The Rich Young Ruler

By Chris Nicholson 

Now as He was going out on the road, one came running, knelt before Him, and asked Him, Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life? So Jesus said to him, Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. You know the commandments: Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and your mother. And he answered and said to Him, Teacher, all these I have observed from my youth. Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, one thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow me. But he was sad at this word, and went away grieved, for he had great possessions” (Mark 10:17-22, NKJV; cf. Matt. 19:16- 22; Luke 18:18-23).

The Ruler’s Desire

How profitable is it to ask at the feet of Jesus what we must do in order to inherit eternal life! This is what the young ruler desired to know. Mark pictures the scene. The young man was eager — expressed by his running; he was not afraid of the opinion of others, he made a public appeal to Christ; his respect for Christ is shown by his kneeling. There was no playing with words here; “Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?” Christ alone is capable of showing us the way to heaven, since he is the way; he alone is incapable of deceiving us, since he is the Truth.

As seems to be the custom, one can search out for his own teacher. A person of great wealth can normally find the most popular teacher to give the desired answers. For this young man of wealth to bow before Jesus indicated tremendous respect. This ruler sought reassurance, some way of knowing for sure that he had eternal life. He wanted Jesus to measure and grade his qualifications, or give him some task he could do to assure his own immortality. The man did not understand that salvation is not earned. He did not understand what is impossible for man to obtain, can and will be given as a gift from God (Eph. 2:10). The man needed to understand that what he needed was not just to keep another commandment, but to submit humbly to the leadership of God. No doubt this young man sincerely desired eternal life. Who, with a understanding of the judgment to come, would not want it. But as we will soon see by his sad departure, he had no idea what would be required to do in obtaining it. We must ask ourselves if we truly want to know how to please God. Do we desire to be known by God or by men. Have we come to grasp the understanding of the royal law according to the Scriptures, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Jas. 2:8). We all need to ponder the words of Matthew 16:26, “For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world and looses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” Do we think ourselves beyond the possibility of falling from the grace of God because of our material possessions?

The Startling Reply

It is remarkable how Jesus dealt with the man. Christ meets him on his own ground. Stating the commandments which regulate man’s conduct toward his fellow man. “All these I have observed” testifies to a great moral ignorance on the part of the young man. Can you imagine standing face to face with Jesus and stating that you have kept all of the commandments listed? If only God is good, the man will later have to admit he has broken some of the commands. Jesus felt love for the man, and said, “One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me” (Mark 10:21). Jesus’ statement exposed the man’s weakness. In reality, his wealth was his god, his idol, and he would not give it up. He violated the first and greatest commandment (Exod. 20:3; Matt. 22:36-

40). This challenge exposed the barrier that could keep this young man out of the kingdom; his love for money. Money was more important to the young man than God. He would not turn his entire life over to God. What barriers are keeping you from turning your entire life over to God? 

The Young Man’s Disappointing Refusal

But he was sad at this word, and went away grieved, for he had great possessions (Mark 10:22). Did the man ever give his life entirely over to God? We do not know. We know that he went away feeling sorrow, not anger toward Jesus. The piercing words of Christ were felt in the soul of the man. This man’s wealth made his life comfortable and gave him power and prestige. Jesus was touching the basis of his security when he told him to sell all that he owned. He did not understand that he would be far more secure following Jesus than with his wealth. Have we come to that understanding yet? I mean really put this knowledge into practice? We must get rid of everything that has or may become more important than God. If your foundation for security has shifted from God to what you own, you must get rid of this weight. In Hebrews 12:1 we read, “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sins which so easily ensnare us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.” Have you looked inward, with a sin- cere evaluation, and found the things that are weighing you down in your race for heaven? We all have our weights, and weaknesses toward certain sins. Christ loved us enough to die for us, and he also loves us enough to talk straight to us. If you are comfortable by the fact that Christ did not tell all his followers to sell all their possessions, then you may be too attached to what you have. In Jeremiah 9:2-24 we read, “Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, let not the mighty man glory in his might, nor let the rich man glory in his riches; But let him who glories glory in this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord, exercising loving kindness, judgment and righteousness in the earth. For in these I delight, says the Lord.”

The story of the young ruler should be linked with the previous incident of the blessing of the children. In Mark 10:15 we read, “Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.” This ruler could not enter the kingdom be- cause he would not receive it as a little child. His spirit was far removed from that of an obedient, trusting child. Jesus lead him through a test to realize that he hardly knew what keeping the commandments meant. In Matthew 22:37-40 we read, “Jesus said to him; You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as your- self. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” Are you prepared to give all for the cause of the kingdom?