Based on a message preached at First Baptist Church, Glasgow, Mo.; not an exact transcription.
When an event in Scripture is recorded once, it’s clearly important. This event was mentioned in three of the four gospels! This event took place shortly before the Lord Jesus Christ made His final journey to Jerusalem, there to give His life a ransom for many (Mark 10:45) and three days later rise from the dead. In fact, this may be one of the last conversations or encounters with a seeker prior to Him going to Calvary.
The text is from Mark 10:17-22 (key verse is 21): "Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, 'One thing thou lackest: Go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven. And come, take up the cross, and follow Me.'"
Jesus, as we’ve seen, is heading for Jerusalem, and He’s fully aware of what’s going to happen in just a matter of days. Now we see a contrast: Jesus walking toward His destiny, and someone running to see Him! Reading in the gospels, we learn that many people came to Jesus, some bringing others (such as the friends who let a sick man down through a roof). However, few actually ran to meet Him. Let’s take a look at the conversation:
I. The Young Man’s Question and Jesus' Reply
Remember this man was one of the few mentioned in th Bible as running, and one of the very few who knelt before Jesus prior to our Lord going to Calvary. Apparently, the young man still was kneeling when he asked his the question. No doubt he was sincere and probably didn’t let his own status as being young (Matt. 19:22), rich (Luke 18:23) or a ruler (perhaps a leader in a synagogue) (Luke 18:18) stand in the way of wanting to find an answer to his question. He wanted to know! Don’t you wish more people wanted to know how to receive eternal life?
So, he asked a profound question: “Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?”
Nobody ever had asked Jesus that question before! Think of all the times when people had asked Jesus various questions or made different kinds of requests. This is the most sincere question in the Bible, and it’s rooted in a very sincere, albeit misguided, frame of mind.
We don’t have to look far to remember the Jewish religion, the Law of Moses, had many commandments. Leviticus, Numbers and the other books give all kinds of instructions, which were mandatory and binding on all the Hebrew people. One estimate, in addition to the Ten Commandments, is there were more than 600 laws, commandments and ordinances in the Law. How could anyone keep all of the rules? Jesus Himself, in the Sermon on the Mount, said, “That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 5:20). I remember a preacher, many years ago, speaking about that verse and asking, “How religious can you get?”
So, was the young man, the rich young ruler, looking for a genuine answer? Was he really sincere? Did he truly want to receive eternal life, or was he just looking for whatever was missing from his present life? Only he could have known for sure, except Jesus knew exactly what he was thinking—though Mark doesn’t tell us this in the text.
I wonder how much time Jesus took before He replied to the young man’s question. As is the Jewish method of teaching, Jesus answered the young man’s question with one of His own. I have to confess that sometimes I get a little irritated or frustrated when I ask somebody for information and get another question in response rather than an answer. True, there may be a need for me to clarify something, and I realize maybe I could have phrased my initial question better.
The purpose of Jesus’ question was to probe the depth of the young man’s sincerity. After all, he had called Jesus “Good Teacher” or “Good Master”; very few people in the Bible ever were called good. So, Jesus asked, "Why did you call Me good?"
Further, Jesus said to the young man, “You know the commandments,” and then listed several of them. Jesus didn’t use the word for simple knowledge, as in, “You are aware of the commandments” or, “I know where the state capitol is located.” Rather, Jesus used a word meaning "to know by experience," or according to Strong’s Concordance and Vine’s Expository Dictionary, "to perceive.” It’s a deeper knowledge than simple facts.
What did the young man say in response to what Jesus said?
II. The Young Man’s Reply and the Jesus' Response
My hunch is this young man was completely caught off guard by what Jesus said! I don’t know and I haven’t read anywhere in the Bible of anyone who claimed to have kept all the commandments—except this man. Granted, these six, which Jesus quoted, had as the focus man’s dealings with man; none directly dealt with a person’s relationship with God. Still, I have wondered what kind of thoughts were going through this young man’s mind.
There is one thing to keep remember, namely, that the Jewish religious leaders were placing more emphasis, it seems, on traditions more than Scripture. One example illustrates this vividly. In Mark 7, the Pharisees (one group of religious leaders) wondered aloud why the disciples didn’t wash their hands when they ate (vv. 1-13). Jesus promptly set the record straight and accused them of side-stepping the Word of God so they could follow their own traditions. He had other dealings with tradition being elevated to a higher status than the Word of God, as well.
So, the young man may have been taught that as long as he hadn’t overtly or openly broken the commandments, everything was fine! He also may have thought that had he given the prescribed sacrifices, he had good standing with God. Strangely, some may have thought that because they were physical children or descendants of Abraham, they shared the faith of Abraham. Paul later demolished this last concept in Romans 4 and following; but maybe this man, a ruler, held that idea. We may never know.
At any rate, he told Jesus, “I’ve observed all these from my youth!” and I believe he was sincere. Maybe he had kept the commandments, but I don’t think he knowingly would have lied to Jesus, especially when he had just asked Jesus what he needed to do to gain eternal life.
What did Jesus say? First, Mark—and only Mark—tells us that Jesus loved this young man. Actually, there were very few people who were described in Scripture as someone “whom Jesus loved.” The apostle John; the 11 disciples in the Upper Room; Mary, Martha, and Lazarus were among these. It’s always good to remember although our names may not be published on this earth, they’re in the Lamb’s Book of Life, and Jesus Himself loves every one of us. What part of John 3:16 can’t we understand?
Now Jesus, having loved this young man, told him something the young man didn’t want to hear. Jesus said, “One thing you lack…” and proceeded to list specifically what that one thing entailed. The first thing after Jesus said, “You lack one thing,” was, “Go thy way,” meaning, "take care of this first before you undertake anything else."
Clearly the commands Jesus gave this young ruler were not to provide salvation. Nobody has been or will be saved by following commands or by doing or not doing anything. Salvation is a gift from God to anyone who takes or receives the gift. Yet, these instructions from Jesus were too much for the young man to receive. Mark said he went away grieved, sorrowful. He not only had great possessions, but they had him, and they kept him from following Jesus.
III. Jesus' Words to the Followers
As incredible as it seems, Jesus let the young man walk away. He always gives people, including us, the choice to follow Him or leave Him. This young man took the wrong way, the way of earthly riches, rather than following Jesus into everlasting life. It’s one of the great ironies that the man who came running to Jesus, asking what he had to do to inherit everlasting life, walked away when he found out what was needed.
The disciples were perplexed, I’m sure, as the man kept on walking. Then when Jesus said how hard it would be for the rich to enter the kingdom of God, they were amazed. Think about it, this young ruler would have been a prize catch, humanly speaking! He could have used his wealth in any number of ways.He could have used his position or gone back home and been a witness for Jesus. As far as we know, none of that happened.
Jesus said, “Go thy way,” and the young man said, “I’ll follow my way.” That decision was one of the worst he could have made. Now the question for us is: Will we follow Jesus, or will we hold on to what we own?