The Lord's Day Evening
June 21, 2009
“A Rich Young Man”
Dr. Derek W. H. Thomas
Please be seated. Now let me add, if I may, just a footnote to Alan's wonderful report of General Assembly. In a couple of months I will have been ordained in the Christian ministry for thirty-one years, and I have to say that the debate that I witnessed with Ligon and Tim Keller was, I think, one of the finest debates I've heard in those thirty-one years. It was just an extraordinary display of how to debate a very controversial subject in a spirit of love without compromising anything that's basic and principial, and it made me proud to be a member of the PCA, but it made me even more proud to be associated with this church and with Ligon. And we do wish you, Ligon, a wonderful sabbatical. We are not sure whether you know what a sabbatical is…[Laughter]…or how to enjoy one, but we will be praying for that end.
Now let's turn to the Gospel of Mark, chapter 10, and we're going to read from verse 17 through to verse 31. Before I read this passage with you, let's once again look to God in prayer.
Father, we thank You for the Scriptures. We ask for the help of Your Spirit, that that which we read we might also understand. Come, Holy Spirit, and grant us light and illumination for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
This is God's word:
“And as He…” [that is, Jesus] “… was setting out on His journey, a man ran up and knelt before Him and asked Him, ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: “Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.”’ And he said to Him, ‘Teacher all these I have kept from my youth.’ And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, ‘You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.’ Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
“And Jesus looked around and said to His disciples, ‘How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!’ And the disciples were amazed at His words. But Jesus said to them again, ‘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.’ And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to Him, ‘Then who can be saved?’ Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.’ Peter began to say to Him, ‘See, we have left everything and followed You.’ Jesus said, ‘Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for My sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the ages to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.’”
So far God's holy and inerrant word.
Tonight we're going to look at this story of the rich young man. We’ll be focusing on the first half of the passage we read, and not so much on the latter part of the passage.
Now Jesus met all kinds of people — rich and poor, young and old, male and female, those who were sick and those who were Pharisees. Every soul is precious to Jesus, but you know, you can't help but think a young man with lots of money…how useful he would be to the kingdom of God. Now those of you who have been involved in a church plant…it's great to have a young man with lots of money. Wouldn't this be a great coup, to win this young man for Jesus? Watch and learn how Jesus evangelizes this young man.
You know we live in an age of moral relativism. There are no absolutes: what's true for you and what's right for you is not necessarily true for me or right for me. John MacArthur observes that Jesus would have failed a course in personal evangelism in almost any seminary on earth by what He does in this passage. It begins with a young man. Not here in Mark, but in the parallel in Matthew 19, Matthew tells us he was a young man, and Luke tells us he was also a ruler. So the passage begins with this young man who's obviously distressed about his soul. He wants to know what he must do to inherit eternal life. He's clean-cut, he's a good young man, he's a Southern boy...he kneels before Jesus. He knows how to show respect. He has lots of money, and sometimes young men with lots of money have a sense of entitlement. He's glib, impulsive, pushy… superficial with a flair for the dramatic in public. We might dismiss him as a bumptious show-off, but Jesus has a soft spot in His heart for this otherwise unlikeable young man. Jesus loves him.
“What must I do to inherit eternal life?” There's a question. Have you ever asked that question? “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Do you know the answer to that question? You have two minutes, starting now! What must I do to inherit eternal life? If this was the seminary I'd ask you to take a piece of paper and I'd give you two minutes. Write it down. Tell me. What's the answer? What must I do to inherit eternal life? You couldn't ask a more relevant question than that. Do you know the answer? I wonder if it's the answer Jesus gives here. Let's look at this passage. Let's follow Jesus. Let's walk alongside the great Evangelist, shall we? Let's eavesdrop on this conversation.
I. Jesus takes him to God.
The first thing Jesus says to this young man is about God. That's where He starts. He begins with God. Take a look at Jesus’ response. Do you know what He does? He picks on grammar. “Good Master…” [or, Good Teacher] “…what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good?” He picks on his use of the adjective.
I was in a plane, I think, and I picked up a newspaper. I rarely buy a newspaper, but I picked it up. It was sitting there in the little pocket in the front seat before me. You know, you sit there for an hour or two…and I read a part of the paper I don't normally read. I read the “Personal Columns.” Fascinating! [Laughter.] I read the “Agony Aunt Column” section. There was a question. The question went like this: “Me and my wife are trying to get pregnant…” and then it went into details which I can't go into now. [Laughter.] And the answer that Auntie So-and-So gave was, “You should improve your grammar, or else you’ll pass it on to your baby.” [Laughter.]
Well, you know, that's what Jesus is doing here. It's picky. The young man has come to Jesus and he's called Him Good Teacher. He's showing respect. That's how you teach your sons and daughters to speak to your senior minister. That's how you teach your sons and daughters to speak to a policeman or a judge, or a teacher in school. You show respect. But Jesus picks on him: “Why do you call Me good? Because only God is good.” Because Jesus is God, and therefore He is good, it's a strange thing to say, isn't it? After all, there is goodness in the world. There's goodness even in a fallen world. But, you see, Jesus suspects, I think, that the emphasis of this young man has fallen entirely in the wrong place: “What must I do…?” Ah! There's the problem! “What must I do?” Now there's another problem. And I think when Jesus heard the question, He draws the conclusion that this young man is far too impressed with his own native abilities. Jesus, who is the great heart-reader, of course, suspects that this young man actually believes that he can do something and his view of God is altogether too small.
Tim Keller says in his latest book, The Reason for God, that the great problem that faces the world [and by that he means New York, I think!]…but the great problem that faces the world today is how can you speak about God when there is so much evil in the world? He's right, of course. I've heard discussion about God, and that problem is going to come up in the first sixty seconds. How can God be good and there be evil in the world? But that's where Jesus begins. He begins with God. He draws attention to God.
My friend, you may be visiting with us tonight. I wonder what is your view of God. Now, you believe in God whether you acknowledge it or not. It may be a god of your own imagination. It may be a god of your fashioning. It may be a god that you've manipulated to suit your own lifestyle, but you believe in some kind of god. But I wonder tonight, do you believe in the God of the Bible? The only God there is? The creator and sustainer of all that is, and the God who's actually standing right in front of this rich young man — Jesus? That's where He begins. He begins with God.
II. Jesus takes him to the Ten Commandments — the Law.
But then He takes him to the law, the Ten Commandments. Now if ever there was a faux pas in evangelism…you know this is it! This is about the last thing you want to speak to somebody who's anxious and eager to enter the kingdom of God! He's come running to Jesus, he's kneeling before Him, and he's asking the great question: What must I do to inherit eternal life? And what does Jesus do? He takes him to the law. It's like…conversation stopper.
I think I've told you many times that when I'm on a plane and am asked, “What do you do?” if I say I'm a minister or a preacher it ends the conversation. All of a sudden the noise-cancelling earphones come out… [Laughter]…books suddenly appear, paperwork suddenly appears, they go off to sleep. So I don't say that anymore. I say, quoting a Puritan from the seventeenth century, “I teach the science of living blessedly forever.” (It sounds New Age.) [Laughter.] It sounds as though I come from California, and since I have an accent to match…. [Laughter.]
Why does Jesus take this young man to the law? The Ten Commandments? “You know the commandments,” He says to him. Every Jewish boy knows the commandments. And Jesus rattles through commandments five through nine (what we usually refer to as the second table of the law) and adds the great commandment of neighbor-love…show no disrespect to parents, you mustn't murder, you mustn't commit adultery, you mustn't steal, you mustn't lie.
Let me ask you: Do you know the commandments? You know the church at large stopped teaching the commandments, the Ten Commandments, about a half century ago. That's why the church is in such a mess. But let me ask you tonight, do you know the commandments? Do you know what this young man said? It takes your breath away: “I've kept all these from a child.” It takes some gall to say that. Or does it? I wonder tonight if I were to say to you, in answer to the question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” and I said to you, “You must keep the commandments,” and you will say in response, “You know, I do my best. I do my best.” It's the answer of millions of people around the globe tonight. That's their response: “I do my best. I try to live a good life.”
I visited a lady. I’ll never forget it. She was an elderly lady…and she was elderly. And she was confined to her home. She lived a couple of streets away from the church in Belfast and I went to visit her one day. We were drinking tea together, and I was trying to witness to her. She wasn't a believer, I don't think…and then it was confirmed to me that she wasn't a believer. We talked about sin. At least I raised the subject of sin, and she said, “My dear, how can I possibly sin? I never leave this house!” She had no concept of sin. She had no concept of what it means to break God's law.
There are millions of people in the world tonight…and you may be one of them, and you have no concept of what it means to break God's law because here's the kicker: If it is true that you can inherit eternal life by keeping the law, this is what you must do: you must live a perfect life. You must live a perfect life. That's some wager, isn't it? To go before the throne of God and say to Him, “I've kept Your law...I've kept Your law.” You see, this young man had no concept at all that he was a sinner, that he’d broken God's law.
The Junior Oxford Dictionary was published just about a month ago. It's a republication. It's been in existence for centuries, but it was republished just about a month ago. And excluded from The Junior Oxford Dictionary is the word sin. It is no longer in the dictionary. Nor is pulpit, nor is preacher. (Nor is holly and ivy, for some curious reason.) The world, you see, has no time for sin. But Jesus does.
If you are ever to inherit eternal life, this is what you must do. You must keep the commandments, and you must keep them perfectly. But you can't. No, you can't. Not a single one of you. You cannot do so. And there's only ever been one person who has perfectly kept God's law. It is the one speaking to the rich young man. It is Jesus.
III. Jesus tells him to give up his worldly things and follow Me.
So what does Jesus do next, in the third place? He takes him to God, He takes him to the law, and in the third place [we see this in verse 21] He takes him to what is an unqualified demand: “Go and sell all that you have and give to the poor, and come and follow Me.” Wow! I think you would have heard a pin drop. Go and sell everything that you have…everything that you have! ...and give to the poor, and come and follow Me.
Jesus is testing him, do you see? If you really believe that you can do something to enter the kingdom of heaven, here's what you must do. You must give everything away. Do you love Jesus that much? Do you desire eternal life that much, that you’re prepared to give everything away? It sounds harsh, doesn't it? The disciples thought so. “Who then can be saved?” the disciples said. And Jesus said, “With man it is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
There are two ways of viewing the world. There is man's way, and man's way is always the residual belief that there is something that we can do…there is something that we can do to merit or earn eternal life. The natural man always defaults to the treadmill of good works and self-righteousness, and with man it is impossible. This way of perfect obedience to the law is not possible. So how then can I inherit eternal life? “With God, all things are possible.”
What is your song tonight? One of the great hymn writers, Augustus Toplady, wrote a hymn and I cite it very often: “Nothing in my hands I bring; simply to Thy cross I cling.” It's Rock of Ages. Here's the song that this rich young man wanted to sing: “Something in my hand I bring; also to Thy cross I cling.” And Jesus is saying it's all or nothing. It's all or nothing. If you really want the answer to the question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” here's the answer. You must divest yourself of every confidence that you may have in yourself or in that which you possess. You must cast yourself entirely upon the grace of God in the gospel. You must cast yourself entirely upon Jesus. Now that was a message this young man was not ready to hear. You know, a modern evangelist might have got this young man into the kingdom — at least into some kind of kingdom. But this young man wasn't ready to enter the kingdom because he had no sense of sin. And he walked away. He was disheartened. He was grieved, because he had many possessions.
You know, that's why Jesus goes on to say to the disciples how hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God. What a verse that is for us! What an incredibly difficult verse that is for us. How hard it is…[and you've got to almost smile]…it's easier for a camel [one hump or two?]…it's easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. Because this young man…. Here's the bottom line…here's the bottom line: this young man loved his riches more than Jesus. He loved his riches more than the thought of gaining eternal life. He lived for the things of this world. He lived for the flesh.
In the movie Fever Pitch — it's about baseball…it's about the Red Sox. It's about a husband and wife, and the husband is so obsessed with the Red Sox that his marriage is about to end. And in the climactic moment his wife says to him, “You love the Red Sox, but did they ever love you back?” You love your riches, but did they ever love you back? Standing in front this rich young man was Jesus, whose heart was full of love for sinners. He would go to the cross for sinners, but he loved his riches more, and he went away.
Now, my friend, what are you going to do tonight? Where are you? Is your song tonight, ‘Nothing in my hands I bring; simply to Thy cross I cling”? Or will you do precisely as this rich young man does here? You go away. You go away without eternal life. May God arrest you through those doors as you leave tonight. May the Holy Spirit get a hold of you and not let you out of this building if that's the case. May He convict your soul of your need, your desperate need for Jesus Christ. And, oh, that you might come to Him in faith, believing, trusting!
Father, we thank You for the Scriptures, and we thank You for this passage. We pray, Holy Spirit, that You would be at work in the hearts and lives of every single one here tonight. We ask it for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Please stand and receive the benediction.
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
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