“And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, ‘You lack one thing…’” (Read Mark 10:17-22)
We all have love-hate relationships with tests. We love it when we pass, and we hate it when we fail. Imagine taking a test where you think you totally aced it. You are the first to bubble in your Scantron, and you don’t even have to default to the answer “C” on questions you may not know. You quickly and confidently turn in your test without checking your answers, only to get the results the next day: F (0%). What happened? It wasn’t that you didn’t know a lot of the content, or that you didn’t study hard, but overlooked a foundational first step—you skipped a line and started in the wrong place; your answers didn’t match the right question, so all of them ended up being wrong. Because you started off wrong, everything else was off.
In this passage of Scripture, we read about a man who pursued many things in life. From the Gospel accounts, he is described as being a ruler, who was young and rich. He had it all: money, possessions, and power—everything that our society values and pursues. But, like failing the Scantron test, something was off. Although he did many things, he was lacking something foundational to what matters most: a true and living faith in God. He worshiped a false god, and because of this idol in his life, his spiritual life was out of order. The rich young ruler was not as good as he thought, and Jesus exposed his idols—wealth, money, and possessions. He ruled over many things, but his possessions ruled him.
Money itself wasn’t the problem, but rather, it was the problem of his heart—he found his worth and value in temporary riches rather than finding his identity in Christ.
Apparently, this rich young ruler was also religious. He ran to Jesus, bowed before him, and very pointedly asked what he had to do to inherit eternal life. The problem though, was that he thought he could do something to receive salvation; he thought he aced the test and was good enough to go to heaven. But Jesus responded by saying that only God is good, implying that this young ruler was standing in the presence of the only true good man to live—the Messiah, who perfectly obeyed God’s will and law. And Jesus, looking at him with love, told him to remove his idol by exchanging his earthly pleasures for eternal treasure. Jesus called him to get down from his own throne and to follow Jesus; to die to self and find life in Christ; to let God be the ultimate ruler.
The rich young ruler wouldn’t give up his idol: “Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions” (v.22). Although we may not have wealth and power, we have more in common with this man than simply being young. We also have things, or idols, that keep us back from God. An idol is simply anything or anyone that takes the place of God in our lives. If we truly examine our hearts and lives, it’s clear that we’ve taken secondary things—whether they are good and helpful, or sinful and harmful—and have made them ultimate things. We’ve gone after created things to try and find the satisfaction and purpose that only the Creator provides; we’ve replaced the true worship of God for false, counterfeit gods. But Jesus can change all of this.
Like he did to the rich young ruler, Jesus looks at us with love, and he invites us to remove our idols and to follow him. He wants us to find true and lasting worth in God’s gift of eternal life. If you answer to Jesus’ call, you will not lack anything, for faith in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection provides the ultimate solution for our greatest problem. If we get this wrong, then nothing else will ultimately be right.
Search the Scriptures:
- Psalm 135:15-18
- Jeremiah 2:11-13
- Habakkuk 2:18-20
- Acts 19:18-20
- 1 Timothy 6:9-10, 13
- The rich young ruler had blind spots in his life. He thought he kept the Ten Commandments, but ignored #10, which showed his disregard for #1 (Exodus 20:3, 17). How can we identify blind spots in our own lives so we don’t make the same mistake?
- Money and possessions are not evil in and of themselves. But, they become a problem when they become an idol. How do you know if something is an idol in your life?
- The rich young ruler is the only person in Scripture to approach Jesus only to walk away worse off. Why did he walk away sorrowful? What do you think would have happened if he listened to Jesus?
- Why do people think that they can do something (earn) eternal life? How does the gospel change this belief?