Mark 10:17-22 – A Hard Answer to A Serious Question
by Dr. John Davis
What must I do to inherit eternal life? This is a legitimate and important question, which can be rephrased in many different ways. How can I be sure of life after death? How can I as a sinner be ready to meet a holy God? What relationship is there between what I do now and where I will spend eternity?
Matthew tells us this man is young and Luke tells us that he is a ruler. Each of the synoptic gospels informs us that he is rich. Does it seem strange to you that a rich, young ruler is thinking about things that are profound, spiritual, and eternal? Do men like Donald Trump ever consider the state of their soul and the question of the afterlife?
I don’t think this man’s thoughts and questions are unusual. What may be unusual is that he talks about these deep issues which are on his mind. He has questions and seeks answers!
You can be sure that everyone has questions about life, death, sin, and suffering. Some of the better movies are movies that struggle with ultimate questions. You may have seen the movie Contact in which Jodie Foster plays the part of Ellie Arroway, an astronomer who is preoccupied with the idea that there is life beyond planet earth. She erects huge radio telescopes to listen for evidence of intelligent life in outer space. When she receives signals, she develops a space machine to travel toward the signals. She goes herself and meets her father on a heaven-like planet and he explains different aspects of life beyond death. Before she left for her journey, she was warned of the dangers. To which she responded by saying:
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been searching for some reason why we are here – what are we doing here, who are we? If this is a chance to find out even a little part of the answer, I think it’s worth a human life, don’t you?
God thought it worth a human life for us to have those answers. He took on human flesh and died so He could pour light into our darkness. He answers our questions in Jesus Christ.
JESUS UNDERSTANDS OUR QUESTIONS BETTER THAN WE DO
Listen again to the question: What must I do to inherit eternal life?
This man no doubt speaks of eternal life in the sense that Jews of the first century would have. They spoke of eternal life in a two-age sense, i.e. there is an end to this age and new age is coming, in which those acceptable to God will live and have eternal life.
What’s noble in his desire and thought about eternal life? He’s thinking about profound, eternal issues. However, we will see that when his value of the coming age is tested against his value of his present wealth and status, he is not willing to give up the present for the future. The future is a question, but not a priority!
What’s deficient in his question is his belief that there was something he could do to secure eternal life? He appears to believe, like many others, that the ultimate good, eternal life, be secured by one’s doing. This question he asks is the most basic of religion inquiry, the answer to which divides biblical Christianity from every other religious belief. As someone has said, religion spells salvation by the word do while Christianity spells salvation by the word done.
Let me say that the question is important enough to discuss and seek an intelligent answer to and that Jesus is the One to bring them to. He understands your questions even better than you do!
JESUS PROBES OUR MISCONCEPTIONS
Why do you call me good? No one is good– except God alone. - Notice Jesus’ apologetic/evangelistic approach. He answers a question with a clarifying question. Is Jesus denying His goodness and deity or simply getting the man to think seriously about what he’s saying? He causes the man to think even more deeply about his words. It’s a simple syllogism. “If only God is good, and Jesus is good, then Jesus is God.” This man needed God not simply a good teacher. “Me” is in the emphatic position in the original text. Jesus calls this man to consider the basis on which he calls Jesus “good.” Is he good because he is God or is he good like this man because he does good deeds?
This question and its answer are what this entire text hinges on. Why would anyone do the seeming outlandish thing that Jesus asks (give away everything you have) and follow Jesus, if He’s not God? On the other hand, if He is God, then why not do it?
It’s important for this man and us to consider the conclusion of Jesus’ proposed syllogism.
The nature of discipleship hinges on the question of Jesus’ deity. Is Jesus really God?
The Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology offers us this insight into discipleship:
The Old Testament theme of God with his people finds explicit fulfillment in Jesus with his people. The promise of a coming Davidic Messiah is intertwined with the promise that God himself would be with his people. The significance of Matthew’s interpretation of the meaning of Jesus’ name, “Immanuel,” therefore, cannot be overstated: “‘The virgin will be with Child and will give birth to a Son, and they will call him Immanuel’—which means, ‘God with us’” (Matt. 1:23). In Jesus, God has come to be with his people, to fulfill the deepest meaning of the covenant—God with his people as Master, Lord, and Savior.
Although discipleship was a voluntary initiative with other types of master-disciple relationships in the first century, with Jesus the initiative lay with his call (Matt. 4:19; 9:9; Mark 1:17; 2:14; cf. Luke 5:10–11, 27–28) and his choice (John 15:16) of those who would be his disciples. The response to the call involves recognition and belief in Jesus’ identity (John 2:11; 6:68–69), obedience to his summons (Mark 1:18, 20), and counting the cost of full allegiance to him (Matt. 19:23–30; Luke 14:25–28). His call is the beginning of something new; it means losing one’s old life (Matt. 10:34–37; Luke 9:23–25) and finding new life in the family of God through obeying the will of the Father (Matt. 12:46–50).1
Think this morning about the relationship between your answering the call to discipleship and what you believe about who Jesus really is!
JESUS PATIENTLY STARTS WITH US WHERE WE ARE ON OUR JOURNEY
This man was concerned about “doing.” What must I “do”? Jesus starts where he is! First he says, let’s consider what not to do!
Do not… do not… Jesus reiterates the second half of the law. Some suggest that Jesus omits the commandment about coveting because he knew that this was the young man’s problem. Though that is possible, it is more likely that “do not defraud” is in place of the 10th commandment against coveting, since his wealth may have kept him from coveting another’s possession but may he have engaged in defrauding as a matter of normal business.
The issue here isn’t so much that Jesus wants to expose this man to the one commandment of which he is guilty, but that the demands of discipleship go beyond the law. The law, whether obeyed or disobeyed, was a schoolmaster to bring sinners to Christ. The ultimate test of discipleship is for one to take on the yoke of Jesus Christ.
To be innocent of breaking the law and to be faultless before God are two different things. Sin is not merely defined as breaking the law. Sin involves, as NT language indicates, many different ideas, such as falling short of God’s glory, knowing to do good and not doing it, failure to love God and to love others, failure to follow Jesus Christ, etc. So, suppose you could say with this man and with Paul that you are blameless regarding the external standards of the OT law. Is that enough? Listen to Paul’s evaluation of his own righteousness:
Phil. 3:7 – But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ– the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.
When it comes to “not doing the things that the law condemned, the man affirms his innocence.
all these I have kept since I was a boy – Jesus does not dispute this man’s claim to obedience. Mark even notes that Jesus looked at this man with compassion. Apparently there is a degree of sincerity and earnestness in this man, as misguided as it may be.
As in this man’s case, keeping the commandments can lead to a false sense of security. Though the 10 commandments expressed for Jews a religious and moral standard for life, they did not comprise the heart and the sum of what God actually desires. Perhaps the Shema is Deuteronomy 6:4-5 better reflects God’s expectations.
4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5 Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.
The apostle Paul came to realize the inadequacy of works righteousness when he was converted. He was blameless as far as the law was concerned (Phil 3). Yet, he was without life and salvation because there were deeper issues of the heart, such as pride, that needed to be dealt with.
Jesus raises the bar in understanding what being a godly person involves. No, rather he changes the bar completely.
It is not submission to the law but submission to Jesus Christ that secures salvation.
One thing you lack – Was this one thing poverty or was it submission to Jesus as the one who calls to discipleship? Is Jesus saying that “possessing poverty” is the key to eternal life for this man? No, this is not a call to poverty but a call to follow Jesus Christ. The “one thing” is the unfettered allegiance to Jesus Christ, which is required. For this man and many who have wealth, the riches and the security offered by riches poses the greatest obstacle to their trusting their life to Jesus Christ.
JESUS CALLS US IN UNCOMPROMISED TERMS OF DISCIPLESHIP
He gets to the heart of the issue. Entering the kingdom of God is not without difficulty. It is even harder for some. For all, a crisis of repentance is required.
“Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
- Face the most critical issue in your life. For this man, it was the security he found in wealth.
- Believe that the ultimate reward of following Jesus far outweighs whatever present cost there may be.
- Make a move to begin the journey – “follow” implies Lordship and movement
This may not sound like the gospel invitation you are used to hearing, but essentially it is the same. In every heart there is an idol or idols that usurp the rule of God in the human soul. The call of the gospel is to renounce the idols of self-trust and turn in faith to the promises of God in Jesus Christ.
Again listen to the Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology:
The call to be a disciple meant to count the cost of allegiance to Jesus, but this took various forms. The Twelve were called to leave all and follow Jesus around—including leaving family, profession, and property—as a training time for their future role in the church. Apparently others besides the Twelve were also called to such a following. But, while all disciples were called to count the cost of allegiance (Matt. 8:18–22; Luke 14:25–33), leaving everything and following Jesus around was not intended for all (Mark 5:18–19). Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea apparently became followers of Jesus sometime during his earthly ministry (John 3:1–14; 19:38–42), yet presumably remained with the religious establishment and retained their wealth. When demonstration of their faith and allegiance to Jesus was required, they came forward to claim the body of Jesus (Matt. 27:57–60).2
The words Follow me indicate that Jesus is on the move. He has a mission to which He calls us. We can follow, stand still, or turn and walk away like this rich man.
At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.
The man’s face fell describes the gloom that came over this man. The only other time this word is used in the New Testament is in Matthew 16:13 where it is translated in the NIV as “the sky is overcast.”
Once he knew the terms of eternal life and made the wrong decision, his life would never be the same. Though he would retain his wealth at the expense of his soul, his wealth could no longer bring him a sense of well-being. A dark cloud now hovers over him. Maybe later he comes to the Lord. We don’t know! We do know that once he understood the call to discipleship, his life could never be the same either way.
Had he accepted the call, his life would have been radically different as he followed Jesus, walking by faith without the security of his wealth. Now that he rejects Jesus, the present security of his riches cannot relieve his grief over his knowledge that he has forfeited eternal life.
As Jesus had said earlier:
8:34 Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. 36 What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? 37 Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?
The circumstances are not identical for all of us but the issues are the same. Those profound, eternal questions that lie deep in our soul can only be answered by considering a few things:
- Is Jesus really God?
- What are the idols of my own heart that hold me captive?
- Will I count the cost and pay the price of following Him? Will I trust and obey?
Matthew 10:37 “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; 38 and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
Today, you may have some deep questions to which Jesus responds with hard answers. But remember that His words are the words of life and His way is the way of life!
Matthew 7:13 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”
1 Elwell, Walter A., Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House) 1998, c1996.
2 Elwell, Walter A., Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House) 1998, c1996.