Treasure in Heaven and the Deceitfulness of Riches1
As one reads through the Gospel of Mark a question eventually comes to mind: Is Jesus ever going to encounter a normal person? Consider for a moment the sort of people with whom Jesus has engaged up through chapter nine of this gospel record. You talk about an odd collection of characters! Continue reading . . .
As one reads through the Gospel of Mark a question eventually comes to mind: Is Jesus ever going to encounter a normal person? Consider for a moment the sort of people with whom Jesus has engaged up through chapter nine of this gospel record. You talk about an odd collection of characters!
There was the demonized man in the synagogue, screaming at the top of his lungs (Mark 1)
There was the man covered with leprosy (Mark 1)
There was a paralytic whose friends lowered him through the roof to Jesus (Mark 2)
There was Matthew, the despised tax collector
There were so-called “sinners,” most likely prostitutes and other social outcasts (Mark 2)
There was the man with the withered hand (Mark 3)
There was the naked man indwelt by a legion of demons who was kept in chains and lived in a cave (Mark 5)
Then there was the woman who had suffered from a discharge of blood for twelve years, the Syrophoenician, Gentile woman who persisted in her request that her daughter be healed, the young boy indwelt by a demon who threw him to the ground and into the fire, and then of course the ever-present religious leaders in all their hypocrisy and high-minded legalism . . .
Isn’t it about time for Jesus to meet just a plain, average, decently dressed, educated, common man, someone who won’t embarrass the disciples or accuse Jesus of blasphemy, someone who isn’t horribly disfigured or disabled, you know, just a regular sort of guy . . . Isn’t it about time?
Finally, in Mark 10 we meet up with the man known to history as the “rich, young, ruler.” Although Mark tells us he is a wealthy man, it is only from Matthew and Luke that we discover he is also young and a ruler or leader of sorts.
And although he appears normal, we probably learn as much if not more about Jesus and the gospel and eternal life from their encounter than we do from all the exorcisms and healings combined.
To understand our Lord’s encounter with him we need to back up a bit and recall what he said in Mark 10:13-16 regarding little children and entrance into the kingdom of God: “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it” (Mark 10:15).
Clearly Jesus sees in the characteristics of a child something that is essential for all who profess to come to him. To what is Jesus pointing when he uses the qualities or characteristics of a child?
A sense of helplessness and need
One who receives without any attempt to earn
In a sense, Jesus is saying that one enters the Kingdom of God in the same way an infant enters the world: naked, helpless, and with no claim or sense of entitlement.
Here’s the key: No sooner does our Lord conclude his observations on the necessity of entering the kingdom in the way a child would than there appears before him a man determined on making his way into the kingdom in an altogether different and contrasting manner.
Immediately following our Lord’s declaration that one must receive the kingdom as a gift, much as a child would, a man comes to him determined on earning the kingdom as a reward for his efforts.
On the surface it appeared that if anyone could truly earn or work his way into the kingdom, this young man could: he was wealthy, successful, well-spoken, highly placed and positioned in society, clean cut, youthful, and energetic.
He had evidently heard about Jesus, perhaps he had even heard him speak or watched him minister. You can almost hear him say to himself: “Eternal life! Wow! I’ve got just about everything else this life can offer. Perhaps I should check into what it takes to obtain life in the age to come.”
I doubt if it ever occurred to this young man that obtaining eternal life and the forgiveness of sins was on an entirely different plane, an altogether different matter, on utterly different terms from the way in which he obtained everything else in life. Everything else he ever wanted he worked hard to get. He purchased it. Everything, after all, has its price. Why should eternal life be any different? Whatever he may have lacked that might be necessary to get eternal life, he could surely work to attain.
Needless to say, he’s in for quite a surprise!
Note his question: “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mark 10:17). In Matthew 19:16 he says, “What good deed must I do to inherit eternal life?” Clearly he believed some righteous or religious act, perhaps some sacrifice in the pursuit of social justice, some pious work would secure for him the eternal life he desired.
But Jesus has just made it crystal clear: You can’t enter the kingdom unless you become like a little child and receive it as a gift, not work for it as a reward.
I’m more than a little surprised by how Jesus answered his question. Why the roundabout interaction of vv. 18-22? Why not respond the way Paul did to the Philippian jailer in Acts 16:31 – “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved?”
The reason for how Jesus responded to this man is found in vv. 18-22.
And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. 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, 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.” Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions (Mark 10:18-22).
The rich young ruler had come to Jesus in a humble and deferential way, calling him “Good Teacher,” a title that Jesus immediately challenges (v. 18). People have often misunderstood what Jesus is saying here. He is not making a personal confession of sin, as if he is saying, “Hey, fella, it isn’t right for you to call me ‘good.’ If you only knew my private life and all my personal failures, you’d realize that I don’t qualify for that adjective!”
No. I think what Jesus is doing right from the start is exposing this man’s superficial concept of what “goodness” really is. He wants him to reexamine how he defines the term. The young ruler obviously believed that a person could do good things, perhaps by obeying the commands of the OT law, and on that basis be granted entrance into the kingdom. He no doubt considered himself to be “good” and evidently thought similarly of Jesus. So Jesus challenges him right up front:
“Why do you call me good? Is it out of mere courtesy, or flattery, or what? Do you have any idea what you’re saying when you use that term? You obviously think it possible for a mere human being to be rightfully called ‘good’ based on whether or not he or she does good things. But don’t you realize that ultimately God alone is good? Therefore, don’t call me ‘good’ unless you are prepared to call me ‘God’!”
The fact that he is ready to call a man ‘good’ whom he does not believe to be God is a reflection of how misguided he is about what ultimate goodness really is. Can you seen, then, why Jesus responds to him as he does? Whatever reason this man had for coming to Jesus, guilt for falling short of the demands of a good God wasn’t among them! That is what Jesus is trying to get him to understand.
So, Jesus has inserted the surgical knife into his heart. Now he will begin to painfully turn it and expose the cancer in this man’s soul. Here Jesus quotes in order the 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, and then returns to the 5th commandment of the 10 Commandments that constituted the heart of the OT Mosaic Law.
What is going on here? Is Jesus teaching salvation by works? Does he mean to say to this man that all he needs to do is perfectly obey these commandments and all will be well with his soul? NO!
And we’ll see why in the next article.