Picture the scene. Jesus was with his disciples when a young, well dressed man comes running up to him. I’m sure you could tell immediately that he wasn’t part of the normal crowd around Jesus. He is identified differently by each of the three accounts of his coming to the Lord. When we put them together we get the title by which we recognize him as the rich young ruler. He was anxious to get to Jesus and when he arrived he fell down before him respectfully saying, “Good Master, what shall I do to have eternal life?” Young men who come from wealthy families, especially ones who are also royalty expect people to answer them with complimentary and respectful words.
Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? There is none good but one and that is God.” It seems strange that Jesus would answer such an honest and straight forward question in this way. He was making a point that the young man likely missed. He was speaking to Jesus in terms that belonged to God without recognizing that Jesus was God.
His question to Jesus was a good question, but also insightful. Notice one word in the question. It is the word “do”. He didn’t ask what he needed to be, think, or believe. He asked what he could do. There are things we must do to be saved and be right with God, but the majority of Jesus teaching has to do with what we must “be” to live for him. Think of the beatitudes. His challenge was for us to be humble, gentle, broken, hungry and thirsty, merciful, pure of heart, and peacemakers. Even when he told the results of being those things it was that they would be the salt of the earth and light of the world.
It is far easier to do a few things for someone else than it is to change who we are. Even the most ungodly people may do some things that are right and good. Thieves some times give away some of their stolen money or goods to others who need help. Does that change the fact they are thieves? This whole attitude leads to the thought that if I do more good than bad in my life then I am tipping the scales of justice in my favor. While there is nothing wrong with doing, God wants us to be someone different from the world around us.
Jesus told the young man to keep the commandments referring to the Ten Commandments given by God to Israel. His response to Jesus was “Which ones?” Jesus mentioned the commandments having to do with our relationships with other people instead of the ones relating to God. “Don’t murder, Don’t commit adultery, Don’t steal, Don’t bear false witness and love your neighbor as yourself.” Notice the last of the commands Jesus mentioned didn’t come from the Ten but from the book of Leviticus.
His response is surprising to me. “These I’ve kept from my youth up.” Mark tells us at this point that Jesus looked at him and loved him. He saw him as a young man with great potential but he knew something was standing in his way. His friends and neighbors would all likely have testified to what a fine young man he was and his parents likely looked at him with pride for his character. What could possibly stand in the way of such a fine citizen being right with God?
He recognized to his credit that something was still missing when he asked Jesus, “What do I still lack?” At this point Jesus went for his heart. “Go sell all you have and give it to the poor and come follow me and you will have great treasures in heaven.” His reaction to what Jesus said, tells the whole story. He walked away sadly because he had great possessions. Jesus let him go without any other response but to turn to the disciples and say, “It is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to be saved.”
Why did Jesus tell him to sell everything and follow him? He knew that his money and possessions were standing between him and his faith and devotion to God. I think Jesus saw what he could be and was inviting him not just as a disciple but as one of the apostles. He was challenging him to change everything in his life. Instead of living in his finery he could become one of the band of men going from one place to another teaching and preaching Jesus.
The young man was looking for something extra he could do. Jesus was looking for loyalty and devotion that put God first. He wasn’t ready to make a total commitment. I would hope that in time he thought about it and decided to make the full commitment to God, putting him before everything else.
In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus laid out the principle that remains valid for all time. “No man can serve two masters. He with either love one and hate the other or hold to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” Paul later says that “Covetousness is idolatry.” Money and things make good tools, but horrible gods. In a materialistic world where debt has become the norm and keeping up with the Jones’ the national pass time, we desperately need to learn that God demands priority.
Too often we want to run after the person who is content to do something for the Lord but not to change from the inside out, to try to give them a better offer and make fewer demands on them when we need to be like Jesus and allow them to go. Then maybe the day will come when they will be ready to Love God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength. Giving God a place in our life is never what is needed. God wants your life.
What is the most important thing in your life?