Evangelism and the Rich Young Ruler

Rich Young Ruler

In sermon preparation this week I came to the story of Jesus and the rich young ruler (Matthew 19:16-22, Mark 10:17-22, Luke 18:18-8). I love the way Jesus handled this evangelistic encounter. Notice how Jesus handled this rich young ruler who came with important spiritual questions:


  • Jesus responded to his question with a question. Clearly the man was confused, thinking he needed to do something in order to make it to heaven. Jesus could have started a heated argument by simply correcting the man’s assumption. Instead, Jesus asked him a question, engaging his mind in the discussion.
  • Jesus pointed the man to the Bible. Instead of jumping into a theological debate, he just referred the man back to the Bible. In particular, Jesus pointed the man back to the Ten Commandments. He mentions commandments five through nine (not in that order).
  • Jesus called the man to radical (not gradual) discipleship. Notice how Jesus responded after the man assured Jesus that he had kept commandments five through nine from his youth. Instead of arguing with the man about his professed obedience, Jesus called him to radical discipleship. Liquidate your assets. All of them. Now. And follow me. He called the man to remove all that stood between him and a genuine relationship with the Father.
  • Jesus let the man walk away in disappointment. Luke tells us the man was very sad. Mark says the man was disheartened and went away sorrowful.  Surprisingly, Jesus didn’t try to twist his arm. He didn’t lower his demands. He didn’t try to close the sale. He just let the man walk away.

Like I said, I love the way Jesus handled this evangelistic encounter. I think these lessons should guide the way we interact with people in evangelistic settings. However, we must recognize that in other evangelistic encounters Jesus responded very differently. Consider these examples:

  • The Woman at the Well (John 4). Jesus let the rich young ruler walk away without directly confronting him about his failure to keep the commandments. But when Jesus talked to the woman at the well, he directly addressed her many marriages.
  • The Pharisees and Scribes (Matthew 23). Jesus was quite patient with the rich young ruler. Yes he called him to radical discipleship, but the story doesn’t contain tense confrontation. Contrast that with Jesus proclaiming woes on the Pharisees and Scribes.
  • Herod Antipas (Luke 23). The rich young ruler sought out an audience with Jesus, and Jesus was willing to have a conversation with this man. Luke tells us that Herod had been wanting to meet Jesus, but when Jesus stood in his presence he refused to speak.

Here’s the “take away” when it comes to how we do evangelism: No two situations are the same, no two people are the same, and no two relationships are the same. Believers must use wisdom when thinking about what to say, how to say it, when to say it, and even when to be silent.

Originally published November 2, 2015 on landoncoleman.com.