Summary: Jesus has a shocking answer to the young man who asked him what good thing he could do to obtain eternal life. His answer suggests that perhaps we need to reconsider how we present the Gospel--that the faith that saves also repents and follows Jesus.
Eyewitness to the Messiah
The Man Who Had Everything, Except . . .
Many, many years ago I met a very successful young man who had an interest in spiritual things. He had actually come over to our apartment just after we had started our church to see about selling or leasing to us one of his company’s copiers. As we talked, it became evident that he was actually a manager or supervisor in his company and that he had come over to our house instead of a salesman because he wanted to check out the pastor and his wife before he tried out our church.
Well, apparently his impression was positive, so he began showing up at church every now and then. He was a big man, probably 6-5 or more, had been successful in athletics and was now making his way up the corporate ladder. He must have been making a lot of money, because he had big ambitions—he told me his goal was to buy and operate a fishing lodge in Alaska or Canada, and that in the future I could expect to come up to his lodge and experience some great fishing.
He also had some big friends whom he was used to rubbing shoulders with. I discovered that when I decided that the time had come to present the Gospel to him. He told me to meet him at the Eldorado Casino, and when I got there he had just finished meeting with two people whom he obviously knew very well, the owners, the father and one of the sons, whom he introduced me to. I wasn’t used to being with such high-falutin’ company, but I calmed my nerves and proceeded to share the Gospel with Mike, using my typical bad news, good news approach, presenting the Gospel as the free gift of salvation through Christ death for our sins, which can be received by faith and faith alone. And when I finished, sure enough Mike prayed the sinner’s prayer.
Mike continued to show up for church occasionally, and then gradually faded away. And I’ve always felt that there was something that wasn’t quite right with my presentation or Mike’s attitude when I shared the Gospel. Mike seemed to want Jesus, but on his own terms. He wanted Jesus to go with him and bless his plans, as a facet of His life. But He wasn’t at all thinking that he might need to follow Jesus and adjust his life plan according to God’s will.
That insecure feeling about my witness to Mike re-surfaced this week as I studied this morning’s passage, the story about the rich young ruler. He was a very successful up-and-coming young man as well who had so much of his life squared away, just right. He had everything going for him, except one thing—an assurance of eternal life. He wasn’t absolutely sure that he was right with God. And as I meditated on the passage this week, I’ve realized that Jesus approach to witnessing to this young man was completely different from how I handled my opportunity with my modern day rich young ruler.
So the question is: how should we present the Good News of Jesus Christ? Do we sometimes make it too easy especially for people who want life to go their way, and really aren’t willing to submit to God’s way? Does the issue of repentance, turning from our way and turning to God’s ways deserve a much more prominent place in our witnessing?
This is, of course, an important issue as we approach our "Fall for Jesus" outreach. As we have opportunity to speak to people about Christ, how will we present the Gospel?
Well Jesus is still ministering east of the Jordan, probably in Perea, when he is approached by the rich young ruler. Three of the Gospel accounts, Matthew, Mark and Luke include this story. And Mark gives us a little more detail about how the meeting took place. It tells us that this young man came running up to Jesus and kneeled down before. So he was obviously very ardent, sincere and concerned. All three Gospels present this young man as being rich, probably an owner of much landed property. He is called a ruler, and possibly in his younger years, He had become a ruler in his synagogue. So here is the young man who has experienced great success in every area of his life, seemingly. He had riches, respect, position, and he was also religious and moral. Given all this, we might anticipate a great outcome from his meeting with Jesus.
But there was something eating at this young man. The one thing he lacked was an assurance of eternal life. He wasn’t sure he would enter God’s kingdom. Obviously he had heard of the great teacher Jesus, and he rightly concluded that Jesus was the authoritative expert which he just needed to talk to in order to resolve his insecurity about his eternal destiny. Good move!