A young man ran up to Jesus one day and asked, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” When Jesus told him to keep the commandments of the Law, he replied, “I have kept all these things from my youth up.” Jesus told him to go sell all his possessions and give the money to the poor. When he heard that, the young man turned and walked away. He was wealthy, and discipleship cost too much. (Mark 10:17-31)
The Cost of Salvation
Paul tells us in Ephesians 2.8 that our salvation is freely given. However, it’s acquired only at great personal cost – we must give ourselves in return. That’s always been the hardest thing to do. “Strive to enter by the narrow door, for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able” (Luke 13.24). The word “strive” in that passage is the same Greek word from which we get “agonize.” The meaning is clear. It is not easy – it is hard. It is agony to surrender self. Not many are able to do it, but for those who do, theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.
The Problem with Wealth
As Jesus stood and watched that young man leave, He warned His disciples about the problems associated with material wealth. “How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the Kingdom of God!” (Mark 10.23), and again, “…how hard it is to enter the Kingdom of God!” (verse 24), and finally, “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).
Some have attempted to explain the Lord’s impossible illustration by suggesting He had reference to a small gate in a city’s wall through which a camel, after its load had been removed, might barely and with great strain squeeze through. Such an explanation robs the statement of its power; it takes that which is obviously impossible and makes it possible. The picture Jesus wanted His hearers to imagine was a literal camel trying to pass through the eye of a literal needle. He wasn’t suggesting that it might be done – He was stressing the utter impossibility of the act.
On another occasion Jesus accused the scribes and Pharisees of straining out gnats and swallowing camels (Matthew 23.24). He didn’t mean they were actually swallowing camels, but that they were so picky about small, insignificant matters that they were unaware of their large and obvious failures.
Only God Can Save
The camel and the needle teach us that we are unable to save ourselves, even if we are rich and powerful. In fact, wealth creates greater problems for those who have it than for those who don’t. It was hard for that young man – the Gospels describe him as a “rich, young, ruler” – to picture himself as a “broke, young, servant.” He couldn’t and he wouldn’t.
The Lord’s words startled His disciples. “Then who can be saved?” they asked, verse 26. If the rich are not acceptable, then how can we poor simple folk even begin to hope?
Jesus’ answer reveals the power, mercy, and glory of God. “With men it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God” (verse 27). Entrance into God’s Kingdom isn’t dependent on what we have or who we are, but to Whom we turn.
What Does God Require of Us?
This passage in Mark alarms me. Comparing ourselves today to the disciples of Jesus then, and possibly to the rich, young, ruler himself, we are all extremely wealthy. Our advanced culture and our level of affluence makes us think we are self-sufficient. Because we have more, there’s the danger of thinking we’re better. That’s not so – we are more accountable. “…to whom much is given, of him much will be required” (Luke 12.48).