|Pixaby (Public Domain)|
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?” 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.’” 20 “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.” 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. 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.” 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.”
Jesus doesn’t answer the question that was asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (inherit = possess, have). Instead the Lord basically changes the subject, but only to emphasize a point.
“Why do you call me good…No one is good—except God alone.”
Why did Jesus do that?
The foundation was being laid. If I am good, says the Lord, and there is no one good except God, then you know who it is who is speaking to you now. Be careful with your responses and the choices you make.
The man had come and fallen on his knees in front of the Lord. He was acknowledging something here, but did he fully understand? He was bowing before God but did he really know that?
This man came to Jesus loaded with assumptions.
He assumed that Jesus was good: “Good teacher…” That was a good assumption.
He assumed that Jesus had the answer to his question: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” That too was a good assumption.
He assumed he had to do something to get eternal life.
Here is where Jesus forces the man to articulate what he means by “doing” something to gain eternal life. Jesus rolls out six of the Ten Commandments: “Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.”
Notice that Jesus only mentions the six that have to do with our horizontal relationships—how we deal with other people. He doesn’t mention the first four commandments that concern our relationship with God.
The man gives a quick, almost unthinking answer, one that many of us could just as easily give, if we didn’t think too deeply about it. He says: “…all these I have kept since I was a boy.”
The man has made another assumption. He has already forgotten to Whom he is speaking—the God Who knows the truth. If he had thought a little more carefully about his answer, he might not have been so cocky. If he had been following Jesus' teachings (and we assume he had or why would he come to Jesus in the first place). The man may not have physically murdered anyone, but Jesus’ definition of murder is to be angry at someone. He may never have committed adultery, but Jesus’ definition of adultery is to look lustfully at someone. He may never have dishonoured his parents by refusing to obey them However, Jesus’ definition of honouring father and mother is to not withhold help from them by lying and saying that the help you could give is dedicated to God, so isn’t available (an excuse which also involves the command against stealing and defrauding—Mark 7).
The man has also assumed that Jesus is going to give him another list of things he can do to earn his entrance into the kingdom. He thinks he is good (first and fatal mistake) and therefore he will do all that he is commanded. Mark doesn’t record the question that the man asked after he claimed to have kept all the commandments the Lord had mentioned. But Matthew does. He records: “All these I have kept…What do I still lack?” (Mathew 19:20).
There is a beautiful phrase that Mark does include in his account of the story: “Jesus looked at him and loved him.” But still Jesus asks him the hard questions.
Jesus asks him to do the one thing he is not willing to do and that instruction will be the one thing that proves he is not as good as he thinks he is.
“One thing you lack…Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come and follow me.”
Jesus had only probed this man on the last half of the commands. Now the Lord probes him on one of the first four of the commands: “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3). Who do you love more? Do you love me more than you love your wealth, and the sense of security that your wealth brings to you?
It could have been anything. In this case it was wealth because this man was wealthy. But any other false god could have fit in the slot. Anything that we value more than we value Him becomes an idol, a false god. In the case of this man who seemed so sincere in his desire for eternal life, his love of his possessions deprived him of the very thing he came seeking.
Why ask the man such a hard question? Why make it so difficult? Often we try to make accepting Christ, becoming a believer, as easy as we can. We sometimes don’t even mention sin, or the need to repent, or to confess and turn from that sin. We don’t want people to turn down the invitation. But the truth is that the only way to come into the kingdom of God, to gain eternal life is to be faced with that which keeps us out of the kingdom—our sin, whatever it is that comes between us and the Lord. We have to face that sin, confess that sin, turn from that sin, and ask the Lord to forgive us for that sin. There is no other way. And as much as Jesus loved this man, He couldn’t provide him with an easier access to the eternal life.
This man seems to have been a pretty good guy. He probably hadn’t murdered anyone, or cheated, or dishonoured his parents. Perhaps he could say, with a clear conscience, that he had kept all the commandments that the Lord mentioned. But to fault in one is as good as breaking them all—only one will keep us out of the kingdom. We all come before the Lord as sinners.
Paul wrote in Romans 3: “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have altogether become worthless, there is no one who does good, not even one” (Romans 3:10-12). And the price of that sin is eternal separation from God. “…the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).
Mark tells us that the man was disappointed and “…went away sad.”
Why sad? Was he sad because Jesus didn’t take into account the good stuff he had done and cancel out this one little glitch in his performance? Was he sad because he felt that Jesus hadn’t been fair? Was he sad because he really wanted eternal life but the price was too much?
This episode seems to imply that eternal life can be won by obeying the rules, i.e. if the man had sold all his possessions and then become a disciple, he would have been saved. But salvation isn’t based on what we do. Salvation is based on faith—faith in what Christ has already done for us on the cross. By not being willing to do as Jesus asked the man demonstrated that though he may have been seeking an entrance into heaven, he wasn’t seeking the Lord—and there is a difference!
Psalm 24 describes the man who is seeking the Lord this way:
“Who may ascend the hill of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to an idol or swear by what is false. He will receive blessing from the Lord and vindication from God his Savior. Such is the generation of those who seek him, who seek your face, O God of Jacob” (Psalm 24:3-6).
After the man left the Lord made this statement: “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God.” Once again it is not an issue of money per se, but an issue of an idol. But without a doubt wealth is a very powerful idol in which a person may be tempted to put their trust. Jesus went so far as to say that wealth was such an attractive idol that it was “…easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
It shouldn’t be surprising that evangelism is generally easier among the poor than it is among the rich!
The disciples reacted curiously to what Jesus said. They responded to His statement by being “amazed” because it was believed that wealth was a sign of God’s blessing on a person. They still hung on to the idea that God only blesses with wealth those who are closest to Him.
The Pulpit Commentary says:
The stern teaching of vers. 23 and 24 thoroughly dismayed and perhaps offended them. Temporal prosperity had in their Law been held forth as the reward of righteousness and obedience, a foretaste of future happiness… If the way to heaven is barred to the rich man, how shall the poor pass therein? The difficulty seemed to apply to everybody. All who are not rich are hoping and struggling to become rich, and therefore fall under the same category. If the apostles thought not of themselves in this question, they were grieved at the reflection that, under the circumstances, the majority of mankind were recklessly endangering their eternal salvation. With their views of a temporal kingdom, the apostles probably were thinking of their own prospects.
Who can be saved then, was their concern.
“Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With men this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”
An idol, whatever form it may take, that stands between a man and his Saviour, seems a formidable obstacle. But no obstacle is so big, tall, wide, or strong that God cannot break it down.
One of the best examples that comes to mind is Paul. When we first meet him, his name was Saul and he was standing alongside the Pharisees and religious rulers of his day, holding their cloaks as they stoned Stephen to death for standing up for Jesus and proclaiming the Truth. We later discover him persecuting the believers, being responsible for putting them in jail and for causing their deaths. We learn that he was proud of who he was, a Jew of the Jews, a Pharisee of the Pharisees, righteous and perfect in his keeping of the laws and the traditions of his people. His idol was his heritage—who he was. But Jesus met him on the road to Damascus, and everything changed with that encounter.
In the beginning the believers were afraid of Saul/Paul. They thought he was a spy trying to catch them at their worship and throw them in jail. They couldn’t believe that it was possible to save someone like Saul. But nothing is impossible for God.
The Lord had asked a great deal of the man who had come to Him with the question. He had asked the man to give up everything temporal in order to gain everything spiritual. Peter got to thinking about what he and his companions had given up to follow the Lord. Compared to this man, they hadn’t given up as much, but they had given all that they had. And Jesus assured him that whatever they had given would be more than returned and that, in fact, they would gain everything anyone could possibly want.
Jim Elliott, who was killed along with his companions in an attempt to reach the Auca Indians of Ecuador with the Gospel, wrote this: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” This quote is most often attributed to Elliot, but is likely his adaptation of a saying of the English nonconformist preacher Philip Henry (1631–1696) who said “He is no fool who parts with that which he cannot keep, when he is sure to be recompensed with that which he cannot lose.”
The man who came to Jesus and then walked away from Jesus did not understand. He had physically bowed in reverence and submission before the Lord, but in his heart there was another god that he could not release in order to embrace the true God.
His sad story invites us to look within to find what idol keeps us from full surrender to Christ.