Such is the kingdom of God. It is for the little children and all who would become like them. It is for those who hold their possessions as if they had none, who do not trust in the fleeting hope of riches, who know that if the Lord has given He may also take away and His name will still be blessed. As we come to the Table of our King, may we come like poor and needy children to our good and loving Father. Let us forsake any self-righteousness within our souls, and cling only to Christ, for grace, for mercy, for compassion, for comfort, for discipline. Let us hold only to our Savior, knowing that we cannot be saved apart from Him and that in His arms we are held fast as dearly loved children.
And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must 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, all these I have kept from my youth.” And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”
Mark 10:17-31 ESV
“Have you noticed,” asks Tim Keller, “that some of Jesus’s sayings are like hard candy? They’re not like chocolate, which you can let melt in your mouth, swallow, and it’s gone–a momentary pleasure. With a hard candy, if you try to take it in too fast, you’re likely headed for the dentist’s chair or the Heimlich Maneuver. Many of Jesus’s sayings are like that. You work on them, you work into them, and you work through them, and only then are you rewarded with layer after layer of increasing sweetness.”
In the passage before us, we encounter a number of such sayings from Jesus, sayings that challenge our default presuppositions. Here we are challenged to rethink how we understand goodness, righteousness, wealth, and salvation. May the Spirit give light to the eyes of our heart as we study this text.
You Lack One Thing// Verses 17-22
The verses before us can easily be divided into two main sections: Jesus’ encounter with the rich, young ruler and Jesus’ lesson for His disciples. The man whom we often call the rich, young ruler (from the paralleling accounts of Matthew and Luke) ran up to Jesus as He was setting out for His journey. The reverence that this man had for Jesus is immediately displayed, first, through his willingness to run, which was considered undignified at that time, and by his kneeling before Jesus. Right from the beginning, then, we know that this is not one of the antagonistic encounters that will become so normal for us to read in chapters 11-12. Here is a man with a genuine desire to speak with Jesus.
“Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Here is the question that has been haunting the young man’s mind. We might rephrase it today as, “What must I do to be saved?” We can easily imagine him being in the spiritual place that so many are today in the West, living lives of relative comfort and success yet feeling the constant pull toward something more, something eternal. Believing themselves to be good and moral people, yet still lacking something.
Jesus’ response would fail a seminary class on evangelism because even though a sincere seeker of eternal life had literally run to Him and knelt down before Him asking how to be saved, He did not give the man a presentation of the gospel. Instead, Jesus pushed back against the man’s basic understanding of what goodness is: “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.”
This response, of course, has been highjacked by secular scholars as evidence that Jesus did not consider Himself to be divine. Yet we would do well to notice that Jesus did not say that the man was wrong to call Him good. Indeed, the man was much more correct than he knew. Rather, Jesus was giving a subtle prod at the man’s broken notion of goodness. The man did not think that Jesus was God, only a spiritual guru, a miracle man. Thus, the man thought that goodness could be achieved, that men could become good, just as Jesus Himself had apparently done.
R. C. Sproul notes that such a definition of goodness is inherently relative; it is goodness in comparison to everyone else. Biblically, however, goodness is an attribute of God, meaning that it is not some ethereal force that God meets. No, God Himself is goodness, its standard and source. Therefore, only God truly is good, and whatever we might call good is only properly good in relation to Him.
Yet knowing that the man considers himself to be good, Jesus gave him an answer similar to what he likely expected to hear: “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 sure enough the man answered as expected, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.”
Here again I believe that we should read the man’s answer with the utmost sincerity. We know from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount that he has not, in fact, kept them. He certainly never murdered anyone, but we can be sure that he did so in his heart because we all have done likewise. Even from the Old Testament, the man should have known that outward obedience is not enough to please the holiness of God. Notice, of course, that Jesus cited Commandments 5-9, not mentioning those that govern our worship of God nor the 10th Commandment, which is explicitly a heart-level law.
Yet the man had not been taught the true ways of God. Here is fruit of the Pharisees’ legalism: a man who both thought he had done enough to merit God’s favor and knew at same time that righteousness eluded him.
In verse 21, we read that Jesus loved this man. He had compassion on him, for he was truly lost, a sheep without a shepherd. This love led Jesus to issue a remarkable challenge to the man: “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”
Let us pause to note that while our world considers affirmation to be highest form of love Jesus displayed His love for the man precisely by not affirming him. Jesus offered no pat on the back to assuage the man’s lingering sense of insufficiency. He did not say, “I can clearly see that you are trying your best, and that’s what God really looks at. Go in peace.” Such a word would have doomed the man. It would have been as comforting as a doctor neglecting to tell a patient about their cancer, heart defect, or other such life-threatening condition.
Instead, Jesus confirmed what the young man always knew deep in his heart. The perpetual question of the legalist is: “Have I done enough?” And the answer is ever and always: “No.” The nagging voice that haunted him at night was affirmed. After all of his religious obedience something was still missing. He lacked one thing. And true love does not shy away from pointing out such lack. True love does not heal a wound lightly, as Jeremiah accused the false prophets of his day of doing.
Of course, we see this today with the transgender ideologues, whose answer to a hurting person who feels like the opposite sex is to sign on the dotted line, start taking some hormones, and get a plastic surgery scheduled to make them look somewhat like how they feel.