Jesus and the Economic Meltdown


By all accounts, the man who respectfully knelt before Jesus, in a seeker-friendly frame

of mind, was a prime candidate for conversion. 

He was wealthy, youthful (Matthew 19:20-22), and a ruling official, possibly in

the synagogue, more likely in local government.

He was the rich, young ruler.

What he said to Jesus tells us much about him; what Jesus said to him tells us even more about Jesus and is very challenging.

Listen to Luke’s account of the dialogue:


18 And a ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 19 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. 


(i) First, notice how Jesus replies to this apparently sincere seeker who assesses Jesus as

a ‘good teacher’ - and note what it tells us about this rich young ruler himself. 

And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good?  No one is good except God alone. 

‘No one is good’, surely applies to the man kneeling before Jesus.  A gentle rebuff perhaps, along the lines of: “You know about ‘being good’, do you?  How do you measure up to the commandments?   You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honour your father and mother.’”    

And the rich, young ruler replies: “All these I have kept from my youth.” 


Notice Jesus only mentions the second half of the ‘table’ of the Law – laws that cover our social relationships.  But what about the first half?  What about loving God with all your heart, and soul and strength? 

Catch the underlying rebuke here to the man’s superficial thinking!

He claims to be a good, law-abiding citizen; and that is of course admirable and commendable and beneficial to a just society…   

but being a good, law-abiding citizen is not good enough, nowhere near good enough!

Where is the God-talk?  Where is loving God with all you are and all you have?


The good man is missing the one thing needful.  And Jesus puts his finger on the real issue. 

If you love goodness, you will love God as you love no other.  If what matters most to you is making money, enjoying social status and power, and carving out the rest of your life in the way you think best, then you have truly missed the mark! You are, de facto, an idolater!

Those with financial and social capital often find surrendering to the total claims of Jesus especially difficult because they feel they have so much to lose.


Try this test, Jesus proposes: 

“One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 

And with that the bottom dropped out of the rich, young ruler’s world!

23 But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich. 


‘Sad’ is putting it mildly.  The word is used later of Jesus in Gethsemane when he was ‘sorrowful to the point of death’.  The young ruler is deeply distressed, as if he has received a death sentence; he is, to use a fashionable word, devastated, as if he faces a premature death!  The young man wanted a ‘teacher’ not a ‘Lord who demands sacrifice’ (Craig Keener).


Who is this Jesus who determines human destiny both in our current life span and in the eternal age-to-come in such a radical way?

Who is this who confronts us with such overwhelming authority?

To begin to answer this question, let’s remind ourselves of the initial exchange between Jesus and the rich ruler:


18 And a ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 19 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. 


(ii) Having looked at what this implies for the rich man, let’s reflect for a moment on what it implies for our understanding of Jesus.


Is it enough to value Jesus as a ‘good teacher’?

In our secular society, lip service is often still paid, albeit patronisingly, to Jesus as a good moral and ethical teacher.  When quizzed about his Christian views, David Cameron, then Prime Minister, mumbled something about Jesus, citing: ‘Do as you would be done by’ as the essence of what Jesus was about!


Valuing Jesus as a ‘good teacher’ is not good enough – nowhere near good enough!

As his encounter with the rich ruler shows us, Jesus cannot be passed off even deferentially

as ‘a good teacher’.  ‘No one is good except God alone’. 

Just as goodness can be explained only with reference to whole-hearted devotion to God,

so Jesus can only be valued by his unique relationship to God.


Nothing less will do.  You cannot have Jesus as the wee babe who sentimentalises

a commercially-mad Yuletide once a year.

You cannot have Jesus as a useful rule of thumb in ethical exigencies, who provides helpful hints for hurtful habits.  You cannot have Jesus as a handy back-up for distant eternal emergencies.  He is not impressed.

You cannot have Jesus as the cream on the cake of a successful self-achieved career.

You cannot add Jesus to your portfolio of assets as if doing him a favour!


Why is Jesus being so obtuse; why is he being so unseeker-friendly?

Why is Jesus passing up the opportunity to sign up a celebrity convert to join the disciple-band?  With his wealth and connections, he might to use the current jargon – be an important ‘influencer’!

No.  “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 


So why is Jesus so challenging? The answer to this is given by Mark.  The love of Jesus.

“And Jesus, looking at him, loved him…’ (Mark 10: 21-22).

Jesus loves the man too much to spare him the truth.

Jesus loves the man enough until his self-sufficiency collapses like a pricked balloon.

So Jesus watched lovingly as the young man, disheartened, ‘went away sorrowful...’

Jesus loves enough not to sell the gospel with cheap grace.

Jesus loves him enough to let him go!


(iii) So what are the disciples then – and we as disciples now – to make of all this?


Human resources are not good enough to get you into the kingdom of God. 

Wealth, success, even squeaky-clean morality are nowhere near good enough to gain you eternal life.  Salvation, on the basis of human resources and achievement, is just not possible.

On which Jesus comments to the dumbfounded disciples: Salvation is God’s work and God’s work alone!   What is humanly impossible, is divinely possible.  What human grafting and even goodness cannot gain you: God’s grace and goodness gifts you!


24 Jesus, seeing that he had become sad, said, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! 25 For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 Those who heard it said, “Then who can be saved?” 27 But he said, “What is impossible with men is possible with God.” 28 And Peter said, “See, we have left our homes and followed you.” 29 And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, 30 who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.”


The impossible incarnation of the doing-the-impossible God stands before us saying “Follow me”.

In the end, we have to come to terms with the big issue: who is this person, Jesus, who has the authority to command the course of our life in the here-and-now and to determine our eternal destiny hereafter in the age-to-come?

Only One who is as good as God is good because he shares the eternal nature of God in a way which no one else does.

In short, Jesus is our Rich Young Ruler.

(a) Was he rich? Listen to Paul:

“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich”.  (2 Corinthinans 8:9)

Said James Denney: ‘The rich Christ is the pre-existent One in the form of God, in the glory which he had with the Father before the world was; He became poor when he became man.’  The poor are those whose lot Christ came to share, and in consequence of that self-impoverishment of His they become heirs of the kingdom.

He poured his divinely lived life of glory into our human form to be born as a baby in

a manger and to die for sinners on a cross. As Isaiah envisaged, from start to finish, he ‘poured out his life unto death’.  His costly self-expenditure redeems our lives from worthlessness and re-values us as members of his blood-bought family who can say that, because of him, ‘all things’ are ours.


(b) Was he ‘young’?

‘Jesus, when he began his ministry, was about thirty years of age…’ (Luke 3:23)

When interrogated by the Jewish leaders as to his claims to divine origin, and his outrageous remark that father Abraham delighted to see his day, they exploded into indignant sarcasm: “You are not yet fifty years old and have you seen Abraham?”

(John 8:57)

Says Craig Keener: ‘This does not suggest that he looked nearly fifty... In addition to emphasising the chronological impossibility, it provides Jewish leaders a way to put Jesus in his place.  Many in the Greek world considered fifty an ideal age for ruling; many Jewish offices also required a person to be at least fifty years of age, though there were exceptions.’

And Keener goes on to note: ’When one assumed a prominent position around the age of thirty, this apparent breach of seniority would arouse envy.  His opponents think that Jesus is too young to have seen Abraham, but they are probably annoyed by his claims to authority despite his relative youth!’

Jesus’ saving grace – was just that – saving grace! He was willing to forego a long life of teaching and healing and good works for the sake of our eternal salvation!

He died – in that sense – a premature death, exactly in tune with his Father’s will and fulness of timing.  I have always loved what Isaac Watts originally wrote as the second line of his most famous hymn:

“When I survey the wondrous cross, where the young prince of glory died.”


(c) Was he a ruler?

For sure he is the ‘head of all rule and authority’ (Colossians 2:10); he speaks as with unique authority (Matthew 7:29), and even the winds and waves obey his command.

Yet for us he became a servant-king who came not to be served but to serve and to give his life a ransom for many. As a result, he is acknowledged as the one who has the ‘name above every name’, with all authority given to him to make disciples from all nations.


My distant memory of a seven-year-old boy’s conversion persuades me that I meant it when we sang: “What can I give him, poor as I am? If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;

                                   If I were a wise man, I would do my part; Yet what I can I give him – give my heart.”


So, my last word this Christmas is the Father’s final word: Jesus.

Let’s love him, follow him, trust him, serve him, thank him.  And let’s not undervalue him merely as a good teacher but as our Saviour for now and eternity, our own blessed and beloved Rich Young Ruler.

Have a truly blessed Christmas, safe in His inexhaustible goodness.