There I was, on a steamy summer afternoon at Flushing Meadows Park, in Queens, New York City, June 25, 2005, waiting with great anticipation to hear Billy Graham preach what would prove to be his second-to-last sermon. I was filled with curiosity when he announced his text: Mark 10:17-22. That was the story of the Rich Young Ruler! I had struggled over this passage as a young Christian, wondering how to apply it to my life in the 21st century. Now I would hear the answer from the most famous evangelist of all time. I was so excited!
First, Mr. Graham read the text:
As Jesus started on His way, a man ran up to Him and fell on his knees before Him. "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. You know the commandments: 'Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.'"
"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, and he went away sad, because he had great wealth. (Mark 10:17-22)
Just hearing the story again got me all stirred up inside. But then Mr. Graham started to explain what happened. I remember his words very clearly, because I was paying very close attention:
"The young man did a lot of things right. He came at the right time. He asked the right question. And Jesus gave him the right answer. But he did the wrong thing."
Then, to my astonishment, Mr. Graham went on to another subject! "Wait a minute!" I screamed inside. "He did the wrong thing? Is that all? What should he have done?" I strained my ears to hear the answer, but it never came. That was all I was going to hear from Mr. Graham on the subject. He went on to talk about fractured and hurting young people who need a purpose for their lives, and how they should ask Jesus to come into their heart.
"Ok, let me think this through," I said to myself. "The man asked what he must do to inherit eternal life, and Jesus told him to sell his possessions and give to the poor, and then follow Him. And the man didn't do it, and Mr. Graham said the man 'did the wrong thing.' So was Mr. Graham saying he should have sold his possessions?"
What a disappointment!
As the sermon ended and I looked around at the vast crowd, reported to be over 100,000 people, and watched the thousands respond to the "altar call," I tried to imagine what would have happened if Mr. Graham had actually driven the point home. What if he had continued on like this:
But he did the wrong thing. He walked away from eternal life because he loved his own comfortable life more than he loved the Savior. He didn't hate his own life.1 He didn't hate his own father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters who would have been scandalized if he had obeyed the Master, sold his possessions and left everything to follow Jesus.2
That is what all of His disciples had done, as Peter said right after the rich young ruler had walked away sad, "See, we have left everything and followed you."3 And the Master commended him,
"Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life."4
What did the rich young ruler ask for? Eternal life. And what did the Master tell him to do? Forsake everything and follow Him. What had all of His disciples done? They forsook everything and followed Him. What did He say they would receive? A hundredfold of what they gave up -- and eternal life. And what did they and the 3000 receive who were saved on the day of Pentecost? A hundredfold of what they gave up -- and eternal life. It says,
"All who believed were together and had all things in common ... they were of one heart and soul ... There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need."5
That is the gospel, folks. And that is the way the church was when it was called "The Way," and that is the only way the church can be and still be the way. As the Master said,
"Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. But the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few."6
How many of you hate your life in this world?
Can you imagine Billy Graham saying those words at his last Crusade? How many do you think would have found their way down to the "altar" to surrender their lives and lay their possessions at the "apostle's feet"?
Instead, all who came in rich went home rich, and all who came in poor went home poor, and all who came in lonely went home lonely, and life went on as usual in New York City. No wonder it was not said of Mr. Graham and his associates what was said of the disciples in the first century: "These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also!"