Jesus Says Hard Things Because He Loves You
Sometimes when you’re reading an all too familiar Bible story, you come across a word or a phrase that you never noticed before. Perhaps it just didn’t seem significant every other time you read it, or perhaps this particular time your mind was ready and open to actually see what’s been in the passage the entire time. This happens to me on a regular basis. I read a Bible passage I’ve read maybe a hundred times, and I see something and wonder, “when was that there?” This happened most recently with the story we commonly refer to as “the Rich Young Ruler.”
The story of the rich young ruler is found in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. It is interesting to note that each gospel refers to the man by only one of his descriptors, rich or young or ruler, and none of them refer to him as all three. The particular gospel account that intrigued me was Mark’s, and this story is found in Mark 10:17-22. Mark does not emphasize that this man was young or a ruler, but mentions his great wealth. And there is another aspect of the story Mark mentions that is not in Matthew or Luke.
To refresh you on the story, the rich young ruler comes up to Jesus and asks what he needs to do to inherit eternal life. Jesus then begins to list some of the commandments from the Mosaic Law: Do not murder, do not steal, etc. The man then answers “Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up.” Jesus then tells the man to sell everything he has and give it to the poor. The rich young man then leaves, sad and grieving, because he owned much.
Mark includes a detail right before Jesus tells the man to sell everything. It reads:
“Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” (Mark 10:21)
That struck me, because it seems to contextualize Jesus’ intention in giving this command to the rich young ruler. Jesus was not being cruel, or arbitrary in his commands. Jesus’ hard saying was said in love for the man, though the man could not (or would not) bear it. And a command given in love led to Jesus being abandoned. How it must have broken Jesus’ heart!
The truth is, that this could be said about all of God’s commands for us. They are given to us not to make us jump through hoops, or to deny us pleasure, or to make us feel guilty. Rather, they are given to us out of a love for us. Perhaps it is because they are given out of love for us that some of them are so hard.
I can think of several other places where Jesus made hard statements. Jesus told the crowds to eat his flesh and drink his blood in John 6 to the point where everyone but the Twelve left him. On another occasion (earlier in Mark 10 and in Matthew 19) Jesus said that anyone who divorces for a reason other than sexual immorality they commit adultery. The disciples are so perplexed by this that they even remark to Jesus, “if that’s the case then it is better not to marry.”
In all of these cases, Jesus was emphasizing the importance of the kingdom of God as opposed to the things we tend to value: money, possessions, sex, prestige. It is out of love that Jesus gives us the hard truth that eternal life is not found in such things. And though it may hurt to have a “hard truth” told to you, if you value it for what it is, it will be more valuable than anything.
One of the parables Jesus taught: “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls, and upon finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.” (Matthew 13:45–46)
The hard truth is that the kingdom of heaven will cost you everything. Everything. But it is from love the Jesus tells you this, because the kingdom of heaven is also worth more than everything.