By Jay McCluskey
Pastor, North Cleveland Baptist Church, Cleveland
Focal Passage: Mark 1:21-22; 10:17-22
Today’s lesson is about one of the famous “unnamed” people in the Bible.” Not knowing his name, we refer to him as “the rich young ruler.” This title combines the characteristics describing him in the first three gospels.
Mark and Matthew say he was rich (Mark 10:23, Matthew 19:22). Matthew says he was young (Matthew 19:20).Luke says he was a ruler (Luke 18:18).
What he must have been was shrewd. He could size up the costs and benefits of any transaction and apply them in his favor. He could buy a goat and before long he had traded up for a handsome stallion. Perhaps he would purchase a shed and a few transactions later he would own a barn! But on this day he was not looking for a deal. He was looking for a teacher.
As Jesus started on His way, a man ran up to Him and fell on his knees before Him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life” (10:17a NIV)?
In today’s language, the word “good” can mean just average. But the Greek word used here relates to something’s intrinsic value. It described something “good to the core” and it normally applied exclusively to God. Therefore, Jesus’ return question, “Why do you call me good? No one is good — except God alone” (10:18) is understandable. In an indirect way, probably without even realizing, this man was affirming that Jesus was a divine teacher.
Think of a good teacher you have or had in school. Jesus shares some of the high qualities found in the effective teachers in your life.
Jesus is a loving teacher. It is simple common sense: teachers who care about their students are more effective than teachers who possess no concern. After further conversation Mark tells us how Jesus felt about this man. Jesus looked at him and loved him (10:21a).
The word look means “to gaze searchingly or earnestly.” Some people looked at this man with envy because of his power and wealth. Others looked at him with resentment. Jesus looked at him with love. The word for love is agape. That is God’s kind of pure and unconditional love. Remember, everything else Jesus says to this man is motivated by His love for him.
Jesus is a challenging teacher. Our most effective educators do not simply hand out affirmations. They recognize our weaknesses and supply us with ways to improve. Jesus offers this man a challenging assignment to address the deficiencies of his faith: “One thing you lack,” He said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me” (10:21b).
Consider the word “lack.” That word usually refers to something missing that we need to acquire. But Jesus tells him to release the wealth in his life in order to grasp a greater treasure in heaven. What he “lacked” was the need to put what he already possessed under the Lord’s control. Knowing this man’s heart as He knows our hearts, Jesus instructed him to dispose of that which he trusted more than he trusted Jesus. This young, successful, wheeler-dealer was offered a challenging deal himself.
In the mid-1960s Millard and Linda Fuller were millionaires before the age of 30. But their home was troubled and their marriage was strained. The turning point came when they felt the Lord calling them to give away all their wealth, make themselves poor, and throw themselves on God’s mercy. They did! Eventually the Fullers used their business skills to found the Christian-based home construction ministry “Habitat for Humanity” (Michael G. Maudlin, “God’s Contractor,” Christianity Today, June 14, 1999, 46.).
Unfortunately, this man did not accept the opportunity to learn from Jesus’ challenge. “At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth” (10:22). That is one of the saddest verses in all the Bible.
Jesus is a opportunistic teacher. The rich man gone, Jesus, like a good teacher, recognized the opportunity to reinforce the lesson to His disciples (10:24b-25).
Jesus did not condemn possessions nor did He say wealth was evil. He did not prescribe this action to everyone. But He taught that greed had power to prioritize our life. So He prescribed generosity to demonstrate that we are the masters of our possessions, rather than their slaves.
We do not know this man’s name. But I think of him as “the disciple who might have been.” Had he accepted Jesus’ offer, history would hold him up as a high example of one who recognized the value of heavenly treasure. The gospels probably would record his name and we would name our children and our churches after him. But he did not take the lesson even from the One he himself called “good teacher.”
— McCluskey is pastor, North Cleveland Baptist Church, Cleveland.