On these Sunday mornings, we are journeying through the Gospel of Mark. We have been doing this for quite a long time. We come today to this very famous conversation in Mark chapter 10 beginning at verse 17 where Jesus is talking to somebody who we would consider to be a reasonably classy young man.
Last week, if you were here last week, we saw children who usually would not be given much time or attention being wonderfully welcomed by Jesus, and here we see somebody who would be given a lot of time and attention walking away from Jesus. Not many people in Scriptures move away from Jesus unhappily, but this man does.
And the conversation is recorded in 3 of the Gospels – Matthew, Mark and Luke and they tell us that he was young, that he was rich and that he was a ruler and so he has become known familiarly as “The Rich Young Ruler”. We should ask ourselves again as we look at this section, why are we face to face with a sad rejection of Jesus Christ?
And the reason, I think, you will see in chapter 10 verse 17 is that Jesus is ‘on the way or on the road’. He is moving to Jerusalem; he is moving to the crucifixion where he will be rejected. Rejected by friends, foes and eventually even by the Father. And therefore Jesus is on the road to the crucifixion – he will be facing death and judgment – and he is inviting people to come with him and take up the cross of discipleship.
There are two crosses, you remember, in the Christian life. There is a cross of salvation which Jesus alone faced and carried and that’s where he endured death and judgement, and then there is the cross of discipleship which every Christian is to take seriously. It means that you are trusting and obeying Jesus. Even so, this rich, young ruler is very impressive in social terms, he gets no special treatment from Jesus, but he does get loving treatment from Jesus. Jesus speaks very plainly to him.
Many of you have heard me tell the story of young Spurgeon; the great Baptist preacher converted when he couldn’t get to his own church because of a snowstorm. Instead, he turned in to a little side chapel in Colchester in England, as he sat there in this small congregation in this unknown building, a man got up to preach who Spurgeon said was perhaps a tailor or a bootmaker. He was a layman, and he preached, and three men subsequently claimed to be that guy who preached when Spurgeon was converted. One even went to his grave with his name and the man who preached for the conversion of Charles Spurgeon which is a little bizarre. So this layman got up and preached on the text from Isaiah 45 “Look and be saved all the earth”.
This is how Spurgeon records it in his Autobiography. He says “When the man had managed to spin out 10 minutes, he looked at me and with so few present knew me to be a stranger. And he said ‘young man you look very miserable’. Well, I did, but I had not been accustomed to having remarks made from the pulpit on my personal appearance. However, it was a good blow, and it struck right home. And he continued – you will always be miserable, you will be miserable in life, and you will be miserable in death if you don’t obey my text young man and look to Jesus Christ. You have nothing to do but “Look and Live”.
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And Spurgeon says “I saw at once the way of salvation, I looked till I could have looked my eyes away”.
There is a piece of plain straight shooting from a loving preacher to a needy boy, but the perfect example of this straight shooting is really here in Mark chapter 10. The difference is that Spurgeon was a very receptive boy – Jesus is dealing with a very resistant boy.
And so I thought we would divide the section up into three points this morning;
- A False Alarm
- A Faithful King
- A Freedom Miracle
A False Alarm
“Jesus started on his way or on the way or on the road, and 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?’
Now I am calling this A False Alarm because all the appearances are great, but the reality is not.
The rich young ruler runs to Jesus – that looks encouraging. He kneels in front of Jesus – that looks encouraging. He asks a great question – but it is all false. He seems to want eternal life, but he is not prepared to give up anything.
So for all his talk of believing in the next world, and wanting the next world, he is firmly planted in this world. And Jesus conducts the most loving and clear evangelism from which we must learn.
Back in 1970, there was a small paperback published which really did shake the church and it was called “Today’s Gospel – Authentic or Synthetic?” And this book was written by an American who said that Jesus evangelised with great courage and love but people today are just providing simplistic and shallow breezy gospels. And he says this in the introduction to the book writing to pastors like me – he says this –
“Pastors, have you not wondered about those ‘converts’ who are as carnal as ever? Those who have ‘decided for Christ’ but you cannot tell what they decided. They are not godly or zealous, they do not study the Word, and they do not mind if they are absent when it is preached, they give no evidence of true conversion. Have you considered the possibility, Pastors, that they were never evangelised at all? Have your preaching and methods led them to comfort apart from Christ?”
And Walter Chantry, the author goes on to unpack the love and the courage which Jesus showed here in Mark chapter 10. And he says again to the Pastors;
“you would love to have this rich young ruler run up to you – he would be a great trophy for you. You would offer him an easy prayer, and then you would report his conversion very widely, but Jesus will not stoop to such tricks, he evangelises with integrity”.
So when the rich young ruler says to Jesus “what must I do to have eternal life” that is an excellent question. And what is the answer to that question? I won’t do this, but I wonder if I asked you to turn to the person beside you and assume that they had just asked you ‘what must I do to have eternal life?’ – What would you say, what would be your answer?
And I think perhaps one of the best Biblical answers is to say to that person ‘God doesn’t want you to do anything. He wants you to completely forget about your doings and your non-doings and all your abilities, and he wants you to put your confidence in Jesus. That is certainly the way Jesus himself replied to the question in John 6 – ‘what does God want us to do?’ He said, “Believe”. And the Philippian jailor terrified in the earthquake said to the Apostle Paul ‘what shall we do to be saved?’ and the Apostle Paul said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus”.
But occasionally Jesus can see that an individual asking the question is too full of themselves, and they need to be a little emptied. Or we might say he can see that this person is not all ripe for salvation and needs to be gently softened and that’s what Jesus does in this conversation which leads me to my second point which is – A Faithful King (verses 18-23).
A Faithful King
I don’t want you to miss the importance of this because we live in very ungodly days, very careless days and very breezy days as I often say and if we were to meet somebody who came up and said to us – “I understand you go to church, could you tell me how to be saved?” We would be very surprised, and we would be very pleased and thankful. It would be a very exciting moment, and it would be quite tempting to say something that didn’t annoy or put them off. But are we able to speak to such people knowing that God is in charge and our job is to be faithful not popular or even successful?
One of the greatest examples of this (I think) is a couple Ben and Katherine Cooper who were part of our church for many years. Both of them had PhD’s and Katherine Cooper was working doing post-doctoral research in Physics in Oxford, UK and she had a fellow worker who was a Christian.
She was not a Christian. She was quite impressed by the way in which he lived his life, and she found that when she asked her most difficult questions, he could answer them simply and clearly. It got to the point where she said to Ben, her husband not a believer ‘we must find out about Christianity’.
So they went round to the local Minister and they knocked on his door, and they said we would both like to find out about becoming Christians and believe it or not the minister said ‘I am having dinner could you come back another time!’ – Which they did. But it is a great piece of trust in God, isn’t it? I mean I am sure he said it very sweetly – but not now come back another time. Well, I wouldn’t have missed that minute for the world! And there is the question isn’t it?
Jesus helps this rich young ruler to see the cost, and I want you to notice how he does it (verse 18).
He, first of all, rattles the cage of this young man because his thinking is shallow. The young man rushes up to Jesus and says “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life”? And Jesus asks him ‘what do you mean ‘good’, what are you talking about when you say ‘good’?
You may like to know that in Judaism they didn’t throw the word ‘good’ around because it really applied to God.
So Jesus is not playing with words, He is not fooling around. Jesus is saying to this young man, ‘When you said “good teacher” did you mean I am God?’ Is that what you mean?
Are you equating me with God? or is this just a piece of exaggeration or is this a piece of flattery? So there is the first thing – what are you talking about? What are you saying?
The second thing Jesus does (verse 19) is he exposes the shallow living of this young man. He quotes the Commandments, he quotes six of the Ten Commandments, and you will notice that he quotes the Commandments that have to do with your neighbour;
- Not stealing
- Not committing adultery
- Not murdering
He wants to see whether this young man has any conscience even at the social level let alone at the divine level. But there is no conscience for this young man, and he says to Jesus ‘I have kept them all’. He may, of course, mean ‘I have kept them outwardly’.
The Apostle Paul says in Philippians 3 that he was blameless with regard to the law. And I think what the Apostle Paul meant by that was in terms of outwardly looking at me I was doing pretty well. In the same way, we might meet somebody today who says ‘I have kept the 10 Commandments, you know I haven’t murdered anybody, haven’t robbed a bank so I must be fine.’
But I hope you know that if you read the 10 Commandments carefully, you are not meant to run down the 10 Commandments and get to the end and say ‘I am absolutely safe’. You are meant to run down the 10 Commandments, and be unsettled and even convicted and even say ‘well what will I do now?’ Is there a Plan B? Is there a Rescuer for somebody like me?
So Jesus sees right through this young man. He can see that he is shallow in his speech and he is shallow in his life – he can tell the fake from the real.
I was reading this week that a man in Florida was pulled over by the Police and as they were checking his car they found crystal meth on the floor of his car. He arrested, and name and details were all taken. On further investigation they found that it wasn’t crystal meth at all – it was the sugar that had come off his Krispy Kreme Doughnuts. And so the man, as you do, is now suing the City of Florida because he was badly treated and his name has been put on their books unnecessarily.
Jesus doesn’t make those sorts of mistakes. He can see exactly what is fake and what is real and look at the killer blow that comes in verse 21. He has seen the shallow thinking, and he has seen the shallow living, and he says (verse 21) “OK sell what you have, give it away and follow me”.
And isn’t it lovely (verse 21) that we are told first ‘he loved him’. He said this because he loved him. He wanted this young man to know the way of salvation. He wanted this young man to get eternal life, and he loved. So he told him he needed to drop and follow.
I want you to know friends that this is not standard instruction. There are some of you who will be thinking as we come to this passage this morning – the preacher is going to tell everybody that they should give up everything that they have got.
Well, Jesus didn’t talk like that. It was very rare for him to tell somebody to give up what they had. But he says it to this young man (and I want you to listen very carefully to this) he says because this young man had a king already and this young man’s king was money, wealth and possessions. So all the talk about eternal life is fake because of this young man, and Jesus knows this, is not willing to give up this life for eternal life, and he is not willing to give up his king called ‘money’ for the King of Kings called “Jesus”. He is just not willing to do that.
The sad reality is that this man didn’t even really possess his possessions – they possessed him. He was a ‘possessed’ young man. Not possessed by demons but he was possessed by his treasures.
So let me say as clearly as I can this morning – wealth is not the problem for everyone. And that’s why Jesus doesn’t tell everybody to give up what they have. But it is the problem for some people. There are some people who sit very loose to their money. God has given them a little or a lot, and they are actually quite relaxed about it. The money doesn’t mean a great deal to them. They are happy to share it and give it, and it doesn’t even become a disaster if they lose it.
However, some people who are very loose about their money – that is they are not very committed to their money but are very very gripped by something else. And the challenge here, is to work out what it is that has such a controlling influence on you and me. When you find out what somebody is absolutely gripped by, you can normally work out that they are very gripped by that thing because if you try to take it away from them, they get very angry or very desperate.
- a secret life
- a secret sex life
- a desire to control their world, people or family
- a very deep seated pride that says, ‘I am not turning to Jesus’, ‘I am not admitting sin’, ‘I am not taking charity.’
A man told me once that he could never become a Christian because the music was his top priority.
So if Jesus was speaking lovingly to you, just one to one, and if he could see something in your life that came before Jesus Christ, I wonder what that would be?
If there is anything that comes before Jesus Christ, that’s your king. And in the end, that’s your Saviour.
Of course, it will utterly fail you and all talk of being ‘in the kingdom’ while you have another king is, of course, a complete contradiction. So Jesus puts his finger on the issue, and this rich young ruler will not let go of his king.
So in verse 22, his face fell. His face went dark, dark like the sky. And he became an increasingly sad and tragic man. He had no peace when he came to Jesus, and he had no peace when he talks to Jesus and he certainly has no peace as he leaves Jesus and Jesus lets him walk away. He doesn’t run after him and say ‘so sorry, didn’t want to upset you – we can easily find another door for you, we can easily find another plan’. NO, he doesn’t do that. He is grieved of course that the young man has walked away, but he is God.
Author Walter Chantry says;
“Deceit marks many modern invitations to Christ. Congregations are reminded that they are sad, lonely, discouraged and unsuccessful, life is a great weight, trouble encompasses them, the future holds dark threats, and they are invited to come to Christ who will change all of that and put a smile on their face. He is pictured as a cosmic psychologist who will patch up all problems in one session.
There is no reminder of the discipline which Christ demands. No suggestion is given that following Jesus is sacrificial and painful.
It isn’t surprising that many who go forward to try the modern gospel pill are never seen again. They react like a young military recruit – the recruiting sergeant has told him about seeing the world, honour and fortune and training – but nothing was said about early rising, forced marches and KP duty. There was no mention of the blood, fire and the terror of the battle field and sometimes we would do well to say to people – “sit down and think” before we say “stand up and follow”.
So there is A False Alarm, A Faithful King and finally this morning A Freedom Miracle.
A Freedom Miracle
What I mean by this is that Jesus is able to free us from what grips us and he is able to free us for himself. The man has walked away. Normally “money opens doors” doesn’t it? It is reported this week that Mariah Carey has so much money she has an assistant to dispose of her chewing gum. You know you’ve made it!
But here the money shuts the door, and Jesus says these world-famous words, “How hard for the rich to enter the kingdom of God” and what he means by that is how hard for those who have another king to have the King who is Jesus. OR “it’s easier” he says “for a camel to go through a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God” and what he means by that is if you want to know how easy it is to see a person who has a higher priority than Jesus happily belong to Jesus you will get a camel through a needle first.
I do think that sex and money are the big battlefields. I think we need to recognise that these are the ones which de-tour and de-rail and destroy more people. These are the two big battlefields. And even we can belong to a church and find that we are in our heart dragging along to spiritual things, but we are just running as fast as we can to those pleasurable things. That’s what we are like.
And it isn’t just a North Shore problem. You can be a so-called “Westie”, and you are just hell bent on accumulating properties and holding, holding holding everything to yourself and even as you talk about being very careful with your money or very frugal with your money, it could well be you are actually quite gripped by your money and in danger from your money.
Well the disciples are shocked by Jesus because you remember that in the Old Testament if you had wealth it was often a sign of God’s blessing and so they are looking at this rich young man thinking he must be blessed by God and now Jesus tells us he is not going into the Kingdom, so what hope is there for the people who don’t have blessing from God. And Peter says (verse 28) “Lord we have given up everything – surely we are not going to miss out for that?”
It raises a very important question I think – does your giving up of things earn you your place in God’s Kingdom? You know if this rich young ruler had said “OK I give up everything” – has he now bought himself a seat in the stadium of heaven? Did Peter and the other Apostles buy themselves seats by giving up their boats?
I hope you know the answer to that is NO. I hope you know that it is not possible to buy your seat or to earn it or to deserve it. The $64,000 question really is – “Is a person able to let go of their false king and take hold of Jesus Christ on their own”? And the answer is NO. See verse 27 – it’s impossible for people to do this but God makes it possible. Not only can God work in us a surrender and a release of our idol but he brings us to take hold of Jesus Christ.
I often used to say in “Christianity Explained” – if you are running in the surf and you really are in trouble and along comes a surf boat to rescue you, and you have an ice cream in each hand, it really is time to drop the ice creams. If you are going to take hold of a lifesaver, you are going to have to drop the ice creams.
There is a pirate on a pirate ship and the king comes along and says ‘I will destroy you, and the pirate calls out – I am sorry, I am sorry, I am sorry, a deep work has taken place in his heart, does that mean he serves the king? NOT AT ALL. It’s the grace of the king to say – come over and work for me and live for me. NO, we need God to enable us to release and take hold of Jesus.
And that’s why as I close this morning, this whole conversation in Mark chapter 10 is really on the backdrop of the love of Christ. It really is on the backdrop of the love of Christ. I want you to see this as we finish.
Jesus loves this worldly man – he is slippery – he is resistant – he is sneaky but Jesus loves him, and he shows him the way to be free. What a kind thing to do.
Jesus has set the disciples free, Peter and company. He has set them (verse 30) free from the present age, and it no longer controls them – he set them free for the ages to come (verse 30) – they now belong and will always belong to the future – they belong to the king – how kind of Jesus.
Look what he says in verse 29 ‘every single believer who takes Jesus seriously and gives up what needs to be given up whether it is home or brother or parent or field (notice the little word “or” in between those “or” “or” because it’s very unlikely you will have to give up all of those. There won’t be many people here this morning that’ve had to give up those sorts of things. But when you do give up, what needs to be given up and you think – Oh it’s such a big cost – look at what Jesus says (verse 29) “you will receive home and brothers and parents and fields and to be honest persecutions, yes, and eternal life because the blessings will infinitely outweigh the costs.
And of course, Jesus is talking like this because he is on the road to the crucifixion where he is giving up everything in order that the believer might receive everything.
Let’s pray. Our Father we thank you for this honest conversation recorded for us. We especially thank you that you work to free people from false gods and we thank you that you wonderfully bring people to Christ. We pray that in your love and power you would do that work of releasing and sealing for all who are gathered here and all who are listening to this morning. And we especially thank you for the great love that you have shown at the cross to give up everything in order that we might receive infinite, abundant and eternal blessings.
We pray this in Jesus’ Name – Amen.