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|BETHLEHEM LUTHERAN CHURCH: | Mason City, Iowa USA | Pastor Mark Lavrenz|
Oct 14, 2018 SERMON TEXT
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.
The text for our meditation today is the Gospel lesson for the 20th Sunday After Pentecost, Mark 10:17-22. There we read these words:
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?" And Jesus said to him, "Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You 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." And he said to him, "Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth." And 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." Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions
We begin in the name of Jesus, AMEN.
The words came from a slightly breathless man who obviously had it all together. He was young and incredibly wealthy. He was wise because he was concerned about his salvation. He was a zealous man who came running to Jesus to ask Him a question. He obviously wanted to follow the Lord. This man was an excellent prospect for a follower.
The disciples wished that everyone would follow Jesus, but this guy had his act together. He was the kind of guy who would volunteer to serve on committees and would get a lot of work done. He was the kind of guy who would be an asset for whatever sort of plan or strategy needed to be launched. It looked like he was already in; despite his cool confidence, he ran to where Jesus was and knelt before him.
The disciples must have breathed a sigh of relief. It had been a rough several weeks. First there was the fiasco after the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000, when many disciples left. Then there were those these strange, discomfiting predictions by Jesus that He was going to be crucified.
This was a nice change: A young, rich, intelligent guy appeared, and he wanted to be a disciple. This man was a slam dunk for adult confirmation. But the conversation didn't go the way it was supposed to. At least, it didn't go the way the disciples thought it should. "Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?" asked the rich young man. The problem was, the question he asked was flawed.
His question revealed that the rich young man assumed that he could work his way into heaven by the things that he did. What he was asking Jesus was this: "How much more of God's Law do I have to keep in order to earn my way into eternal life? What do I have to do?"
Although the man was sincere, he was far from faith: He didn't want Jesus to save him from sin, but to approve of who he was and the good that he had done.
Since the man asked a question about keeping the commandments, Jesus gave him an answer about keeping the commandments: "Why do you call me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. You know the commandments: 'Do not commit adultery,' 'Do not murder,' 'Do not steal,' 'Do not bear false witness,' 'Do not defraud,' 'Honor your father and mother.'" In other words, when the man asked, "What shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?", Jesus said, "You shall keep God's commandments," and gave him a sampling of the Ten.
But this preaching of the Law only left the man smug: Was that all there was to it? He was nearly home free already! What good news! And so he exulted, "Teacher, all these things I have kept from my youth!"
Yessiree. The slam-dunk disciple. Standing right there before Jesus.
Thats when Jesus dropped the bomb. Jesus, who loved this man, please note, WHO LOVED THIS MAN, Jesus preached one more bit of Law: "One thing you lack," says the Lord. "Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me." In that statement, the Law accused the man, and it crushed him.
No, Jesus was not condemning having wealth as a sin Granted, wealth has its dangers, as the Lord will go on to say: Those who have riches are tempted to trust in those riches instead of the Lord.
No, Jesus was not condemning greed either, although there was certainly a lot of greed here, yes. The man had much in the way of riches, and he would rather keep those riches than to love his neighbor and give that money to the poor.
The mans sin was this: He thought that he could save himself by how well he worked at keeping God's commands. He believed that he could work his way into heaven by being good enough. When Jesus listed several commands, the man was delighted because he could tick them off and say, "I've kept them! I'm on track!"
But then the Lord said, "If you are so virtuous that you can keep all of God's command-ments, then you won't be in love with your money; you'll be able to give it all away. If you're going to save yourself by your work, then prove it."
The Lord showed to the man that he suffered from greed, though he didn't know it until that moment; and because he suffered the sin of greed, he wasn't keeping all of God's commands and he couldn't earn eternal life. As long as the man believed that he could save himself, he did not trust in Jesus to save him; thus there was no forgiveness. The Lord shot down his whole plan of salvation.
But listen carefully to the Lord's words again: He preached the Law in order to show the man that he could not save himself. But the Lord did so in order that the man might be saved; that is why Jesus also added, "Come, take up the cross, and follow Me."
In other words, : "You can't save yourself. But I can. I will save you by going to the cross and dying for your sin. Do not trust in your own efforts, but in mine. I will share my cross with you, so that you do not have to suffer and die for your sin. You can't save yourself. But I can." The Lord declared to this man the Gospel, telling him that He, Jesus, would bear the cross for him.
But it was too much for the man and his preconceived notions. He arrived expecting the Lord's blessing for his keeping of the law-and perhaps for his well-run life and wealth; instead, he was told to throw it all away and trust in the cross instead. This was not the way he wanted salvation, and this was not the way he wanted the Savior to be.
So, he walked away. The would-be disciple, the one who was supposed to be a slam-dunk, the guy who had everything going his way, walked away. And Jesus let him go. And Jesus let him go.
One can imagine the frowns of disapproval by some gathered around, that Jesus would drive away such a prospect with His teaching. But Jesus let him go. He loved the man so much that He would not force the man to be repentant. He would go to the cross and die for the sins of the rich young man; and if, later on, the man repented of his sin, the benefits of the cross would be there for him.
The man walked away, and in the verses following our text, the disciples demonstrated their distinctive ability to completely miss the point.
The disciples were astonished. The would-be slam-dunk disciple had everything going for him. If he couldn't get into heaven, who could? In verse 26 following our text they ask, "Who then can be saved?" And the Lord preached a one-sentence sermon of Law and Gospel to them: "With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible."
Dear friends, the message remains the same: You can't save you. But Jesus has saved you. Unfortunately, because sinful human beings keep asking the wrong question, man kind keeps coming up with the wrong answer. Sometimes the question is as crystal clear as that of the rich young man in the text: "What shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?"
In more than one church, the answer is that you must do good works in order to inherit eternal life. Keep all the commandments, at least as well as you can, and the Lord will graciously open the gates of heaven.
This is a popular doctrine among individuals: As long as I belong to and/or attend church at least x number of times per year, I've done enough and eternal life is mine. As long as I do my best each day, what more can God ask for?
And this is hardly confined to the church; this is the theology of the world: Do your best, do right by other people, and heaven is yours. (When one prominent baseball announcer died a number of years ago, a tearful fan announced on national radio that God just had to let him into heaven because he had called the Cubs' games so well.)
Sometimes the question is more subtle: "Now that Jesus has saved me, what must I do to keep that salvation?" This starts out well-it credits Jesus with your salvation. But it goes on to assume that you build your faith and keep your salvation by the works that you do.
"Now that you are saved, you can be sure you've maintained your salvation if you help others." "Now that you are a Christian, you can be sure you are saved as long as you're improving." "Now that you are a Christian, you can be sure you are saved as long as you feel better than you did before."
Is it wrong to help others? Is it wrong to improve on some behaviors and habits? Is it wrong to feel better? No. But these things do not cause God to love you or save you.
The question is not "What shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?" The question is, "What has the Lord done to give me eternal life?" And to such a question there is Good News.
What has the Lord done? He kept all those commandments that He listed for the rich young man, perfectly. He kept all of God's Law, with nary a sin. He gave all that He had to the poor. He gave all that He had-not just for the poor, but for all people, for you. He offered His back to those who scourged Him, His scalp to those who crowned Him with thorns. He allowed His hands, feet and side to be pierced for this sinful world. He gave all to a depth that you cannot even begin to contemplate.
He even took up the cross. And on that cross He died for the sins of the world, and for each and every one of you. That is what the Lord has done. You couldnt save you. But He did.
Christ Is Risen
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