Good teacher, what must I do?

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Heb 4.12-end; Mark 10:17-31, from the Question Mark series of talks?

The shortest and most abrupt sermon since I came to Hook:

The gospel story is about a rich man
Jesus directed him to give away all his money
And follow him as his disciple

We are rich
We should give away all our money
And follow Jesus

Is that it?


Well, here are a few points that might help unpack the story…


  1.  The man’s attitude to Jesus
  2.  Living by God’s commandments
  3.  The stumbling block of riches
  4.  The promise for the disciples
  5.  The surprise


Firstly, The rich man and his attitude to Jesus


What did he do that was good – the man that is? He runs up to Jesus, verse 17

He falls on his knees before Jesus, verse 17. He asks a question, with respect for Jesus, verse 18 – Good Teacher. He asks a question, which we all need to think about, verse 18 – what must I do to inherit eternal life?


He runs, he kneels, he asks, he respects Jesus, he knows the commandments of God, and he intends to live by them.


How much he gets right.

Compare, for example, with the crowds who demand more signs, or the Pharisees who criticise Jesus for his healings, or the Sadducees who correct Jesus for his teaching, or the disciples who cannot cope with Jesus’ teaching about the bread of life.


This man knows something about Jesus, he is good, a teacher who understands the truth about God’s commandments, Jesus who should be honoured, who would listen to him and not push him away.And he comes to Jesus who listens to every word. He answers the man’s question.


Our attitudes are tested by God’s word, and Jesus is God’s living word. From our Hebrews reading: For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

I believe that we would be wrong to attribute motive to the man – we only have the shortest account to go by.


But in that account we see humility and a desire for the truth


We cannot attribute motive – but Mark does record the response of Jesus… who listened, answered questions, and then posed a challenge to him.


Point 2. Living by the commandments of God.

So the rich man came to Jesus with what seems to be a good attitude,

But what did the rich man do that was not so great?


verse 20 - He declared that he has kept all the commandments since he was a boy.

Is he self-deluded? None of us keep them perfectly- again we don’t know the intimacy of the interaction between Jesus and the man, and only a few words. But having come to Jesus he does not get a soft answer. No gentle words to ‘stroke’ him – not “you are doing everything perfectly, well done!” Perhaps this is what the young man is expecting – if he has kept all the commandments since his youth


I am going with an interpretation of the reading


Let’s live on the assumption that his motivation is actually truthful, honest, simple and profound – Let us assume that he has indeed lived faithfully in response to the Commandments of God, has kept the commands, lived a pure and holy life, & tried his best.


But he has no assurance of eternal life – no confidence that all this law abiding life will bring him eternal joy, security, in God’s presence


Was eternal life ever promised in the Old Testament?

How could he have known that this was to be asked?


In Luke’s account of a similar story, this is set within the parable of the Good Samaritan

An expert of the Law stood up – to test Jesus. Teacher, he asked, what must I do to inherit eternal life? ‘What is written in the LAW?’ says Jesus. ‘How do you read it?’

He answered – Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind. And love your neighbour as yourself

From Deuteronomy 6 v 5

Leviticus 19 v 18

“You have answered correctly”, said Jesus

“Do this and you will live”


In Mark’s parallel story of the rich young man – he has obeyed the law but he has no confidence that this is sufficient …Let us consider that he is genuine in seeking an answer from Jesus the Rabbi, Let us not sit in judgement on him – but consider his request an honest one.


Point 3. The stumbling block of riches

Firstly – the man has a good attitude to Jesus

Secondly – he has tried to live by God’s commandments but does not have assurance that he has eternal life

So Thirdly - He has so much wealth, – verse 21 – that Jesus asks him to sell everything and give to the poor, to have treasure in heaven, and then come follow me says Jesus – this was the one thing he lacked – in obedience to God’s commandments. He has so much wealth. Verse 22 – at this the man’s face fell; he went away sad, because he had great wealth.


Jesus says Verse 23 – how hard it is for the rich 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. Verse 25. The eye of a needle was not literally the sewing needle, but the small doorway in the huge stone wall of the Temple mount – a small doorway that a camel could not go through. People assumed – an Old Testament idea - that wealth was a sign of God’s blessing, and that wealthy people were closer to God than ordinary people and more likely to be saved. Jesus laments that it is very difficult for people with this attitude to experience God’s saving power – to enter the kingdom.


Jesus is just straight with him – your wealth is holding you back – you have no assurance of eternal life because although you are living by the commandments, your money has a hold on you – you need to give it away – and then follow me. Outrageous really – we have no idea how much money the young man owns at all – except the Mark account says that he has great wealth; and Jesus is asking for a complete and absolute turn-around.


Point 4. The promises of Jesus

The disciples are first appalled – “who then can be saved?” – no-one can do this - Give away all they have to follow you! Then they remember that they themselves have done this in order to follow Jesus – they are the 12 who left fishing businesses, tax collecting and so on. The disciples were amazed and said to each other – who then can be saved? Verse 26. And Jesus says to them that this is indeed possible with God – all things are possible with God. Jesus looked at them and said – verse 27

With man this is impossible, but not with God, all things are possible with God.


Jesus goes on to say - that for those who give everything away – they will have much given to them in this present life. New homes, families, and with them persecutions

A Promise – verses 29-31. “No-one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this age and with them persecutions, and in the age to come, eternal life….”


How moving it is to have friends who are called to be good news people overseas – who have left homes and families – and have returned to speak of home and families all over the world … places of welcome. We have stood with those sent overseas – and seen the blessing that they have been and the new families that God has given to them.


How wonderful our weekend of PUZZLE MANIA has been here – the hours and hours of love given to making puzzles, to organising the layout, to serving teas and coffees, to preparing a superb community activity – it has grown us as a church and our place in the village. What a wonderful gift – those who left husband or wife or family to serve over the hours of puzzle making!! Dee and Ann, and Nicky and Linda and Shirley and Bridget – and so many supporting team – masses of people. Thank you!


Point 5. The surprise

1 - The man’s attitude of humility

2 - The man’s anxiety about his life – even though he has kept the commandments

3 – The stumbling block of riches

4 – the promise of Jesus


However, in this story of the rich young man, there is one phrase that is only used of this one person in the whole New Testament.


Did anyone notice it here?


“Jesus looked at him and loved him” verse 21


Jesus looked at him with love – the word is agape - unconditional love. Jesus could see the struggle going on in his mind. He has knelt in humility - He has kept the commandments - But he is tied to his wealth.


Agape love - is the sort of love which regardless of the worthiness or unworthiness of the person who is the loved one, shows itself by helping and going out in self-giving towards that one. Jesus in his love is reaching out to the rich young ruler. It is the type of love seen in the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10).

See Paul’s words in his Letter to the Galatians 2:20

The life I live, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Come, follow me, says Jesus, give up your wealthy lifestyle: the man is sad because he has great wealth

Jesus looked at him and loved him


Application for us today - where am I in this story?


  1. Wealthy beyond measure – does he ask me to give?
  2. A self-evaluation: what is my real attitude to Jesus – would I kneel before Jesus - or would I argue?
  3. Are we honest but do we lack confidence in God’s gift of eternal life – can I ask for more? God alone will give us all we need to be saved.
  4. Is Jesus asking us to lay something down to be his disciples – with God we can do the impossible – he is the God of the possible!
  5. Are we the homes and families that others need? We have discovered a new community through Puzzle Mania – may the Lord allow us to continue to be the warm and loving community in this village
  6. And finally - have we received his agape love – or is God’s love all a theory?


From our reading in Hebrews 4:14-16, a promise for us to trust

“Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”


And we don’t know the ending of the story – this young man may have returned later – and been a founder in the early church.                                                             


Marion de Quidt, Whitewater Benefice 11th Oct 2015

backThank you to authors for resources used for this sermon:

New Interpreter’s Bible – Mark’s Gospel: Introduction, Commentary and Reflections by Preme Perkins (1994)
Commentary on Mark’s Gospel by C.E.B. Cranfield (1959) Cambridge University Press