His question was sincere and to the point, “How do I access the eternal realities of life?” Jesus’ answer shook him to the core. “Sell everything. Give the money to the poor. Come follow Me.” The young man counted the cost, turned and walked away sorrowful. Therein lies the tragedy of the rich young ruler.
The rich young ruler who encountered Jesus is amazingly similar to Abraham. Both were financially secure, young, and influential leaders of their communities. Both were very religious, Abraham in paganism and the rich young ruler in Judaism. And both had a deep hunger for a spiritual encounter with God beyond the rituals that defined their spiritual experience.
After acknowledging Jesus’ reputation and authority as a rabbi, the young man got straight to the point. “I have everything in this life, but there’s still something missing. How do I inherit eternal life?”
Testing his motives, Jesus cited the Commandments, the very foundation of the young ruler’s faith. Interestingly, Jesus quoted only the commandments concerning relationship with other people. God looks for faith demonstrated by action.
There was no arrogance in the man’s reply. “All these I have kept from my youth. My doctrine, my religion, my morals are intact, but that doesn’t satisfy me.”
“Then Jesus looking at him, loved him.” Jesus saw no reason to doubt his integrity. Kneeling before Him was a young man on the verge of greatness and destiny. Jesus was immediately attracted to him, ready to mentor him. His answer cut right to the root of the issue. “To find the missing piece in your quest for eternal life, give up your wealth, your position and your influence, which have become your security. In total surrender to God, let His eternal Word be your security. Begin a journey of faith and friendship with Me.”
As God called Abraham to leave all and follow, Jesus called the rich young ruler to leave all and follow Him. It was a call to shift from relying on temporal earthly security to depending on the eternal promises of a faithful God—a huge risk and a bold step of faith. But wasn’t that what he asked for: How do I inherit eternal life?
Feelings of sorrow and regret similar to those the young ruler well up in us as we think of all we supposedly have to give up when we totally surrender to Jesus. That mentality is purely religious. It reflects a poverty mindset, not the culture of blessing God desires for us.
The rich young ruler was secure in his wealth, influence and religion. Jesus challenged him to let go of this earthly security and embrace the eternal security described in His sermon on the mount—“Set the Kingdom of God as priority and you will be well taken care of by your Father in Heaven.”
Abraham left all to begin his journey of faith and friendship with God. We are told Abraham never once regretted his decision. Besides unimaginable favor and blessing, he enjoyed immeasurable freedom in his relationship with the Eternal God. The rich young ruler, on the other hand, turned away sorrowful. He never broke free of the chains by which his earthly possessions possessed him!
The greatest tragedy of this story is found in Jesus’ words, “Come, follow me.” Jesus only extended that personal invitation to twelve others. They became the disciples he mentored for 3 1/2 years. After being endued with the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit, the influence of these “Apostles” spread across the then-known world, changing history forever! The rich young ruler was invited to be one of them! In the light of what Jesus offered him, was the price too high?
And us? Do we count the cost too high to surrender our earthly security for His eternal security? Do we still hesitate to take the journey of faith and friendship with God, trusting Him to take good care of us along the way to the greatness and destiny Father has in mind for us?
(The story of the rich young ruler is found in Matthew 19:16-22. Mark 10:17-22, Luke 18:18-23)
Illustration of Rich Young Ruler by John Lear, “The King Nobody Wanted”, <www.gutenberg.org>