How Jesus Forced the Rich Young Ruler to Choose Love or Power


Message portion begins 28 minutes into the live stream

In the 1920s, New Yorker Abraham Germansky earned millions of dollars as a real estate developer. He bet heavily on the roaring stock market, and those bets paid off. But in October 1929, the stock market crashed. The New York Times published an article on October 26th, 1929 that describes the tragedy that ensued. Bernard H. Sandler, attorney of 225 Broadway, was asked yesterday morning by Mrs. Abraham Germansky of Mount Vernon to help find her husband, missing since Thursday morning. Germansky, who is 50 years old and east side real estate operator, was said by Sandler to have invested heavily in stocks. Sandler said he was told by Mrs. Germansky that a friend saw her husband late Thursday on Wall Street near the stock exchange. According to her informant, her husband was tearing a strip of ticker tape into bits and scattering it on the sidewalk as he walked toward Broadway. As far as we know, that was the end of Abraham Germansky (excerpt from The Psychology of Money). A tragic ending. In Mark’s Gospel, we similarly read of a heartbreaking ending after a rich young ruler encounters Jesus. The Bible tells us he left dismayed and grieving. What does God want us to grasp as we look at this passage? I believe there are three key takeaways from this conversation between Jesus and the young man.

1. Who is Jesus? It’s a question we need to answer in our hearts and in our minds.

The encounter begins when a young man runs up to Jesus, kneels before him and posits a question. “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus responds by asking the young man a question. Why do you call me good? This is so important—please don’t miss this. Jesus is beginning to answer the question with a question. No one is good except God alone. Jesus is forcing the young ruler to wrestle with who He is. Is Jesus just a teacher? Or am I the Greatest teacher that ever has been or will be—am I the Son of God? Jesus is good, because He is God, and He is also the greatest rabbi to walk the earth. Over the last 2,000 years, no one has improved upon the teachings of Jesus. No one ever will, because He truly is the Son of God. It’s crucial that you and I get this question right, because our beliefs about Jesus will guide the course of our lives and determine our eternal destinies. The second takeaway we see from this passage is…we need to ask ourselves, who or what is our god?   

2. Who/what is your god?

As Jesus responds, he rattles off commandments 5-10 from the ten commandments. The message he’s conveying is that we should strive to keep the commandments-they are designed to guide us and protect us. Our desire to obey the ten commandments can tell us something about our spiritual priorities. The young man responds by saying, “I’ve kept all these commandments from my youth.” Then the Bible tells us that Jesus looks at him and loves him. Then He tells him, here’s what you lack. “Go sell all you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.” Then come, follow me. Now if you’re like me, you look at that, and you think, “Wow. That seems radical, Jesus. Give all my belongings to the poor?” Why does Jesus respond this way? The answer is in verse 21, because He loves him. And Jesus wants to liberate him—and you and me—from the idols that enslave us. For this man, his god was his wealth. For Abraham Germansky, his god was his money. He found his identity in his bank account. You know it’s interesting that Jesus starts rattles off the commandments dealing with your neighbor, and I believe the rich young ruler did try to follow the commandments. But did you notice that Jesus only listed commandments 5-10. He skipped the first four! Is he letting the rich young ruler off the hook? Nope. He circles back around to commandment number one. How does he do it?

By commanding the rich young ruler to sell all he has and give to the poor and to follow Him, He’s essentially commanding him to observe command number 1 from Exodus: “You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3). This is a test. Has the rich young ruler truly kept all the commands? No. Does he really worship other gods instead of Yahweh? The answer is yes, because He doesn’t follow Jesus’ command. His god is his possessions. How about you? Who is your god? If we’re honest, we are like the rich young ruler, and we have or have had other gods before Him—career, possessions, wealth, hobbies, husband, wife, girlfriend, boyfriend, children, leisure, the Army.

How do you know who your god is? How do we examine our hearts to determine whether we are following Jesus and loving him with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strengths? Here are a few questions you can ask yourself:

a) How do I spend my time? When it comes to loving our children—loving others, love is so often spelled  T-I-M-E. Do we spend time with God in His Word. Do we do life with and loving His people? I would humbly suggest to you that if your only interaction with God and with His people is a couple hours on Sunday mornings, then He probably isn’t your God. We need to spend time with Him day in and day out by devoting ourselves to the Bible, by praying, by practicing the spiritual disciplines of silence and stillness before God and retreat. And we are to prioritize fellowship with other Christians—break bread together—build relationships with one another—to love and encourage one another—sometimes lovingly challenge and confront one another when we’re ensnared by sin. You might be thinking—Justin—I am so busy. I don’t have time. Okay. How much time do you spend on your phone? Social media? Gaming? Netflix? I love how when you watch Netflix and you finish, you have like three seconds or you’re on to the next episode or show. It’s great—finished watching? Of course you’re not, 3-2-1 here we go! I’m not saying entertainment is bad—Bethany and I enjoy series on Netflix. I love smoking my kids in Madden—not gonna lie. But if we’re not careful, we can get things out of order and begin to worship the gifts instead of the giver. You need to think about how you spend your time.

b) How do you spend your money? Many of us are familiar with the Old Testament command to tithe—or to give ten percent of our income back to God. But you know in the New Testament, we see the early Christians giving well above ten percent of their income. Giving is important, but your heart is even more important. But sometimes we need to obey God and lead with our head and our heart will follow. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:21 If you are treasuring in your heart, something or someone else than King Jesus, then I urge you to financially give to the Kingdom of God—thru tithes and offerings. Take the step of obedience and give! Jesus says your heart will follow. You might be thinking or asking who or what organizations should I give to? First, you should give to local church or chapel community where you are being fed spiritually—where you are growing. Second, you need to give to the poor. If you are a Christian, and you are not giving to the poor, then you are wrong. You need to repent and begin giving to the needy. Compassion International, Salvation Army, Samaritan’s Purse—these are a few great organizations that help the poor. Jesus commanded, “Sell your possessions and give to the poor.” Luke 12:33. I think what He’s getting at—is we need to feel it in our wallets/purses. If we’re giving and we’re not feeling it, we’re probably not giving enough.Jesus says in Matthew 6: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.” Jesus is saying don’t treasure earthly wealth, invest in Kingdom treasure. Live your life focused on advancing the Kingdom that will never end. I think about Jesus’ command here, and I think about Abraham Germansky. Jesus commands us to invest in the Kingdom, because He loves us. He doesn’t want us to fall into the trap that this life is all there is. He doesn’t want us to put our identity in our possessions, a career, or a relationship. So Jesus gave us commands–really weapons–to combat the temptation to worship these false gods. The weapons are investing our time and money into the Kingdom. Jesus said, it’s more blessed to give then to receive.

But this is the temptation we all face. Henri New wahn (Nouwen) said, “It seems easier to be God than to love God, easier to control people than to love people, easier to own life than to love life. Jesus asks, ‘Do you love me?’ We ask, ‘Can we sit at your right hand and your left hand in your kingdom? (Matthew 20:21). Ever since the snake said, ‘The day you eat of this tree your eyes will be open and you will be like gods, knowing good from evil’ (Genesis 3:5), we have been tempted to replace love with power.”

That’s the question Jesus presents the young man. Love or power? If you’re going to love and follow Jesus, you must abandon your pursuit of power and control. As CH Meeker said last week, love is the greatest of God’s gifts—and it lasts forever. Power fades. But as the Psalmist said, “God’s love endures forever.”  

Report on Christians from Aristides the philosopher to Caesar Hadrian 125 AD.

They do not worship strange gods, and they go their way in all modesty and cheerfulness. Falsehood is not found among them; and they love one another, and from widows they do not turn away their esteem; and they deliver the orphan from him who treats him harshly. And he, who has, gives to him who has not, without boasting. And when they see a stranger, they take him into their homes and rejoice over him as a very brother; for they do not call them brethren after the flesh, but brethren after the spirit and in God. And whenever one of their poor passes from the world, each one of them according to his ability gives heed to him and carefully sees to his burial. And if they hear that one of their number is imprisoned or afflicted on account of the name of their Messiah, all of them anxiously minister to his necessity, and if it is possible to redeem him they set him free. And if there is among them any that is poor and needy, and if they have no spare food, they fast. And verily, this is a new people, and there is something divine in the midst of them.

I pray God will move in us in such a powerful that way—that people see the divine—people see Jesus in us. Contrast that report to our American, modern-day consumeristic culture; meh service is OK. Music’s loud. Worship song selection meh; No dunkin donuts this week—C’mon man, what’s that all about! I’ll listen to this guy preach here, but I like the worship team better over there. It’s me, me, me, I, I, I. There’s no sacrifice, no servanthood, and the humility of Christian fathers and mothers of before is absent. And we wonder why the church is in decline in the United States.

It’s because so many who identify as Christians are engaged in idolatry. Real spiritual maturity and the output of real discipleship leads to cheerfulness, joy, giving, sacrificial love, truth, humility. How about you? Would your friends, would your enemies be able to submit a report about you like Aristides did to Hadrian?

In verse 28, the Bible says, “Peter began to tell him, ‘Look, we have left everything and followed you.’

Kids—want to speak to you specifically for a moment. Do you remember when you came to Korea? You had to say goodbye to family and friends. It was hard wasn’t it. Jesus said when we decide to follow Him—it’ll be hard like that. But have any of you made some really good friends since you came to Korea? Following Jesus is like getting a new best friend—but it’s even better than that because, He promised to never leave us or forsake (give up on us). He goes with us wherever we go.

Truly I tell you, Jesus said, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for my sake and for the sake of the gospel who will not receive a hundred times more, now at this time—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and eternal life in the age to come.” (verse 30)

Peter says Jesus we’ve left it all to follow you! Jesus responds by saying—yes—you’ve left relationships and possessions to follow me and advance the Gospel—and you will receive 100 hundred times what you had when you left to come to me. This isn’t some prosperity gospel, because Jesus says, you’re going to be persecuted too, guys. But even in the hardship of following me—you’re gaining life. See when you follow Jesus completely, you get God—the Creator of the universe–and you receive His love and gain eternal life—and that eternal relationship is incomparable to anything in this life. This leads us to the third question Jesus answers in this passage…

3. How do we enter the Kingdom?

Jesus says it is so hard for those with wealth to enter the Kingdom. The reason is that the wealthy put their faith and trust in their possessions. You might be thinking—this demand is radical. How do I follow Jesus with such abandon. It seems impossible! To which Jesus replies, like He did to His disciples—it is impossible with man. But with God all things are possible. You enter the Kingdom by abandoning your power and surrendering to His. You can’t follow Jesus in your own strength. You must rely on His. You and I are called to come to Him, to follow Him. He is the one that helps us take the first step of obedience, the next step, and the step after that. You see the Bible teaches that you can’t be good enough. We can’t fix ourselves—we don’t keep all the commandments. We break them consistently. But the message of the Gospel is that we are made right with God based on what Christ has done rather than on what we do. The message of the Gospel is that we gain eternal life by turning from our sin and receiving the gift of God’s Son—we put all our hope and faith in Jesus. “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Romans 6:23

Our sin has caused spiritual death that will lead to eternal death unless we put our faith and trust in Jesus. “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins…and we were by nature children under wrath as the others were also.” Ephesians 2:1-3

Dane Ortlund writes, “Christ was sent not to mend wounded people or wake sleepy people or advise confused people or inspire bored people or spur on lazy people or educate ignorant people, but to raise dead people. Paul is not speaking of sin the way we often do: “I messed up,” “I made a mistake,” “I’m struggling with…” Paul identifies sin as the comprehensive, enveloping, inexorable flow of our lives. Our sins are less like an otherwise healthy man occasionally tripping up and more like a man who is disease -ridden from head to foot or if we take the language of Ephesians 2 seriously, dead.”

The rich young ruler knew he was dead inside—it’s why he came to Jesus. He knew he wasn’t good enough to gain eternal life in his own strength. Jesus response is cast aside your idols of power and control and follow me. We inherit eternal life by trusting in the One who said He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. When we do, He raises us to new life. You and I are like that young man. We need a Savior. We need grace. We need Jesus. You see Jesus exposed the rich young ruler’s god—his possessions. And because he rejected Jesus’ call to follow Him, we see how the rich young ruler was, in reality, a poor young slave. He was spiritually poor and a slave to his belongings. At the beginning of this encounter between Jesus and the rich young ruler, what was Jesus preparing to do? He’s about to set out on a journey. That’s not a coincidence. Jesus is inviting you and me to join him on the greatest journey. It’s an odyssey that leads to divine discovery. Following Jesus is a faith journey where we know the God who made us, loved us and gave Himself for us. And this pathway leads to eternal life.

Closing questions:

Have you made a decision to follow Jesus? Have you given up everything to follow Him? Or are you still pursuing power and control?

If you have, in what area of your life, do you need to let go of power and control, and in love, follow Jesus by serving others? Is it your time—are you doing life with other Christians thru missional communities? Is it money? Are you loving people and meeting needs thru the life and ministry of Agape?

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