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Mark 10:17-22 – So Close Yet So Far Away

As Christians we often think of some people being closer to becoming a Christian than others. We see a morally good person and think that they would be an easy target for the gospel message. Surely someone as good as that person would be interested in hearing about Jesus. Then we look at a nasty, violent person who is hard to get along with and think that they are “far, far, away in heathen darkness dwelling.” We think that this person would be much harder to share the gospel with. Such a nasty, sinful person would never listen to the gospel, would they?

But is this the right way to look at different people? Is one closer and the other farther off? Or are all people sinners who need the Savior despite their level of sin? As we look at today’s story in Mark, we will see that even a “good” person can be further away from the truth than once expected.

  1. What does it say? (Mark 10:17-22)

    As Jesus was traveling down the road, a man ran up to him and knelt down in front of Him. He asked Jesus a question. “Good Teacher, what should I do so that I can inherit eternal life?” Jesus responded by asking a question. “Why do you call me good? No one is good except One…God.” He then reminded him about the commandments. “You know the commands. Don’t commit adultery. Don’t murder. Don’t steal. Don’t bear false witness. Don’t defraud. Honor your father and mother.” The man answered Jesus, “Teacher I have kept these commands since I was young.” Jesus looked at him and loved him. He told him, “You still lack one thing. Go and sell whatever you have, give the proceeds to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, pick up your cross, and follow Me.” But what Jesus said made the man sad. He left feeling sorry because he had many possessions.

    The man was eager. He showed his eagerness by running to Jesus, kneeling down, and sincerely asking how to inherit eternal life. Despite all of his former efforts, he did not know how to inherit eternal life.

    The man was ignorant. He addressed Jesus as good but when asked why, he backed off, not knowing what to say. He thought Jesus was good but also knew that only God is good. He obviously was unsure of who Jesus was.

    The man was pretty good. When Jesus pointed the man to some of the Ten Commandments, he was confident that he had obeyed the ones mentioned by Jesus since his childhood. He was probably known as a morally upright person in the community.

    The man was conflicted. When Jesus told him to sell his possessions, give to the poor, and follow Him, the man was conflicted. His many possessions were too much for him to give up at that point.

  2. What does it mean?

    Some people are unsure about their eternal destiny (Mark 10:17).

    This man ran to Jesus with great respect and eagerness to find an answer to his question. He asked what he must do to inherit eternal life. “This man’s question indicated that he viewed eternal life as something to be achieved by doing good … and also that he felt insecure about his future destiny.”1 How about that? He was probably a Jewish man who had been taught about obeying the law but he didn’t have assurance about his own future.

    Some people don’t understand God’s standard of goodness (Mark 10:18).

    The man addressed Jesus as “Good Teacher” inferring that he saw something good in Jesus. But Jesus confronted him about that statement. Why did he call Jesus good since only God is good? “Jesus challenged the man’s faulty perception of good as something measured by human achievement. No one is good, absolutely perfect, except God alone, the true Source and Standard of goodness. The man needed to see himself in the context of God’s perfect character.”2

    Perhaps this man had been watching Jesus for a while. If so, he would have noted the difference between him and the other rabbis. Many of that day were caught up in an external righteousness that didn’t come from the heart. It was often something done so that others would see and think they were good. But Jesus was different. He was good on the inside and the outside. The man must have noticed this. And he must have noticed the difference between himself and Jesus.

    This is what every one of us has to recognize before we can be saved. We have to realize that our goodness isn’t measured by other people but by how close we are to God’s perfect goodness. All of us have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God. We may look good compared to a murderer but we are still increibly sinful compared to God. Isaiah said it well.

    Isaiah 64:6 – “But we are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags.”

    From God’s perspective, we are unrighteous and unlike our perfect God. And that is our biggest problem. We are sinners who don’t deserve God’s mercy. We deserve His judgment.

    Some people don’t understand who Jesus is.

    One of the things that may surprise you is what Jesus seems to say to the man. When the man calls him “Good Teacher,” Jesus asks why he called Him good. He also tells him that nobody but God is good. It almost gives the idea that Jesus is differentiating Himself from God. But that is not the case here. “Jesus’ response did not deny His own deity but was a veiled claim to it.”3 Jesus didn’t say that He was not good or that He was not God. He only asked this question with the explanation that only God was good.

    Does the Bible teach that Jesus is good?

    John 8:29 – “I always do those things that please Him.”
    John 8:46 – “Which of you convicts Me of sin?”
    1 John 3:5 – “And you know that He was manifested to take away our sins, and in Him there is no sin.”

    Does the Bible teach that Jesus is God?

    John 1:1-3 – “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.”
    John 10:30 – “I and My Father are one.”
    Colossians 2:9 – “For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.”

    From these few Bible verses, we can see that Jesus is good and is God. So that should help us to understand why Jesus said what He did. He was not denying that He was God. Instead, He was trying to get the man to see who He was.

    Some people are trusting in their morality to save them (Mark 10:19-20).

    The man, who was eager to have Jesus tell him what to do to inherit eternal life, had been living a commendable life. If we take his word for it, he had never committed adultery, murdered, stolen, lied, defrauded someone, or dishonored his parents. What he said was “an honest expression of the man’s belief that he had actually kept the law.”4 If you think about it, you probably know someone who is an upstanding person in the community. They don’t lose their temper. They don’t get pulled over by the police. They are not immoral. They can be trusted to do right. This is the way this man was.

    However, he was wrong in two areas. First, he was wrong to assume that he was good. The Bible is clear that “all have sinned.” He may not have sinned very much or may not have broken these commands. But according to what God says in the Bible, he (like all of us) had sinned. Second, he was wrong to assume that he could do something to inherit eternal life. He seemed to think that “the achievement of some great exploit … would assure him of eternal life.”5 But what good thing can sinful man do to impress God who is perfect and without any sin at all? Nothing.

    Some people are hindered by a particular sin (Mark 10:21-22).

    When Jesus heard all that this man claimed, he responded with love. He had compassion on him, knowing that he was a sinner who needed to be saved. His prescription for the man was to sell all of his possessions, give the proceeds to the poor, and then to follow Jesus. But the man couldn’t do it. His love for things was what kept him from the very thing he was trying to inherit. He wanted eternal life but his covetousness kept him from getting it.

    Sadly, there are many who will not come to Jesus because of their attachment to the things of this world. Giving up the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (1 John 2:15-17) is too much to ask. So it was with this man. He couldn’t give up his possessions even if doing so would guarantee him eternal life.

    Now, let’s be careful that we don’t misunderstand what Jesus was saying. He was not saying that this man would be forgiven of his sins by giving up his possessions. This has never been the case. For him, it “was appropriate in this situation but [was] not a requirement for all prospective disciples.”6 What he needed was to repent of his covetousness and put his faith in Jesus. If he would do this, he would inherit eternal life. But his love for things kept him from turning to Jesus.

  3. How does it apply?

    Do sinful people seek God?

    The Bible tells us that “there is none who seeks after God” (Rom. 3:11). If that is the case, why did this man run to Jesus and ask about inheriting eternal life? It seems that he was seeking God. How is it that many crowds of people came to hear Jesus? Weren’t they seeking God? If none seeks after God, why were these people coming to Jesus? The truth is that by himself sinful man will never turn to God. However, God has made it clear that “faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God” and that the Holy Spirit will “convict the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment.” So there are people in whom God is working before they repent and believe Him. But apart from God’s working in people’s hearts, they will never seek God on their own. It only happens when God acts first.

    Are you trusting in your morality to earn God’s favor?

    Some people think that their morality and good deeds will win over God on judgment day. But they are mistaken. God has never indicated that a man, woman, or child can ever be accepted because of the things they do. Instead, He makes it clear that we are all sinners who deserve His judgment. Not convinced? Consider the record keeping system that God has for man’s works.

    Rev. 20:12 – “And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books.”

    In that passage, we see that God has books which contain the record of our works. We often try to think of all the “good things” we have done but overlook the bad. God will not overlook anything. Instead, He will judge sinful men, women, and children according to all of their sinful works.

    Are you sure about your eternal destiny?

    You may be thinking about your own situation. When it comes times for you to stand before God Almighty, will you be judged along with the others? At that final judgment, there will be only one exception.

    Rev. 20:15 – “And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.”

    According to what God has revealed in the Bible, those sinful people whose names are not found in the Book of Life will be cast into the lake of fire. But… the opposite is also true. All those whose names are found written in the Book of Life will be saved from this judgment. Who are these people? And how can your name be written in the Book of Life?

    John 3:16-17 – “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.”

    The ones whose names are found written in the Book of Life are those whom Jesus has saved. God sent Jesus into the world to die for each of us. He took our place so that we could escape the judgment which we deserve. However, only those who believe in Jesus will be saved. The ones whose names are found written in the Book of Life are the ones who have repented of their sins and put their confident faith in Jesus who died for them and rose again. As you think about your own situation, ask yourself this question. Will you be saved or lost? Are you trusting in Jesus or your own goodness to save you from the coming judgment?

Conclusion

Have you ever heard the saying, “so close and yet so far away.” This is a good description of the man who came to Jesus in today’s passage. From our perspective he was a morally good person with a good reputation who seemed close to becoming a Christian. But the truth is that he was not close at all. His wrong belief that he could do something to inherit eternal life is evidence that he was nowhere close to what God requires—repentance and faith.

It is easy for us to look at “good” people and think that they are closer to becoming a Christian than others. But the truth is that only those who humbly recognize their offenses against God and put their faith in Jesus will ever be saved. So, don’t spend this week looking for someone who is “close” to being good. Don’t think that the morally upright are the ones who will listen to you talking about Jesus. Instead, spread the message to all who will listen. Those who are terrible sinners and those who are morally good—all need Jesus.

Bibliography

Alexander, Joseph Addison, The Gospel According to Mark, Grabd Rapids: Baker, 1858, reprint 1980.

Edwards, James R., The Gospel According to Mark, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002.

Grassmick, John D., “Mark” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary New Testament, USA: SP Publications, 1983.

Hiebert, D. Edmond, The Gospel of Mark, Greenville: BJU Press, 1994.

McGee, J. Vernon, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, Vol. 4, Matthew through Romans, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1983.

Morgan, G. Campbell, “The Gospel According to Mark” in Studies in the Four Gospels, USA: Fleming H. Revell, 1931.

Footnotes

  1. Grassmick 150. ↩︎
  2. Grassmick 150. ↩︎
  3. Grassmick 150. ↩︎
  4. Alexander 280. ↩︎
  5. Hiebert 285. ↩︎
  6. Grassmick 151. ↩︎