EARLEY: Idols, Camels, and Eternal Life

Published 12:06 pm Monday, October 11, 2021

By Al Earley

Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem and his crucifixion.  A rich young man ran up to him, fell on his knees, and said, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mark 10:17).  Jesus told the rich man to give away all his money and possessions, and follow Him.  When offered the chance for eternal life, he chose money.  How could he be so shortsighted?

Yet, I think that many of us can put ourselves in the rich man’s shoes quite easily.  His world was vastly different, but in his soul, his wants, needs, hopes, desires, sins, strengths, and struggle for meaning in life, he was much like us.  We can imagine that he had heard much about Jesus before racing up to him and falling on his knees.

He was a very religious man, as his confession to Jesus made clear.  He has probably followed the law carefully since the age of twelve, seeking to do what was right, to be a good man.  He surely tithed his wealth, amounting to a large sum of money.  He never missed a sacrifice, traveling to Jerusalem for every major festival.  And his wealth was surely a sign of God’s favor, wasn’t it?

He could easily have sat on the town council, each day attending to many businesses, then go to the city gate to visit with people seeking his wisdom and guidance.  There he would discuss scripture with the religious elite.  Imagine all that striving and education and still feeling that something is missing!  Do you know that feeling?  Do you know what it is like to have accomplished everything the world values, but still find emptiness inside?

The rich man surely went to the religious leaders for help, yet their answers never brought life, meaning, or hope.  He heard that Jesus was coming to his town, and when he spoke, it was about God, not religion.  He went to Jesus and knelt.  Jesus asked about the commandments which he believed he had kept completely.  We have no reason to doubt his integrity, or that he was a devout and religious man.

As they talked, he looked into Jesus’ eyes, and was stunned by that piercing look that saw through everyone.  He began to realize that Jesus could bring him the happiness and wholeness he sought, but then Jesus asked the impossible.  “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.  Then come, follow me” (Mark 10:21).

Give it all up!  Give up the city council, the businesses, the prosperity, the respect and honor at the city gate?  The ten percent tithe was not enough?  He couldn’t do it.  Not even for the love that Jesus was willing to pour into his life.  Jesus had seen that his money was his idol which kept him from God, which kept him from filling the empty spot in his soul.

As he walked away, he heard Jesus utter those impossible words, “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.”  Even his own disciples were amazed, for if even as righteous a man as this cannot enter the kingdom, then who can?  Is there no hope for him, or us?

But wait!  The sermon is not yet finished.  Jesus has an answer for the rich man and for us.  “With man this is impossible (to enter the Kingdom of God), but not with God; all things are possible with God.”  Perhaps those words left that man with a glimmer of hope.  He realized that all his life, he had never trusted God alone, but instead had trusted his money and his obedience to the laws.  Perhaps he would feed the fires of that encounter with the Master and learn to trust God.  Perhaps the next time he met the Lord he knew what he had to do for love and eternal life.

Do you know what to do to inherit the love of God and experience eternal life?  Do you have idols separating you from God?  Is money your idol?  List the idols you (may) struggle with in your life.  Do you give away the Biblical minimum which is 10% (a tithe)?  If so, is it hard?  If not, what barriers do you face?  Is Jesus calling you to give away more than 10%?  What would that be like if He was?