“Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Mark 10:17b (ESV)
Those who are truly born again believers understand the following: Christ fully paid the penalty for sin (death—Ezekiel 18:4, 20; Romans 6:23) which God’s righteousness demands. He died in the place of sinners as our substitute. God, in His love, became the substitute. Without the atoning work of Christ, sinful man could never enter into the presence of a perfectly holy God. This is why it is so significant that the rich young man in Mark 10 (Matthew 19, Luke 18) asks the question: “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Note the emphasis on doing. One commentator observes that this is the common longing of the human heart, to attempt to make oneself acceptable to God—an impossible task.
On the surface, if Jesus were looking to add to His team, then this individual is one of the best candidates in all of the gospel records. Matthew records that he is young. We are told that he is rich in each of the synoptics. And it is Luke who tells us that he is a ruler, probably in the synagogue. He is interested—he ran up to Jesus. He is sincere—he kneels before Him. Lastly, he is concerned about issues of eternal life. Sounds like a great prospect for Jesus’ team. But, this is the only person in the whole of the NT about whom it was said, “He went away sad”, from the person of Jesus. He makes a tremendous arrival, but a sorrowful departure.
The Culture’s View on Eternal Life
We should be troubled as we see this story unfold. What about people like this young man who walk away, do you know any like him? This is their view: If there is a God, and He is good, then I am sure he will reward nice people as long as they do their best. One commentator says, “This fellow is part of a special group, scarcely touched by the gospel”. Not that they don’t know the gospel. They are not touched by it. C.S. Lewis describes these individuals as “nice people, lost in their niceness”.
Mark is introducing his readers to the kingdom of God and records the dramatic words of Jesus in Mark 1:15—”The time has come. The kingdom of God is near. Repent & believe the good news.” Jesus’ message is simple: the time is fulfilled. All of the Old Testament expectations find their fulfillment in Jesus. The kingly rule of God as seen in embryonic form in the Old Testament is now fulfilled in Me, says Jesus. What a dramatic statement for an individual to make. In essence He says, “You want to meet God? Come to Me. You want to enter into the kingdom of God? Come to Me. And I want you to repent, I want you to turn away from your sin, and I want you to believe the good news I am proclaiming to you.”
The Kingdom of God
Kingdom business is big business. In fact, the issue of entering the kingdom is so significant that Jesus says that if you have a bad eye which causes you to sin it is better to pluck it out and go into heaven with one eye, then to go into hell with two eyes (Mark 9:42-48). What Mark makes clear is that the entry points into the kingdom of God are not what we expect. Jesus is calling men & women to submit to His kingly rule. This is not what contemporary culture has to say about Jesus. You ask the average person what Jesus came to do and they are likely to say, “He came to make me feel good about myself. He came to make me happy.” You need to go to the New Testament to see exactly what Jesus came to do. There you find that He is the One who demands that we bow down to His authority. And He accepts nothing less than 100% allegiance to His lordship.
So the underlying question is, “Who is fit for entry into the kingdom of God and on what basis?” That is what Mark is addressing here. And what Jesus is doing with this young man is forcing the idea of His identity. The young man calls Jesus “good teacher”. “Why do you call me good?”, asks Jesus. The rabbis were not referred to as good. They knew there was only one who was good and that was God. In essence Jesus is asking, “Do you think I am God?” This is very important because only God can bestow the eternal life that is the focus of this young man’s interrogation. When we read our Bibles it is the Holy Spirit that tells us who Jesus is and who we are.
And this is why Jesus is such a wonderful Savior when we are convicted about what we are really like, depraved and full of sin. Not until we come to the truth of what we are before God does the notion of Jesus as a wonderful Savior hold any appeal. As long as you & I are sufficiently satisfied with being wealthy, religious, and good, yet not willing to admit that we are among the helpless, the needy, & the lost, then no amount of preaching on how Jesus is the wonderful Savior will be of interest to us. It takes the Sprit of God to show us what we are.
You want to know what to do? Keep the commandments. Jesus gives the Rich Young Ruler a little selection from the 2nd tablet of the Law, those which work out the principle of loving your neighbor as yourself. The young man astonishingly says he has done these. He is not unlike a Pharisee we meet in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 8:1; 9), Saul a Pharisee of the Pharisees with an incredible pedigree and a wonderful education. When he writes to the church at Philippi he says that when it came to legalistic righteousness he was flawless. And then in Philippians 3 he says that it was all rubbish in comparison to the surpassing worth of knowing Jesus Christ as my Savior & King. What had happened to Saul of Tarsus? He had seen Jesus, and he had seen himself. When it comes to the issue of seeing ourselves before God, it is only the Spirit of God that can do this. That is why the disciples asked, “Then who can be saved?” (Mark 10:26). How does anyone get saved? Jesus says the only way that anyone gets saved is because of God (Mark 10:27).
It matters not whether you are rich or poor. It is only God who opens blind eyes. And this is the question for me, and for you: Has He opened my/your eyes? To paraphrase John Calvin, nothing that Christ has done is of any benefit as long as we remain outside of Christ. I am convinced that this message must be preached to the church today before it can be proclaimed to the world.
Blessings in the Lord Jesus,