“As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up, knelt down before him, and asked him, ‘Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?'” (CSB – Read the chapter)
I remember when our oldest first hit the “why stage.” He was about three. Conversations with him – as much as you can have a conversation with a three-year-old – became an endless string of questions and answers. One why led to an explanation which led to another why which led to another explanation which led to another why and so on and so forth. So. Many. Questions. When I was feeling good and patient, I would see if I could keep explaining things until he quit asking. Usually I couldn’t. As he’s gotten older, the number of questions have decreased, but the ones he asks now have harder explanations. This is true for all people. We may understand more of how the world works than a three-year-old, but some questions persist. This man asked Jesus one of them.
There are some issues that every coherent worldview tries to address. Every different religion ever conceived is an attempt to offer answers to a certain set of questions. What is real? What are people? What is good and how do we achieve it? What is evil and how do we avoid it? What is the meaning and purpose to life? These and a few others are things that beat in the chest of every person who has ever walked the face of the planet. In some hearts they seem to beat a bit stronger and louder than in others, but all of our lives are lived out the way they are lived out because of the way we have been taught to answer them.
As Jesus was getting ready to go on a journey – perhaps He was simply leaving one place and heading to another – a man ran up to Him and asked Him one of these big questions that everyone wonders about at one time or another in their lives: what must I do to inherit eternal life?
Now, we can’t see it in this one verse, but there are several interesting things about his asking this question the way he did. For starters, this man would have almost certainly been a Jew. Indeed, the immediate context reveals as much. Jesus quotes the Law at him and he confirms he has been following it all his life. His being a Jew means that he had the Law of Moses. As we’ll talk about more tomorrow, his culture would have taught him that the Law was all he needed to be able to answer this question. Thus, why was he asking?
Another thing here is the urgency of his request. The man wasn’t simply waiting in the crowd to catch Jesus’ attention like everyone else. Jesus was getting ready to leave and he runs – not walks – up to Jesus and falls on his knees. There is a sense of urgency to his posture. For some reason he had a burning need to have this question answered. This wasn’t simply a passing fancy for him. There was something hanging in the balance here.
One more thing that stands out to me is the way he worded his question: What must I do to inherit eternal life? This falls right in line with how the vast, vast majority of religions and worldviews have answered this question. Do this and do that and eternal life will be yours. Of course, the list of activities and actions is long and challenging, but if eternal life was easy, anyone could achieve it and then what kind of a prize would it be? As it stands, we mostly think of it as a prize we can claim for ourselves with enough intention and effort. Actually, we don’t just think that, we desperately want for that to be the case. We want for that to be the case because then we can satisfy our need to be enough. If I’m enough to secure eternal life for myself, I must be enough for anything. I have justified my existence. I’m not simply a waste of space.
We’ll dig a bit more into this man’s question and Jesus’ response to him tomorrow, but for now, I just want to set one idea before you. This man’s question is one everyone asks. Everyone asks this question at some point and in some way in their life. It’s part of what makes us human. We all have an inherent sense that there is more to life than what we can see and experience on this side of the grave. Death isn’t right. It is an alien intrusion into this world. Now, sure, we can talk about the cycle of death and life that keeps the world working, but human death isn’t a net good and we know it. It’s not how the world is supposed to work.
Of all the answers ever given to the question, though, there is only one with the meaning and substance to really satisfy this longing. If we don’t ask the question in the right places and of the right people, we’ll never get the answer we need. This man went to the right place. Let us who follow Jesus not only make sure we too go to the right place when seeking our answers, let us make sure that, with the Spirit’s help, we are the right place for the people around us to go. The world is asking. Are you ready to answer?