This sermon was preached at the Spring Convocation, RTS Charlotte, on February 1, 2011
Mark 10:17-31 (See also Matthew 19:16-22; Luke 18:18-23)
The Rich Young Ruler
17 And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. 19 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.’” 20 And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” 21 And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
23 And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24 And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult it is  to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him,  “Then who can be saved?” 27 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” 28 Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you.” 29 Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”
It is important to get it right when asking yourself “what to take and what to leave.” The process of discriminating between the two is nothing less than economics.
Thomas Sowell, the noted economist from the Hoover Institute at Stanford University and great syndicated columnist, reminds us in his classic work, Basic Economics the subject is more about just money and markets, “Economics is the study of the use of scared resources which have alternative uses.”
I am faced with such choices each time I travel. Can my black travel bag with its limited space, designed for overnight clothes, actually contain those clothes along with this long list of essentials: Paul Kangor’s latest biography, John Currid’s commentary on Leviticus, the devotional book that my wife gave me, my trusted MacBook Pro, iPad, Bluetooth keyboard, and USB cords, camera, and RTS Charlotte bookstore moleskin notebook? It is important to get it right! What if I were stranded at the Jackson, Mississippi airport? Or when my son is going to a Boy Scout campout, we have to make decisions about what to take and what to leave: Boy Scout handbook, a tent and stakes, buck knives, ponchos, socks (not usually worn), cans of food, magic trick kit, a book that he has to have read for school on that coming Monday, and the basic necessities of life cannot all go inside of my old Army duffle bag.
On a much more serious note, as we begin this new semester, we acknowledge that each one of you had to make decisions about what to take and what to leave as you followed the call to seminary. You have only so many years, so much money, so many choices, and you had to answer the call of God in the midst of all of that. You left jobs; you followed a call. You had a home and a community; now you only have a community. You had money, some at least. Now, you clip a lot of coupons. I know. I have been there. Your gifts are like sacred resources that could have alternative uses, but you have answered a call to bring them here in this season of preparation. And you will be allotting those resources, those gifts of time, talent, and passion to the Church for the rest of your life. Our faculty and staff, likewise, have made economic choices about their lives and have chosen to give their time and talents here to serve God, the Church, and you.
All of us will be faced with more spiritual economic questions each day of our lives. Where will you invest your time? Your thinking? What will you consume into your soul and what will you leave behind for the sake of the Kingdom of God?
This basic spiritual truth points to spiritual economics. And this is seen in the Gospel story about a rich young ruler’s encounter with Christ. In it every believer must come face to face with the costs, the economics of true faith, of following Jesus Christ.
There are three personal, spiritual economic decisions that every one of us must make in order to follow Jesus of Nazareth as Lord.
I. You Need to Divest (17-27)
A man runs up to Jesus. We call him the rich young ruler because this is the profile we get from Matthew, Mark and Luke. And from this encounter we can put together what we must be divested of to follow Jesus.
1. Be Divested of zeal without knowledge (“…a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him…” v. 17)
There can be no mistake this man had zeal, enthusiasm. He ran to Jesus. And he called Jesus Good Teacher. But did he really know who Jesus was?
John Calvin wrote of this young man in his Commentary, “a blind confidence in his works hindered him from profiting under Christ…”
One of the things that can actually stand in the way of our relationship with God is zeal, an enthusiasm that is not wed to Scriptural revelation. Being excited about religion is not the same as trusting in Christ as Savior.
It has been said that there is nothing more dangerous than a middle year seminary student with just enough theology to critique the pastor’s sermons but not enough to pray for a person to receive Christ. That is harsh. Maybe closer to the truth is the danger of a seminary professor or a seminary president, or maybe a seminary chancellor elect, having just enough place and position to be dangerous in his pride. We have zeal, but like the rich young man, we can lack knowledge.
Maybe it would be better for all of us to take time, that most scarce of commodities, and use it to gain a heart of wisdom before Christ in prayer. Maybe our zeal can then be tempered by godly wisdom and we can make good choices in our lives as Disciples of Christ.
2. Be Divested of self righteousness (“Teacher, all these things I have kept from my youth”—20).
This is a lie. For if you break one commandment you break them all. But in his self righteous way of looking at his life he was without blemish.
This rich young ruler thought he had it all, based on what he had done. There is no doubt that this young man was probably right. He had kept the law outwardly. What we are dealing with here, my friends, is a goody two-shoes. Whether it is, “Creed, cult, or conduct” (as Robert Capon said all religion consists of), Man is always seeking to promote himself before God. But the Gospel tells us that we cannot come to God based on our righteousness. We divest ourselves of self. We come to Jesus, just as we are, without one plea.
Charles Haddon Spurgeon warned his own flock of the danger of this man’s condition in our own Christian Church:
“Beware of self-righteousness. The black devil of licentiousness destroys his hundreds, but the white devil of self-righteousness destroys his thousands.”
This morning let us be aware of the prowl of this “white devil” and his appearance, not in another, but in ourselves. Stay broken beneath the cross of Jesus. Esteem others higher than yourselves. Stay close to the Master and His wounds and you will see why He came: to save sinners like you and me.
3. Be Divested of the “One Thing” (“And Jesus looking at him, loved him, and said to him, ‘You lack one thing…’”—21)
We must also divest ourselves of what Jesus called, “one thing.” He looks at the young man, and as He was looking at the man, He loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing.” And that was the thing keeping him from God: his wealth.
My beloved, what is the “one thing” that keeps you from Jesus Christ?
Søren Kierkegaard, whose existentialism is to be avoided, wrote something that I found invigorating to read: Purity of Heart Is To Will One Thing. I don’t endorse it, cannot commend it or his conclusions, but I do like the focus on “one thing.” I do appreciate, despite the fog of existentialism, what he wrote when he moved from confession of our condition to acknowledgement of the eternity that God has placed in our hearts and what we must do:
“Each man himself, as an individual, should render his account to God.”
And so we must. I wonder if that one thing is your remaining pride over your intellectual accomplishments? Or your giftedness? Or your stellar devotional life? Or your self awareness as a gentle person, or a humble person, or how well your children behave, or how attractive you are? What is the one thing that is keeping you from Christ and doing His will today?
Spiritual economics is really the call of Christ: to divest oneself of the personal resources that sustain us, even as Jesus told His disciples to take only what was on their backs, to go and minister in His name, in order to trust in Him, in His resources of righteousness and atonement to save us and His promises to keep us.
II. You Need to Invest (28-30)
We see here what we all know: the economics of faith is not just something that poor self-righteous Pharisees struggle with. Material security is something that well meaning, earnest disciples of Jesus struggle with. For in the face of this episode, Peter declared: “See, we have left everything and followed you” (Mark 10.28 ESV).
How does Christ respond? To follow Jesus involves losses of real estate and relationships, but Christ promises, not “health and wealth,” but a hundred-fold return, with “persecutions.” But in the age to come “eternal life.”
So how do we gain eternal security if we are seeking God? The same way we seek security as a disciple. Divest of what hinders us from finding true security in Christ. With our lives, with our possessions, with our all in all, let the faithful young man or woman, the wise ruler, the prudent servant who seeks to follow Jesus invest:
- Invest in the kingdom of God, which is the only thing that will last.
- Invest with our trust in Christ and His righteousness.
- Invest with our trust in Christ our Keeper.
- Invest with our very lives and come and follow Him.
Seminary is a tithe, a tithe of time. If God were to give you thirty years, then these three years are just a tithe of your time, an investment in a life of ministry. I had to learn that. I was given a scholarship in Kansas to a seminary with no tuition, no fees, and no books. All was paid for. But the seminary was not teaching the Bible as the Word of God. I realized that I had limited resources, limited time, limited opportunity, and I had to make a choice: a seminary degree was either going to be a hoop that I had to jump through, an ecclesiastical ticket to be punched, or seminary was an investment in a lifetime of ministry. The Lord convicted me that it was the latter. I turned in my stuff and drove 1,500 miles to a seminary and an internship where I had no guarantees except that I knew that I would be under the teaching and preaching of the Word of God. That was a wise choice that my wife helped me to make. I have never regretted it.
Nor will you regret it for being here. Yet there will be decision after decision to come before you: how will you spend what God has given you? How will you use what God is giving you in your classes? What opportunities will you take to be a follower of Christ in this place?
The rich young man chose foolishly and went away sad. You go back to class, and to the rest of your ministry, glad. Answer the call. Follow Christ. He will take care of all of our needs. True faith begins with this: “I divest my life of all pretense. I invest my life totally in You, O Christ. For You are my only security. You are my only treasure.”
You will find, dear friends, that according to God’s Word, this is, as Bonheoffer called it “The Cost of Discipleship” to follow Jesus Christ and do His will, and it is truly the “economics of discipleship,” the return of the precious resources that God has given to you as an act of sacrificial worship, which will bring about blessing in this life and eternal reward in the life to come.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Calvin, Jean. Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, and Luke. 3 vols. Edinburgh Printed for the Calvin Translation Society, 1845-46.
Capon, Robert Farrar. The Astonished Heart : Reclaiming the Good News from the Lost-and-Found of Church History. Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans, 1996.
Kierkegaard, Søren. Purity of Heart Is to Will One Thing; Spiritual Preparation for the Office of Confession: Wilder Publications, 2008.
Sowell, Thomas. Basic Economics: A Common Sense Guide to the Economy. New York: Basic Books, 2011.
Spurgeon, C.H. The Metropolitan Pulpit: Sermons Preached and Revised by C.H. Spurgeon During the Year 1872. London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1873.
 Thomas Sowell, Basic Economics: A Common Sense Guide to the Economy (New York: Basic Books, 2011), 3.
 See Matt. 19.16-22; and Luke 18.18-23. He is a young man (neaniskos, a young man under forty) in Matthew; and a “ruler” (archon, a prince or a magistrate, more likely; and in Luke
 Jean Calvin, Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, 3 vols. (Edinburgh Printed for the Calvin Translation Society, 1845-46.). See the commentary on Mark 10.17.
 Robert Farrar Capon, The Astonished Heart : Reclaiming the Good News from the Lost-and-Found of Church History (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans, 1996), 53.
 C.H. Spurgeon, “Salvation all of Grace,” The Metropolitan Pulpit: Sermons Preached and Revised by C.H. Spurgeon During the Year 1872 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1873), 444.
 See Søren Kierkegaard, Purity of Heart Is to Will One Thing; Spiritual Preparation for the Office of Confession (Wilder Publications, 2008), 99.