The following sermon was preached Sunday, May 25th at FBC Walnut Ridge. Preparing for this sermon absolutely wrecked me. I wanted to share it with you.
There was a man, long ago, who was very wealthy. He had inherited his wealth from his parents, an influential family who owned much of the land and had leased it out to many farmers. His families influence and wealth was known to just about everyone in the land. They were respected by the Romans and Jews alike. His family was active in politics, spoke of often in the marketplace. Yes it seemed like every election year a member of his family was running for ballot. The wealthy man himself was a ruler of some sort. He had gained what little power the Roman government would give out to a Jewish man. The man was also no fool. He knew how to wisely invest his money, always reaping financial rewards.
But this man we are focusing on today however was known for more than just his wealth and power. Unlike most politicians, this man was known for doing good. He regularly attended tabernacle, even preaching on occasion. Boy, the people loved to hear this man preach! He was faithful to tithe 10% of his income, and 10% was a considerable amount considering his great wealth. Yes, he was a devoutly religious man, always keeping the commandments of God. Even the Pharisees considered this man to be righteous and devout.
Have you ever met a zealous man before? This man was passionate about keeping the commands of God. He would often go above and beyond what the Mosaic Law required of him. For example, instead of tithing just his money, he would tithe all the food in the pantry. He was known for decorating the graves in the cemetery with beautiful arrangements and costly gifts. Many who knew the man personally, knew that he was obsessed with the afterlife. In fact, you could argue that his primary reason for keeping the commandments of God was to achieve eternal life. Now there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that this man was a shoe in for heaven. He truly was a remarkable man.
One afternoon as he was returning from the market, he noticed a rather large crowd of people surrounding a man in the town square. His wife had mentioned to him earlier that afternoon that a rabbi named Jesus was passing through. The man had heard many stories about this Rabbi named Jesus, how he supposedly had healed a blind man at Bethsaida. He also had heard talk of how Jesus tended to feed his followers, which was probably why he drew such large crowds!
As the man approached the Rabbi named Jesus in the town square, the crowds parted out of respect for the man of great wealth. Even the disciples of Jesus himself politely excused themselves from the man’s presence. And here is where we find ourselves in Mark chapter 10 verse 17.
Many of us have heard this story before, the story of the rich young ruler. The story of a man who decided to not follow Jesus. And who are we to blame him? Jesus really did make an unrealistic request out of the man. Did Jesus simply not know that the man was good? Did Jesus believe the man when he told him he had obeyed all the commands of Moses, ever since he was a boy? Perhaps their conversation would have gone a little smoother if the man would have introduced himself first.
Let’s reexamine their conversation. In verse 17 we read,
17 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Scripture tells us that the man fell to his knees, calling Jesus the “good teacher.” Now we do not know for sure, but can safely assume that the man refers to Jesus as the “good teacher” because he desired a favorable answer from Jesus. That certainly is possible.
How many times have we done something like this? I confess that if I wanted to go a friend’s house when I was a teenager, I would butter my mother up by telling her that I loved her and then I would offer to do work around the house like doing the dishes. You parents know what I am talking about! Even adults tend to smooth talk their bosses before asking for a raise. Now, like I said, we cannot know for sure that this is what the rich man is doing. But we can know for sure that we are guilty of doing of smooth talking our superiors.
It’s also interesting that this rich man does this in front of a large crowd of people, who were more than likely enamored at the mans goodness, especially his willingness to throw himself down at Jesus’ feet. It’s possible that this man was putting on a show, as the Pharisees did with their overly long prayers on the street corners for sinners.
He may have desired the same complement Jesus gave the Roman Centurion, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith!”
We can also discover from this verse this mans desires to know the answer to the age old question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” You have to hand it to the man, that’s a good question! At least, so it seems. Inside the question we discover a flawed theology. He desires to know what HE MUST DO to earn eternal life. In fact, it soon becomes clear that the man is obsessed with gaining eternal life. Because he assumed that he could gain eternal life by doing.
If you think about it, this is a clear indicator of a lost person. I speak with people all the time who think they must DO DO DO before they can be saved. They think, “I must be baptized” or “I have to attend church” or “I need to iron on these problems in my life so that I can be saved.”
It’s a destructive mentality that keeps people out of the church, and when that mentality creeps into the church, members feel lost and always inadequate. As a church body, we must impress on our community that it’s not about what you do that gets you saved, it’s about what Christ has done. Goodness and salvation do not come from our own efforts, but gifts given to us from God.
For example, we do not praise the little child for coming to faith in Jesus. We praise God. We do not praise the Hells angel for repenting and turning to Jesus, we praise God. We praise God for saving us, and we praise God for placing His goodness over us. It’s not what you do, it’s what He has done.
18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.”
Why do you call me good? Jesus asked. Jesus gives the man a confusing response. His response has puzzled me over the years too. But what I think Jesus is saying is this, “You do not even know what good is! I refuse to be held to your standards of goodness!” Remember, this man believed himself to be good. All the people believed he was a good man! So Jesus should consider it an honor to be called good but such a righteous individual.
But Jesus brushes off the comment and gives the man a Sunday school answer. “You desire to have eternal life? Keep the commandments.” Certainly this pleased the man. Jesus had fallen into his trap. Now Jesus and all the people would know that this man had kept all of the commandments since he was a boy. Now Jesus would declare him righteous and worthy of eternal life! And so he answers,
20 “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”
Some of you may be wondering, “How on earth can anyone keep all of Gods commandments all of the time?” And that’s a good question. But we will soon find out that he had not kept all of Gods commands. He may have smudged the numbers so to speak. His reply reminds me of what Paul told the Philippian church. Remember Paul used to be named Saul, and Saul believed himself to be a righteous man. Keeping the laws of God to the letter. Paul tells the Philippians,
If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless. 7 But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.
Paul once had confidence in the flesh, as this rich young ruler displays. But Paul had long ago learned that it’s not wise to put confidence in the flesh. And so…
21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.
22 At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.
We cannot overlook the important of vs. 21. Jesus loved this young man. He did not despise him for interpreting scripture all wrong, or because he was wealthy and influential. Jesus loved this man. He earnestly desired for the man to lay down his treasures and follow Him. Jesus’ reply was not an insult to the man or an insult against rich people; Jesus was revealing a heart problem. Love always challenges others for their own good. It would be unloving to let the man carry on with his sin.
You see, this man had made all kinds of investments in life. He was a wealthy, so we know that he was wise with his money. He was also a ruler, so he certainly must have invested much time into the people. He also invested in religion, seeking to gain a reward by obeying the commandments.
The problem is when we attempt to bargain with God, we elevate ourselves to His level. We begin to take on an entitled mentality. For example, “I tithed this Sunday so God better bless me this week at my workplace!” That sounds silly when said out loud right? We are always being tempted to be our own gods as opposed to surrendering to the one true God.
Jesus publically revealed this mans heart problem. Yes this man had obeyed many of the commandments of God, but he had also neglected many others. This tends to happen when people bargain with God. We pick and choose what commands we like and don’t like, then we hope God will accept the deal.
This man refused to share his wealth. He refused to care for the widow and the orphan. Instead of blessing others with what God has blessed him with, he lined his pockets and hoarded his possessions. Certainly this man would have read the prophet Jeremiah, who said,
23 This is what the Lord says:
“Let not the wise boast of their wisdom
or the strong boast of their strength
or the rich boast of their riches,
24 but let the one who boasts boast about this:
that they have the understanding to know me,
that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness,
justice and righteousness on earth,
for in these I delight,”
declares the Lord.
Certainly this man knew of Gods character, which He desires to embody the lives of all His people. But this man wanted none of that. He simply wanted the prize of eternal life. He did not desire to bless God or his neighbor, he desired to bless himself. And so scripture tells us that the man walked away. It’s important for us to realize that Jesus did not turn his back on this young man, the young man turned his back to Jesus. He desired his earthly possessions more than he desired eternal life. Jesus had something to say about earthly possessions earlier on the sermon on the mount. He said,
19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” –Matthew 7
It’s possible to be interested in eternal life and not possess it. I’ve quoted the great theologian George Strait before, and I’ll do it again. George says in one of his songs, “I’ve never seen a hurst with a luggage rack.” And that’s a lesson we learn from Jesus. What good is all your earthly possessions when you are dead?
Love God. Love people. Jesus must become your treasure, for He is eternal. This is a sad story. It’s always sad to see a young person turn away from God. What’s even worse is when a person turns from God knowing full well they should surrender to him. But like I said earlier the temptation for us to become like God is strong. And that’s a temptation that goes all the way back to the garden.
23 Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”
24 The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?”
27 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”
For preachers it’s tempting to nullify Jesus’ harsh words here. These verses are no good for Americans, who have been taught since childhood that success is equated with what’s in your bank account. When we run out of room, we simply move into larger houses or pay money for storage units. My brother told me this week that as long as “Americans have dumpsters with food in them, we are doing better than most of the world.” It’s safe to say that all of us here are doing much better than the rich young ruler.
Money is not a bad thing, but it is a dangerous thing. Anything that attempts to pry us away from submitting everything to God is a dangerous thing. Think about this. If I were to go to the nursery with a $1 bill and a $1000 dollar bill, and I gave the dollar bill to my daughter Evelyn. You know what she would do with it? She’d eat it. Now if I handed her the $1000 dollar bill, and told her how important that 1000 dollar bill was, you know what she would do? She’d eat it.
But ten years from now if I did that, she’d take both the bills and yell “Mine!” 20 years from now, if our dollar bill is worth anything 20 years from now, she would act as if she won the lottery! It’s the same way with puppies. When they are young they all eat out of the same pan, but as they grow older they become selfish and self centered. They growl if any other dog gets near their food pan. Possessions have a funny effect on us. They tend to set us against one another and against God.
The disciples were amazed that Jesus let the rich man walk away. By all appearances the rich man would have been a perfect fit for the kingdom of God. Certainly they were thinking, “If that man is out…How can we ever be in!? But Jesus assures them that with God all things are possible. You see even the disciples did not understand that they were not saved by their own efforts. And so Peter, ever the bold one declares,
28 Then Peter spoke up, “We have left everything to follow you!”
29 “Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel 30 will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”
Peter unknowingly answers the disciples own question. “How can we be saved?” By leaving everything and following Jesus. Jesus must become supreme in our lives. He must become first. No person or thing can take Gods place in our lives. When we elevate out possessions above God, we miss Jesus. When we elevate our loved ones above God, we miss Jesus.
Jesus demands more than mindless obedience to rules, He demands sacrifice. The love of acquisition and self gratification deadens our instinct to sacrifice. That is why we must give up whatever stands in the way of total commitment to God and love for His kingdom.
Ultimately we all have to answer this question, Is Jesus worth it? Is he worth all our time, energy and devotion? Is he worth leaving and forsaking? The rich young ruler did not think so. And there are many like him. Jesus tells us,
“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. 36 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?
You see we all lose our lives. Death is inevitable. But who will you lose your life for? Will you invest your life in self or God? People in our culture have plenty to live on but little to live for. Are you living for God and His kingdom, or are you still advancing your own kingdom? Is Jesus worth it?
The night seemed cold, even though it was relatively warm outside. The old man tugged at his blanket which had cost him a fortune, but was failing to keep him warm that night. As he lay prone in bed, he began to reflect upon his life. His childhood, all those summers spent on the lake with family, most of whom are gone now. His young adult years, how he had carried on the family name, making wise investments and nearly doubling his families estate. His 3 children, all grown up now and far away. His wife, so loving and encouraging, she had passed only a couple years ago.
The man acknowledged that he had lived a successful life. But for whatever reason he felt unsatisfied. He had a deep longing for more. But not the kind of desire that consumed his youth, it was a desire of a different kind. A spiritual kind. He felt in his heart as if he had missed out on something important in life. Something big. It nagged at his soul that evening.
The next morning he was discovered stiff as a board. A beautiful funeral was held in Judea. Mourners were hired by the hundreds. His inheritance divided between his three children. Whatever else was left was given to the government. And so the rich young ruler walked with his face downcast.