Today, we find ourselves in the tenth chapter of Mark, verses seventeen through thirty-one. It is a story we know well. It is recorded, with minor variations, in Matthew, Mark and Luke. Combining all three gives us the whole picture. According to the three Gospels, Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem when he is confronted by a rich young ruler. In other words, this man has everything this world has to offer. He is rich, so he can buy anything his heart desires. He never looks at a price tag or is concerned with sales. He is young, so his health is good. His calendar is not filled with doctor’s appointments and funeral home visitations. He is a ruler, so he has influence. He has friends in high places. He has everything this world has to offer, but he doesn’t have everything.
His soul is restless, so he goes to Jesus to obtain spiritual peace. Verse 17 is key. It says, the rich young ruler asked Jesus clearly, what must I do to inherit eternal life? Jesus answers the question with a question. The Master asked him if he was guilty of murder or adultery. Had he ever stolen, given false testimony, or defrauded someone? Had he always honored his father and mother? The man had kept all those commandments because the man had been sincere from birth. He was a true child of his faith. Jesus must have been impressed. However, this is the problem: Salvation is not obtained by what we have not done. Salvation is obtained by what we do. What does Jesus want this young man to do? The Master wants the young man to sell his possessions and give the money to the poor. That way, he will be free to follow him. Why would Jesus say such a thing? This is the answer: Jesus knows our possessions are often damaging to our spiritual health.Can I be honest with you?
It is my experience that we know the story of the rich young ruler, but we don’t like the story of the rich young ruler. The words of Jesus are too radical. Are you willing to sell all your possessions and give all money to the poor? If you sold all your possessions and gave your money to the poor, you would find yourself both bankrupt and homeless. Jesus’s words seem to be insane, so we dismiss them. Many believe this story is reserved for the truly rich, not us. It is reserved for the 1% of the American population that controls 38% of our nation’s wealth. He can’t be speaking to the 90% of the American population who own 78% of our nation’s debt. This is the problem: Jesus is speaking to us. I don’t want to sound like a preacher, but in comparison to most of the world, we are rich. We don’t consider ourselves rich because we compare ourselves with people who live at the same standard of living. You know the truth. We are much better at seeing the things we want and blind to the things we have. It isn’t just true of the youth going on a mission trip, it is true for all of us. Sometimes, we need to experience someone else’s world so we can appreciate our lives. We need to step out of our worlds to learn something about our world.
I live about fifteen miles from my childhood home. Every time I am in Warren, Ohio, I drive through the old neighborhood. I always liked driving through those east side streets and my wife likes listening to my silly stories about my childhood. The tour is exact the same every time. We drive by the location of my old elementary school, McKinley, which has been torn down. We drove by the location of my old Junior High School, East, which has been torn down. We drive my old high school, Harding, which is now torn down. (All my former school buildings are now torn down. They are trying to destroy the evidence J) We drove by the homes of my childhood friends. Some are boarded up. We drove by my childhood home. My parents bought that house as their starter house in the early 1950s, but they didn’t leave it until I was out of college in the mid-1970s. The room that was my nursery later was the same room I slept in the night before I left for college. I do not want to sound critical, but the old neighborhood had seen better days. The street along with the rest of the city looks tired and worn out. When we get back to our home, my wife Kathryn always says to me, “Sometimes, I forget how nice our house is.” She is correct. Sometimes, when we step out of our world, we learn something about our world.
In 1996, my wife started making trips to Russia to help orphans who will never be adopted. We have traveled to the former Soviet Union several dozen times. Those trips changed me and the way I look at my life. One of the people we met during those trips was an orphan named Vlad. He lost his legs below his knees in a train accident in a Moscow rail yard. Kathryn brought him to America several times to get, and maintain, his prosthetic legs. We never legally adopted Vlad, but we did emotionally adopt Vlad. She communicates with him regularly. He is now thirty-four years old and lives in the city of Dmitrov, one and a half hours north of Moscow. Vlad lives with his girlfriend, Yulia. We took them out to dinner on our last trip to Russia. They have hard lives. Periodically, Kathryn sends them money to help. If you asked Vlad if Kathryn and I are rich, he would say, “Yes!” When I’m with Vlad, I feel rich. Sometimes, when we step out of our world, we learn something about our world.
Years ago, Kathryn and I were in Russia and stayed behind. The rest of the team flew back to the United States. We stayed behind to visit a United Methodist missionary, Matt Lafferty. He showed us his work and took us to a free medical clinic. That Russian medical clinic was filled with Africans. Their dark complexions caught me off guard, so I asked why they were there. Matt explained, Russians are extremely prejudiced against anyone of color. The Africans go to the clinic not just for their medical needs but for their social needs. I said, “No! What are these Africans doing in Russia?” He told me, many Africans have come to Russia because in Russia they have more opportunity than in their homeland. They see the Russians as rich. They see Americans as extremely rich. Sometimes, when we step out of our world, we learn something about our world.
I challenge you to discover just how rich you are. According to worlddata.info, the average person in the world makes $850 annually. The average American makes $70,930 annually. The average Ohioan makes $51,775. If you make $41,000 annual, then you are in the top 3% of the world’s richest. I know, I have gone on too long to make this point, but I want you to get it. When Jesus speaks to the rich young ruler, he is speaking to us. He is speaking to you! Like it or not, you are rich.
The rich young ruler walks away sad because he couldn’t sell his possessions. You really can’t blame him. Are you willing to sell all your possessions? The disciples are trying to understand. It is hard to comprehend. In verse 23, Jesus tells us why he said such a radical thing. This is why. Jesus said, it is hard for the rich to get into heaven. He did not say it was impossible for the rich to get into heaven. Jesus knows what we want to ignore. While money is a good thing in this world, money has a way of frustrating our spiritual growth. Spiritually speaking, how you handle your possessions and how you view your possessions are extremely important. They won’t just influence your time in this world. They will influence your eternity.
The Bible tells us four ways our money is retarding our spiritual growth.
- Money often leads to pride and arrogance. God hates pride and arrogance. God loves the humble.
- Money gives us a false sense security. Money can eliminate some of life’s problems but not all. It is God who has the final say.
- Money drains us of our compassion and mercy. We often think we deserve our money and judge those who don’t. Your money doesn’t make you right, but your money may make you hard-hearted.
- Money has a way of dividing our loyalties. Is money the driving force in your life? Or is God the driving force in your life?
Your possessions are a great test. Are you passing the test?
John Wesley (1703-1791) was the founder of the great Methodist movement. History tells us, he was aware of the influence of money on his spiritual life. He believed in making all you could so you could give more of it away. When he was a student at Oxford, his annual income was thirty British pounds. He lived on 28 pounds and gave away 2 pounds. Thirty British pounds then is worth about $6,500 today. Through the years his income grew. At one point, he made 60 pounds. Then, it grew to 90 pounds, then it grew to 120 pounds. What didn’t change was his living expenses, 28 pounds. He just gave away more all the time. Wesley was aware of the influence of money on his spiritual life. How aware are you?
Here is the good news for today: You are rich! Here is the bad news for today! You are rich! The way you handle your money, the way you view your money is a great challenge to your spiritual maturity. Remember, what Jesus said, “It is hard for the rich to get into heaven”, not impossible. The great evangelist Billy Graham (1918-2018) once said, “The greatest legacy one can pass on to one’s children and grandchildren is not money or other material things accumulated in one’s life, but rather a legacy of character and faith.”