The Young Ruler
One thing thou lackest. Mark 10:21
It seems to us as though Jesus never said a more startling thing to any man who came to Him than this, “One thing thou lackest.” Yet whether the “one thing” be much or little depends wholly upon what it is. Some five or six years ago, in an American city, as I stood upon the platform and gave out my first hymn in a series of meetings, I heard the weak tones of a small reed organ, notwithstanding the fact that there was a very fine organ in the building. Turning to my friend, the minister of the church, I said to him, “What is the matter with the great organ?” He replied, “Nothing.” “Why is it not being played?” I asked. “It lacks only one thing, and that is a player,” he replied.
One thing lacking! An instrument, fearfully and wonderfully made, constructed to catch the wind and transmute it into music–silent, no harmony, no symphony–why? There was one thing lacking, a master hand to sweep the keys and bring the music out. Which is a parable, helping us to see what Christ meant. “One thing thou lackest.”
In order that we may understand what this lack really was, I am going to ask you first to look carefully at this young man. I want to say three things about him. I shall say nothing about his wealth; nothing concerning his position in the nation, except incidentally, for a man’s wealth and position are nothing when you are measuring him by the standards of eternity, or looking upon him in the light of spiritual things. Let us see the man as he was in himself.
The first thing I say concerning him is that he was a man of fine natural temperament. This is revealed in his whole attitude toward Jesus Christ. That he was discerning is revealed in the fact that to Christ he said, “Good Master.”
He was also a man of courage. He was a ruler, and so belonged to a class which had been critical at the commencement of our Lord’s ministry, but now were openly against Him. Notwithstanding this fact, when this man saw goodness, he confessed it, daring to say, “Good Master.”
He was moreover, a man of humility, for when he came into the presence of Jesus he knelt. You may tell me there is nothing more in that than the Eastern method of salutation. It was not the method by which a ruler saluted a peasant, even in the East. Peasants knelt to rulers. It was as strange a thing then as it would be for a ruler to kneel in the presence of a peasant in London. Jesus was most evidently, to the seeing of His own age, a peasant. Yet here is a man, who is a wealthy ruler, who dared to kneel in His presence.
At this man, discerning, courageous, humble, Christ looked, and said, “One thing thou lackest.”
He was more than a man of fine temperament, he had a clean record. Never allow any man, be he prophet or priest or preacher, to tell you there is any value in pollution. Let no man make you believe there is no value in having a clean record. Even if you are not a Christian man, there is value in it. This man had a clean record. Jesus flashed upon him the light of six commandments from the decalogue, not the first four, which indicate the relationship which ought to exist between man and God, but the last six, which condition the relation of man to his neighbor. “Do not kill, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor thy father and mother.” One light after another flashed upon the inner, hidden, secret life of the man, and he looked back into the face of Christ and said, “Master, all these things have I observed from my youth.” Now, it has been declared that this was an empty boast, that this man said to Christ a thing that was not true. I do not believe it. I believe his statement was the simple, honest truth. I belive that standing there, confronting Jesus Christ, and looking into the eyes of incarnate purity, here was a man who was able to say concerning these ancient commandments which forbid a man violating the true relationship between himself and his neighbor, “All these things have I observed from my youth.” Immediately the evangelist tells us that “Jesus looking upon him, loved him.” I do not mean to infer by that statement that if he had broken the whole six Christ would not have loved him. There is, perchance, a man in this building, hiding away from the crowd, who has broken the whole ten. Christ loves that man, and can save him if he will let Him. It is noticeable, however, that at this point the evangelist declares He loved him. I do not think you will ever find it declared that Christ loved a hypocrite or a liar. There is a sense in which he loved even them, but never in the act of hypocrisy or lying. Christ’s anger was white-hot in the presence of all lying and hypocrisy. This young man said, “Master, all these things have I observed from my youth.” He was a man of clean record.
Once again, he was a man of true aspiration. What is this question with which he comes to Christ, “Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?” Let us be careful here in order that we may catch if possible the real thought in the mind of this man. What is the meaning of this phrase, “eternal life”? We have used it constantly in the Christian Church as though it were a phrase indicating continuity of existence merely. I do not deny that this is partially the meaning of the phrase, but there is much more in it than this. Age-abiding life is what he was seeking. This is not merely life which continues; it is life which contains. It is perfectly evident that in his own soul he was conscious of a present lack. All his wealth could not purchase that something which he needed. He was a man of position, but his position could not command that which his soul was supremely seeking. It was life that he needed, more life that he was seeking. He was conscious of the infinite, and yet could not grasp it. In the midst of all the things of time and sense he heard the echoes of the eternal and spiritual. His clean record did not satisfy him. His power of discernment left him still hungry. His courage had behind it an ache and an agony. His very humility did not bring his inner soul into the realization of that for which it was perpetually asking. He wanted life, he desired to take hold of that which can satisfy the deepest in a man. He heard the call of the infinite sighing its way up through his own nature. He knew he was more than flesh. He knew he was more than that which could be fed with the things which were all about him. Life! Let us state the truth at once. This cry after life is the cry of the lost offspring of God after the Father God. He was seeking God, seeking life, and all this before Christ met him. His meeting with Christ, as we see it in the Gospel narrative, simply brings out into clear relief these facts concerning him, a man of fine temperament, a man of clean record, a man of true aspiration, and to that man Christ said, “One thing thou lackest.”
Let us proceed at once to ask what Christ meant. What did he lack? The popular, and I had almost said, the superficial interpretation of the story declares that he lacked poverty. Nothing of the kind. If you leave your story there you have not listened to it, you have not caught the meaning of Christ’s strange question at the beginning, “Why callest thou Me good?” If when Christ told this man to sell all that he had and give to the poor. He meant that what he lacked was poverty, then there is no application to the vast majority of us. That surely is not the last word. I am not going to lose that. It has its place in the story. The fact that Christ told this man to sell all that he had and give to the poor is not to be omitted, but it is to be placed in its right relationship. What is the word of Christ to this man? “One thing thou lackest,” and then as a preliminary the Master Physician puts His hand upon the one thing that stands in his way. Christ will deal with some of you tonight, but He will not say to you, sell all that you have and give to the poor. He will say something else, put His hand upon some preliminary thing, something, which if you do not abandon you will never be able to obey Him in the ultimate and supreme command. He is moving toward the heart and center of man’s need, and it is necessary in doing so to clear out of the way the things that stand between him and the realization of his own life. What is the final word, “Come, follow Me.” That is the man’s lack. You say to me, Then do you mean to say that what the man lacked was following Christ? Yes, finally, that is what this word really means. Look at it from the standpoint, first of all, not of the Person of Christ, though there we must end, but from the standpoint of the man’s real condition. What did this man lack? He lacked a center of authority. He lacked a dominating principle in his life. He had never found his King.