On the surface, he seemed to have it all. He was young, handsome, and well dressed. He was admired by his peers and respected in his community. He was educated, wealthy, and hard working. The synagogue leaders applauded his good behavior. His parents beamed with pride over their perfect son.
Everyone said he had God’s favor; after all, he was blessed with health, riches, power, and prestige. Yet deep down he was restless, anxious, and fearful. He longed for peace, joy, and life. He knew he was not okay.
He quietly cried out to God, “Show me what is wrong! What more can I do?”
Soon after his prayer, he began to hear stories about a man named Jesus. Some said He was the Messiah. Some said He healed the sick, raised the dead, and cast out demons. The people he passed on the streets were abuzz with excitement over this Man with a big smile, easy laugh, and heart full of compassion. They were amazed at His teachings—God is good. God loves you. God accepts you.
Not everyone saw Jesus this way. In fact, his parents and synagogue leaders said Jesus was a deceiver, a false prophet, a crazy man. They warned him to stay away. He did, for a while…
Then one morning he made the decision, he needed to see Jesus for himself. So, he rose early and quietly slipped away. He followed the crowd along the dusty road that led to the place where Jesus was seated. He marveled at this Man so full of life, full of joy, and full of peace. “Oh, what I wouldn’t do to have what Jesus has!”
He longed for peace, joy, and life. He knew he was not okay.
He watched in fascination as Jesus welcomed the children others shooed away. Then he heard Jesus say, “Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all.” (Mark 10:15 NASB)
He had heard it with his ears, but his heart and mind could not comprehend this simple truth: to enter God’s kingdom one needs only to receive. “But I need to know what to do; it can’t be that simple,” he thought.
As soon as the crowds were gone, he approached Jesus. Falling to his knees, he said, “Good Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mark 10:17)
Jesus’s response wasn’t what he had hoped for, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” (Mark 10:21)
He was crushed. Instead of life-giving words, he heard words that killed him. Why didn’t Jesus give him hope? Why didn’t Jesus relieve him of his burden? Why didn’t Jesus say, “You don’t have to do anything. I offer you my love, my forgiveness, my grace freely. Eternal life is a gift simply to be received.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)
Could it be that Jesus knew this man wasn’t quite ready to receive the truth? Maybe Jesus knew this man had to “do” until he was done. Done with striving. Done with trying. Done with works.
He had heard it with his ears but his heart and mind could not comprehend this simple truth: to enter God’s kingdom one needs only to receive.
I know this story because it is my story. I know what it’s like to be “good” and be empty. I know what it’s like to think that if I do more and try harder, I’ll have peace. I know what it’s like to cry out to Jesus and not find relief. And I know that Jesus doesn’t always respond when or how I want.
I also know that at just the right time, when all our strength is gone, He does rescue. I was once drowning in the waters of performance when He jumped in, carried me to solid ground, then leaned over and breathed Life into me.
I heard Him whisper gently, “Child, I’m sorry you had to die to live. You had to die to your way of thinking because it was killing you. You thought Life would come from performance, but it never does. Life comes only after you realize the suffocating effects of constant striving and are ready and willing to rest in My love. My love is freely given and yours to freely receive. I know it hurt when I added that weight to you; it pulled you down, and you couldn’t breathe. That’s what religious performance does—it kills you. You had to see that before you would give it up. If there had been an easier way to show you how dangerous and deadly empty religion is, I would have done it. But now you see! Now you know, and you are free! That life you sought is yours! Now go and enjoy!”
Did this rich young ruler ever receive the eternal life he was looking for? Scripture doesn’t say, but some scholars believe this man was John Mark, the author of the gospel of Mark. Mark’s version of this story is the only one that included, “Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him…” So just maybe, his story did not end that day when he walked away grieved. Just maybe he came to realize, as I did, that Jesus knew the quickest way to deliver from religious bondage was to heap more on him. And maybe he really did eventually realize that Life would never come from doing but in the child-like receiving of what God freely gives.
Want to read more on building your relationship with God? We recommend you start here:
How a Woman of Grit and Grace Wears Her Faith
Beginning Faith: Walking This Life With Grit, Grace, and God
Building Faith: Growing in Your Relationship with God
Chutes and Ladders—Are You Trying to Work Your Way to God?
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I know what it’s like to think that if I do more and try harder, I’ll have peace. I know what it’s like to cry out to Jesus and not find relief.