The Second Table
Jesus talks to the man about the second table of the law, the second table of the Ten Commandments. That second table talks about our duties to other human beings. And Matthew’s account gives Jesus’s summary of the second table of the law—“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” What Jesus was doing here was setting it up so that the young man could realize that his deeper heart attitude was not fulfilling the second table of the law, which is about self-denial and putting others first.
Keeping the Law
So how did the young man respond? Well, he doesn’t get it. He proudly boasts of his law-keeping: “Teacher, all these things I have kept from my youth.” Not only is this arrogant, but it also shows just how clueless he is about his own heart and life. He was fooling himself! He was deceiving himself! He was looking at the law in a shallow, surface way, one-dimensionally.
Jesus knew the young man’s heart, and he was challenging him to think deeply about how much he had really obeyed God’s law. Listen to how Jesus responds: He looks the man right in the face, and verse 21 says he “loved him.” I love the way Mark says that here: “Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him.”
Jesus loved this man just as he loves you and me, but in loving him he confronts him with the emptiness of his own spiritual pride and his own self-confidence. This doesn’t seem loving. But it’s the ultimate love. And Jesus lovingly unmasks the young man’s self-deception and says to him,
There’s one more thing you need to do.
Sell all you have, give it to the poor.
Take up your cross, and follow me!
The Law’s Deeper Meaning
Jesus’s whole point is that the young man doesn’t really understand the deeper meaning of the second table of the law. He doesn’t get it. He’s looking only on the surface. But Jesus is forcing him to look deeper. Do you really love your neighbor as yourself? Then give up all you have for your neighbors, and take up your cross and follow me!
Jesus’s point here is not that everyone has to give all his material possessions away to be a Christ-follower. He’s speaking directly to the young man’s most profound need. You see, the young man was really breaking both tables of the law. By not being willing to give up all he had for the poor, he was breaking the second table of the law, summed up by the command, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” But by not denying himself, taking up his cross, and following Jesus, he was breaking the first table of the law, summed by the command, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.”
Breaking the First Table
By not denying himself, taking up his cross, and following Jesus, the young man was breaking the first table of the law, summed by the command, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.”
Jesus is driving home to the young man the necessity of self-denial, cross-bearing. That’s what it takes to follow Christ.
Too many Christians in our time have adopted a mentality of what F. Leroy Forlines calls cheap easy-believism. It’s easy—just believe in Jesus, just say a prayer, and you’ll get a ticket to heaven. Your life doesn’t have to change, you don’t have to deny yourself, you don’t have to take up your cross. You don’t have to set yourself apart for God’s pure and holy and special use.
But this is not the way of Jesus. Instead, Jesus says, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”
Not Willing to Give Up
But the rich young ruler wasn’t willing to give it all up to follow Christ. The text says he was “sad at this word.” This should make us sad, when we read these words: “But he was sad at this word, and went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.” He went away sorrowful, not willing to give up what was dear to him to follow Christ.
Christ is doing the same thing to you as he did to the rich young ruler—he’s calling you to sacrifice some of the very things that mean the most to you to follow him fully.