A little while before our text, we hear [Mk. 9.31]: For [Jesus] taught His disciples and said to them, “The Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinful men, and they will kill Him. And after He is killed, He will rise the third day.” Jesus said this while in the north of the country, in Galilee. And then earlier in the chapter with our text we read that Jesus was in the south, in the region of Judea [Mk. 10.1]. Judea--that’s where Jerusalem is. And then our text begins: Now as [Jesus] was going out on the road… What do we see here but that Jesus is making His way to Jerusalem in order to suffer and die for the sins of the world. Not only do we see Jesus’ determination to carry out the will of His Father, but we also see Jesus fulfilling another Old Testament prophecy where He says through the prophet, St. Isaiah [50.7]: But the Lord God helps Me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame. Along the way, Jesus both taught the disciples privately and He also taught large crowds. Our text begins: As Jesus was setting out on a journey, one man ran up to Him and knelt in front of Him. He asked, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus is on that steady journey to the cross, each step taking Him closer to that moment when by His death the sinful world would be reconciled to the holy God, the forgiveness of sins brought about and heaven opened. And now this man runs up to Jesus--Jesus, who is doing that work of bringing about eternal life in heaven for us-- and that man asks what must I do to inherit eternal life? It sounds perhaps odd to our ears, to our Lutheran ears, to hear this man ask what he must do when Jesus, at that very moment, is doing it for Him and will soon reach that climatic moment of His death on the cross. But this was a serious question for this man. He didn’t shout his question from the midst of the crowd, but on his own initiative, he ran and fell before Jesus seeking a confidential conversation with Him. And, of course, Jesus didn’t disappoint. Even with the cross looming soon before Him, His compassion reigns supreme and He dealt with this man.
Of this man, which the other gospel writers call a rich young synagogue ruler, we see one who is so close to the kingdom of God--the Church--and yet so far. He is very much like so many people throughout history and throughout the world today--maybe even like you. This man is clearly one who “had it all.” He was young--he had his life ahead of him; he was rich--he had all that he needed and many luxuries; he was well respected and certainly had a good reputation as by his own admission: I have kept all these commandments since I was a child; and he obviously knew the faith as the religious leaders of the day were teaching it. And what do we gather from all this? --In spite of all these seeming advantages something was not right. He was still restless. He felt as if there was something missing from his life. He felt as if there was something more. The goal/ the purpose of his quest was to find that “missing piece.” Ultimately he was searching to know God rightly. And in spite of all his advantages, he was lost and drifting.
What does all of this show us? At the very least that the joy and contentment and fulfillment of life does not consist in the “things” of this life--the very things that people look to that they think will bring them happiness and contentment. What is the most common thing people think will bring them happiness and contentment? Money, goods, wealth! That idea is egged on and encouraged by the world that shows and entices us with “things” and advertisers that bombard us with their commercials--”look how happy, glamorous, content you will be if only you had…” And what happens? Sometimes, yes, people are quite happy and content--at least for a while; at least while they don’t think too much about it--and that’s where the mind-numbing entertainment industry comes in! But, when push comes to shove, there will always be the sense that there’s something more--like happened to this rich young ruler.
This rich young ruler had the greatest longing, the longing that God has instilled in each one of us: the longing for God and the things of God. When we feel in us an emptiness, a longing for something “more”, that there has to be “more”--that’s the longing for God.
“Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” At the end of the day, our greatest concern is for the eternal, for the eternal God and eternal life. That’s how God “wired” us. All people have a sense of morality, of right and wrong--that’s called the conscience. All people, says St. Paul [Rm 2.15], show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness. Even though it has been corrupted by sin, people still have a conscience and strive to live by that conscience. All people have a sense of right and wrong and a longing for moral integrity, as weakened and corrupted as it may be, as St. Paul continues: their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them. And that conscience is at play in people and people instinctively know that there is some sort of judgment and justice; that there is a heaven and a hell--even though far too many people think they are too good to be damned because they have warped their consciences so much, even many getting rid of the notion of sin. Yet, if people are honest--like this rich young ruler was--they, too, will have to ask the question: “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Yes, this is a very “works” orientated question but at least those who ask it have some spiritual life, still have some desire for the things of God and have not completely squelched their conscience, have not squelched that vital longing for the things of God. This rich young ruler in his longing for something more went to Jesus. When we feel we are lacking, as if there is something more, as if we are not satisfied, let us go to Jesus.
This rich young ruler looked on his emptiness/ longing as a spiritual question. That is vital--because all the things of the world, all the things this man had--wealth, authority, respect--could not and did not satisfy. Again, we see that our greatest longing is for the things of God. But now, look at his question: “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” It showed his notion that the things of God, like eternal life, were things he had to accomplish/ bring about by himself. How far did that get him? Obviously, he had tried the religious observances of the Jews--he was a ruler in the synagogue after all--but He found no peace for his soul from the interpretations and observances of the Jews. The formal observances did not make him nor does it make any person righteous before God. The works of the Law, no matter how good we may think we do them-- I have kept all these commandments since I was a child-- are always incomplete, imperfect, tainted with sin. That’s what our conscience reminds us of. If we listen to our conscience, and are honest, we will recognize that by all our doings of the law, we are not righteous before God; we will recognize that we are far from the righteousness God demands. That’s what each one of us confesses in the confession of sins each week in church and daily in our prayers to God.
So, our greatest longing is for the things of God; but our greatest need is to know God rightly. If we know God rightly, then we have great peace in heart and conscience; if we know God rightly, then we know that what we long for --ultimately eternal life--is His free gift to us, a gift of our gracious, loving God.
Our text: “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except one--God. Notice the longing for the things of God is there, but knowing God rightly isn’t. He sees God as the One who is the judge to see if one lived a life worthy enough of eternal life in heaven. This man was looking for the silver bullet--that one grand work-- that would give him peace of conscience and guarantee him eternal life. But that’s not knowing God rightly. Jesus refused this “title” of “good” from this rich young ruler in the way he intended it for Jesus: he saw Jesus simply as one who did great deeds and taught wisely. In effect Jesus said to him, “You do not think I am God almighty, so why do you call me good?” And here we come to the heart and core of the matter--if we know and recognize Jesus correctly as the Son of God and Savior of the world, then we know God rightly as a God of grace and mercy; if we do not recognize Jesus as the true God, the Son, the Second Person of the holy Trinity who also became man to be our Savior, then we do not know God rightly but see Him only as a Judge and we are the ones who have to make ourselves worthy by our works of salvation. And if our salvation depends on us in even just the slightest, then it is forever unsure, but if it depends entirely on God and His grace and mercy to us in Jesus our Savior, then our salvation is absolutely certain. That’s exactly what this rich young ruler was experiencing--the doubt of his salvation--because why? --He was relying on his own works! Our text: Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?...Jesus said to him,”....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.” The man replied, “Teacher, I have kept all these since I was a child.” Yes...but why the uncertainty? He had some doubt, hesitancy, dissatisfaction so he asked Jesus Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life? That’s the horrible monster of uncertainty. He was unsure of his salvation; he was unsure of God’s attitude toward him. Why?--because he didn’t know God rightly.
So it is vital we know God rightly as our gracious Savior. And remember--as Jesus meets this man He is on His way to the cross to die for the sins of the world. Jesus is our righteousness. Neither this rich young man nor we can keep God’s holy law perfectly as God demands. That’s why he had that doubt--he placed the hope of his eternal life with his own keeping of the law; and so his greatest longing was uncertain. Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life? But when we know Jesus rightly, we know that He came into this world precisely to keep perfectly for us every part of God’s holy law--especially that law that we sin against; we know that He took our sins upon Himself to the cross and died for them there and reconciled us sinners to the holy God. He rose from the dead--His work is certain and sure-- and ascended into heaven to open it to all believers. We can do nothing to inherit eternal life. Jesus has done it all for us.
Jesus looked at him, loved him, and said to him, “One thing you lack. Go, sell whatever you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me.” Jesus does the same with each one of us as we go to Him in all earnestness and sincerity, even asking Him: Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life? Jesus looks on us in our sinful weakness not with anger or harshness but in compassion. As He did this rich young ruler, Jesus tells us to get rid of the things that stand in the way of us trusting Him. For this man, it was his wealth that had such a grip on him that he didn’t trust in/ know God rightly; it had become his god. And because he didn’t know God rightly, he didn’t know his Savior. What keeps you from trusting Jesus fully? Whatever it is, get rid of it! That’s what Jesus is calling each of us to do. This rich young ruler was so close to the kingdom of God--there was spiritual life in him; he heard and felt the Lord calling him to repentance and faith in Him but he rejected it. When he heard this, he looked sad and went away grieving, because he had great wealth. What he needed to do he would not do. May our greatest longing be for the things of God and may we in faith know Him rightly. INJ