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‘ONE THING LACKING’ – Mark 10:17-22

Posted by Pastor Greg Allen on May 22, 2016 under 2016 |

Message preached Sunday, May 22, 2016 from Mark 10:17-22

Theme: If we try to gain eternal life apart from God’s grace—no matter what else we might do—there will always be ‘one thing lacking’.

(Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version; copyright 1982, Thomas Nelson, Inc.)

This morning, we come to the story of how a remarkable man met the Lord Jesus. In fact, I would say that of all the people that encountered the Lord Jesus in the New Testament, this man was one of the most remarkable of all. There is very little—if anything at all—in which you or I would be able to find fault concerning him.

And it’s that very fact that makes this particular man’s story so important. It teaches us an important lesson when it comes to how to a person can earn eternal life for themselves. Not even this remarkable man could do it. In fact, he led the disciples to turn to our Lord and ask, “If not even he could gain eternal life, then who can?” Jesus told them that this is impossible with men … but not with God.

* * * * * * * * * *

This man’s story is part of a longer passage. We find it in Mark 10:17-31; and it tells us this about the Lord Jesus:

Now as He was going out on the road, one came running, knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?” So Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not bear false witness,’ ‘Do not defraud,’ ‘Honor your father and your mother.’” And he answered and said to Him, “Teacher, all these things I have kept from my youth.” Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.” But he was sad at this word, and went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

Then Jesus looked around and said to His disciples, “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were astonished at His words. But Jesus answered again and said to them, “Children, how hard it is for those who trust in riches to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” And they were greatly astonished, saying among themselves, “Who then can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said, “With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible.” Then Peter began to say to Him, “See, we have left all and followed You.” So Jesus answered and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel’s, who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time—houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions—and in the age to come, eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first” (Mark 10:17-31).

This is a whole story that comes to us in three parts. The first part is the story of this man’s encounter with the Lord Jesus—one in which he walked away from the Lord sad and in despair of his own ability to earn eternal life for himself. That’s found in verses 17-22. The second part of this story is found in verses 23-27; and it teaches us about how hard it is for someone like that man to enter into the kingdom of God—but not impossible; because with God, all things are possible. And then finally, the third part is about the rewards of those who seek eternal life in the proper way.

There is much for us to learn from this passage about obtaining eternal life. And I believe that we would be wise to take those three parts on their own and devote a single Sunday morning’s time to each of them. For this morning, let’s just focus on verses 17-22; and on that man’s encounter with the Lord Jesus.

* * * * * * * * * *

Now; as I said earlier, I believe that, from a strictly human standpoint, this was a truly outstanding man. I sincerely believe that he is one of the most remarkable men who ever spoke to our Lord—even though we don’t know the man’s name. Those of us who have grown familiar with he Bible, however, typically know him as “the rich young ruler”. And lets just take a few moments to consider his unique qualities.

This story is told to us in three of the four Gospels—Matthew, Mark and Luke. And in each of those other Gospels, we’re given a bit more detail about him. In the gospel of Matthew, for example, we’re told that this was a young man. That doesn’t mean that he was a teenager, of course. The word that is used to describe him as a “young man” may be applicable to someone who was as old as thirty. He was in the early stages of his adulthood—in the prime of life. And in the Gospel of Luke, we’re also told this about him: that he was a “ruler” among his people. Luke calls him “a certain ruler”. The word that is used for “ruler” doesn’t necessarily mean that he was an official political ruler or religious leader; but simply may mean that he was a significant and noteworthy in the community—a person of respect and prominence. In fact, he was called a “certain” ruler; which may suggest that he was a man well-known in his time. And as our passage in Mark shows us, he was a man who had “great possessions”. The word for “possessions” may refer to property or land; and if that’s so, then this man was a noteworthy landowner—someone who possessed great holdings of property and the things that were on them. He had “great” possessions.

So; this truly was a remarkable person. He was a relatively young man; but he had achieved a high level of success in this world’s eyes. He was very wealthy and prosperous—perhaps because he had been a wise and prudent businessman; and had risen to a very high place in social-economic standing in the community. And all of this while still a very young man! He was truly a success-story in this world’s eyes. He’s what people in our modern materialistic culture would admire.

But let’s also talk about what we can know of his personal character. He was a man who, when asked, was able to say—to the Lord Jesus Christ, no less!—that he had been faithful to observe the law of God given through Moses. When Jesus listed off the commandments, he was able to say that he had kept them from the time of his youngest years! How many of us could say such a thing? And when he said this to Jesus, do you notice that Jesus didn’t challenge his claim? He must have been a truly outstanding man morally. His great wealth and high standing were apparently not gained through wrongdoing, but in a context of outward righteousness and conformity to God’s standards. He was a righteous and God-fearing wealthy man.

And consider also his sincerity and earnestness before the Lord! It’s quite remarkable that a man of such standing in his community would seek Jesus out so diligently, and come running to Him and falling on his knees before Him and humbly plead to him. There were many people who sought Jesus out in that day and confronted Him in His travels—but not in the extremely humble way that this man did. He even spoke very reverently and respectfully to Jesus; calling Him “Teacher” twice—even “Good Teacher”! He clearly believed that Jesus was more than just a merely human teacher; because he believed that Jesus knew the answer to his question of how to obtain eternal life.

And by all means, let’s not fail to notice what the Lord thought of this man. Mark tells us something that none of the other Gospel writers tell us. He tells us that Jesus loved him. We know that Jesus loved many people. We’re told that He loved His apostles. We’re told that He loved His dear friends Mary, and Martha, and Lazarus. But there aren’t too many people in the Bible that we’re told—in such a specific way—that Jesus loved. But Jesus loved this man. I believe that Jesus was touched by the man’s sincerity. He knew that this man’s desire was a real one. Jesus had genuine affection for him. It’s hard to think of a greater commendation than that.

When a man like this comes falling before Jesus, and asking what he must do to inherit eternal life, you or I might think—as I believe the disciples must have thought—“Well; if anyone could achieve the right to have eternal life, surely it would be someone like this!” And yet, at the end of the encounter, this man walked away sad. Jesus had told him that, in spite of everything else he may have done—in spite of all the outstanding characteristics and accomplishments of this man—he still had one thing lacking. And that one thing led him to conclude that, in his own power, not even he could do enough.

I don’t know if there is a greater lesson for people of this world to learn than the one that we can learn from this man’s story. It led to Jesus using this man as an object lesson for the ages. And by him, Jesus teaches us that what is impossible for man is wonderfully possible with God.

* * * * * * * * * *

Now’ let’s look at this passage in more detail. Notice how it begins. In verse 17, we’re told this about the Lord Jesus: “Now as He was going out on the road . . .” That is a detail that’s very important for us to notice.

You see; Jesus had been traveling with His disciples toward Jerusalem. According to the first verse of Chapter 10, Jesus had taken His disciples with Him “to the region of Judea by the other side of the Jordan.” And when this whole conversation was over, we’re told that He was on the road to Jerusalem. In verses 33-34, He told them that they were going there so that He could be arrested, tried and crucified; and that three days later, He would rise from the dead. In other words, the encounter that Jesus had with this man was while He was making His way to the cross to die for the sins of the world.

That puts this man’s effort to gain eternal life in the context of the Son of God going to the cross to secure eternal life as a gift of God’s grace. What a picture that gives us! What a relevant thing that makes this encounter to be!

And then come the encounter. That’s were we are presented with . . .


Mark tells us, “Now as He was going out on the road, one came running, knelt before Him, and asked Him, ‘Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?’” (v. 17). I believe this man brought up a question that every thinking person might have wanted to ask Jesus if they could. It touches on what countless people long for—in one way or another. Many people may not even believe that it’s possible to have such a thing—or that such a thing as ‘eternal life’ even exists. Many modern people today may even suppress the longing, if it is in them at all. But for countless numbers of people around the world and throughout the centuries, something deep in them has longed for salvation; for the forgiveness of their sins; for escape from final judgment; for acceptance before the God who made them; for entry into the realm of God’s eternal kingdom; for the hope of eternal life. This man gave voice to that longing.

And may I just pause for a moment? If that longing is in you, do realize what a wonderful gift of God’s grace it is? It would be a horrible thing to have no concern for your soul at all, and to only live for the here-and-now, and to give no thought whatsoever to where you will spend eternity. That, sadly, is the condition of many people all around us. I am one of those, though, who was awakened by God many years ago from out of my dullness of spirit. When I realized that I am a condemned sinner who was guilty before a holy God, and that I had no hope of eternal life, and that I was on my way to eternal loss and judgment, I became desperate—like this man! I wanted to know what I needed to do to have eternal life. And praise God, I found the answer!

If you have had the sense of desperation that this rich young ruler demonstrated and that earnest longing to have eternal life—or if you have it now—then you should thank God for it! It’s from Him! And if you’ve never had that longing, then you’re in far worse shape than you realize; and you should immediately ask God for it! Don’t give yourself any rest! Don’t worry about whether or not it looks ‘sophisticated’. Don’t let yourself even care at all about what other people might think of your doing so. Just run to Jesus in desperation—like this man did!

* * * * * * * * * *

So, this remarkable man came running to Jesus—in deep longing of soul—and fell before Him and asked, “Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?”

And Jesus—who loved this man—answered his question. But notice that it was a very specific question. The man asked, “What shall I do?” He was accustomed to making things happen; and his question was what it was that he himself needed to do—what action he needed to take; what task he needed to perform; what work he needed to accomplish—in order to inherit eternal life. That’s the specific question that Jesus answered; and that leads us to . . .


First notice what Jesus asked him. Mark tells us, “So Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God.’” (v. 18). Have you ever heard or read those words and wondered what the Lord Jesus meant? There have been many suggestions.

Some have suggested that Jesus was just being humble—as if He were denying that anyone should call Him good. But He Himself testified that He always did the will of the Father, and that no one could ever accuse Him of sin. So, I believe we can forget that idea. Others have suggested that Jesus was simply trying to get the man’s eyes off Himself and on to God the Father instead. But He Himself testified that if we have seen Him, we have seen the Father. He said that no one can even come to the Father except through Him. So, I don’t believe He was trying to get attention off Himself. Another idea—one that I have tended to hold to myself—is that Jesus was making the man come to terms with who He really was. It would be as if He was saying, “Why do you call Me good? Only God is good. Are you recognizing Me to be God in the flesh?” I believe that’s an idea that has a lot of merit.

But I’ll tell you what I have come to believe Jesus is doing. The man came to Him and asked, “Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?” And Jesus answered, “Why do you all Me good—as if I were going to tell you something that you didn’t already know? First, you already know—because you are well-taught in the Scriptures—that, as it says in Psalm 14:3, “There is none who does good, no, not one.” So, the standard for what is good can only come from the One who is good—and that is God. And second, you already know—because you are well taught in the Scriptures—that God has set before you the standard for what is good in the commandments that He gave through Moses.” In fact, when we look at this same story in Matthew 19:17—as it’s translated in the English Standard Version—we find that Jesus said to the man, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good.” So in other words, I believe that Jesus answered the man’s question by pointing Him to the good law that came from Him who alone is the good Lawgiver.

Jesus went on to tell Him, “You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not bear false witness,’ ‘Do not defraud,’ ‘Honor your father and your mother’” (v. 19). These are all the commandments that are found in what is typically called the ‘second table’ of the law. They are the ones that have to do with our relationships with one another. (The one about ‘not defrauding’ most likely is a summary-statement of the commandment against coveting what belongs to someone else.)

* * * * * * * * * * *

Now; that’s the high standard. If you want to know what you must “do” to inherit eternal life, then God has told us what righteousness looks like in His holy law. As it says in Leviticus 18:5;

You shall therefore keep My statutes and My judgments, which if a man does, he shall live by them: I am the Lord (Leviticus 18:5).

And that’s when the man that came to Jesus said something remarkable. In verse 20, we read, “And he answered and said to Him, “Teacher, all these things I have kept from my youth.’” What a remarkable thing to say! I believe that the man meant it; and as I said earlier, we can’t help but notice that Jesus didn’t challenge the man’s claim. It may be that—from a strictly human standpoint, when in comparison to others—he was a lot like the apostle Paul. Paul was once able to say of his own life’s history, “concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless” (Philippians 3:5).

But that’s when we come to . . .


Clearly, something was missing. The man was aware of the fact that—in spite of his outstanding record—he had still fallen short in some way, and still needed to know what he needed to do in order to inherit eternal life. In fact, in one of the other Gospels, he asked the Lord, “What do I still lack?” And that’s what made him come so desperately to Jesus.

And if I may point this out, that’s what happens when you try to “do” what you need to do in order to inherit eternal life. You find that, as hard as you try to keep God’s holy standard, you still fall short. Something is still always lacking.

* * * * * * * * * *

And that’s when Jesus revealed to the man what I like to call . . .


We’re told, “Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, ‘One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me’” (v. 21).

I don’t believe Jesus meant to give the man the means to reaching heaven by his own efforts as much as He revealed to him the barrier that stood in the way. The barrier was in the fact that he loved his wealth so much that he couldn’t obey the first commandment—to have no other God’s but the one true God. His treasure on earth was his god; and that leads us—finally—to notice . . .


Mark tells us, “But he was sad at this word, and went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions” (v. 22). He had great possessions; and the hold that those possessions had on him was what kept him from possessing the greatest possession of all.

In answer to the specific question he asked, “What shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?” he discovered the answer. There was nothing he could do. No matter what we may try to do to earn eternal life for ourselves, we’ll discover that it always just outside our reach. There is still ‘one thing lacking’.

Now; I wonder what happened to that man. Don’t you? I have hope for him that, one day, we’ll see him in heaven. After all, we’re told that Jesus loved him. But it we do, it won’t be because of what he “did” to get there. Jesus tells us later that, with men, this is impossible—but with God, all things are possible. Jesus went on from there to Jerusalem—and accomplished that one great thing that made it all possible. He paid the debt for our sins on the cross; so that eternal life can be ours as a gift of God’s grace through faith.

* * * * * * * * * *

This makes me think of another story—one about another man who fell on his knees in desperation for salvation. He was the keeper of a prison cell in the ancient city of Philippi. He had two prisoners that he was responsible for—the missionaries Paul and Silas. They had been arrested for preaching the gospel in the city; and they had been singing hymns of praise to God while they were locked in his prison. A great earthquake occurred at midnight; and all the prison doors became opened. The jailer was afraid that all his prisoners had escaped, and that he himself was now doomed. But before he could draw out his sword and take his own life, he heard Paul and Silas cry out to him not to lay a hand to himself—that all the prisoners were present and accounted for. The jailer called for a light and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. He seems a lot like the rich young ruler, doesn’t he? Acts 16:30-31 tells us;

And he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” So they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household: (Acts 16:30-31).

And that’s what the jailer did! He didn’t walk away sad—as the rich young ruler had. Instead, he and all his household believed and were baptized. He became an inheritor of eternal life—an utterly transformed man. I certainly hope that this is also what eventually happened to the rich young ruler.

And if I may put it this way, that’s “one thing lacking” in many people today. It’s not just another great effort put in to keep the law that’s missing. Rather, it’s a complete despair of any hope in self, and a complete trust instead in the cross of Jesus Christ alone.

May that be the one great thing that’s not ‘lacking’ in any of us!

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