It’s natural to think that our status, money, sincerity, good actions, and even acknowledgement of God and religious principles can earn us credibility and points in this life and beyond. ♦
A young and successful man of stature and faith seeks guidance from a well-known leader and teacher of men. He is searching for understanding of necessary steps to assure his salvation and destiny after this life is over. He is wealthy, eager, respectful and sincere. His intentions are noble and his behavior is impeccable.
What a beautiful picture of a mentoring elder and a young aspiring prodigy.
But the wise teacher calls him out and the young man slinks away saddened and dejected.
Jesus can do that to you. He did it in a story repeated 3 times in the New Testament. A story laden with meaning and fraught with misunderstanding.
It’s the story of the rich young ruler.
This story is told in Matthew (19:16-30), Mark (10:17-31) and Luke (18:18-30). It’s interesting to read each of the accounts as they each add further data and make a good composite picture. Here’s a summary account:
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?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not kill, 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 observed from my youth.” And Jesus looking upon him loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” At that saying his countenance fell, and he went away sorrowful; for he had great possessions. (Mark 10:17-22)
A few points to note: only in the Luke account is the young man called a “ruler.” In the Mark passage, the man literally runs and kneels before Jesus. He is eager to get his question answered by the great Teacher. All accounts have him as wealthy and young and with respectful knowledge of Jesus as a rabbi. He calls him “Good Teacher” which prompts Jesus to question the reference to “Good” as no rabbi would normally be referred to with that descriptive. This merely reflects the humble naivety of a well-intentioned man honestly seeking answers and guidance to a very big question – What do I have to do to make it into heaven?
The answer he gets is unsettling. To him and to many still today.
A Bit Extreme?
Why does Jesus answer him this way? After all, the man’s trying to be a good guy and apparently has been a good guy for all of his young life. Isn’t Jesus being a bit harsh and rough on him? Jesus and his disciples’ growing ministry might have made good use of a potential rich source of funds to extend their ministry impact.
But Jesus “looking upon him loved him” and responded in his amazing Christ-like way. He asks him to give up what he knows is his true heart and treasure.
The young man is crushed and sorrowfully walks away “for he had great possessions.”
Jesus then comments to his disciples: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle that for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” His disciples, now as confused and befuddled as the departed rich young ruler, ask “Then who can be saved?” Their thinking is that if that guy can’t make it into heaven with that desire, pedigree and portfolio, then who can?
In fact, there are several things that this story teaches us which are not requirements for entering into the kingdom of heaven:
- Sincerity – good thoughts and intentions
- Status – position, title, family background
- Activity – good religious actions
- Money – wealth, check-writing ability
- Belief in God – “even the demons believe”
- Respect for Jesus – as a good teacher and rabbi
The rich young ruler had all of this in spades yet it wasn’t what Jesus himself specified. Jesus asks for merely this requirement:
- A Surrendered Heart
Jesus knew the condition of the young man’s heart and the core of his focus: his money. That’s why he specifically told him to be rid of all that and “come, follow me.” This is not a call for all for all of us to part with our money and even give it to the poor. This is a misreading of this passage. This is about a dissociation from our good intentions and deeds, status/family, wealth, and even our religious beliefs. This is about the surrender and submission of our full heart and devotion to Jesus, nothing else.
Jesus answers the disciples’ question with the comment: “With men it is impossible, but not with God, for all things are possible with God.” God does the saving, not the actions of men. It is His grace and mercy that allows the possibility. We have to come, only heart in hand, and submit allegiance to it.
Have you come heart in hand and submitted to this Jesus?
“When He had called the people to Himself, with His disciples also, He said to them, ‘Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?” – Mark 8:34-37