The story of the rich young ruler (Mark 10:17-25) is familiar to most Bible students. Conducting a Bible class on this text is usually fairly predictable. The facts are plain to see – this rich religious guy won’t give up his possessions to follow Jesus – how foolish! We all shake our heads in disbelief as we assure ourselves that we would have gladly dumped our possessions, slept on the ground with Jesus, and followed him wherever he wanted to take us. I’m sorry; I just have a hard time minimizing this story. I have a hard time passing over it so simply as if what Jesus said to this man is never repeated again or has little or no application to my life. If you want to just beat up on this guy, then go ahead. But before you do, you might want to keep in mind a few things that will make him a little more like you and me.
This man really wanted eternal life. He wanted it very badly. He wanted it as much as most people do. He ran to Jesus and knelt down. He had kept the commandments. He lived a good life, and was a moral upright man who wanted to know what else he lacked. I want to know who among us would tell such a man he would not go to heaven? When his funeral was preached, who among us would have questioned his salvation? Let’s face it, he may not be far different from you or me.
Jesus’ words to this ruler challenge us to make sure our commitment is where it should be. It may be that every one of us would have no problem giving up every possession we have in order to serve the Lord. But possessions may not be what the Lord asks us to give up.
What Commitment Meant to Different People
When Saul was converted, the Lord sent Ananias saying, “I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” A number of years later, Paul gave an account of what he had suffered, and God wasn’t nearly through with him (2 Cor. 11:23-28). For me, just one 39-lash event and I would have been trembling to preach in the next city. If you knew ahead of time that becoming a Christian would mean all of those things, would you have still done it? Paul said, “But everything that was a gain to me, I have considered to be a loss because of Christ. More than that, I also consider everything to be a loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. Because of Him I have suffered the loss of all things and consider them filth, so that I may gain Christ” (Phil. 3:7-8).
Piece of cake? You’ve got that part down pat? The proof isn’t just in whether or not you would let someone beat you up for the cause of Christ. It plays out in the little things, things like reaching out to save your friend or neighbor, hospitality, and whether you bother to get to know, support, and encourage new Christians and those who are weak and struggling. So if the Lord told you that the life of Paul would be your life if you became a Christian, would you have obeyed the gospel?
If Paul’s life was too easy for you, what if you were told that when you became a Christian, you would have to go through what Job went through? All your children would die, all your possessions take away, all your friends would desert you, your wife would disdain you, and the only “blessing” you would have would be that you wouldn’t die – and even that would be a curse. Your choice, soft life, or the life of Job? Still want to become a Christian?
Well, what if becoming a Christian meant you had to live the life of Abraham? You will be required to move away from your family and friends, live in a foreign country your whole life. And get this; you never get to live in a house – just a tent. If that’s not enough, you will be told to kill your only son. Oh sure, that’s easy! Remember, you don’t know what we know. Abraham would have literally killed his son if an angel had not stopped him. Could you do that? C’mon, take the knife in your hand and raise it to cut the throat of your son or daughter. Let’s hear someone boast about how they would!
Now maybe you are thinking, you’re just throwing easy stuff at me. Is that the best you have? Well, okay, how about Jeremiah. God says if you become a Christian the commitment I will require is that of Jeremiah. “What’s that?” you say. Okay, you have to preach to wicked people all your life and they will never repent. Everyone will hate you. You will be starved, beat up, and repeatedly left for dead. Oh, and one other thing, God will command you to remain unmarried. None of that pleasure. You will do all of this alone. Anyone signing up for Christianity now?
Or maybe you would prefer the life of Ezekiel? In this case, your nation will be attacked and you and your family will be taken away as slaves never to see your home again. God will make you preach in captivity to a people who will have no regard for your message. As a result, God will put you through numerous trials, including not being able to speak for seven years just so your message will have a better chance of being accepted. And if that is not enough, God will cause your wife to die and then tell you not to mourn for her in order to make a point in your sermons. Now who would like to sign up for Ezekiel?
Maybe you would consider something that fits our day. What if you were in the position of King Herod or his wife Herodias when offered the gospel (Mark 6:14-20)? To become a Christian you have to get out of your marriage. It is unlawful. Marriage by Roman law, yes, but unlawful before God. This, unfortunately, is not an uncommon scenario today.
Here’s the final question. If before you became a Christian the Lord placed all of these lives before you as alternatives, which would you choose?
Funny, isn’t it? Most people today might have thought the plight of Herod would have been the hardest, that is until they looked at the others. It is actually one of the easier ones, isn’t it?
So how is your commitment? I think mine needs to be raised a bit.