If Only…

by The Doctor

Have there ever been times when you’ve said to yourself, “if only…”

You know, have you ever said something like, “I’d really be happy if only I had more money or a new car, or a new relationship…”, etc. Many people believe that they would really be happy “if only” they had something that they were missing. Well, here’s the story of someone who never had to say those words. It’s the story of a guy who seemingly had everything- but rejected the one thing that would have made him truly happy…

“As (Jesus) was starting out on a trip, a man came running to him and knelt down and asked, ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to get to heaven?’ ‘Why do you call me good?’ Jesus asked. ‘Only God is truly good!'” (Mark 10:17-18).

Luke’s gospel adds the additional detail that this man held a high position in the local government. We’re also told in Matthew, Mark and Luke that he was very wealthy as well. Yet despite these things, this man seemed to realize that something was missing in his life for he said, “…what must I do to inherit eternal life?” There’s a lot that we can learn from this question, for here we have a wealthy man with a position of power and authority- yet he was still wasn’t really happy.

Before answering his question, Jesus first reminded him that “only God is truly good!” and then took the opportunity to point out what he was really saying: “When you call Me good, you are calling Me God- for no one is good but God alone.”  Then Jesus got to the man’s question…

“But as for your question– you know the commandments: don’t kill, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t cheat, respect your father and mother.’ ‘Teacher,’ the man replied, ‘I’ve never once broken a single one of those laws’ (Mark 10:19-20).

So Jesus answered this man’s question by first pointing him back to the 10 Commandments. He then quoted from the second tablet of the Commandments which tell us…

  • don’t murder
  • don’t commit adultery
  • don’t steal
  • don’t give false testimony
  • and honor your parents

The man’s reply was to say in effect, “I’ve done all these things- what am I still missing?” In his own mind he must have thought, “Hey, I’ve lived a pretty good life. I don’t steal from anyone. I don’t cheat on my wife. I’m not a liar. I treat my parents with respect.” But even though he thought he had lived up to the Commandments, he was still aware that something was still missing. What was it?

Well, Jesus identified the obstacle…

“Jesus felt genuine love for this man as he looked at him. ‘You lack only one thing,’ he told him; ‘go and sell all you have and give the money to the poor– and you shall have treasure in heaven– and come, follow me.’ Then the man’s face fell, and he went sadly away, for he was very rich” (Mark 10:21-22).

Ok, let’s back up and look at this a little more closely. This man asked Jesus, “What do I have to do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus responded by reciting some of the 10 Commandments with the idea that if the man followed them, he would have eternal life. The man then responded by saying in effect, “I have always done all these things.”

Now at this point, The Doctor has a question: did this man really believe that he had always followed every single one of these Commandments? For instance, did this man really believe that he had never lied or stolen once in his life and that he had always honored his father and mother without fail?

Of course the answer is that he hadn’t. Had this man been totally honest with himself and with Jesus, he would not have said, “I’ve never once broken a single one of those laws.” You see, the Scriptures tell us that to live without breaking any of God’s commandments is a total impossibility…

“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1John 1:8 KJV).

“…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 NIV).

Jesus was trying to illustrate this man’s need for help by using the Commandments to show him where he was falling short. But since this man was under the impression that he was keeping all the Commandments, Jesus cut right to the heart of an area in the man’s life where there was no question: “Sell all you have, give it to the poor, and come follow Me”

This man thought he was living according to the Commandments but his reaction tells us that he was really putting his money before God. In the end, this man’s money was more important to him than following Jesus and receiving eternal life.

So as the man walked off, Jesus made this sad observation…

“Jesus watched him go, then turned around and said to his disciples, ‘It’s almost impossible for the rich to get into the Kingdom of God!’ This amazed them. So Jesus said it again: ‘Dear children, how hard it is for those who trust in riches to enter the Kingdom of God. 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.’

The disciples were incredulous! ‘Then who in the world can be saved, if not a rich man?’ they asked. Jesus looked at them intently, then said, ‘Without God, it is utterly impossible. But with God everything is possible'” (Mark 10:23-27).

Jesus used a word picture (the absurd idea of a camel trying to squeeze through a needle’s eye) to illustrate that very few people with great wealth can be convinced to give it up to follow Jesus. Though it may seem that Jesus was asking a lot from this man, The Doctor believes that the following question really puts it all into perspective…

“What profit is there if you gain the whole world– and lose eternal life? What can be compared with the value of eternal life?” (Matthew 16:26).