Mark 10:17-31 — 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?”
“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 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.’”
“Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”
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.”
At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.
Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”
The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 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.”
The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?”
Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”
Then Peter spoke up, “We have left everything to follow you!”
“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 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. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”
The Rich Young Man Went Away Sorrowful, James Tissot (1836-1902)
This story starts out with a question—a really important question. “Good teacher,” says a man to Jesus, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” That is a question we should all want to know the answer to. The life you have right now isn’t going to last very long, and what then? Perhaps this man in the text has heard Jesus talk about eternal life, or perhaps he heard the accounts of how Jesus raised people from dead; and he wanted to know what Jesus knew about how this works. How do we get from point A to point B– from this short and sad and uncertain life, to the eternal life in heaven Jesus had been talking about. This man wanted to know. We should all want to know that. Someday, we will all need to know that.
And the Bible gives some clear and simple answers to that question in several places. In Acts chapter 16, a man asked it of the Apostle Paul and his co-worker Silas. “Sirs,” he said, “What must I do to be saved?” And they replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved.” Clear, plain, and simple. If you’ve been around the church at all, this is not the first time you have heard this. It is the basic, wonderful, Gospel message that we proclaim around here. This is the primary reason that we gather together for worship—to keep hearing this message and reinforcing it in our minds, so that our faith may be strengthened.
And where did we and Paul and Silas get that clear and simple message? Well, we got it from Jesus himself, who said in that most famous of all Bible verses, John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” Right there is the plain and simple answer that the man in our text was looking for. But that is not what he got from Jesus in Mark chapter 10.
Rather, Jesus had a most confusing reply. He said, “You know the commandments.” Commandments? What does he mean commandments? John 3:16 doesn’t say anything about commandments, and we always hear we are saved by grace and not be our good works. What is Jesus talking about here when he says commandments? And besides, how should we know how well we have to do on those commandments? We know we are not perfect, so how good do we have to be? Well, if this response of Jesus seems rather odd, the man’s response to Jesus is even stranger. “No problem there, Jesus,” he says, “I have been obeying all the commandments ever since I was a boy.” Wow.
The next verse says, “Jesus looked at the man and loved him.” Jesus was probably thinking, “You poor, arrogant, ignorant man; what makes you think you have kept all the commandments?” Seeing the need to continue the conversation, Jesus said, “Okay, then there is just one more thing. Sell everything you have, give it to the poor, and come and follow me.”
Well now, Jesus has everyone thoroughly confused, and, discouraged—everyone–the man who asked the question, the disciples, me, and just about everyone else who has ever tried to understand, apply, or preach on this text. I don’t get it. Paul says so clearly in Ephesians 2:8-9: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast.” And Paul didn’t make that up, he got it from Jesus; and there is not one bit in those verses about commandments or selling everything and giving it all to the poor. Nothing. Why the impossible commands and wild goose chase from Jesus here? (continued…)
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a poor sinner. Amen.
–Ancient Jesus Prayer