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Rich Young Ruler

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Verses

Mark 10:17–31 ESV
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?” 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, all these I have kept from my youth.” 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.” Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. 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.” 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.” 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.”

Overview

The Bible tells us that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (). In , David confesses his evil nature was present even at the moment of his birth
The Bible tells us that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (). In , David confesses his evil nature was present even at the moment of his birth
Paul tells us that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (). In , David confesses his evil nature was present even at the moment of his conception.
Here we learn from the life of our Lord the reality of how to deal with a selfish, shallow seeker who in this case is extremely religious. And the central point of this encounter is that proud, selfish people - no matter how much they may say they want eternal life - are not prepared to receive it. This young man failed the greatest test of his life. He was offered a choice between himself and God, between fulfillment here and now and fulfillment in the life to come. The question was: What was more valuable to him? God and the life to come or his own will and the present life?
Wondering how he could inherit eternal life, this rich young man came to Jesus wondering what he had to “do”. The use of “do” indicates that he thought he could enter God’s kingdom by doing good.
The Messiah responds by asking the man why he was calling Jesus “good,” for no one is good but God alone (v. 18). Jesus is not denying His own goodness; In effect Jesus is saying “no one is good but God, and therefore you cannot rely on your moral behavior to inherit the life of the age to come. Like anyone else, you must follow me.”
Christ then gives him a list of ethical commandments and tells him that if he does all these, he will enter the kingdom of God (v. 19). The man is happy, and he says he’s done all of these (v. 20). Indeed, even if he did obey those commands, he was still missing something — Jesus catches him on the first commandment. Seeing that he worships the idols of wealth and social status, Jesus tells him to sell his goods and follow Him. But the man is not satisfied, and he refuses to let go of his riches ().
Having seen the true nature of his prideful confidence, this man is bluntly denied the possibility of entering the kingdom on his own. He preferred to worship his money instead of God.
This young man failed the greatest test of his life. He was offered a choice between himself and God, between fulfillment here and now and fulfillment in the life to come. The question was: What was more valuable to him? God and the life to come or his own will and the present life?
This young man failed the greatest test of his life. He was offered a choice between himself and God, between fulfillment here and now and fulfillment in the life to come. The question was: What was more valuable to him? God and the life to come or his own will and the present life?
The bottom line is he wanted eternal life but not enough to give up his pride and his possessions. That’s the bottom line. He never questioned what Jesus said. He never questioned the truthfulness of what Jesus said. He didn’t equivocate, he didn’t argue, he just walked away. But there are very evident things here that become crystal clear to us.
The bottom line is he wanted eternal life but not enough to give up his pride and his possessions. That’s the bottom line. He never questioned what Jesus said. He never questioned the truthfulness of what Jesus said. He didn’t argue, he just walked away.
Whatever Jesus was offering was going to cost him his pride and it was going to cost him his possessions, and the price was too high, even for eternal life. He wanted eternal life only as an add-on to what he already possessed. He loved himself, not God. He loved earth, not heaven. He loved the material, not the spiritual. The issue here is really salvation. It’s about salvation. Eternal life equals salvation. He asks the question (“What do I do to take possession of salvation?”) and Jesus stopped him dead in his tracks.
Whatever Jesus was offering was going to cost him his pride and it was going to cost him his possessions, and the price was too high, even for eternal life. He wanted eternal life only as an add-on to what he already possessed. He loved himself, not God. He loved earth, not heaven. He loved the material, not the spiritual. The issue here is really salvation. It’s about salvation. Eternal life equals salvation. He asks the question (“What do I do to take possession of salvation?”) and Jesus stopped him dead in his tracks.

Detailed Look

So what happened? The man ran up to Jesus and knelt before Him. Now this is very unusual, that’s why Matthew in his account of this says, “Behold,” like “Wow,” you don’t expect this. We also know from Matthew and Luke’s account that he was a young man and that he was a ruler, probably the ruler of a synagogue. He was a very wealthy, very young, who had ascended to be a leader in a synagogue, which was usually reserved for an older man, somebody wiser, somebody who had lived longer, typically would be called an elder because in reality he was older. This man has achieved a lot.
Verse 32 of this chapter says they were on the road going to Jerusalem. They first arrive in Jericho and then up the hill to Jerusalem. So it’s at the end of His ministry, the end of this brief ministry in the region called Peraea. We don’t know any more detail than that about the location.
So what happened? A man ran up to Him and knelt before Him. Now this is very unusual, that’s why Matthew in his account of this says, “Behold,” like “Wow,” you don’t expect this. We also know from Matthew and Luke’s account that he was a young man and that he was a ruler, probably the ruler of a synagogue. That would be the only ruler essentially in the social/religious life of Israel. He wouldn’t be a scribe or a Pharisee, necessarily, but a very wealthy layman, very young, who had ascended to be the leading layperson in a synagogue, which was usually reserved for an older man, somebody wiser, somebody who had lived longer, typically would be called an elder because in reality he was older. This man has achieved much religiously.
We know he’s rich because the other gospels tell us. He is, therefore, called the “rich young ruler.” His life is exactly where he wanted it to be at this time. He’s young and he’s wealthy, and he owns a lot of property, and he has achieved spiritual respect and spiritual status by being made the chief of a synagogue. It means the people have great respect for him.
He’s a moral man, he hadn’t gained his wealth immorally, and he’s respectable. And yet there is in his heart a deep fear that he does not possess what he needs most and that is salvation, eternal life, the hope of heaven.
He’s a moral man, he hadn’t gained his wealth by doing wrong, and he’s respectable. And yet there is in his heart a deep fear that he does not possess what he needs most and that is salvation, eternal life, the hope of heaven.
Well, let’s look at him and see what is commendable about him. First of all, he came running. That’s pretty remarkable, actually, Middle Eastern people of status don’t run. That would be crude. And then to run to Jesus? This rejected Galilean teacher whom the religious establishment had rejected and sought to kill? And He’s in public view, running to Jesus. And then it says he not only ran up to Him, but he knelt before Him. He postures Himself in a humble manner.
Again, this is a man who is elevated and exalted in his religious society who takes the posture of one who is humble. And that’s why Matthew says, “Behold,” because this is really a startling thing. This man is not the kind of man who runs to a rejected teacher and falls on his knees.
It’s commendable that he comes with the attitude he comes with. No question about it. It is also commendable that he comes with a measure of humility. And on the surface, it is commendable that he addresses Jesus the way he does. Would you look at what he says? “Good teacher.” Good teacher. He acknowledges Jesus as not only a legitimate teacher, not a teacher to be rejected, but as a good teacher.
Now, here is a man who is commendable. He comes eagerly. He comes humbly. There’s a great sense of urgency. “Good teacher, what shall I do?” He comes respectfully. What shall I do? He’s feeling the pain of doubt. In fact, in , it says that he said, “What am I lacking?” Which is if to say, “I’ve climbed the religious ladder to the top rung. What did I leave out? There’s a hole in my life.” That hole could be described as unsatisfied desire, unfulfilled longing, or just plain fear. He is afraid that he doesn’t have a relationship with God that could be defined as eternal life.
Now, to the Jews, eternal life is not a quantity of life, it is a kind of life. It is the life of God that which is forever. It is forever kind of life, the life that belongs to God. It’s as if he says, “I have the life that belongs to man but I want that life which belongs to God. I want that life which is God’s life. This is a very spiritual pursuit for him. So he comes with very appropriate attitudes: eagerness, urgency, fear, doubt, emptiness.
He comes knowing what he wants, feeling the need for it deeply, seeking diligently. He comes respectfully. And we could even add that he comes to the right person because who better to give him the answer than Jesus? First John tells us () He is the eternal life , So he comes to the One who is eternal life to ask how to take possession of eternal life. How can I take possession of it? How can I make eternal life my own? And remember, to the Jews, the concept of eternal life is salvation,.
Now, as you look at that, you say, “Well, you know, it seems like everything is in the right place here. Where is the problem here?” Amazingly, it comes up where you wouldn’t expect it. The problem shows up in one word. That word is in verse 17, and it’s the word “good.” It’s the word “good.” You know, if there’s any word that the world doesn’t understand, it’s that word. Good.
The world and throughout its entire history has had a wrong definition of good. That’s the problem . Everything else, fine. Empty feeling in his heart, an understanding of eternal life, a desire to possess it even to the point where you embarrass yourself by running and kneeling. The problem here is the word “good.” He uses it really loosely.
Now remember, he thought he was good and everybody he associated with good and the whole synagogue crowd was good and everybody was good. And so he’s loose with the word. Thinks he’s commending Jesus by using that word for Him. That’s the problem. And if you understand that that word is the problem, then you begin to understand Jesus’ answer. “Good teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus, responds with, “Why do you call me good?” Why are you throwing that word around? You don’t know me. I am a total stranger. Why are you calling me good? He used the word casually. It was a word he used concerning himself and most of the people in his world. And Jesus redefines that word with the next statement. “No one is good except God alone.” Does that change your definition of good? Does that have some effect on it? No one is good except God alone. That makes good  absolute.
Jesus, responds with, “Why do you call me good?” Why are you throwing that word around? You don’t know me. I am a total stranger. Why are you calling me good? He used the word casually. It was a word he used concerning himself and most of the people in his world. And Jesus redefines that word with the next statement. “No one is good except God alone.” Does that change your definition of good? Does that have some effect on it? No one is good except God alone. That makes good - listen to me - absolute, not relative.
Well, Jesus didn’t say that. He did not say that because there’s something else that has to be confronted here. Faith, essential. But something else is essential as well and it is repentance - repentance. The gospel hangs over this account but it never enters. You can feel it because you know it, but Jesus never says it. It looms in the shadow of this event. It is never uttered. No word of faith ever appears. No comment about believing is ever stated because the issue here is sin and the law and repentance first.
And our Lord makes that clear in one profound statement. “Why do you call me good?” Why are you throwing that word around? You don’t know me. I am a total stranger. Why are you calling me good? He used the word casually. It was a word he used concerning himself and most of the people in his world. And Jesus redefines that word with the next statement. “No one is good except God alone.” Does that change your definition of good? Does that have some effect on it? No one is good except God alone. That makes good - listen to me - absolute, not relative.
There are relative degrees of bad. You’re not as bad as everybody else. I’m not as bad as everybody else. But none of us is good; only God is good. That is a smashing blow.
The issue here is to challenge the sinner’s sense of goodness, people must understand that they are not good. And that takes all the works out of it. This man had no true idea of goodness; therefore, he had no real understanding of the law of God, which he studied, or he wouldn’t have thrown the word “good” around casually and labeled a stranger with it.
Now, as a Jewish religious leader, he should have known the Psalms. And if he knew the Psalms, he would know that the Psalms say this: “There is none righteous, no not one.” There is none who is good. There is none who seeks after God.
No one is good, no one, because good is not a relative reality, it is an absolute - it is an absolute.
What does it mean? To be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect. As God says, “I am holy, I am holy, I am holy, I am holy, without sin, without flaw, without error.” It is perfect righteousness, perfect holiness, absolute goodness. The law is given to reveal that. How perverted had these Jewish people become when they took the law as a means to establish their own goodness when the purpose of the law was to reveal the goodness of God to which they could never attain? You understand the difference?
The testimony of the apostle Paul would be very much like this young man. The apostle Paul was doing really well for a while as a legalist, Circumcised the eighth day, born of the tribe of Benjamin, , he goes through all of that. He says he was a traditionalist. He was zealous for the law. He was blameless before the law. He had all these credits to himself as a legalist. And then something happened to Paul, which he speaks of in .
He says this: “I wouldn’t have come to know sin except through the law.” Once he began to really understand the law of God, he saw how sinful he was. What is the law of God? The law of God, which defines for us sin and holiness, is simply a revelation of the nature of God. God discloses His nature as holy in His law. God has revealed Himself in His law. And when Paul saw the reality of the nature of God in the law and knew he couldn’t keep the law, he said, “The law killed me,” . “It slew me, it resulted in death for me,” he says, verse 10.
The purpose of the law is to kill, to crush, to show how perfectly good God is and how utterly evil man is, therefore to produce guilt and fear and dread and remorse.
The purpose of the law is to kill, to crush, to show how perfectly good God is and how utterly evil man is, therefore to produce guilt and fear and dread and remorse.
Well, the rich young ruler totally missed that. Totally. He had a superficial view of the law, like all legalists do, all phony religionists. His response is consistent with fallen human nature that thinks it’s good, and the religious people think they’re better than everybody else. He is sure that he’s good. He has met the law’s demands. He is good.
Here is the most damning delusion that any mind can ever believe, that I’m good. That’s it. That I’m good. When you tell people they’re wicked, evil, corrupt, and not good at all, they don’t believe that. They didn’t believe it then, they don’t believe it today. People don’t believe that. So they go to hell believing they’re good. And until they believe they’re not, there’s no hope for them. Until you believe you’re not, there’s no hope for you.
So let’s find out whether this man is good, that’s Jesus’ agenda here. You’re throwing the word “good” around, let’s find out about goodness. No one is good except God alone. I’ll give you a test. You know the commandments, says he added, “and keep the commandments.” You know them. You know you’re to keep them. He gets that.
Jesus gives him some examples. “Do not murder. Do not commit adultery. Do not steal. Do not bear false witness. Do not defraud. Honor your father and mother.”
And his response, what is it? “He said to Him, ‘Teacher, I’ve kept all these things from my youth up.’” Wow. That’s why you’re good. You’re good because you’ve always kept that second table of the law. You know what that shows you? The man is living in a delusion, first of all. But more importantly, he understands the surface of the law but not the depth of the law. Because the law goes much deeper than the surface. That’s why Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, , verses 20 to 48 ,said this: “You have heard it said, you’ve been taught, but I say to you” - and He said it over and over and over and over.
You’ve been taught that if you don’t murder, you’re fine. I‘m telling you, if you hate someone, you’re a murderer in your heart. You’ve been taught if you don’t commit adultery, you’re okay. But I’m telling you, if you look on a woman to lust after her in your heart, you’ve committed adultery. This man didn’t understand the depth of the law. If he understood the depth of the law, he would know that he had hatred, that lustful thoughts were a part of his life, that desiring to steal, lies, dishonor to his parents were part of the fabric of his wretched heart.
The truth of the matter is, he says, “I’ve kept these from my youth up.” In all honesty, he’d broken those that day because no sinner can live without impure thoughts. He’d shattered that law that very day with his attitude toward others. He’d broken the law - he was a law breaker. And as a law breaker, he was worthy of death, and that’s what the law is supposed to do, kill you, sentence you to death and divine judgment. You think you’re fine because you’ve managed to control it on the surface? You’re not. He didn’t understand the depth of the law.
“You shall have no other gods before me, make no idols, don’t take my name in vain, and remember the Sabbath, keep it holy.” You say, “Well, wait a minute. He was worshiping God. He probably certainly didn’t take God’s name in vain. He must have observed the Sabbath. And he certainly put God first in his life.”
And Jesus takes him now to the foundation of the law, and the foundation of the law is in , verse 3, and it says, “You shall have no other gods before me” - you shall have no other gods before me. You don’t worship anybody but me.
God demands exclusive and total worship, , “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and might.” And if you do that, you won’t have idols, right? And you won’t take His name in vain. And you won’t desecrate His day.
Verse 21, Jesus felt a love for him. Maybe a tear like the tears He shed over Jerusalem, coursed down Jesus’ cheeks, tears of sympathy and compassion. So sad because this man was a blasphemer and didn’t know it. This man was a violator and didn’t know it. This man was the worst.
verse 21, Jesus felt a love for him. Maybe a tear like the tears He shed over Jerusalem, coursed down Jesus’ cheeks, tears of sympathy and compassion. So sad because this man was a blasphemer and didn’t know it. This man was a violator and didn’t know it. This man was the worst.
Here comes the exposure. “One thing you lack, just one thing.” You say, “How can you say that? One thing?” “Go sell all you possess, give to the poor, you’ll have treasure in heaven.” It’s what you said you wanted. “Come follow me.” How can it be that simple? “But at these words, he was saddened and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property.” Hmm. You know why he is a blasphemer? Because he has another god. Who is his other god? He had much what? Property? He had an idol. He didn’t love the Lord his God with all his heart, soul, and mind.
That’s the one thing Jesus asked him to do. Let me just have you do one thing. Get rid of the idol, which is your money and your possessions. You don’t get saved by lowering your bank account, you get saved when you get rid of your idol and you embrace the true God. He’s a blaspheming idolater.
Earthly wealth, temporal satisfaction was his God. In fact, he was his own god.
And then tell him, as a student of the law, that he is a regular violator of the whole law of God from the top to the bottom who worships himself. And that’s the way it is with all people who refuse the gospel, who never get to the gospel. That’s why I say the gospel hangs in the shadows silently here. If the law doesn’t drive you to Christ, it will drive you to hell in your own spiritual pride. He’s a blasphemer who has another god. If he would do one thing, it would be to get rid of the other god and love the Lord with all his heart, soul, and mind.
And the question is for you. What will you do? Many of you come near to Christ. You walk away clinging to yourself holding onto your own self-worship, your own pride, your own achievement, unwilling to recognize the damning power of your own sin. You ignore the law’s condemnation. And instead of letting it be the tutor that drives you to Christ, you let it drive you into hell.
“Don’t you understand that the goodness you can’t achieve will be given to you as a gift? The righteousness you cannot attain will be given to you as a gift through the sacrifice of Christ? He was made sin for you, that you might become the righteousness of God in Him?”
You can’t come into eternal life unless you’re as good as God, and the only way you can be as good as God is to have the goodness of God credited to you. That’s the gospel. Christ takes your punishment, pays for your sin, gives you His perfect goodness.
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