17 And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. 19 You know 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.’ ” 20 And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” 21 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.” 22 Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. Mark 10:17-22
Jesus is getting ready to go. Literally. I mean he is heading for Jerusalem for the last time. It will be the last city he visits on Earth. Weighty matters are at hand. He is about to fulfill that which his Father has sent him: the atonement by way of Calvary and his glorious resurrection. The firstborn among many…
But he is, again, interrupted.
v.17 tells us that ‘as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
I don’t know many people who, at one time or another, haven’t been preoccupied with the concept of dying. Someone, probably a comedian, once said, “Everyone is terminal.” And that’s true as far as it goes. Yet another side benefit of Sin, our bodies labor under it until they give out. As long as we’re here day by day, each step we take is taken knowing full well that it might be our last. Death is part of the curse.
And this young man asks probably the most important question ever asked. It is the thing we wonder about in those dark hours when we are alone or waiting by the beside of a very sick child or caring for an aged parent. The question we all answer in one way or another, the true question of Life the Universe and Everything—the answer to which is not forty-two for those who have ever read Douglas Adams—“What must I do to inherit eternal life?” We are told in John 17:1-3 what eternal life is, knowing God and Jesus Christ. We are also told that this eternal life is given to all those God gave to Christ. (Seriously, its that simple. Look it up for yourself.)
Now at this point Jesus, who is arguably the busiest person on the planet at this point—not only is he moving things along according to his Father’s Sovereign will with regard to the atonement but he is maintaining the cosmos and several other things all while trying to teach twelve human males all what they will need to know to establish the Church; arguably his most difficult task—does something radical right here. He takes time to speak to this young man. The startling thing is that he doesn’t address his question, he hits all the points around it.
First in v.18 he addresses his concept of sin. ‘No one is good except God alone.’ No, he is telling him, you can’t really get into heaven by upholding the law. It’s not possible to ‘earn’ your ticket. God is good. You are not. Second, he addresses his knowledge of those commandments, “You know the commandments” he tells the young man in v.19. You have studied them all, you know your Bible, you know your doctrine. You’ve been a good boy. “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth” the young man replies. We can only take his word for it. He was probably right, though, because in v.21 we are told Jesus looked at him and ‘loved him. “You lack one thing” Jesus tells him.
What was that one thing?