17 And when he was gone forth into the way, there came one running, and kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?
18 And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God.
19 Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Defraud not, Honour thy father and mother.
20 And he answered and said unto him, Master, all these have I observed from my youth.
21 Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me.
22 And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions.
In Mark 10:17, Jesus had finished a busy day of teaching. In fact he had concluded talking about little children saying to the disciples, “Allow the little children to come unto me and forbid them not for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” Then he left and it says, “There came one running and kneeling to him to ask him, Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?” Jesus said unto him, “Why callest thou me good, there is none good but one and that is God. Thou knowest the commandments, do not commit adultery, do not kill, do not steal, do not bear false witness, defraud not, honor thy father and thy mother.” He answered and said unto him, “Master, all these have I observed from my youth.” Then Jesus beholding him loved him and said unto him, “One thing thou lackest, go thy may and sell whatsoever thou hast and give it to the poor and thou shall have treasure in heaven and come, take up the cross and follow me.” And in the next verse we learn that the man was sad, “and went away grieved: for he had great possessions.”
You've heard about two other soul-winning encounters that Jesus had. The first was with the woman of Samaria, at the well outside the city of Sychar. You remember in that soul-winning encounter Jesus initiated the conversation. He was sitting by the well when the woman came to draw water. He said to her, “Give me water to drink.” She was surprised that Jesus being a Jew would ask her as a Samaritan lady for a drink of water. She made some comment about that and Jesus said, “If you but knew what I have to give to you, you would be asking me for a drink of water.” And they entered into a conversation that ultimately led to this lady saying to Jesus, “Sir, give me that water, the water of life to drink.” Jesus revealed to her that he was the Messiah, the Son of God, and she put her faith and trust in him, was gloriously changed, and began to share the good news of her salvation with the other people in the community. In that encounter Jesus initiated the conversation and the response was positive. The lady was saved.
The second encounter was Jesus and his soul-winning visit with Zacchaeus. In that second instance Jesus also initiated the conversation. He was going through Jericho. Zacchaeus had heard of his coming and climbed up a tree to get a bird’s-eye view of Jesus. Jesus stopped under the tree, called Zacchaeus by name and said, “Zacchaeus, come down, this night I shall abide at thy house.” Jesus initiated the conversation. And before they were through talking—we don’t know all that they said, but before they were through talking Zacchaeus had made a positive response to Jesus. He said, “Lord, behold the half of my goods I give to the poor and if I’ve taken anything wrongfully from any man I will restore it fourfold.” Zacchaeus was a changed man. He had put his faith and trust in Jesus as his Lord and his Savior.
In both of those first two encounters Jesus initiated the conversation and it ended up with a positive response, the woman at the well and Zacchaeus were both saved.
Now those were two unlikely prospects. The woman had been married five times, now had a relationship with a live-in boyfriend, and she probably was about as far away from God as anyone could be. You never would expect her to be saved, but she was.
Zacchaeus was a money-hungry, money-grabbing businessman who thought only of himself and his wealth. And you would never have expected Zacchaeus to be saved. These two very unlikely people responded to the conversation of Jesus and trusted him as Savior.
Tonight we have an entirely opposite kind of experience. It is the experience of the rich young ruler and he was in many ways one of the most likely candidates for conversion. You know from the reading of the story that he was a young man with high morals. You know that he had a desire and a longing for eternal life. He was seeking after eternal life and he had a high opinion of Jesus. He came to Jesus on his own, asked what must he do to inherit eternal life, and addressed Jesus as the Good Master. When Jesus talked to him about the Ten Commandments, he said, “These have I kept from the days of my youth.” So he was a most likely candidate for conversion. He initiated the conversation himself. Jesus did not go to him; he came to Jesus. He came seeking, he came asking, “What do I need to do to have eternal life?” But in this experience, after he and Jesus talked, he rejected the invitation of Jesus and he walked away unsaved.
I think the first and most immediate truth leaps out at us in this experience is that even Jesus failed in some soul-winning encounters. This is not the only time that Jesus struck out in his ministry. We must understand that Jesus failed often in his public ministry. You remember when he went to his hometown of Nazareth. The Bible says that he could do no mighty works there because of their unbelief. He struck out in his own hometown. Then he went into the region of Gadarenes and he cast the demons out of the man into the pigs, and then the pigs plunged over the cliff and into the water and they drowned and the citizens of that community came to Jesus and asked him to leave. They did not want him around. More than once Jesus struck out in his efforts to win people to himself and to faith in God. I think that we need to face the facts squarely that there are some people who are offended by Jesus, and there are some people who will not welcome his intrusion into their lives. And if you are involved in evangelism, you can expect that some people will say no to you just as they said no to Jesus, for the servant is no greater than his master.
I think we also need to remember that success in evangelism is not to be measured entirely by the number of converts that you win, but rather by your faithfulness in proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In this experience, Jesus lost the convert, but he remained faithful and true to the Gospel. He did not compromise God’s standard and the man walked away and Jesus allowed him to walk away rather than to compromise the Gospel.
So we have not necessarily failed in our responsibility if a person does not respond to our witness so long as we have not compromised the truth of God’s word. As you study this soul-winning encounter with Jesus, I think there are four techniques of Jesus that are expressed here that we could learn from.
1. Ask questions.
The first is that if you are trying to win another person to Christ, it is important to ask questions to make sure you know where they stand and what they believe. This man came to Jesus and said, “Good Master, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus responded with a question, “Why callest thou me good? There is none good but one and that is God.” Jesus wanted to know the man’s understanding of those words “Good Master.” Was this man simply throwing Jesus a compliment as an effective teacher, or was he in fact recognizing and acknowledging the fact that Jesus was the Son of God? So Jesus asked him that question, “Why callest thou me good? You have said Good Master. Now why did you say that? Did you say that because you are trying to flatter me, or did you say that because you have recognized who I really am?”
By asking people questions at work, in your family, in the neighborhood, wherever you find them, asking people questions discreetly and wisely can teach you an awful lot about the person’s religious background and help you to understand what they believe and what they accept concerning Jesus Christ. Any effective soul winner will soon learn to ask the right kinds of questions. When you ask a question, don’t put words in the person’s mouth. There is no point in asking them a question if you do not allow them to ponder that question and then give you their answer to that question. Unless they answer the question, you never know what they really believe. You never know where they stand and you never know how to continue the conversation. One of the key techniques of Jesus was to ask questions so he could make sure he knew what the person believed and where the person stood.
2. Address the main issue in one’s life.
There is a second technique of Jesus that is very evident here and that is that he helped this young man come face to face with the main issue of his life. Jesus helped the young man to face the fact that money was in reality his god. And until he was willing to put his material possessions in second place and acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord and Master in his life, he could not have eternal life.
The young man came asking, “Lord, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” There are some people who have the false idea that we earn our salvation by works. And it may very well be that that young man had that idea in mind when he said, “What must I do?” It is the basis of every world religion that man earns his way to heaven—every world religion except Christianity. They believe that a person gets to heaven, or wherever they go after they die, either by being good or by being religious. That is the foundation and the central idea of every world religion except Christianity. Christianity says, “For by grace are you saved through faith: and that not of yourselves: it is a gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). The Bibles teaches us very clearly that no person can earn his way to heaven by being good or by being religious, that it is a free gift of God and it is given to us when we receive Jesus Christ as our Savior. And Jesus understood that this young man was trusting in his goodness for his salvation.
There is a place for works in the Christian life, but those works are the result of salvation. They are not the means of salvation. So Jesus said to him, “You go and live by the commandments.” Then in verse 19, Jesus listed five of the last six commandments. He said, “Do not commit adultery, do not kill, do not steal, do not bear false witness, and honor thy father and thy mother.”
You know that there are two divisions in the Ten Commandments. The first four of the Ten Commandments have to do with our relationship to God. The last six have to do with our relationship to man. The first four say, “Thou shalt have no other Gods before me, thou shalt not make unto thyself any graven images, thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain, and remember the sabbath day to keep it holy.”
The last six commands have to do with our relationship with our fellow man: honor your father and mother, you are not to kill, you are not to steal, you are not to bear false witness, you are not to commit adultery. Jesus quoted all of those commands to this young man except one. And it was the command, “Thou shalt not covet anything that belongs to your neighbor.” He purposefully omitted that one command that struck at the very heart of this young man and his need because he was trying to bring him to the place where he realized that it was the one thing standing between him and salvation. So, Jesus said, you know the commands, go and live by them. This young man responded by saying, “Lord, these commands have I kept from my youth and up. I have kept every one of those. I have honored my father and my mother. I have not killed anyone. I have not committed adultery. I have not lied. I have not stolen.” And we have no reason to believe that this young man had not lived up to the letter of the law. We have every reason to believe that he was telling the truth when he said all of this.
Then Jesus said to him, “There is one thing you lack.” All of this conversation was designed to come to this one point because Jesus was talking to a straight-talking, straight-walking, splendid young man who was as lost as he could possibly be. He was as lost as that woman from Samaria who had been married and divorced five times and was presently living with her boyfriend. He was just as lost as Zacchaeus, who had spent all of his life cheating people and conniving so that he could gain more for himself and thus become very rich.
Though this young man was straight talking and straight walking and splendid in so many ways he was still lost and Jesus needed to help this young man see that. So he said to him, after he had exposed his character and his life and all of his virtues, “There is one thing you still lack.” Somehow in our conversation with people we must help them come face to face with the main issues in their life. It may or may not be the same problem that this young man had. But if we ask enough questions, if we get close enough to these people, we will discover that one thing that most keeps them from committing their life to Jesus Christ and that is an essential technique in soul winning.
So Jesus asked questions to find out this young man’s understanding. Then he helped to bring this young man face to face with the one great need of his life.
3. Love no matter what.
The third technique of Jesus in this experience was to keep loving the person no matter what. In verse 21 there is a marvelous statement. It says, “Then Jesus beholding him loved him.” I think maybe that is one of the tenderest phrases in all of recorded scripture. Jesus beholding him loved him.
We know of course that Jesus loves all of us. John 3:16 says, “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believeth in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” But John 3:16 is not the only verse in the Bible that speaks of God’s love for the sinner. I think maybe verse 21 does it as well as any in all of scripture. Jesus beholding this young man who was in so many ways good and righteous, but in one way far away from God. Jesus beholding him, loved him. Whatever else we do in encountering people and confronting people with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we must do it in love and we must love them no matter what. This kind of unconditional love is the only way to ever win anybody to faith in Christ.
Sometimes we Christians become so caustic and so sharp and so critical in our attitude and in our spirit that it is completely devoid of the spirit of Jesus Christ. It was Augustine who said, “That God loves each one of us as if there were only one of us to love.” So if you were the only lost person in the world Jesus would still have died on the cross for you. If you were the only one in the world that needed salvation, Jesus would still have come for you. And Jesus—who often drew great crowds and preached to the multitudes—looked into the eyes of this one lost young man, and the scriptures say, very pointedly, “Behold, he loved him.”
4. Lead them to a place of commitment.
One other thing. You not only ask questions to discover where they are, you not only help them to come face to face with the main issue keeping them from salvation, you not only love them no matter what, but you must lead them to a place of commitment.
So Jesus showed this young man that the one thing that stood between him and eternal life was his money. His money was his master. If you are going to be saved, Jesus must be your master. Nothing else can come before Jesus Christ if you are going to be saved. Jesus had brought that young man face to face with the fact that his money was the most important thing in the world and so Jesus said to him, “Go thy way, sell all that thou hast, give it to the poor and thou shalt have treasure in heaven. Then come, take up the cross and follow me.” And with that challenge Jesus led this young man to a place of decision. He led him to the fork in the road where he had to decide yes or no for Jesus Christ and he led him to the place of commitment without one single compromise to the Gospel.
Jesus didn’t tell everybody he encountered to go and sell all that they have and give it to the poor. The reason is because Jesus is the great physician and he does not prescribe the same pill for every patient. They don’t all have the same problem. They don’t all struggle with the same issues. Not every man whom Jesus encountered was struggling with materialism. The woman at the well was struggling with emptiness, and Zacchaeus was struggling with loneliness. And Jesus, pinpointing the problem in their lives, said what they needed to hear in order to keep them where they needed to be. He said to this man, “If you want to find eternal life, you must go and get rid of that which stands between you and total commitment to God.” That meant that he must sell all that he had and give it to the poor. Jesus Christ must be Lord of all or he is not Lord at all. Romans 10:9-10 expresses it this way: “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.”
We must come to the place where Jesus Christ is Lord of all in our lives and Jesus brought this young man to that point when he said, “You must go and sell everything and give to the poor, come and follow me.”
If you look at verse 21, there is an ascending staircase of verbs. Go, sell, give, come, follow—challenging words to bring him to the point of commitment. And in this simple experience we see some of the soul-winning techniques of Jesus. Ask questions, help people to confront the main issue, love them no matter what, and then try to bring them to a place of commitment to Jesus Christ without compromising the Gospel.
The story had a sad ending. The young man turned and walked away sorrowfully. He came running and seeking; he left walking and weeping. And it is interesting that Jesus did not go after him. Jesus did not beg him and Jesus did not offer him an easy way. You see our Lord knows that we are created free to make our own choices. And he so respects our right to choose, that if we choose to go to hell, he will let us go.
We ought to use this experience to teach us how to share the good news with someone else. But more than that, it should remind us that we if have not made that greatest of all commitments of giving our life and heart to Christ, we should do it today in this hour.