May 05, 2013
Mark 10:17-22

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2 Important Contextual Details:

1. Jesus is on a direct and deliberate journey with His disciples towards Jerusalem so He can celebrate the Feast of Passover.

2. Jesus has just made a revolutionary statement: “Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.”

“If you want to enter the kingdom of God, then you must receive it as a little child.”

Receiving the Kingdom verses Earning the Kingdom.

This teaching sets the stage for a young man doing his best to earn the kingdom.

[Mark 10:17] “Now as He was going out on the road, one came running, knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?” 

“One came running, knelt before Him, and asked....”

Traditionally, we know this man as the “Rich Young Ruler.”

1. “Rich” - Mark, “He had great possessions.”

2. “Young” - Matthew 19:22, “Young man.” - Literal translation “male youth.” 

3. “Ruler” - Luke 18:18, “Now a certain ruler.”

Believed to have been a member of the Sanhedrin. 

This man has everything our culture embraces: wealth, power, and youth. (B-Sides)

4. Moral - Every account affirms his high moral and religious prowess: reputable. 

5. Empty - Though he had everything, he still sensed something was missing.

“What shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?”

Good Question in that the man knew he did not have eternal life.

6. Desperate - His actions went against every cultural norm for a man of his stature.

“He came running and knelt before Jesus.”

Unlike Nicodemus, the Rich Young Ruler came to Jesus in a public forum. 

7. Perceptive - He should be credited for coming to Jesus for an answer to his question.

The man understood Jesus had the inroad on eternal life.

Good Teacher” - this was a unique phrase that would have raised eyebrows.

Good” - Greek adjective “agathos” - “of a good constitution or nature.” 

The word doesn’t mean that Jesus did good, but implies that Jesus was good. 

The word indicates sinlessness and perfection.

8. Misguided - “What shall I do?”

The man was not alone in his assumption that eternal life was earned by personal goodness and total adherence to the Law.

Heart of His Question: Since Jesus was the essence of human morality, the man wanted Jesus to provide him the key to achieving this moral perfection. 

“Since you’ve arrived.... How can I become what you are?”

Jesus has just finished saying the key to eternal life was receiving not earning. 

He has encouraged His followers to receive the kingdom as a child would.

Ironically, “What must I do?” is not a question children ask.

[Mark 10:18] “So Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God.” 

Q: In this exchange is Jesus denying His divinity?

A: Jesus is challenging the man’s theology, not denying His divinity.

What was the man’s theology?

1. Eternal life was something that could be achieved or earned.

2. “Personal goodness” was the way in which a person earned eternal life.

3. Since Jesus was “good,” he wanted to know how Jesus had achieved this perfection. 

Logic Behind Jesus’ Answer:

1. Only God is by nature good. 

2. Since Jesus was good, logically Jesus must be God.

3. Since Jesus was God, He was only good because of His good nature.

Think of it this way: Jesus’ good nature naturally manifested good deeds, implying that good deeds had no role in the formation of Jesus’ good nature.

This Undermined the Rich Young Ruler’s Theology in 2 Ways:

1. Since Jesus was perfect, the man assumed perfection was achievable. 

  • Problem: Jesus’ goodness was not a byproduct of what He did, but who He was.

2. If the only way a man could be good was to be God, then he had no chance.

  • Problem: A mere man can never be good enough to circumvent his sinful nature.

Jesus will now illustrate this reality by taking him back to the Law of Moses. (B-Sides)

[Mark 10:19-20] “You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not bear false witness,’ ‘Do not defraud,’ ‘Honor your father and your mother.’” And he answered and said to Him, “Teacher, all these things I have kept from my youth.” 

The 10 commandments were divided into 2 sections:

1. First 4 Commandments: Vertical Interactions with God. 

1. You shall have no other God’s before me.... 2. You shall not make for yourselves a carved image.... 3. You shall not take the Lord’s name in vain.... 4. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.”

2. Last 6 Commandments: Horizontal Interactions with Each Other.

5. Honor your father and mother.... 6. You shall not murder.... 7. commit adultery.... 8. steal.... 9. bear false witness.... 10. or covet.”

Jesus would sum up these 10 commandments with 2 simple precepts.

Matthew 22:37-40, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.... And you shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

Jesus asks the Rich Young Ruler if he’s familiar with these commandments.

The man answers: “Teacher, all these things I have kept from my youth.” 

There are 2 problems with his answer:
1. His answer had nothing to do with Jesus’ question.
2. His answer revealed a limited understand of the Law.

Problem: Moralists are able to reach a false sense of moral standing by focusing almost exclusively on the specifics of the command while completely overlooking the heart behind the command. 

It should also be noted they also focus on self-comparison. (B-Sides) 

Moralist love to overlook the reality that God is more interested in the position of a person’s heart than He is the manifestation of a person’s actions.

Matthew 5:21-30 Jesus says, “You heard it said you shall not murder.... but I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. You heard it said you shall not commit adultery, but I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

Reality: Since obeying the letter of the law doesn’t always insure you’re obeying the spirit behind the letter of the law, outward obedience isn’t always an indicator of inward perfection.

[Mark 10:21-22] “Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “One thing you lack (literally, in one way you fall short): Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me. But he was sad at this word, and went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.” 

“Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor....”

Note: Jesus is not telling the man to do something, rather He’s inviting the man to let go of something keeping him from receiving eternal life. 

If he had been this would have been a direct contradiction to the lesson He had just finished teaching that the kingdom must be received and not be earned.
Always remember, in order to receive we must come with empty hands!

Jesus’ request (and more importantly the man’s inability to obey) was designed to reveal to this Rich Young Ruler he wasn’t nearly as moral as he really believed he was.

Original Question: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” 

Jesus responds by issuing 2 commands that will reveal the true position of his heart.

1. “Sell whatever you have.”

2. “Give it to the poor.”

Since the Rich Young Ruler refused to obey (refused to let go what was in his hands) for “he had many possessions,” Jesus’ command brilliantly illustrated the real essence of his problem.... idolatry.

In his book “Counterfeit Gods” Timothy Keller says, “A counterfeit god [idol] is anything so central and essential to your life that, should you lose it, your life would feel hardly worth living.... Idolatry then is not just a failure to obey God, it is a setting of the whole heart on something besides God.

Idol: Anything given a preeminent position in your life over Jesus.

On the surface, it’s easy to see that wealth and possessions were an idol.

The Rich Young Ruler’s possessions took a preeminent position in his life over Jesus.

Money is such an easy idol for mankind that there are more verses in Scripture dealing with it than there are verses dealing with faith and prayer combined.

Matthew 6:21, “For where your treasure is there your heart will be also.”

The easiest litmus test for whether or not money is an idol in your life is your tithe. Jesus commands us all to give of our first-fruits.... will you obey?

D.L. Moody, “I can learn more about a man by looking at his checkbook than I can by glancing at his prayer book.”

Issue Goes Deeper than Money: 

Wealth was viewed in this society as God’s way of validating a person’s goodness with monetary blessings. This man’s god was more than money. His true idol was what the money had come to represented and what it validated.

The Rich Young Ruler real idol was his own self-righteousness!

In his “Treatise Concerning Good Works” Martin Luther makes an interesting correlation between the Law’s forbiddance of idolatry and the N.T. doctrine of justification by faith.

“Failing to believe that God accepts us fully in Christ—and to look to something else for our salvation—is in and of itself a failure to keep the first commandment; namely, having no other gods before him. To try to earn your own salvation through works-righteousness is breaking the first commandment. We cannot truly keep any of the other laws unless we keep the first law—against idolatry and works-righteousness. 

Thus beneath any particular sin is this sin of rejecting Christ-salvation and indulging in self-salvation. In other words, we never break the other commandments without first breaking the law against idolatry.... If we doubt or do not believe that God is gracious to us and is pleased with us, or if we presumptuously expect to please Him only through and after our works, then it is all pure deception, outwardly honoring God, but inwardly setting up self as a false [savior].”

To illustrate this let me first explain how counterfeit gods typically develop.

1. We get so consumed by the temporal that we loose sight of the eternal.

2. Since life is all about the present, we create for ourselves a “self-defined hell.” 

Hell becomes the one thing in this life we’re most wanting to avoid. 

Examples: hell becomes being.... poor, lonely, fat, single, insignificant, or bored.

3. At this point the natural fear of hell compels most people to search for a “functional savior” that can save them from their “self-defined hell.” 

  • If hell is being poor: your savior becomes your job and making money.

  • If hell is being lonely: your savior becomes a group of friends, social scene, a pet.

  • If hell is being fat: your savior becomes the gym, a diet, or a healthy lifestyle.

  • If hell is being single: your savior becomes a spouse - boyfriend or girlfriend.

  • If hell is being insignificant: your savior becomes a cause (political or social).

  • If hell is being bored: your savior becomes a hobby, sports team, or video-game.

4. Once you’ve found your “functional savior” you will naturally worship that person or thing in an effort for it to save you from your “self-defined hell.”

You’ll worship your job, that group of friends, your exercise routine, that significant other, cause, or recreation. 

You will make sacrifices, dedicate time, invest energy and resources for that person or thing because it has become your savior saving you from your hell.

For this Rich Young Ruler his “self-defined hell” was not off base. 

He correctly viewed hell as the horrifying alternative to eternal life.... one to avoid.

However, His problem was his “functional savior.” 

In his moralism (what his wealth represented) the Rich Young Ruler had come to view himself and his ability to be righteousness as the key to escaping hell. 

When Jesus laid out the commandments concerning our interactions with our fellow man, the Rich Young Ruler declared, “All these things I have kept from my youth.”

Jesus’ commands were designed to tear down this false idol.

“Sell whatever you have.” In refusing this command the Rich Young Ruler was revealing his idolatry - transgressing the 1st half of the commandments.

“Give all that you have to the poor.” In refusing this command he was revealing his true heart towards mankind - transgressing the 2nd half of the commandments.

With two commands Jesus revealed that his self-righteousness was indeed a facade and his savior (himself) was tragically inadequate to save him from hell. 

Understand: Jesus is trying to get the Rich Young Ruler to conclude.... “I can’t do that. I can’t be good enough. I’m lost! I can’t save myself. I’m in need of a Savior.” 

Note: Because “everyone serves someone” it’s an inescapable reality that idols cannot be removed.... an idol must be replaced. 

“Self cannot dethrone self or it would wear the victors crown.”

If you try to uproot an idol, it’ll either slowly grow back stronger than it was before, or it will simply find itself being supplanted naturally by another idol.

This is why after tearing down the man’s idol Jesus invites the man to “come, take up the cross, and follow Me” knowing that “you will have treasure in heaven.

“Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said.... But he was sad at this word, and went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.”

Jesus recognized the sincerity of this man’s quest, but Jesus also knew the man had not reached the place of brokenness. 

This man had his eyes solely fixed upon what he would have to give up to follow Jesus. Sadly, he completely overlooked what he would gain.

What became of the man? I believe Jesus was planting seeds He reap much later.