The story of this wealthy man in Mark 10:17-31 is a contrast to the previous few verses about those who enter the Kingdom like children. This story describes again the intensity and seriousness of following Jesus: he tells this man to sell everything he has! Although God may not call me or you to do that, we have to be careful not to temper this message. Jesus does and will call people to forsake everything in a physical and tangible manner. Some have given away wealth, others fame, and still others their physical lives. So, when we approach a passage like this we need to make sure we feel the tension and the weight of what it would mean for us to sell all that we have and give the money to a homeless shelter. For some of us it is inconceivable that we would do this. For others of us, we know that if we had to do it, we would immediately get to work rebuilding what we had. God gives us everything we have to leverage for his Kingdom and his glory. Our temptation is to leverage it for our own comfort and pleasure. God gives us the time we have, the talents we have, and the treasure we have to bring people to him, to build the church body, and to honor him.
You might call these things “The 3 T’s” – Time, Talent, and Treasure. We are all given the same amount of time in our days and weeks, and it’s up to us to make the most of that time for the Kingdom of God and not squander it. Everyone is busy, the question is, are you busy in a way that honors Jesus? Also, we all have some type of talent or gifting that God has given us. People are naturally good at certain things or are naturally inclined to doing other things, and we have opportunities to use those talents for the glory of God. The Bible also talks about spiritual gifts like mercy, giving, leadership, teaching, hospitality, and many others. God equips each of us with gifts to serve the whole body. Although some gifts are in plain view, others are behind the scenes, but if any of us neglects to practice our gifts, the whole body suffers. In the church, our lives in Christ are intertwined; we are not completely separate and autonomous. There needs to be those who teach, those who listen, those who perform acts of service, those who encourage, and those who practice lots of other gifts. Many times, each of us have a combination of talents of differing degrees and it practicing them, we find how we can best serve the body. Practicing our gifts is to build up the church: to build in numerical growth, and to build the body spiritually. We all are given time, we all are given at least one talent or gifting, and then we all have Treasure. Some of us don’t have much and some of us just think we don’t have much. Whatever we have, we have an opportunity to leverage for the Kingdom of God and to see it as a tool rather than a goal, as a means of worshipping God rather than an object of worship itself. In the Gospel of Luke we see this element of our treasure discussed in several places especially in Luke 16:10-13 where Jesus says we cannot love both God and money.
This was the source of the internal struggle of this man in Mark’s Gospel. He had lived his entire life properly and uprightly, but there was a void, a problem in his soul. He followed all the rules and lived morally. But, he was trying to serve both God and money and Jesus knows it. So, this man asks Jesus, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”, and Jesus responds with theology, with love, and with application. Jesus’ response is deep, authentic, and simple.
First, in verse 18 Jesus responds to this man with theological depth. He responds to the man’s greeting “Good Teacher” by saying “There is none good but God.” Jesus recognizes this man has come to him with sincerity looking for answers, but out of the gate, Jesus reminds him that even with his moral achievement that doesn’t make him good. Only God is good. There are aspects of goodness reflected in humanity because we are made in God’s image, but the only one who is good in essence, who defines goodness, and who is the embodiment of goodness is God himself and God alone. Jesus responds this way because if we properly understand goodness, this man is correct. Jesus is good because he is God. So when Jesus responds to this man’s search for filling that eternal void in his spirit, this isn’t simply moral advice dispensed by some guru. Jesus speaks the word of God. He speaks from authority and he speaks not just advice, but truth. This man has undoubtedly heard of Jesus’ reputation and authority and this is why he comes to this teacher and healer. But Jesus lets this man know a little more about him than most do, although he does it in a cloaked manner. Jesus hints to this man at his divinity. He’s not just a healer and teacher, but God in human flesh. This is a deep theological truth, but it is also immensely important for people who follow Jesus to understand. Jesus is a man, he is a teacher, he is a healer, and he is also God. He is God and man together in one person. So when we speak of God we speak of Jesus and when we speak of Jesus we speak of God. Jesus is our friend and brother, and he is also our King and God. This should give us comfort when we are lonely or discouraged and it should cause us to fear when we are tempted by our sin.
Another theological point of this passage is found in the interaction Jesus has with his disciples about this discussion with the rich man. In verse 17 the man asks about eternal life and in verse 23 Jesus talks about the Kingdom of God. Then Jesus mentions eternal life in verse 30 in speaking of the age to come. Our understanding of eternal life should be more shaped by Jesus’ teaching about the Kingdom of God than by popular conceptions of clouds, harps, golden halos, and angels. Living in God’s Kingdom is eternal life and there is not eternal life outside of God’s Kingdom. There are quite a few more references to the Kingdom of God than to eternal life in the New Testament. Eternal life is much bigger than we can conceive it to be. Eternal life exists in the context of God’s Kingdom. He is infinite and so is his rule, so life in and with him will surely be much greater than the popular conceptions of the afterlife. Jesus teaches about the Kingdom that has come and has begun, but it continues eternally and we are invited into eternal life in his Kingdom if we believe and repent. Jesus calls this rich man, and his disciples to a greater depth in understanding who he is.
Secondly, Jesus responds to this man in Verse 21 with authentic love. Before Jesus gave instruction to him, he loved him. He felt compassion for him. Remember that Jesus is the true King who has compassion and love for his people. This man is often referred to as the Rich Young Ruler because Matthew notes his youth and Luke refers to him as a ruler. In Tim Keller’s book “King’s Cross“, he notes that one of the reasons Jesus loves him is because of his status. Like this man, Jesus is young, around 30-33 years old. Like this man, Jesus is a ruler, his Kingdom knows no end. Like this man, Jesus possesses great wealth, he owns the cattle on a 1000 hills. The rich man recognizes Jesus as a good teacher, but has no clue with whom he is speaking. Jesus has authority and wealth in an infinitely greater way than him. And yet, at the prime of his life Jesus in his early 30’s Jesus will forsake it all and go to a cross. He tells this man to give away his wealth because of its stranglehold on his heart. But Jesus can tell him to do so with integrity because he is doing the same thing, but to an infinitely greater degree. Jesus gives up a heavenly throne to rescue people like this man, and when he says, give your wealth to the poor, he knows exactly what that means because he has done no less.
The third ways Jesus responds to this man is with simple application. Jesus says, all you have to do is sell everything and follow me. All you have to do is deny yourself and pursue the cross for your life. The man understands this command because it is simple, but it is so difficult for him that he leaves full of sorrow. It says he’s “disheartened”. Other translations say he is “grieved”. Why? Because he knew he wouldn’t do it. Jesus requires him to forsake what is most dear to him, his wealth. And he loves God, but not quite as much as he loves his money. More than this Jesus doesn’t require him only to give up what he has, but to set a new course for the future as well. Jesus says “follow me”, no longer is he to pursue God and money, but only God. Jesus is calling this man, to give up what he can gain in this life, to gain the next life. He has said this before in other places. He says it in chapter 8 when he says “deny yourself” and he has just said it in verses 13-16 saying that we must receive the Kingdom like a child. For some people, God will remove obstacles that prohibit us from coming to him, but in this case, he asks this man to remove the obstacle himself and give away his wealth. Sometimes we need to pray for God to remove what is holding us back, and other times we need to pray that God would change our hearts to help us love him more than our stuff and ourselves. Jesus’ Disciples sensed the magnitude of this simple command as well. We see Jesus interact with them in verse 23-31. In verses 23 and 24 Jesus tells his disciples twice “How difficult is it for the wealthy to enter the Kingdom of God”. He says it twice so we should make sure to hear it. In verse 25 Jesus says his famous saying that it is “easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle” than for the rich to enter the Kingdom. It’s impossible Jesus says. There’s not a chance it’ll happen.
Verse 24 says the disciples were amazed at this and in verse 26 it says they were exceedingly astonished. They say in verse 26, “Who can then be saved?!?!” Jesus says that God will make a way in verse 27. It is impossible for us to save ourselves. It is impossible for us to squeak by and obtain eternal life in God’s Kingdom. But, what is impossible for us is possible with God. He would make a way for people who continually turn away from him to pursue ourselves and our own desires and pleasures to enter his Kingdom.
Then in verse 28, ol’ Peter chimes in. He calls to attention that these disciples have given up everything to follow Jesus. “But we have given up everything, does that mean at least we will get eternal life.” “Look at us” he says. “Look at me!” – I left everything, I give 10%, I go to church every week, I sacrificed something for God, I, I, I….If you are still looking at what you have done, then you aren’t looking to Jesus for your salvation, but to what you have done. Jesus’ response to the question “Who can be saved?!?!” is crucial. Though we would attempt to gain the Kingdom through wealth, influence, power, or even our own righteousness, it’s insufficient and sub-standard. This is not how eternal life in the Kingdom is gained. Jesus changes everything. This is why he says in verse 31, “But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” Whatever you forsake or lose in this life will be gained in the next.
But the difference between what you can gain in this life and what you can gain in the next is infinite. The more we realize this, the less we will live for the things of this world and live for the one to come. What are you living for? Can you sincerely and truly say you love Jesus more than your financial portfolio? Jesus loved this man and he saw that the greatest obstacle to life with God for this man was his wealth. Jesus loves you and if there are things in your life before him it is dangerous and destructive whether they are matters of wealth, relationships, hidden addictions, or anything else. When we read this story, it should cause us to repent of anything we are pursuing or loving more than Jesus. Do you love God more? More than your wealth? More than your hobby? More than your job? More than yourself? Don’t forget that he loves you so much he went to a cross for you, so anything that hinders us from loving him, is not good for us. Open your heart and life to him today and give him everything.