Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Jesus and the Rich Man-Part 1

Several of the Gospel accounts record an incident between Jesus and a rich man.  Here is Mark's rendition of the event.

And after Jesus went out onto the road, a man ran up to Him and after dropping to his knees before Jesus, the man asked Jesus,"Good teacher, what shall I do in order to inherit eternal life?" Jesus said to the man, "Why do you call me Good?  No one is Good except one, namely, God.  You know the commandments. You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal.  You shall not give false testimony. You shall not cheat someone. Honor your father and your mother."  The man said to Jesus, "Teacher, I have kept all of these things since my youth."  When Jesus looked upon the man, he loved him and said to him, "You lack one thing. Go, sell as much as you have and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven, and come, follow Me.  Because he was saddened by Jesus' answer, the man went away grieving; for he possessed great wealth.  And after looking around, Jesus said to His disciples, "How difficult it will be for the rich entering into the kingdom of God."  Those disciples were astonished by Jesus' words.  Jesus again answered and said to them, "Children, how difficult it is to enter into the kingdom of God.  It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a wealthy person to enter into the kingdom of God.  Those disciples were flabbergasted, so they said to one another, "Who, then, is able to be saved!?"  After fixing His eyes on them, Jesus said, In the presence of humankind it is impossible, but not in the presence of God.  For everything is possible in the presence of God." (Mark 10:17-27) [the emboldened words are my emphasis]

The first observation to make is how the Rich man approached Jesus.  He threw himself down on his knees before Jesus.  In first century Jewish culture, a rich person was seen as one favored by God.  This will become even more important later; but consider how this rich, well dressed highly respected man humbled himself before this poor itinerate Rabbi.  Why would he do that?  Perhaps he had been there where Jesus had taught and healed, so he was overwhelmed by Jesus’ authority.  Perhaps there was a divine presence to Jesus that would bring people to a state of awe and worship in His company.  Certainly, many people did respond to Jesus this way.  Even Jesus’ enemies were amazed by Him.  Maybe it was a bit of all of that that humbled this rich man before Christ.  But this man was definitely not like so many others; he genuinely sought an answer from the Lord; he wasn’t there to trap Jesus. And he was confident Jesus knew the answer.  The man didn’t humble himself in order to stroke Jesus as the lawyers and scribes did when they approached Jesus with “we know you are a man of God….”  Jesus, Himself, saw this rich man as a genuine seeker of truth.  This is why the scripture tells us that Jesus looked at the man and loved Him.

Before we say anything more about this poignant encounter, we need to answer for ourselves if we approach Jesus the same way as this man did.  I suspect we don’t.  Why?  Well, perhaps we have never really encountered Jesus; instead we have encountered ideas, doctrines, tales, examples, and whatever about Him, and it all felt so good that we joined the club.  Perhaps we did at one point genuinely meet Jesus, but the encounter simply settled for us our eternal destiny, so after pocketing our get-out-of-jail-free card, we proceeded trippingly along with our life, relegating Jesus to a picture on the wall, a song on the radio, a society of Christians, or a patriotism.  We might be quite passionate about our causes, yet the presence of Jesus evokes hardly a response from us anymore.  Perhaps you daily fall at Jesus’ feet as did that rich man did.  You, at least will understand the message Jesus would have all of us hear in this account:

As dwellers of the Kingdom of God we must trust God unconditionally by surrendering ourselves completely to our Lord, Master, King Jesus.

The rich man calls Jesus, Good Teacher (I’ll come back to this in a minute), and asks Him what he (the rich Man) must do to inherit eternal life.  It would do well for us to understand what the rich Man is asking.  He is not asking how he can go to heaven and live forever.  The Greek translated as eternal life is literally “lasting for an age life”.  It is the same construction used in Dan. 12:2, Matt 25:46, John 3:16, John 6:27, etc. and is always translated eternal life.  What the Rich Jewish man and all 2nd temple Jews were looking for was the new age where Israel has been restored, their enemies vanquished and God dwells with them and rules forever.  The Pharisees believed all the past saints would be resurrected and in this new kingdom there will be unending life.  Therefore the rich man wanted to be sure he did everything he could to make sure he would be in that kingdom when it came--that is, be a true son of Abraham.
The problem was not in the Jewish understanding of the promised kingdom, but what the basis of that kingdom would be and when the kingdom would actually come.  If we are to understand Jesus’ response in this encounter, we need to step back and consider how we look at the kingdom of God.

In many respects, as Western Christians we have ignored what Jesus spoke of more often than any other thing except calling Himself the Son of Man—that is, the Kingdom of God, or as Matthew renders it, the Kingdom of heaven.  Cutting to the chase, this kingdom of heaven is not a future disembodied condition of eternal bliss that we all have to look forward to because we said the sinner’s prayer; rather it is the place we all live today—juxtaposed on this fallen world—where Jesus is King, Lord, Master—if we have truly believed in Him, as evinced by belief, trust, and action (obedience)—that is, if we love Jesus.

Yes, this is salvation, and yes, someday it will come to completion, when death and its Sin have been annihilated.  But the kingdom has already come.  Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God come in power.”  And it came when Jesus died on the cross and was raised to life; and Jesus has ascended to the right hand of God, where He is our King, master, Lord.  We cannot separate the kingdom of God and the cross.  The kingdom of God, then, is both now and not yet, because the kingdom of heaven is Christ.

If the final condition of eternal life is really identical in the two perspectives of the kingdom, why make a big deal of it?  Because if we see heaven as simply some reward awaiting us after death instead of a kingdom that Jesus expects us to dwell, TODAY, then it is easy to view our life as a waiting game, where we want to experience the least amount of discomfort and hassles.  Putting it another way, we end up laying out our own ground rules of the kingdom—this time because we really fail to see it as a present reality—instead of seeking God’s basis of His kingdom, which is complete surrender to Jesus the Christ.

The gospel is not “how we get saved” or “how we get to heaven”—although those certainly are important ramifications of the Gospel—but Jesus is King! Good News! God’s kingdom has come! This should change the way we live in this world, and Jesus will point out to the rich man it changes how he must live in this world, too.