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The Rich Young Ruler

INTRODUCTION: A missions conference at our church in early March, and a number of weeks spent investigating and discussing national-scope Pagan activity here in our home town, for the purpose of family protection; have taken me far off the schedule I like to maintain with the MPN. Prayer, however, has certainly not been decreased with these activities over the past six or more weeks. On the contrary, prayer and interaction with close Christian friends has been brisk, and some new opportunities to talk with some unsaved people about Christ have been stimulating and rewarding. Now I hope to return to a more consistent schedule of study and prayer for the MPN, unless the Lord directs otherwise.

The rich young ruler or "good master, what must I do?"

The key to understanding the underlying message for this well-known story may be in the verses that precede it: we must be in relationship with God as little children, totally dependent on the one who loves us in perfect love. Then the question "what must I do" is answered from our heart attitude, and the evidence is the action emanating from the inner source supplied by our Savior. The account of this rich young man appears in the three synoptic gospels, but does not appear in John. The bringing of little children to Jesus precedes each account, but each has a different passage just prior to that. There are significant differences in details, which are interesting to note, and especially in the gospel of Mark, which is characteristically brief, but in this case contains some very significant words. All three accounts tell us that the man was rich, but only Matthew tells us that he was young, and only Luke refers to him as a ruler. The rich young ruler wanted to know what he could do, so Jesus directed his attention to the commandments. The items listed by the Lord represent five of the second part of the ten commandments as found in Exodus 20 or Deuteronomy 5, but coveting is omitted from the list in each of the three gospel accounts. "Love thy neighbor as thyself", which is in the Matthew account, can be found in Leviticus 19:18; and defraud used in Mark's account, can be found in Leviticus 19:13. This study uses a verse-by-verse comparison of the three accounts, for an "harmonized" examination. The text is from the Webster Revised bible, 1995 edition, and each verse is preceded with an abbreviation to identify the book. The three accounts are from: Matthew (Mt) chapter 19, Mark (Mk) chapter 10, and Luke (Lu) chapter 18.

PART A1, Jesus and the young man

Mt 16 And, behold, one came and said to him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?

Mk 17 And when he had gone forth into the way, there came one running, and kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?

Lu 18 And a certain ruler asked him, saying, Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?

COMMENTS: The Greek word in this verse in Luke translated as ruler is not the same Greek word translated elsewhere as synagogue ruler or chief priest. It seems to carry a more general meaning of one who has position as a leader. The word here is Strong's #758 arcwn archon, which appears in the AV as - ruler 22, prince 11, chief 2, magistrate 1, chief ruler 1; for a total of 37 times.

Mark tells us this influential and wealthy young man ran to Jesus, then knelt before the Lord. The fact that he ran lets us know that it didn't just happen that he was conveniently near Jesus to ask his questions, but he made an effort to be sure not to miss the opportunity for this encounter. Since Luke has told us the man is a "ruler", kneeling before the carpenter's son who has become a traveling preacher, suggests that he considered Jesus to be worthy of higher honor than himself. However, the content of his question indicates that he believes he has the potential within himself to bring about inheritance of eternal life through his conduct. This attitude seems to be the overwhelming one held by those who have religion, but no relationship with Christ.

PART A2, None good but God

Mt 17 And he said to him, Why callest thou me good? There is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.

Mk 18 And Jesus said to him, Why callest thou me good? There is none good but one, that is, God.

Lu 19 And Jesus said to him, Why callest thou me good? None is good, except one, that is, God.

COMMENTS: Jesus does not tell the man that he should not call him good, for he indeed is God, the only one who is good, not just a man of higher station. In Matthew's account he then continues by telling the man he should keep the commandments. It seems keeping the commandments might make someone "good", but Jesus has already said there is none good but God, which could be stated another way in the phrase "all have sinned and come short of the glory of God."

The text does not give us a clue about any pause in the conversation, or exchanges of non-verbal communication; but the question of why, remains unanswered at this point, even though it is the key to what (or more accurately who) the young man seeks. Jesus moves the conversation on to the matter he knows the young man needs to confront. We have the advantage to very carefully consider and revisit the words in this account and related scripture, for our benefit; and the young man had a similar opportunity through thoughtful reflection in the days after the encounter, possibly even after the crucifixion and resurrection. Scripture does not reveal the final outcome for this man.

PART A3, The commandments

Mt 18 He saith to him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, 19 Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

Mk 19 Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Defraud not, Honour thy father and mother.

Lu 20 Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother.

COMMENTS: This list is contained in all three accounts with slight difference in order: no murder, no adultery, do not steal, do not bear false witness, honor father and mother. Matthew adds love your neighbor as your self, and Mark lists defraud not. Jesus knew the man's heart, and therefore knew how to guide the conversation to a productive point. It seems very likely that Jesus addressed these specific items of the law, because he knew what the man thought he had already achieved, and that the man was now seeking affirmation. It is interesting to note that coveting was omitted, but this is where Jesus would be taking the conversation. How easy it is for us to fool ourselves, until the master takes the very fabric of our personal circumstances to open truth before us. The man probably would have included not coveting in the list of things he had kept from his youth, but Jesus spared him from making another proclamation of word rather than deed, and one that could be so soon contradicted by the man's actions.

PART A4, What do I lack?

Mt 20 The young man saith to him, All these things have I kept from my youth: what lack I yet?

Mk 20 And he answered and said to him, Master, all these have I observed from my youth.

Lu 21 And he said, All these have I kept from my youth.

COMMENTS: Since scripture tells us that Jesus is the only one who is without sin, the young man could not have perfectly kept even this portion of the law. And James tells us that he who fails in one point of the law is guilty of all. I believe he was sincere in thinking that he had been doing the necessary things, but Jesus has now brought him to the point where he would require a stark action that the young man could not mistake, and it would be a very difficult choice: to clearly trust God alone for eternal life, rather than relying on his own achievement.

PART A5, Treasure in heaven

Mt 21 Jesus said to him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell what thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.

Mk 21 Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said to him, One thing thou lackest: go, sell whatever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me.

Lu 22 Now when Jesus heard these things, he said to him, Yet lackest thou one thing: sell all that thou hast, and distribute to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me.

COMMENTS: In this verse, Mark's account really shines! It is very important to see (1) that Jesus looked at this young man in love, and (2) that he told him not only to sell all and follow, but also to take up his cross. Two passages in Luke are interesting in reference to the second part of this statement, 9:23 "And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me." 14:27 "And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple." How easily would any one of us pass this test, standing face to face with the Lord?

PART A6, A reaction of sorrow

Mt 22 But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.

Mk 22 And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions.

Lu 23 And when he heard this, he was very sorrowful: for he was very rich.

COMMENTS: We can look at this response by the young man, and say somewhat piously that he was not willing to give up good things for the best, but what about us. When we have the choice to give up our wealth (for most of us much less to give up than this man) in this present temporal world as a sacrifice of love for others and Christ, do we respond with great joy? This man was asked to give up everything of the great wealth and station, which he likely had from youth to adulthood, and then follow in complete dependence. In 1Timothy 6:17-19, it says, "Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not high-minded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy; that they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to share; laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life."

PART B1, Jesus and His disciples

Mt 23 Then said Jesus to his disciples, Verily I say to you, That it is hard for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven. 24 And again I say to you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.

Mk 23 And Jesus looked around, and saith to his disciples, How hard it shall be for them that have riches to enter into the kingdom of God! 24 And the disciples were astonished at his words. But Jesus answereth again, and saith to them, Children, how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.

Lu 24 And when Jesus saw that he was very sorrowful, he said, How hard it is for them that have riches to enter into the kingdom of God! 25 For it is easier for a camel to go through a needle's eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.

COMMENTS: Mark's account again gives us a significant word to increase insight, because the issue is "placing trust" in riches. Luke 12:20-21 tells us what Jesus says about the rich man, who plans only to increase his wealth, "But God said to him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided? So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God." And 1Timothy 6:10 says, "For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some have coveted, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows."

PART B2, The disciples reaction

Mt 25 When his disciples heard it, they were exceedingly amazed, saying, Who then can be saved?

Mk 26 And they were astonished beyond measure, saying among themselves, Who then can be saved?

Lu 26 And they that heard it said, Who then can be saved?

COMMENTS: Mark tells us a second time, and with "beyond measure" emphasis, that the saying of Jesus astonished those who heard. Why are they so amazed that someone with great possessions would find it very hard to enter into God's kingdom? Perhaps they see those people as generally superior to other categories of people, and therefore believe the very successful have more to please God. Or, perhaps they believe that material wealth is itself indicative of God's approval and blessing. The idea that we have absolutely nothing to offer to an infinite God, is still very hard for most people to grasp. His blessing on our lives is often not at all evident in material possessions. Hebrews 11:37-38 says, "They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth." And my favorite part of that passage, is that "the world was not worthy", even of these severely afflicted people of God!

PART B3, Jesus explains that heaven is only possible through God

Mt 26 But Jesus beheld them, and said to them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.

Mk 27 And Jesus looking upon them saith, With men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible.

Lu 27 But he said, The things which are impossible with men are possible with God.

COMMENTS: God is our source for physical life, and for eternal life. I like to review this closing thought, as the Lord in the three accounts states it. All things come from him, all things return to him, and he alone is deserving of all honor, glory, and praise.

--- Reflections in prayer ---

Lord, impress upon my heart that you are the true and living God, and that there is truly none good but you. There is nothing that I can do of myself to inherit eternal life, it is a gift from you. But the commandments are nonetheless good, because they provide guidance for my lifelong Christian conduct as they define sin. Forgive me Lord for those many times when I break your commandments. Thank you for looking upon me in love, and paying the penalty for my transgressions of the law. Now I need your strength to have the mind of Christ to concentrate on the joy of laying up treasure in heaven, as I take up my cross to follow you. You know full well how hard it is for mere man to recognize the fading worth of all that is temporal, compared with your priceless gift of eternal life. Fix in my thoughts that image of the impossible task for man to pass a large camel through the tiny eye of a needle; contrasted with the incredible ease with which you can accomplish such things because you are God! Then may I forsake any trust I have in the material things, which seem to support me, and praise you alone for my total supply of life. As I face each day with its own troubles, may I constantly remind myself that with you Lord, all things of your will are possible. Amen and amen.

Published 1 June 2004, first issued 29 April 2002