Student Night: Rich Young Ruler
December 16th, 1962 @ 7:30 PM
RICH YOUNG RULER
Dr. W. A. Criswell
12-16-62 7:30 p.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. And if you have tuned in heretofore, you know this is our student night; a night between sessions, and the youngsters are home, and we have opportunity to share this happy season with them. There are a great many of these young college students present here tonight. They have already been welcomed. And I would like to add my own word of gratitude and appreciation for you, for what you are doing, what you mean, and what you shall continue to mean to us. You are our destiny, and our future, and our church, and denomination, and our Christian witness in the time that is to come. If you fail, we fail. If you do magnificently, we succeed.
It would be very, very interesting if we had time here tonight to have each one of these students stand up and tell us what they are doing in college, and why they are attending school, and what they hope to achieve thereby. There was the dean who had a couple of those youngsters in his office. They were flunking out and he was asking them, "Why are you in school?" So he turned to the boy that was flunking out, and he said to him, "Now, son, why are you here in college?" And the fellow replied. He said, "Well, dean, I don’t rightly know. My momma says it’s to fit me to be president of the United States. My Uncle John says it’s to sow my wild oats. My sister Mary says it’s to get her a rich boyfriend, and my pa says it’s to bankrupt the family." He turned to the girl and said to her, "And why are you here in college?" And she said, "I came to be went with, but I ain’t been yet."
Lot of things impel us to go to school. But there is one dead sure certain thing about the time in which we live and the generation in which you are growing up, and that is this. If you do not have a splendid preparation for a service and a work in your generation, you’re going to find yourself so far left out and left behind you won’t count. This is a day of specialists. If you’re going to be a doctor, you got to decide in which one of these nostrils you’re going to specialize in, the right one or the left one. No matter what, this is a day of specialization. And to exceed and to excel in this generation, you have to go to school. And the Lord bless you young people whatever you are doing. If it’s in the will and call of God and you have a natural affinity for it, God bless you as you pursue it, and dream, dreams, and seek after and reach after heavenly visions, and give you the desires of your heart.
Now tonight we’re going to speak about a young fellow who missed the mark. There are three places in the Bible that the story of his contact with Jesus is described. I planned to read the passage in Matthew, but I’ve changed my mind, and we’re going to read it in Mark. Not to read it out loud but if you’d like to follow the story, turn to the tenth chapter of the Gospel of Mark; and we begin reading at the seventeenth verse; Mark 10:17-22, the tenth chapter of the Second Gospel, beginning at the seventeenth verse:
And when Jesus 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, Honor thy father and mother.
And he answered and said unto Him, Master, all these have I observed from my youth up.
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.
This is the story of the rich young ruler. Matthew describes him as being a young man. Luke describes him as being a ruler. And all three of them describe him as being preeminently and remarkably rich. I suppose one of the most familiar of all of the pictures of the Christian faith is Hoffman’s picture of the rich young ruler. The original is found in the Riverside Church in New York City. Sometimes I wish somebody would give us, in our beloved First Baptist Church in Dallas, one of those beautiful and world famed religious pictures.
In a hotel, for example, and a cheap one, I saw the original picture of the little child Samuel kneeling in prayer. That picture has been printed on all the children’s literature of all of the churches of the world. And it’s in a cheap, run down, sorry looking hotel. I wish somebody, sometime would choose a beautiful picture like that and give it to our church.
The picture I saw of the rich young ruler in the Riverside Church in New York City made a profound impression upon me. That immortal artist Hoffman has drawn the young fellow in his gorgeous robes, in the very beauty and prime of young manhood. And he stands in the presence of Jesus asking this all important question, "What do I do to inherit eternal life?"
And Jesus, knowing his love for wealth, and affluence, and respectability, and prestige, and social acceptance, Jesus, knowing the deep of his heart, with the gesture of His hand is pointing toward the poor who are seen in the distance, who can be seen in any Oriental city. And the young man is there in deep decision; following the bid of his own love and his own life, or giving it up to follow Jesus. Oh, it’s a dramatic scene in itself if you didn’t know the spiritual connotation of the story.
You see, the young fellow has everything that life could offer. He seemingly lacked nothing. He was young and youth is always interesting, always. I had two of these teenagers come to see me about six-thirty o’clock this evening, and I want you to know their language is somewhat of a mystery to me. Right in the midst of one of my profoundest, pastoral, theological pronouncements, one of the girls broke in and said, "But, preacher, I don’t dig that stuff." They’re always interesting. And any church is alive that is filled with young people. And any faith has a destiny that is embraced by boys and girls.
He was young and youth is always attractive. He was rich. And the Jew looked upon riches as being a mark unusual of the favor and remembrance of God. And there is no man who is rich in our modern society that is not looked upon with profound respect and admiration by our people. For a man to be rich, is in itself for a man to have almost illimitable influence in political life, in national life, in city life, in economic life, in social life, and how much more so in religious life. When a man of affluence gives himself to the ministry and work of the Lord, it is like ten thousand men testifying to the goodness and the grace of God in Christ Jesus.
He was a youth. He was rich. And he was a ruler. Josephus says that that word "ruler" always was used with regard to a member of the Sanhedrin, the highest court of the Jewish nation. Whether that is true here we do not know, but in any event the young fellow had attained to a place of political and social and domestic importance in his community, in his city, and in his nation that he is described by the beloved physician Luke as a rich, young ruler.
Now the remarkable thing about him is the way that he came to the Lord Jesus. You see, in the chronological story of our Master, walking on the other side of Perea and then across the Jordan to Jericho and up to Jerusalem, this is His last pilgrimage in the earth. His face is set toward Jerusalem, to death, to crucifixion. The time for His rejection by the Jewish people is come. There has been congealed, there is solidified against Him a tremendous antagonism and opposition. And our Lord knows that He faces the denunciation and the destruction at the hands of His own people. Now it is at that time in his life, not at the beginning of his life, when people everywhere were hailing the Prophet from Nazareth; but this is at the close of His ministry in the earth.
And on His way to Jerusalem, to be rejected and to be crucified; in that last few days this young fellow runs runs and knelt before Him in the wide open sunlight, in broad daylight where everybody could see him. As the Lord passed through one of the cities in Perea, or as the Lord entered the city of Jericho, somewhere in that journey this young fellow came in the broad open daylight, running, hastening, and knelt down before the Lord Christ.
You don’t realize the courage it took to do that. Nicodemus came to see Jesus by night. Some people say that he came because it’d be quiet. Well, that’s a nice thing to say for Nicodemus, but I’m almost certain the reason Nicodemus came by night was, as a member of the Sanhedrin and as a leader among the Jewish people, he didn’t want to be seen openly talking to this despised teacher from a despised town of Nazareth.
Same way about Joseph of Arimathea; he was a secret disciple of Jesus, but he never came out into the wide open until the Lord was crucified. And he helped Nicodemus lay Him away in his own new tomb. Not this young fellow; a ruler, a youth and rich, he had the moral courage in broad daylight where everybody could see to kneel down before the Lord Christ and ask about his soul.
You know there’s something about moral courage that lies beyond any other strength and any other bravery that a man can know. I remember so well visiting a boy when I was in school in the dormitory down there at Baylor. And when the young fellow had finished his studies and it was time to go to bed, he sat down by the side of his bed, he opened his Bible, and he read a passage. Then he knelt down by the side of his bed and prayed. All the time that was going on, there were half a dozen or a dozen other fellows in there. They were a’ talkin’ and a’ carryin’ on like fellows do; didn’t bother that boy at all. He read his Bible, He knelt down by his bed and prayed, then he retired for the night. Little later on I asked him about that, I said, "What do those other fellows think about you when you open your Bible, and when you read, and when you kneel down there and pray before you go to bed? What do they say? What do they think about that?"
He said, "Well," he said, "a lot of times I hear them making fun of me," and he says, "a lot of times to my face they say all kinds of things." Well, I say, "Doesn’t it bother you?"
"Well," he said, "I guess so in a way. But," he said, "nothing comparable to the blessing I get from doing what I know I ought to do, which is to have a little devotion before I go to bed at night and to kneel down and pray before I rest in sleep." Why, I tell you that’s one of the finest, bravest boys that I knew in the university. There’s a whole lot more to spiritual and moral bravery and courage than there is to any other kind that I know of in this life.
One of the things that one of these big football players spoke of when he was out there at Mount Lebanon with our teenagers, he said in one of these state universities there was a little fellow who always carried a Bible with his books. He’d always have a Bible. Wherever he went, there he’d take his Bible. And there was a big football player who had a locker right by the side of this little guy. And he’s always poking fun at that little fellow for carrying a Bible. And a big guy was saying to the little fellow, "Why, you sissy, always carrying that Bible around." And finally the little fellow turned to the big guy, and he said, "Let me tell you, if you think this is sissy, carrying this Bible around, you take it, and let’s see you carry it around for a little while"; big, big, big in mouth, big in words, big in sentences, big in bluff but not big where you can be really big – in moral courage and in spiritual commitment!
This guy was where the whole world could see him and where the whole earth could look upon him, he ran, knelt before this despised prophet, and addressed Him in the noblest way that a man of God could ever be addressed. He said to Him, "Didaskale agathe, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?" [Mark 10:17]. And even in the Talmud, no greatest rabbi was ever called "agathe, didaskale agathe, Teacher good". And Jesus noticed it and He said to him, He said, "Why callest thou Me agathe? there is none agathe but One, that is, God" [Mark 10:18]. The young fellow kneeling down there in the broad daylight where everyone could see him and addressing that despised Nazarene as being good like God is good; then Jesus replied to him and named the commandments, "You know them: do this and thou shalt have eternal life." And the young fellow answered and said, "Master, all of these have I kept from my youth up" [Mark 10:20]. Not for a day, not for a week but for a lifetime that young fellow had been morally erect. The spiritual rectitude of his life was so pure and so honest that, "Jesus beholding him loved him" [Mark 10:21]. He was clean, as you say, "as a hound’s tooth". All of his life he had been faithful in all of the commandments of the Lord. Then after he had avowed that, he said to Jesus, "But what lack I yet?" [Matthew 19:20].
I think anybody who seeks to follow God knows what that young fellow felt in his heart. There are formalities of religion that we can obey. There are rituals of religion that we can observe. There are commandments of religion that we can meticulously keep. And yet after we have observed every commandment, and after we have followed every ritual, and after we have made these things of the habits of worship ingrained and secondary in our lives, yet there is a dryness and there is an emptiness about the formalities, and the rituals, and the commandments of religion that leave the soul dry like a potshard. There’s something still, and something else, and something over, and something lacking.
Oh, I could not tell you the number of people who come to see me and say, "Pastor, I’ve given my heart to the Lord, and I’ve been baptized, and I go to church, and I faithfully try to follow as a disciple of Jesus; but my heart’s empty! My heart’s empty. I want the fullness of the blessing of God." That was this young fellow.
After he’d obeyed all the rules, and kept all of the sayings, and was obedient to all of the commandments, his soul was still empty. And he said to the Lord, "Lord, all of these things have I observed from my youth up. What lack I yet?" [Matthew 19:20]. And the Lord said to him, "Just one thing, just one thing; your heart is not given to God. Your heart is in the world. You love the wrong world."
As Paul said of Nicodemus when he wrote from the Mamertine Prison, "Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world" [2 Timothy 4:10]. The young fellow liked his prestige. He loved his money. He was enamored with his position. He liked that honor and respect that the whole community gave him because he was wealthy, and he was young, and he had prestige and influence. He liked it. And the Lord saw that the world was in his heart, and not first place to God. And he said to the young fellow, "Now you look." He never said this to Zacchaeus and Zacchaeus was a wealthy man. He never said this to Nicodemus or to Joseph of Arimathea.
There are many, many well-to-do men that you find pass across the horizon of these Holy Scriptures. Abraham was blessed of God and was rich. So were all of the patriarchs. Then why did Jesus say this to this young man and to just him? Because he loved riches, he loved this world. He loved his place and his station. And He loved it more than he loved God. And it was his hope, it was his dream that he could enter heaven and keep this world too, that he could have both of them, that he could serve God and mammon, that he could have this world in his heart and still inherit the world that is yet to come.
And when the Lord replied, "Not so; it is an either or. You do not love this world and inherit the other world too. You do not serve God and mammon at the same time. It’s an either or. You give your heart to God or you give your heart to this world. It is one or the other." And he invited the young man to give up the world and to come, take up his cross, and follow Him [Mark 10:21].
And the next sentence is one of the most dramatic in this Greek text that you can imagine. And you’d never see it here in the English translation, for the next sentence says, "And the young fellow, stugnazÃ³" [Mark 10:22]. There are only two places in the Bible where that word is used, stugnazÃ³. First, it is used in the sixteenth chapter and the third verse of the Gospel of Matthew when our Lord says to the Pharisees who are seeking a sign, He says, "You can see the signs in the sky, but you do not understand the signs of the times; for," said our Lord, "when the sun sets beautifully, you say, ‘It’s going to be a beautiful day’; but in the morning when the sky is dark and stugnazÃ³, lowering." There’s the first place that word is used. StugnazÃ³, when the sky is lowering, when the clouds are boiling, when the thunder and the lightning and the weather is about to break loose in fury, stugnazÃ³. The only other place where that word is used in the Bible is to describe the face of this young man. The conflict in his soul registered in his countenance, stugnazÃ³, he fought a battle in his heart. "Shall it be for God, or shall it be for myself? Shall it be for the world that is to come, or shall it be for this world? Which shall I decide and which way shall I turn?"
And the civil war that he fought in his soul registered in his face. And Mark uses this word stugnazÃ³. Like the thunder and the flashing of the lightning in the sky, so this young fellow fought the battle in his heart. And did he win it? No. He lost it. "And he turned away for he had great possessions in this world" [Mark 10:22], and he loved the wrong world. "And he turned away, and he turned away."
Oh, young man, stand at the gate of the city celestial and watch the pilgrims of God enter in, but you’ll never see His face! Mingle with the multitudes on the golden streets of that New Jerusalem, and you’ll never meet this young man. Listen to the roll call of God in heaven; he’ll never answer to his name. Go down the list of God’s saints, those who’ve trusted in Him, in the Lamb’s Book of Life, and you’ll never find his name. He lost the war. "And he went away," for he loved the wrong world.
Think what he might have been. Think what he could have done. I haven’t time to follow through the story, but as the disciples looked upon that young fellow, they were moved by the possibilities in his soul. They never had such an opportunity. They never had such a candidate. They never had such a near convert in their lives; that young fellow, what he could have meant to Jesus and to the kingdom of God. So much so that some people think that young fellow was the apostle Paul. I do not at all. I do not at all. Paul was from Tarsus, the capital of the Roman province of Cilicia, too far north in Asia Minor. But it just suggests the infinite possibilities in his life. For the apostle Paul, when he met the Lord knelt before the great God and our Savior and said, "Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do" [Acts 9:6].
And that’s why I had young Carey Hurd lead us in the passage tonight. "All of these things," said Paul, "that were gain to me, these I counted but dung, that I might win Christ and be found in Him. Not as though I had already attained; but I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus" [Philippians 3:7-9, 12-14]. And as he avowed to King Agrippa, "O king Agrippa, I have not been disobedient to the heavenly vision" [Acts 26:19]. What is bound up, what the possibilities are in the life of a young man or a young woman.
In the days of my university, I saw one of my friends enter an agony that is as much a war in the soul as any young fellow I ever saw go through. And he won it for God at a great personal commitment. And today he’s the head of one of the tremendous agencies of our Southern Baptist Convention and blessed of God all over this world. I saw him enter that valley. I saw him win that war, and God has crowned his life and his efforts with beauty, and with nobility, and reward for these days and years ever since; the blessedness, the blessedness of giving up for Jesus.
In the heart of the dark, Dark Continent, I visited one evening with a missionary girl. Been there most of her life, God bless her, a maiden woman all of these years in Africa. And looking around and seeing so many who had come and gone, come and gone, and she had stayed there. I said to her, I said, "How is it in your soul being here so alone and so long?" And she replied, "I could not tell you the number of nights that I wet my pillow with my tears. But," she said, "I have an infinite peace in my heart, and I wouldn’t trade my place for that of any other in the earth"; having won it for God.
I don’t say that it isn’t at a cost, and at a price, and at a sacrifice. But I do avow that in it there is the peace that passeth all understanding. There is the infinite and rich reward of God in heaven. And there is that ultimate and final commendation from the lips of our blessed Savior Himself, "Well done, well done, good and faithful servant; enter thou into the joy of thy Lord" [Matthew 25:23].
And that is our invitation to you in this appeal tonight. While we sing our song, somebody you to give his heart in answer to the call of the Lord Jesus, come and stand by me. Taking the Lord as your Savior, following Him in repentance, in faith, in the grace and mercy and forgiveness of our Savior, "Here I am, pastor, and here I come." A family to put their lives with us in the fellowship of the church or just one somebody you, "Here I am and here I come." Is there somebody tonight, a youth who would answer the call of God for a special ministry, a special service? Is there a youth tonight who would rededicate and regive himself to the high calling we have from God in Christ Jesus? I cannot make the appeal. The Spirit of the Lord must bear it to your soul. Whatever God would say, whatever the Spirit would whisper, whatever the Lord shall lay upon your soul, your heart, come, come. As we sing this song, as we prayerfully wait, as all of us open our hearts to the whispered words of the blessed Jesus, if it’s to trust Him as Savior, come. If it’s to be baptized, come. If it’s to join His church, come. If it’s to give your life in a full time ministry for Jesus, come. If it’s to reconsecrate your life and draw nigh to God, come. As the Spirit shall lead in the way, make it now, make it tonight, while we stand and while we sing.