsake the pursuit of holiness! Just because we can't forgive perfectly doesn't mean we stop forgiving people! And just because we stubbornly hold on to that which we must surrender does not mean we give up trying to make Christ the center of our life.
Be assured friends, we are saved by grace and praise God for that! But we cannot ignore the fact that Christ commands us to "deny ourselves" and to come follow Him. You won't be able to keep up if you've got an arm-load of baggage.
So what are we willing to give up so that we do not have to go away from this place "grieved"? How much are we willing to forsake to follow Christ? More simply, what do you care about more - treasure here on earth, or treasure in heaven? Let me tell you today that nothing could ever be more valuable than treasure in heaven. Amen.
|This article is provided as a ministry of Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill). If you have a question about this article, please email our Theological Editor. If you would like to discuss this article in our online community, please visit the RPM Forum.|
Subscribe to RPMRPM subscribers receive an email notification each time a new issue is published. Notifications include the title, author, and description of each article in the issue, as well as links directly to the articles. Like RPM itself, subscriptions are free. Click here to subscribe.