Summary: Jesus reveals this young man’s idolatry and calls him to turn from easy believism to true conversion.
"The Rich Young Ruler" Rev Dr Robert G Leroe, Cliftondale Congregational Church, Saugus, Massachusetts
A respectable, clean-cut young man comes to Jesus, interested in religion. Mark calls him a ruler, and many Bible scholars think he was a leader in the synagogue, sort of like a deacon or a member of the Board of Trustees! He comes running to Christ, enthusiastic to receive spiritual instruction. Here is an upstanding member of the religious community wanting to know the way of salvation. How many people run up to you asking how to get to heaven?
The Gospel is certainly offered to the vilest of the vile, but not exclusively; it is also for “the religious.” Some people, like this young man, have “churchianity” but lack authentic faith.
Looking at our Lord’s response, it’s surprising to see how Jesus treats this guy. He rebukes him, talks about the Ten Commandments, demands personal sacrifice, then lets him walk away. You’d think Jesus would have asked, “Will you accept Me as your personal Savior?” After hearing Jesus’ response we’re tempted to ask, “Hey—-why are You being so rough with this guy? Give him a break! Don’t let him get away!” Could this possibly be a model for witnessing?
Jesus brings up the Law of Moses because no one can understand their sinful condition if they misunderstand God’s righteous expectations. The Law reveals our inability to please God and leads us to seek His grace. Without knowledge of God’s Law, the cross may draw sympathy but not saving faith from sinners. This young man failed to see the requirements of the Law; he didn’t see himself as a lawbreaker.
Jesus responds negatively to the greeting—it’s almost like He’s trying to give this guy a hard time. However, the words “good teacher” were mere flattery. It was common then—as it is today—to try to butter-up (i.e. manipulate) a teacher.
The young man believed what he was supposed to believe; he was orthodox in his faith; he wasn’t a skeptic. He even asked, “What good thing must I do to inherit eternal life?” He wasn’t like the Sadducees who denied life after death. But we see from his greeting that he thought of Jesus as only a human teacher, which is not enough. Jesus is not being petty. He was not merely a rabbi—He was God the Son. Jesus asked His disciples a question of supreme importance: “Who do you say that I am?” -and Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Our position on Who Jesus is, (His Person) is crucial if we are to gain eternal life.
This young man had 2 deep problems that Jesus brings to light—
The first was that he was unaware of his spiritual condition. You can sense that, in spite of his pious question, he already regarded himself as a likely candidate for heaven. Outwardly he was moral and upright. He says so in vs. 20! He figured he could do whatever God required and felt he was good enough to get into heaven.
Mark says in vs 21 that Jesus “loved” him enough to confront him with his condition, with his 2nd and most troubling dilemma: