“You Will Have Treasure in Heaven” (Mark 10:17-22)
Today we have the story of the rich young ruler. It’s a story of idolatry, repentance, and faith–the declining of repentance and faith, actually, even though Jesus lovingly calls this young man to it. And so this is a story about Jesus, ultimately, and how he calls each of us to give up on our idols and to follow him in faith. This is a story about the love of Jesus for sinners–it is a story for you, so that you will inherit eternal life, that “You Will Have Treasure in Heaven.”
The story of the rich young ruler. We find this story recorded in three gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Luke tells us that he was a ruler, probably meaning a leader in his local synagogue. Matthew tells us that he was young. And all three, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, tell us that he was rich. Thus, the rich young ruler.
So this young man comes running up to Jesus. He has heard about this rabbi who shows so much wisdom in his teaching. And the young man evidently has a strong interest in getting an answer to a question that has been bothering him. He kneels before Jesus and asks, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Right here we must pause and see the presuppositions lodged in the young man’s question.
First, he calls Jesus “Good Teacher.” He’s approaching Jesus as a teacher one might go and hear, a merely human teacher, who may or may not have some wisdom to dispense. “I’ve heard the thoughts of Rabbi Shimei and Rabbi Hillel. Now I’ll hear the thoughts of this Rabbi Yeshua, Rabbi Jesus. I’ve heard he’s pretty good. Maybe he’s got something different to say.”
And the second presupposition embedded in the young man’s question is seen when he asks, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” He thinks it’s a matter of his doing. “There must be some good deed I need to perform in order to make it into eternal life. What is it? Have I left something out? I’ll ask this teacher, and maybe he can tell me.”
So Jesus takes on these two false presuppositions found in the young man’s question. “Why do you call me good?” Jesus says. “No one is good except God alone.” In other words, if you want to find out the key to inheriting eternal life, you’re going to need more than just one man’s opinion. Only God can unlock the door to eternal life. You’ll need an answer from God, not just some advice from a really good rabbi or philosopher or best-selling author.”
Now what is good in the young man’s question is that he has a concern for inheriting eternal life. That’s important. At least he realizes that much, that we’re all going to have to face the music some day and meet our Maker. There will come a day of accounting, the final Judgment Day, and then it will be either eternal life or eternal damnation for every one of us.
But Jesus must deal with this idea of eternal life by way of good works. He needs to disabuse this young man of that notion. It’s a common thought that people have. We come to it rather naturally, that the way to get on God’s good side is by how much good we can do. We have to show ourselves to be better than the bad people, and we do that by piling up our good works, accumulating enough points to outweigh our slip-ups and to outscore the people we outshine.
And so if the young man is going to ask a Law question, Jesus is going to give him a Law answer. “You know the commandments,” he tells the young man. And then he quotes the commandments: “‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” In other words: “There’s no secret special good deed you need to find out about, if you want to gain eternal life by way of your works. You already know what to do. God has already told you, in the Ten Commandments. So then, young man, how do you measure up?”
“Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” Ah, now we’re getting to the problem. The young man thinks he has already done these things well enough. And, compared to most people, he probably has. I’m sure he was a fine young man, a paragon of virtue. To be a synagogue ruler already, at such a young age–he was probably an exemplary young fellow.
But there was something missing, something nagging at his conscience, like he hadn’t done enough. Otherwise, he wouldn’t be asking Jesus this question. “I’ve led a pretty decent life. I’ve tried hard. But is it enough? How can I be sure? How can I know when I’ve done enough to inherit eternal life?”
How about you? On what basis do you think you will inherit eternal life? Or is this even a question you think about? Probably most people in our culture don’t even give this a thought anymore. Or if it does pop up, they try to suppress it. Don’t want to think too much about death and what comes after it. Let’s not think about a God to whom we are accountable. Too scary. No, let’s numb ourselves into thinking happy thoughts. “I’m good. You’re good. Everybody’s good–except the really bad people, of course. And you and I, we’re better than that. How dare God judge anybody, especially me! Why, that would be so judgmental!”
Well, wishful thinking isn’t going to change the reality. And the reality is that there is this matter of eternal life looming ahead and knowing now how to obtain it. And thinking you have done enough good works isn’t going to do it. The commandments will only accuse you.
And so if the young man thinks he has done enough by way of commandments about not murdering, not stealing, not committing adultery, and so forth–an outwardly respectable life–now Jesus is going to put his finger on an even bigger problem that the young man has, namely, his idolatry. The young man has a wrong god that he’s worshiping.
Our text says: “And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, ‘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.’” Notice that Jesus looked at the young man and “loved him,” it says. What Jesus is about to say is not because he’s a meanie and wants the young man to be lost and damned. No. Far from it. Jesus loves this young man, even as he loves all the young dudes–and dudesses, and people no matter how old or young, rich or poor, they may be. Jesus looks at you and me today and loves us. And when he reveals our idols to us and calls us to repentance, he’s doing that because he loves us. He wants us to be saved. He wants us to inherit eternal life. He wants us to have treasure in heaven.
“You lack one thing,” Jesus tells the young man; “go, sell all that you have and give to the poor.” Well, OK now! There must be the missing ingredient! Voluntary poverty. Selling off your possessions. Do that good work, and now you’ve got it made. It’s fine that you’ve done all that other stuff, leading an outwardly moral life. But now, if you take this extra step, of being so very philanthropic and selling off all your stuff and giving all the proceeds to the poor, then, then you’ll have your ticket to heaven! Yes, one more really super-duper good work to do and you’re in! Right?
Wrong! That would be a total misreading of what Jesus is saying here–although some have tried to spin in that way, believe it or not. But no, Jesus is not here prescribing an additional really good work for you to do to earn your way into heaven. In fact, just the opposite. Jesus here is putting his finger on the young man’s idol. And in this man’s case, it was his wealth. He couldn’t give that up. His money, his possessions–that was his god. That’s what he placed the highest value on. This, then, was the idolatry that the man needed to repent of.
Jesus here is showing the young man that he is indeed a sinner. If he thought he could skate by on his outward good works, Jesus here shows him that he still is clinging inwardly to an idol, which is to break the very First Commandment, “You shall have no other gods.” Friends, like the rich young man, we all need to hear that we are sinners and that we’re not going to make it on the basis of our works. That will not gain for us eternal life and treasure in heaven.
So what will, or are we lost forever? No, we are not lost. There is a way. It is the only way. And that is why Jesus adds these words–and this is the key to the whole story–it is when Jesus says to the young man, and to each one of us, “Come, follow me.”
“Come, follow me!” Come, follow Jesus! This is the way of everlasting life! There is no other. Listen to the voice of Jesus, and come, follow him in faith. Here is where you will find eternal life. In Christ. Here is how you will have treasure in heaven. Through Christ.
For Jesus is truly the “rich young ruler” who left everything behind for you and me. He, the very Son of God, came down from heaven for us men and for our salvation. “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” (2 Corinthians 8:9). Yes, Christ set aside the riches of heaven and came in our flesh as a servant. He walked the way of the cross, to bear our sins and the weight of our idolatry–for we all have false gods of our own making–to suffer the judgment for our sins on the cross. He did this for your sake, that you might become rich, so that you would gain a treasure in heaven.
What is this treasure that you will inherit? It is the gift of eternal life. Death is not the end for you. Rather, life, everlasting life, opens up before you. It is life with Christ. It is life that overcomes the grave, even as Jesus himself rose from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. It is eternal life in Christ’s everlasting kingdom, a kingdom of righteousness, peace, joy, and blessing. Rejoicing with all the saints, of all ages, in the presence of God. No more sin, no more sorrow. Glorified bodies in a restored creation. Singing and praising and unending joy. This is the treasure that Christ has won for you and that is waiting for you in heaven.
And so you have this treasure to inherit. You have these riches by God’s grace. God has given you the gift of faith, of trusting in Jesus as your Savior, as your only hope. And with that gift comes everything else, all the riches of heaven.
The rich young man went away that day disheartened and sorrowful, for he was not ready to give up on his idol. But not so with you today. You know that the false god of possessions, or any other idol we may value–those false gods cannot save you. Rather, today you hear the voice of the one true God, who can and does and will save you. Today Jesus is calling you once again to repentance and to faith. This is a voice you can trust. “Come, follow me,” Jesus is saying to you today. “Come, follow me, and you will have treasure in heaven.”