As we’re looking at this passage today in Mark 10, I’d encourage you to keep your Bibles open. It should also be helpful to keep in mind the skit we did earlier—this will help illustrate some of what’s going on it this story today.
In VBS this past week, we learned about trusting God—and we can trust Him because all things are possible with God. You probably noticed that this theme verse for VBS is taken from this story we just read.
But to get a better idea of what’s going on here, let’s look more closely at these conversations in our passage today.
We started reading even before the man comes to Jesus, because the previous section is helpful in framing the story for today. People are bringing children for Jesus to bless, but the disciples try to stop them. But maybe the disciples think that Jesus has more important things to do. He has a full schedule—preaching, miracles, debates. Important stuff.
But Jesus clears His schedule for these children. He even tells the disciples that “anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” Wow. So the disciples shouldn’t keep the children from Jesus; they have to actually become like children in some way.
There are several different ways to understand this. It could be referring to the sense of trust a child has for their parents. They just humbly receive the parents’ love and care. We might guess at how the opposite of this could look: If anyone comes to Jesus with a full resume of all their talents and qualifications—almost like Flash tried to impress the pilot who offered him flying lessons, by bringing his videogames—they won’t be able to receive Jesus. They must become like little children, bringing nothing in their arms but accepting God’s offer.
And it’s amazing. Jesus took these children, even babies, in His arms and blessed these, even when they had done nothing for Him. That’s grace.
The Rich Man
Then, right after this, we see a man who’s run up to Jesus and knelt before Him. If we were reading this for the first time, maybe we would wonder if he’ll be an example of receiving the kingdom of God like a child. Let’s see what happens.
Now we hear him: “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Seems he wants to do something. We know from later on that he is rich—so maybe he has the capability of doing lots of good things, helping people, giving to the temple, and more.
As we’re wondering what this passage might mean for us, I think we shouldn’t just think of wealth as only about money. Think of land, think of what might have been the man’s inheritance. For us, think maybe of our wealth as things we tend to cling to—talents, success, intelligence, good deeds, not having done any “big” sins—even the fact that we might work in a church, even being a pastor. Or just those things we value most in our lives—our family, our car, our friends, our lifestyle. For Flash, it was his videogames, and all his skills that he hoped would impress the famous pilot.
We could each think of something that we personally treasure, and would hold onto more tightly than anything else.
All this could be seen as our wealth.
Now Jesus asks the man a question: “Why do you call me good? No one is good—except God alone.” So Jesus, as God’s own Son and Himself God, is good—but we don’t know if this man truly recognized that. This also means that this man himself isn’t good, because only God is good. He is lacking, needy, poor before Jesus. But does he recognize that?
Jesus now tells him some of the commandments—how people are supposed to live rightly before God. And the man says, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.” Checkmark. Been there, done that. Maybe he doesn’t truly recognize his neediness—thinking he’s good. But at least he sees that he needs something, or he would never have come to Jesus at all.
Jesus looked at the man and loved him, and seems recognize what was standing between the man and God. Even though this man is wealthy, Jesus points out that he’s lacking one thing. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor...”
Maybe in a way it’s poverty that this man lacks. He thinks he has it all, can do it all, but maybe he’s more like Flash Skyrunner in our skit earlier. Flash thought he could take all his videogames with him, that he could impress the pilot with his gaming skills, but really they were just a barrier. He couldn’t even fit in the cockpit with them. His skills, and the fear of losing them, could have kept him from actually ever just admitting he didn’t know how to fly and accepting the flying lessons from the real expert. The rich man is coming to Jesus with all his wealth in his arms, loaded down, and Jesus seems to show him that he has to be poor to receive eternal life. For some reason, the man’s wealth is just a barrier between him and Jesus. Jesus’ call to follow is just grace, a gift, but a gift that costs us everything. God’s currency is radically different from ours.
If being a Christian doesn’t ever feel costly, we may not be truly following Jesus as we are called to.
I have a friend from Saudi Arabia who is a Muslim, and we had many conversations about faith. But if he were to become a Christian, the laws in that country would technically allow him to be killed—though not practiced. But on top of this, how would his family and community react? He might lose his family—but like Jesus says at the end of our passage today, he would gain another family: all those who believe in Christ. Obeying Jesus’ call must be costly in some way, or we may be conforming instead of following. And what God gives us freely is far greater than anything we leave behind.
Eternal life is a gift. We can’t earn it. If the man were to obey Jesus and seel all he has, he still wouldn’t be earning eternal life; only God can do this, and then only He can give life. We can’t impress Jesus enough to get it because of any of our talents or accomplishments, or by our church attendance or the number of sermons we have preached or listened to. And we can’t follow Jesus if we’re unwilling to be emptied of the things we hold tightest—even our family and our very selves, sense of identity. They have to be given to God.
Like we read in Isaiah 55 at the beginning of the service, this life is for people who recognize their need—poor people, but in a much broader sense than just financially. “Is anyone thirsty? Come and drink—even if you have no money! Come, take your choice of wine or milk— it’s all free!”
Remember the words from the song “You, You, You” that we sang earlier: “You don’t have to be the fastest, strongest, you don’t have to hold your breath the longest. You don’t have to be a star, it doesn’t matter who you are, you can trust God!” Flash couldn’t impress the pilot with his gaming skills, and we can’t impress God with our talents or resumes or good deeds.
Everything we want more than Jesus will have to be stripped away or we will never follow Him. We have to come recognizing our need for His grace and forgiveness, submitting to His work in our lives and His radical call for us to hand over all our treasures, all our wealth. Again, like the VBS song says, “You can take Him at His word, and give Him your heart.”
There’s a well-known passage in Philippians 3 that relates: “But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.” (Phil. 3:7-11)
Flash had to leave his videogames and skills behind. The rich man had to leave his wealth or inheritance behind. The Israelites had to leave Egypt or they could never inherit the Promised Land.
After this, Jesus says, “Then come, follow me.” The rich man is wondering how to inherit eternal life. The only place he’s going to find it will be in following Jesus.
A couple weeks ago, we talked about Jesus as God’s Son, and because He’s God’s Son, He is the only one who has the right to inherit anything. We all have rebelled, turned from God—including this rich young man. But we learned that belonging to Jesus, believing in Him, we are also God’s children.
And we read in Hebrew 9: “For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.” (Heb. 9:15) This inheritance comes through Christ. And Jesus is basically equating eternal life with following Him.
In John 17, we read some of Jesus’ prayer to His Father. He can give eternal life to all those His Father has given Him. Then He says, “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” (John 17:3, NIV 1984) So this man will only find what he’s looking for in relationship with Jesus, in following Jesus. And later on we’ll see more of where he’s following Jesus to—where Jesus is going. Flash can only learn to fly by lessons from the famous pilot—getting to know him and learning from him. In a way that’s even greater, we only have true life in Jesus, when His hands take ours.
Responding to Jesus
So how will the man react to Jesus’ command and invitation? He goes away sad, not willing to let go of his wealth. He’d rather hold onto all of this, rather than letting it go to come after Jesus. Flash was holding tightly onto his videogames, but there was no way to learn how to fly without at some point letting go of these things. He couldn’t do it on his own, but with God all things are possible.
Then Jesus looks around and tells his disciples: “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!” Jesus must be mistaken here; how could he have meant to say that? Rich people are obviously those blessed by God, so they must be more good than others, and they can do more for God too. Wouldn’t it be easier for them to be saved??
Then Jesus says something even more ridiculous. “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.” The biggest animal in this region, and a tiny opening. And when the disciples anxiously question Jesus on this, he shows that it can’t be done. “With man this is impossible.” We can’t save ourselves. But God can. “...all things are possible with God.” There are a couple different ways this image has been taken, but either way, Jesus confirms that it is an impossible thing He is picturing. A camel can’t go through the eye of a needle. Flash can’t teach himself to fly, can’t fit through the cockpit with his TV, can’t give up these things on his own. “With man this is impossible.”
The rich man can’t both cling to his wealth and follow Jesus. This doesn’t mean Christians can’t be wealthy, but it means that we cannot cling to anything as if it really belongs to us.
So the rich man leaves. And now we remember what we read earlier: that we must receive the Kingdom of God like children. They don’t come with an impressive resume. They just come with open arms. And God is able to make us like little children.
The disciples have entered Jesus’ flight school, as we hear from Peter next. They left everything to follow Jesus. The only resume they have is: “Forgiven disciple, has nothing except Jesus, belongs to Jesus, following Him by His grace.” The life that Jesus gives is a gift so expansive that it must push everything else out of our life—everything we would cling to on our own. There’s no room for it, like there was no room for Flash’s videogames in the airplane cockpit. But then we find little by little that in Christ, we have all we need and it’s so much better than trying to hold onto the things we valued most. When we let go, we are freed to receive all that God desires to give us back as a gift from Him.
Of course, they are still in training. Back in chapter 9 the disciples had been arguing about who was the greatest. They desert Jesus when He is arrested. Peter disowns Jesus later on. Even after the resurrection, we know that Peter was afraid of what the Jews would think about him eating with the Gentiles, and Paul had to confront him on this. They’re still in training, as we all are even once we’re enrolled as Christ’s disciples. It’s all by grace. We don’t deserve to be taught by Him, or forgiven, or have His ongoing patience with us as He continues to strip away all our sin and all the things that load us down like Flash’s TV, videogames, and what he thought he knew about flying from the Nintendo Wii. Thank God for this! But these things must come away. We must come to God with empty hands, and let Him empty us so He can fill us. We have to unlearn what we thought we knew so He can teach us the real thing.
“Follow Me”...to the Cross: The Gospel
This rich man didn’t realize his utter need of Jesus. And if he did, he wasn’t willing to lose the thing which was standing between him and Jesus. He needed to follow Jesus to where Jesus was going—to the Last Supper and to the cross. In the Last Supper in Mark 14—which we’ll be celebrating next week—Jesus would teach the disciples that life and forgiveness was only found in Him, in His sacrifice for them. The judgment for all their sins, all the ways they had not lived as God commanded them to live, was born by Jesus on the cross. He died so we could have eternal life. No matter how rich we think we are, no matter how good, how talented, how good looking or popular, how often we go to church or even whether we are a pastor, we can never make up for our rebellion against God.
There’s a joke about a man who takes his wealth with him to heaven only to find that it’s already paved with gold—so he’s just brought a piece of asphalt. Any “goodness” we cling to, or anything that we want to cling to instead of Jesus—is just as worthless in dealing with our sins. And even more, it can be deadly in keeping us from Christ.
A well-known missionary named Jim Elliot, wrote in his journal, "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose."  He ultimately was martyred on the mission field. I never want to reach the end of my life, and find all that I had grabbed onto—like the rich man—was meaningless and empty.
Giving up those things that stand between us and Jesus’ offer to follow Him is hard—impossible without God. And it hurts. But there is also a real freedom, a joy in being freed from these things.
Growing up, for many years I wrestled heavily with questions about faith, the Bible, and Jesus. Was this true? Was it historically sound? It came to a point during my sophomore year in college where it seemed like a decision point—would I go on believing this, or would I not? It seemed that I demanded being able to fully understand what I would believe. Intellectual control was one of my riches, what I clung to most tightly.
One night in particular, I remember praying and thinking about all this. I had been given solid evidence of God’s existence and grounding for the Christian faith. I saw the lives of those around me, how they were evidence of this truth, I had seen God at work in my own life, and there was plenty of other evidence that it made sense to believe the truths of the Bible; they were not without grounding. But ultimately, it came to a point of faith. God had given me sufficient evidence of the truth even though I would never have the intellectual certainty I was looking for. And this night, I ultimately ended up giving up my need for intellectual certainty and control. This was something that was coming between me and God, and it had to be stripped away. And with this came such a sense of freedom. I still have questions, and still study, but now it is more on the foundation of belief in Christ, than on a constant shaky doubting.
And as we mentioned before, it’s an ongoing process too. I, we, belong to Jesus. But thank the Lord, He doesn’t stop there. He is still showing me the things I cling to, and stripping them off little by little. And this is true for all Christians.
Earlier we thought of something that we personally value most highly, and would hold onto more tightly than anything else. That too must come to Jesus, so He can strip it from us. Maybe He’ll give it back, maybe not. But God alone must be the One we value above all else.
Only God can strip us of all these videogames and our false humility and self-righteousness and “good works” and make us new, forgiven. Only He can teach us to fly. Eternal life—the life that we were always meant to live—is only found in following Jesus, in relationship with Him. And He can make the rich poor enough to follow Him, to receive Him. And He can save even us: All things are possible with God. Let’s come to this God today. And following Jesus, belonging to Him, we find life that is as it was always meant to be, eternal life in relationship with our God. What a wonderful God and Savior we have!
 Hendrikson: “humble trustfulness.” Or NET Bible note.See Matthew 18:2-4
 See also 1 Peter 1:3-5, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.” (NIV)