And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mark 10:17)
The story begins with a simple question: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” The Gospel According to Matthew tells us that the man was young (19:16) while Gospel According to Luke tells us that he was a ruler (18:18). Thus, this story is popularly known as the story of the Rich Young Ruler. As far as we know, his question was an honest question. While the question certainly includes the issue of salvation, the young ruler’s question is more about what it means to live the life God designed and created him to live. John MacArthur comments, “Eternal life refers to a quality of life, not a quantity, not merely to living forever but rather possessing the very life of God, which He graciously grants to believers.”
And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” (Mark 10:18-19)
Before Jesus answers the young man’s question, He first probes a little deeper into the preconceived ideas of the young man. When Jesus asks, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone,” He is attempting to see how far this young man’s faith really goes. Does the young man believe that Jesus is simply a wise teacher or does he believe that Jesus is the God-teacher? This is important because if the young man truly believes that Jesus is the Son of God, then when Jesus called him to action he would have no other option than to obey. But as we will see, the young man does not truly believe and so his ultimate problem is not disobedience to Jesus but lack of faith in Jesus.
But Jesus continues with a list of the fifth through the ninth commandments. I find Jesus list interesting because He does not list any of the commandments directly related to man’s relationship with God. He only lists the commandments directly related to man’s relationship with other people. Here we find a hint that this man is really good at being good on the outside but has missed something in his relationship with God.
And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” (Mark 10:20)
The young man responds to the teacher this time omitting the word ‘good.’ In the young man’s response we begin to see his pride and arrogance shine forth. The young man believes he has been obedient to the Law, but Jesus’ challenge will demonstrate that while he followed the Law in a technical sense, he missed the spirit of the Law.
And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” (Mark 10:21)
Jesus does not challenge the young man’s belief about himself, but challenges the young man to “…go, sell all that you have…” Let us return to the missing commandments from Jesus’ list, specifically the first commandment: “You shall have no other gods before me (Exodus 20:3).” Jesus is testing the young man’s commitment to God and God alone. Will the young man obey thereby finding the life he says he longs for, or will the young man turn and walk away.
Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. (Mark 10:22)
The young man turns and walks away because he loved his wealth more than he loved God. Someone once said that this is the only man who left Jesus worse off than when he came to Jesus. This may be true, but the man also came to Jesus self-deceived thinking he had done all to live for God and through his encounter with Jesus realized his own self-deception.
Jesus now turns to His disciples and takes the opportunity to teach them about the priority of following Him.
And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! 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.” (Mark 10:23-24)
Following Jesus is Hard. The first lesson Jesus teaches His disciples is that following Him will be a difficult road. This is hardly the first time He has tried to teach them this lesson. In the Sermon on the Mount, He taught them, “For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few (Matthew 7:14).”
And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” (Mark 10:25-27)
We Cannot Follow Jesus on Our Own. The second lesson Jesus teaches His disciples is that following Him is impossible on our own, it takes an act of God. In the Gospel According to John Jesus taught His followers, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him (John 6:44).”
Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” (Mark 10:28-30)
Following Jesus is Worth It. The third lesson of the story is that leaving everything behind and following Jesus is absolutely worth it. The Apostle John saw the vision of the New Heaven and the New Earth being occupied by the followers of Jesus: “And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband…the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away (Revelation 21:1-4).”
The only man who has the right to say that he is justified by grace alone is the man who has left all to follow Christ. Such a man knows that the call to discipleship is a gift of grace.