A couple weeks ago, I got to teach the older kids class at our church, and as you might guess, our text was Mark 10:17–27 about the Rich Young Ruler. I thought I’d share it with you, so below I’ve put the highlights from our study that we had together…
What must I do?
And as he [Jesus] 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
It’s pretty obvious that the Rich Young Ruler wants to get to heaven on his own merit. Even his question “what must I do” implies he wants a task to accomplish.
And, he’s not alone, we all like the idea of earning things, and wanting to earn our way to heaven is no exception.
But there’s a major problem: none of us are perfect (Romans 3:23).
And as the young man is going to find out, he can’t get enteral life on his own…
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.Mark 10:18–22
As we read what Jesus tells him, we realize that was Jesus is telling the young man is that he must be perfect to attain eternal life. Jesus begins by reminding him of a few of the 10 commandments listing the standard given by God for perfection.
The young man tells Jesus that he has kept all of the outward commandments and so Jesus then proceeds to remind him of the inward ones.
Notice that Jesus says “You lack one thing”. He goes from the general laws to the specific issue that this man faces.
And here’s why: Money had become this young man’s functional god. He had broken the first commandment: “you shall have no other gods before me”.
In the case of the Rich Young Ruler, his love of money was at least one of the many things that kept him from God’s perfection (and let’s be honest, how many of us would be willing to give up everything we have if Jesus told us to).
But Money Isn’t Even the Real Issue
Jesus never asks anyone else in scripture to completely give up their money (even more on that later). And because of that, we can infer that He was trying to make a point: We can’t earn our way to heaven because we’re all imperfect.
Jesus chose the thing that He knew the man would not give up, and we all have those things, don’t we? We all hold imperfections in our character and hearts that keep us from the perfection that eternal life with God requires.
In fact, money is simply a tangible asset that enables us to hold on to things as our functional savior instead of surrendering to God.
Here’s a few examples of things that money can “give” us so that we hold onto money instead of holding onto God…
The list goes on…
Obviously, money cannot provide any of these things perfectly (that’s kind of the point), but they can become false substitutes for what only God can give us.
We don’t know what the Rich Young Ruler struggled with most, but it’s no denying that money can take on many different roles in our lives and it can easily keep us from having God be our only and first love.
So, What Did Jesus Really Want From The Young Man?
Ultimately, God doesn’t care about our money, possessions or skills. We are imperfect sinners and so the best we can offer is still tainted with sin.
Jesus wanted him to humbly surrender.
He wanted the young man to stop
To realize he couldn’t measure up to God’s perfection
And for him to accept God’s grace.
The young man was created to enjoy a complete and whole relationship with God and to live in a way that reflected God as a result.
Unfortunately, his (and our) sin gets in the way and we become disconnected from God, Who is the Giver of life. And we cannot be reconnected to Him without becoming perfect.
In this passage, Jesus is essentially telling the Rich Young Ruler that he needs to be perfect to “inherit eternal life”. And so Jesus points out an area of imperfection in his life and says it has to be corrected in order for him to earn his way to heaven, all the while knowing that it would be too much for the man to do.
Unfortunately, it’s not even that simple.
In order to earn our relationship back with God, we must be perfect our entire lives: so even if you “clean up” now, it’s already too late!
What Jesus really wanted from this conversation was for the Rich Young Ruler to realize he wasn’t good enough to inherit eternal life and that what he really needed a Savior, just like everyone else.
“Then Who Can Be Saved?”
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?”Mark 10:23-26
After the Rich Young Ruler determines he cannot go to heaven on his own merit, he walks away sorrowful.
Have you ever considered this problem before?
God’s requirement is perfection, and there is no way that you or I are meeting that.
For many of us, just like him, this is the end of the story.
If only he had stayed a little longer.
Because after he left, Jesus told His disciples that it is extremely difficult for wealthy people to enter the kingdom of heaven. And He then follows it up with comparing it to a camel going through the eye of a needle (which is not going to happen).
Their response is what we should all ask: “then who can be saved?”
And that is a very good question.
**Please note that when Jesus said it’s difficult for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God, He is not saying that it’s wrong to be rich. What I believe Jesus was getting at is that when you are rich, you are all the more able to hide behind and hold onto the things in your heart that separate you from relying on God. It’s simply harder to choose to surrender and trust God as first in your life when you have such a tangible ability to “trust in yourself” for all of life’s needs and problems. Jesus is merely saying that it is a natural roadblock to salvation, not that it is wrong to be rich.**
What Jesus Offers Us (And The Rich Young Ruler)
Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.”Mark 10:27
If only the young man had stuck around.
He had finally come to the end of himself.
He had finally realized that he could not earn eternal life.
He had tried his hardest,
And when he realized that wasn’t good enough,
He figured that was the end of it.
(After all, he was rich and probably didn’t ask for help often)
But he had forgotten about the only One Who could really help.
He Had Forgotten About God.
The Rich Young Ruler, unfortunately, left before Jesus had a chance to remind Him that God’s grace is an option for Him to inherit eternal life.
What’s a little ironic, is that the Rich Young Ruler wanted to know what he could do to “inherit eternal life” when an inheritance is far from earned.
To inherit eternal life, you merely have to become an heir. In this case, an heir of God.
And we once were heirs,
Until sin entered the world and our hearts.
From then on out we were separated from God,
And removed from His inheritance.
There is nothing we can do,
as the Rich Young Ruler found out.
We can’t offer God a complete and perfect heart and life.
But what the Rich Young Ruler missed was this:
There was something God could, and would, do.
To give us the inheritance we could not earn ourselves.
And He was standing right in front of him.
As part of His Salvation plan,
Jesus would take His rightful inheritance,
And would trade it for our lack of inheritance.
The Rich Young Ruler (and all of us as well) wanted to earn his way, but as Paul wrote in Romans “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). And that’s not a good wage.
But in that same verse we learn that “the grace of God is eternal life” (Romans 6:23).
You want to earn eternal life?
Sorry, that ship has sailed.
That’s not going to happen.
But are you willing to receive it?
Are you willing to accept God’s free gift through His Son?
That Jesus paid your price,
That Jesus accepted the wages for your sin,
And that Jesus gave you His rightful inheritance?
Then you can receive, you can inherit, eternal life.
What Happens If We Receive This Free Gift?
If you accept Jesus’ free gift of life, there’s a few things that happen.
- He gives His Spirit to be inside of you (and every receiver), to be with you, and to transform you to be more like Him. Remember, we were created to worship God, be in relationship with Him, and reflect Him in our lives. By receiving Jesus’ free gift of eternal life, your eternal life starts now. Instead of waiting for eternity, God wants to start now. He wants you to be close to Him, now.
- As you continue to rely on His grace for your inheritance, and on His Spirit for your daily life, you will supernaturally become more like Him. These changes will take place in personal inward thoughts and desires, and also in your outward actions and words. This is a continuation of the first part as mentioned earlier that our relationship and closeness to God is what continues to transform us to be more like Him.
And there is no better example for this story than the rich man who was saved shortly after this passage.
In Luke 19:1-10, we meet Zacchaeus who is not only a rich person, but clearly an unethical one as he was a chief tax collector. To spare you the details, he essentially gets saved and tells Jesus he’s going to repay everyone back what he has stolen from them and essentially obey the Hebrew law that God put in place.
He’s not giving away all his wealth. He’ll actually probably still be fairly wealthy when he’s done.
Yet he is saved, while the other wasn’t.
It’s because his salvation didn’t come from his work,
It came from receiving Jesus’ grace.
Zacchaeus received Jesus’ message of repentance and forgiveness and was transformed because of it.
Is he perfect?
But he was saved, has been given eternal life and now is being transformed by God from the inside out.
Did he give away all he had?
But he joyfully gave back what he had stolen, and I am sure that if he remained in Jesus’ grace and love, he continued to joyfully give, love and surrender in many areas of life, including his finances.
The Difference Between The Two Rich Men
In these passages we saw two rich men.
The first wanted to earn his eternal life.
The second realized it was a free gift.
The first desired to earn an inheritance by being perfect himself.
The second was given an inheritance through Jesus’ perfection.
The first could not be perfect and walked away to continue earning his wage of death.
The second received eternal life and began living a generous and love filled life that reflected the great gift he had been given.
The first left feeling like his life was probably over.
The second left feeling like his life was just beginning.
Which do you feel like today?
Which do you want to be like?
The Prayer Of Salvation
To close this post, I wanted to remind you of another rich man who found eternal life in one of Jesus’ parables. In the chapter previous in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus tells of a tax collector who went to the temple to pray and left righteous. Here is all he prayed:
“…the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’Luke 18:13
Do you have that same prayer of repentance and humility?
Do you hold to that same mercy that God offers us through Jesus?
It’s your only way to eternal life.
If you already know Jesus, then reflect back on His grace and come back to those first joys of salvation. We all tend to drift away from that feeling and mindset, and it is important to draw near again.
If you don’t already know Jesus, please contact me with any questions you have about what it means to be forgiven for sins, have enteral life, and to know and follow Jesus.