My TA Newsletter article February 2012:
This past week, in a Bible study with a searching friend, we finished the time of Jesus’s ministry in Mark 10. We have read the multiple stories of Jesus revealing himself as Lord over demons, disease, nature, and death. Sometimes Jesus asks the person with faith to not tell anyone what he has done for them. Sometimes, he instructs them to go back home and tell everyone what has been done. One of my favorites stories, the story of the demon-possessed man in Mark 5, is an incredible example of this:
As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you. So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.” (Mark 5:19-20)
Wouldn’t you have loved to hear his story? I cannot imagine. It is no wonder to me that the word used to describe the people’s reaction was “amazed.”
This past week, we had a really good conversation. Chapter 10 opens with the Pharisees trying to catch Jesus with a divorce question. From that encounter, Mark jumps to the little children and Jesus. But then comes a story that to me is the fireworks of Jesus’s gospel message: the story of the rich young ruler. Take a few minutes and read it again to refresh your mind
I asked my friend, “Was this young man good or bad?” The obvious answer is good. Jesus lists the commandments and the young man states that he has kept all of them since he was a little boy. Also, what exactly was the young man asking? Here he has come to Jesus. He calls him “Good teacher.” Throughout the study we have been answering the question Mark constantly throws in our face, “Who Is Jesus?” This man has obviously heard about Jesus and the good things he has done. I don’t think that he truly knows who he is after reading the outcome of the story, but he thinks that Jesus may know the answer to a question that many people still ask today, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” I think it is interesting that Jesus lists off the commandments as if the young man is tallying all of them in his head. How many want a check-list? Isn’t it easier for Jesus to just tell us what to do so we can check it off of our list? The young man thinks he is covered. He has been a good person keeping the commandments since he was a little boy. But no. That is not where Jesus stops. Jesus DOES tell him what to do. “One thing you lack. Go sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” We all know how the story ends.
So my friend and I talked. We discussed what exactly went on in this story. Now, I think that there is an entire sermon series on Jesus commanding us (not asking) to take care of the poor. Jesus does not tell the man to simply get rid of his possessions. He tells him to sell his possessions AND give to the poor. I think it is very important to emphasize that point. But to stress something else in this story, I want to ask, “What do you want from Jesus? What are you taking away from Christianity? Have you followed the commands? Do you believe in the ‘Good Teacher’? Have you secured your place in eternal life?” I believe that many can list off the things they have done to make sure they can answer that question with an affirmative. But “Have you been saved” is NOT the gospel message of Jesus.
Jesus asks the man to do one thing. The thing that has been keeping this man from truly doing what God has been professing throughout the Old Testament and through the message of the Christ. And after he has done that one thing, he is told to do what? Follow. Following Jesus is the theme that runs throughout the entire book of Mark. It begins with those fishermen that left their nets and happens to so many people touched by Jesus throughout his journey. The man goes away sad, and Jesus has one of his most incredible “teachable moments” with his disciples. They talk about the rich and how hard it will be for them to enter the Kingdom, but something clicks with Peter:
“Then Peter spoke up, “We have left everything to follow you.” “Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied. “no one who has left home or brothers and sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields–along with persecutions–and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” ” (Mark 10:28-31)
What a promise! Accepting the message of Jesus is not checking things off a list. Accepting the message of Jesus is not simply believing in a “Good Teacher.” Accepting the message of Jesus is believing in him and choosing to follow him whatever the cost. Many believe. Few follow. Following is not easy. Even in Jesus’s encouragement of “a hundred times as much,” he inserts “along with persecutions.” He makes it loud and clear that he understands the cost, he will reward you for what you give up, but it is not an easy journey.
But Mark does not stop with this story. Chapter 10 ends with another blind man that Jesus heals. Unlike the blind man in Chapter 8, he immediately restores sight to this man. Everything is becoming more and more clear to the disciples. (God is a literary genius.) So at this point, my friend speaks up and says something that tells me she has been paying close attention. “Megan,” she starts, “Jesus doesn’t tell him to go away or go tell people back home. It says, ‘Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.’ ” My heart couldn’t have been happier at that moment. Mark was emphasizing the point that a person who truly knows Jesus will want to FOLLOW him. That, my friends, is the gospel message of Jesus. Whatever the cost.
(an addition that wasn’t in the article)
Something else clicked with me the day after I studied this. It is amazing how it takes my eyes a second time to see (like the man in Ch. 8), because I have grown up hearing these stories my entire life and not understood them correctly. NT Wright wrote a book called Surprised By Hope that talks about heaven being the here and now and not some place “beyond the azure blue.” It has radically changed the way in which I read the Bible and read about heaven when it is mentioned.
When Jesus tells the rich young ruler that it is easier for a camel to enter the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom I have always pictured the rich man standing outside the pearly gates and Jesus standing there saying, “I am sorry. You can’t come in here. You were too rich. Please step aside and allow the camel to come through, though.” “The Kingdom” was heaven, and “Heaven” was “that place up in the clouds where we try to go after we die.” Now that I think of Heaven as the Kingdom, but that Kingdom is right here on earth and was started by Jesus, I read this story entirely different. Jesus’s kingdom is about justice, well-being, taking care of the poor. Of course it is impossible for a rich man to enter into that kingdom if he is unwilling to sell his possessions and give to the poor. The man in this story has placed his “heaven” in his material things. In order to FOLLOW JESUS, one must be willing to give up the things that keep one from participating in the kingdom. The rich young ruler was not willing to let go and follow.
So the question is, “In order to follow Jesus, what do you need to let go of to fully participate in his kingdom?”