We may all have seen this ghost of Christmas past: all the gifts have been opened. Everything you had on your Christmas list is now sitting in front of you. That new dress, the new drill, the trip, the computer, the cell phone. You have everything you asked for, and you are happy and thankful for all you received. It is, in fact, what you wanted. But . . .
Or maybe you are sitting at home, the day is done. The food has been eaten, the dishes cleaned, the lawn mowed, the kids in bed. Everything you need is near enough to touch. You are satisfied with everything you have and are ready to drift off to sleep, but . . . So often, for so many, there lurks this feeling of lack, that yearning for something beyond what we have always wanted. Is life, we wonder, giving us all there is to get?
There have been people with our questions before, it seems. For another man long ago experienced this feeling and decided to go to the best source for an answer to his question. Mark 10:17-27 tells us the story of this man we now identify as the rich young ruler. The story tells us that he approached Jesus because he had an important question to ask, something no one else could answer.
“Good Teacher,” he asked, “what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”
The reply Jesus gave him was quite direct. He said, “You know the commandments, ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not bear false witness, do not defraud, honor your father and mother’ ” (Mark 10:19).*
The man must have felt some satisfaction with this answer, because he knew what to say next. He had lived a good life, risen to a position of some authority at a young age, and had accumulated much wealth. Of the list Jesus gave, he knew with certainty that he had not broken any of those commandments. So if that was all there was to inheriting eternal life, he felt he was in good shape.
Material possessions give nobody access to anything beyond the grave.
But Jesus, knowing the man’s heart, knowing that he sought more than a comforting answer, knowing he was searching for the truth, told him the truth. “One thing you lack, go and sell all you possess . . . and come, follow Me” (verse 21).
The words hung in the air. For a moment it was as if time stood still while the man mulled over the words. Sell everything, everything, and give it to the poor. Would he do it? Could he do it? Was losing everything worth gaining the kingdom of heaven?
Jesus’ words left the man saddened. “He was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property” (verse 22). He had sought the truth, and now he found it too hard to swallow. Selling all his possessions was not worth eternal life. Even his sadness at the thought of missing out on eternal life was not enough to move him to make a different decision.
But the man was not the only one saddened by the outcome. Moments before, Jesus had met this man, and He loved him. In love He had given the answer the man was searching for, and He longed for the man to follow Him. As the man walked away, Jesus lamented at a truth He observed: “How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!” (verse 23).
If Jesus’ words to the man sounded harsh, this next statement seemed downright ridiculous. It shocked Jesus’ disciples to hear Him say it. How difficult for the rich to be saved? Jesus might well have said “How difficult it is for the righteous to be saved!” Or “How difficult for the saved to be saved!” Was not wealth a billboard declaring God’s favor? God blessed those whom He loved; that was why they were rich. Those without much wealth were those who were out of favor with God. That is how the disciples knew things worked.
But Jesus went a step further. He said, “How hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (verses 24, 25).
All the things the disciples had known about salvation were shattered by the words of Jesus. The Pharisees were saved because they were descendants of Abraham; they followed the Law, and kept themselves pure. Those who were wealthy already had one foot over the heavenly threshold. The Pharisees had everything, and the wealthy had even more. But now Jesus was telling them that not only is it difficult for the wealthy to be saved, but it’s difficult for anyone, period! The camel-and-needle illustration made it seem impossible.
From their position of utter shock, the disciples asked Jesus, “Then who can be saved?” (verse 26). For them the ruler, Jewish and rich, had everything it was possible to have. If he could not be saved, then who could? Was having everything not enough to inherit the kingdom of heaven? Was having everything not enough to be saved?
“There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Prov. 16:25). There is a way that is alien to all natural human instinct and preparation, but it is the way of life. There is only one Way, Truth, and Life (John 14:6); and He who is that very same Way answered the disciples, “With people it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God” (Mark 10:27).
For the rich young man to trust in his wealth and goodness to inherit eternal life, for the disciples to trust their bloodlines to inherit eternal life, for you and me to trust our anything to inherit eternal life, is a way that leads only to death. It is impossible for those things to save anyone, but all things are possible with God!
It is not Abrahamic descent that grants access to eternal blessings. It is Jesus who grants to all the blessings promised to Abraham: “If you are Christ’s, you are Abraham’s children” (see Gal. 3:29). Trusting in Him, following Him, is the only way to secure eternal salvation. Having everything means nothing, if our everything is not having Jesus.
The question the man asked Jesus is just as relevant today. We may find ourselves wondering what we can do to be saved. We may build a comfortable life, provide for our families, and live good lives in our communities. Those things may be good, and may even be blessings from God. But things of social and material value—any number of them combined together—still leave us just as far as ever from the gates of eternal life. Material possessions give nobody access to anything beyond the grave.
Having stuff, doing good, getting applauded is not the way to salvation. Jesus is the only way to salvation. He has never yet led one of His followers astray. And He never will.
* Scripture quotations in this article are from the New American Standard Bible, copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.