If you could ask Jesus one question, what would you ask? A man who had the envious combination of youth, wealth and power had the opportunity to ask Jesus his burning question: “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Let’s follow along and see what happened.
“Why do you call me good?” Jesus asked. “Only God is truly good.” 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.’”
“Teacher,” the man replied, “I’ve obeyed all these commandments since I was young.”
Looking at the man, Jesus felt genuine love for him. (Mark 10:18-21a)
What can we draw out from this?
1. The young man asked the right question. I’ve noticed that after I eat a big meal with all my favorite foods, I am ready to sit back, relax and ignore the problems of the world. Getting filled up on all the good things of life actually makes me less sensitive to my need for God. In the same way, wealth more often than not distracts us from what is truly important because we have the resources to pour into satisfying our needs and desires. This rich young man, despite his wealth, commendably had some spiritual hunger. He somehow recognized that his wealth and power did not secure him eternal life. So he asked Jesus what to do.
2. Jesus corrected the man’s idea of goodness. The young man was using the word “good” too flippantly. He probably considered himself to be a good person. But Jesus said that only God is good. We are not good when we compare ourselves to God. This should have drawn the man’s attention to the fact that his own “goodness” was not going to earn him eternal life.
“There is still one thing you haven’t done,” Jesus 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.” At this the man’s face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.
Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God!” (Mark 10:21b-23)
3. Jesus offered a package deal. It is interesting that Jesus said that the man lacked only “one thing” and yet Jesus told him to do two things: sell everything and then follow. If the young man had sold everything but declined to follow Jesus, it would have been disobedience. Salvation comes through a relationship with Jesus, not through doing nice things or giving to charity.
4. Jesus put his finger on what was stopping the man from eternal life. Did Jesus tell every person he met to sell all their stuff and give the money to the poor? No. But Jesus knew the one thing the man loved more than anything else–his money. This showed that the young man was in fact breaking one of God’s most important commands: “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3). Anything more important than God in our life is an idol–a rival god.
5. Jesus asked the man to give up his old life as he knew it. It is noteworthy that Jesus did not promise the man that he would recover his wealth. Think of all the things money seems to provide: security, food, and shelter for starters, not to mention education, friends and influence. But he was asked to trust Jesus for his future. Jesus said nothing about what would come, only “follow me.” It would be a totally new life with Jesus at the helm.
6. Jesus did not ask for the impossible. Granted, selling everything is a huge step, but it wasn’t outside of the man’s ability. I talk to many people who feel that having a relationship with God is outside the grasp of normal people. But Jesus asked for very concrete steps of obedience, and the list was very short: sell everything and follow. You don’t have to be superhero to obey simple commands like that.
This amazed them. But Jesus said again, “Dear children, it is very hard to enter the Kingdom of God. 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!”
The disciples were astounded. “Then who in the world can be saved?” they asked.
Jesus looked at them intently and said, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But not with God. Everything is possible with God.” (Mark 10:24-27)
7. Salvation is something God does. The original question was “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Eternal life is something only God can give. This young man was better than most of us. He actually tried to obey God’s commands. But the eternal life Jesus promised does not come by doing, but by trusting.
How can we apply this?
A. Are you asking the right question? In your life right now are you even seeking God? Do you want to find out how to inherit eternal life? Or are you just focusing on your own problems and needs. Those problems and needs will always be there in some form or another. It’s time to wake up and start looking for the answers to life’s most important questions before it is too late.
B. What is stopping you from eternal life? We all have different things that stop us. For this young man, his money was more important than anything else. He wasn’t willing to give up his current life and trust Jesus for a new life. He wanted to keep things basically the way they were. But what about you? What would Jesus say to you? “There is still one thing…” What is your idol that keeps you from surrendering yourself to God?
C. Are you ready to trust Jesus for salvation? Are you ready to leave that idol behind? That young man could have left his old life behind and found a new one in following Jesus. He didn’t, but you can. Are you ready to recognize that you need eternal life that only God can give?
D. You can begin a relationship with Jesus today that leads to eternal life. When that man asked about eternal life, Jesus pointed to himself: “Come, follow me.” Forsake / leave /give up / renounce/ flee from what is keeping you away from eternal life. Then trust Jesus Christ for salvation and learn to follow him.