The Rich Young Ruler
by C.W. Powell
[From an Email posted 4/10/2003]
Here is a proud first century yuppie who knew how to identify a problem, seek a solution, and implement the solution. He had heard good things of Christ. He knew how to solve earthly problems and thought that he could handle spiritual ones. Just show him the solution, and he would implement it. He was willing to sacrifice and tackle the tough job. He fancied himself humble, for he was willing to seek to someone who would know better than he did. He was clever enough to seek out all the resources available to him. He was good in public relations and knew how to ingratiate himself with public figures. “Good master…,” was the way he began.
In other words, this was a man who was not poor in spirit, who had no sense of sin, and certainly would not consider himself as deserving of the wrath of God. And he certainly did not recognize Jesus Christ as the Son of God, for why did Christ rebuke him for calling him “good” when only God is good? The truth is that Jesus would not accept flattery. No mushing about the goodness of Christ if He were an imposter and not God. An honest man does not flatter nor receive flattery.
So the law must do its work. It must challenge the arrogance of the natural man. Only the poor in spirit inherit the kingdom of God, and this man wasn’t that. He was a success, morally, socially, and financially. Show him the problem and he would solve it. Every problem has a solution if we put together the proper moral, reasonable, and effective resources. He knew what success was, and it meant you didn’t leave any loose ends. Thus, hearing about Christ, he came to Him. Wow, did he get a surprise!
He was not like the godly people of the Gospels: those commended for walking perfectly before the Lord, for they all embraced Christ and loved Him. This rich man had something screwy about his view of the law, for how could he have walked away from Christ if he truly loved the law, whose end was Christ?
When God asked Adam “Where Art Thou?” He was not searching for information. He knew exactly where Adam was. God never needs information, for the word of God is quick and powerful and searches to the inmost part of man.
When God speaks it is to give information, not to gain it. When the word of God discerns the secret parts of the heart, it is not for the purpose of conveying that information to God, any more than God needed to send angels to discover what was going on in Sodom.
God speaks, and Jesus spoke, to give information; and that information was often given in such a way that only those who had ears to hear could hear.
To claim that Jesus would have been acting dishonestly by telling the Rich Young Ruler to keep the commandments, when He knew that the Rich Young Ruler could not keep the law, is childish and dishonest. Jesus knows what is in the heart of every man, and He knew the pride and self-satisfaction of this young man. God was not pretending to seek for Adam, and Jesus was not pretending that the RYR could gain life by keeping the commandments.
God knew where Adam was, and Jesus knew where the Rich Young Ruler was. But neither of them knew how lost they were, and that is the crux of the matter.
“A wise man will hear, and will increase learning; and a man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels: to understand a proverb, and the interpretation; the words of the wise, and their dark sayings,” is the way Solomon put it.
So it was with Christ. Just as He was not disowning His Deity by asking the Rich Young Ruler why he called Him “good, for only God is good,” so neither is He offering to confirm the Rich Young Ruler in the righteousness of the law by telling him to keep the commandments. A man who was wrong about Jesus was not likely to be right about his obedience to the law, either.
It is not hard to see where this clever and specious interpretation of the story of the RYR comes from. How can any man who loves and knows Jesus Christ think the RYR was a good man who kept the law, but was a little mixed up about what he owed to Jesus Christ? Whatever its earthly origin is, it has the smell of brimstone about it and does not come from heaven, as if Christ could be separated from His law, and one could keep the one and reject the other. “Stuff and Nonsense” as my gramma used to say. I suppose a man would have to read a great many books to believe that stuff.
As a matter of fact, the Rich Young Ruler didn’t keep the law, even though he fancied that he did. Any man who would turn away from Christ and abandon the riches of heaven for the silver and gold of this world didn’t understand either the law or the Lord Jesus. The law is spiritual and the carnal man will never understand it. He hates it and only pretends to love it in order to bring people into the bondage and misery that holds him.
The Tenth Commandment internalizes all the others. Not only am I not to steal, but I am not to put my affection on things on the earth; I am not to seek gain; I am not to love money. Covetousness is idolatry, so this young man was not one who feared the Lord, in spite of his pretenses. His sin consumed him. Why else would he choose to abandon Jesus and walk away? How awful was his sin!
Moses, who gave the law, knew better the meaning of the law than the RYR. Moses “esteemed the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt.” Abraham, the Father of the Faithful, looked for a city which “hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.” That’s why Abraham didn’t journey to Sodom. He knew that Sodom wasn’t the city he was looking for.
In fact, the Rich Young Ruler was a covetous, selfish hypocrite, who boasted in his self-righteousness, and only thought that he could cover all his bases by getting this famous religious leader to confirm him in his self-righteousness. There are a great many similar people, up-scale, yuppies and yippies, who flock to modern religious conventions, retreats, meetings, conferences, and so forth to have their own self-righteousness affirmed and confirmed. “Be true to yourself,” “Unleash your inner potential,” “Listen to the child within,” “Choose the better way,” “Make yourself the clay, so that God can be the Potter,” “Hold on and let go, so that the Spirit can move you to irrationality and self-gratification,” “The Virgin will hear,” “Show your love to each other,” “Buy this album and feel the power,” “Sow the seed of faith and enrich this ministry, and God will enrich you [see, it is good to love money, dearly beloved]” and so it goes and everyone feels very religious and pious.
They drive their fancy cars, sit on padded pews, relax in air-conditioned comfort with their cup of latte, and listen to false prophets tell them how bad everything is getting, but for them not to worry, for they are good people and God will not let them get too uncomfortable. God will even take them directly to Heaven if it gets too nasty on the earth. They do not bear the cross, for they shrink from unpleasantness and pain.
They are like a man who dreams that he dines, but awakens hungry. But he doesn’t even know he is hungry because he loathes the Gospel which would feed his hungry and alienated soul. But he is very self-satisfied and glories in his loving works. He beams on the world. But don’t talk to him about cutting off body parts.
Instead of dishonesty, Christ turned the light of truth and honesty into the dark heart of this “fine young man,” whose only fault was to love money and this world [!!!]. But there was no grace in the heart of the young man, and he went away very sorrowful.
Too bad that Christ proved to be such a disappointment, and no doubt the Rich Young Ruler is gnashing his teeth in hell today, still complaining about the unfairness of it all. After all, he would have done ANYTHING. “Why did Jesus prove to be such a disappointment and ask me to do such a foolish thing? Who had ever heard of such a thing? Even his own disciples had trouble with the idea that it is hard for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven. What WAS Jesus thinking of? Maybe the Pharisees are right. He must have a devil. The Pharisees are good men who love God and seek to obey God. I am afraid Jesus will give His disciples the wrong perspective on things. I hear that Jesus has sharply attacked these good people and called them hypocrites and whited sepulchers. What a disappointment. Maybe someone will come along some day to give a New Perspective on these things and save the world.”
The Rich Young Ruler was like Naaman the leper who was highly offended at being told to go wash in the dirty old Jordan River. He had much finer streams back home. The difference is that Naaman came to his senses; we have no information about the Rich Young Ruler. [BTW. Why DID the prophet make Naaman do such a stupid thing? Is this one of those “dark sayings” that Proverbs speaks about? I suppose that those who journey to Israel still think of the Jordan as a holy river. Some even think it is “special” to be baptized there. They still don’t get it.]
To all of God’s people. Jesus Christ is a complete and perfect Savior. He kept the covenant perfectly and redeems me from all my misery. His covenant-keeping atones for my covenant-breaking. I cannot and do not keep the law, to my shame and regret. But my faithful Savior’s work is so great that “God, for the sake of Christ’s satisfaction, will no more remember my sins, nor the sinful nature with which I have to struggle all my life long; but graciously imputes to me the righteousness of Christ, that I may nevermore come into condemnation.” (Heidelberg Catechism 56).
Amen and Amen. If that doesn’t warm your heart, your heart is very hard indeed. I am not ashamed of the tears that come into my eyes as I write this. May they never be dried until my Savior wipes them away in glory.
Those who preach this gospel are my brothers, no matter what their denomination; those who do not lie under the curse of God, no matter what their denomination. We must not sacrifice or diminish the grace of God or the Gospel of Christ, which is the power of God unto salvation.