A Right Heart- Rich Young Ruler
Last week, we had church in the park
That is a wonderful time of rest and unity in the Body of Christ. I am so grateful we can participate in an activity like this.
I want to recap the summertime sermon series we have embarked upon.
We are talking about the Gospel in the Gospels
Briefly explain the Gospels
Our world has presented a Gospel that looks very different from the Gospel Jesus presented.
It is our goal to look at how Jesus presented the Gospel and take note of what He identifies as the Gospel.
In the start of this series, we are looking at interactions Jesus had with various people and how He presented the Gospel to them
After this, we will look at some of the stories Jesus told and mine from that the Gospel He was sharing.
Today’s story is fascinating, because it demonstrates one of the starkest differences between how we in our culture present the Gospel and how Jesus presented the Gospel
I don’t want to take a hard line on people just to be hard.
I think Jesus presentation of the Gospel was done in the way He did it because there are critical elements of the Gospel that need to be embraced.
When they are not embraced, Jesus lets them walk away.
Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.” “Which ones?” he inquired. Jesus replied, “ ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’” “All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?” Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.
Diving into this topic, I want to get a few things out that clear up some misunderstandings of this text.
I’m hoping that as we line this text up with Jesus’ other Gospel interactions with people, we will see what Jesus is saying and why.
Why is this guy called the “Rich, Young, Ruler”?
This interaction is recorded in Matthew, Mark, and Luke.
This was a significant moment that the disciples of Jesus noticed.
Each of the accounts basically say the same things, although each one adds their own perspective to the story.
In all three accounts, we see this man was wealthy.
Mark highlights that as the man came to Jesus, he fell on his knees asking about eternal life
Luke highlights that he was a ruler
Matthew mentions that he was a young man.
So as we look at this story, we can look at all three eyewitness accounts and piece together a comprehensive account of this Gospel presentation.
He is called the Rich, Young Ruler because he was rich, he was young, and he was a ruler.
Also, this passage has been twisted by many people to make points that aren’t the intent of this story.
In my sermon prep group, a few of the messages drawn from this passage include:
Miscommunications of Matthew 19:16-22
Give all of your money to the church
Salvation is about works, not faith
Jesus wants everyone to give up everything
Build a teaching (or theology) on one verse out of context
It is my hope to present the Gospel in this passage in an accurate and contextual way.
With that being said, there are some inherent potholes in this story that we will do well to avoid in order to get the big picture.
As we dive into this story, it seems that Jesus was handed a softball.
I don’t think that I have ever been sitting in McDonald's and had someone come up to me and say, “I would really like to become a Christian. Could you help me?”
Basically, this is what happened to Jesus.
He didn’t go seeking after this guy.
In fact, in our world, it seems that much of the work in evangelism is trying to get the person to realize they have a need for salvation.
That work was already done. This guy knew he needed salvation.
Not to mention, that this guy had so much to offer Jesus!
He had wealth! He had influence! He was young and seemed to be well on the right track in life
Could you imagine what benefit this guy could bring to Jesus’ ministry!
The other disciples were likely looking at this saying, “We are on our way to the big time now!
However, we look at the end of the story and see that this guy walked away sad.
What happened? Did Jesus miss a great opportunity? Did he not know how great it would be to have this guy as a disciple?
Did he hear the wrong message?
Jesus was handed what we in our world would see as a gimme.
But Jesus let it pass. Why?
The question of “Why?” is what we are going to tackle today.
By answering the question “Why?” we will come to a new understanding of the Gospel and what Jesus offers, and what our part is in this.
Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”
It says, “Just then”
What happened before this was that a bunch of kids were coming to Jesus and the disciples were trying to get rid of the little kids.
Jesus didn’t push the kids away, rather He said that the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those like these children.
As that moment was concluding, this man came to Jesus and as Mark says, he fell on his knees before Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”
I have four observations of this verse and they are very important:
First, this man had the right motive
What did he want?
He wanted eternal life. This is a good thing.
There are a few implications to his request.
First of all, as a ruler, we know that he likely held some position of esteem and leadership in the Jewish world.
We see later in this text that he knows the law and has strived to follow the law.
This is important, because despite knowing the Old Covenant and the law, he realized something very, very important.
Following the law would not bring him eternal life.
This is significant. He knew he needed eternal life.
He did not see the Jewish way of religion as being capable of giving eternal life
In this man, I believe we see a person who is in turmoil in his life.
This man was perceptive and wise beyond many, or even all of those who came to him because of this.
He had the right motive for wanting eternal life
Second, he had the right attitude
As he approached Jesus, he fell at Jesus feet (book of Mark) and said, “Teacher”
Saying “Teacher” was very perceptive and incredibly important. I want you to highlight this word in your Bible. We will return to this word later in the sermon.
But we can see his posture before Jesus
By acknowledging Jesus as “Teacher” it implied that he desired to learn.
His mind was open to the teaching that Jesus would give.
We can see in both Matthew and Mark that this event was done publically in the middle of the day.
He wasn’t like Nicodemus who came to Jesus on a rooftop at night, lurking in the shadows.
This man didn’t care who saw him. He wanted eternal life and made it his public plea.
He had been religious all of his life, yet something was missing.
Third, he came to the right source
The Rich Young Ruler recognized that Jesus is the source of eternal life.
He was a religious man. He knew the discussion around eternal life. There were some in that society that said, “When you die, you die”. There were others that believed in Eternal Life.
When the topic of Eternal Life came up, it was all about following all of the rules.
If you follow the law, you will earn eternal life.
The question he asked showed how he viewed eternal life and how he had been taught
Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”
What do I have to do?
I have tried the law and I know that isn’t working out.
I see you, I listen to you. You are the source of eternal life.
This man was perceptive. He was intelligent. He had picked this up.
Fourth, he asked the right question
What is wrong about what he asked?
Nothing, this is what Jesus offers us, eternal life.
Even further from this, I want to tell you that eternal life is more than a length of time in years.
We tend to focus on the “eternal” part of eternal life.
Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.
Yes, eternal life is forever. But Jesus focus was not only on the “eternal” part of that phrase, it was also focused on the quality of that phrase.
Quality of life as well as duration
He desired eternal life.
When we boil down our lives, if we only live for our 75 years on earth, there really isn’t much purpose to anything.
But if eternal life is reality, then our lives here are a preparation for eternity.
He didn’t ask, “How can I be more religious?”
Or, “How can I get my problems to go away?”
Or, “How can I make a big impact in the world?”
He asked, “What do I need to do to get eternal life?”
The Rich Young Ruler was partly right:
He had the right motive
He had the right attitude
He went to the right source
He asked the right question
So far, so good.
It is at this point, I pause.
We know this man walked away from Jesus at the end of this story.
Everything was going right, then it all tragically went wrong.
Did Jesus butcher this opportunity? It seems he was handed a convert on a silver platter!
This is where an understanding of the Gospel comes in.
If it was simply about asking the right questions and doing the right things, this would have been a slam dunk.
But Jesus was not presenting a Gospel that simply gave someone a checklist and a reward for completing it.
This man was thinking in terms of the religious system he was familiar with. Jesus needed him to see his need for the Gospel.
The RYR was partly right. But, we can see where his heart was misaligned as we continue through this story.
“Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.”
Jesus begins probing his heart. He says, “You want to know what good is? There is only One who is good.”
Jesus is speaking of Himself as God. However, by making this statement, we must break down what is said, and what is not said.
Jesus said there is only One who is good.
Of all the people walking the planet, how many of them could call themselves “good” as Jesus was defining it?
The man would either recognize that he was not good. Or he would make the argument that he was the one good person.
To claim that he was good, would be blind and foolish.
Then Jesus says, “If you want to enter life, keep the commandments”
He is answering this mans question directly. If you are looking for the “What do I need to do?” question, I’ll give you an answer.
Keep the commandments.
Did he say, “Keep most of the commandments?” No.
Did he say, “Keep more commandments, than ones you break?” No.
Did he say, “Make sure people believe you keep the commandments?” No.
He simply said, “Keep the commandments.”
Only one person has kept the commandments. Is it you?
Jesus is not preaching a Gospel of good works here.
He is not saying that a person can earn their way into heaven by keeping the law.
What he is saying is that no one can enter eternal life that is marred by sin and unholy.
In his Q&A with this guy, he says, “All have sinned and fallen short of eternal life, except one. And that is me.”
How would the RYR answer? Would he acknowledge that he has a sin problem? Would he recognize his need for a savior?
“Which ones?” he inquired. Jesus replied, “ ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’”
The man asks for clarification. Which commands?
In his defense, by this time there were numerous laws on the books. It was a heavy burden to carry.
There were hundreds of laws that governed God’s given laws to Moses.
Are you meaning all of the laws taught by the Pharisees? Or the laws that were given to Moses?
Jesus names off a few of the 10 Commandments, then adds one in at the end.
“Love your neighbor as yourself”
This is a command found in Leviticus 19. It is used by Jesus a few times as a summary of how we ought to obey God in regards to the people around us.
He probably thought, “I haven’t killed anyone. I haven’t cheated on my wife. I haven’t been convicted of theft. I haven’t lied in court. I honor my father and mother. I like my neighbor. I’m good!
This man thought through this list of commands and justified himself on every line.
Had he followed these perfectly? Absolutely not.
At the very least, we see that when Jesus added, “Love your neighbor as yourself”, this changed the dynamic of the conversation. Remember, he was rich and a man of influence.
He clearly loved himself. Did he love others with the same passion?
Would the man recognize his need for a savior?
Would he admit that he was guilty of breaking the law, even in a seemingly insignificant way?
Remember, Jesus said there was only one righteous person.
Would he claim to be that righteous person? Or would he acknowledge that he was a sinner?
“All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”
With this response, the conversation was over. His heart had been revealed. He thought he was proving his merit. But in reality, he showed that he had none.
If he had kept all of the commands, then he was the only one who was good.
If there was only one who was good, and this man claimed to be good, then he was by definition saying that he is more righteous than Jesus.
With this response, we can come to a few conclusions:
#1- He did not recognize his need for a savior
Jesus’ presentation of the Gospel was not, “You want eternal life? Great! Here is eternal life.”
There is a very important reality about the Gospel.
We must recognize that God has a standard of righteousness.
It is absolute perfection. God is a holy and righteous God. He is a just God. This is His standard.
I am the Lord, who brought you up out of Egypt to be your God; therefore be holy, because I am holy.
“Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: ‘Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.
Through the law, he gave us guidance for holiness. But no one could be made holy by the law.
Think of it like a math test. A math test doesn’t make you smart. It only exposes all of the places of dumbness.
The law showed our failing and faults.
The law defined our unrighteousness.
Only by recognizing our sin, our rebellion, and our depravity do we recognize that if we are to be in God, we need help.
We cannot understand grace unless we understand God’s standard for holiness and our sinfulness.
Jesus said, Mark 2:17
On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Grace is free, but meaningless to those who do not understand their need for it.
We must understand God’s demand for righteousness, and our fallenness in order to understand grace.
#2 He had a hole in his heart
I use this language somewhat flippantly, but not to be rude.
He knew he was missing something. He knew he needed eternal life.
Imagine the struggle he endured as he contended with this reality.
He may have experienced sleepless nights, arguments with religious people, an emotional and spiritual unrest in his heart.
He went to Jesus to fix the hole in his heart.
But here is the catch. He didn’t want Jesus as the solution. He wanted Jesus to give him what he felt he needed.
Jesus was a means to an end.
Jesus revealed that he is the means to no end.
If we do not approach Jesus as the end, the solution, or the remedy, we have no business approaching him.
Salvation is not a “fix my felt need”. It is not a treatment or psychological help system.
The Gospel is not for those who want an emotional lift. It is for sinners who come to God for forgiveness.
Salvation is for individuals who understand that they have lived in rebellion against a holy God. It is for those who want to turn around, to live for God’s glory.
#3 He wanted eternal life, not Jesus
Eternal life was a possession to obtain
This man was wealthy. Anything and everything in life he wanted, he just needed to go to the right person and he would get it.
He had built a very nice life.
To him, eternal life was the star on the Christmas tree. It was the bow on the package. It was the thing that would make the empire he had built complete.
But Jesus will not add to our empire.
Jesus has a Kingdom and he is in no way desiring to build ours.
He will not build His Kingdom on a foundation we have established.
He must be the foundation.
That is why so many who had nothing, no life, no foundation and a life of sin so freely came to Jesus.
They had nothing to tear down. The embrace of Jesus provided them the relationship to build what they always needed.
But those who were wealthy, educated, and religious. They simply wanted to add Jesus to their kingdom. These people almost always walked away like the RYR.
They could not give up all they had built and established for themselves.
Because of this, they had no access to the heart of Jesus.
All of this boils down to the reality that his heart wanted no part of Jesus. His emotions may have wanted the benefits of Jesus, but he would in no way submit as a slave to Jesus and allow Him to be Lord.
The conversation was over at this point. He had revealed his heart to Jesus.
Now, Jesus would reveal his (RYR) heart to himself.
Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
The man had revealed his heart to Jesus. He wanted eternal life, but didn’t want Jesus.
Jesus is saying, “If you want eternal life, you must want me.”
I will not submit to you. I will not be your co-pilot. I am the Lord God Almighty.
Just to show you that you have no desire to be my follower, I will expose your heart to you and everyone else around that is watching.
When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.
You see, we all high-center on the “sell everything you have” command. But the conversation was over at that point.
This is descriptive, not prescriptive. He never told anyone else to do this.
I can stand here and soften the blow of “Whew, at least he is not telling me that I need to sell everything”
But that is not the point.
The point is this, “He demands to be Lord.”
We don’t make him our Lord and Savior.
We recognize that He is Lord and we submit our entire lives to Him.
Back in verse 16, we see that this man called Jesus “Teacher” and I had said that it was very important.
A teacher has students. A teacher is academic. A teacher builds you up from where you are.
But Jesus had no desire for a student.
Do you remember the language Jesus used and desires?
Kurios (Lord) and Doulos (Slave)
He wanted a teacher and Jesus wanted to be Lord
This was the division in their relationship.
He wouldn’t make Jesus Lord.