“As He was setting out on a journey, a man ran up, knelt down before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life? ” “Why do you call Me good? ” Jesus asked him. “No one is good but One — God. 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.” He said to Him, “Teacher, I have kept all these from my youth.” Then, looking at him, Jesus loved him and said to him, “You lack one thing: Go, sell all you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me.” But he was stunned at this demand, and he went away grieving, because he had many possessions.” (Mark 10:17-22 HCSB)
Eternal life. It’s an interesting idea, isn’t it? Most often, we relate the idea of “eternal” with longevity or length. We think of eternal life simply as never ending life. But, in reality, it has as much or more to do with quality than with quantity. Eternal life is “real” life or life as it is meant to be. Eternal life is life full of goodness and joy, filled with God’s presence and blessing. It is the embodiment of the Jewish term “shalom” which carries more of the idea of human wholeness than just personal peace or the lack of relational conflict. It is peace, but it is the fullness of peace throughout the entire person: body, mind, soul and spirit. To put it simply, eternal life is the kind of life that we most deeply desire at the very center of our being.
“I have come so that they may have life and have it in abundance.” ( John 10:10 bHCSB)
In stark contrast with last week’s story, Mark introduces us to a young man who seeks an answer to the question: “What must I DO to inherit eternal life?” As you’ll recall, Jesus told us that we must receive the kingdom of God like a little child, a gift offered to those with empty hands and empty pockets. Now, as Jesus sets out to continue His journey towards Jerusalem, a young man runs up to Jesus, kneels before Him and asks, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Let me make two quick observations, here. I’ll be quick, but you may want to spend some time considering these things. First, running to someone is just very unusual in this Jewish cultural context and indicates the focus and intent in this young man’s question and his quest for answers. Remember, Luke tells us this young man is a “ruler” and we find out that he’s also quite wealthy. Really odd. This just isn’t done by Jewish men and, especially, Jewish men of prominence and wealth. Second, the young man kneels before Jesus as he asks his question. This word (Greek: gonupeteo, “fall on knees”) could be translated simply as “knelt before” Jesus or it could be translated as “knelt in worship before” Him. With the next words that flow from his lips, “Good teacher”, I think it may be more appropriate to translate it as the latter: “he knelt in worship before Him, and asked…”
Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?
Jesus calls immediate attention to the “title” the young man uses in his question. “Why do you call Me good? There’s only One who is good – God.” Is Jesus deflecting the title and the reference? Is He reacting in deference and trying to tell the young man, “Don’t call me good, I’m not God.” Or is He asking the young man about His faith, His beliefs and His theology? If God alone is good, are you acknowledging who I AM? But notice, Jesus doesn’t wait for a response. Instead, He tells him: “No one is good but One – God.” Hang onto that, we’re going to come back to it.
So, Jesus begins to answer his question by reminding him of God’s commandments: “Do not murder, commit adultery, steal, bear false witness, defraud and do honor your father and mother.” This is the second half of the commandments which all deal with our interpersonal and cultural relationships. Based on what we know about this young man, his reference to Jesus as “Good Teacher” and his religious and cultural position of power and authority, I suspect he has already heard Jesus’ teaching regarding the law and His application of it in several sermons (Matt. 5-7, for example) and Jesus’ teaching, in general.
Now, listen to his response: “Teacher, I have kept all these from my youth.” For most of us, it is probably easy to read through this list of moral obligations and to respond in a similar fashion. I’ve kept all these from the time I was old enough to understand and obey them. I’ve never murdered another man. I’ve never cheated on my wife. I’ve never taken another man’s property, or lied about anyone in a court proceeding. I’ve never defrauded anyone of their property and I’ve honored my parents.
Yet, there’s no one good but One – God.
It is a stinging indictment towards man, but an accurate one. You see, we impugn God’s goodness as we elevate our own. Oh yes, let that settle into your soul just a bit. We look around and blame God for the evil that exists in our world even as we deny having any guilt or culpability in the matter. We falsely magnify our own goodness even as we deny His. We blame Him for the mess our world is in and refuse to acknowledge that we’ve done this to ourselves.
“Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness, who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter. Woe to those who are wise in their own opinion and clever in their own sight.” (Isaiah 5:20-21 HCSB)
Oh, don’t get me wrong. Religion ISN’T the answer, Jesus is. Religion is just a byproduct of man’s spiritual desire and need mixed with his selfish ambition and greed. The world has often laughed at and derided the sin within the church and for good reason. We have deserved it. Let me state this in plain English: when the church looks less like Jesus and more like man then we’ve failed at being His people. Jesus’ desire is to make the church, His Bride, to be pure, spotless, blameless, holy and righteous. That only happens as we seek to be those things on an individual basis. The church can’t be holy if you, as a part of that body, aren’t seeking to be holy.
So, let me take you back to our focal passage. The first step in being holy is being humble, honest, contrite and compliant in God’s hands. Contrite? Yes, willing to admit your failure, guilt and sin while crying out for God’s mercy. Compliant? Yes, soft and compliant in God’s hands. You can’t be molded into what God desires when you’re hardened into who and what you want to be in your life. Instead of standing before God and beating your chest while proclaiming your innocence, you fall before God in confession begging for His mercy and forgiveness.
Jesus tells this young man that there is only ONE who is good and that’s God. That means that despite his assumed innocence, this young man stands before God unlike the child cited in last week’s focal passage. “Whoever does not welcome the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” This young man knew he was missing the kingdom of God, somehow, but he just didn’t understand how or why. He hadn’t come before God like a helpless, hapless, hopeless little child because his hands are full of his own goodness, his own righteousness and his own achievements. You see, this young man had worked hard at holding up these moral standards in his life. “Teacher, I’ve kept all these from my youth.”
Notice, what Jesus doesn’t do… He doesn’t call him a liar. The Son of God who knows this man’s heart lets that statement stand uncontested. I don’t know this man’s heart or his actions but Jesus did. It appears, from a human standpoint, this man’s moral, cultural and relational goodness was well founded. Now, notice what Jesus does do… He looks intently into him and loved him. Then He said to him, “You lack one thing: Go, sell all you have and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come follow Me.” His moral goodness to his fellow man stood the test but his obedience to the first four commandments, which are all about his relationship with God, did not.
This man was morally good, it would seem there were none better. But he failed the test when it came to loving God above everything else in his life: “This is the most important [commandment],” Jesus answered: Listen, Israel! The Lord our God, the Lord is One. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. “The second is: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other command greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-31 HCSB) So, while this man had been living in compliance with the second, he had failed in submission and compliance to the most important.
Our modern culture is focused on the second commandment while ignoring and even questioning the validity of the first and most important one – loving God more than they love themselves. Sadly, the church seem to believe it is satisfying the first while ignoring and even questioning the validity of the second – loving their neighbor in the same way they love themselves. Let me state the obvious – these two commands are interwoven and intricately tied together. You cannot fulfill one while leaving the other undone and expect to be whole, a complete and fulfilled human being. You cannot love God above everything else in life without loving His creation and especially man who is made in His image. Conversely, you cannot love man who is made in God’s image properly and completely without loving God, the creator, above everything else in life.
So, let’s address the 900 pound, purple gorilla in the room. Yes, it is that obvious and often ignored. “Him: What must I do to inherit eternal life? Jesus: Well, despite you moral goodness, you lack one thing. Go, sell all you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come follow Me.” This man’s issue with missing God’s kingdom and eternal life was his relationship with his possessions. He was unwilling to put God first in his life. His treasure in life wasn’t God, it was what he owned. I’m not saying he didn’t love God or desire to know Him, he was just unwilling to make that the highest priority of his life. God wasn’t the treasure of his heart or the the love of his life, he was.
Who or what’s the most important thing in your life? Most of you reading my words will likely say that God holds that spot, but does He really? If God said, “Go, sell it and give…” would you? A few weeks back, we considered Jesus words regarding His rejection, the Cross and His resurrection and how He called for the disciples to be willing to follow Him in that path. It tends to be easy for us to say, “I’d die for Jesus”, because we don’t really expect it to come down to that. However, to be willing to die for Him we must be willing to live for Him and that involves putting Him first, above everything else we desire and love in life.
When this young man asked his question, the answer stunned him. He walked away from Jesus because he couldn’t turn loose of those things that possessed him. We call them possessions, but they often possess us. He wanted to know God, to pursue God’s kingdom and to inherit eternal life but he was unwilling to walk away from that which possessed, owned and controlled him so that he could be possessed, owned and controlled by God. He asked the question but received the wrong answer.
Well, OK. He didn’t get the wrong answer from Jesus but he gave the wrong answer to Him in response – he walked away, grieving because he had many possessions.
What must I do? Go, sell it all and give to the poor. What? Wrong answer. I can’t do that. I won’t do that. It’s too important to me. I’m sorry, God. Yes son, I’m certain that you will be very sorry. You’ve chosen poorly. Wrong answer.
What is it in your life that God would call you to sell? What’s keeping you from being sold out completely to Him? It is possible to believe in God, desire to know Him and be a part of His kingdom and still miss eternal life because you refuse to sell out and follow Him. What do you possess that possesses you? Is it God? If not, it is time to sell it because it will cause you to miss out on eternal life. Remember, eternal life isn’t just about longevity but is ALL about quality of life, fullness of life, abundant life – filled up and splashing out on those around you. Life as God intended, walking with Him, worshiping Him, obeying Him, being blessed by Him and being a blessing to Him and to others.
Go, sell all you have and give to the poor, then come follow me.
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