The Perfect Servant in Mark’s Gospel: His Itinerary

When the rich young ruler approached the Lord with a question about eternal life, his sin problem was exposed and he “went away grieved” (10:22). He was certainly not as good as he thought he was. In our last article we considered how the Lord exposed this man’s sin (10:17-22). We will now see how the Lord explained salvation and encouraged sacrificial service (10:23-31).

Explaining Salvation (10:23-27)

The young man left and the Lord turned to His own to instruct them in two essential lessons about salvation. First, salvation is impossible for man. Second, salvation is possible for God.

Salvation is impossible for men. Only one conclusion can be drawn from the Lord’s words to His disciples in these verses: men cannot enter the kingdom of God by their own ability. The rich young ruler had asked, “What shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?” (v17),[1] and had been shown his inability to obtain eternal life by self-effort. His wealth had been used as the test of his obedience to God’s law. He had failed miserably and exposed his sinful heart.

Therefore, the Lord said, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” (v23 ESV). The disciples were bewildered. He continued, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God” (vv24-25 ESV). Here the Lord’s meaning is clear. He was saying that it was impossible for a rich man to enter God’s kingdom! The almost comic analogy of a camel attempting to squeeze itself through the eye of a needle illustrates this fact, and the disciples understood it. If entering God’s kingdom was impossible for a rich man, they wondered, “Who then can be saved?” (v26). The Lord did not leave them wondering. He said, “With men it is impossible …” (v27).

The point is not that rich men cannot be saved, but that they cannot save themselves. Riches open many doors upon earth but they don’t enable entrance into God’s kingdom; no human assets, abilities or activities do. As the Lord said to Nicodemus, “Ye must be born again” (Joh 3:7), and with men this is impossible. It is this that necessitated the cross, and it is this which makes the gospel so repugnant to men. “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing” (1Co 1:18 ESV). It is “a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles” (v23 ESV). Salvation offered alone through a crucified Christ declares the exceeding sinfulness of man’s heart and the worthlessness of man’s own efforts to earn salvation.

Salvation is possible with God. “With men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible” (Mar 10:27). While the cross is folly to those perishing, “to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1Co 1:18 ESV). God has a way of salvation, a way of providing eternal life. It is not by our self-effort but through the sacrificial death of His Son. This section of Mark’s Gospel commenced with the Lord’s assuring the disciples that “the Son of man must suffer” (8:31), and concludes with His declaration that He came “to give his life a ransom for many” (10:45). The all-wise God with whom all things are possible had a plan of salvation, and it was this plan to which the perfect Servant was fully committed.

How wondrous the redemption plan,
Designed by God for ruined man!
His precious Son in death laid low,
That he might endless life bestow.[2]

Encouraging Sacrifice (10:28-31)

Peter, musing upon what the Lord said, suddenly exclaimed: “Lo, we have left all, and have followed thee” (v28). What the rich young ruler had failed to do they had done. The selflessness which was humanly impossible had happened by God’s grace. They followed Him, not as a legal attempt to earn salvation, but as the present possessors of eternal life. While our sacrifices don’t earn salvation, our salvation enables self-sacrificial living. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (Eph 2:8-10). Their salvation produced self-sacrificial allegiance to the Lord.

The Lord responded, “Verily I say unto you, there is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel’s, But he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life” (vv29-30).

Disciples who, out of love for Christ and the gospel, incur a cost in this life are assured that there are abundant spiritual and eternal compensations guaranteed, both in the present and future. Not even one person will be unrecognised, and not even one sacrifice will go unrewarded. Present compensations may well be accompanied by ongoing persecutions. Future rewards will ensure a deeper and richer experience of eternal life in the millennial kingdom, the “world to come” (v30).

The Lord’s final point is important: “But many that are first shall be last; and the last first” (v31). This should caution us against present-day assessment of sacrifice or reward. Many who may appear “first” in their sacrifices will, when the Lord has made His infallible assessment, not be “first” in reward! Others whose sacrifices have not been prominent or public will discover, by their reward, the depth of the Lord’s appreciation. “Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God” (1Co 4:5).

[1] Scripture quotations in this article are from the KJV unless otherwise noted.

[2] Albert Midlane (1825–1909)