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Jul 30 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

July 27, 2014 – Mark 10:17-31

The Simplicity of Christ

As He was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to Him and knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments, ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor you father and mother.'” And he said to Him, “Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up.” Mark 10:17-20

Intro: In a way, the history of Christian monasticism begins with this passage

Many scholars look to St. Antony as the prototype of all monks and hermits. Born around 251 AD, he grew up to become an Egyptian peasant farmer until sometime in his twenties he heard a sermon preached on this story we are reading today. When Jesus’ words were read, “go and sell all you possess and give to the poor,” he interpreted them literally. Leaving all he owned behind, he moved from the city into the outlying necropolis. But as his reputation grew for being a wise and spiritual person, so many people came to see him that he moved further and further into the desert until he secluded himself in complete isolation for twenty years. It was this passage that inspired him to leave his former world behind to devote himself entirely to God.

Before we jump into this episode, we will take a brief look at its background
– in the previous verses, people had brought their children to Jesus for his touch
• when he defended the children against his disciples, he made two statements about children:

  1. The kingdom of God belongs to them (and the childlike)
  2. “Whoever” enters the kingdom must receive it like a child

– once inside our story, Jesus will use two terms interchangeably
• “eternal life” and “the kingdom of God”
○ “eternal life brackets” this section (vv. 17 & 30)
• for Jesus, the kingdom of God is our introduction to eternal life

What we see immediately in this man who comes to Jesus is an attractive character

Our first impression of him is formed by verbs
– “ran” and “knelt,” which indicate either eagerness or desperation
– “asked” – not for healing, miracle, justice, or to resolve a theological controversy
• he wanted life with God and he was read ready to “do” something to have it

People do not ask this question unless they are unsure whether they have eternal life
– perhaps his experience of religion didn’t live up to its ads
• for many years my enthusiasm for my Christianity vacillated
○ when inspired by sermon, concept, or a phrase (e.g., practice the presence of God) it went up
○ but after awhile the sermon or concept went dry and no longer inspired
• then I would return to the disciplined machinery of church life
○ that is: attend church, read my Bible, have a regular prayer life, follow the rules
○ but it was empty because it offered me ideas about God, not a living experience of God
– that may be why Christians spend their spare time in front of the TV or with novels

I’m going to label Jesus’ response to this man, “Insight Training”
– he’ll use it with the disciples too and we can discern three stages:
• shock
• criteria for inheriting eternal life (or entering the kingdom of God)
• provoke (self-)reflection
– shock, “Why do you call Me good?”
• the fact that Jesus does not wait for answer means this is a rhetorical question
• Jesus used it to make a point
– what Jesus meant by this question depends on what word is stressed
Why do you call Me good? (as if to say, “I’m not good”
Why do you call Me good? (What is your motive? Are you trying to flatter Me?)
Why do you call Me good? (why not Wise Teacher or Kind Teacher?)
• at first it seems like the Lord’s challenge has nothing to do with the question
○ but “God alone” lays the ground rule for Jesus’ answer
• Jesus is making this man think about what he has said and its potential meaning
• he also wants him to consider why he said it
○ it removes goodness from the discussion
○ Jesus is steering him away from good as a criterion

After the shock comes the criteria, “You know the commandments”
– Jesus lists five of the ten commandments (and one that is not found among the ten)
• but only from second half –  he left out the first four
○ no other gods, no idols, do not profane God’s name, and keep the Sabbath
• what do we notice? about Jesus’ list? . . .
○ he includes only the horizontal commandments and none of the vertical commandments
○ perhaps he is already hinting at what might be missing
– if, as Jesus said, no one is good, then keeping the commandments is already ruled out
• so the Lord must have another reason for raising this issue
• nevertheless, the man feels that he has fulfilled the requirements
○ do we hear a hint of disappointment in his voice, as if to say, “Certainly there must be more to it than keeping the commandments, because I do that and always have done that”?

Vv. 21-22, Now comes the provocative stage

“Looking at him,” this line is not filler (we’ll see it two more times)
– looking at him, Jesus saw his imperfect devotion, his imperfect obedience, his imperfect commitment–and “loved him”!!
• God does not love us for our perfections

The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. De. 7:7 & see also De. 9:4

– I have to take issue with the NASB’s translation, “felt a love for him” — what does that mean?!
• that the Lord merely felt love without truly loving? or without being able to do anything?
• Jesus was looking at him–not the persona but the person
○ the inner self invisible to everyone else
○ and he loved him

“One thing you lack” – the man knew he was missing something, and that’s why he came
– he already prayed, observed the Sabbath, and kept the commandments
• but he hungered for more
– remember Martha and Mary?
• Jesus reduced for them the “one thing” that was necessary
–  Jesus simplified the spiritual life
• he reduced all the commandments to two and the two to one: “Love”
○ of all the potential things this man may have lacked, Jesus brings it down to one central thing
○ of all the many things that had Martha worried and bothered, he brought her back to one thing
– Jesus simplified the spiritual life, but he did not make it easy
• Jesus hit this man with an impossibility, “go and sell all you possess”
• the man had come knowing it would cost him something, but he never guessed it would cost him everything
○ Jesus walked him into self-reflection
○ and as soon as he saw himself, he was saddened
• had to choose between a luxurious life and eternal life
○ he did not want God as much as he thought
○ but this is something he needed to discover about himself
• he would not soon forget this conversation
○ a new life awaited him at the cost of the old — that’s always how it works

Vv. 23-31, Now it’s the disciples’ turn

Again, Jesus begins with a shock,
“How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God”
– it was commonly believed that God blessed good with wealth and dumped trouble on the bad
• God prospered some of their greatest biblical heroes–e.g., Abraham, Job, Solomon

Great wealth is in the house of the righteous,
But trouble is the income of the wicked.
(Pr. 15:6)

• no wonder the “disciples were amazed at his words”
○ most of us are not given the choice given to this man
○ but his story helps to demystify wealth for us
○ it dispels the illusion that with it we could do more and be more for God
– Jesus repeated himself and added an illustration
• notice: “Children” – a link to previous episode (v. 15)
– but all his repetition and illustration do is increase their astonishment
• “Who then?”
○ what follows from this question is the good news

Entering the kingdom of God isn’t difficult–a child can do it
Entering kingdom is impossible, but not with God
• it is not a human accomplishment or enterprise — we receive it
• and we receive it as children or not at all

Now it’s disciples turn for introspection (stage three: Jesus provokes self-reflection)
– almost immediately Peter makes the leap to the realization “Behold, we have left everything”
• they had done what the wealthy man was unable to do
• Jesus promised them that rewards would follow
○ we don’t have to own (possess or control) things to enjoy them
○ and things that bring the deepest fulfillment cannot be purchased

Joan Chittister, “After we ourselves know struggle, we begin to weigh one value against another, to choose between them with the future, rather than simply the present, as our measure. . . . One thing is not as good as another. Some things, often quite common things, we come to realize–peace, security, love–are infinitely better than the great things–the money, the position, the fame–that we once wanted for ourselves. Then we begin to make different kinds of decisions.”

• but why does Jesus add, “with persecutions”?
○ because the kingdom isn’t about compensation, but about the progress we make in God
○ entering may be simple, but it is not easy – and struggle plays a role

Conc: I mentioned these other references: “Looking around” (23), “Looking at them” (27)

Why is eye-contact worth noting?
– it indicates the Lord’s interest, attention, concern, and love
• if we can feel him looking into our eyes when he speaks to us, then we will know he loves us
○ that he simplifies the way for us and assists us through the parts we find impossible
– there is another important “one thing” verse in the gospels
• a blind man who was healed by Jesus did not know Jesus
• he did not even know whether or not Jesus was a righteous person

“Whether He is a sinner,” the blind man who could now see said, “I do not know; one thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” (Jn. 9:25)

– what is the one thing you know, that you would stake your life on?
• what is the one thing Jesus has given you or told you? Do you know?
Do not be afraid to find out, because even if it seems impossible it is not; “for all things are possible with God”

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