Episode 111 - The Rich Young Ruler

May 31, 2016

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On His way to Jerusalem, Jesus encounters a rich young ruler who asks how he can obtain eternal life. Jesus exposes his heart by asking him to sell all his possessions. He walks away discouraged, unable to meet Jesus' request. Jesus then instructs His disciples regarding riches and self-reliance as the means to inherit God's promises. This episode examines Mark's account of the story from Mark 10.

This video is part of the Opening Up the Gospels series.

Hey I’m Josh Hawkins, welcome to episode 111 of Opening Up the Gospels. Since Episode 106, we’ve been looking at the record of Jesus’ final journey to Jerusalem for the Passover in 29AD. It seems like the journey southward and all of the events the Gospels record would have taken place in perhaps a week or two. We’ve looked at the cleansing of ten lepers as well as Jesus’ teachings regarding the coming of the kingdom and the importance of continuing in prayer and faith. We’ve seen how the Pharisees continued to have hard hearts and refused to respond to Jesus’ message of repentance. And today we’re going to look at Jesus inviting a rich young man to discipleship as well as some of his exhortations to His current disciples. Now Matthew, Mark, and Luke’s Gospels all record this story. Scholars and commentators believe that there may have been several versions of this story circulated, which is why there are some details either added or left out of each of the Gospels. This actually increases our confidence in its historicity and truthfulness because each of the accounts makes the same point. I’m going to read Mark’s account today, starting in Mark 10:17: "And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’ ” And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions." (Mark 10:17–22 ESV) Mark tells us about this man that runs up to Jesus as He was setting out on His journey. So I think we can picture this scene occurring as Jesus was leaving a village on His journey southward to Jerusalem. As everything was packed up and the band of pilgrims began to move out, this man ran and knelt before Jesus. Matthew’s account says that this man was young, and Luke’s account says that this man was a ruler. Typically the rulers of the Pharisees were older men, so it’s not likely that he was among that group. Perhaps he was just an influential man because of his wealth or maybe even some sort of civic leader who was known for His devotion to God. Whatever the case, we can safely assume that he was well-respected. Now he begins by calling Jesus a “good teacher”. This is a phrase in Judaism typically used of a good person. We can’t be sure, but it seems like this guy is trying to flatter Jesus, specifically because of what He says to him in the next verse, as Jesus says “no one is good but God alone”. Look at what the man asks Jesus though - “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” That phrase is very rich in Jewish background and will be significant later on in the passage. He’s asking the same question that the lawyer asked Jesus back in Luke 10:25. That’s when Jesus spoke the parable of the Good Samaritan, which we looked at briefly back in episode 89. He’s asking “how can I be sure I’ll be raised from the dead and participate in all of God’s promises to our people?” Don’t forget all of the themes we’ve been talking about the past few episodes, all related to the establishment of God’s kingdom, patient, persevering prayer, and even the larger story of the Gospels related to the division of Israel and who inherits the promises to Abraham. Jesus’ response focuses directly on the covenant made with Israel at Sinai, saying that God alone is good. This is why He repeats the commandments to the man, originally found in Exodus 20. According to Deuteronomy 27 and 28, obedience to the commandments was God’s will, and that was the way the nation would be blessed and inherit the promises. Jesus is saying “if you really want to follow the ‘good’ one, follow God, respect the one who is teaching His commands, and obey what He said because no one is inherently good.” Now the ruler responds with confidence, saying that he has kept all of the commands from the age he was legally and religiously mature, which would have been in his early teens. He’s saying: “if obedience is all that is required, then I’m good to go.” But there’s something he is lacking, and Jesus sees deep down inside his heart. I love what Mark records for us. He says: “and Jesus, looking at him, loved him”. Oh, what a statement. Jesus’ words that follow, while challenging and demanding everything, are not harshly spoken out of anger or arrogance. Jesus tells him to sell all that he has and give to the poor so that he will have "treasure in heaven”. The texts parallel the ideas of eternal life, entering the kingdom, being saved, and treasure in heaven not only in this passage but throughout the Gospels. 1 Peter 1 also links these concepts, where Peter writes: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls." (1 Peter 1:3–9 ESV) Jesus is offering the hope of eternal life, salvation from the wrath to come, and an inheritance among the faithful in Israel if he leaves all that he has and sits under Jesus’ teaching as a disciple, walking in the way He shows. Jesus’ commanded him to sell everything in order to expose his heart and show where his loyalty really was. Would this very rich, well-respected man trust Jesus’ words, leave everything, and humbly follow Him? This is a difficult test for the man, and unfortunately Mark tells us that he was “disheartened” and went away sorrowful because he had great possessions. The demand was too great for him, and he couldn’t live in light of God’s promise for the age to come and instead clung to his position and wealth in this age. Jesus then gives a lesson to His disciples, so let’s keep reading in Mark 10: "And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”" (Mark 10:23–31 ESV) After the rich young ruler goes away, Jesus turns to His disciples and says “how difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” The disciples are amazed, and Jesus repeats His statement and compares it to a camel and the eye of a needle. Now a camel was the largest animal that someone dwelling in Israel would be familiar with, and the eye of a needle is likely one of the smallest items a person might deal with on a daily basis. So the point Jesus is making is pretty clear. It is impossible for someone who is rich to be saved from God’s wrath and inherit the promises by their own strength. We’ve already seen Jesus several times condemn the Pharisees and Jewish authorities for their love of money. They believed their piety, their current position of authority, and their wealth would surely secure them a place in the Messiah’s kingdom. But the false security and hope that riches give actually increases self-reliance, pride, and greed instead of increasing humility and confidence and trust in God. And that’s why the love of riches is so perilous. Now notice how the disciples react - they say “then who can be saved?”. First, remember how I said earlier that the question the rich young ruler initially asked would be important? Well, look at the parallels here. In verse 17, we see the phrase “eternal life”. Then in verse 21, we see “treasure in heaven”. Then in verse 23, we have “enter the kingdom”, and now in verse 26, we have “be saved”. And finally in verse 31, we have “eternal life” once again. So in this story, all of these phrases are describing the same eschatological truths - salvation from God’s wrath, entrance into the Messiah’s kingdom, and receiving eternal life in the resurrection in the age to come. Do you see that? I think it’s so important to see how the Gospels unite all of these things together and keep them so eschatologically focused like a laser beam. We haven’t “entered the kingdom” yet because Jesus isn’t reigning from Jerusalem right now, God’s wrath has not come yet because the wicked are still prospering, and we have not yet been raised up from our graves to live forever, because we get sick and still die. This is the hope for all those who repent and believe that Jesus is the Christ. Well, Jesus answers the disciples’ question of who can be saved by saying that it is utterly impossible for anyone to save themselves from God’s wrath and live forever in the kingdom. Now the Old Testament and other Jewish writings actually warned them not to think that riches were a sign of God’s approval of someone - passages like Proverbs 28:6 and Micah 2:1-5 come to mind. That whole “riches = blessed and favored by God” mindset still exists today. And so the disciples, probably thinking along these lines, were completely confused and astonished. One cannot trust in their riches to save them - they must trust in God completely. Peter speaks up and says “we’ve left everything and followed you”. These young guys were faced with the same choice that the rich young ruler was - should they choose a thriving fishing job or discipleship with Jesus? When He gave them the invitation to be His disciple, they left everything, a decision the rich young ruler was unable to make. And Jesus reassures them that He has seen their sacrifice. Notice what Jesus says they have lost and what they will receive as a result - it’s very familial - house, brothers, sisters, mother, father, children, lands. He’s saying that though they have left their families and their possessions and their inheritances, their reward in the age to come will far outweigh what they lack in this age. A disciple who has left everything to follow Jesus will receive “a hundredfold”. Just to make one point about this verse - and it has to do with translation and how the phrases are broken up. I think that it would make a lot of sense to place a period right here, because I don’t think Jesus is saying that if His disciples follow Him, they will get all sorts of riches and land and houses and stuff, as if Jesus is affirming the modern prosperity gospel. I think the sentence should read: "there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold. Now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions - and in the age to come eternal life." God will ensure that Jesus' followers are cared for through the generosity of other disciples in this age. However, persecution will accompany the joy of a new family of believers. The hope of a hundredfold in the age to come is bringing us back to where the passage began - the hope of eternal life. This is exactly what Peter said in the passage we read in 1 Peter 1. I think he totally must have had this moment from Jesus’ life in mind when he wrote that letter. Well, I am out of time for today, but come back next time when we continue our look at Jesus’ final journey to Jerusalem. In the meantime, you can find all the past episodes in this series on my website - www.joshuahawkins.com/gospels. God bless, see you next time.

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