It’s not all about how wealthy the young ruler was…
In Mark 10:17-31, we come across a man who has everything he wants. This young man as we are told in other gospel accounts, (Matt. 19; Luke 18) is running up to Jesus, kneeling down in front of him and asking the most important question; “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (v.18). Now on the face of this we can say that this man had everything that he wanted, but what he needed was an answer to the question that had been burning inside of him, the question that everyone on this planet wants to know, how do I get eternal life?
Christians in our culture today must know the answer to this question, there shouldn’t be an equivocation when they are asked this question, the answer of course is Jesus Christ, but our culture demands not a singular response, but a response where all answers to this question are considered valid. If the Christian answers the question in a single truthful response with Christ alone, then the Christian is considered arrogant and hateful. The Rich Young Ruler that we see in Mark is a mirror of our society today. This young man has everything that the world says he should have, but he is still searching for an answer to his deepest desire. Nothing is more important to him that fleshing out this question about eternal life, he runs to Jesus and kneels before him, showing due respect and honor. Jesus is the only one to whom this man can go to for eternal life. Jesus has the answer and this man knows it. John Bunyan places this quest for eternal life squarely in the hands of Christian in Pilgrims Progress; Christian runs away from the unbelieving world shouting “Eternal Life! Eternal Life!”, he plugs his ears not hearing the call of the world for him to come back, but nothing could cause Christian to look back on all the worldly goods he was leaving, his desire for eternal life had become the desire of his soul. The Rich Young Ruler’s desire was also for eternal life but something blocked his attaining it.
The stumbling block for most of us is the things of this world, we look at these things and have no idea that they might one day take over our lives and our worship of God. Quietly they persist in the background, only asking for recognition here and there. These things attract our attention, and like moths to a flame, and dogs to squirrels, we succumb and everything is upside down; nothing makes sense anymore and we can’t wait to get back to the things, instead of loving God, we are now loving things. The Rich Young Ruler had things on his mind that day when he ran up to Jesus. The things in his mind were occupying the same space where God was, but yet these things surpassed God, and the things became god. Jesus surprises the young man, as he usually does and as he does with us, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.”(v.18) Jesus embraces his deity, and informs everyone that he is the only Good one here. Keeping the Commandments isn’t going to help this young man get his desired outcome, Jesus reasserts that in verse 18. Jesus can see what is blocking this man’s view of God, he knows it is the condition of sin in a corrupted world. Just as Jesus weeps over his beloved friend Lazarus (John 11:35 ), this young man is also loved.
Jesus requires the young man to “…sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”(v.21) This mention of a treasure in heaven doesn’t move the man to relinquish his things, but it acts by placing a tighter hold on those things. It is as if the things know they are going to be replaced and are holding on to their position of worship for the Rich Young Ruler. Nothing seems to shake the cemented position of the man’s things to his worship, he loves things more than he could love God. The things seem to have a great hold on this Rich Young Ruler he sees life without them as not worth living and he is saddened because he cannot have both, God will not allow it, “You cannot serve God and money.” (Luke 16:13c) The point here is not that Jesus is saying that we need to be impoverished, no, but sometimes it’s only when we are in the midst of poverty (physical and spiritual), when we truly rely upon God. Our sufferings and trials in this world help us grow closer to God. When our next meal is uncertain, when we are unaware of where we will be living, then there is recognition of our priorities, and a true understanding of who God is. His love is laser-focused upon this young man and his misplaced worship.
Jesus love and grace comes through loud and clear for the Rich Young Ruler. The man refuses to place his worship in the proper order, and yet Jesus “loved him” this is a great act of love in Mark’s gospel, even in the midst of loving things more than God, Jesus has compassion, Jesus has mercy, Jesus “loved him”. In the middle of our worship of things, Jesus loves us, the Holy Spirit convicts us of this elevation of the world over God. In our sanctification we, unlike the Rich Young Ruler, cannot turn away from Christ, we have been justified, made new through the atoning work of Jesus alone and we are new creations (2 Cor. 5:17) declared to be righteous by God because of Christ alone. Nothing that we have done ever comes within a million miles of changing our hearts. This realization of the Rich Young Ruler causes him severe distress, he sees his chains, and he recognizes his own prison. Like a man who has been sentenced to life in prison, he is acutely aware of his turning down eternity with God.
As a Pastor and Biblical Counselor I see many people who are convicted of their addictions, of their sins and yet fail to give up these things. The addictions started out as something casual with a rationalization that there would be forgiveness. Their tears flood the floor and they speak about leaving the things behind and coming fully to Christ, they swear they will be clean; and yet some go away saddened realizing that their love of things is more than their love of God. But this is not the end for those who think there is no help, those who think the darkness is something that they must get used to. This account from Mark has important considerations for those who are embroiled in addictions, for those whose love of things have eclipsed their love of God, Jesus loves you! In the midst of the pain and in the midst of the suffering, Jesus, the picture of perfect love declares that he loves you. The Cross of Christ is the ultimate picture of love, and that love doesn’t end when you are beset by addiction, or your worship of God is corrupted. If the things of life have left you saddened and you feel helpless, know that the love of Christ awaits you. It’s time to see these things for what they are, worship thieves, and put them in their place before it is too late.
Read this Scripture over again and again and allow God to take you through the account of a desperate young man who needed to divest himself from worldly things so that he could put all of his worship towards the one true God. Let your worship be directed towards the Creator and the Perfecter of our faith, Jesus Christ Almighty.