As He was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to Him and knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall 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, I have kept all these things from my youth up.” Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property. (Mark 10:17-22)
Yesterday my husband allowed me the opportunity to receive one of the most beautiful necklaces I have seen. I could have stared at it for hours and can hardly wait to put it around my neck and wear it out for everyone to see. But the longer I found myself admiring this piece of jewelry, the more I started noticing I was becoming to wrapped up in the gift itself, instead of my husband who had given it to me. It was actually because of him and his work that I was even able to have what I was holding in my hands.
This reminds me of the account of the rich young ruler when he comes to Jesus. He recognizes Jesus as One full of wisdom and who does what is good. He truly does desire to learn from Him and to find assurance of eternal life. Can you relate to how this young ruler felt in his desires? I sure can. We can attend bible study’s and sit through countless sermons in a building or on media, hungry for the wisdom of God and the answers of His kingdom. We can recognize that He is good and even desire to do those same good deeds that He performed and taught about. But having the desire and coming to Jesus to discover the truth, is not the same thing as actually BELIEVING it and surrendering to its actual truth.
In this account, the rich young ruler acknowledges that Jesus is good, but that is very different from acknowledging that He is LORD and GOD. Notice that Jesus asks him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone.” It is this very question that is supposed to move the young man, and even us, into the recognition that Jesus is only good because He IS God. The human flesh, at its roots, is wicked. We desire, by nature of the flesh, that which goes against what is good. We can be selfish, greedy, hate-filled, jealous, and on the list goes. The reason we even desire to do good, is because God in His very nature is good. The question for us today remains, do we recognize Jesus as a good man who we desire to learn from, or do we recognize Him as being God Himself showing us what the very nature of goodness looks like?
As soon as Jesus asks the young man this question, He moves right into directing him to the very commandments the rich ruler understands to be required to make one “good”. I have no doubt he acknowledged that these commandments were from God and that he strove to live by them. His answer alone reveals the pride he felt in having honored God by keeping those commandments. The problem is, like many of us are in danger of doing in our lives, this young man was picking and choosing which commandments (teachings) He was obedient to and was neglecting the most important one. The scary thing is, he doesn’t seem to realize it. Look back at the scripture. Do you notice throughout the list of commandments that Jesus does list (because He knows where the young man has obeyed) which ones are actually absent? Jesus skips over the first 4 commandments, because He is aware that these are the ones keeping this young man from finding eternal life. Of course instead of pointing that out, Jesus out of a heart of love for this young man, wants him to discover for Himself which commandments he is breaking and that keep him from finding eternal life. I love how Jesus doesn’t come to condemn us, but instead longs for us to discover on our own, why we are already condemned, so that we recognize our need for Him and follow Him as our way from death to eternal life, that just like this rich ruler, we so desperately desire.
For many of us, like me with the necklace, it becomes the very things we hold in our hands and that we WORK for and chase after that keep us distracted from the truth though. Jesus’ command to the rich young ruler, to sell all he had and give to the poor, wasn’t because Jesus is against money or even the enjoyment of the good gifts that He has given. It’s because He fully understood that the bondage that kept this young man from knowing eternal life and the One who gave it, was his LOVE of money and the things of the world. He assumed he was keeping the commandments, but He was already guilty of breaking the first four! He had already placed other gods before the LORD. He was already worshiping another image in the form of mammon and possessions and those had become his idols. Jesus Himself had taught in Matthew 6:24, that we can’t serve both God and money, for you will love one and hate the other, or hold to one and despise the other. Only one will have control over your life, allegiance and decisions. By doing these very things he was misusing the name of God, because many others saw him as a keeper of the law, but in fact he was disobeying it. When we do this, we lead many astray in their worship of God and cause them to believe they are good and have clean hands, when in fact we are still dirty and so are they. This was the danger of the religious leaders in Jesus’ day and clearly why this young rich ruler was confused. The Pharisees and Sadducees taught one thing and Jesus another. This is no different in our times and the reason why so many are confused who identify with the church today. Last, he was not truly keeping the Sabbath. For the fulfillment of the Sabbath was standing in front of him and he couldn’t recognize it. This young ruler no doubt had pride in his hard work and what he felt it had earned him. Now he somehow believed he could keep working hard and earn his way into eternal life. Yet Jesus Himself is our Sabbath. It is only when we recognize that He is the Son of God who is the fulfillment of the law and the perfect sacrifice sent to take away our sins, that we can understand true rest from our own works and find eternal life in His.
In the end, the answer Jesus gave him so that he would discover the way to eternal life, became the very answer that sent him away sad and was the evidence of what truly had his heart. Having NO other gods before Yahweh, so that it proved that he loved the LORD GOD with all his heart, mind and soul, was the one thing he lacked. All the other commandments hung on that one. This would be why Jesus answered an expert in the law in Luke 10:25-28 with the more direct commandment. Take time to read it today. There is still much more for you to discover. Let us also ask ourselves as we come to Jesus to study His words and seek His wisdom and find assurance in eternal life, if we lack anything? Are we still putting our hope in our own “goodness” and works or are we resting in His? Are we acknowledging His name and partially obeying Him, but putting other gods before Him, therefore exposing the truth of our heart? If so, may we look intently into His Word so that we can come face to face with the truth. And as we hear it, may we recognize that if we are, we must repent and return to loving Him with our whole being. Then unlike the rich young ruler, we will not go away sad and grieving in our hearts, because we are in love with the perishable gifts that are given, but instead we will find that we lack nothing because we are in love with the One who gives us good gifts and that in Him we do have eternal life ahead!