I want to read you the story of a man who had everything except what he needed to get… what he really needed.
17As He was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to Him and knelt before Him, and asked Him, "Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" 18And Jesus said to him, "Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone. 19You 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.'" 20And he said to Him, "Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up." 21Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, "One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me." 22But at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property.
- Mark 10:17-22
When we read this story here and in Luke 18:18 we find out certain things about this man:
- He was young and wealthy.
- He was the ruler or leader in the local synagogue which means he was educated and had prestige in the community.
- He was respectful in that he knelt before Jesus and addressed Him formally as "Good Teacher".
- He also wanted the important things in life and showed wisdom with his question to the Lord. (Not like many who wanted to see a "miracle")
- While others in his position may have given themselves over to seeking merely worldly pleasures - he was searching for the "higher" things in life.
Of course Jesus, who could see past the surface and into the heart, recognized the problem that this person's question and attitude revealed. The rich young ruler wanted the right things (eternal life) but his idea of how to get it was wrong. He asks Jesus "What must I do", to get it.
His idea was that Jesus, the good teacher, had figured out the thing to do and had Himself done it and because of this now had eternal life. This is why He could do miracles. The young man now wanted Jesus to share the "secret" with him so he too could have eternal life. All he needed was the missing ingredient and he too would be complete.
Jesus, however, knows what is missing in this man's life and is about to show him not one but three missing ingredients keeping this man from eternal life. Perhaps we need to listen carefully so we can make sure we have the right recipe for our own hope of eternal life as well.
The Missing Ingredients
1. The young ruler did not have faith
This person had good intentions but not faith and the passage demonstrates this in several ways. He doesn't recognize Jesus as the Messiah but rather as some kind of Guru. But referring to Him as "Good Teacher" he gives Him a compliment but not the true recognition of His actual person and rule. Even Jesus points this out - why refer to me as divine (good) when you don't believe
He thinks that Jesus is a man like himself - a great man but a man nevertheless. He believes the only difference between them is the secret. If Jesus gives him the secret then he will be like Jesus, fully equal.
He also believes that eternal life can be obtained by a man from another man without the intervention of God. In other words God could tell us how to do it (tell as the secret) but we would do it. So the young ruler, like many today, want the right thing and he's sincere about it but he does not see that faith in Jesus as the Son of God is the only way to eternal life.
2. The young man did not have self-awareness
His question, response and approach showed that he did not have a proper view of himself and his true condition. When he asks how to obtain eternal life, Jesus responds with what the young man had been taught and had tried without success. Right here we need a little background information to understand what's going on:
We are born and created to live forever, our soul is eternal and God has preprogrammed us to know this intuitively -
...He has set eternity in their heart...
- Ecclesiastes 3:11
The problem, of course, is sin - the breaking of God's laws, disobedience to His word. When we sin we are separated from God, denied our eternal life with Him and yet our innate knowledge of our own eternal nature yearns to be reunited with God. The feeling of incompleteness, the dissatisfaction with this world, the pain of deep guilt and fear and dread of judgment all stem from our desire to be united with God as we once were before sin.
Now there are two ways this reuniting with our eternal Father, this experiencing of eternal life can be accomplished. Never sin in the first place. If one keeps perfectly all the commands of God, never violates His will or His word, then there is never any separation in the first place. Realize that we are sinners, we are separated from God and subject to condemnation and accept God's gracious offer of forgiveness and restoration to unity and eternal life with Him. In other words we get eternal life through perfection - or through forgiveness.
Now back to our story with the young ruler. The young ruler understood that if one never broke the Law they would experience eternal life and union with God. He, for some reason or other, was under the impression that he had accomplished this (after all when Jesus tells him that keeping the Law will give him eternal life, he replies - I've done this all my life!). In his mind he had done what a person had to do to gain eternal life (keep God's laws) but he wasn't experiencing the promised results - eternal life! Something was missing, something was left out, he had a missing ingredient and he thought Jesus could supply it.
The young man didn't see himself correctly. He didn't see that he was a sinner; a failure before God despite his wealth; a condemned man separated from God by sins he didn't recognize that he had committed. Of course intelligent, respectable, moral, successful people have always had a hard time recognizing that pride, greed, self righteousness, worldliness, lack of faith will send you to hell as easily as murder and adultery. Model citizens need God's forgiveness just like everyone else. The Bible says that all are sinners and fall short of the glory of God.
The rich young ruler recognized that he had a deep need but did not see that his need was for salvation through the mercy and forgiveness of God offered by the very person that stood before him. The truth was that he was a sinner who needed grace, not a saint who needed a secret.
3. The young man did not have a changed heart
When Jesus said to this man, "One thing you lack", He didn't mean that he had everything except one thing. This is what the young ruler thought; he had it all and was missing one last great secret that Jesus could give him. In the Greek this expression means, "You are behind one thing" - one thing is continually ahead of you - despite what you have or don't have, one thing will not let you pass. Like a truck ahead of you that won't let you by.
For this man, his love and dependence on wealth was the thing that wouldn't let him pass: he could have had other sins, other faults as well but the thing that was blocking his faith, his self-awareness, his repentance was his love of money. Jesus explains to him how to overcome this sin, how to remove this obstacle - by giving to others and then giving himself to the Lord. For some the obstacle is drugs, sexual sin, pride, stubbornness, laziness and for each person the answer is different in how to remove the obstacles to self-awareness and faith. For this man the problem was the love of and dependence on wealth. Jesus was not making the giving away of one's wealth a condition of salvation - he was removing the obstacle in this man's life so he could believe and repent and thus be saved.
The rich young ruler wanted treasure in heaven but didn't realize that it was his attitude towards his earthly treasure that was blocking the way. Jesus' invitation to follow Him also revealed that the young man not only was unwilling to let go his wealth, he was also unwilling to let go of his life to follow Jesus - and this is the reason he would never find eternal life.
What ingredient is missing in your life?
What thing is always ahead of you?
Something that won't let you pass?
Is it the acknowledgement that you are a sinner? The final realization that the sins in your life are ruining your life or the fact that even though you're O.K., you still need Christ to be perfect and enter into heaven?
Is it faith? The swallowing of pride, the putting aside of procrastination and doubt and finally admitting to yourself and the world that you believe that Jesus Christ is God and is your savior and that you're ready to be baptized in His name to express that faith?
Is it repentance? Are you hanging on to your sins not able to let go of the world? You want to go to heaven but you don't want to bury the old sinful man and allow the new spiritual man to come alive?
Which of these things is holding you back from eternal life? The Lord stands before each of us today encouraging us to give up our treasure (whatever it is) and come follow Him. Don't be like the rich young ruler and leave here today without responding to His invitation.
Do you realize that Jesus had love for this man and had he followed could have become one of the Apostles? Oh what a treasure he threw away.