The Rich Young Ruler

By Ryan, 27 May, 2024
Open Bible on a table

I was greatly encouraged at church this past Sunday morning. We recited the Nicene Creed together, which has instructed the church on the mystery of the Incarnation for 1,700 years. We sang familiar hymns, similarly laden with rich doctrine, and we were delivered an encouraging sermon from Mark 10:17-31 on the story of the rich young ruler. Multiple points of the service were particularly moving, but before I reflect on those, I offer a more general reflection on the nature of the Bible itself.

This Sunday I was reminded afresh of the wisdom of Scripture and the benefit it is to us throughout the course of our lives. The text may not change, but our situation in life certainly does, causing different elements of a passage to strike us more meaningfully as we age, mature, and otherwise change in character and circumstance.

The last time I gave extended attention to this passage, I was a young man recently graduated from Bible college leading a neighbor and his wife through a study of the Gospel of Mark. The name of the curriculum I used escapes me, but I was happily surprised years later to find them using my eCommerce software to sell it online. Needless to say, at that time I identified much more with Jesus's disciples in the story than the rich young ruler himself, as I had hardly any possessions to speak of, much less what anyone would consider wealth.

I knew this young man's wealth would be considered a sign of God's favor, and he went away sad because he was loathe to sacrifice that very blessing in order to follow Jesus, even to "inherit eternal life." I also knew this was not merely a teaching against wealth, as "the thing" that grips each of us is sure to vary; per 1 John 2:15-17, "the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life" covers just about everything that might keep us from following the Lord, "and the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever."

I was always struck by the fact that Jesus loved him even as he put his finger right on the pain point that demonstrated this man was in fact more attached to "the things of the world" than he was his relationship with God. It wasn't until I became a parent that I knew what it meant to cause someone grief in order to teach them something deeper. I imagine I used this lesson then to encourage my friends to "count the cost" of following Jesus (cf. Luke 14:28) and to help them rest assured that in God's economy, they would be compensated through fellowship in the household of God for any sacrifice they made to follow Jesus.

Nowadays, my life looks very different. I'm almost 20 years into a career in software development, which means I have accumulated a significant number of possessions. Through some fortunate interactions and the grace of God, I have become wealthy beyond my every expectation. Indeed, as I encountered the passage afresh, I identified with the rich young ruler, though I am no longer so young nor under any delusions regarding my own adherence to the various commandments. It's hard not to hear Jesus speaking of me as he says, "How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God." Oof. 😮‍💨

The disciples recoiled in wonder, asking essentially, "If those who have been so obviously blessed by God are not fit enough for His kingdom, then who is?" Wonder of wonders, Jesus answers, "With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God." There's nothing for me to do but to receive that teaching with humility, remembering the exhortations of other portions of Scripture to provide for my family, share with those in need, and deal honestly with the government and others in all my financial dealings.

I was moved to tears by the final words of Jesus in this passage, "Many who are first will be last, and the last first." Don't trust in riches; find ways to give them away. Enjoy the blessings of this life and invite others in to share them with you. Aspire not to be first, but "in humility count others more significant than yourselves." (Phil 2:3) Lessons I teach my children; lessons I need continually taught to me.

Finally, I was moved again to tears by our closing hymn, My Faith Has Found a Resting Place. The chorus lays out in simple terms the doctrine of substitutionary atonement, by which the rich and poor alike are saved:

I need no other argument,
I need no other plea.
It is enough that Jesus died
and that he died for me."

Amen.

We are members of Second Presbyterian Church of Greenville, SC. We'd be more than happy to sit with you in person, or you can watch this service on YouTube and let me know how the sermon strikes you in the comments.

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Danita Bowman

2 weeks 2 days ago

Ryan - thank you for not hiding your faith and, in fact, proclaiming it - especially in a field where it isn't always embraced.