Summary: Our idea about success involves three things - all of which were possessed by a man who approaches Jesus. What is he looking for and why? The answers should affect your outlook on this life and the one to come.
As human beings there are four main things we rely on for security: money, control, intellectual power, and our abilities—including the ability to be good. But these four things also work to keep us away from real security. Today we delve into the story of a young man who had it all, but walked away from the most important treasure ever!
It’s interesting to me how this man approached Jesus. He ran up, apparently anxious to get with Jesus before He left town. He knelt down—probably not something he was used to doing—and called Jesus “Good Teacher.” He’s not ready to be a disciple but feels Jesus probably has some good advice for an up and coming guy like himself. You’ve got to hand it to this guy. He knew just what he wanted and he came to the place where he thought he could find out how to get it, and that was Jesus. Sadly for him, getting eternal life is not a thing to be purchased to add to his collection.
In fact, this guy had everything that we humans strive for naturally: wealth, power, and youth (Matthew calls him “young” and Luke calls him a “ruler). To us, nothing more is needed. One of the things this section teaches us is to watch out when those values become our security. This man had everything, and yet knew something was missing. I’ve heard this said by more than one person who has attained great fame, power, or wealth—it is enticing as a goal but empty as a possession.
Jesus’ answer to the man is truly astounding:
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Jesus focuses first on how the man addressed Him. He wants the man to move his focus off of himself and his achievements and works and onto Jesus. By saying that only God is good then either the man has to retract his statement about Jesus being good or start to think about Jesus being God. In the end, it all comes down to how we think about Jesus. Is He merely a good teacher with some great tips, or is He more, much more?
Jesus gives the man six of the Ten Commandments—those dealing with relationships with others—not, interestingly, on a relationship with God, which this man lacked. These were verifiable things the man could prove he had followed. But he is in for a surprise when Jesus reveals the true nature of the Law, not a list of rules, but a way to show our lacking and need for God’s mercy.
The man knelt before Jesus, but it was a false humility. In reality he thought he had everything already to attain eternal life; he just wanted someone else to acknowledge it. Perhaps that’s where you are as well. You think you are a good person and that God ought to reward you for it. What we don’t realize is how truly broken we are and unable to see real goodness. So Jesus is going to help his vision out a bit.
First let’s point out that despite this man’s condition, Jesus loved him. Jesus’ love goes beyond our earning it, and so should ours. When we see pre-Christians we often judge first and love later. The character of Christ should have us feel compassion, whether or not they eventually follow our Lord. That compassion should lead us, as it did the Lord, to share the real truth of the gospel—that it cannot be earned.
So at first reading it seems as if Jesus is telling this man that he can indeed earn eternal life by selling his goods and giving to the poor. The emphasis here is not on the selling but the following of Jesus. What the Lord is pointing out is that which is keeping this man from following Jesus: his love of money. In fact, money to this man was an idol—something he loved more than God. This actually led him to violate the first and most important commandment: “You shall have no other gods before Me.”
So Jesus basically gives the basic elements of the gospel: repent and believe. The man needed to turn his back (repent) on money as his god and trust (follow) Jesus instead.
Now I’d like to point out here that having wealth is not the issue. Trusting Jesus as your ultimate security and your God—that is the issue. There are many gods in people’s lives: education, power, health, relationships, lust, recreation, etc. The question is: who is first in your life?
So the man reacts, not the way we’d like.
Perhaps a better way to say this was “he went away because his many possessions had him” (my interpretation). Notice the strong words Mark uses: “stunned” and “grieving.” If this is how you react to having the potential for something you treasure be ripped away from you, then perhaps it has you more than you have it. Now, of course I’m not saying to be unfeeling at loss. And especially when it comes to relationships, we grieve—just as Jesus did for his friend Lazarus—but here, clearly the man had a choice: serve his possessions, or serve Jesus. He chose the former.