Guest Author: Charles Daniel
“Come, Follow me.” This short, yet powerful invitation was extended explicitly by Jesus Christ to His 12 disciples (Matthew 4:19, 9:9). This group of flawed, imperfect men forsook all they had or were, followed Jesus, grew under His tutelage, and were transformed into the fathers, leaders, and builders of the Early Church; taking the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the ends of the world (Acts 1:8). Sometimes looking at these great and powerful men, we consider ourselves as inferior. We raise them onto pedestals so high that we are even unworthy to breathe the same air as them. To some extent such awe and respect is deserved for their position as Apostles, and acts on behalf of the Gospel, but that is not the whole story. Though their call to Apostleship was unique their call to Discipleship was not.
Throughout His ministry on earth Jesus preached and taught many things concerning the Kingdom of God and what it meant to follow Jesus into that Kingdom. His words were both comforting and penetrating, drawing in many people to hear all that He had to say (Luke 5:1). Jesus, however, knew very well how fickle and unrepentant many of these people were. The message was falling on deaf ears. Though these crowds formed all around, Jesus desired true, faithful disciples who would answer the call “Come, Follow Me.” The disciples received this call personally, and Jesus had many that followed Him, but there was one person recorded in scripture to have received this same call personally and still turned away. I am talking of the famous (or infamous) rich, young, Ruler.
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?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. 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.’” And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” 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.” Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. 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!” 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! 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.” And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you.” 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, 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. | Mark 10:17-30
I won’t exposit too much on this very familiar portion, but I do wish to share a few thoughts. In this passage we see a seemingly sincere person seeking eternal life; and specifically seeking the answer from the one Man who could provide it. And why not? By all earthly standards he was a prime candidate for acceptance into heaven. He was well schooled in scripture and raised accordingly. He had wealth, which was seen as God’s favor upon a person. Due to his title as ruler, we can also see a man who had both status and prestige in society where many did not.
The first thing that caught my attention is the conversation Jesus carries on with Him. Instead of giving him the standard Christian answer that the Apostle Paul had said to the Philippian Jailer; he tells him to do something.
Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” | Acts 16:30-31
Is Jesus professing some sort of “works” salvation by telling him to abandon all and give to the poor? NO, absolutely not. Jesus understands better than anyone else the heart of man and specifically the heart of this man. The young man is seeking Salvation, but in all the wrong ways and for all of the wrong reasons. Jesus is trying to reveal to this man what Salvation really is; and by extension what it looks like to truly follow Him. The young man’s perception of Jesus, himself, and salvation are all warped and in the flesh. In his perception Jesus was merely a righteous teacher with validity; he himself was well-off, divinely blessed, and good enough; and salvation was just another box on his checklist (bucket list) of lifetime achievements, one which was fully within his power and grasp. Everything he believed ‘qualified’ him for eternal life were the very things that fueled his pride; which kept him unrepentant, incapable of receiving salvation, and following after Jesus Christ.
This brings me to the next interesting point. We see Jesus describing here not the requirements of Salvation on man, but instead the requirements of discipleship. This is because True Discipleship is the direct result of True Salvation and in reality both are inseparable from each other. Jesus was letting this man and His disciples understand what it truly meant to follow Him. Many people, then and now, profess to know Jesus and be His follower, but very few actually are. True discipleship, just as true salvation, begins with utter humility at the understanding of who Jesus Christ is and the free gift of Salvation He offers. The parallels between the rich, young ruler and our current generation are actually quite outstanding. How many of us live our lives professing Jesus Christ, touting our knowledge and application of Scripture? How many of us live comfortable, well-off lives, often holding places of stature and influence in our society? This struck me even more so because this describes well our South Asian (Malayalee) Christian (Brethren) community today. South Asian immigrants in American society are one the wealthiest demographics, and often hold some of the most prestigious and influential jobs. Brethren believers also claim the most knowledge and faithfulness to the Scripture. There is nothing wrong with any of these things inherently; however, this passage of Scripture reveals that pride in self can lead to separation from God and His will.
The rich, young ruler is a warning to all of us, believers and unbelievers. True Salvation begins at a repentant understanding of your sins and lowliness. Everything is worthless before a Holy, Perfect God, even your best. But salvation is not the end, it is only the beginning. It is a new eternal life; and that life includes True Discipleship. It requires laying everything at the feet of Jesus and leaving everything behind. The young man received an invitation from Jesus to “Come, follow me” but turned it down and left sorrowful. The warning from this to all people is don’t let anything hold you back from following your Savior. Do not walk away from the Savior disheartened like the rich, young, ruler, but find real joy in living your life with Him and for Him as the Apostles did.