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.
23 And Jesus looked round about, and saith unto his disciples, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!
24 And the disciples were astonished at his words. But Jesus answereth again, and saith unto them, Children, how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God!
25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.
26 And they were astonished out of measure, saying among themselves, Who then can be saved?
27 And Jesus looking upon them saith, With men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible.
“How many points should a sermon have?” Jeff Ray said, “At least one.” The point of my sermon today is this: that no person by human effort can earn his way into the kingdom of God.
Perhaps it is summed up in the 26th and 27th verses of the 10th chapter of the book of Mark, when the disciples asked Jesus, “Who then can be saved?” And Jesus said, “With men it is impossible, but with God: for with God all things are possible.” He was saying to us that there is no way that we by human effort can ever earn our way into the favor and the kingdom of God. But that salvation has always has been and will always be the free gift of God’s grace. He gives it to us. He makes it possible. There is no story that illustrates this any better than the one that is found in the book of Mark 10:17-27.
Mark tells us that Jesus and his disciples were traveling. That there came a young man running to Jesus and who kneeled down before him and asked, “Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God.”
Matthew identifies this man a bit better for us. We know him according to Matthew as a rich young ruler. And it is amazing that this young man should fall down at the feet of Jesus and begin to ask him questions. He was young. He was an aristocrat and yet he did the most unusual thing. He fell down at the feet of the penniless carpenter of Nazareth to ask him the deepest question of life: “What must I do to inherit everlasting life?” No doubt this young man had been on the fringes of the crowd that gathered around Jesus. He had listened to the wisdom of Jesus. He had watched the power of Jesus. He had felt the love of Jesus and now he wanted all of that himself. He wanted to be more than just on the fringes. He wanted to have everlasting life himself. He wanted the wisdom of Jesus to penetrate his heart. He wanted the power of Jesus to change his life. He wanted the love of Jesus to flow through his spirit. So he came with the most important question that anybody has ever asked in all time and eternity: “Lord, what must I do to inherit everlasting life?”
Have you come to the place where you have asked that question of the Lord? Not just wanting to know about salvation—not just interested in the church or the Bible or knowledge of the word of God—but where you wanted to enter into eternal life with a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. And you asked as this young man did, “What do I need to do, what is necessary so that I may inherit this eternal life?”
1. No man can con his way in the kingdom of God.
It is interesting the way this young man addressed Jesus. He called him “Good Master.” That may have been an attempt at flattery. He may have wanted to compliment Jesus. He may have thought he could get on Jesus’ good side by saying something nice about him. So he called him “Good Master.”
Then the response of Jesus: “Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God.” Jesus was not being rude in his response to this young man. Rather, Jesus was trying to find out how much this young man understood about him. He was trying to see if this young man was trying to flatter him or if this young man really understood that he was God. Jesus was saying to him, “Are you saying that you believe I am God? Are you saying that you recognize my true identity?” When Jesus asked that question, he was saying to this young man, “No person can con his way into the kingdom of God. Don’t think that you can get into the kingdom of God just by recognizing me as a great teacher or as a moral example. Don’t think that you can get into the kingdom of God by tipping your hat and saying nice things about me. You must recognize that I am the Son of God, the Savior of the world, and until you realize who I am and accept me for who I am and confess me for who I am you cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”
That is a great truth. We dare not miss it. Jesus is not interested in flattering words. Jesus is not interested in lip service Christianity. Jesus is not interested in you just tipping your hat to him. Do you know who he is? Are you willing to accept him for who he is? Are you willing to openly and publicly acknowledge him as the Son of God? Are you willing to stand and say, “Jesus Christ is God”? That’s what’s necessary to enter into the kingdom of heaven. That’s the first great truth. No man can con his way into the kingdom of God.
2. No man can earn his way into the kingdom of God.
The response to that question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” is most interesting. Jesus says in verse 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.” The young man said to Jesus, “Well, I have observed all of these commandments from my youth. I have always kept these commandments.”
Then Jesus looked very carefully at him and said, “One thing thou lackest: go they wall, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven and come; and come, take up the cross, and follow me.” In that response Jesus quoted some of the commandments of God at random. He did not quote those commandments in order. He did not give the young man all of the commandments. He just selected a few of them. You know the commandments and that you should go and live by them. That answer did not satisfy this young man. That’s what people had been telling him all of his life.
Go and live by the commandments. He felt that he had done that. They had been telling him exactly what Jesus was telling him. Still, there was an emptiness in his life. There was a longing for something that he had not yet experienced. That’s why he came to Jesus. That’s why he asked the question, “How can I find eternal life?” which means life in abundance, and life in eternity with God. He wanted something he hadn’t found by keeping the commands.
He said to Jesus, “I have kept these commands since I was a child.” We have no reason to doubt the honesty of this young man. He was naive concerning the nature of true righteousness. He was at least honest in admitting that he had kept the outward commands of God. God had said, “Thou shalt not kill,” and he never had done that. No doubt he had been angry and had hated before. He had not kept the law spiritually and inwardly but he had kept it outwardly. The law said, “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” and he had not been unfaithful to his wife but no doubt he had lusted before. The law said that you are not to steal and he had not taken that which belonged to someone else. But no doubt he had coveted. He had longed for what was not his. And though he was honest, he was naive. He could say, “I have kept all of these commands from the time I was a child until this very day.”
Jesus knew that. And he looked at that young man with piercing eyes so as to look beneath the surface into his very heart, and Jesus loved him. He didn’t get angry at him. He didn’t reject him. He saw the honest, sincere longings, though misguided, of this young man and told him exactly what he needed to do to have everlasting life.
When Jesus first responded by quoting the commands he never intended to say to this young man, “If you live up to the ten commandments you will be saved.” Rather, he intended to unmask this young man from this egocentric mindset. To reveal the shallowness of his understanding of the law of God. Jesus wasn’t saying, “Go and live by the commandments and you will find everlasting life.” This young man had already lived by the commandments outwardly and he had not found satisfaction even in this life.
What Jesus really wanted the young man to say was, “I have tried to live by those commandments and I found it impossible to do so. And I now open my life up to you because I cannot live up to the spirit of the law. I can live up to the letter of the law. I can not kill but I can’t live up to the spirit. I can’t live my life without getting angry. I can live without committing adultery but I can’t live without lusting occasionally.” Jesus wanted this young man to confess his own failure and inability to live up to the law of God. But instead the young man had held on to his outward righteousness. “I have kept these commands all of my life.” So Jesus said to him, “There is one thing you lack.” And with that statement he stripped this young man of his confidence in his lifelong ethical obedience. He just stripped away his confidence in that by living up to the moral law of God everything was going to be all right and he was going to enter into the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus was saying to us, “You not only cannot con your way into the kingdom of God. You cannot earn your way into the kingdom of God.” You can live up to every one of the ten commandments. You can keep every one of those outward standards of righteousness and morality and when you get through, you will not be in the kingdom of God. There will still be an emptiness and a longing inside of you. You cannot con your way into the kingdom of God. You cannot earn your way into the kingdom of God.
3. No man can buy his way into heaven.
Jesus said to him, “Go and sell everything that you have and give it to the poor. Then you shall have treasure in heaven and come and follow me.” The scriptures say that the young man was sad. That statement made him gloomy. He was astonished by what Jesus said. He walked away grieving in his heart because he had great possessions. Jesus then turned to his disciples and he used this as an opportunity to teach them an important truth. He said, “How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!” It is difficult for the rich people like that young man to enter into the kingdom of God.
Jesus was not suggesting to this young man that “If you will go and sell all of your possessions and give those possessions to the poor, by your deeds of benevolence you will be buying your way into the kingdom of God.” Jesus was simply recognizing that this young man’s devotion to his wealth was greater than his devotion to God. Jesus was recognizing that riches stood in this young man’s way. He could never give his whole heart to God because he was giving his whole heart to his possessions. And since possessions stood between him and his devotion to God, he had to get rid of them so that God could have his whole heart.
I want you to understand that Jesus never belittled riches or rich people. And what he says here is not for general application. It concerns this one man in particular. He never told Zaccheus to give away everything that he had. He never said to Nicodemus, “Go and sell everything and give to the poor.” But Jesus understood that this young man had become a victim of his possessions. This young man had become a victim of the good life. He was far more interested in what he possessed, in his wealth, in the security that it afforded him. He was far more interested in material things than he was in the kingdom of God and the simple statement, “Go and get rid of those things, they are keeping you from a wholehearted commitment to God,” reveals just how entangled he was in the things of this world.
Jesus was saying to us, “You cannot con your way into the kingdom of God by tipping your hat to the Lord or saying nice things about him or having warm feelings toward him. You cannot earn your way into the kingdom of God by living up to the moral law even if you perfectly lived up to the outward standard of morality given in the ten commandments.” He was saying to us here that you cannot buy your way into the kingdom of God even if you give everything you have to the poor. What is essential to entering into the kingdom of God? That God has your whole heart. That there be nothing between you and him.
And unless you are willing to put God first in your life, to be rid of everything and everything that could divide you from him, unless you come with that kind of open wholehearted commitment, you cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus said, “How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!” Now there is something about riches. I want you to know that by biblical standards every one of you is rich. I’m not talking to a few elite out here in the congregation. By the biblical standard all of us are rich. There is something about the things of this world that can divide us from God. It is hard to have much like we do, fine houses, automobiles, and clothes, and money in the bank, and all of those things. What we hang on to and clutch so dearly that we can’t give it up breaks the first commandment. “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3).
It is difficult to have those things and maintain your humility and your faith and your trust in God. It is so easy to become proud and arrogant and self-sufficient. Every one of us faces that great danger because, as Scottish Philosopher Thomas Carlyle once said, “For every hundred people who can handle adversity, there is only one who can stand prosperity.” It has a way of getting a grip on us and dividing us from us from God. That’s the reason why Jesus said, “It is hard for rich people to be saved.” He would say today, “It is hard for all of you Americans to be saved because you’ve got so much. You have a tendency to trust in that. It is hard for you to be humble. It is hard for you to renounce things and to trust me only.”
You see we start out to get things and soon they have us. We want to possess them and we wind up being possessed by them. It happened in the first century. It is happening in the 21st century. It happened to those disciples and it happens to us.
I read with great interest A Day No Pigs Would Die written by Robert Newton Peck. It’s a true story about his dad, a Vermont farmer who wanted desperately to own his farm outright. So his father not only worked the farm but he slaughtered pigs on the side to make some extra money to pay for the farm. That is where they got the title of the book. The day his father died was the day no pigs would die; no pigs were slaughtered that day.
When Robert Peck was 13 years of age, his father died. And in this part of the book he is talking about what happened that day. He said the friends and neighbors came. They put his dad in a pine box and they took him out to the apple orchard out beside the house and they dug a grave and they buried him there. After all the friends and neighbors were gone, and all the chores had been done around the house, this is what he says about the rest of that day, that evening:
“As I couldn’t sleep I put on my coat and I walked outside. I took a look at Daisy and Solomon [their cow and their ox], and they were both as quiet as vespers. Both of them are getting old and they like being in the barn even on a nice spring night such as this. Something brushed against my ankles, it was Miss Sarah [their cat] just to say hello before she went out to the meadow to hunt moles. I don’t know why I walked out toward the orchard, all the work there was done. But I guess I had to give a good night to Papa and to be alone with him. The bugs were out and they were singing all around me, almost like a choir. I got to the fresh grave, all neatly mounded and pounded. Somewhere under all that Vermont clay was my father, Haven Peck, buried deep in the land he sweated so hard on and longed to own so much and now it owned him. Good night, Papa, I said. We had thirteen good years. That’s all I could say so I just turned and walked away from a patch of grassless land. Somewhere under all that Vermont clay was my father, Haven Peck, buried deep in the land he sweated so hard on and longed to own so much and now it owned him.”
Haven Peck was not the first nor the last who started out to own something and wound up being owned by it. That’s why Jesus said, “It’s hard for you people to enter into the kingdom of God.” It’s hard not to be proud. It’s hard not to be arrogant. It’s hard not to be self-sufficient, and to trust in God.
The disciples were astonished. They thought that wealth was a sign of the favor of God. If anybody was going to be saved, it would be the rich people. And they responded to Jesus by asking, “Why, Lord, who then can be saved?” That was the question he had been wanting them to ask. Here is his answer: “With men, it is impossible.” You can’t con your way into heaven. You can’t work your way into heaven. You can’t buy your way into heaven. With men, it is impossible. It can’t be done. That’s it! But with God, all things are possible. And if you will come to him in humility, in faith, and trust, you can enter.
“Master—what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Get rid of everything that stands between you and God and come to him in repentance and faith and humility and trust. That’s the only way to be saved.