17 And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. 19You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.'”20And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” 21And Jesus, looking at him,loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. (Mk 10:17-22)
The more I have reflected on this passage, the clearer it seems to me that a sure sign Jesus is loving you is that he makes you sad about yourself. The young man in the passage ran up to Jesus, apparently quite happy. He seems very satisfied with his own morality and standard of living. All that is destroyed after a little talk with Jesus, who exposes the idolatry in his heart that he could not see. The man walks away deeply grieved when he realizes he is not nearly as devoted to God as he thought.
The funny thing is, Mark doesn’t say Jesus destroys this guy because he despises him. Jesus makes this young man sad because he loves him.
It could be that a good test as to whether or not you are hearing Jesus’ loving voice dealing personally with you through the preaching and reading of his Word, is whether or not he ever makes you sad about yourself. Does he fairly regularly put his finger on your hypocrisy, your love of the world, your ridiculous impatience with fellow sinners despite God’s inexhaustible patience with you? He sure does me, because I am every bit as pompous and diluted as the rich young ruler at the beginning of any given quiet time. But he doesn’t do this because he despises me, though he has every reason to. Jesus makes me sad because he loves me.
Jesus knows that as long as we are self-satisfied, we will never come to him and find real satisfaction, real joy, real life. As long as we think we are “keeping the law,” earning God’s love by our own performance in the workplace or family or church, we’ll cling to the filthy rags of our righteousness and reject the dazzling white robe of his righteousness he won for us by his perfect life, wrath-bearing death, and mighty resurrection on our behalf. And he loves us much too much for that. So he exposes that haughty spirit, that love of money, that bitterness toward a brother, that we might become sad in ourselves and glad in him.
This isn’t necessarily the end of the story for this young man. It might just be the beginnings of the crumbling of the foundations of his life, as it was for another self-confident Jewish man would experience years later (Acts 9; Phil 3). Though this is an unspeakably painful process, it is the best thing that could ever happen to him, and to you or me. Because there in the rubble and ruins of our righteousness, we’ll find Jesus and his amazing grace. Let Jesus love you enough to make you sad with yourself. It leads to Easter laughter.