The Rich Young Ruler

Lesson 11

by Jackie Alston

How many of you have ever asked a sincere question and when you heard the answer, the answer made you turn around, hang your head low, and walk away sorrowfully? The answer may have been yes to the question "Is it cancerous?" or no to the question, "Do you still love me?" Whatever your question may have been, I'm sure we've all experienced getting an answer that saddened us. So was the case of a certain man who came running to Jesus.

According to the Synoptic Gospels; Matthew, Mark, and Luke, we learn that this man was a rich, young ruler. Rich, in that he owned silver and gold, cattle, sheep, houses, land, and property; he had great possessions. Young meaning he was between the ages of twenty-four and forty. This man was also a ruler in one of the local synagogues where he was very well respected. So the rich young ruler had money, power and prestige. As we would say today, "He had it going on." But with all his possessions, the young ruler sensed that there was something missing in his life. There was one thing that he did not have; the assurance of eternal life. But this young man knew where to go to find the answer, so he ran to Jesus. Wouldn't it be a much better world today if when we realized something is missing in our lives that we would run to Jesus? The rich young ruler ran until he found Jesus sitting among His disciples, and he knelt before Jesus and asked, "Good Master, What must I do to inherit eternal life?"

Before I go any further in the story, I must remind you that Jesus is omniscient; that means He knows all. He knows what we're going to say in the next thirty minutes. He knows what we will do ten days from now, and He knows our thoughts at this very second. He knows everything about everybody. So there's never ever any getting over on Jesus. And Jesus knew all about the rich young ruler. He knew that he was a typical Pharisee. And in being a typical Pharisee, this young man knew the Old Testament front and back, up and down, and all around. He knew all about the Commandments; he knew all about the Law of Moses, and he knew all about the prophecies concerning the Messiah; but what he and most of the other Pharisees did not know was that the Messiah had come and was right there in their midst.

When the man addressed Jesus as Good Master, Jesus decided to bring His diety into perspective. So instead of answering the man's question right off, Jesus asked him a question. "Why are you calling me good? there is none good but one, and that is God." Now we don't know if the man called Jesus Good Master out of respect or if he was just trying to flatter Jesus. But, Jesus knew and He knew that He was not being called Good Master for the right reason. Although Jesus was well worthy to be called Good Master, this man didn't realize why. To the Pharisees, calling Jesus Good Master was no more than calling Him a good teacher. So, Nicodemus could have been called good master, but Nicodemus was not the Messiah. Any member of the Sanhedrin could have been called good master, but no member of the Sanhedrin was the Messiah. So if the man was trying to flatter Jesus, then his flattery ended up as an insult.

I'm sure Jesus' question caught the man off guard. But if the man could have answered, "Yes Jesus, I know there's only one good and that is God; but I call You good because I know that You and God are one", then there would have been no need to ask the question, "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" He would have known! He would have known that ever since the fall of Adam that none were good; all fall short of the glory of God. He would have known that there was absolutely nothing he could do to inherit eternal life; that Jesus had come to do it all. He would have known that eternal life is a free gift offered to all those who believe and accept Jesus Christ as Lord. The rich young ruler would have known that when he was talking to Jesus, he was talking to ETERNAL LIFE.

The coming of Jesus brought a new moral order that would convict sin. There is no way to receive eternal life if a person doesn't first acknowledge the fact that he is a sinner. And the Scripture tells us of many occasions where Jesus convicted persons of their sins. Sometimes He simply asked questions, as in the cases of Judas and Saul. "Judas, do you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?" Judas had helped plot Jesus' murder for thirty measly pieces of silver. Sinner! "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?" Saul had innocent Christians killed and put in jail just for believing in Jesus. Sinner!

Other times Jesus simply made statements, as in the cases of the Samaritan woman at the well and the self-righteous Pharisees: "Woman, go call your husband and come back." She'd had five husbands and the one she had then was not hers. Sinner! And one of my personal favorites, "He that is without sin among you; let him first cast a stone at this woman caught in adultery." You know the story, they all turned and walked away. Sinners!

Now, it was time for Jesus to let the law convict a rich young ruler of his sin. Since this man was all set on believing eternal life was based on doing, Jesus told him, in so many words, "OK, if you think you must do something, do this: Keep the Commandments."DO NOT COMMIT ADULTERY, DO NOT KILL, DO NOT STEAL, DO NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS, DEFRAUD NOT, HONOR THY FATHER AND MOTHER."

You may not know this, but, Jesus quoted the Commandments that were listed on the second stone tablet. Why didn't He start with the first tablet at Commandment number one, "THOU SHALT HAVE NO OTHER GODS BEFORE ME?" Because Jesus knew that this young man had already broken Commandment number one. His possessions were his god. So Jesus skipped the Commandments that dealt with man's love for God and went straight to the ones that dealt with man's love for his fellowman. He knew it would be difficult to make the young man realize he loved his possessions more than God. Just as it would be for us today. If I ask you right now how many of you love God more than anything you possess; all our hands would go up. It's easy to say we love God more than anything we have because we know God is not coming down here to make us prove it.

But with the rich young ruler, he was in the presence of God in the flesh so he was going to have to prove something. When Jesus had quoted the Commandments to him, he had replied, "All these have I kept from my youth." And the young man was quite sincere in stating he had kept the Commandments. The rabbis had taught him that a person could keep the Commandments entirely if he was externally obedient, which this man had been. He had not slept with another man's wife. He had not taken someone's life. He had respected and obeyed his father and mother. But, Jesus revealed the true teachings of God's Word. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught if a man lusted after another man's wife; he had already committed adultery. If a man had so much anger in his heart to think about killing; he had already broken Commandment number six. If a man did not provide for his father and mother when they were in need; he had already dishonored his father and mother. And many of the Pharisees broke that Commandment. Back then there was a Jewish tradition called the Corban which meant a dedicated gift. In Corban, a person vowed to give so much to God which would free him from the obligation of providing for his needy parents. But what many of the Pharisees would do, is they would slip the Priests a little something on the side to say that they were actually giving what they had vowed to give, even though they weren't. And if the parents brought their sons to court, the Priests would testify what they were paid to say. So a lot of fathers and mothers were dishonored in that way.

But Jesus gave the rich young ruler the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps he had never heard Jesus' teachings on the Mount. He may have never used the Corban tradition; but there was still one thing he lacked. Jesus summed up all those Commandments He had quoted earlier into the one He called the "Second Greatest Commandment"; "LOVE THY NEIGHBOR AS THYSELF." He told the young ruler, "Sell whatever you have and give to the poor and you shall have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me." But as I stated earlier, the man had great possessions. And evidently he wasn't willing to part with it because he turned around, hang his head low, and walked away sorrowfully. Sinner! The man must have stopped listening after Jesus said sell and give. Didn't he even hear the part about heaven? Heaven would have been the place where he would spend that eternal life he had run asking about; and not only that, Jesus told him he would have treasure there. What more did he want? At first he had the treasures but not the assurance of eternal life and now Jesus had told him how to have both; but he still wasn't satisfied. He just couldn't see losing his earthly treasures.

When Jesus told the rich young ruler to sell what he had and give to the poor; it wasn't a universal command. That command was just for that young man in that particular situation. He's not commanding us today to sell what we have and give to the poor. Most of us are classified as the poor. But He's still commanding us to love God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our strength, and with all our mind; and to love our neighbor as ourselves.

Earlier I stated God is not coming down here to make us prove we love Him more than anything we possess. He doesn't have to, we prove the opposite all the time. We should show our love for God through our time, our talents and our treasures. But do we do it? No! We're sinners! Anytime we go to all kinds of recreational activities but can't make time to come to the House of the Lord; we prove or disprove our love. Anytime we're comfortable being a pew potato and won't use our talents to glorify God, we prove our love. And every time we take our treasure to a Bingo game, the casino, or a card game to try to win more, rather than give that treasure to God, we prove our love. "How long will we continue to be as selfish and as foolish as the rich young ruler?" A better question, "How long will God allow us to be as selfish and as foolish as the rich young ruler?"

Although the rich young ruler was present when Jesus walked the face of the earth, there is something we know that he didn't. We know Jesus was the Messiah so we can look to Him as our perfect example. The young ruler was rich but not nearly as rich as the Man whom he had refused to follow. Jesus was the epitome of a Rich Young Ruler. Rich in that He created it all and everything belongs to Him; young because in the prime of His life at thirty-three years old, He'd already been about His Father's work for twenty-one years; and not only was He a ruler of a local synagogue but He is ruler over heaven and earth. Jesus had it all!

Isaiah said He would be called the Prince of Peace and John called Him the King of kings. But Jesus gave it all up. He was a Prince of Peace who never had a royal scepter in His hands, His hands had nails. He was the King of kings but the only time He wore a royal robe was when they mocked Him as the King of the Jews; and the royal crown placed on His head wasn't made of precious jewels but of seventy-two thorns! Jesus gave up all the riches of Heaven to come live in poverty for our sakes, that we might become eternally rich. He gave up His life, enduring the suffering on the cross and the shame of crucifixion, that we may have eternal life. He gave it all because His kingdom was not of this world. But now Jesus sits on the right hand of the Father until He returns to set up His Heavenly Kingdom where He will reign King of kings and Lord of lords forever and ever.

"Are we willing to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Jesus to become a part of His Heavenly Kingdom?" That is the sincere question that Jesus is asking us today. Will our answer make Him do as the rich young ruler? Will He hang His head low and turn away sorrowfully?






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