Gospel: The Rich Young Ruler

It was an unexpected sight – a high-profile man of the world racing breathlessly down the road. How undignified for a rich and prestigious elite, even at his young age! But it was even more amazing to see him stopping in his tracks and falling in the dust before the Rabbi from Nazareth. What had stirred him so deeply to earnestly seek out the “Teacher in Israel” with such haste?

The Abundance of His Assets

This was no ordinary man. His assets were enviable – money and lots of it. But he was also rich in possessing the vigour and potential of youth with its endless opportunities. And he was rich in his accomplishments – a respected and powerful ruler in religious circles, a leading layperson in a synagogue with the status that goes with it. Life had been good, with offers of so much promise and success.

The Poverty of His Understanding

But in the midst of abundance there was something missing. No doubt he had come to realize that his money and prestige were powerless to give him lasting happiness and certainly no guarantee of heaven. That must come from somewhere else. And so he was urgent in his request of the Teacher: “Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” At first glance, he appeared to be a serious seeker, but instead of giving him a simple answer concerning faith, Jesus probed his use of the word “good.” “Why do you call me good? There is no one good but one, that is God.” And then the Lord outlined some of the dictates of the law concerning our relationship with others. Without hesitation, the ruler responded, “Master, all these I have kept from my youth.” In his mind, the boxes were already checked off, and he only needed an additive to be assured that all was well. He had always been able to either buy or earn what he needed. Surely salvation was the same. But “goodness” is not relative. God is holy and demands perfection. Sadly, this man had never learned the holy standard of the law, and his own sinfulness and inability to meet it. Jesus tested the man’s own self-evaluation and said, “You’re lacking one thing. Go, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and come, take up the cross and follow Me.”

The Tragedy of His Response

In a moment, the truth of Christ’s words crashed in upon him. The Lord was not teaching that a man could go to heaven by giving away his riches to the poor, but He was testing the man on his own terms of goodness. Eternal life is not granted on the basis of performance but on the recognition of one’s need as a sinner and acceptance of the Saviour. The rich young ruler wanted eternal life on his own terms – based on his own merits, for his riches were centred in this world only, the visible and the tangible. To admit that he needed a Saviour was more than he was willing to pay. As he weighed it up, his face saddened, and he slowly turned his back on the Saviour who loved him and who alone could give him eternal life.

His crisis is now our crisis. Each of us also has to realize that we fall short of God’s absolute standard. We need to decide whether our riches – money or status or accomplishments or even religion – are more important to us than eternal life. Remember the Saviour’s words, “What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (Mar 8:36 KJV). A poor bargain indeed.

If you have everything but Christ, you have nothing. But if you have nothing but Christ, you have everything!