THE ALMOST PERFECT SON
Mark 10:17-22 CSB
17 As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up, knelt down before him, and asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus asked him. “No one is good except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: Do not murder; do not commit adultery; do not steal; do not bear false witness; do not defraud; honor your father and mother.” 20 He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these from my youth.” 21 Looking at him, Jesus loved him and said to him, “You lack one thing: Go, sell all you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” 22 But he was dismayed by this demand, and he went away grieving, because he had many possessions.
Happy Father’s Day.
I am a very very proud father. My three daughters – Liz and Connie and Naomi – have given me much joy, and they continue to show me the grace of God. Fatherhood comes with its own blessing.
Today’s passage came to mind because I had been planning it for the June series on discipleship. But I also wanted to look at this incident from the standpoint of the father of the young man who came to Jesus.
Any father would have been proud to have this man as a son. In fact, any pastor would have salivated at the chance of inviting this young man into his church. He was the profile of the perfect parishioner. He had so much to contribute as a minister, and he had the means to sponsor his ministry and that of others. He also appears to have dealt with any nasty habits or unconfessed sins that would detract him from ministry. Yes, looking at his list, anyone would have seen him as a qualified candidate. Anyone would have been proud to claim this man as his son.
He was respectful (17).
Fathers are blessed when their children respect them and their mothers. Jesus had actually quoted the commandment to honor father and mother, and this man said that he kept that commandment. If he had actually been disrespectful to his parents, Jesus would have known.
Mark tells us that the man ran up to Jesus, knelt down before him, and addressed him with the respectful title “good teacher.” We live in an age when people have pretty much lost their respect, particularly for religious figures. People have become overly informal and have lost the sense of decorum that was so evident in past generations.
Whatever failures this young man had, he had not lost his respect for Jesus. If I had a son, I would want him to be respectful like that.
The New Testament was written in a culture that allowed slavery. Paul told Timothy to instruct Christian slaves not to be disrespectful to their Christian masters (1 Timothy 6:2).
Peter told Christian slaves to be respectful to their masters, even if they treated them unreasonably (1 Peter 2:18). Showing respect is a sign of our citizenship in the kingdom of God.
The author of Hebrews took it for granted that earthly fathers should be respected, despite the fact that one of the roles of a father is to discipline his children. (Hebrews 12:9).
Paul warned that in the last days difficult times will come and one of the sign of those times is disobedience to parents (2 Timothy 3:2).
Whatever failures this young man had, he had not lost his respect for his parents. If I had a son, I would want him to be respectful like that.
He was as obedient as he knew how to be (18-20).
Jesus started rattling off the ten commandments, and the man pointed out that he had been careful to follow them. This was not a hypocrite. He was what we might call a conscientious person. He wasn’t trying to hide a life of blatant rebellion.
We have been learning that obedience to Christ’s commands is essential to living a life of faith in him.
When our Lord gave his great commission, he told us that we would make disciples by teaching people to obey what he commanded (Matthew 28:20).
The New Testament teaches that “whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life” (John 3:36 ESV).
Grace and obedience work together in the discipleship process. Without grace there can be no obedience. Without obedience, there is no proof of grace. So, we say “salvation by grace alone” but we must be careful when we say that because true grace never stays alone. It produces obedience.
This is why James taught that faith without works is dead, being by itself (James 2:17). True biblical faith is never by itself. It is accompanied by God’s power and produces a life of discipleship focused on obeying Christ.
This is what God wanted for his children in the promised land. This is what he wants for his disciples today. He wants us to come to him for salvation, and then commit to living lives that draw others to his saving grace.
Whatever failures this young man had, he had not lost his integrity. If I had a son, I would want him to be conscientious like that.
He was loved by Jesus (21a).
Mark says “Looking at him, Jesus loved him.” The Bible only mentions that Jesus specifically loved four other people: Martha and her sister Mary and her brother Lazarus, and the apostle John. That’s a short list.
I know, we sing “Jesus Loves Me this I know for the Bible tells me so” and it’s true. But I think it very interesting that this young man is one of only a handful that the Bible declares whom Jesus specifically demonstrated a concern for and care about.
Whatever failures this young man had, he had not lost his amiability. If I had a son, I would want him to be lovable like that.
But Jesus noticed a flaw in his almost perfect character (21b).
Jesus looked down at his list and he saw one qualification that was missing. He had not dealt with the one strength that would have kept him from serving Christ as his LORD. Jesus challenged him to give up control of that one area in which he prided himself – his wealth.
Wealth is not bad, or wrong. But for many, it is keeping them from serving Christ. Wealth has to be managed, and ministry requires servants, not managers.
Am I safe from this problem since I have little money? Not necessarily. I may be missing one thing too. There may be another strength I have that I am holding back, refusing to relinquish control over. Even if I have nothing to sell, there may be something that he wants me to surrender.
His possessions were keeping him from possessing permanent life (22)
Mark says “But he was dismayed by this demand, and he went away grieving, because he had many possessions.”
Imagine getting that close to permanent life, and then choosing to walk away from it. That is what happened to the almost perfect son.
Discipleship is an all-or-nothing choice. When God told Noah to build the ark, he and his family had to make the choice to accept God’s plan for rescuing humanity. They could not stay outside the ark with the rest of the world. If they did, they would die.
When God called Abraham and Sarah to become a new nation, they had to make that choice as well. If they had decided to stay where they were, they would have lost everything. They couldn’t stay tied to the old world and still inherit the promise of the new one.
When God rescued the Israelites from Egypt, they had to decide to reject the only life they ever knew. They all were slaves, but some of them might have had good masters. Some of them might have had a chance of becoming well-to-do slaves. It didn’t matter. God’s plan to rescue his people required an all-or-nothing attitude.
Daniel had become a highly respected official – a commissioner in the government of king Darius. But Darius signed a new law saying that for thirty days, no one was allowed to pray to anyone but him, or else that person who prayed would be thrown into the lion’s den. Daniel’s enemies knew that they could find no grounds to accuse him except with regard to his relationship with God and his obedience to God’s law.
As soon as Darius’ new law came into affect, Daniel was arrested. He would not compromise – not even for a short time, and not even on one point. For Daniel, it was all or nothing.
My question for myself and those of you hearing this message today is “Am I an almost perfect son or daughter?” Have I said yes to Jesus and come to him, but is there some part of me I have refused to let Jesus be master of? For Jesus, it’s all or nothing. If we have anything – even a good thing – that is off limits to his lordship, then we have not surrendered all.
We do not have to go away grieving like the almost perfect son did. But it is possible. There is nothing that we possess today that is comparable to the glorious possession of permanent life in Christ’s coming kingdom. But it only takes one possession that can keep us from that inheritance.