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God’s Word for You

Mark 10:17-19 A rich man’s poverty

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Thursday, March 25, 2021

17 As Jesus was leaving to continue his journey, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good but God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness, You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’”

Since the very first chapter of Mark, Jesus has shown his intention to go to the villages of Judea and Galilee to preach everywhere he could (Mark 1:38). As he was leaving the village where the children had been brought to him to keep going along on his final trip to Jerusalem, a man came to him. He is described as a ruler and a man of great wealth (Luke 18:18), and a young man (Matthew 19:20). He was eager to find out if he was on the right path.

He wasn’t.

First, when he called Jesus “Good teacher,” he probably thought he was being polite, gracious, and even complimentary. But Jesus doesn’t look for politeness in us, or for compliments. He is looking for faith, devotion, and trust in his grace and favor. So the Lord asked, “Why do you call me good?” This is an echo of Jesus’ question to the disciples sent to him by John: “What do you want?” (John 1:38). The Lord was testing their faith, and here he was probing this rich young man’s faith.

Jesus continued: “No one is good but God alone.” This included the rich young man. Jesus was tearing away the man’s imaginary righteousness. Anyone who thinks he is good or righteous on account of the way he lives or his good works is mistaken and is in deadly danger of being condemned.

Jesus kept up his law-sermon by summarizing the commandments. This list is similar but not identical in the three accounts. Jesus lists six commandments, four of which (5th, 6th, 7th, 8th) are given in order (Exodus 20:13-16). Jesus adds “Do not defraud,” which is explained more fully in Leviticus 19:13: “Do not defraud your neighbor or rob him. Do not hold back the wages of a hired man overnight” (Leviticus 19:13). Perhaps the young man had been especially careful, as a wealthy man with many servants, to obey this law to the letter. Then Jesus went back to the Fourth Commandment, and stopped when the man interrupted him: “All these I have kept since I was a boy.”

But Jesus already knew that these were not laws that troubled this man’s conscience. The problem was somewhere else, somewhere much earlier in the list commandments. We will consider that with the verses that follow.

This passage preaches the law in clear, unwavering words. Jesus even rejects the title the young man used for him. Someone might think, how strange! How unloving! How unkind! But the law does not proclaim love; it exposes sin. If the law is ignored, there is no gospel. The purpose of the law is to display God’s will to his glory, to show us our specific sins, and our need for a Savior from those sins. This was the young man’s poverty: He didn’t know that he was sinful, despite his seemingly good deeds, and he didn’t know that he needed a Savior, or who that Savior was. His heart boasted the Ephraim bragged: “With all my wealth they will not find in me any iniquity or sin” (Hosea 12:8). Money and power do not buy a free pass that covers sin.

When we see this, we realize that this young man didn’t have anything at all. How loving Jesus was to show him his need! How kind Jesus was to teach him what he lacked! This is the Savior we have, who doesn’t ignore us, but who teaches us, challenges us, educates us, exposes our sins and our mistakes, and who picks us up and rescues us.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith

About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.


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