I have preached from this bit of Biblical history several times – but not recently.  And I believe a visiting speaker, a year or two ago, also spoke from one of the accounts of this young man.  Our subject is often called “the rich young ruler,” but in none of the gospels is he given this full title.  That is a compilation of points taken from the three gospels where is found – his story is in John.  In Matthew, Mark and Luke – all the Synoptic Gospels, it is said that he is rich, and one of them adds that he is “very rich.”  But only once is he is described as a “young man.”   He even points back and says that he has kept the commandments of God “since his youth,” suggesting that he doesn’t think of himself to be a young man any more.  And then in only one scripture is he said to be a “ruler,” but we aren’t told how that word applied to him.  Was he a ruler in one of the many synagogues in or around Jerusalem?   Perhaps an honorary position.  Was he in some political office?   We don’t know, but I think that it was more likely that he was a “religious ruler” of some sort.
Let’s begin by bringing together the three gospel accounts.  After the Lord Jesus had rebuked His disciples for keeping some ladies and their kids away from Him, saying, “Suffer the little children to come to me.”  Then He laid his hands on them, praying for the Father’s blessings.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful to know what eventually became of each of those children?  Are they all in heaven today, and will we, some day, be able to talk with them about their experience with the Lord Jesus?  Did any of them eventually become disciples of Christ and members of Jesus’ first church?  While Christ was sending them away, our subject came running up, falling on his knees before Him.  He didn’t mosey up to Christ; he didn’t saunter up to Him; he wasn’t shy; he came running.  Maybe he thought this was going to be his only opportunity to talk to the Lord.  Or maybe he thought the door to heaven was closing, and he was anxious to get his name onto the document which would provide him with this eternal inheritance.
Mark tells us that he asked, “Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?”  While acknowledging that eternal life is a gift, like so many people down through the ages, he wanted to do something to inherit that gift.  That is contradictory and shows his confusion.   Is eternal life a gift from God or is it something we can earn?  The short answer is: it is a gift, flowing out of God’s grace – His unmerited favor.  There is nothing anyone can do to earn an inheritance.    I’ll return to that in a minute.
There is an entire, additional message in Jesus’ response: “Why callest thou me good?  There is none good but God.”  Some people say that this is proof that Jesus was a mere man and not God – “Look at that; He says so.”  He does NOT say so.   Christ was making this statement to draw out more of the man’s theology.  “Why callest thou ME good?”  Jesus was being recognized as “good,” by anyone who studied Him.  Because He WAS good.  He was loving, kind, generous, and even good in the sense of sinless.   No evidence could ever be found proving sin in Him, even though His enemies seriously looked for it.  Christ was SO “good,” that intelligent observers in His day had to conclude that this was no mere man.
Here in Luke, as well as in Mark, Jesus said to the man, “Thou knowest the commandments.”  Even though Matthew seems to say otherwise, at least in these scriptures, Jesus didn’t tell him to keep the Ten Commandments.  Nevertheless, the man said that beginning in his childhood he had succeeded in faithfully keeping them all.  But I say, based on Christ’s words in other scriptures, that no one has ever lived his entire life without breaking each and every one of those simple ten laws – of not just some of them but ALL of them.  If we have ever been angry at someone or hated someone, we have committed murder in our hearts.  People may deny that idea, but it was Christ’s declaration in Matthew 5.  And if we have ever yearned after someone other than our spouse we have committed adultery.  And the rest of those laws, like lying and coveting, are so common they don’t need to be addressed.
But something which does need to be addressed are the first three of the ten commandments.  They are not brought up in any of these gospels.  In Exodus 20: Jehovah said, “I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.  Thou shalt have no other gods before me.  Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth:  Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them.”  I think that the context reveals that this man who came to Jesus was an internal idolater.  He reverenced his wealth more than he reverenced the Lord.
Mark says, “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.”   Luke says essentially the same thing without referring to Jesus’ love.   Matthew adds the word “perfect” – “If thou wilt be PERFECT, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor… and come and follow me.”  A couple verses later Jesus speaks of “entering the kingdom of heaven” and “entering the kingdom of God.”  Entering the kingdom of heaven, and inheriting eternal life requires “perfection.”  This man didn’t have it, and neither do any of us, no matter how faithfully we have kept the Ten Commandments, the Eleven Commandments or the Holy Laws of the Church.  This man needs to be born again, just as Jesus said to Nicodemus.  “Except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” – John 3:3.  In order for any one of us to inherit eternal life, enter the kingdom of Heaven or to be saved, we must be born again – whatever that is.
Going back to this man, “he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions.”  Luke tells us that “when he heard this, he was very sorrowful…”  He was heart-broken – because this inheritance was something he wanted with all this heart.  He may have had all the toys his world had to offer, but he wanted the kingdom of Heaven too.  However Jesus quoted a price that he was unwilling to pay.   It would have drained his many financial accounts, costing him all his bonds and securities.  Christ told him that he’d have to give up his life-style and even his life as he knew it, becoming one of the Lord’s disciples.  He went away grieved, but still – he went away from the greatest inheritance known to probate court.  He was very sorrowful, but he wasn’t repentant or submissive to the King of kings.
In all my earlier attempts to preach from these scriptures, my conclusions have been that the man loved his money more than he loved the Lord – or even his own soul.  I concluded that he was an idolater.  And the four following verses in each of these gospels bear out that application.  “Then said Jesus unto his disciples, Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven.  And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.”  That is certainly an important and applicable lesson from this scripture.  But this morning I would like to point out that the man’s problem was much deeper than his love of money.  And that man’s problem has its evil tentacles in every human heart.
So let’s review: What was the MAN’S SIN?
It was NOT a lack of respect for the Lord.  He ran up to Christ and threw himself down at His feet, just as I taught in a lesson a couple weeks ago.  His sin was not a lack of earnestness.  He had no doubts but that Jesus could answer his question, and perhaps even grant him that inheritance.    He didn’t deny what others were saying about the Lord.  He wasn’t an atheist, agnostic, animist or your average unbeliever.  He even showed a bit more respect than Nicodemus who said, “Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God, for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.”  I think that this man’s “good master” outranks Nicodemus’ “rabbi.”
Do you say that Jesus is the Son of God?  Thou doest well.  Do you believe that He was virgin born and morally perfect?  Do you believe that Christ was a miracle worker and a teacher of important moral truth?  Do you say that He was a “good master” and a “wonderful rabbi?”  None of these opinions are wrong or sinful, but they aren’t enough.
Furthermore, this man’s sin was not general or common immorality.  He certainly was not glued to his computer’s pornography.  In addition to being no murderer or adulterer, he was generally honest.  His sin wasn’t hidden in the fact that he was rich.  One of the gospels says that he had never defrauded anyone.  That means if he had made himself wealthy, it was not through dishonesty and cheat.  If he hadn’t inherited his wealth, he earned it honorably through hard work and good ideas.  When he heard the commandment – “Honour thy father and thy mother,”  he still could say, “All these things have I kept from my youth up.”   His parents had instilled these godly principles in his heart, beginning when he was a baby.  He was as perfect a human child as was humanly possible.  The man’s sins were not the sort for which he could be charged by any prosecuting attorney or Jewish priest..
But we need to consider those things which he REFUSED to do.
When Jesus heard the man’s testimony, “He said unto him, Yet lackest thou one thing: sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me.”  One of the common and long-lived misconceptions in religion is that pleasing God is found in NOT doing THIS and NOT doing THAT.  “Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness.”  While not denying such negative principles are true, there are other things which are far more important.  Unlike this man, whom I think was being totally honest with Jesus, on a later occasion “a lawyer asked Jesus a question, tempting him, and saying, Master, which is the great commandment in the law?  Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.  And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love they neighbor as thyself.  On these two commandment hang all the law and the prophets.”
Jesus acknowledged our subject’s testimony about trying not to sin in any outward fashion.  But then he turned the man around, asking him, “What are you willing to do in a positive way?”  “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.”   The man wanted to add heaven to his retirement portfolio.  But he didn’t want to give up the temporary wealth of the world in order to enjoy the wealth which is eternal.  He wasn’t willing to give up his rich friends and followers – to become a follower himself.  He enjoyed being the alpha dog with his own pack of sycophants, and he had no intention of giving them up to become a disciple of Christ.
The man asked about inheriting the kingdom of heaven, prompting Jesus’ reply.  And when the disciples heard what Jesus said, they asked, “Who then CAN be saved?”   Remember, the two thoughts are intertwined – inheriting heaven and being “saved.”  “Nicodemus, ye must be born again – to be saved – to enter into the kingdom of Heaven.”  This rich young man was asking what the Philippian jailer asked: “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”  This is a very common theme in the Bible, because it is at the root of every other important question.  And the answer is, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.”
“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.”   Jesus wanted this young man to acknowledge that Christ is Lord – to the glory of God the Father.  “Identify with my crucifixion and follow me.”  When Christ is Lord indeed, then the believer will submit to that Lordship, proving his faith and repentance.
The fact that Jesus loved Him, is no proof that Christ saved his soul.  I can only hope that on a later day, he surrendered his heart to the Lord Jesus and was born again.  But he was not saved on this occasion, and at this point, he had no inheritance in Heaven.
Now, let me take you to what I think was the root cause of this man’s refusal of Christ.
It was PRIDE.
In the society of that day, wealth and power were as important, if not more important, than they are today.  When the disciples said, “Who then CAN be saved,” it was related to the fact this man was rich.  For many of those people, money indicated that God was especially pleased with them.  People thought that the poor were poor because they were sinners, and the wealthy must be righteous.  God was evidently pleased with the people whom He made rich in worldly goods.  Of course, those ideas are faulty.  Nevertheless that is how many of the Jews were taught to think.  “If the wealthy can’t be saved, then who can?”
And this man, who probably also had this notion, was wealthy.  God was obviously on his side.  That, if nothing else was an ego booster.  I have no doubt that he was PROUD of his wealth and position.  It was most likely because of his wealth that he was also a “ruler.”  It was because of his pride that he was unwilling to sacrifice is money and position to follow Christ.
And what did he say about his relationship to the law?    “All these have I kept from my youth up.”  In his mind, he was guiltless before God; sinless before the law of the Lord.  He was a good man: faithful to his wife.  He was a good father to his young children, and a heavy supporter of his synagogue.  As I say, it could be argued that his guiltlessness was not true, but in his heart, he didn’t think so.  He was not willing to acknowledge that the Bible says, “There is none righteous, no not one.”
There is nothing MORE wickedly prideful than RELIGIOUS pride.  Hundreds if not thousands of wars have been fought because of religious pride.  And millions of people are in hell today because of that same pride.  They are in that condition and position, because there is nothing more wicked than considering oneself good enough for God.  The thing which was keeping this man from surrender to Christ was his pride.
Now, perhaps you look at yourself in much the same way this man saw himself.  But then on the other hand, perhaps not.   You KNOW that you aren’t wealthy.  And you may not boast of past moral perfection.  You’ve spent time in the principles’ office when you were a kid, if not reform school or the penitentiary.  You know you have come short of the glory of God, because the Bible says so, and you believe the Bible.  But still, it doesn’t take much pride to keep any of us from truly bowing our knee before Christ Jesus.
Does your pride tell you that your sacrifice for God is as good as your brother Abel’s?  Does your pride tell you that your god is as good as the former god of the Philippian jailor?  What must you do to be saved?  Repent before the Lord and become a disciple of Christ – “come and follow me” said Jesus, and He still says it.
Are you willing this morning to sacrifice your pride for a part of that Heavenly inheritance?  Christ is not asking you sell all you own and give it to the poor.  But He is asking you to be willing to surrender all you have and all you are to Him.  To have a part in Christ’s eternal inheritance, you must repent before God and put your trust in Christ Jesus.