Dan Popp
Jesus and the rich young ruler
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By Dan Popp
June 16, 2014

    As He was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to Him and knelt before Him, and asked Him, "Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" And Jesus said to him, "Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone. 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.'" And he said to Him, "Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up." Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, "One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me." But at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property. (Mark 10:17-22, NAS95)
What if you could have a personal interview with Jesus? What would you ask Him? The gospels record several such conversations. But be aware that Jesus doesn't respond to your question, necessarily; He'll answer what you're thinking. The Old Testament reveals, "With the pure You show Yourself pure, And with the crooked You show Yourself astute." (Psalm 18:26) With the rich young ruler, as he's become known, Jesus shows Himself astute, shrewd, crafty, because his interviewer was building on a crooked foundation.

Mark says that a man ran up to Jesus. Luke adds that he was a "ruler" (archon) – an official. Matthew supplies the fact that he was "young." This fellow says, "Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" And Jesus said to him, "Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone." The Lord pressed this man on the same point He pressed Nicodemus and the woman at the well and His disciples and the Pharisees and everyone else – Who do you say that I am? The young ruler had mistaken the Word-Made-Flesh for a man susceptible to flattery.

The direct answer to the man's question would have been, "This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent." (John 6:29) There is no work, no deed, no charitable act that can get you into heaven. The work required is that you stop trying to work, and instead believe. That's the straightforward answer. But Jesus can't give him the straight answer because the man wasn't being straight with his question. So He says, reading from Mark's account, "but if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments."

Now, you won't get into heaven by being good, by keeping the commandments – nor would this guy – but in theory you could. It's never been done and it never will be done, but it could be done. There's no problem with the Law. "I gave them My statutes and informed them of My ordinances, by which, if a man observes them, he will live," said God. (Ezekiel 20:11) And by the way, this isn't the only time Jesus prescribed extreme legal therapy to an insincere questioner – see Luke 10:25-28.

Then he said to Him, "Which ones?" I don't know how Jesus kept from blurting out, "WHICH ONES? ALL of them, you dope!" As James said, "For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all." (James 2:10)

Instead, He answers as if the man had asked a legitimate question. Knowing the disease in his heart, the Good Physician prescribes the second tablet of the Ten Commandments. That's the easy half. John taught that it's easier to love people, whom we have seen, than God, whom we haven't seen. Christ is offering this man a discount on holiness. Just for you, today only, we have a special! All Commandments Half Off!

And Jesus said, "YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER; YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY; YOU SHALL NOT STEAL; YOU SHALL NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS; HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER; and YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF."

And then the unthinkable happens. The rich young ruler lies to God.

And he said to Him, "Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up."

He hasn't learned from the Law that he's a sinner; he hasn't learned from the Lord that only God is good. What can be done for this airhead? How can we make it so clear that he can't deny it? Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, "One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me."

Now here's where many readers get thrown off the bus and into the ditch. Jesus is doing nothing more than trying to show this one man that he really is a sinner. He's just given him the second tablet of the Law, summed up by, "love your neighbor as yourself." And the man says he's done that. OK, says Christ, if you love your neighbor as much as you love yourself, you'll have no problem sharing your stuff with others – all of it.

Uh.

Jesus wasn't carving an additional Commandment here. There are no new moral laws to be invented, or old ones to be discarded. He was talking to this one man (second person singular, thou in the KJV, not you) and trying to show him that he hadn't even kept the easy part of the Law, much less the harder part.

The man had asked, according to Mark, What am I still lacking? And Jesus' response is, basically, "everything."

But he was young. Remember the episode with the woman taken in adultery, at the opening of John, Chapter 8? Jesus said, "All the non-sinners present can go ahead and begin the stoning now." And they all left, beginning with the oldest. Youth can delude us into believing that we might actually be perfectible if we just give it a little more time and effort. Age brings the wisdom that we'll never be "complete, perfect, good" absent a miracle. A rich old ruler never would have said, "I've kept all the Commandments." And he would have known what he lacked: A pure heart.

Jesus asked the dude to put his money where his mouth was.

But at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property. This young buck walked away still lying to himself. The fact that he owned much property wasn't the issue. The issue was whether he would obey Jesus. To do what God tells you to do is to walk in faith. And faith is what saves. Faith is the only thing that saves. Since he didn't admit that Jesus is God, he couldn't have faith to obey His words.

The answer to his question was the Person he walked away from.

"I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me." (John 14:6b)

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

© Dan Popp

 

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