Summary: Jesus call to discipleship is a call of sacrifice. Anything that stands in the way of answering that call must be deserted. This truth is shown through the encounter of Jesus with the rich young ruler.
Little did I know when I planned this sermon, that we would have a live camel at VBS this year. At any rate, I want to tell you a story. It is the story of the ill-fated Franklin expedition to the Arctic in 1845. That odyssey was a turning point in Arctic exploration because of its well-publicized failure.
The preparations were made. The preparations were more suitable for the Royal Navy Officers Club in England than for the frigid Arctic. The explorers made room on their ships for a large library, a hand organ, china place settings, cut glass wine goblets, and sterling silver flatware instead of additional coal for their steam engines. The ornate silver flatware was engraved with the individual officer’s initials and family crest.
Search parties found clumps of bodies of men who had set off for help when their supplies ran out. One skeleton wore his fine blue cloth uniform, edged with silk braid.
Hardly a match for the bitter Arctic cold. Another apparently chose to carry with him
the place setting of sterling flatware.
(Annie Dillard, Teaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters, New York: Harper and Row, 1982, p. 24-26. Cited in David Garland, NIV Application Commentary on Mark, p. 408,)
What must he have been thinking to take sterling silver tableware in search of help and food? It’s hard to imagine that any of these adventurers would have said, as they neared death on the frozen landscape, “I wish I had brought more silver place settings.”
Our hanging on to things that are ultimately useless will look no less foolish. We cannot envision life without the things we cherish. But in doing so, we’re in danger of losing the only life that counts.
It’s one of the most disturbing stories in all of the New Testament. If any of us could pick a story to leave out, this would probably be the one. It’s one of those stories that each one of us is absolutely certain doesn’t apply to us, wasn’t written for us, doesn’t have any bearing on who we are or what we do or how we live our lives. We must resist the temptation today to hear this story for someone else. We need to hear the story – each one of us – for ourselves.
The man runs up to Jesus, calls Jesus “good,” and Jesus replies in a way that lets us know that no one can find goodness in human resources and accomplishments. The man thinks he’s good, too. He seems to be saying, “Let me ask you a question from one good man to another.” Jesus reminds him there is no one good, except for God alone. The man wants to ensure that he will have a place at the Messianic table, a place in the Kingdom of God, a place in heaven.
Jesus asked him, “Don’t 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 your mother.”
“I know that. I’ve kept all the commandments since I was a lad.” He realized that keeping the commandments was not enough. Mark has a wonderful eye for detail, and he lets us know that Jesus had compassion.
Look at it – verse 21 READ.
Jesus loved him.
Jesus believed the man had been obedient, but because He loves him, Jesus challenges him. He doesn’t spare his feelings, but He candidly speaks the truth. The man regards himself as respectably “good.” He’d been throwing that term around from the initial encounter. But respectably “good” is not good enough.
• He lacks something.
• He lacks one thing.
The man or woman who is wrapped up in their material possessions is commanded
to go, to sell, to give, and to follow.
Go. Sell. Give. Follow. These commands together stress that if anyone wants eternal life, then everything depends on our response to Jesus.
Wow! The man had a lot of money.
Look at v. 22. READ.
He walks away sad. He’s looking for a second, more accommodating opinion. But Jesus, when He calls us to follow Him, will not renegotiate the terms.
There the disciples sit. See them now, they are dumbfounded as they observe the exchange. How could Jesus let a man like this slip away? One whose deep pockets could have helped the Kingdom cause, could have helped their ministry, could have quadrupled their meager treasury. And if that wasn’t enough, Jesus says the rich are going to have a hard time making it into the Kingdom of God.
Jim Bakker, of PTL fame, once the health and wealth and prosperity gospel preacher, said he was convinced by God in a dream, and he began to read and write down every word as recorded in the gospels. He says that he wept that he could have been absolutely wrong preaching another gospel, preaching another Jesus. “‘Jesus called riches - deceitfulness of riches.’ He even said, ‘Woe unto the rich!’ He was saying things like, ‘You can’t serve God and money.’ He never cast wealth and riches into a good light. How could I have spent so much time emphasizing financial blessing!” The article is entitled “The Reeducation of Jim Bakker in Christianity Today” (Christianity Today, December 7, 1998, p. 62).