Mark 10:17 And as he 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?" 18 And Jesus said to him, "Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. 19 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.'" 20 And he said to him, "Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth." 21 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." 22 Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
23 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!" 24 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! 25 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." 26 And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, "Then who can be saved?" 27 Jesus looked at them and said, "With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God." (ESV)
The pastor preached on these verses at my church this morning. This has always been one of my favorite passages. The events are described in three of the Gospels, the other two beginning at Luke 18:18 and Matthew 19:16. The version in Mark has always been my favorite, though, because of the information given in verse 21 that is not in the others. We are told "Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said..." Jesus loved this man. Though he walked away downcast and shaken from this encounter with the Lord, I am confident that Jesus' love would draw him in and call him to faith.
The man had come to Jesus to find out what he must do to earn eternal life. Interesting, isn't it, that he already knew to Whom he must go? Jesus zeroes in on that kernel of faith, "Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone." Jesus doesn't wait for an answer. He merely plants the seed. Another unasked question hangs in the air. "Why do you ask me? No one gives eternal life except God alone." The question is implied, though, as He begins His answer, "You know the commandments..." (The commandments God gave, yet you now want me to add something to them? No one adds to the Word of God except God alone.)
The man did know the commandments. At least he knew what they said. He was certain he had followed them, and yet something must have been gnawing at him. There must be more, and this Jesus must know what it is. What Jesus did was bring this man to the point where he realized that the Law of God was too high a thing, too perfect a thing for him to keep. Had Jesus been talking to you or me, He would have chosen a different thing to say to reach our hearts. What are those things we cling to, and no matter how hard we try, cannot lay down for the Lord? Is it a besetting sin? A possession? An idea? For this man, it was his wealth. And when he learned he must give up his wealth to follow Jesus, he was broken. This was a law he could not keep. At least not now. He had broken the first of the Ten Commandments, "You shall have no other gods before Me." And now he knew it.
After the man, whom Luke tells us is a rich young ruler, walks away, Jesus' disciples were astonished. They probably knew of this man, or at least his reputation. If he wasn't good enough to earn heaven, who was? Jesus answers, "With man it is impossible, but not with God." Who is good enough to gain eternal life for themselves? No one. But God can do it for him.
Yet Peter still doesn't quite get the point. He thinks he has met the requirement the rich man could not meet. "See, we have left everything and followed you." So Jesus addresses Peter with something different. It is something that will soon rear its ugly head among the disciples. The disciples will argue for position among themselves. Their pride will cause them to desire to be first among the disciples, first in the Kingdom. Jesus says, "But many who are first will be last, and the last first."
In Matthew's Gospel this statement is followed by the Parable of the workers in the vineyard. Those who labor a short while will be rewarded equally with those who labored all day. Will this rich man come later, and yet the disciples envy him for his reward? I often wonder if this rich young ruler was Joseph of Arimathea, who, when the disciples were scattered and hiding in that darkest hour, summoned up the courage to go before Pilate and request the body of Jesus that it might be laid in his tomb. I can't know, of course, for this young ruler is not identified.
The pastor this morning used these verses to focus on the idea of impossibility, and how God does what for us is impossible. We cannot provide for our own justification. Neither can we provide for our own sanctification. We are a people being constantly and repeatedly blessed with things impossible for us to secure for ourselves.
He pointed out how redemptive history illustrates this principle for us again and again. Escape Pharaoh's army when you are pinned against the sea? Impossible. Ninety year-old Sarah bear a son? Impossible. Find food and water for millions of people in a barren wilderness? Impossible. A virgin bear a Son who is God incarnate? Impossible. Take this hard heart of mine and this weak, lustful flesh and make a child of God? Impossible. "With man it is impossible, but not with God."
Exodus 14:13 ...Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will work for you today...