Jesus' Encounter With a Rich Man

Mark 10:17-31

Key text: “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?’” (Mark 10:17).

Main point: The offer of the gift of eternal life does not always yield positive results, no matter how lovingly it is presented. Even Jesus was rejected by a wealthy man whom he loved and wanted to save.

Jesus talking to the rich man
"Sell everything you have"
Illustration by Henry Hofmann

Introduction

It is easier to focus on the success stories of persons being saved through evangelistic efforts in the proclamation of the gospel. Success stories are important because they help motivate and mobilize Christian workers for the task of the Great Commission. However, the reporting of "failures" is also important, and even necessary in preparation for the gospel work. When believers share their faith and are rejected, they often feel depressed, inadequate and even guilty for having "failed" in their mission. The truth of the matter is that believers sometimes create a misconception of what their part is in the great equation of sharing the gospel.

In Mark’s passage before us (10:17-31) there is an encounter between Jesus and a rich man who asks, "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" The parallel passages in Matthew and Luke add that he is not only wealthy but that he is a young man and a ruler. He appears to be a person of some distinction and importance within the Jewish aristocracy.

It is important to note that Jesus was born under the law to redeem those under the law (Galatians 4:4, 5). The rich young ruler was a Jew and thus under the full yoke of the Mosaic Law. As a Jewish boy, on his 13th birthday, he would have been confirmed at his bar mitzvah as one come of age and thus responsible for keeping the whole Mosaic Law, which includes the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandment law was the very heart of the old covenant that God made with Israel at Sinai (Deuteronomy 4:13). This is why Jesus quotes part of the Ten Commandments to him, and why the young man sincerely believes he has kept them "since I was a boy." Under the old covenant law, this was what he was required to do!

However, Jesus quotes only a partial list of the second half of the Decalogue. It appears that Jesus deliberately leaves out the tenth commandment! Before his conversion, as a Pharisee, Paul (Saul) also thought he had kept the law and was blameless (Philippians 3:5, 6). The legalistic Pharisees focused on external conformity to the law, even though in the inner heart they were full of greed and wickedness (Matthew 23:25-28). When Paul was still under the law, he found this out when he truly faced the full force of the tenth commandment, "Do not covet." This commandment spoke to his inner sinful condition, exposed his spiritual bankruptcy, and condemned him as a sinner worthy of death. The law that he thought would bring him life actually brought him death (Romans 7:7-10).

The rich young ruler did not fair any better than Saul the Pharisee—the law was also his undoing. The young man refused to part with his riches because he coveted them more than turning in faith to Jesus for salvation. To be saved, we must look beyond our own abilities (works) and trust in the pure mercy of another. In Christ, one is no longer under the law, but under grace. Only by faith in the full merits of Christ did Saul the Pharisee become Paul the apostle. The rich young ruler could have believed, for Jesus loved him, but of his own accord he refused the gift.

The gospel work calls on believers to share their faith genuinely and lovingly with others. However, the fruit from the gospel seeds sown is God’s part of the equation (1 Corinthians 3:6). Let us be faithful in the part that Christ has called us to do (Matthew 28:19-20); and leave the results to him!

Questions for Bible study

Read the following verses and respond to the questions:

1. Mark 10:17-22

a. What does the man do as he encounters Jesus? v. 17a, b. What does the man call Jesus? v. 17c. What do his actions say about his regard for Jesus?

b. What paramount question does the man ask? v. 17d, e. From his Jewish framework, what do you think he means by eternal life?

c. What question does Jesus pose in return to the man? v. 18a. What is Jesus’ own answer? v. 18b, c. Both the question and answer seem out of place. What is Jesus’ ultimate concern? Note: Goodness can be measured only by the source from which it is derived. Who can compare himself to the Father, but the Son! The man uses good in a generic sense, but Jesus uses it in the absolute sense of his own deity!

d. What revelation does Jesus cite as an old covenant answer to the man’s question? v. 19. From what part of the Decalogue are these commandments, and which one is missing? Note: One of the commands is not one of the Ten but only an application to them. Compare lists with Matthew 19:18-19; Luke 18:20.

e. What is the man’s response to Jesus’ old covenant list? v. 20. Is the man’s focus on outer conformity to the law or inner obedience of the heart? See the prominent teachers of the times in Matthew 23:25-28.

f. What attitude does Jesus take toward this man? v. 21a. What does Jesus say to him? v. 21b-h. What is it that you think is missing, that is, what is it that Jesus really wants from him? See vv. 13-15.

g. What is the man’s response to Jesus’ new covenant offer of salvation? v. 22. Why? See 1 Timothy 6:9-10. How does his true inner condition remain? See Romans 7:7-10.

2. Mark 10:23-27

a. To whom are Jesus’ next comments directed? v. 23a. What does Jesus say about the man’s rejection of the offer of eternal life? v. 23b. Note:To inherit eternal life and to enter the kingdom of God are similar terms, the latter depicting both present and future realities.

b. What is the disciples’ reaction? v. 24a. What does Jesus repeat for a second time? v. 24b, c. Why? v. 25. Note: The illustration is meant to contrast a graphic and literal impossibility, not a probability.

c. How do the disciples react to Jesus’ illustration? v. 26a. If this is true with the rich (who seem to be blessed), what about everyone else? v. 26b. Note: In Jewish culture, being rich was a sign of God’s favor. If it is impossible for the rich, how much less for the poor! Note also that being saved is now equated with to inherit eternal life and to enter the kingdom of God.

d. What is Jesus’ response and assurance to his disciples? v. 27. Note: People cannot save themselves no matter what they do. Salvation is a gift of grace and must be received on its own terms.

3. Mark 10:28-31

a. Peter’s presumption is evident: What is he boasting about in contrast to the rich man’s denial in verse 21? v. 28.

b. How does Jesus respond to Peter’s boasting? vv. 29- 30. What is the cost and reward of discipleship? Note: The contrast is between the present evil age and the future age to come (eternal life).

c. What teaching has Peter forgotten? v. 31. See Jesus’ teaching in 9:35.

Contemporary interaction:

Respond to the following questions:

1. How do you feel after you have shared the gospel with someone you care about, and are then rejected? Share your experiences with the class.

2. After you spend enough time with a person, are you able to assess what is hindering that individual from accepting the gospel? Share your experiences with the class without identifying the person you are talking about.

Why did the young man go away sad? Perhaps because he was thinking about what Jesus had said. He wanted something from Jesus, but did not get what he wanted. The story is not done, and there may yet be hope for the young man. As Jesus said, “With God all things are possible.” If people reject the gospel, remember that all is not lost — the story is not done — God is still able to do his work.  

3. Have you ever felt that a certain person would never turn to Jesus and be saved, and then be amazed when that person is converted to Christ?

Conclusion

It is impossible for people to save themselves through their own efforts. Only through Jesus is salvation possible as a gift. It is not forced on anyone, yet it is freely given to all, and received by anyone who believes it.

Lorenzo Arroyo

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