Go thy way-the rich young ruler

by Jonathan S Spurlock
(Holts Summit, MO)

Denom: Southern Baptist
Text: Mark 10:17-22

Go thy way-Jesus and the rich young ruler

Based on a message preached at First Baptist Church, Glasgow, MO

This is not an exact transcription

When an event in Scripture is recorded once, it’s clearly important. This event was mentioned in three of the four Gospels! This event took place very shortly before the Lord Jesus Christ made His final journey to Jerusalem, there to give His life a ransom for many (Mark 10:45) and three days later rise from the dead. In fact, this may be one of the last conversations or encounters with a “seeker” He ever took part in before Calvary.

The text is from Mark’s Gospel, chapter 10, verses 17-22. The key verse is verse 21:

Mark 10:21 Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me (emphasis added).


Jesus, as we’ve seen, is heading for Jerusalem, and He’s fully aware of what’s going to happen in just a matter of days. Now we see a contrast, Jesus walking towards His destiny, and—would you believe it, someone is running to see Him! Reading in the Gospels, we can find that many people came to Jesus, and some brought others (like the friends who let a sick man down through a roof!), but few actually ran to meet Him. Let’s take a look at the conversation:

I The young man’s question, and the Lord’s reply

Remember that this man was one of the few who is even mentioned as running, in the Bible, and one of the very few who knelt before Jesus, before our Lord went to Calvary. Apparently the young man is still in the kneeling position as he asks the question. No doubt, he was sincere in his question and no doubt, he didn’t let his own status as being young (Matthew 19:22), rich (Luke 18:23) and a ruler, perhaps a leader in a synagogue (Luke 18:18) stand in the way of wanting to find an answer to his question. He wanted to know! Don’t you wish more people wanted to know how to receive eternal life?

So he asks a profound question, “Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?”

Nobody had ever asked Jesus that question before! Think of all the times when people had asked Jesus various questions, or made different kinds of requests. This is the most sincere question, I think, in all the Bible. And it’s rooted in a very sincere, but very misguided, frame of mind.

We don’t have to look very far to remember that the Jewish religion, the Law of Moses, had many commandments. Leviticus, Numbers, and the other books, give all kinds of instructions which were mandatory and binding on all the Hebrew people. One estimate was that, in addition to the Ten Commandments, there were over 600 laws, commandments, ordinances, etc., in the Law. How could anyone possibly keep all of these commandments? Even Jesus Himself, in the Sermon on the Mount, stated “That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:20, KJV)”. I remember a radio preacher, many years ago, speaking on that verse and asking, “How religious can you get?”

So, was the young man, the rich young ruler, looking for a genuine answer? Was he really sincere? Did he truly want to receive eternal life, or was he just looking for something missing? Only he knows for sure, except, Jesus knew exactly what he was thinking—even though Mark doesn’t tell us this in the text.

I wonder how much time Jesus took before He made a reply to the young man’s question. Surprisingly, Jesus answered the young man’s question with one of His own! I have to confess here, that sometimes I get a little irritated or frustrated when I ask somebody for information, but I don’t get an answer, only another question. True, there may be a need for me to clarify something, and I realize, maybe I could have phrased it better.

Then again, there are people who seem to think answering a question is beneath them! I remember walking to the parking lot of a certain college, where one of the students (I guess) was perhaps checking for expired parking meters, (Personally I wish ALL parking meters were expired—removed, actually—but that wasn’t the case that day.) So, upon seeing the student, I said, “Man, I hope my car was in the right spot” or something, just to maybe spark a conversation or a bit of humor. The reply? “I don’t know, is it?” Sigh.

But the purpose of Jesus’ question was to probe the depth of the young man’s sincerity, I think. After all, he did call Jesus “Good Teacher” or “Good Master”; very few people in the Bible were ever called “good”, even fewer directly, if there were any at all. So, Jesus asks, why DID you call Me, “good”?

Jesus goes even further. He made a statement to the young man, “You know the commandments . . . “, and then listed several of them. Jesus didn’t use the word for, perhaps, simple knowledge, as in, “you are aware of the commandments” or, as in, “I know where the state capitol is located”. Rather, Jesus used a word meaning to know by experience, or, according to Strong’s Concordance and Vine’s Expository Dictionary, to “perceive”. It’s a deeper knowledge than just head facts, in other words.

What did the young man say in response to what Jesus said?

II The young man’s reply and the response from Jesus

My hunch is that this young man was completely caught off guard by what Jesus said! I myself don’t know, and I haven’t read anywhere in the Bible, of anyone who claimed to have kept all the commandments—except this man. Granted, these six, which Jesus quoted, had as the focus man’s dealings with man; none directly dealt with a person’s relationship with God. Still, I have wondered just what kind of thoughts were going through this young man’s mind.

There is one thing to keep in mind, namely, that the Jewish religious leaders were placing more emphasis, it seems, on traditions—probably other things, as well—more than the Scriptures themselves. One example illustrates this vividly: a few chapters back, Mark 7, the Pharisees (one group of religious leaders) wondered out loud why the disciples didn’t wash their hands when they ate “bread” (Mark 7:1-13)! Jesus promptly set the record straight and accused them of side-stepping the Word of God so they could follow their own traditions. He had other dealings with tradition being elevated to a higher status than the Word of God, as well.

So, the young man may have been taught that as long as he hadn’t overtly or openly broken the commandments, everything was fine! He may have thought, too, that had he given the prescribed sacrifices, he had good standing with God. Strangely, some may have thought that because they were physical children or descendants from Abraham, they shared the faith of Abraham. Paul would later demolish this last concept in Romans, chapter 4 and following, but maybe this man, who was a ruler, had that idea. We may never know.

At any rate, he told Jesus, “I’ve observed all these from my youth!” and I believe he was sincere. Maybe he had kept the commandments, and maybe he hadn’t, but I don’t think he would have told a bald-faced lie to Jesus Himself, especially when he had just asked Jesus what he needed to do to get eternal life.

What now did Jesus say? First, Mark—and only Mark—tells us that Jesus loved this young man. Actually, there were very few people who were described in Scripture as someone “whom Jesus loved”. The apostle John, the Eleven disciples in the Upper Room, and Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, all three from Bethany, were among these. It’s always good to remember that even though our names may not be published on this earth, they’re in the Lamb’s Book of Life and Jesus Himself loves every one of us. What part of John 3:16 can’t we understand?

Now, Jesus, having loved this young man, tells him something that the young man didn’t want to hear. Jesus tells him, “One thing you lack” and then proceeds to list specifically what that one thing entailed. But the first thing after Jesus said, “You lack one thing” was “Go thy way.” This means, take care of this first before you undertake anything else.

Clearly the commands Jesus gave this young ruler were not to provide salvation—nobody ever has been, and nobody ever will be, saved by following commands or by doing anything. Salvation is a gift from God to anyone, anywhere, who takes or receives the gift. And yet, these instructions from Jesus were too much for the young man to receive. Mark tells us he went away “grieved”, or sorrowful. He not only had great possessions, they had him, and they kept him away from following Jesus.

III The words of Jesus to the followers

Incredibly, Jesus let the young man walk away. He always gives people, even you and me, the choice to follow Him or leave Him. This young man took the wrong way, the way of riches, rather than following Jesus into everlasting life. It’s one of the great ironies, that the man who came running to Jesus, asking what he had to do to inherit everlasting life, walked away when he found out what was needed. Sad, beyond words.

The disciples were perplexed, I’m sure, as the man kept on walking. Then when Jesus said how hard it would be for the rich to enter the kingdom of God, they were amazed. Think about it, this young ruler would have been a prize catch, humanly speaking! He could have used his wealth in any number of ways, he could have used (boasted of?) his high standing, or he could have gone back to his home and been a witness for Jesus. As far as we know, none of that ever happened.

Jesus said, “Go thy way” but the young man said, “No, I’ll follow my way”. That decision was one of the worst he could have made. Now the question is, for us, will we follow Jesus or will we hold on to what we own?

Scripture quotations taken from the King James Version of the Bible (KJV)

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