MESSAGE FOR AUGUST 23, 2009 FROM Mark 10:17-31
MESSAGE FOR AUGUST 23, 2009 FROM MARK 10:17-31
This morning, we continue our time in the gospels and come to a crucial text in Mark’s gospel in helping us to understand the requirements for entrance into the kingdom of God. We must see this teaching we read a few minutes ago as more than just a teaching on money or stewardship. It is far more than that—it conveys a central truth about discipleship and entrance into the kingdom of God. The best way to find the meaning of the text is to look at it through the lens the text itself provides. This man comes to Jesus and asks, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Today we will ask the same question and allow the words of Jesus to answer it for us. That is—What is required to enter the kingdom of God? We could ask it in other ways using similar phrases that come right from this text—what is required to be saved? (v.26) Or, what must we do to inherit eternal life? (v.17) What must we do to have treasure in heaven? (v.21)? Mark uses those expressions more or less synonymously.
I see three answers in this text, all of which are pieces of the one big answer. The first answer is a negative answer and we see it through the example of this man who runs up to Jesus. What is NOT sufficient for entrance into the kingdom of heaven is the blessing of God, urgency about your soul, personal piety and the love of Jesus. This text makes clear that those elements alone are not sufficient for entrance into the kingdom of heaven. So if you sit here today blessed by God, urgently concerned about your soul, living an upright, moral life and with an assurance that Jesus loves you, all that doesn’t mean you are headed for heaven. We see this first in verse 17 where we read of Jesus, “And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus answers him in verse 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,’” And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” And Jesus, looking at him, loved him…”
Part of the reason this text is so powerful is because in it the gospel writers portray someone who in so many ways is a perfect candidate, not only for entrance into the kingdom of God, but perhaps even future leadership in the kingdom. Yet this one who makes this incredibly strong first impression, and who appears on so many levels to be right, ends up revealing himself to be not at all ready for the kingdom. Let’s look in some detail at four things that at least on some level commend him for the kingdom. First, according to those around him, he was blessed by God. We know from later on in the text that he had “great possessions.” He was wealthy and the Jews of Jesus’ day, from their understanding of the Old Testament, saw wealthy people to be in a special place of God’s blessing because, among other reasons, they were able to give more away. This man was rich and according to Luke he was a “ruler” of some sort. He was probably a civic ruler of some sort because in Matthew’s account, we read that he is also young and young men were not religious leaders. So, this man was assumed by his culture to be under the clear blessing of God—he’s wealthy, he has some influence and he’s young to boot.
Second, he is urgent about the condition of his soul. Mark reveals this man to have some genuine spiritual sensitivity. He didn’t assume that just because God had blessed him--that he must therefore be acceptable to God. He was taking nothing for granted and in fact, Mark makes a point of showing that he was urgent in his desire to know about his soul because he includes this little detail, “a man ran up.” Why would you run up to Jesus? It’s not as if Jesus is climbing into a car to be whisked away. He’s just walking with his disciples on the way to Jerusalem. There’s no reason to run. Mark includes the detail of this man running to Jesus to help us see that this man was very urgent about the state of his soul. This was not an incidental encounter—it was absolutely intentional—he was vigorously pursuing Jesus so he could ask this question. Neither was this a private meeting. This rich man—who probably didn’t run for hardly anything, runs up to Jesus and openly displays personal vulnerability by publicly asking Jesus a question of eternal significance about his own soul. Rich people typically arrange for private meetings with teachers so as to shield them from the gaze of the public on matters of personal importance. Not this man—he runs right up to Jesus in urgency and blurts out this profound personal question about his soul. This is not a theoretical question—he’s not playing, “Stump the teacher.” In front of everyone he says, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” His unusual willingness to make himself vulnerable shows that he is urgent about this.
Third, he gives every indication of strong personal piety. We see this in a couple of ways. First, he kneels before Jesus. Rich people in this culture almost never kneeled or bowed before anyone unless they had tremendous respect for them. Jesus had clearly made an impression on this man somehow and he publicly shows his reverence for Jesus. He also professes that since his youth—(age 12, when Jews were held accountable to keep the Law,) he had not violated the Old Testament prohibitions against murdering, adultery, stealing, lying, defrauding and not honoring your father or mother. That’s commandments five through nine with an extra one thrown in for good measure. In these matters he is guiltless according to him. Even though this man clearly does not understand how deeply these commandments reach into your heart—hatred is murder in God’s sight--the fact that he can with a clear conscience and without contradiction from Jesus claim that he has kept these from his youth indicates that he had led a very upright, moral life. By all external indications, this is a very pious man whose record of outward obedience to the law is probably far more laudable than most of the people in this room.
Finally, we see that this blessed, spiritually sensitive, upright man had one more thing in his favor that Mark alone records about him. That is, Jesus loves this man. In verse 21, just before Jesus is about to speak those crushing words that will ring in this man’s ears for all of eternity—just before he bursts his self-righteous bubble, it says in verse 21, “And Jesus, looking at him, loved him…” Jesus loved this man. We know that Jesus loved him the way he loved other sinners, but the fact that Mark explicitly mentions his love in this rather unique way indicates a special, personal regard for this man. Jesus uses his scalpel to expose his heart, but he does it with great love, not a hammer of condemnation. From all outward appearances, this man should be in heaven right now. Yet, unless his heart changed, he is at this moment in hell cursing the eternally condemning choice he made on this day recorded by Mark.
The negative example of this man reveals what is NOT sufficient to enter the kingdom of heaven. A second requirement is especially appropriate to us who live in a very prosperous culture and is implied in this teaching. That is—A God-given awareness and sensitivity to the blinding power of prosperity. This man who was blessed, urgent about his soul, morally upright and loved by Jesus shows himself to have one more spiritual attribute—he was spiritually blind to the hardness of his own heart caused his attitude toward his wealth. We see this is in verses 21-26. There we read Jesus’ response to this man. He said, “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, “22 Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. 23 And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24 And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 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.” 26 And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?”
Let’s first take a look at Jesus’ response to this man. He tells him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.” Jesus tells him to give everything he has to the poor so that his treasure will be in heaven instead of earth. Technically, this is not a call to exhaust his resources—it is a call to transfer them from earth to heaven. This is a call to temporary impoverishment. The next piece of comes together when Jesus calls the man to “come, follow me.” Notice the direct relationship Mark draws here between having treasure in heaven and following Jesus. That relationship is: Jesus is the Treasure of heaven. John Piper says that Jesus’ demands can be summed up like this: “Your attachment to your possessions needs to be replaced by an attachment to me.” He continues, “It’s as though the man stood there with his hands full of money and Jesus said, “You lack one thing; reach out and take my hands.” To do this the man must open his fingers and let the money fall. The “One thing” is not what falls out of his hands, but what he takes into his hands.”
The one thing this man lacked was—a love for Jesus that was greater than his love for this world. He lacked a love that would cause him to release the things of this world so he could embrace Jesus. And Jesus exposes that heart issue by asking him to give up all his this-worldly possessions. It’s important to note that this was not a call to generosity. This man was undoubtedly extremely generous by today’s standards. By New Testament times, all Jews gave one tithe—ten percent to Levites, and second tithe for a feast. That’s 20 percent and that doesn’t include the giving of alms or what we would call charitable giving, which was very important within Judaism and which this wealthy, pious man doubtless did, over and above the 20 percent. So Jesus is not making this demand of someone who is stingy. Twenty percent plus simply isn’t enough—Jesus want it all. This man--with all his generosity, was deceived about the condition of his soul.
He was urgent about his soul, but as it turns out, the urgency didn’t run quite deep enough. He was deceived—he thought he cared about eternal life more than anything. He didn’t. In the end, Jesus reveals that he cared about this life more than anything. All Jesus did was expose what was in his heart. He gave him a very simple test—“Give up this world and its treasures and find in me the Treasure of heaven and use your money to earn heavenly treasure.” When those options between living by sight for the things of this world and living by faith for Jesus and heaven were given to him, “he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.” Mark doesn’t leave us wondering about the reason for his foolish decision—it was because he had a lot of wealth in this world—like we do and he had allowed it to choke off any kind of love for God that would indicate a saving relationship. This man was lost! He was urgent about his soul, pious and had the love of Christ, but he wouldn’t love Jesus back because he loved money and this world more than God and the next. If you would have asked him if that were true before he met with Jesus, he would have surely denied it and referred us to his impressive spiritual resume as proof. But when Jesus applies the scalpel of God’s word to his heart, his lethal spiritual condition is clearly exposed.
In light of what Mark tells us here about this man, surely one of the take-home questions for us should be—if wealth could deceive this man about the condition of
his soul, could it not also deceive us?
The New Testament consistently warns about this. Jesus says in his parable of the sower in Mark 4:19, speaking
of the thorn-infested soil and how it is hostile to the word of God, “19 but
the cares of the world and the deceitfulness
of riches and the desires for other things
enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.”
Our wealth is deceitful—we can slowly give our hearts over to it—one self-oriented decision at a time until, imperceptibly
it grows up like a thorn and chokes off any genuine love for God. First
Timothy 6:9-10 says, “9 But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless
and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.
10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.” If you aspire to wealth—and we are wealthy on any international comparative scale, and have far more of the things of this world than this man did because there are infinitely more things to have today. Paul warns that this is a trap, a snare that brings senseless and harmful desires, plunging people into ruin and destruction. In Luke 16:11 Jesus says, “11 If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? Why does Jesus call money “unrighteous wealth?”
Is wealth inherently evil? No, it’s not. But when a fallen heart—with 1. A powerful propensity to love this world and 2. A tendency to live independently of God and 3. tend to “medicate” your hurts and wounds by shopping or somehow using money to feel better—when that heart is exposed to wealth--that very feeds into and increases the likelihood of those fallen tendencies, that’s a potentially explosive and blinding combination. Money and wealth aren’t in and of themselves sinful, but they can cause us to sin. Some people are bothered more by this than others. But if you find that you love the things of this world and it doesn’t take much to pull you away from a sense of dependency upon God, know that having more money will only strengthen the pull of those tendencies and your soul may be at stake. Consider the words of Jesus as it relates to things that cause us to sin in Mark 9:47, “47 And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell,” If money causes you to sin, simplify your life. It’s better to enter heaven poor than to leave behind a large estate and go to hell. That’s surely a valid application of this text. This rich man who had kept all those commandments had allowed his wealth to deceive him about his soul. Why did he keep those commandments? We don’t know, but we know from Proverbs that lying, stealing, murdering, defrauding and committing adultery are harmful to your wealth and Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy five tells us that not honoring your father and mother is harmful to your health. Maybe his obedience was just good business. We don’t know what motivated him, but we do know that in all of his commandment-keeping, he managed to forget the first commandment—have no other gods before me. He was an idolater. He may have been very dutiful at keeping the other commandments, but they are meaningless if you don’t love God more than anything else.
The disciples were astonished when Jesus said to them in verse 23, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” And to emphasize the importance of this truth and drill it into these astonished disciples, Jesus repeats it with a powerful metaphor in verse 24. “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! 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.” And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” Bob Stein in his commentary on Mark explains the disciples’ astonishment. He says, “The disciples’ amazement at Jesus’ words reflects the contemporary view of that day (and tragically often among Christians today) that wealth and prosperity are usually an indication of God’s favor and blessing. For this man, however, they were a curse leading to his damnation.” The disciples assumed that if this man, who had the potential to do so much for the kingdom of God with his money—if he wasn’t heaven-bound—then who on earth could be saved? Implied in this text is the truth that if we are to enter the kingdom of heaven, we must have an awareness and sensitivity to the blinding power of prosperity and take appropriate counter measures.
A final and the main requirement for entering the kingdom of heaven we have already mentioned is: Treasuring Christ above all else through the miracle of God’s saving grace. Peter responds to all this teaching about wealth and self-denial by saying in verse 28, “…See, we have left everything and followed you.” 29 Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.” We know that Jesus calls us to treasure him above all and that he is the Treasure of heaven because he says that rewards in this life and the next life come to those who leave “house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and the gospel.” The reason you leave—if you leave rightly is for the sake of Christ and the gospel and Christ is at the very center of the gospel.
But the question remains—how do we make this total surrender of all we have—whether concretely as Jesus called this man to—or in principle—which all disciples of Christ are called to do? We are all called to a willingness to surrender all to Jesus at any moment—that’s the mark of a disciple of Christ and only disciples are going to heaven. How do you do that? Jesus says, “With man it is impossible, but not with God.” It’s important to realize that this call to leave all for Jesus as your greatest treasure—this call to believe that everything you give up for Jesus and the gospel will be more than compensated here and in heaven—is impossible. No one can do this—no one has this kind of faith apart from the miraculous, saving grace of God. There’s only one way God does this. He can’t deny himself by allowing idolaters into heaven. He will not look at people who love this world more than him, but who are otherwise urgent about their souls, morally strong and believe the right things about him and say—“Oh, alright, come on in.” We know that because he doesn’t do that to this young ruler who we know he loves. He will not deny himself even for someone he loves.
What he will do is this--he will move in a person’s heart so powerfully—he will so enable us to see his glorious supremacy over the things of this world, so that we wealthy people will do one of two things. First, (and this is clearly the exception and not the rule) he will ask us to give it all up as he asks this man to do. This is also what the apostles did. Or, second, he will allow us to keep some of his money as he did Zaccheus. He did not tell Zaccheus—a wealthy chief tax collector--to give up everything. But when Zaccheus by God’s saving grace saw the supremacy of Christ, all he had belonged to Jesus. Jesus just let him continue to manage it it. He gave half of his goods to the poor and with the other half; he paid back four times on the dollar what he had swindled. That’s not generosity—that’s surrender of this world’s treasure to the eternal treasure of Jesus. When he did that, Jesus said in Luke 19:9, “Today, salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham.” This is what the saving grace of God does to your pocketbook! It doesn’t just make you generous—this rich young ruler was surely generous. It transfers your treasure from this world to Jesus and eternity.
So, what is the application for us? The big picture application is--we must understand what the bottom line is and the bottom line is God’s glory. God is glorified as people leave all—either literally like the apostles, or in principle like Zaccheus---giving God whatever he wants, whenever he wants it and displaying the supremacy of Jesus over the things of this world. When I hear teachings like this, my first response is to wish that I had been born in Burma or some other dirt poor country where money would not be a temptation. That’s wrong on several counts. First, people who are poor can be idolaters too—by coveting what they don’t have. Second, it’s ungrateful—God is glorified as his children praise him for his abundant provision. Third, those who have much can give much away and know the joy of giving to a world and a church that is in deep need. Most importantly, God wants to show the supremacy of his worth over the things of this world by raising up in a prosperous country a radically committed group of people about whom he can say to the watching angelic host—“I gave them access to all the things that this world values—money, big houses, cars, etc… and they loved me MORE than these!” That’s why God placed us in a rich country—so that we could, by how we live our lives—by our attitude toward money and how we spend it—scream—Jesus is better! That brings honor to God as we surrender our wealth to the vast supremacy of Christ by holding our money very loosely and spending very wisely and giving it away with hilarious generosity.
Second and related, fight hard to show the supremacy of Christ in your wealth. Jesus closes this teaching in verse 31 with a proverb. “But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” That implies that the things that this world values are not the least bit important to God and the things that are of value within the heavenly economy are worthless to this world. That means we live in a world where the value system is upside down from God’s and we are inundated with that value system with every media commercial and newspaper insert and billboard and car lot we drive past. This upside-down value system is the rapidly flowing river in which we swim and unless we are swimming hard against this current to show forth the supremacy of Christ in how we spend and purchase and give and invest, we will end up in the same place as the rich, young ruler, deceived and damned.
This can be done by God’s grace alone through the gospel, but we must submit this area of our lives to him in genuine transparency—holding nothing back. One of the ways we fight is by repeatedly rehearsing the glories of Christ for you in the gospel. The more familiar we are with the Treasure we have in Jesus, the weaker the pull of the things of this world are. Daily preach the gospel to yourself—rehearing in your mind all the treasure you have in Jesus in your forgiveness, your cleansing, your justification, your adoption, your promise of eternal life with Jesus free from the cares and hurts of this world. “The things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.”
Another way to swim against the stream of this world’s value system is to give so much of your money away, that you don’t have much to spend on the things of this world. If you are not at least working towards being a tither—which is the basement level of giving in the Bible—I don’t know how the supremacy of Christ could be manifest in your life. That’s only a starting place—this man gave well over 20% and was still an idolater. Ask God to reveal to you whether you--in how you give and spend and invest you are showing that Jesus is far better than this world and heaven is a far better place for your money than the things of this world. May God give us the grace to know the truth and for God’s glory and our joy—live according to it.
 William Lane’s NICNT series commentary on Mark’s gospel, p. 363
 Bob Stein, Baker Exegetical, p. 468
 Stein, Mark, p. 471
 Bock, Darrell, Luke, Vol. 2—Baker’s Exegetical Commentary, p. 1476.
 IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, 1993—comment on Mark 10:17
 Lane, p366
 Piper, “What Jesus Demands from the World,” p. 154.
 ESV Study Bible—notes on Deuteronomy 14:22-29, p. 353.
 Stein, Mark, p.471.
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