A Rich Man, A Camel, And The Eye of a Needle: My Mark 10:17-31 Sermon

by Bobby Gilles

in Liturgy & Sermons

Read my sermon manuscript below or watch the YouTube video for my sermon from Sojourn Church New Albany on Jesus and the Rich Man from Mark 10:17-31.


Good morning, my name is Bobby. I’m one of the pastors here. Peace be with you. Here at Sojourn we want to reach people with the gospel, build them up as God’s church, and send them wherever God leads to be champions of truth, beauty, and goodness. 


Act 1

How good is good enough? 


Most people who come to church want to be good. Even if you are not like the man in today’s story, and you don’t think you need to earn your salvation or a place in God’s family, you probably want to be like Jesus. This is the essence of discipleship.


Today’s passage might be bad news for us because even when money is tight for us, we have more options, more possessions, and a bigger safety net than 99% of all people around the world throughout history. To them, we would be rich.


But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” – Mark 10:24-25


We might agree with the first apprentices of Jesus. “The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?” – Mark 10:26 


The disciples reacted this way because it was common then, just as it’s common today, to see prosperity as an indication of God’s pleasure. We take certain verses in the Bible, mostly from wisdom literature like Proverbs, and we say, “It promises that if you work hard and you’re smart about it, you’ll get ahead. 


This is the American Dream. Work hard, be honest, pull yourself up by your bootstraps. We see someone successful and as long as they don’t flaunt it we think those are the good people. They did it right. #Blessed.


Acts 2

The man in today’s story might have thought so, but he’s in for a rude awakening.


“Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. – Mark 10:17-18


Jesus isn’t denying his own goodness or divinity. He’s meeting this young man where he is, and making sure this man focuses on the fact that only God is good, so only God is our hope. Jesus disrupts his assumptions before he even begins to answer.


You know the commandments: “You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honour your father and mother.” Mark 10:19


Notice that Jesus is quoting the “horizontal” part of the Ten Commandments – the commands about how we treat each other. If you’re not doing that stuff, you’re not honoring God. Not really. You can’t worship God with all your heart if you don’t love people.


But Jesus subs in a prohibition against fraud in place of the 10th commandment against covetousness. Why? Because he’s talking to a rich young ruler. We know he’s rich from this passage, we know he’s young from the same story in the Gospel of Matthew, and we know he’s a ruler from the Gospel of Luke. 


He’s a boss. He doesn’t need to covet his neighbor’s stuff because he can buy whatever he wants. But he needs to be honest in his business dealings. 


“Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”

Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. – Mark 10:20-22


Two things to keep in mind:


First, Jesus looked at him and loved him. – Mark 10:21


Everything Jesus says is because he loves him. This isn’t class warfare. This isn’t a smackdown. Jesus loves him and wants to give him a more abundant life.


Second, At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, – Mark 10:22


The English word “sad” doesn’t begin to cover it. This young man is hurting. He wants to be good. He has heard the gospel, which is that the kingdom of God is at hand. He wants to be part of it. He has done the best he could to keep the law of his people. Now, he has come to the one preaching the gospel and asks, “Am I okay? Anything else I should be doing?” 


And he hears, “Yeah. One more thing.” And it turns out to be everything. It’s hard to communicate the expression of pathos in this text. Scot McKnight translates it as:


“He, growing gloomy at the word, departed, grieving …” Lk 10:22 The Second Testament, Scot McKnight


Then Jesus said it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven. Camels were the largest animals in Palestine. The eye of the needle is the smallest opening. 


Forget what you heard about a supposed gate in Jerusalem called The Eye of the Needle that is just a bit too narrow for camels to squeeze through comfortably. There’s zero evidence for that – it’s one of those things someone made up a few hundred years ago because they were so focused on proving that everything in the Bible is literally true and scientifically plausible that they don’t understand symbolism and hyperbole. 


Jesus purposefully used a dramatic, crazy, and even funny image to illustrate his point. After all, what Jesus seems to require is stunning:


“One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” – Mark 10:21


Acts 3

What is Jesus saying? This was not in the Old Testament Law, and it’s not what Jesus requires of anyone else. Later some of his followers seem to remember this incident, but they miss the point.


While [Jesus] was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head.


Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly. – Mark 14:1-2


This is what Jesus wanted from the rich young ruler, right? I bet Jesus will side with these guys and let her have it.


“Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” – Mark 14:3-9


Jesus is inaugurating a kingdom that the poor will inherit. When we remember that, his words to the rich young ruler make sense. But Jesus defends this woman from the accusation that she could have used her wealth to help the poor instead of pouring it on him. 


This woman, whom John identifies as Mary of Bethany has a revelation of who Jesus is that surpasses most others. She knows the hungry will be filled, and the poor will see the king. She is demonstrating her trust in Jesus as that king. 


Similarly, Peter demonstrated trust in Jesus by leaving behind his fishing net, his means of earning a living, to follow Jesus. 


Then Peter spoke up, “We have left everything to follow you!” – Mark 10:28


Act 4:
Mary of Bethany trusts Jesus. Peter trusts Jesus (imperfectly at times, but his whole lifestyle is oriented around Jesus). So what should this rich man do? Trust Jesus. Give up the thing he was clinging to and learn to rely only on Jesus. Remember this incident happened immediately after Jesus was blessing children and said,


“Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” – Mark 10:14-15


What demands did he put on the kids? None. Just be open and trusting like a child, eager to receive a blessing. All that stuff that the rich guy got so heartbroken about was just clutter in the way of realizing childlike dependence. And that fear (that he wouldn’t be okay without his stuff) was unnecessary.


 “Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life.  – Mark 10:29-30


One of the greatest risks for followers of the Jesus movement was rejection from family and friends. Jesus is bringing us into a new family – with one Father – that shares what they have, will lovingly work to alleviate poverty, and will walk with you through persecutions and troubles in this life. A family that will share eternity with you after trouble and persecution is no more, and poverty is erased. 


But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” Mark 10:31


The rich young ruler wasn’t just used to being rich but being in charge. If he gave his riches to the poor, he’d be putting himself into a position of dependence on God’s family. It’s not just that he would no longer be rich. It’s that he would no longer control his own destiny. 


We’ve often said that the gospel is the announcement that the kingdom of God is at hand and Jesus is king. Why is that good news? Because you and I make horrible kings and queens of our own lives. We are seldom satisfied and often afraid. Let go of your crown. 


You know what we learned in Bible Fellowship recently? In 1 Corinthians 9:25, Paul writes:

Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 


Do you know what the winners’ crowns were made out of in the sports contests of first-century Corinth? Withered celery. They got smarter in the second century and started using pine leaves, but not in Paul’s day. The best of your trophies and accomplishments will fade like withered celery. Don’t get so attached to them that you cannot give them up because ultimately, they will not last. Trust Jesus.


Monday Challenge:
I just want you to ask yourself two questions: 1. Do I trust Jesus? 2. How do I know I trust Jesus? 


He knows whether you trust him or not, so the question isn’t for him. This isn’t about proving anything to Jesus.


You may not really know until you step out in faith in some way and see how that makes you feel. Could be a big thing or a small thing. Could be related to money or possessions, or it could be something else. 


Do you trust Jesus? How do you know you trust Jesus? 


How can you orient your life around following Jesus, like Peter? How can you pour your sacrificial offering of worship on Jesus, like Mary? 


If you don’t know, ask him. It’s a dangerous question to ask, as the rich young ruler discovered. But when you ask, Jesus looks at you and loves you. If you follow the king, you gain the kingdom. And it will be worth it.

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