The Missing Disciple

And when he was gone forth into the way, there came one running, and kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life? And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God. Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Defraud not, Honour thy father and mother. And he answered and said unto him, Master, all these have I observed from my youth. Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me. And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions. (Mark 10:17-22)

There are a few things which stand out in this story. First of all is the touching statement, “Jesus beholding him loved him.” Jesus saw the desire in his eyes, saw the potential in him, saw the effort he had put in to obtain life and the heart of Jesus was moved, he felt himself drawn towards this needy soul. Secondly this was Jesus’ personal invitation to this man to become his disciple. He called him as surely as he had called Peter or James or John, his words were clear, “come, take up the cross and follow me.” Thirdly, Jesus not only called the man to be his disciple, but he made him a clear, uncompromising promise, “thou shalt have treasure in heaven,” a promise of eternal life with all that goes along with it. Surely, no opportunity so great had ever been presented to any human being, surely this was the greatest privilege that had ever been offered to any person in such clear, simply stated words. The offer was crystal clear and the benefits plainly outlined. He was to have the privilege of intimate fellowship with the Son of God, and at the end, the assurance of eternal life! Yet we are left saddened, deflated, disappointed with the tragedy of it all when we read, “he went away grieved.” He turned his back on the privilege that many of us would have given everything in life to have placed before us.

This is pretty amazing when we think of it; if this man had accepted Jesus’ invitation there would have been 13 disciples instead of 12! Jesus’ invitation to this man was just as clear and to the point as when he told Peter and John to “follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” It was just as compelling as when he called Matthew from his job as a tax collector and instructed him to “follow me.” The difference is in the way each person responded to the invitation for while Peter, John, Matthew dropped all and immediately followed Christ, this rich man “went away sorrowful.” He rejected his place among Jesus’ disciples and turned his back on the greatest privilege ever afforded any human being. He is the missing disciple, the one who turned his back on Jesus’ offer.

What we need to consider most carefully is the reason for this man’s rejection of Christ’s invitation. What was the real reason why a man with intelligence and a deep desire for eternal life would turn his back on Christ’s offer of discipleship? It is interesting that this man claimed to have kept all the commandments, all his life – from the time that he was a youth. Obviously he was a person who was morally upright and no doubt he had a good reputation in his community, yet something in his spirit told this man that he was lacking something, that all his commandment-keeping had not qualified him for eternal life. When we examine his initial question to Jesus, we begin to get an understanding of why he rejected Christ’s offer. In the book of Matthew, the man’s question is stated a little differently than in Mark:

And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life? (Matt 19:16)

Notice his question: “What good thing shall I do …” He was not focused on obtaining eternal life by any means possible, his aim was to obtain life by DOING some good deed. In other words, he was interested in obtaining salvation by his works. He had been a commandment-keeper all his life but his sense of emptiness, his sense of need led him to conclude that he needed to do something even better than that, but his focus was still on his need to perform, to do some deed which was even better than commandment keeping.

Jesus did not tell him that he was a legalist, he did not explain righteousness by faith to him or instruct him in the futility of trying to obtain salvation by works. He simply got straight to the heart of the matter by giving the man the “one good thing,” that he should do. The man had asked for a task, something to do, so Jesus gave him something to do, but it was something which did not depend on what he did, but on the condition of his heart. Jesus’ instruction to sell all his goods, to give it all to the poor and then to come follow Jesus in a life of poverty and hardship was the closest thing to death that the man could have experienced and in a sense, this is what Jesus was calling him to. His great need was to abandon his own life, to give up depending on himself and his resources and to make Jesus his all in all. This was the one thing missing in the life of this man and it was everything. It is also the one thing missing in the lives of all those who have not fully committed themselves to Christ. The conditions which Jesus gave to this man were not unique to him, they are the same instructions which he gives to all who sincerely desire to be his disciples today, and in all ages.

If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:26)

So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:33)

The one thing missing, the great lack, the thing which created this unsatisfied hunger in this man’s soul was that he was not completely surrendered and dedicated to God and his will. The true problem was not his riches, but his devotion to them, his dedication to them his dependence on them, the fact that they were greater to him than a life of following Christ. This was the problem and it always is the problem; the fact that God is not everything to us.

It is worth mentioning again that this man was a keeper of the commandments. Evidently he had made strong efforts to live in conformity to them all his life. However, all of this profited him nothing, he was just as lost as the man who had kept none of them! This demonstrates the fallacy of seeking to approach God and to obtain his favor by means of obedience to the commandments or any other works that we can produce. We absolutely must understand that keeping the commandments are the fruit of a relationship with God, the natural consequence of a life that is surrendered to him, but they are not the means by which we come to God or enter into a relationship with them. Commandment-keeping is the fruit, the consequence of union with God, it is not the root of that union.

Of course there was nothing wrong in the efforts of this man to keep the commandments from the time he was a youth; this effort demonstrated that he had a desire to please God, he had a desire to obtain life. What was wrong was his DEPENDENCE on his commandment-keeping, this had become the basis of his relationship with God. He brought his good record of commandment-keeping to God with the expectation that he should be accepted because he had done well. His works were an offering that he brought to God expecting to be justified on the basis of his performance. This was the real problem, not his works, but his attitude to those works.

May God help us all to learn the critical lesson from the experience of this rich young man: No works that we do, or can do, can ever qualify us for God’s favor. The only thing we can contribute to the process of obtaining salvation is to surrender our lives completely to God, to abandon our will, our way, our works, our commandment-keeping and accept the gift of salvation, freely given in Christ Jesus. When we have given ourselves completely in this way, then our riches will mean nothing, our commandment-keeping will mean nothing, our record of good or bad will mean nothing, all that will matter is that we belong to God one hundred percent and that he has complete control of our lives. This is the way, the only way to obtain eternal life. It is choosing to die, that Christ may live. The prophet David showed great insight and understanding when he expressed it in this way:

What shall I render unto the LORD for all his benefits toward me? I will take the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the LORD. (Ps 116:12-13)

(Source: David Clayton from Restoration Ministry)