Jesus had the amazing ability to uncover the roots of spiritual sickness. As a spiritual physician, He offers a diagnosis, prognosis, and most importantly, a cure. Among the many people Jesus encounters, Mark 10 introduces Jesus to someone who, for all his virtue and high ideals, suffers from an acute ethical and moral sickness. This man was a person of influence. Luke’s passage calls him a ruler. He was part of the upper crust of society.
Now, when most people have an encounter with Jesus, they usually leave in better condition than before. Most who encounter Jesus are healed, encouraged, delivered from demons and some even raised to life. But in Mark 10, we read about the only man who ever came to Jesus and left in worse condition! This story of the rich young ruler has many lessons for us in regards to our relationship with God and with our possessions.
The first thing we learn is the hardest thing. Giving God complete control over our finances and possessions is hard. It is interesting in this story that this man had an abundance. He did not have to depend on God to provide the necessities of life. I think there are times we struggle with trusting in God’s provision. We have no problem trusting Him with our salvation, but to have Him control our today and tomorrow are difficult.
We see that in the Bible with Lot. He had a choice of what land to live and raise his family. He chose the well-watered plains of Sodom. In the story, you notice that he was not concerned if it was a good place to raise a family or if the people were God-fearing, all he cared about was if his cattle’s needs would be provided for.
In Joshua, we read the story of Achan, whose greed led to military failures for Israel with the ultimate consequence of he and his family losing their lives. In the New Testament, there were Ananias and Sapphira. Their unwillingness to be honest with the disciples regarding the price of the sale of some land cost them their lives as well.
Our attitude toward God affects our attitude toward money and possessions and reversely, our attitude towards money and possessions is a reflection of our attitude towards God. As Matthew 6:21 says, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”
The story of the rich young ruler is really about dependence versus independence. Independence is one of the things that God will not tolerate. It tells God, “I do not need you… I can do things on my own.”
So this story is an assessment of this young man’s relationship with God and money. From it, we can learn how our relationship with money reflects our relationship with God.
Let me start off by saying there is nothing wrong with wealth. Money is not the root of all evil rather it is the love of it! Making it the priority of our lives not only makes it an idol but it also shows our pursuit of independence rather than dependence on God. That is why Jesus said in verse 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.”
We need to note that Jesus did not say it was impossible, rather it was less likely. Some very spiritual men in the Bible were wealthy and used wealth for God’s glory. Wealth can be a wonderful servant, but it can also be a terrible master. I have met many wealthy people whose lives were focused on acquiring more wealth. They set goals and when those goals were attained, they raised the bar even higher. They were never satisfied. There was no end to their pursuit of it.
We learn a little bit about this man. From his comments we know he is very moral, a good and decent human being. When he says he keeps the 10 commandments, you can tell he is trying. But his mistake is he has bought the lie that good people go to heaven and bad people go to hell. So he probably is a nice guy, having good character and many fine qualities. He might be someone to “bring home and meet the parents.”
One of the most dangerous words in the English language is “potential.” We use it to describe young athletes who possess the skills and qualities to excel in their sport. This man was referred to as being young, someone with their whole life in front of them. He was poised for success and greatness
From a human perspective, he looks pretty good. We would say, “He’s got all his ducks in a row.” We would probably be proud to have him as a member of the church if we did not know better. But let us dig deeper.
He was living in a time when the religious community was not fond of Jesus. We see from the Pharisees, Sadducees and other religious leaders, from their actions and attitudes, they were focused on trying to sabotage and destroy Him. His followers were not part of the “in-crowd.” To associate with Jesus was not valued… much like it is today!
Based on this young man’s actions, there was much about him we valued. Unlike Nicodemus, who only came to Jesus at night, this man approached Jesus in broad daylight. We also see from verse 17, he ran towards Jesus. He had humility as he knelt before Him. We also see his sincerity. Based on his question, he is not here to trip Jesus up. There does not seem to be any ulterior motive. But he does realize something is missing and he is going to the one person who he thinks has the answers.
So far, he is still looking pretty good. But what is missing? What is hidden behind the clothing and the questions? We cannot see what is wrong, but Jesus can because only He can see his heart!
There’s a big difference between someone who is seeking and someone who is convicted! True conviction is missing in so many so-called conversions today. Many come to church or get religious with the hope of becoming a better person. It is not about being born again, rather it is about having a life “makeover.”
Now, I do not want to make light of a child who comes to faith. In fact, what child would not say they want to go to heaven instead of hell? But we have to be careful to make sure genuine conviction and understanding have occurred, and not allow them to make a premature decision, kind of like picking fruit before it has fully ripened.
I think in some ways, this young man was spiritually immature. In verses 19-20, we read this: “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, honour your father and mother.’” “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”
I do not think this is arrogance, rather I think he is naïve. He has a shallow concept of what sin truly is! Obviously, none of us could truly say we have not broken any of the 10 commandments. So he is not nearly as righteous as he thinks he is! He thinks he can get to heaven on his own merit.
We know that because he asks the wrong question. Like many of us, he asks, “What do I need to do to inherit eternal life.” As Christians, we know our actions do not define us or gain us merit for eternity, rather it is our relationship, whose we are, that matters most.
Jesus goes right to the heart of the matter and deals with this man’s idol. He confronts what is this man’s true priority and “god”… his money and his possessions.
God does the same thing with us. In wanting our dependence, He confronts us with what we build our lives upon. Why? He hates independence because it puts ourselves before Him.
Let me point out one thing here. Selling all you have will not save you. Jesus is making a point here: Accept me not only as Savior, but as Lord! The one and only true and living God, no idols, no other gods can take my place!
Many years ago, American missionaries went to Japan and after preaching the gospel, multitudes came to faith. But there seemed to be a lack of genuine conviction. Many of the decisions seemed to be superficial. The missionaries came to realize that in the Japanese culture they are taught that when you are conquered, you have a moral obligation to accept the God of the ones who conquered you. In essence, they were just adding Jesus to Buddha and Confucius and other gods. The missionaries changed their message to deny Buddha and Confucius, and accept Christ as the only true God. The result? Only a few would truly do that!
This rich young ruler already had a god, and Jesus knew he would not put that idol away! As followers of Jesus, we need to put away our idols and allow Jesus to take His rightful place in our lives and trust Him to provide all we need for life. If we do, we will experience all the joy, peace, hope and love Christ offers. But if we do not allow Christ to take His rightful place, then, like this young man, we leave miserable and continue on living a life of dissatisfaction. Only Jesus can satisfy and bring fulfilment in this life and the life to come.