Riches and the Kingdom of God – Mark 10:17-27

Above: Christ and the Rich Young Ruler by Heinrich Hofmann (1889)

The following are notes from a sermon I preached today at Grace Church of Philly entitled “Riches and the Kingdom of God” from Mark 10:17-27.

Our text today is nestled within a larger section where the overall emphasis is upon the nature of Christian discipleship.[1] This will be very important to bear in mind as we study these verses today.

Within Mark chapter 10, This text is part of a larger unit of Jesus’ teaching that concerns entrance into the kingdom of God that begins at 10:13 and stretches out to at least verse 31.[2]

It is in verses 17-27 of this larger unit that Jesus gives us instruction regarding the relation of money to His kingdom, and this is where the bulk of our study today will lie.

Observations:

10:17And as he [Jesus] was setting out on his journey…

Our first question at this point must surely be: “Where is Jesus headed?” The answer, I believe, can be found a few verses later in 10:32: “And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem….”

This text on riches and the kingdom of God is nestled within a larger unit of text from 8:31-10:52, where we find our Lord on his journey to Jerusalem and the cross that awaits him there.

8:31 – And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.

When reading through the Gospel of Mark, and in our study of smaller units of text, we must never forget that the overall trajectory of the book is toward the cross and the empty tomb.

…a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

The man’s emotional state is shown by his actions. It appears not unlikely that perhaps this man “may well have been gasping out the question that was disturbing his heart and mind.”[3]

The rich young man runs to Christ.

The rich young man kneels before Christ.

The rich young man respectfully inquires of Christ.

We are here shown that, since the time of His incarnation, there have always been those who sincerely and willingly come to Jesus, and kneel before Him, and inquire about His teachings, but who never come to a saving knowledge of Him as Redeemer and King.

Sincerity and genuine earnest inquiring about spiritual matters is no guarantee of entrance into the kingdom. If salvation hinged upon sincerity of belief alone, the object of our faith would no longer be the Lord Jesus, but ourselves.

And we all know, down deep, that we cannot save ourselves from our sin predicament. We need another to do that for us. We need a Savior. We need a hero.[4]

No matter how sincerely held a false belief may be, it is still objectively false. Which still leaves sinners in the lurch and on the hook.

10:18And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.”

The man came to Jesus believing him to be a mere man, a spiritual guide, not God incarnate.

Because of Jesus’ pedigree as a religious teacher, the man believes Jesus is “good.” His idea of “goodness” was completely wrapped up in and defined by human achievement.[5]

Therefore, Jesus chooses addresses the man’s misconception about the fundamental nature of humankind, God, and the yawning gulf between the two: “No one is good except God alone.”[6]

Of humanity, we are told as much in Rom. 3, “All…are under sin… None is righteous, no not one… no one does good, not even one” (3:9, 10, 12).

10:19“You know the commandments: Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.[7]

10:20And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.”

This rich, religious man is laboring under more than just the fatal misconception that fallen men and women are somehow “good,” he believes that, as an evil man under condemnation for sin, he can somehow earn eternal life by his own merit.

The form of his earlier question (“What must I do to inherit eternal life?”) indicates his belief that religious achievement can secure his salvation for him.[8]

He didn’t understand the core of Jesus’ teaching found just a few verses before this account, in Mark 10:13-15:

And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”

One cannot earn his or her way into the kingdom of God; he or she must merely receive it as a gift, hands outstretched and helpless, just like a child (10:15).

“Entrance into the kingdom is defined as the gift of God bestowed upon those who [like little children] acknowledge their helplessness in relationship to the kingdom.”[9]

Those who try to “help themselves” by attaining salvation through religious effort and strict observance of God’s rules are no better off than those who ignore God and live their lives by their own rules.

Both types are still in the ditch and will, ultimately, suffer for eternity, short of being born again in Christ. Is this not what our Lord explains to the religious leader Nicodemus in John chapter 3?

10:21And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”

It is very important to understand these verses in context. Jesus calls the man, not to poverty for its own sake, but to discipleship (“come, follow me”)![10]

“This is no mere advocacy of a social program involving redistribution of wealth, or romantic praising of the idea of poverty. The issue is Jesus, the one who assures participating in the kingdom of God, and the point is that following him and joining his mission are to be put ahead of all other interests.”[11]

This is a loving call to radical self-denial.[12] Jesus sounded this call earlier in Mark’s gospel: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me…. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” (8:34, 36).

Only in a self-denying heart that is totally turned toward God in Christ can such a command be fulfilled. Faith and obedience are birthed in a heart that is soft and loves to obey His will.

Elsewhere, when asked which is the great commandment in the Law of God, Jesus replies,

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment” (Mt. 22:37-38).

It is this type of loving and committed disposition that is produced by the Holy Spirit in the lives of the followers of Christ.

Those who know not Christ as the Redeemer King know nothing of this type of loving obedience, nor can they, apart from a gracious work of God in their hearts.

Therefore, it is impossible that such a one would be able to respond to a command of God with anything other than a dejected and gloomy disposition.

In the mind of an unregenerate person, obedience to God means the sacrifice of personal comfort, which is, ultimately, unacceptable, for it means that they cannot continue to glut their ungodly passions on their own sinful pleasures.

Unfortunately for the kingdom of God, even in the minds of many of those who have been born again, obedience to God means the sacrifice of personal comfort, which is similarly unacceptable, for it means that they cannot continue to glut their ungodly passions on their own sinful pleasures.

10:22Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

This man loved his possessions and earthly wealth with all his heart, and with all his soul and with all his mind. His riches, not the Lord, occupied the center of his life and determined his will and decision-making.

In the mind of one who does not have the Lord Jesus as the foundation and center there lies an idol that will be worshipped and served at any cost.

It may be money, it may be family, it may be a boyfriend or girlfriend, it may be a job, it may be school, it may be drugs, it may be alcohol, it may be the approval of others, it may be religion, it may even be church.[13]

What lies at the center of your life and heart and soul? What idol must you lay aside so that you can grab hold of the Lord Jesus with all of your might?

For the answer to the question of verse 17 lies not in the command to sell all that you own, but in the call to follow Jesus.[14]

Jesus is asking the man to lay aside his idol, surrender his heart and mind to God, and follow Him.

Jesus Himself is the one and only answer to the man’s quest for eternal life.[15]

What idol stands between you and Christ? Is it, like the rich young man depicted here, earthly riches that will, one day, be consumed and destroyed?

Jesus reminds us in Luke 16:13 that “no servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”

Money, and the creaturely comforts that it can bring, has a powerfully intoxicating effect in the hearts of men and women. It’s lure can, if we’re not very careful about it, totally overwhelm and squeeze the love of God right out of our life.

In Mark 4:19 we are told that the “deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word [i.e., the gospel], and it proves unfruitful” in the lives of those who love money.

Thus we see that the desire for money is inherently anti-gospel.

The Holy Spirit, through Paul, tells us very clearly that the lust for money has caused some to “wander away from the faith,” bringing along with it “many griefs” and sorrows (1 Tim. 6:10).

In 2 Tim. 3 we are instructed that “lovers of money” may have “the appearance of godliness, but deny its power.” God then commands Christians to “avoid such people” (3:2, 5).

How is it that God can command believers to “avoid” covetous people? Certainly, coveting cannot be that bad of a sin, can it? Covetousness, and the desire for more are celebrated in our culture! So, how then, can something so celebrated and accepted by our society be so evil? How can God command us to “avoid” covetous people?

Our Lord can command us to do this because the fact of the matter is this: the love of money and the love of God are totally opposed to one another.

Let me say that again, for my own benefit as well as for yours: the love of money and the love of God are totally opposed to one another.

This fundamental truth of reality is the reason that Jesus can say:

10:23-25“How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God… Children, how difficult it is…! 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.”

In other words, it is impossible.

The camel was the largest animal found in Palestine at that time. The eye of a needle was the smallest opening imaginable. The violent contrast that Jesus draws between the largest animal going through the smallest opening speaks to the fact that He was telling them, in a very colorful way, that it is impossible.[16]

Those who are servants and lovers of money cannot serve or love God. And those who serve money will not enter His kingdom.

This is a hard saying, but it bears repeating for that very reason: those who are servants and lovers of money cannot serve or love God.

At least, not in a way that is pleasing to Him. Not in a way that gives evidence of a regenerated heart that loves God fully and first.

We have already seen that there are, and have always been, religious people who run to and kneel before Jesus, but who have never had their lives overturned and their hearts made alive by the transforming grace of God.

There are those who go through the motions of religion, but deep down inside they are clinging to their money idol for dear life, and there is nothing on earth (not even the incarnate Lord Jesus Christ Himself!) that can demand their ultimate allegiance besides money.

There are those who, in times of economic turmoil like this, burn and sweat with anxiety over not having enough money, betraying their lack of contentment and irritation with what God has already provided, and continues to provide, for them.

These ones may believe that they are serving God, but, like the rich young man, they are merely fooling themselves.

They may honor Him with their lips, but their idolatrous hearts are far from Him (Mark 7:6), furiously counting and fastidiously tracking every nickel and dime in their 401k’s.

“No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Luke 16:13).

10:24And the disciples were amazed at his words…

The Jewish mindset in the time of Christ was that wealth and substance were considered to be marks of God’s special favor in one’s life, and that poverty was evidence that one was cursed.

Jesus’s words in verses 23-25 would have been shocking and revolutionary to the mindset of the average Jewish person.[17]

10:26And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?”

If the rich, whom God supposedly favored, were excluded from the kingdom, then it seemed impossible that anyone could be saved.

10:27Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.”

Jesus’ response lifts our finite and limited eyes from our own petty accomplishments and ourselves to God Himself.

He teaches here that “salvation is completely beyond the sphere of human possibilities; every attempt to enter the Kingdom on the basis of achievement or merit is futile…. The ability and the power to effect deliverance [from sin] reside in God alone (Rom. 8:7).”[18]

Concluding Statements:

I find it fitting to conclude with Jesus’ words in Mark 8:34-37:

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul?”

Tonight we heard of words like “eternal life,” “salvation,” and “entrance into the kingdom.” These references all describe a single reality of union with our great God and Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.[19]

If you desire to learn more about what it means to gain eternal life, or to be saved from your sins, or to enter into and participate in the kingdom of God, please come and see any of us on the leadership team here at Grace Church after the service during our meal-time.

We would love to set up a meeting with you in a private place and explain the good news of the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, and what this means for your life, both for now and for eternity.

Let us pray.


[1] Larry W. Hurtado, Mark, New International Biblical Commentary, ed. by W. Ward Gasque (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2004), 163.

[2] William L. Lane, The Gospel According to Mark, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, ed. by Ned B. Stonehouse, F. F. Bruce, and Gordon D. Fee (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974), 362. Lane: “Mark appears to regard Ch. 10:17-31 as a single unit expressing the essence of Jesus’ teaching concerning entrance into the Kingdom of God. This unit occupies a crucial position in the Marcan outline” (363).

[3] William Hendriksen, Exposition of the Gospel According to Mark, New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1975), 389-90.

[4] Lane: “His question to Jesus suggests that behind a façade of security there was a heart which had lost much of its security” (366).

[5] Lane, 365. “The designation of Jesus as ‘good teacher’ … is virtually without parallel in Jewish sources” (364-65).

[6] Lane: “Jesus’ intention is not to pose the question of his own sinlessness or oneness with the Father, but to set in correct perspective the honor of God” (366).

[7] Lane: “Jesus’ response echoes the OT teaching that the man who obeys the Law will live (Deut. 30:15f.; Ezek. 33:15 and often)…. They clearly and incisively focus upon relationships with others as the discernable measure of a man’s reverence for God and obedience to his mandates” (366).

[8] Lane, 365.

[9] Lane, 363 (emphasis added).

[10] Hurtado, 165.

[11] Hurtado, 165.

[12] Lane: “The response of verse 21 is not intended to shame him by exposing the real depth of the commandments but is an expression of genuine love for him. The one thing he lacks is the self-sacrificing devotion which characterizes every true follower of Jesus. For this reason Jesus invites him to follow him now and to experience the demands of life and the Kingdom with the Twelve” (367).

[13] Yes, it is very possible that one can have a whole lot of church-y activity going on in one’s life, and yet have very little of the Lord Jesus.

[14] Lane: “The specific form of the sacrifice Jesus demanded of this man is not to be regarded as a general prescription to be applied to all men…. The command to sell his property and to distribute the proceeds to the poor was appropriate to this particular situation…. The deepest answer to the question of verse 17, however, lies not in the command to sell all but in the call to follow Jesus” (367-68). See also Mark 8:34-36.

[15] Lane, 368.

[16] Lane, 369.

[17] Lane, 369.

[18] Lane, 370.

[19] Lane, 370.

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