September 23, 2020

In The Study: Five Questions From Mark 10:17-27

study.jpgIn The Study will share some of my preaching ideas and outlines with those of you who do Christian communication in ministry.

Mark 10 is a favorite evangelistic chapter. Every preacher has taken this text and used it to introduce the basic ideas of the Gospel. I’ve used it many times.

(NLT) Mark 10:17 As Jesus was starting out on his way to Jerusalem, a man came running up to him, knelt down, and asked, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus asked. “Only God is truly good. 19 But to answer your question, you know the commandments: `You must not murder. You must not commit adultery. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely. You must not cheat anyone. Honor your father and mother.’*”
20 “Teacher,” the man replied, “I’ve obeyed all these commandments since I was young.”
21 Looking at the man, Jesus felt genuine love for him. “There is still one thing you haven’t done,” he told him. “Go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
22 At this the man’s face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.
23 Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God!”24 This amazed them. But Jesus said again, “Dear children, it is very hard* to enter the Kingdom of God. 25 In fact, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!”
26 The disciples were astounded. “Then who in the world can be saved?” they asked.
27 Jesus looked at them intently and said, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But not with God. Everything is possible with God.”

Generally, I spend a lot of time introducing my sermons because my audience is made up of many students who are not Christians and don’t have any reason to listen to what I am saying. The introduction gives me the chance to build some bridges of relevance to the audience, and then introduce the text.

In this particular sermon, I departed from that method and was very straightforward. I used an introduction built around the idea that if we ask the right questions, we get the right answers. Many good illustrations can make this work. I used a story about my wife making a homemade traction device that she uses on her neck 20 minutes every night. If you didn’t know that she has neck and spine issues, you would think she was crazy or suicidal. If you ask the right questions, however, you would learn what is going on and understand it.

So if we ask the right questions in life, we will get answers that reveal truth. Our culture is constantly teaching us to ask the wrong questions. There are many illustrations of this. You can use advertisements, for example, that ask questions meant to show how much you need to buy a product. Example: “What have you done for yourself lately?” For most of us….plenty! Living by that question, however, would be a disaster.

Then I go to the text. I say that I have a story from the Bible that raises 5 questions I want to ask those hearing me. These questions may not be questions you normally ask, but if we ask them, we will come to a valuable truth for our lives.

I read the text and head right in.

1. “Are you interested in spiritual things?” Most people say “No,” but we ask lots of questions that reveal spiritual interests, and we do many things that reveal we are spiritual creations.

I go to the text and show that this young man was interested in spiritual things…and that a lot is at stake in that quest. Eventually, all of us will ask spiritual questions, and it is a good idea to ask them now, not later.

2. “Do you have an opinion about Jesus?” I immediately note that Jesus is the most compelling candidate for a clue to the meaning of life. I review his claims, his effect in history and his transforming power in lives.

I go to the text and not that Jesus asked why the young man called him “good?” C.S. Lewis’s statement about Jesus as a “good” teacher is appropriate here.

3. “Do you have beliefs about right and wrong?”
What I want to do is use Lewis’s universal law argument from Mere Christianity. I say that many of us say that right and wrong are totally personal, but then all of us have thirst for justice to be done when we are wronged. We can’t have it both ways. Illustrations are easy for this. I talked about a kid stealing an ipod, and the school punishes him by stealing 3 credits from him on the day before graduation.

I go to the text and talk about the “Ten Commandments” discussion, and how Jesus endorses the idea that God has given us moral absolutes, and all of us, deep within, live by them.

4. “Do you have an accurate view of your own relationship to God?” Clincher point. Here I use a teddy bear and discuss how we want God to be what we would like him to be, but the Bible presents God as Holy, Fair and Loving. We look at the cross….if what we see is what the Bible says, how can we say our condition before God is OK?

I go to the text and talk about the wrong assessment this young man had of his spiritual condition. I especially deal with his focus on the second table of the law, and ignores the question of what worth he placed on God.

Lots of ways to make this point work, and lots of possible illustrations of how we don’t see our true condition.

5. “Have you made a personal response to Jesus Christ?”
Summarize the Gospel. Focus on faith, discipleship. Use illustrations. Standard evangelism here.

Then go to the text and show this young man’s response….and Jesus’ love for him.

I review the questions, review the gospel, and pray for the response.

One thing I like to do with this is to suggest that this young man said No to Jesus, but not a final no…because he didn’t know about the cross. The Gospel isn’t just an invitation to follow Jesus. It’s not just a confrontation with what we owe God and his demands. It’s the amazing news that he lived, died and rose in our place. To be a Christian isn’t to sacrifice for Jesus- though Christians may do that- but it is God’s sacrifice for us.

The Holy Spirit may have opened this young man’s eyes to what he’d said no to, and what Jesus did for him even though he refused to follow him. We may say no, but God’s love for us is never exhausted.

Jesus knew the man’s heart. He knows ours. His love and invitation go on today.


  1. Does it not seem that Jesus was adept at applying pressure at the weakest parts of people’s faith connection? If the weakest link is allowed to remain a person may think he is a follower of Jesus, but when the weight of truth in eternity is applied the chain may indeed break. As a matter of fact, if any of the links are anything but Him and His work, it is as flawed and useless as the rich young ruler’s faith.

    Faith + Christ + Cross + Resurrection + (money, works, baptism, ten commandments, et. al.) = eternal death.

    Simple, like a child. Remember?

  2. Hi Michael,

    Just one criticism: in that passage, it wasn’t the rich young man who focused on the 2nd tablet of the 10 commandments but Jesus. He is the one who asks about keeping the commandments and runs through the ones that are centered on how we behave toward each other.

    There are a couple ways to look interpret that.

    One is to point out that maybe Jesus is putting the primacy on those commandments. That would certainly be in keeping with so many of His teachings that boil down to how we treat each other is a direct reflection of how we love God. A message also well within the prophetic tradition.

    Another is to say that since the young man was pious Jew and dressed in a way that made this obvious, his commitment to the first set of commandments went w/o saying, and so Jesus focused on those that people who claim to follow the first set are more likely to fall on. That would be consistent with how Jesus regularly took the wealthy, elite religious class to task for getting puffed up about following the ritual commandments but ignoring or creating loopholes to circumvent the ethical commandments.

    When the young man replies humbly that he has kept all of these (rather than being offended by the question or rationalizing), Jesus loves him. And so Jesus THEN, very subtly, leads him back around to the first set of commandments – esp. You shall have no other gods before Me. The young man is wealthy and enjoys the prestige that comes of that esp. in an age wherewealth was considered a clear sign of God’s favor. Can he place God before Mammon? In fact, can he be so commited to God as to abandon Mammon entirely?

    The answer is ‘no’, the young man is too chained to his wealth to choose real freedom. And this leads to Jesus’ meditation on the difficulty of a rich person entering the Kingdom. (A very apt one really since the needle’s eye He is referring to is a narrow gate in the wall of Jersalem – one which a trader’s camel laden with goods could not pass through without most it’s burden first being removed.)