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A man came to Jesus with a question that had been ‘nagging’ at him for awhile. “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Frankly, I wish this man’s question nagged at more people than it does. No one seems to be very bothered with the question of ‘eternal life’ anymore. Either because they’ve given up on the whole idea – ‘when you’re dead you’re dead. That’s all there is.’ Or because they believe that ‘eternal life’ is just something that automatically happens after you die.
I wish it were like it was in the days of John the Baptist. “The crowds asked him, ‘What then shall we do?’ ‘And the tax collectors asked, “What shall we do?” And the soldiers asked, ‘what shall we do?’
• In the Old Testament, David in the 15th Psalm asks, “O Lord, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill?” (Psalm 15:1) I wish more people had that question on their lips.
• In the 24th Psalm, he asks the question again, “Who shall ascend to the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place?” (Ps. 24:3,4). I wish more people wanted to know?
• In the New Testament, the crowd who witnessed the Pentecost who were ‘cut to the heart’ by Peter’s sermon and ask, “What shall we do?” (Acts 2:37) I wish everyone would be so ‘cut to the heart’ that they could not rest until they got an answer.
• The Philippian jailer asked Paul and Silas, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30) I wish everyone was like this jailer.
None of these who ask their question do so for the sake of theological discussion or debate. They do so as someone hanging onto the slim edge of the cliff by their fingertips.
“A man RAN UP and KNELT BEFORE Jesus and asked him, ‘good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ I really like this man. I wish that there were a lot more just like him.
This is just how it’s supposed to work. He’s a wealthy man with some standing in the community. He’s got a good wife and the all the kids are on the honor roll. He’s healthy. He’s got life on a string. What more can a person want?
But for all that is good in his life, there’s something missing. He’s not sure about how he stands before God. Maybe he had heard Jesus say, “Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required…” (Luke 12:48) And he wonders, ‘how much will be required?’ ‘Have I done enough?’ ‘Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’
This has got all the makings of a great story. “And Jesus assured the man that he had done plenty and that he shouldn’t be so worried about such things and just do your best however you choose to measure ‘your best,’ and enjoy life.”
But this is a tragedy. “Disheartened, he went away sorrowful…” And we wonder, ‘how can that be?’ He had exactly the right question. And he came to exactly the right person. For Jesus is ‘eternal life.’
But not everyone who asks the right question will get the answer that they are looking for. And not everyone who comes to Jesus Christ with their ultimate questions will be satisfied with His response. And many will turn away, either disheartened and sorrowful, or bitter and resentful.
We are so desperate to see people, spouses, children, friends, relatives come to Jesus with their questions. “Please Jesus, be nice to him. Don’t scare him away. Tell him what he wants to hear and then later, he’ll come around.”
But Jesus responds to this man with pure Law in all of its severity. “You know the commandments.” And He rattles off six out of ten of them. And when the man replies that he has worn these commandments like a yoke around his neck ever since he was a little child, surely there’s got to be more to it than that, Jesus adds a millstone to the yoke, “go and sell all that you have and give to the poor…”
And we are ‘shocked’ and ‘disappointed’ with Jesus. He sounds like an Old Testament Prophet. This is not very ‘inviting.’ Not very ‘seeker friendly.’
When David asked his question in Psalm 15, “O Lord, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill?” The answer was “He who walks blamelessly and does what is right…” (Psalm 15:1) When he asked, “Who shall ascend to the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place?” The answer was, “He who has clean hands and a pure heart…” (Ps. 24:3,4).
There’s no ‘slack’ in an answer like that. No gospel. No, ‘fear not, all of your sins are forgiven.’ It’s pure law. This is what you must do and who you must be if you are to “inherit eternal life.” This is the way Jesus answers the man. Pure law.
There was a time in David’s life when he responded to the Law exactly as this man in our gospel responded. “All these I have kept from my youth.”
But Nathan said, “you are the man…” And suddenly David realized that the one thing he lacked was ‘clean hands’ and ‘a pure heart’ because he neither “walked blamelessly” nor “did what was right.”
If anyone should have been “disheartened” and “gone away sorrowful” it should have been David. But unlike the man in our gospel, David replied, “I have sinned against the Lord.” And only then did he hear, could he hear, was he ready to hear the gospel. “The Lord has put away your sin; you shall not die.”
The primary purpose of the Law is to drain every last ounce of confidence that we have in ourselves before God so that we are ready to hear the Gospel, the good news that eternal life is yours, not because you have clean hands and a pure heart, or have “kept all these since a youth.” But because God is good and He has taken away your sin. “You shall not die.”
Jesus responds to this man with his urgent question with Law because He’s not ready to hear the Gospel. He still wants to know “what must I do.” Just like David, this man needs a Nathan to trap him in his guilt because no one ever finds the answer to their question about eternal life by looking inside themselves.
Lest we think that when Jesus saw this man with his enlarged ego He was so annoyed with him that He decided to squash him like the little bug that he was, Mark includes this little detail that is more important than all the rest, “And Jesus, looking at him, loved him…”
He’s about to drop an anvil of the Law onto this man’s head that will crush him. Bt the Law of the Lord is good.
• For it is in killing us that He raises us up.
• It is in putting us to death that He gives us new life.
• It is in stripping us of our self-righteousness that He clothes us with His righteousness.
Jesus said, “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.” And it was like Nathan and David all over again. “You are the man.”
It’s obvious that this is not at all what this man was expecting from Jesus when he “ran up and knelt before him…” He thought it would be easier than this.
Here is a man who loved God and always considered himself to be a ‘believer.’ He always felt that if it ever came down to it, if he ever had the opportunity, he would, without hesitation, “deny himself and follow Him.” “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away… Even if I must die with you I will never deny you.” (Mat.26:33,35)
But now, when the opportunity is at hand and it is no longer a hypothetical situation, he can’t do it. His question was, “what must I do…” And Jesus answered him, “this is what you must do.” And he was ‘disheartened by the saying, and went away sorrowful.”
Suddenly, he has learned something about himself that he hadn’t seen or been willing to see in himself before. For all of his piety and religiosity, he is an ‘IDOLATER.’
He does not ‘FEAR, LOVE AND TRUST IN GOD ABOVE ALL THINGS’ as he’s confessed 1000 times. There are other things that he puts before God – like his wealth and his “great possessions.” He loves his neighbor. But there are certain limits to his love. His love for his neighbor cannot COST him too much.
I really wish that this story ended differently. And I’m sure you do too. I wish Mark wrote, “but having gone a short distance, the man “came to his senses,” and “ran up and knelt before Jesus” and said, “I have sinned against the Lord.”
We hope that he did because it’s never too late. And it’s never too soon either. “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts…” (Hebrews 3:15).
Today, you have run to Jesus and you will kneel before Him with your question about ‘eternal life’ burning hot in your heart. But your question is not the same as this man’s. Your question is not, “what must I do to inherit eternal life,” but “what will you do that I may inherit eternal life.”
And Jesus looks at you and loves you. He says, “take and eat, this is my body. Take and drink, this is my blood.”
He is the RICH MAN who has GREAT POSSESSIONS. The whole world belongs to Him and all of your possessions come from Him. And He has done that “one thing” that He told the man to do that He could not do, and that we cannot do either. He sold all that He had, even His own life, and has given all of His wealth to the poor – and you are the poor.
“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” (1Cor. 8:9).
His “hands are clean” and “His heart is pure.” And He gave His ‘clean hands’ to the nails and His ‘pure heart’ to the sword, that you may “inherit eternal life.”
This is what it means to call Jesus “good.” He is “good” because of who He is and by what he has done. We are ‘good’ when we believe and trust in Him who “walks blamelessly and does what is right.”’
The final answer to our question, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life’ is, ‘nothing.’ Jesus has done it all. Only believe in Him and you have it. And if you will believe it, your heart will be ‘LIFTED UP’ at the saying, and you will go from here with great joy, ready to sell all that you have and give to the poor and follow Him.