IN THE WORD : The Rich Young Ruler

in-the-wordAs you may know, I have been reading through the Bible going on 2 years now. I was staying on pace to read the entire plan in a year, using the You Version chronological plan, until I got to the Gospels. Because these books were about Jesus’ life and ministry, I really wanted to slow down and study them. I did, but I also ended up skipping whole days or weeks completely and I am just now getting back to it! The funny thing is that when I started this blog, last August, it was mainly to write about the scriptures and my notes and questions from studying them, so I’d have an online archive and maybe get feedback and insight from other people! I would love to be able to do that here and decided to start this feature called “In the Word”.  My goal is to go though portions of scripture and just talk about what God is showing me and questions I have. You will never hear me claim to know everything, and I know there is so much for me to learn from you guys as well, so please share your thoughts and questions, so we can go through these things together!

Luke 18:18-30 – The Rich Ruler
(Also Matt 19:16-30 & Mark 10:17-31)

18 And a ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 19 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.

I have skipped over this line, many times, and really just read the question the ruler was asking. But when I read it this last time, I wondered if this comment by Jesus is not the entire synopsis of this exchange. This man called Jesus a “Good Teacher”. With Jesus’ reply asking why he called Him that, I wondered if Jesus is not questioning the where the mans allegiance lies. It is as if Jesus is saying “Why do you call me that? Are you saying you believe that I am God?”  SPOILER ALERT: The main idea of this story is for us to look into our own lives and say “Is Jesus going to be my God or my good teacher? Am I willing to surrender all to follow Him?”. Could it be that this little question, foretells where Jesus is going with this?

20 You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.’” 21 And he said, “All these I have kept from my youth.”

This part confused me! The Bible mentions that lusting in our hearts is considered to be adultery and hating other is like murder. How could anyone claim to have kept these commandments totally, so why does this man say this?  I assume it to show human arrogance, that we claim to not be “bad” and that we are doing “good”. We can have great difficulty admitting our sin and our need, but just because we don’t admit it doesn’t mean its not there. In real life, just like in the story, our circumstances will eventually reveal what is true.

22 When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 

Jesus doesn’t directly address whether or not the man had been completely faithful all those years, but I think by saying “one thing you still lack” He does! If this man had been perfect and kept the law totally, there would be no need for him to follow Jesus. But Jesus knows this mans heart (and that no man besides Him could ever be without sin), so He tells the man what else is needed. This is the ruler’s call to surrender. I don’t think it is just about the money or that Jesus requires a vow of poverty from everyone. I think that this mans riches were just what he valued more than he valued following God and what it is what gave him significance and security. Instead of assuming this passage is just something for the wealthy or for the materialistic, I think we have to look at it as a representation of the things that we hold tightly to and things that we are dependent on.

23 But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich.

The fact that the ruler was sad, made me wonder if he was sad, because he knew he would never sell everything to follow Jesus, and therefore miss out, or if he was sad because he would miss all of his stuff. What are your thoughts?

24 Jesus, seeing that he had become sad, said, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!

When Jesus acknowledges that it is difficult for the wealthy to enter, I always immediately think of rich people. We know that having money causes problems. Not only does money allow for us to be constantly distracted by “shiny things”, but the security of money may make us feel like we have everything together and don’t need God. It can create the illusion of a heaven on earth that competes with the true heaven. (Although, if we could truly grasp all that heaven holds, nothing would ever compare.) But the “better” our lives on earth are, the harder that trade off seems to be and it starts to make less and less sense as we think about it in earthly terms.

But I also had another thought (this may be far fetched, so tell me what you think). What if the wealth represented the goodness that the ruler claims to have? The good deeds, the piety, etc? What if Jesus is saying that it is hard for those who are rich in “goodness” because they have a hard time acknowledging that their goodness is not what saves them and they must give it up to follow Jesus?  It is easier for a more sinful man to admit he needs Jesus, than for a man who claims to have “kept all these (commands) from his youth”.

25 For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”

I had always heard preachers talk about the eye of the needle not being an actual sewing needle, but that it was actually a gate to the city that the camels would have to go through. I did some googling and they mention that for the camels to fit through the gate, they would need to drop their bags they were carrying and kneel down. This goes along with both ideas I mentioned above. For the rich, they must lay aside the wealth and the security it provides, so they can humble themselves and depend fully on the Lord. For the “good”, they must lay aside the good deed and works, and realize that Jesus is who really saves, and humbling ourselves to follow Him.

26 Those who heard it said, “Then who can be saved?” 27 But he said, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.”

(If you read enough of Jesus’ interactions with the people, you will notice that He never answers the question obviously or simply! Lol! I think this goes along with the idea that He wants us to seek and search for the answers!)

It seems like the disciples are saying, “If the rich and the good cannot save themselves, then who can be saved?”  We know that we cannot have enough riches or good deeds to buy eternal life – the debt is impossible for us to pay. But what is impossible for us is possible with God!

28 And Peter said, “See, we have left our homes and followed you.” 29 And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, 30 who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.”

Jesus’ response to Peters reminder (lol) is such a hopeful promise on many levels!
One thing I have started to do when reading Jesus’ words is try to step outside the box of this physical earthly realm. There are so many times when Jesus spoke about spiritual things, and the disciples took him very literally and were confused. (Some examples are when Jesus says to be born again and when He says that He is the bread that they will eat.)
I always assumed that when Jesus made this promise, He was talking about people like His disciples or like missionaries who physically leave their families to further His kingdom. But I just had the thought, that if we were thinking in spiritual terms, that maybe He also means that those who leave the faith (or lack of faith) of their families to follow Him.  It seems fitting that His promise also applies to those that leave the ideas, expectations, and viewpoints of their families and their culture for the sake of the Kingdom of God, and that they will not only find eternal life, but they will also receive many blessings here on earth!

A Few Takeaways :

1. It is not enough for Jesus to be our good teacher… He must be our Lord & Master.

2. We must surrender it all to Him. To follow Him, we can’t be held back by anything!

3. Man cannot save himself (not with wealth or good deeds).

4. What is impossible for us is possible for God.

5. No mater how precious the sacrifice, we will never out give God.

As I studied this passage the other day, I was surprised at how differently I looked at it than I had in the past. When I focus time on one section of scripture instead of just breezing right through, I realize how many things the Lord is saying! He tells us about His purpose, His character, His ultimate plans, His offer of salvation, His desires for us, etc. He also makes me wonder and question things in a deeper way, that helps to retrain my mind to that of the mind of Christ. I hope that by reading this you feel encouraged to dig deeper into the Word and know that its OK not to understand everything and to have questions. The more we seek and search, the Lord reveals things to us and ideas become more clear. Tell me what some of your thoughts or questions are about this passage down down in the comments and let’s chat about the Word of God!


“My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you, making your ear
attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; yes, if you call out for insight and
raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures,
then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.”

P R O V E R B S   2 : 1 – 5

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