Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ,
When it comes to real estate, you may have heard it said before that three things are important – LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION. Well, when it comes to understanding a passage of the Bible, it might be as useful to remember that three things are important – CONTEXT, CONTEXT, CONTEXT.
Now this is not to say that we can’t learn anything from a passage in and of itself. But Mark is not giving us a series of random and unconnected episodes. He is providing us with episodes that add up to “the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”
So let’s quickly note a number of things from the context that will feed into our better understanding this passage.
• In recent chapters, Jesus has said a lot about genuine discipleship.
o Back in ch. 8, He called on the disciples to deny themselves, to take up their cross, and to follow Him. He warned them about the utter stupidity of gaining the whole world but forfeiting your soul.
And in this rich young man that approaches Jesus in our passage today we are going to see an example of exactly what Jesus was warning against.
o And in ch. 9, we saw the disciples arguing about which of them was the greatest. But Jesus said to them, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.”
And those words are picked up again by Jesus in our passage today where He says, “Many who are first will be last, and the last first.”
• And recently, Jesus has twice used CHILDREN as examples of kingdom truths.
o And you will notice from v24 that Jesus addresses His disciples as “Children.”
o And do you remember the point Jesus made in 10:15 about children and the kingdom? Young children just RECEIVE. They have no concept of earning. They completely trust in their parent to provide. And so it is to be with us and our salvation. We are ready to enter into salvation only when we realize that we cannot earn it; it is all about what God has done through Jesus Christ on the cross; it is an undeserved gift.
• And finally, in terms of the context, just as Jesus’ words about marriage and children in the verses leading up to this passage were words that we all need to hear and weigh ourselves against, so these words of Jesus to this rich man are words we all need to weigh ourselves against.
o There is a danger, you see, that we hear what Jesus says about wealth and we start to think about who are the wealthy ones among us that need to hear this. But the truth is we are a wealthy people; few if any of us are in poverty. So we do well to listen to the Lord Jesus.
1. Well, as Jesus begins again His journey to Jerusalem, He is approached by a man who runs up and falls on His knees before Him, saying, “Good teacher … what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And there are several things about this man’s approach and question that are worth pondering.
a. Mark is specific that the man ran up and fell on his knees. He didn’t just walk up and ask his question.
i. So there is an urgency in this man – he is in a hurry to have his question answered; it is very important to him.
ii. And there is a humility in this man – his falling down says something about how He views Jesus.
b. He calls Jesus “Good Teacher,” which was not a typical way of addressing Rabbis at that time.
c. And his question is about INHERITING ETERNAL LIFE.
i. If you are familiar with the OT story of Abraham and the people of Israel in the wilderness, you will know that the concept of inheritance featured prominently in God’s promises to them both.
A. Hebrews 11 says this about Abraham, “By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went … For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.”
B. So Abraham understood that the Promised Land of inheritance was an earthly type of an even better heavenly reality.
ii. And in Daniel 12:2, we read these words, “Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life.”
iii. So it is these ideas that informed the man’s question about inheriting eternal life.
2. Now, the emphasis in his question is on what he must do. He wonders if he might have missed some command that he should obey. And Jesus is going to speak to that with His response. But nevertheless, his question is THE QUESTION, isn’t it, congregation. This world is not all that there is. Some of us might live to 70 or 80 or even 100, but after that comes eternity. It is plainly taught in the Bible and you know it in your heart. Judgment Day is coming. And God has made it very plain that some will enjoy eternal life in glory but others will spend eternity in hell. It stands to reason then that we would want some certainty in this life about where we shall spend eternity. Do you know what you must do to inherit eternal life? Are you certain about where you will spend eternity?
3. Well, Jesus responds, first of all, with some cold water! He almost seems a bit nit-picky as He questions the man’s choice of the adjective ‘GOOD.’ I mean, ‘good’ seems pretty good, isn’t it? But Jesus is not being nit-picky at all. What He says will hopefully be very important for this man as he later reflects on this conversation.
a. Now, some have used Jesus’ response to say that Jesus is not God. But Jesus does not say I am not God. He says, “No one is good except God alone.”
i. I believe the commentator, William Hendriksen, explains Jesus’ words well, “Jesus knew that the [man], in addressing Him as ‘Good Teacher,’ was being very superficial. If this [man] had really believed with all his heart that Jesus was good in the highest sense of the term, he would have obeyed the command the Lord was about to give him … The Master knew very well that if this enquirer was going to be saved, he must be confronted with the absolute standard of goodness, namely, the perfect law enacted by The Perfect One.”
4. So having prepared the ground for what He is about to say, Jesus continues with a list from the 10 COMMANDMENTS.
a. Now, there is all sorts of debate about why Jesus picked these commandments and why He left others out and why ‘coveting’ is not in the list but ‘defrauding’ is and why Matthew’s list differs from Mark’s, which differs again from Luke’s, and on it goes. But let’s deal with this as quickly as possible.
i. Ask any three people to recite back an extended conversation that they heard and you will get differing content when you get down to specifics. But what we call ‘the gist of the conversation’ will be there in each account. And it is the same with Matthew, Mark, and Luke.
ii. Jesus lists the commandments from the second table of the 10 Commandments – the commands focused on neighbour, which add up to ‘love your neighbour as yourself.’
iii. And later in 1 John 4:20 we read these words, “For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.” So if this man cannot even love his neighbour as himself, then the first four commandments are well beyond reach!
b. But perhaps you are wondering WHY JESUS USED THIS APPROACH at all, instead of calling on the man to believe in Him. But remember that we are in that unique period of time where Jesus has come but has not yet done what He came to do – the Gospel is still ‘hidden,’ as it were. But all Jesus says here is pointing to Himself such that even though this encounter seems to end so disappointingly, after the cross this man will be able to look back to this encounter and better understand that the answer to His questions is Believe in Jesus. Right now though, the Law is quite sufficient to show this man his problem. Earlier in the service, we read these words: “For I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His commands, decrees and laws.”
i. And with all sincerity, according to his understanding of the law at that time, this man believed he had kept the law. We see that in his response: “Teacher … all these I have kept since I was a boy.”
A. At age 13, a young Jewish boy would go through a ceremony known as a BAR-MITZVAH, which means ‘Son of the Commandment.’ The ceremony signifies the time when he becomes responsible for keeping the commands.
B. So this man is saying that since that time, he has consciously strived to keep all the commandments.
ii. In Phil. 3:6, the Apostle PAUL said this of himself, “As for legalistic righteousness, faultless.” Prior to his conversion, Paul also believed that he had kept all God’s commandments.
iii. But if you are familiar with Jesus’ SERMON ON THE MOUNT, you will know just how misguided and wrong is that understanding of keeping the law.
A. If I were to ask you if you had murdered anyone, I am sure you would honestly be able to say you had not actually murdered anyone. But taking my cue from Jesus’ words in the S o t M, if I then pointed out that to be angry with your brother or to call him a fool is a breaking of the sixth commandment, then all of us, including even you boys and girls, would have to confess the sin of murder. We are a room full of murderers, according to the Law.
B. And if I were to ask any group of men if they had committed adultery, most if not all of them would honestly be able to say they had not committed actual adultery. But taking my cue from Jesus’ words, again, if I then pointed out that if you look at a woman lustfully you have already committed adultery with her in your heart, then all of us would have to confess the sin of adultery. We are a room full of adulterers.
C. And this is how it would be if we worked through all of the commandments.
D. And not only do we break the commandments, even our efforts to keep them are not as perfect as they must be to satisfy the demands of the law.
c. So perhaps you are wondering, then, why God gave the law? Why did He command His people to keep the law? Why do we often read the 10 Commandments in our services, today? Well, there is a NEGATIVE part of the answer to that question and a POSITIVE part. And we will look at the negative part now and the positive part later in the sermon.
i. The negative part is plain from ROMANS 3:20. It says, “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in [God’s] sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.”
A. The law was given to help us recognize our sin.
B. And what that means can be illustrated like this – Boys and girls, if I gave you a piece of paper and a pen and asked you to DRAW A STRAIGHT LINE, you would do it, and it might even look pretty straight. But then we get a perfect straight-edge ruler and we held it against your line, we would see that your line is as crooked as can be.
C. Well, God’s law is the perfect straight-edge ruler that reveals our crookedness. “Through the law we become conscious of sin.”
1) A year or so ago, a book became popular among us and many others. It was called the Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert. It was written by Rosaria Champagne-Butterfield. And Rosaria used to be a lesbian. Well she recently wrote an article having noticed that many Christians were writing about ‘the struggle with same-sex attraction.’ And she made the point that prior to her conversion, she never struggled with same-sex attraction. It seemed perfectly right and natural to her, despite society’s taboos. But then she came into contact with the Law of God and the Holy Spirit impressing that Law upon her conscience, such that she came to see that this was sinful behaviour. “Through the law we become conscious of sin.”
d. And this is what Jesus wanted this man to see. In order for the man to seek Jesus as the solution, he needed to know that he had a problem! And that is exactly what happens as Jesus shows him that he is not faultless or righteous by calling on him to sell all he had and give to the poor and to follow Him. And we are told that “at this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.”
i. Now congregation, what Jesus says here is NOT A CALL FOR ALL CHRISTIANS to sell everything and give to the poor, as some have interpreted His words. What Jesus says is the equivalent, with this man, of what Jesus does with murder and adultery, as we heard a few moments ago.
A. If you want to know if a person has cancer, taking a photo of them with a normal camera will not help in most cases. You need to get under the surface with blood tests, X-rays, or an MRI scan.
B. And what Jesus, with His divine insight, has done with this man is to show Him the results of a spiritual X-ray. The man thought he was well, but now he knows that there is a dark, black stain in his soul – he does not love his neighbour as himself, which means he is an idolater, which means he does not love God with heart, soul, mind, and strength. He is a commandment breaker; He is a sinner.
C. And this same spiritual X-ray machine, the law, would reveal the same result if it were to scan anyone.
D. That’s why Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
5. Well, Jesus then looks around and observes that it is hard “for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!” And we are told that “the disciples were AMAZED at his words.”
a. And they were amazed because wealth was understood at that time to be a great blessing of the Lord. Earlier in the sermon I read you words from Deut. 30 calling on the people of Israel to keep God’s commandments. And God said, If you do, “then you will live and increase, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.” So, wealth = God’s blessing = commandment keeper was the salvation logic of that day.
b. But here is Jesus saying that it is hard for the rich to enter the kingdom of God. And as if that was not enough, he then shows how near on impossible it is for the rich to enter the kingdom with his camel through the eye of a needle statement.
i. And people of God, contrary to what you may have heard before, there is no gate or street in Jerusalem that was called the eye of the needle that camels found it hard to get through! Jesus is talking here about a camel and a needle. This was a common expression of impossibility from that time. And everyone knows that you cannot fit a great-big camel through the tiny eye of a needle!
c. Now again, this is NOT A UNIVERSAL CONDEMNATION of wealth as if being wealthy were in and of itself wrong. Wealth can be invested in God’s kingdom.
i. But Luke 16:13 says, “No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.”
ii. The lure of money is incredibly powerful. It has often been said that once you have it, you can’t get enough of it. Very few people are content with what they have; ‘just a little more’ is the typical refrain.
A. Just this week, I read this week that 1 in 6 NFL players file for bankruptcy!
iii. So if I were to offer you $1,000,000 tax-free, no questions asked, who here would say, No thanks!? Or are you already spending it in your minds? And if you are spending it, is it by way of some land for a care-home for our elderly and Bibles and theology books for the PNG Bible college library? Or is it mortgage, car, ipad and boat?
iv. Wealth is not wrong but it is a great trap that few can free themselves from.
6. So the disciples say, “Who then can be saved?” And Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.” And this is where we return to the POSITIVE part of the answer to our earlier question: Why did God give the law?
a. Negatively, as we have seen, it is so that we become conscious of our sin. But listen now to the words of GALATIANS 3:24, “The law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith.”
i. The law helps you see that you are crooked and points you to the gospel, which is that only Jesus Christ can make you ‘straight.’
ii. And this, congregation, is the new of the NEW Testament. Jesus was there in the OT, but in shadows and types. Here in the NT we see Him as He is – Jesus, the Son of Mary and the Son of God, keeps the law, perfectly, and goes to the cross to be the perfect sacrifice for sin. And so, His righteousness and His perfection and His ability can be placed in our account such that we are justified in God’s sight. Because of Jesus it is just-as-if-I never sinned. And we receive this justification by faith – by believing. We cannot earn our salvation, we must simply rest in the salvation He has secured for us. We are to be like children who receive.
7. Now, we don’t read about this anywhere later on in the Bible, but everything about this story suggests that later on, after the cross, this rich young man came to faith in Christ.
a. For a start, in v21, we are told that “Jesus looked at him and loved him.” And the idea that Jesus would love someone who is not one of those that God has appointed to eternal life does not match up with the rest of Scripture.
b. And even Jesus’ final warning about the last and the first may be a ‘clue,’ if you will, that this man, who in his own eyes is one of the first, but who is at present one of the last, will later become one of the last who is first.
i. Perhaps even he was one of those described in Acts 5, who shared all the possessions they had so that there were no needy among the congregation in Jerusalem, and who did this as followers of Christ?
8. And this leads us to this concluding point, the Law was not able to separate this man from his riches. Acts 5 tells us about a whole bunch of people very easily separated from their riches.
a. The Law cannot separate anyone from addiction, or anger, or lust, or hatred. But I can read you countless testimonies of people who have been separated from addiction, anger, lust, or hatred. How? By faith in Christ.
i. 2 Corinthians 5:17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!
ii. Galatians 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
b. And this is where the law comes into view again. Because I am a new creation; because Christ lives in me, I want to show Him my thankfulness for all He has done for me. How do I do this? You shall not misuse the name of God, remember the Sabbath Day, You shall not murder, you shall not steal, etc.
i. As Jesus said, “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me.”
The rewards for following Jesus in this life are magnificent, as Jesus explains in vv29-30. Whatever you sacrifice for Him He repays 100 fold. And then comes eternal life!
But these rewards only belong to those who have come to see themselves as law-breakers who need the cleansing blood of Jesus. Is this you? Are you in Christ? Do you live by faith in the Son of God?