There are a lot of fascinating figures in Scripture, but one of the guys who I always found to be most intriguing is the one we often refer to as the “rich, young ruler.” Interestingly enough, the Bible never uses that phrase, but each of the synoptic gospel accounts give little clues as to who he was, and rich, young ruler is the title he receives when we add them all up.
This young man was a lot like us. In fact, his attitude seems to be very prevalent in our own times. We could almost pick him up from the pages of Scripture and drop him into today’s setting. He would fit right in with us.
The Big Question
First of all, he approached Jesus with a big question. If, once again, we add up the synoptic passages about this event, his query would sound like this. “Good teacher, what good thing do I have to do to gain eternal life?” This is a common question, even among Christians. For some reason, we think there is some good work we can do to get into God’s good graces.
Jesus immediately cuts him to the quick by reminding him that no one is good except God Himself. After stating that, He essentially says, “If you really want to do something good, get rid of your wealth and come be my disciple.” It became painfully obvious that the young man couldn’t let go of the one thing that was most important to him—his money. The good thing Jesus wanted him to do was not in giving up his wealth (as many assume), but it was for him to follow the Christ. Had he done so, he would have discovered that there wasn’t any good deed or practice that would help him gain eternal life. Eternal life would have been a free gift bestowed on him as a follower of the Messiah.
There are three lessons to be learned from this episode. First, no one can earn their ticket to Heaven. No one is that good. The only available goodness is that which comes from God—period. The only thing good enough to cover our sin is the sacrifice of the Savior.
Secondly, many of us have impediments to becoming a disciple of Christ. For the young man, it was his wealth. For us, it could be a myriad of other obstacles—things that are more important to us than Jesus himself. It could be anything—sports, sex, bodybuilding, career, family, status, politics—you name it.
The third and final thing is that we should read the Bible. Had the young man been studious, he would have read Ecclesiastes 7:20 which says, “Indeed, there is no one on earth who is righteous, no one who does what is right and never sins.” Had he understood his Bible (the Old Testament), he would have known he couldn’t be good enough to gain eternal life. Instead, he was a legend in his own mind.
[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and currently resides in Aldie, VA.]