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Last time we were in stewardship, we looked at the results of true repentance. We saw that repentance really should affect our values and our stewardship. This morning we’re going to look at a story that is told in each of the synoptic gospels. It is a story of a young man that has become known as the rich young ruler.
Mark 10:17-23 says,
“As He was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to Him and knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 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.’” And he said to Him, “Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up.”Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property. And Jesus, looking around, said to His disciples, “How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!”
Here’s the setting. Mark begins in v. 17 by reminding us that Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem. Some Pharisees just questioned Jesus about divorce in vs. 2-9. The disciples had follow up questions about divorce in vs. 10-12. And in vs. 13-16 we see Jesus scolding the disciples because they tried to keep the little children from coming to Him. All this to set up a somewhat strange encounter.
We see three unusual things in v. 17. “A man ran up to Him.” Matt. 19:20 calls him young. Matt. 19:22 says he owned a lot of property so he was likely rich. Luke 18:18 calls him a ruler. That’s where we get the rich young ruler. In that culture, men did not run so it is very unusual that a man of his stature would run to Jesus. The rich young ruler, “Knelt before Him.” Again, something unusual for a ruler to kneel before someone else. Here we have a ruler of people, someone considered important; someone who owns a lot of stuff, kneeling before Jesus. The rich young ruler addresses Jesus as “Good Teacher.” In the Jewish way of thinking, only God is good and it would be quite unusual to attribute this quality to someone other than God.
1 Chr. 16:34, “O give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; For His lovingkindness is everlasting.”
2 Chr. 5:13, “He indeed is good for His lovingkindness is everlasting.”
Ezra 3:11, “They sang, praising and giving thanks to the Lord, saying, “For He is good, for His lovingkindness is upon Israel forever.”
Ps. 118:1, “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; For His lovingkindness is everlasting.”
Bible experts are divided on whether the rich young ruler was flattering Jesus or paying Him respect. So now the stage is set for the rich young ruler to ask Jesus a question. Here’s the question. The young man continues in his unusual fashion and asks in v. 17, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” The question is unusual because the Jews would have said, “You follow the Law.” This has been the question that has been asked throughout the ages with a variety of answers. When you consider the context of the passage, it’s a fairly reasonable question for the young ruler to ask. Given what we know about this young man, it is likely he inherited his wealth rather than working for it. Perhaps this young man had heard Jesus’ teaching about the coming Kingdom. At the very least, he recognized who Jesus was. Before Jesus answers the question, He asks a question of His own: “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.” Don’t think Jesus is denying who He is. He said in John 10:30, “I and the Father are one.” Jesus is simply establishing that God is the ultimate example of goodness.
Jesus points out some facts in v. 19. Jesus clearly has the upper hand being omniscient. Jesus says the ruler knows the commandments, but what exactly does that mean? The word know here means to understand or grasp. All Jesus is saying is that, yes indeed the rich young ruler knows the commandments. Remember for the Jews, they equated keeping the Law with salvation. It got really bad in Galatia and Paul told them in Gal. 3:21, “Is the Law then contrary to the promises of God? May it never be! For if a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on law.” The commandments Jesus mentioned are 6, 7, 8, 9 and 5. The 10th Commandment is do not covet. The “do not defraud” is not part of the Ten Commandments. Fraud is a practical example of covetousness and a special temptation of the rich. You notice that the commandments Jesus mentioned deal with relationships of people to each other. Obedience to these provides evidence of obedience to the other commandments – the ones dealing with the relationships of human beings to God.
Here’s the answer. The rich young ruler offers an astounding answer in v. 20. The parallel account in Matt. 19:20 is more revealing where the young man says, “All these things I have kept; what am I still lacking?” He recognized that eternal life wasn’t a matter of keeping the letter of the Law. Jesus didn’t dispute the answer and, “felt a love for him” in v. 21. Here again Christ’s unconditional love is revealed. No matter where you are, or what you are doing, Jesus loves you. Even if you think yourself righteous apart from Christ, He loves you. Matt.19:21, “Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” The one thing the man lacked was poverty. Jesus offers a way out. Sell your stuff. Give it to the poor. Doing that would remove what was keeping the rich man from entering into a relationship with the One that could grant eternal life. Jesus was telling him to get rid of the distractions and be a follower. For this rich young man, riches were his god and that violates the 1st Commandment that says, “You shall have no other gods before Me.” (Ex. 20:3) The rich man silently responds in v. 22. We find Jesus’ conclusion to the story in v. 23.
A man is not saved by giving away his possessions. He becomes a Christian when he is willing to renounce anything that stands between himself and Christ. Riches make being a disciple difficult but the rewards of discipleship are worth more than material possessions. In the New American Commentary, James brooks writes, “The call is not to poverty but to discipleship, which takes many forms. Discipleship, however, is costly. It involves sacrifice. It involves obedience. It involves following the example of Jesus.”