January 8, 2017
I shared with you before, I had a professor in seminary who told us he had the gift of evangelism. He said fruit, ripe fruit, often fell off the tree at his feet. He told the story of going to the library one day to pick up his daughter. She wasn’t quite ready, so he sat down on a bench to wait for her. After a few moments, this young man sat down right next to him, looked him in the eye, and said, “Do you know anything about Jesus?” He said he was able to lead the young man to faith in Christ right there in the library. You see, this guy was ready – all he needed to do was pray the prayer, sign the card – he was at the doorstep of the kingdom, ready to be led in. Most five year olds in Sunday School could have told him, just ask Jesus into your heart.
Most of us have never had that kind of thing happen, but let me ask you: how would you respond to someone who asked that question? Why that’s easy. I’ve had Evangelism Explosion; I grew up Baptist, I know the Romans Road; I’ve been to Cru, I’d pull out the four spiritual laws and take them right to the back of the book. Skip the rest – he’s ripe, he’s ready, pray the prayer, say the right words, notch the belt. If you’ve ever had a course on personal evangelism – you would recognize this person was a prime-time candidate for conversion.
And the last thing you’d do is put up any obstacles. Why, most of our evangelism training teach us how to remove obstacles, how to answer objections. And if you’re going to be a good evangelist today, you’ve got to be a good apologist – answer all the questions, remove anything that stands in the way of people committing to Christ. And by all means, don’t add to the confusion, don’t add to the clutter. Don’t get sidetracked – stay with the Gospel. And then we read our text this morning, and it might just blow everything we’ve ever heard right out of the water. Read it with me, Mark 10:17-27.
What in the world is going on? Jesus, you just let a prime-time candidate walk away. Mark Valentine would kick you out of Cru. This rich man – Luke gives us the additional detail he was a ruler – Matthew says he was young – this rich young ruler comes to Jesus and wants to be saved, right? He comes up, sits down next to Jesus, looks Him in the eye, and says, do you know anything about eternal life? “Are you kidding – I am the way, the truth and the life. You’ve come to the right place, pal. Believe on the Lord Jesus, that’s Me, and you will be saved.” Read him a few assurance verses, the angels in heaven are rejoicing, close the deal, you’re done.
To get people to the point where this guy was in verse 17 is the goal of our evangelistic efforts. We long to hear those words. If we can get them to this point, all that’s left is to close the deal. We think of Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch – “What is to prevent me from being baptized – from believing in Christ? Why nothing, pal – let’s go get wet. No obstacles – you’re open, you’re ready, let’s do it – stop the chariot, let’s go. We think of Paul and the Philippian jailor, who came into the cell where Paul and Silas were, fell on his knees, just like this guy, and said, “What must I do to be saved?” Are you kidding me? Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. That’s all there is to it – that’s what Paul said, and frankly, that’s exactly what I’d say.
But that’s not what happens. By the time we get to the end of the conversation in verse 22, the man walks away, lost. What gives? I don’t get this. Let me tell you something else that might bug you – this is exactly the kind of guy most would want in their churches. This guy was a real catch – good as an athlete or celebrity today. This is the kind of guy we want, right? Rich – you bet – he can give, improve our financial situation – all we have to do is get this guy to tithe. He’s respectable – by his own estimation, he’s a good guy. Probably belongs to the Rotary, gives to Goodwill, and serves at the soup kitchen.
Not only that, he’s young – while most churches are facing aging congregations – this guy was rich and young – if we could just bag this one, maybe some other young people – some up and comers from the Chamber or ASU – will come and join us. This could be the happening place. Hey, did you hear that so and so goes to Alliance?
When I first got out of Bible college many years ago, I was in youth ministry. And I had a book on youth ministry that said this. Go after the popular guys and girls at the high school – like this guy. Target them – if you can get them to come, then the losers will come, too. It didn’t say it exactly in those words, but that was the point. Anyone can get losers – go after the popular ones, then you can get everyone else to come. That’s the way Jesus did it, right? He went right after the winners of society – He skipped the losers like tax collectors and prostitutes and lepers. This guy was a winner – an opportunity for Jesus to raise His batting average. Please, by all means, come to our church.
Not only that – he’s religious. How do I know that? He was a ruler, likely a synagogue ruler. He was already religious – already kind of righteous – he just needs a little Jesus. Anybody here want to live forever, say I do – I do, you’re in. Raise your hand, walk the aisle, say the prayer, sign the card, join our group, you’ll fit in real well, you’re our kind of people.
The hook is already in his mouth – just a gentle little tug and you can set the hook – he’s all but in, Jesus, reel him in. This is the seeker of all seekers – the hottest prospect of all time. Jesus, what in the world are you doing – don’t you know anything about evangelism? Jesus flunks Evangelism 101. The fact of the matter is, most of us, if we’d been approached by this rich young ruler, would have closed the deal. As a result, we would have offered a salvation devoid of reality and power, devoid of the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. No life.
I believe we present that gospel in many churches today. It’s presented as something that will enhance your already rich life. Make the gospel attractive, make it comfortable, make it a reasonable addition to your already wonderful life. Throw a little Jesus in, and you’ve got everything you need. He can be the cherry on your sundae. Things might be going well – you might have a great job, earning a lucrative salary – you might have a wonderful family and live in a wonderful neighborhood. You’re well respected in the community, considered a success. The kids play soccer or little league, the new cars are dependable, the Cubs won the World Series. Life is good. You’ve kept the law from your youth, you just need a little Jesus.
We come to a story today which many of you know – depicted here by Heinrich Hofmann’s famous painting of the 19th Century. I say the words, “rich young ruler,” and you say, oh yeah, I know that story. Can I encourage us to forget what we know, to open our hearts to what the Holy Spirit may want to communicate to us today. Because I believe, in our American culture, the church of Jesus Christ is full of rich young rulers. People who heard a comfortable gospel, who have added Jesus, and know nothing of the true gospel and the demands of discipleship.
You might just be a rich young ruler yourself. You realized something was missing, you added Jesus to your wonderful life, you feel good about yourself. And the possibility is, Jesus might have sent you away. And the message for us, for you, today might just be one that will change your life for eternity. Some of you may choose to walk away, grieving, because you have so much to hold on to – you know in your heart of hearts that you think pretty highly of yourself; Jesus is not first in your life, you are – you and your assets, whatever they are, and you will never let them go. But for others today, I want to pry from your fingers the thing that keeps you from Christ – that keeps you from eternal life. Because it is not by might, it is not by power, it is not by anything we cling to, anything we bring, that ushers us into the kingdom – it is only by His Spirit.
Remember I suggested a five year old in Sunday School could have answered this guy’s question – just ask Jesus into your heart. That’s exactly what Jesus does here – just let Me sit on the throne of your heart. But the rich young ruler had something else in his heart which left no room for Jesus. I want you to understand that – Jesus will be all, or He won’t be at all.
Let me break down the text as we make our way through the conversation.
- First, we’ll see the Request of the Rich Young Ruler (17)
- Then, we’ll see the surprising Response of Jesus (18-21)
- And we’ll close with the Response of the Rich Young Ruler in verse 22. I want to be clear. I’m not sure the gospel many churches preach is the gospel. You can have Jesus and everything else. But the true gospel will endure no competitors. The true gospel wants it all.
Let’s start with the Request of the Rich Young Ruler in verse 17. I’ve already covered most of it. Mark tells us Jesus and His disciples have just left the house – likely continuing their journey to Jerusalem. They’re on the way and this young man runs up to Jesus, falls on his knees, and says, “Good teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”
I want you to understand, this guy was sincere. He was rich, probably used to people kneeling in his presence –at least deferring to him, and he humbles himself and kneels at Jesus’ feet. There is a sense of urgency here – there is even a sense of desperation. This guy looks a lot like the leper in Mark 1. Remember that guy? He, too, came running up to Jesus, bowing in His presence – he didn’t care what anyone thought – he had a need he thought Jesus could meet. And Jesus did. Same thing happens here, sort of. It was significant for this well-to-do member of society to approach Jesus this way. The rest of the religious world had turned on Jesus – the Pharisees were trying to trap Him, expose Him, destroy Him. This young man had much to lose by coming to Jesus this way. He runs up, falls on his knees, and by his very question, publicly acknowledges he has a need. Everyone thought the guy had everything he needed. He didn’t – he somehow knows that. So, he’s ready. Say the words, you’re in.
Notice, he asks about eternal life. Most of us think eternal life is something we get after we die – and there’s a sense in which that’s true – if you’re only thinking of quantity of life. But, for the Jewish mind, in fact, the Scripture speaks of eternal life as a quality of life – the quality of being alive to God, of being alive to spiritual things. Of realizing there’s more to life than what I amass, of what I own, of what I acquire, of what I attain. Not only that, it is a quality of life available right now – we don’t have to wait till after we die to get it.
Why is that important? This man runs up to Jesus – this rich young ruler – this one who seems to have everything going for him, and says, something’s missing. I’ve got my life all together, but there is a certain emptiness to it – there is something that all my success, all my riches, all my power, all my notoriety and popularity and prominence and influence will not fill. There’s a hole – I am dead to God – what is it, Jesus? What must I do to inherit eternal life, right now? Despite all my efforts, something is wrong, there is no fullness of life – I need life now – tell me, what do I need to do? Whatever it is, I’ll do it.
Which is exactly how some of you feel right now. All my life, you say, I’ve walked the straight and narrow, I’ve been a good kid. I’ve done all the right things, from my youth – genuinely. If this was your son or daughter, you’d be proud of them. Or yourself. You grew up in church, kept the rules, did the Sunday School thing. You won the sword drills, learned the Bible verses, you know the stories. You got confirmed, baptized, you were an altar boy, you went to confession or did Discipleship Training or joined AWANA. You did summer camps and quiz teams. You were a good kid, a really good kid. And now, you come to church all the time – you wouldn’t miss. You do worship, you read the Bible, you even remember to pray sometimes – because you’re desperately trying to fill the hole, the emptiness, by doing the right things. You try to live a moral life – you try to keep the Ten Commandments, and you’re successful most the time. You’ve never murdered anyone, you’ve never committed adultery, you’ve never stolen anything significant or told any really bad lies. And yet, there is no peace, there is no joy, there is no hope, and more than once, you’ve thought about bagging the whole thing. But you continue to try, hoping desperately that sometime, something you do will work. Just tell me what it is, Jesus, whatever it is – I’ll do it. What am I missing?
Think about it – this man came, asking the right person for the right thing. But, what is also significant, is the question he asked – what shall I do? This man stands in stunning contrast to the children who were coming to Jesus last week. That’s why it’s here – side by side. Children, Jesus said, serve as perfect pictures of the way people come into the kingdom. Simple, dependent, humble, bringing nothing. This man was convinced there was something he needed to do to get in, and he certainly didn’t come empty handed. I’ve done it all, I have it all, but I’m still empty, so what else do I need to bring?
Good teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? A sincere question. A genuine question. He wanted it. Sign him up. Which brings us to Jesus’ Response in verses 18-21.
He counters with a rather puzzling question, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but God alone.” What does that mean? This has caused lots of problems through the years – some even suggesting Jesus was saying I’m not good, I’m not God. That’s not it at all. Rather, most agree Jesus is trying to get the man’s focus off himself and his own self-righteousness – and on God and His righteousness – His standards – listen, Jesus says, there is only One good – and that’s God – and it’s not you. You want to talk about doing good – there’s only One – be that good. Go away – be that good, then come back and I’ll change the verse – there are now two who are good – God and Harry, here.
Jesus says this – you want to know what good thing to do? You want to come alive to God? I think what Jesus says is this: go do more of what you’re doing now that isn’t working. Go keep the law – keep the commandments. There, now go do it. At first glance, you may be confused – wait just a minute, you say – whatever happened to salvation by grace through faith? Whatever happened to the four spiritual laws? Whatever happened to the bridge diagram? Whatever happened to just asking Jesus in your heart? Was Jesus teaching salvation could be worked for, earned? That a person could be justified, declared righteous, by the Law?
Of course not. He understood this man had a problem – and it was this: his understanding of righteousness and how you got it was all messed up. This man saw righteousness as something he could do for himself. There was something he could do that would make himself pleasing to God, that would earn grace, that would make himself okay before God. He failed to understand no matter how good he was, no matter how many church rules he obeyed, his heart was still black – and he needed a new heart. It wasn’t a matter of what he could do for God – but what God could do for him. He needed to realize he was spiritually dead, and nothing he could do would earn him grace. He needed to look, not on the outside, and all the good things he’d done through the years that maybe made up for some of the bad things – he needed to look on the inside to see his heart was desperately and deceitfully wicked. He needed a new heart.
So what is it, Jesus? What do I need to do? The commandments, okay, “Which ones?” Just tell me, and I’ll do it. This man had no concept of his own sinfulness – of his total inability to make himself righteous before God. He was a rule keeper – give me some more rules, and I’ll keep ‘em, because I desperately want life.
You want some rules? Jesus lists some – right out of Exodus 20 and the Ten Commandments – specifically, commandments 6, 7, 8, 9 and 5, in that order – don’t commit murder, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, don’t bear false witness, honor your mom and dad – and then He throws one in for good measure – don’t defraud. Some suggest Jesus threw that one in since many rich people became rich, perhaps even this man, by defrauding others.
So there you go, keep the law. What’s Jesus doing here? He’s using the law lawfully. That is, He is using the law for what it was intended. There were three purposes of the law – to expose your sin, to break you, and drive you to Christ. The law was never intended to make people righteous. Why? Was there something wrong with it? No, the author of Hebrews says – the problem isn’t with the law – the problem is with human flesh – it’s weak – it can never keep the law perfectly. So, the purpose was to expose the weakness inherent in every one of us – sin – that we can’t keep the law, that we are guilty before God, we can’t keep His standard of righteousness, and as a result, to drive us to Christ as our only hope. That’s what Jesus was trying to do here – using the law to break this man and his pride, his vain self-attempts to justify himself.
The man’s response? All these I have kept from my youth – all my life I have kept these laws. What am I still lacking? This man, like most everyone else, had a Pharisaical understanding of the law. He had made it a matter of external compliance. He kept a list in his mind – and as Jesus listed the laws – he checked them off. Don’t murder anyone – check, I’ve never done that. Don’t commit adultery, check, never done that. Don’t steal or bear false witness – check, never done those either. Honor your parents – okay, done that. Okay, Jesus, I passed the test, what’s still lacking? Come on, I know the written rules – and I’ve kept ‘em all. So what’s the secret – what am I missing? I’m sure he was disappointed – he was looking for some brilliant new insight, some great deed that had to be done. You see, there was a prevailing thought then that there was something special you had to do beyond the law – the law wasn’t giving the inner peace they were looking for – so there must be something else. And there was, but they had no idea that it was outside of anything they could do.
Now, Jesus could have taken this guy right back to Matthew 5. Remember that? There, Jesus was pegging the Pharisees – the guys who had reduced the law to an external code of compliance. They were saying, I’ve never done any of those things either. And Jesus took the law and drove it home to the heart where it always belonged. You’ve heard it said not to commit murder – that’s good – but let me take it to the heart where it belongs. I say, don’t even hate someone, because it’s hatred that produces murder. Ever hated anyone? Ever called anyone a fool? Oh boy, suddenly the Pharisees, and you, and me, aren’t looking so good.
You’ve heard it said not to commit adultery – never done that one either? Try this on for size. Adultery begins with lust – He drives it home to the heart where it belongs – any man who has ever looked at a woman with lust has committed adultery with her already in his heart. Still feeling okay? Jesus could have done that with this guy – make no mistake about it – this man had not kept the law – neither have you. But this time, Jesus took a different approach. Notice, Mark says, looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him. Despite this man’s false self-image, despite his vain attempts at self-justification, Jesus loved him – just like you. Of course this man hadn’t kept the commandments – not really. But, in love, Jesus went right to the heart of the matter.
Okay, He said, you’re feeling pretty good about your external compliance. You’ve kept the law? Okay, not all of them. There’s something you’re missing. Go, sell all your possessions, give everything you have to the poor, then you’ll have treasure in heaven – where it really matters. Then come and follow me. And the emphasis is on following Jesus.
This young man had no idea what true righteousness was all about. He had no idea true righteousness is not found in doing certain things, in keeping a list, checking it twice – true righteousness, Jesus said, comes in relationship. It comes in giving up everything, to follow Him. The man who found the pearl of great price sold everything he had to acquire the pearl. The man who found the treasure in a field, with joy, sold everything he had to buy the field. The point is, Jesus is worth everything you’ve got – and if you’re not willing to give it all up for Him, then the kingdom is not for you. And you say, that’s a little overkill, don’t you think? No, I really don’t – but I suspect that’s why some of you will walk away today. I’ve given Jesus a lot – but He can’t have it all. Oh, you may not physically walk away – you’ll walk out those doors and be back next week. But you think you’re fine, and you think I’m asking – actually, Jesus is asking too much.
Jesus pierced right to the soul of this rich young ruler. He knew this man valued his possessions, his wealth, more than anything. Call it a violation of the first commandment, of having other gods before God, namely, his possessions. Call it a violation of the tenth commandment – of coveting things. Call it not loving your neighbor, the poor, as yourself. Call it whatever you want. The issue is this – when Jesus calls a man to follow Him, that man or woman must be willing to give it all up for Jesus. There is to be no adding Jesus to the mix. There is to be no including Jesus in your already wonderful life. You don’t have a wonderful life if you don’t have Jesus. You don’t know that you are wretched and miserable and poor. You must come to the end of yourself and realize nothing else will do – you willingly give it all up for Him, because He is your only hope.
And this man, walked away, saddened, the word there is shocked, grieving, because he owned much property. Matthew says he had many possessions.
Which brings us to our conclusion. The concern I have for the church today is that many, maybe some of you, came and asked, what can I do to inherit eternal life? And someone, well-meaning, told you – just throw in a little Jesus. You don’t really have to change anything – you can keep everything just the way it is – after all, it’s a wonderful life. Sure, maybe you have some sin, some failures – but after all, that’s what Jesus came for. And you walked an aisle, you prayed a prayer, you signed a card – anybody here want to live forever, say I do. And despite everything you did – there’s still an emptiness inside – a sense of gnawing you’ve never been able to figure out.
I want to say to you this morning it’s possible that Jesus sent you away. Because you came with fists clenched – there are things you never gave up to Jesus. You came without a sense of your own brokenness and depravity – without an understanding of your terribly black heart of sin. And Jesus wants it all – He’ll accept nothing less. Sell everything you have, then come, and follow Me. Blessed are those who come broken, mourning, hungry, thirsty, empty-handed, realizing they have nothing worth keeping, nothing to offer, who realize Jesus is their only hope.
The good news of the gospel is that Jesus gave everything for you, and now, He wants everything you’ve got. And perhaps He’s calling you now to give it all up for Him.