He had finally summoned the courage to ask the big question that was on his mind.
By this point, the young man had been following him around for a couple of days listening to his teaching, witnessing some of his acts, and it was clear that there was something different about this man. Initially the young man kept his distance simply wanting to be a casual observer, but as the days had gone on he found himself closer and closer to the front of the pack. There was just something about the teacher's words that drew him in.
Finally, there was a break in the action and the young man found himself right next to the teacher. This was his chance!
"Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" He blurted his question quickly and the teacher's eyes rested on him.
"Are you familiar with the commandments?" The teacher began to list some of the ten in the Book of Moses. The young man was pleased because he had grown up learning them.
"Yes teacher! I know them, and all of them I have kept since I was a young."
The young man was pleased. Perhaps eternal life was in his grasp after all.
The teacher looked at him intently, and with a concerned look in his eye he leaned in and said emphatically, "I know that you have kept these since you were young, but there is still one thing that you lack."
The young man was intrigued. What could it be? He leaned in.
"What is it teacher? What am I lacking for eternal life?"
And the teacher replied, "Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me."
The ending to this story is not as neatly packaged as we might like. If this were a typical story with a happy ending the young man would have sold his possessions, followed Jesus, and found the true life that he had been missing all along. But this is not what happened.
The record of this story shows that after Jesus told the young man to sell all that he had, the young man was sad because of his wealth and it is presumed that he walked away, never to be seen again.
If there is one thing that is fascinating about this story it is Jesus' approach in this encounter. This story demonstrates in a profound way the way that Jesus was sensitive to the individual needs and situations of those who wanted to follow him.
Think about it. Jesus' main message to this man was, "If you want to inherit eternal life, sell all your possessions." But this was not the same message that was communicated to others that he encountered. For example, when Nicodemus came to Jesus questioning his teaching Jesus' response was different, "Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God."
Why did Jesus respond in this way to the rich young man?
I think the significance of the encounter with the rich young man lies in the 'One Thing.' It became clear from their discussion that the young man assumed that he was justified and could gain eternal life because of the outward actions of keeping the law. But Jesus was not interested in what a person did on the outside - he was concerned with the heart.
And if there was one thing that Jesus knew, it was that this man had allowed something other than God to reign in his heart; there was 'One Thing'' that he had not released to God; there was the 'One Thing' that had become the idol to which the young man bowed.
The question you have to ask yourself after reading this sobering account in Scripture is, "What is my 'One Thing'? What is the 'One Thing' that comes into competition with full allegiance to Jesus?
In this account, Jesus is testing the man's heart to see if he is willing to go to the extreme to remove the idol; sometimes heart idols must be destroyed in dramatic fashion.
Unfortunately, this man chose to let the idol live.
The question for you and I is, will we?
For the full account of this story read Luke 18:18-30