Mark 10:17-22 is a true story about a guy who had everything.
He is known today as “the rich young ruler.” He was respected. Important. And he liked it that way.
Then he encountered Jesus and realized that maybe he didn’t have everything after all. Apparently, he had heard Jesus speaking about eternal life, which if you think about it, is an obsession among us moderns.
Anti-aging creams. Cosmetic surgery. Herbal supplements. Cryogenic preservation.
We will do just about anything to avoid death. To put it in the converse, like the rich young ruler, we want to live forever.
Jesus shows us that, what we long for at the deepest recesses of our soul, is possible.
17 As 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. 19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’[d”
20 “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”
21 Jesus 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.”
22 AtThe Gospel of Mark 10:17-22
thisthe man’s face fell. He went away sad,because he had great wealth.
Part of me pities the young man. Part of me is furious.
Are you crazy, man?! Consider the deal and the literally out of this world exchange rate you are being offered!
Then it dawns. He is me.
While I’m not known for being a rich, nor am I young anymore, nor would I claim to have kept the law from my youth, I probably would have had the same reaction when it came to Jesus’s demand for discipleship.
Sell everything and give it all away to the poor. In other words, take your righteousness off and give it to someone else.
His righteousness was not the love of money as much as the image his money gave him–the righteous reputation of an important, rich man. He was being asked to exchange his very identity from a respected important man to an impoverished devotee of a traveling peasant rabbi.
I would have walked away, too. Seriously. Who can be expected to go to such extremes?
The Jesus who was willing to do exactly what he was asking of the rich young man. “Take off your righteousness and give it to the poor.”
Jesus knows that would feel like death — like dying to self. Which is exactly what he did at the cross.
It is the cross that proves how Jesus was not teaching salvation by law-righteousness, but showing the young man that his heart actually was ruled by an idol. His affections were set on his wealth and the image that gave him. He didn’t love God at all. His wealth had a stranglehold on his true affections. The fact that he walked away proved the point.
What is it that has a stranglehold on my heart… and yours? How can I know that my heart is in the grip of an idol? Consider these options.
Really, anything can become an idol if it operates as a functional god that promises life and joy… and righteousness.
Here is the real danger.
Just like the rich young man’s idol (i.e., his functional god) was not his friend, neither do my soul-destroying idols have my best interest in mind. Their aim is to pull me away from Jesus’ offer of genuine life. Instead of life, I slowly die the more and more the idol consumes my heart. As the Psalms remind us, false gods steal joy.
We need to break free. But how?
How can I break free of the soul-destroying influence of impostor gods? How can I restore my joy and experience spiritual renewal from the inside out?
What can I do?
I suggest starting with these five things.
This is what the rich young ruler needed to know and what you and I need to embrace with our whole hearts. It is expressed in an easy to overlook detail in the Mark 10
“Jesus looked at him and loved him.”
He looked at this young man in his hardened, sinful, idolatrous condition… and loved him. He does the same for us, with a love that was expressed in full measure through his crucifixion. As Hebrews says, “It was for his joy” that he endured the cross.
Jesus fulfilled his own demand by giving it all away to spiritually poor, needy, helpless sinners like us.
In view of the cross, we really are forgiven.
We are his beloved.
We really are free.
So let’s look to Jesus and believe, being renewed like the eagle, lifted on the wings of God’s immeasurable grace to soar with joy for his glory.
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