In Mark 10:17-31 we hear of the rich young ruler and his bid for recognition of his own good works. What we find instead is the Gospel.
Why is it [good works] scandalous? Honest question. Reading all 4 gospels, which I have several times over, I see good works and moralism expounded by Christ. He says those who don’t do good works he ‘never knew’.
Great point. I think Jesus at many points was expounding upon the Law, in which we know from Paul no one can be made righteous, simply because the standards are too high.
During the Sermon on the Mount: “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt 5:48).
Did you catch that? One must be perfect. That, obviously is impossible.
Now put that in the back of your mind for a moment. Let’s exegete the story of the Rich Young Ruler (Mark 10:17-31):
As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
The young ruler asks Christ how he can work his own way to heaven. We already know that the answer is moral perfection, but Christ leads him on a bit.
Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.
Did you catch that? Christ knew that because he was addressed as “teacher,” the ruler did not know Him to be God. So, he made clear, that if he’s just a man he cannot be good/righteous. Hence, “Why do you call me good?” But, of course Christ is God and He is morally perfect.
You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’” He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.”
Christ walks the ruler through the commandments to see if he would admit to imperfection in one of these. The ruler, in his self-righteousness, didn’t.
Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.
Christ pointed out the ruler’s first commandment violation lovingly–if the rich young ruler can follow Christ and part with his money, he really would be morally perfect. However, the rich young ruler was “shocked” because it was painfully obvious that he idolized his money and would not part with it under any circumstance.
Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?”
Interesting how a nice little moral lesson about the love of money blew up into a fearful question about eternal salvation, right? Obviously, the disciples understood what Christ was getting at. Even the most outwardly blessed people (the rich), who perhaps presumably were blessed like Job with riches because of their moral excellence, cannot go to heaven. They are simply, like the rich young ruler, not righteous enough. Again, moral perfection is necessary. How does Christ respond?
Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”
Here, Christ lays out for us the good news for us. We are dead in our trespasses, and no matter how hard we work and how many good works we do, we cannot save ourselves. The rich young ruler sought to impress everyone with his high degree of righteousness, but he missed the mark. If he can’t be saved, then who can?
Well, God can save anybody, because nothing is impossible with Him. What man cannot do in his own works God can do by going to the cross, laying down His life, and bearing the full penalty for our sins. He can raise Himself up from the dead and give resurrected life to our bodies, because it is Christ’s work that saves us and not our own.
Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”
Peter’s response is typical of the Christian. He is not boasting of his works, but reflecting upon the faith of the disciples. They have followed Christ, have they not? Isn’t that sufficient for salvation? Christ answers in the affirmative, indeed following Him is sufficient for such, and those that do will willfully sacrifice everything, including their very lives, for the sake of Christ. But, they will not be the “first,” or the self-righteous, like the rich young ruler. Indeed, “healthy people don’t need a doctor–sick people do” (Luke 5:31). Rather, the last are first, because they have realized they cannot save themselves, there is nothing they can do, they cry in the air like the tax collector “have mercy upon me, a sinner” (Luke 18:13) and the God who can do the impossible makes the righteous, because what He had done for them on the cross.
That’s the Gospel. Amen.