Poor rich man - Mark 10:17-31

This is a sermon by Tim Benstead from the morning service on 19th November 2000.

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17As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. "Good teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?"
18"Why do you call me good?" Jesus answered. "No one is good—except God alone. 19You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.’"
20"Teacher," he declared, "all these I have kept since I was a boy."
21Jesus looked at him and loved him. "One thing you lack," he said. "Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."
22At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.
23Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, "How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!"
24The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, "Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."
26The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, "Who then can be saved?"
27Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God."
28Peter said to him, "We have left everything to follow you!"
29"I tell you the truth," Jesus replied, "no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel 30will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life. 31But many who are first will be last, and the last first."

 

Emily Bronte wrote: "Riches I hold in light esteem, and love I laugh to scorn; and lust of fame was but a dream that vanished with the morn. (The Old Stoic).

The American Declaration of Independence states that, ‘…human beings are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, including, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’.

In the end it does not matter much how the original writers of that document intended, how it is interpreted in the 21st century is very different. Our postmodern world defines each document, each law, in the light of its own cultural setting. Our culture is western and as we are inextricably linked with the US, is it any surprise that we have taken the pursuit of happiness as our one goal in life?

This lazy thinking and selfish attitude works its way through into the way that we operate. We see people stocking up with food that they don’t need during the petrol crisis, so that others don’t get bread and milk. We see people siphoning of petrol or cutting fuel lines to get at petrol. Why should we be so offended at these actions? Those that do them are merely obeying the modern maxim.

Are things different for the Christian? Should they be different for the Christian? Is the pursuit of our own happiness the ultimate and only goal?

In this passage, we can see where the ultimate priorities lie. We will look at this under three headings:- What must I do? Where must I be? How can this be?

 

What must I do?

17As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. "Good teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?"
18"Why do you call me good?" Jesus answered. "No one is good—except God alone. 19You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.’"
20"Teacher," he declared, "all these I have kept since I was a boy."
21Jesus looked at him and loved him. "One thing you lack," he said. "Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."

Wherever Jesus went he caused a reaction. As Melvin said a few weeks ago, Jesus is laying out his claims and is always creating a response. When it was the Pharisees and Scribes they got angry at being accused of hypocrisy. When it was the ordinary people they went to hear him in droves.

You can imagine the situation. A young man comes along and falls at his feet, and he asks the $64000 dollar question.

In 21st Century Britain, it might not be the first question people ask, but it is surely one that we all recognise within ourselves. We know that there has to be more to life that what is on offer. We know that this is not all that there is. We might disagree about what ‘it’ is, but we know that we are looking for ‘it’. In Ally McBeal there was a scene where Ally is looking out of the window in an empty office. Billy starts to ask, ‘Is this all that there is?’ and being frightened that it might be. The good job and an empty life. He then goes on to accuse Ally of looking for ‘it’ and not even being sure of what ‘it’ is.

This young man knew what he wanted. He wanted eternal life. He had the good job, or at least he was rich enough not to have to worry about a job.

Deep down however he knew that something was missing. He had obviously asked himself if his life was it. Was there to be nothing else. Here comes this young Rabbi who seems to have all the answers. People speak wonderfully of him. He heals people and tells people all that they have ever done. This man will tell me what I need to hear. This man will tell me how I can be satisfied. This man knows who I am and what I need to do to be whole.

He even shows great respect to Jesus. Notice the title he gives him? "Good teacher". And so the question is asked, ‘What must I do to be saved?’

Jesus deals with the prime issue first, even though this passes the young man by. ‘Good’ Only God is good. Only God is perfect. It’s almost as if Jesus is firing a warning shot across this young mans bows. Watch what you say here son, you may find that you are a little proud. So the warning given Jesus, as he can quite reasonably do, tells the man to obey the law. The law, the great revelation of God’s character. Do this and you will live. If you have been perfect then eternal life is yours.

And the young man, without a hint of irony states that he has obeyed the law from his youth. He is a religious young man. He is regular at church on a Sunday. He’s probably here for the eight o’clock, ten thirty and six thirty. He will know doubt also go to house groups and prayer meetings. He will in all probability even be at the Saturday morning work party.

What more could Melvin ask for?

The problem is though that this young man has fallen into a terrible trap, of which he is only partially aware. He thinks he can earn his way into God’s heaven. What must I do?

He is however partially aware; he knows that there is something else. The trap is that he cannot see that he cannot do a thing, because he is not dealing with an ‘it’ but a ‘who’.

Jesus, very gently, looked at this young man and loved him. He makes him a wonderful offer, and one that I can make today. Follow me! Get rid of everything and follow me.

 

Where must I be?

So the question is not, ‘What must I do?’, but rather, ‘Where must I be?’.

22At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.
23Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, "How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!"
24The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, "Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."

And here is the problem. The first flush of enthusiasm. The rash promises. The fire and openness of youth confronted by the reality of our own sin.

Here was rich man, and his wealth held him. He was happy if his religion was kept in a nice box that could be brought off a shelf, dusted down, and opened for show on whatever day of the week necessary, but when it came to the cross. When it came to being more than religion, but life, then he went away sad, because he had great wealth.

In Pilgrim’s Progress, Bunyan writes of a man called By-Ends who says, ‘I am for taking all advantages to secure my Life and Estate. I am for Religion, in what, and in so far as the Times and my safety will bear it. I am for Religion in his Golden Slippers, in the sunshine and with applause, not for rages and contempt’.

The young man could do nothing to inherit eternal life. Jesus offered himself, and this was too much for the young man. Like any gift, if your hands are full then you cannot receive any more.

There is a poem by W.B.Yeats called ‘What Then?’:-

His chosen comrades thought at school
He must grow a famous man;
He thought the same and lived by rule,
All his twenties crammed with toil’
"What then?" sang Plato’s ghost. "What then?"
Everything he wrote was read,
After certain years he won
Sufficient money for his need,
Friends that have been friends indeed;
"What then?" sang Plato’s ghost. "What then?"
All his happier dreams came true-
A small old house, wife, daughter, son,
Grounds where plum and cabbage grew,
Poets and Wits about him drew;
"What then?" sang Plato’s ghost. "What then?"
"The work is done," grown old he thought,
"According to my boyish plan;
Let the fools rage, I swerved in naught,
Something to perfection brought";
But louder sang that ghost, "What then?"

This was true for the rich young man, and it is true for us. Sunday morning religion is just an empty sham. It is ritual and not reality. The great "What then?" that we all have to face. Where must I be? I must be with Jesus.

Is it easy? No! It is easier to go through the eye of a needle. But I don’t need to do anything. On the cross the price was paid for my sin. On the cross a full payment was made. On the cross I was reconciled to God, his anger was turned away and I am set free.

 

How can this be?

26The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, "Who then can be saved?"
27Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God."
28Peter said to him, "We have left everything to follow you!"
29"I tell you the truth," Jesus replied, "no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel 30will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life. 31But many who are first will be last, and the last first."

Not only was the young man astonished and unable to respond. The disciples were astonished.

You can imagine that they were listening to the conversation and nodding sagely, as if they were the founts of all wisdom and knowledge. They had heard Jesus before and they were waiting for what they perceived would be the punch line. The problem was however, that they weren’t expecting this line at all. They are shaken out of their complacency and forced to face a real question. It is the ‘what about me?’ question.

I thought I was all right and now I see that I am not too dissimilar from this guy that has just walked away. The disciples quite rightly see that no one meets God’s standards. We can do nothing.

It should not really be a surprise that we can do nothing to save ourselves. We have been well taught here at St. Johns. We know the right responses. But deep down we can still think that we are all right. God should be pleased that I am here in church, filling a pew, giving my money, supporting all the right things. Ritual. Nothing but empty ritual.

A relationship with our creator God is the only necessity. Coming to God on His terms and not mine. Swallowing my pride and bringing my ego to heal. Trusting in what Jesus Christ has done on a cross as the only means for mine, or anybody’s salvation.

Don’t be like the rich young man. We may think he was so close. But close is still failure. Our works are empty and meaningless without the prior relationship with Christ. Our worship is empty without Christ. Our expectation of heaven is a hopeless dream without Christ. My baptism is just a wet slap without Christ. My death is hell without Christ.

In the second of the story’s Bunyan wrote of Pilgrim’s Progress, Christiana, Christians wife, looks at a man raking about in the manure heap looking for treasure in the world, whilst just above his head, standing behind him, Christ stood with a golden crown ready to place on his head. The richest man on earth is scraping around in a manure heap compared to the glories of heaven and an eternity spent with God in heaven.

What about you? Is your Christian walk a ritual with no real assurance of heaven? Are you trusting in anything other than Christ for your salvation? Are you a poor rich man or woman?

Just come. Accept that you can do nothing. Realise that it is Christ that you need to be with, and he has provided the way home.


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