The Servant King and the Rich Young Ruler – Mark 10:17-31
Pastor Wayne Corderio from Hawaii (I wish God called me there to plant a church) shares the story of how some time ago some people in their church gave Anna, his wife, and him a dinner certificate to a nice restaurant for $100. He thought, “Wow, a hundred bucks. Let’s go for it.” He says,“We found a free evening. We dressed up. I took a bath, used deodorant and cologne—the whole thing. I even washed and waxed my car, because we wanted to take it through the valet, and I didn’t want my Ford Pinto to look bad. The night came, and we were excited.
We went to this ritzy restaurant and walked in. They gave us a nice, candlelit table overlooking a lagoon adjacent to a moonlit bay there in Hawaii. Oh, it was nice. And we thought, for a hundred bucks for just the two of us, we could eat high on the hog. So we ordered the most expensive thing there. It was wonderful.
When the bill came, I said, “Honey, why don’t you give me the certificate.” She said, “I don’t have the certificate. I thought you brought it.” I said, “You have to have it. You’re supposed to have it. You’re the wife!”
She said, “I don’t have it.” And I thought, We are in deep [trouble]. Here we are. We look rich, we act rich, we even smell rich. But if we don’t have that certificate, it invalidates everything.
There are lots of people in church world whothey look like a follower, they can act and talk like one, they can even smell like one. But something’s missing. Without a relationship with the Lord, we have nothing. It’s relationship that validates everything else.
We have been following the Servant King and learning what it means to be His disciple and have a relationship with Him. James Edwards in his commentary on Mark wonderfully explains this when he says, “The call to discipleship involves a cost of discipleship. Fishermen must leave boats and nets (1:16–20), a tax collector his tax table (2:14), and Peter his false conception of the Messiah (8:33).”
Unless you see His call, hear it and give yourself to it, then everything else we do for Christ is invalidated. The cost of following Jesus is great, but nothing compared to the cost of not following Him.Today we’ll meet a guy who looks like he’s got it altogether. But there was one thing missing. Lot of times people wonder if they are really Christians. Usually only true believers really ask that question. The hardest are people who think they are followers, but they really aren’t. They smell like it, can talk like it, but something’s missing. So today the Servant King wants us to make sure we haven’t missed what’s important in being a disciple of His.
- The Danger of False Sufficiency in Religion(vv.17-22)
Jesus is always on the move in Mark and we are learning what it means to follow Him on the road and in Mark, the road always means the “way” to Jerusalem (10:32) and the cross.Suddenly, a man runs up to Jesus and throws himself down to the ground. Matthew mentions that he was young (19:20), and Luke identifies him as a “ruler” (18:18), while all three gospel writers also say he was rich. This is where we get the name “The Rich Young Ruler.”
This is man of power, influence and wealth. He is a ruler, meaning most likely a lay leader in a synagogue. This means he is a deeply religious man. The ruler of a synagogue is usually an older man, so he was able to somehow get to the top. John Macarthur adds, “His life is exactly where he wanted it to be at this time…he’s beaten the curve. He’s beaten the trend and he’s beaten the odds, [gotten degrees from the right places and is on a partnership track]. He’s young and he’s wealthy and he owns a lot of property and he has achieved spiritual respect and spiritual status by being made the chief of a synagogue…He hadn’t gained his wealth immorally and he’s respectable.”He is respectful here, sincere and humble, not argumentative or faultfinding like the Pharisees. He asks a great question: “How do I get to Heaven?”
This guy has it made from a worldly and religious standpoint. All other guys his age envy him on facebook. His parents at the last party were the center of attention. Yet he is in great danger spiritually. Of all the people who ever came to the feet of Jesus, this man is the only one who went away worse than he came.
Here is the first dangerous sign:
- a) Self-salvation
Notice his question: “What must I DO”? And that two-letter word is what keeps him from Heaven. How can I ACHIEVE Heaven? What can I DO? Jesus has just told them that those who enter the kingdom of God must be like a little child (10:13-16). Notice the word Jesus uses in v.15: RECEIVE. The rich, young ruler says, “What can I do to ACHIEVE?” Two different things.Moreover, in Jewish usage, the wordinherit carried the sense of “to come into possession of, to obtain.” He assumed that he had the necessary ability and willingness to do whatever was yet required. He needed only guidance in its identification.
What is wrong with this guy’s attitude? He is saying, “What can I do to save myself?” He is his own Savior. You can’t save someone who doesn’t see he needs saving outside himself right?
So Jesus point to the Law, the 10 commandments. The Law is a mirror. A mirror tells you how dirty you are, but it cannot wash you. It shows us how perfectly good God is and how imperfect and evil we are, leading us to cry out for a Savior to cleanse us. So Jesus says, “Do you keep God’s law?” He picks on the second half of the 10 commandments. The first five deal with our relationship with God and the last five deal with our relationship with others. The last one Jesus mentions, “defraud,” appears to be an application of the eighth and ninth commandments.
Here’s a test, young man. How are you doing? Notice his response: “I have kept all of these from my youth.” He has a surface level view of the Law. I’m good. This is at the heart of religion. I will save myself through my external behavior. He’s thinking externally, not internally.
This is how I used to think as well. I was at church before the minister was at times. I was at all the church activities. Lots of good things, but I didn’t know Jesus. I thought if anyone would go to Heaven, it would be me. Look at me and all the things I am doing for you God!
If you are a Christian today and you shake your head at others who think they can work their way to Heaven, we must take a look at our own heart. How many of us came to Christ by receiving but now live as though we must achieve? How many of us do our quiet times in the morning and then expect that we have a good day? How many of us think that God owes us something because we were good Christians? How many of us think we have to pay for our own sins when we fall by staying away from the Lord? It is the same heart of self-sufficiency that keeps Christ away. Another danger:
- b) Comparative Righteousness
Here is another sign he and people can be in danger. He has compared how good he is with others. Notice that Jesus challenged the man’s faulty perception of good as something measured by human achievement. No one is good, absolutely perfect, except God alone, the true Source and Standard of goodness. The man needed to see himself in the context of God’s perfect character. 
When Jesus asks, “Why do you call me good?” He is not saying that he’s not good. He doesn’t say, “Why are you calling me good? I, Jesus, am not.” He is saying, “Why are you walking up to somebody you think is just a normal human rabbi and calling him good? There’s a flaw in your whole idea of goodness and badness.”
Our goodness is often comparative. People say, “Well, I’m no saint, but I am definitely not Hitler.” Compared to this “bad” person, I am pretty good. We think God grades us on a curve. Remember that from school? I remember when organic chemistry was the class everyone failed, but there was a group of kids who seemed to get it and you just hoped and prayed they did really well to get you a C. I used to think that since the good in my life outweighed the bad in my life, I was good to go.
But God doesn’t grade on a curve. It’s pass or fail. It’s perfection or you’re out. James 2:10: if you keep all of the commandments but miss one, it’s like you missed them all. Jesus Himself gave us the heart of the Law on the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:21-48).He said things like, “You heard it said, ‘Don’t commit murder, but if you hate anyone, you already committed murder in your heart.’” You have heard it said, “Don’t commit adultery, but if you lust in your heart, you already committed adultery.” Jesus shows that evil intent is the same as deed.That’s the standard. And we have all failed and only if you receive Jesus’ A in exchange for our F, can we be saved.
R.C Sproul was once asked, “What do you think about whybad things happen to good people?” He replied, “Why do bad things happen to good people? That only happened once, and He volunteered.”
Again, we can have this heart even as believers. Imagine you are an orphan among orphans, diving into dumpsters outside McDonalds. A rich king adopts all of you, robes you with new clothes and puts all of you around a table of a feast. Imagine the former orphan next to you saying, “I am more adopted than you are.” This would be silly. It is as silly to think any believer is superior to another. This is a danger that keeps people from Christ. They are not looking at Him as the standard, but other people. The only way to know a stick is crooked is if you put next to a straight stick, not next to more crooked stick and telling yourself you are a straight stick.
- c) Hidden Idolatry
This guy has it all, but something is missing and nagging in his heart. “I’m still missing something. Do you know of anything I’m missing? I’ve accomplished a lot but I sense there’s one more thing I need to do. I’m ready to open up a spiritual portfolio. What do I have to put in there? I’m willing to make some changes. Just tell me what to do.”
Of course he feels this way. Anytime you are on a self-salvation mission to work your way into Heaven, you will find that something is missing. How good is good enough?
Jesus says him keeping the law is still not enough. There is still something he lacks! Outwardly this guy is pulled together, so Jesus goes straight to his heart and asks him to sell everything he had, give it to the poor and follow Christ. Why so extreme here? Jesus wants to expose something in his heart.
You may have outwardly kept these rules, but inwardly you have another god. Beneath the religious exterior, he has a hidden idol. What is the essence of the Law? “Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, mind and strength” (Deut. 6:4-5). If you can’t do that, you have broken all of the commandments. And Jesus says here is how I know you have.
Your real god is your stuff. You have put your faith and trust in your wealth and accomplishments. But the effort is alienating you from God. Right now God is your boss—[if you put in the hours of good behavior, God will bless you]; but God is not your Savior, and here’s how you can see it: I want you to imagine life without money. I want you to imagine all of it gone. No inheritance, no inventory, no servants, no mansions— all of that is gone. All you have is me. Can you live like that?You have plenty to live on but you have little to live for.”
Edwards says brilliantly, “How profoundly ironic is the kingdom of God. The children in the former story who possess nothing are not told that they lack anything, but rather that the kingdom of God is theirs; yet this man who possesses everything still lacks something! Only when he sells all he has—only when he becomes like a vulnerable child—will he possess everything.”
Money, a good thing, became a god-like thing used as a means to receive his significance and meaning. It was the center of his identity. How do you know? When the possibility came of losing it, he freaked out. Notice that he is “disheartened.” It is a very descriptive word that can be translated as “shocked,” “appalled,” or “overcast as the sky.” The deceitfulness of wealth … chokes the word (4:19).“Grieved” is even a better translation. Why does someone grieve? Grief is when you lose something you love. You only grieve because you love. And here his love was centered on his wealth.
It’s one thing to have God as a boss, an example, a mentor; but if you want God to be your Savior, you have to replace what you’re already looking to as a savior. If you have anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, that is your idol.
Everybody’s got something. What is it for you? Jesus looks at this young man and says, “Son, of course you shouldn’t commit adultery or murder or lie or cheat people. But following me is not just repenting of bad things. It’s also repenting of how you use the good things and the reasons why you do good things.”
For this man, he felt a sense of spiritual inner poverty, so he accumulated wealth to fill it up. The hole was too big. For others, we feel a sense of inner deformity, so we use physical beauty—whether that is endless hours in the gym, obsessive calorie counting, staring in front of a mirror, constant shopping for clothes to cover up the inner deformity. For others, it’s a career that you feel like once you have, you won’t feel like a loser anymore. The hole is too big. Yet for others, it’s our kids and family. If you center your life and identity on your family and children, you will try to live your life through your children until they resent you or have no self of their own.
Money here is not the idol for him. Money is never the idol. Money reveals where the idols are. Money gave him something that he thought would fill him—reputation, status and honor. Money has always been one of the most common saviors. Your can now to go out to cool restaurants, to have nice new things, to negotiate a professional culture and peer group— all those things are probably more important to you than you know. I heard a pastor say that in a conference he led for men, the seminars on love and lust were always packed, but he had one on greed and almost no one came. It’s something no one thinks they have even though Jesus talked 10x more on money than he did on sex or even hell.
This guy missed it. He walked away with his god, only to be broken hearted at the end. Idols always break the heart of their worshippers. John Piper used to say that whenever you see a funeral procession, behind the hearse where the body is kept, there is never a U-haul truck.Why? Naked you came into the world and naked you leave (1 Tim. 6:7).
Everybody’s got something other than Christ that gives them true meaning. What is it for you?
- The Signs of True Sufficiency inChrist (vv. 23-31)
Jesus responds to the rich young ruler’s departure with, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the Kingdom of God!” Jesus is not saying having wealth is a sin. There are godly rich people and godly poor people, just like we have ungodly rich people and ungodly poor people. By the way, before we put ourselves in the poor category, compared to the rest of the world, all of us are incredibly rich. But He’s not making any blanket assertions. He’s not even saying, “Be generous guys, from time to time!”
As Keller notes, “Jesus was saying that there is something radically wrong with all of us— but money has particular power to blind us to it. In fact, it has so much power to deceive us of our true spiritual state.” When money has you (not when you have money), it is so powerful and controlling that it leads you into self-sufficiency. Why need God when you have money? Then he repeats again about how difficult it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God. Actually, Jesus says, it’s not difficult. It’s impossible! Like putting a large camel, with humps and all, through the smallest of spaces, a needle. It’s impossible.
David Garland adds, “Covetousness is like a virus that takes residence in the soul and begins slowly to work its destruction. The love of acquisition and an appetite for self-gratification will deaden the instinct for self-sacrifice.”
You might have expected the disciples to say, “Excellent, Jesus! We’re glad you’re not going to let any of the rich into your kingdom— they’ve gotten away with their exploitation long enough.” But that’s not their response. Instead they say, “If he can’t be saved, who can?” The disciples came from a culture that did not see wealth as evil, but rather as the reward for moral behavior. They accepted the view that if you live a good life, then God will reward you with prosperity.Here is one of the signsthat you have true sufficiency in Christ and not in yourself:
- You see your salvation as a gift
Look at what Jesus says here. It’s impossible for you to be saved until you see that you bring nothing but your sin to the table. Usually there are two kinds of people that go to church: there’s religious people and real Christians. And the way you can tell the difference is that a real follower of Christ is somebody who sees everything that comes as a gift. In other words a real Christian sees that you are totally in debt to God, but a religious person is someone who is working hard and making an effort and trying to be good, going to Bible studies and just saying “no” everywhere, and denying themselves a lot of pleasures, and so forth, and a religious person is someone who is trying to put God in their debt. That is the difference. A religious person is someone who is trying to save themselves through their good works. A religious person is somebody who thinks they are putting God in their debt since they have tried so hard. A Christian is somebody who sees themselves as in God’s debt.
When you say, “It is a miracle I am saved,” that’s a sign you are a Christian. I am in awe of that someone like me has someone like this Christ in my life. Hell will be full of people who think they should belong in Heaven. But Heaven will be full of people who know they really should have been in hell. Why so? Because they know their salvation was by grace ALONE.
- b) You see your gains outweighing the costs
Peter is now worried that he has made all these sacrifices for nothing if salvation is that hard. Do you sense a hint of self-congratulation here?Commentator Dan Akin says of this story, “All must come to Jesus with nothing, in total dependence on Him. No one can earn the kingdom. The requirement is the same for all: simple, childlike reliance on Jesus. It is that easy. It is in the context of this teaching that one who is the opposite of a helpless child approaches Jesus.”The reality is that you can’t earn it. If you come with nothing to lean on except Jesus, you get everything. If you come with Jesus + something, you get nothing. Jesus reminds him that you will have no regrets in following Him. Coming to Christ is to join a community of believers who will take care of one another’s material needs. No one will not be left destitute and forced to fend for himself.I love how John Piper explains vv.29-31:
This text does not mean that you get materially rich by becoming a missionary— at least not in the sense that your own private possessions increase. It means mainly that if you are deprived of your earthly family in the service of Christ, it will be made up a hundredfold in your spiritual family, the church. But even this may be too limiting. What about the lonely missionaries who labor for years without being surrounded by hundreds of sisters and brothers and mothers and children in the faith? Is the promise not true for them? Surely it is.
Surely what Christ means is that he himself makes up for every loss. If you give up a mother’s nearby affection and concern, you get back one hundred times the affection and concern from the ever-present Christ. If you give up the warm comradeship of a brother, you get back one hundred times the warmth and camaraderie from Christ. If you give up the sense of at-homeness you had in your house, you get back one hundred times the comfort and security of knowing that your Lord owns every house and land and stream and tree on earth. What Jesus is saying…is just this: I promise to work for you and be for you so much that you will not be able to speak of having sacrificed anything. That’s the way Hudson Taylor took it, because at the end of his 50 years of missionary labor in China he said, “I never made a sacrifice.” (Piper, “Missions”)
I skipped over a key phrase in this section in v.21. Jesus, looking at him, loved him. You don’t really see that in other narratives. Surely Jesus loves, but why make that remark here? We are not sure. Jesus loves this guy. It’s not that he loved his stuff too much, but he treasured Christ’s love for him too little.
But I also wonder if Jesus, who at this point is about 31-32 years old, looks at him and identifies with him and feels a deep love for him as a result. Keller explains beautifully, “Jesus, too, is a rich young man, far richer than this man can imagine. Jesus has lived in the incomprehensible glory, wealth, love, and joy of the Trinity from all eternity. He has already left that wealth behind him. Paul says that though Jesus Christ was rich, for our sakes he became poor (2 Cor. 8: 9).”
And so when He looks at this guy and says, “Give this up and follow me,” He’s really saying, “Because I’m going into a poverty deeper than anyone has ever known. I am giving it all away. Why? For you. Now, you give away everything to follow me. If I gave away my “big all” to get to you, can you give your “little all” to follow me? I won’t ask you to do anything I haven’t already done. I’m the ultimate Rich Young Ruler who has given away the ultimate wealth to get you. Now, you need to give away yours to get me.”
The only thing you need for grace is need. But it is hard to get there, where all you have is Him. You will never Christ is all you need until He is all you have. When this gospel truly moves you, you will see that it is hard to be a stingy follower of such a generous Savior. Your new standard of generosity is the cross. Jesus didn’t tithe His blood. He gave it all for you and me.
If you understand that Jesus is the true Rich Young Ruler, it is going to change your attitude to money. Instead of worshipping what money can give you, you use money to bless others. You give it away. And instead of using God to meet your needs, you worship Him simply because your heart has been rocked by His love for you. All other idols will fall away when the Gospel becomes your treasure, your wealth, your meaning, your significance, your beauty, your everything!
“A Personal Relationship,” Preaching Today audio no. 225 Retrieved September 12, 2014 from preachingtoday.com.
Edwards, J. R. (2002). The Gospel according to Mark (p. 309). Grand Rapids,
MI; Leicester, England: Eerdmans; Apollos.
Stein, R. H. (2008). Mark (p. 467). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.
Macarthur, J. (2010, December 5). Grace To You. Retrieved September 13, 2014, fromhttp://www.gty.org/resources/sermons/41-51/the-blasphemy-of-the-rich-young-ruler.
Wiersbe, W. W. (1996).The Bible Exposition Commentary (Vol. 1, p. 145).
Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
Hiebert, D. E. (1994).The Gospel of Mark: An Expositional Commentary (p.
285). Greenville, SC: Bob Jones University Press.
Grassmick, J. D. (1985). Mark. In J. F. Walvoord& R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, p. 150). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
Keller, Timothy (2013-03-05). Jesus the King: Understanding the Life and Death of the Son of God (p. 128). Penguin Group US. Kindle Edition.
Edwards, J. R. (p. 311).
Sproul, R. C. (2011, March 25). Quoted in Only Once. Retrieved September 12, 2014, from http://inkslingerblog.wordpress.com/2011/03/25/only-once/.
Keller, T. (p. 128).
Keller, T. (p. 129).
Garland, D. E. (1996). Mark (p. 406). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing
Edwards, J. R. (p. 312).
Edwards, J. R. (p. 313).
Piper, J. (2003).Desiring God (p. 188). Sisters, OR: Multnomah Publishers.
Keller, T. (pp. 126-127).
Garland, D. E. (p. 403).
Keller, T. (p. 125).
Akin, Daniel L. (2014-06-01). Exalting Jesus in Mark (Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary) (p. 220). B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
Garland, D. E. (p. 403).
Akin, D. (pp. 225-226).
Keller, T. (pp. 134-135).