From the rich young ruler (Mark 19:17-20), we see four superficial views that keep people from understanding Jesus, eternal life, and His kingdom.
As Jesus gets closer to the cross He is intensifying and deepening His teaching about what it means to be a disciple and one of His followers.
- In Mark 8, Jesus said, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me” (v. 34, NLT).
- In Mark 9, Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be first must take last place and be the servant of everyone else” (v.35, NLT)
- In Mark 10, Jesus is going to show us with the rich young ruler that having a superficial interest in Jesus is no indication that you are a follower of Jesus.
Let’s take a look at Mark 10 beginning in verse 17,
As Jesus was starting out on his way to Jerusalem, a man came running up to him, knelt down, and asked, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus asked. “Only God is truly good. 19 But to answer your question, you know the commandments: ‘You must not murder. You must not commit adultery. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely. You must not cheat anyone. Honor your father and mother.’” 20 “Teacher,” the man replied, “I’ve obeyed all these commandments since I was young.” 21 Looking at the man, Jesus felt genuine love for him. “There is still one thing you haven’t done,” he told him. “Go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” 22 At this the man’s face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions. 23 Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God!” 24 This amazed them. But Jesus said again, “Dear children, it is very hard to enter the Kingdom of God. 25 In fact, 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!” 26 The disciples were astounded. “Then who in the world can be saved?” they asked. 27 Jesus looked at them intently and said, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But not with God. Everything is possible with God.” 28 Then Peter began to speak up. “We’ve given up everything to follow you,” he said. 29 “Yes,” Jesus replied, “and I assure you that everyone who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or property, for my sake and for the Good News, 30 will receive now in return a hundred times as many houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and property—along with persecution. And in the world to come that person will have eternal life. 31 But many who are the greatest now will be least important then, and those who seem least important now will be the greatest then.” (NLT)
This encounter introduces someone who has a superficial interest in Jesus and His kingdom. This incident describes an actual encounter between a wealthy, influential young man and Jesus; it is not a parable. Jesus’ response to him demonstrates that superficial interest in eternal life must be confronted, not accommodated. The man was confronted with the choice between himself and God; between fulfillment in this life and fulfillment in the life to come. He never questioned the truthfulness of what Jesus said. He did not argue; he just walked away. When it became clear that what Jesus was offering was going to cost him his pride and his possessions, he decided that the price was too high, even for eternal life. Jesus was not suggesting the man buy His salvation; that is impossible. Jesus was pointing out that his possessions, was his god and he would have to let that god go.
This young man seemed at first to be the ideal candidate to hear the gospel and get saved. Some people have to be persuaded of the basic truths of God’s Word on heaven, hell, death, life, and eternal life. Apparently, the young man was already there. He seemed to have already thought much about it, because the first thing he asked Jesus was how to obtain eternal life. He seemed to be ready to become a genuine follower of Jesus. Instead of sharing the plan of salvation, the Romans Road, the four spiritual laws, the bridge illustration, or the ABCs of salvation; Jesus put a massive stumbling block in his way, forcing him to decide what was more valuable to him: his riches or eternal life, his possessions or the kingdom of God. He wanted eternal life, but not enough to forsake his pride and possessions. Instead, he wanted to add eternal life to what he already possessed on his own terms.
Of all the people who ever came to the feet of Jesus, this man is the only one who went away worse than he came. And yet he had so much in his favor! He was a young man (Matt. 19:22) with great potential. He was respected by others, for he held some ruling office, perhaps in a local court (Luke 18:18). Certainly he had manners and morals, and there was enough desire in his heart for spiritual things that he ran up to Jesus and bowed at His feet. In every way, he was an ideal young man; and when Jesus beheld him, He loved him.
With all his good qualities, the young man was very superficial in his views of spiritual things. These superficial views placed Him in spiritual danger. The reason why the young man struggled with what Jesus had to say is because he had a superficial view and wrong understanding of salvation, goodness, sin and Scripture. Today, I want us to focus on this man’s superficial views and make sure we are not thinking like this man.
Superficial view of salvation
First, there is a superficial view of salvation. Mark tells us in verse 17, As Jesus was starting out on his way to Jerusalem, a man came running up to him, knelt down, and asked, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” We are told “a man came running up to” Jesus and “knelt down” before Him. Remember, every word of God is significant. Every detail told in the Bible teaches us something or helps us to understand something.
- Notice this man “came running up to” During the time and culture of Jesus, men of status did not run. Running necessitated gathering up the long robes worn by both men and women, thus exposing the legs, and was considered undignified and even shameful. In order to get to Jesus and ask Him about eternal life this young man is willing to give up and sacrifice his dignity and reputation.
- Also, notice this man “knelt down” before Jesus. The young man positioned himself in a humble, worshipful posture in the presence of the one who the religious establishment hated as a false prophet and sought to kill. This act of kneeling before Jesus was a public act of humility.
The young ruler seemed to be a sure-fire prospect for one becoming a follower of Jesus. He recognized his need for eternal life. Despite all of his religious achievements, he knew that he did not have eternal life and lacked a confident hope of heaven. There seems to be a sense of urgency with this young ruler as indicated by him “running up” to Jesus.
In addition to all this, the young ruler came to the right person. Unlike so many other who uselessly pursue spiritual truth from the wrong teacher, the wrong church, or the wrong religion, he came to the Lord Jesus Christ, who alone is the “the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6; cf. 1 John 5:20, NASB). Despite all of his religious achievements, there was a nagging fear in his mind that salvation was still missing. There was an unsatisfied guilt; an unfulfilled longing; a painful doubt about his relationship to God. By all appearance he seemed genuine and desperate for eternal life. However, as we will see, he had a superficial view of salvation which causes him to give a superficial reaction.
We see this man’s superficial view of salvation in his question to Jesus when he asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” (v.17). There are three parts to this question.
- “What must I do” – Jesus is able to read the heart of this man and based on Jesus comments to him, the young ruler is actually asking, “What else must I do” to receive eternal life? Based on what we are told, I’m convinced this young man was hungry for eternal life and serious about getting to heaven. However, his view on how to get there was all messed up. He believed he could earn and work his way to heaven. He had a superficial view of salvation.
- “to inherit” – The second part of his question deals with an inheritance. The young man asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” His question reveals his misunderstanding about receiving eternal life. An inheritance is not something you receive because of something you do, but because of who you are. You receive an inheritance from your parents because you are their child. Since you are in the family, you get an inheritance. The young ruler didn’t understand this. He thought he could receive an inheritance from God based on his good and religious performance when it has nothing to do with it. With that said listen carefully to Titus 3:4, “When God our Savior revealed his kindness and love,5 he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit. 6 He generously poured out the Spirit upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior. 7 Because of his grace he made us right in his sight and gave us confidence that we will inherit eternal life” (vs. 4-7, NLT). The rich young ruler thought “the righteous things [he] had done” or would do could give him eternal life. That’s why he did not and could not have “confidence that [he] will inherit eternal life.” Listen carefully, your confidence that you have eternal life is based on God’s kindness, love, mercy, and grace and not on how good you think you are or can be. The young ruler did not understand that. He had a superficial and shallow view of salvation.
- “eternal life” – The third part of his question deals specifically with eternal life. Eternal life deals with both the quality of life and the quantity of life. It deals with the depth of life now and the duration of life after you die. Eternal life does not begin when you die, it begins with you place your faith in Christ Jesus. Jesus defined eternal life for us when He said in John 17, “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:1-3, NASB). Eternal life is about having a relationship with Jesus. We looked at all that in detail last week. For the rich young ruler, he believed eternal life was connected to keeping God’s commandments and laws when in reality it is connected to having a genuine relationship with the Heavenly Father through His Son Jesus Christ. The young ruler did not understand that. He had a superficial view of salvation.
This superficial view of salvation is common today. When asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” some people will say, “You must be baptized, you must stop doing a particular sin, you must join a particular church, you must cut your hair, wear certain clothes, and so on.” They start adding more to dos. The rich young ruler is a perfect example of someone who is trying to work their way to heaven. He had a wrong view of salvation.
Superficial view of Goodness
Not only did the young ruler have a superficial view of salvation, but he also had a superficial view of goodness. When the man approached Jesus he did show Jesus great respect by bowing before Him, but notice how he began his question in verse 17, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus asked. “Only God is truly good.
The young man called Jesus “Good Teacher.” We get the impression that he was trying to flatter the Lord; for the Jewish rabbis did not allow the word “good” to be applied to them. Only God was good, and the word must be reserved for Him alone. Jesus was not denying that He was God; rather, He was affirming it.
Jesus first response to the young ruler’s question was “Why do you call me good? Only God is truly good.” What is Jesus doing? This seems like a strange way to begin the answer to man’s question. Jesus was correcting the man’s inadequate understanding of the word “good” and redefining it in relation to God. Jesus already knew the man believed that he himself was good. Jesus is about to list half of the Ten Commandments and the man is going to reply, “I’ve obeyed all these commandments since I was young.” He saw himself as pretty good.
To help the man redefine good, Jesus says, “Only God is truly good.” Generally speaking, people can be good or bad, more or less, but only God is absolutely, perfectly, and eternally good. Before the gospel can be presented to them, people must understand that they are not good in God’s sight, and that no amount of human effort or religious observance can make them so (Rom. 3:20, 28; Gal. 2:16; Eph. 2:8-9; Phil. 3:9; 2 Tim. 1:9; Titus 3:5).
Jesus took the title, Good Teacher, which the young ruler gave Him and used it as a spring board to begin the conversation about what is good and what is sinful especially in the light of salvation. Before the young man could have eternal life he was going to have to come to the reality that he was a sinner and not nearly as good as he thought he was.
Superficial view of sin
Not only did the young ruler have a superficial view of salvation and goodness, but he also had a superficial view of sin. The rich young ruler asked the question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus responded by saying, “… to answer your question, you know the commandments: ‘You must not murder. You must not commit adultery. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely. You must not cheat anyone. Honor your father and mother.’” 20 “Teacher,” the man replied, “I’ve obeyed all these commandments since I was young” (vs.19-20).
Notice carefully that Jesus says, “to answer your question….” Jesus is actually answering the man’s real question, “What else must I do to inherit eternal life?”
So Jesus says, You know the commandments. Jesus is not asking if the young man knows the commandments, Jesus is affirming and acknowledging the man’s knowledge of the commandments. Then Jesus reviews them for the man and those listening. Jesus says, You must not murder. You must not commit adultery. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely. You must not cheat anyone. Honor your father and mother. All but one of those examples were taken from the second half of the Ten Commandments, which deals with human relationships, as opposed to the first five commandments, which deal with a persons’ relationship with God.
For the rich young ruler, sin was a behavior issue, not a heart issue. Jesus refers to the Ten Commandments. So the rich young ruler is thinking, “Have I murdered anyone? No. Have I been unfaithful to my wife? No. Have I stolen from anyone? No. Have I lied about anyone? No. Have I cheated or deceived anyone? No. Have I done anything that would dishonor my father and mother? No.” As the rich young ruler thinks through these commandments and his life, he says to Jesus, “I’ve obeyed all these commandments since I was young.”
Jesus does not contradict him. Jesus knows that this man has been a good boy all his life. He has tried to do what it right. What Jesus knows and what the rich young ruler doesn’t know is that obedience and disobedience goes deeper than just behavior. The young man thinks sin is in your actions only, while Jesus knows that sin is in your heart. The young man had a superficial view of sin. Before he would see himself as a sinner, he needed to correct view of sin. He needed to understand sin is in the heart. The man did not know it, but Jesus was doing open heart surgery on him. The man needed to see sin begins in the heart. Jesus has already taught on this subject several times.
- One day Jesus was teaching on a hillside, which later would become known as the sermon on the mount. In that sermon, Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said to our ancestors, Do not murder, and whoever murders will be subject to judgment.22 But I tell you, everyone who is angry with his brother or sister will be subject to judgment” (Matthew 5:21-22, CSB). The type of anger Jesus is referring to is a high level of hatred in the heart for another. Jesus is saying that before the physical sin of murder occurs, the spiritual sin of murder has already happened in the heart.
- Jesus also said, “You have heard that it was said, Do not commit adultery.28 But I tell you, everyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:27-28, CSB). Again, we see the heart of sin is not in the action but in the heart. Before the physical act of adultery occurs it will happen in the heart. A person can break all the commandments in their heart and never do them physically. The young ruler did not understand that. From a human perspective he appeared very good, but from God’s perspective he was a sinner needed grace and mercy.
- Jesus also said, “What comes out of the mouth comes from the heart, and this defiles a person.19 For from the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, sexual immoralities, thefts, false testimonies, 20 These are the things that defile a person…” (Matthew 15:18-20, CSB). Sin is a heart issue and only God can do surgery on this sinful heart of ours. Spiritually speaking we need a new heart.
The rich young ruler had a shallow and small view of sin. He didn’t understand that he could have and has broken all these in his heart.
Superficial view of Scripture
The reason why the young man thought he could be good enough to inherit eternal life is because he had a superficial view of salvation, a superficial view of goodness and a superficial view of sin; but he also had a superficial view of God’s Word.
The rich young ruler asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus responded by saying, “… to answer your question, you know the commandments: ‘You must not murder. You must not commit adultery. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely. You must not cheat anyone. Honor your father and mother.’” 20 “Teacher,” the man replied, “I’ve obeyed all these commandments since I was young” (vs.19-20). The reason Jesus answered the man’s question by bringing up the commandments is because the commandments (God’s law) serves the purpose of revealing that we are sinners. Stay with me; remember, Jesus had already addressed the standard of “good” being based on God’s character and now Jesus is going to bring in the goodness of God’s law.[i]
- Jesus is helping the man understand that He cannot keep the law good enough to inherit eternal life (Galatians 2:16-21; Ephesians 2:8-10). This is why Paul said in Romans 3, “We have already shown that all people, whether Jews [those who try to obey God’s law] or Gentiles [those who ignore God’s law], are under the power of sin. 10 As the Scriptures say, “No one is righteous— not even one. 11 No one is truly wise; no one is seeking God. 12 All have turned away; all have become useless. No one does good, not a single one” (vs. 9-12, NLT). The rich young ruler thought he was still good or at least good enough.
- Jesus is helping the man understand that God’s commandments help him see his sin. Jesus is using the law (the Ten Commandments) to help the man see how much of a sinner he really is, because he doesn’t see himself as a sinner yet. One of the purposes of the law (the Ten Commandments) is to reveal how much of a sinner you really are. Paul mentions this in Romans 3:20, “For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are” (NLT).
The young man was using God’s law to see how good he was, when he should have been using it see how much of a sinner he was. He had a superficial view of God’s Word.
As we will see next time, these superficial views are keeping him and deceiving him from receiving eternal life. Do you see yourself having any of these superficial views? As we move through this encounter with the young man we will see that to receive eternal life we must turn from our idols (for the young man it was money and possessions) and turn to Jesus.
Jesus put it this way in John 3:16, “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life” (NLT). When you sat down in that chair you believed it would hold you. When you ate your last meal you believed it was not poisonous, so you ate it. When people fly in a plane they believe it will take them where they need to go. We operate by faith all the time. Faith is dependence, trust, and confidence that something will do what it was designed to do. Jesus came to save His people from their sins and when you place your faith, trust, and confidence in Him… He does was He came to do.
[i] God’s commandments, also known as God’s law is perfect, they are good. Romans 7:12 tells us, “the law itself is holy, and its commands are holy and right and good” (NLT). God’s law, His instructions in the Old Testament reveal and demonstrate how perfectly righteous, holy, and absolutely good God is and it reveals the perfect standard of goodness one must achieve if they are going to save themselves based on their own goodness. The problem is, no one can achieve that standard of goodness because we all are born with a sinful nature and the first chance we get to be selfish, we will be. God’s law shows sinners how perfectly good God is and how utterly evil they are, producing guilt, fear, dread, remorse, and the inevitable reality of divine judgment. Therefore, God’s “Law has become our guardian to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith” (Gal. 3:24, NASB). However, the rich young ruler and many like him, had twisted God’s law into a means of establishing their own goodness and righteousness (Rom. 9:30-32). What they had done was, they took the Ten Commandments with their shallow view of it and treated it like a measuring stick for how good they were. When in reality, God’s law was to reveal how sinful they were. They thought they were good, when in reality they were sinful.