A. The Historical Setting
- Our text, Chapter 10 at verse 1, indicates the ending of Jesus' Galilean ministry and His removal southward to Judea and across Jordan. His trans-Jordanian location is in the general vicinity of the Old Testament Gilead, in the area referred to by Josephus as Perea. It was ruled by Herod Antipas and occupied by Jews. Ralph P. Martin dates Jesus' journey to this area as A. D. 32 in late summer, or some nine months preceding the Passion Passover of the following year. During this period, our Lord gave some of His significant parables and teachings.
- All of the synoptics join in placing Jesus' tender encounter with the children immediately ahead of His meeting with the rich man of our text. The contrast between the attitude of these little ones and that of the young ruler seem to set forth the distinction between those who belong in the kingdom and those who are denied entrance. Matthew indicates the man is young, while Luke adds that he is a ruler. Possibly then he was leader in a local synagogue. Since his wealth figures so largely in the episode, it is important to remember that records show Rabbinism viewed poverty as the worst of human plights. Pharisaism fostered pride in its stingy alms giving.
- Another important point of conflict between this somewhat admirable young man and the viewpoints of our Lord is over the concept of what is "good." Jesus does not at all deny that He is both good and God. The point of His reply in verse 18 lays stress on the term "good" and is intended to awaken the young man to a greater idea of God's perfect goodness. Matthew's account especially reveals in 19:16 and 17 that the fellow is not at all humbly questioning his ability to achieve life by his own good doings. Jesus' doctrine of grace, though unnamed by Him as such, is clearly stated in verse 27. The achieving of salvation is beyond the realm of human achievement.
B. Contemporary Setting
- Politicians today are quick to read the mood of people. The current tax revolt has brought about a mad, political scramble. Our country's deepening involvement in materialism has divided our hearts from God. Perhaps many today, even in our churches, would have difficulty measuring up to the young man who approaches Jesus in our text. We can learn something here about this kind of seeking heart which is turned away empty.
- Before Jesus gave any instructive reply to His inquirer, He had to clear up the idea of what is "good." The pervasive effects of situational ethics has left a residue of uncertainty about what is really good or bad, right or wrong. The rich man at least held to definite standards of morality. However, he, like so many moderns failed to realize how perfect God is and how imperfect even our best efforts are. Often today grace is not appropriated because it is not even appreciated. The beginning point is man's total inability to please God on the one hand. And, on the other, God's gracious willingness nonetheless to salvage us from our sin.
THEME: Jesus Shows the One Way into the Kingdom
I. THOSE WHO ACHIEVE MORAL EXCELLENCE, 17-21a
- The Rich Ruler as a Case in Point
- Jesus turns directly to the second table of the Decalogue and examines the young man's life. The final five negative Commandments are placed before him without comment. Probably "do not fraud" is a reflection of the tenth Commandment and is from Leviticus 19:13 as well. Matthew, referring to Leviticus 19:18, says "love your neighbor as yourself." (Matthew 19:19) Next, Jesus returns to the positive fifth Commandment, ordering obedience and respect to parents.
- The young man's performance is such that he can confidently claim to have kept all the Commandments since childhood. One gets the definite impression that these Commandments provide an accurate index to his outward conduct. He is of exemplary character. To human understanding, he is a good man.
- Such Achievement Misses Righteousness
- Being yet troubled in heart, the man asks, "What do I still lack? (Matthew 20:20) To this Jesus replies, "One thing you lack" (Mark 10:21) Then Jesus procedes to reach deep into his heart and touch the sore spot. The challenge is to rid himself of the one thing that yet divides his heart. "Then come and follow me." This exposes the man's true condition and also confronts him with the truth about entering God's kingdom. As zealous as he has been in his good doings, he is totally defeated by this challenge and turns away. (v. 22)
- One is impressed with the promise of this man. He could look Jesus in the face and say that at least in outward form he had obeyed the Commandments since boyhood. (v. 20) Furthermore, Jesus loved him. (v. 21) Indeed, he was a man concerned with inheriting eternal life and that is why he ran to Jesus. (v. 17) In spite of all this, there is the telltale air of human self-sufficiency and an unyielded, unrepentant heart. He had yet to learn that it is impossible for man's achievements to open God's door to him. (v. 27) Only God can provide salvation and He does this graciously. Faith is simply man's amen to this plan of grace. (Romans 3:28)
II. THOSE WHO GAIN WORLDLY SUCCESS, 21-27
- What Worldly Success Means
- By worldly success is meant financial and material abundance and security as well as position, prestige, influence, recognition. Such intense focus on these aspects of life exists today. Many hold these advantages to be both the means and evidence of salvation. It seems more than ever that material success draws praise and envy. (Psalm 49:18)
- Like Zacchaeus, the rich man here had a certain position and possession. But, unlike Zacchaeus, he ended up with a downcast heart. He left Christ and went back to his great wealth. (v. 22) Worldly success, not withstanding, he was painfully aware of being yet without eternal life.
- Difficulties in the Way of Salvation
- In characteristic style, Mark notices the touching detail of Christ looking first in love at the young man (v. 21) and upon his sad departure, looking around on his own disciples. "How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!" he says. The amazed disciples are to be astounded even more. The Lord repeats the statement and underscores it by comparing the rich man's entrance into the Kingdom with the impossible feat of the camel passing through the eye of a needle. Though there are fanciful interpretations of this figure, it should most likely be taken simply as a graphic way of insisting on the great hindrances which wealth presents to the way of salvation. A grasping for possessions and a hunger for God are mutually exclusive. One cannot both love money and love God. (Matthew 6:24) That is why covetousness is called idolatry in Scripture. (Colossians 3:5) An infatuation and deep involvement with the world may be termed as success, and yet be spiritually fatal. (I John 2:15-17)
- According to Jesus, the kind of success enjoyed and clung to by the wealthy man in our text does not at all open God's door of salvation. Indeed, it obviously hindered this one. In verse 27, Christ shut the door on all human achievement and explains that only God is able to forgive, cleanse and prepare a man for salvation. God does this through His Son, Jesus Christ by grace alone.
III. THOSE WHO GIVE UP ALL FOR CHRIST, 28-31
- Gaining Perspective on What Jesus Demands
- Just as surely as human achievement falls short of the Kingdom, so saving faith will always be alive, moving and accomplishing for God. "Faith without deeds is useless." (James 2:20) Wherever true riches have been discovered there will be a willingness to discover the things of the Word. This is a singular proof that a heart is wholly dedicated to the Lord. Here is exactly where the ruler's imperfect heart showed itself for what it was.
- On the other hand, what are we to think of the call to give up everything material? How may we understand this without going to the extreme of monastic asceticism? Surely the Christian's disciplined and proper use of this world's goods is more commendable than a legalistic limiting of what God allows as legitimate. But, all must be held in an open palm before God, grasping nothing and putting to death all selfish ambition.
- Relating Our Sacrifice to God's Grace
- Just as the wealthy young man, whose affections were still entwined with his possessions, needed the miraculous regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, so it would be impossible for any of our sacrifices to please Him. It was the genuine work of God in the lives of the faltering apostles which enabled Peter to say boldly, "We have left everything to follow you!" (v. 28)
- At once Jesus sets about to expound on the spiritual treasures previously offered to, and refused by, the young man in verse 21. Now the Lord makes it clear that the sacrifice He envisions involves every tie, personal as well as material. (v. 29) However, the multiplied rewards will begin in this present age (along with persecutions) and culminate in eternal life in the age to come. Though such a life may seem impossible to man, it is possible for God to enable one to desire and live such a life. (v. 27)
- Thus our text which began with a rather severe demand of consecration ends by exalting the grace of our Savior as He promises an outpouring of blessing to all who yield all and follow Him. They will receive in many special ways blessings on their most intimate relationships.
- Life everlasting is awaiting them. Finally, we are told that those who have willingly placed themselves at the end of the line in humble service will be brought forward to the chief places of honor in God's Kingdom. God begins by populating His family with those who are utterly incompatible with it. (I Timothy 1:12-16) Then, He ends by giving His highest honors to those who have suffered much loss for Him.
- Since no amount of sacrifice, success, or morality on our part can gain saving merit before God, we are completely cast upon His grace. Happily. this text reveals in clearest fashion that God is both able and willing to have all who will come on His terms. Ours is but to repent and believe -- to rely entirely on God and God alone to provide the salvation so impossible to man. The very Jesus of Nazareth who stood before the wealthy seeker was the answer to his need and is the answer to ours.
- How would you respond to one who fears that Jesus' reply in verse 18 indicates that our Lord is not both truly good and truly God?
- How many positive evidences can you give of this man's good character?
- What telltale evidence can you give that this apparently fine young man was after all given to the deceitfulness of pride?
- Compare contemporary, modern thinking with that of the rich man in our text.
- What are some hindrances which moral excellence might present in the way of salvation?
- What are some hindrances which worldly success might put in the way of salvation?
- In what way does a proper Christian consecration differ from monastic asceticism?
- Exactly how does God accomplish -- work out -- that which the young man in our text failed to gain?