October 27, 2013
“Come Follow Me”
Grace, mercy, and peace, from God our Father and Lord Jesus Christ, Dear brothers and sisters,
Do you remember the theme of the service for today? “Called to first commandment faith.” Now, I’m going to ask you to reach far back into those memory banks of yours and recite with me, yes I’m asking for audience participation, recite with me the first commandment. Including the what does this mean! Ready? “You shall have no other gods. What does this mean? We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.” Thank you!
For many of us, we have known that commandment since we were little tikes. We would rattle off those commandments so quickly no human ear could possibly understand the English words being said. And then, as quickly as we had learned it and recited it, it was long gone from our memory. The ten commandments recited and poof, gone. No trace of those commandments until we would have to recite them another time. So we’d go through the whole process again.
The man we heard about in our lesson today was no slacker like we were when we were younger, he knew his stuff. The gospel writer, Mark, who has the parallel account, actually informs us that Jesus was just going out to another village when this man, prominent in the community, ran out and kneeled before Jesus. He had great reverence for Jesus and he had the assurance that Jesus would give him the information he desired. And he asked Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus responds, “You know what you’ve got to do!” No doubt, this man was perfectly sincere. But something within whispered to him that his keeping of the commandments was just too simple for him. It was too easy a way of getting to heaven. He was a pretty good guy! He felt something beyond these commandments was necessary, and he came to Jesus just upon that point.
The parallel in the gospel of Mark adds a little hint into what Jesus was thinking. It says, “Jesus loved him.” Jesus loved and cared for the soul of this man who approached him. Jesus speaks as the Son of God, who knows the human heart. This young man, outwardly an obedient observer of the Law, was guilty of soul-destroying wrong doing. This noble looking, rich, young, ruler simply had other priorities. He knew something was missing, as if his conscience was telling him something. Yet, his problem stemmed from the first commandment. He could not love God with his whole heart. His heart was pulled in different directions. He believed his own good works could get him by. And the rich ruler served his wealth rather than God. Brought face-to-face with his own idolatry, he went away deeply saddened. He could not put his Savior above all else.
So many times, our lives are empty of what God offers because we fail to admit that God is first in our lives. A young person is pulled in different directions, because God says this, but all their friends want to go to parties or do other things they know they shouldn’t do. An older person may say that we don’t have the time or the energy to do things anymore. It seems like we have to be in 3 places at once! When we don’t make God our priority, our ground of confidence has drifted and shifted to become something other than Him. With God set aside in a person’s life, that person seeks something else to have confidence in—good works, morality, respectability. We look at the man in our lesson. Who wouldn’t be proud of this guy? Picture this man. He had been a honorable and exemplary young man. Came from a nice and well off family. Was a fine member of the synagogue and then later became a leader in that very same synagogue. His parents were probably very proud of him. Yet, this was all worthless in the eyes of Jesus.
We often have the same thoughts as this young man! Our parents, teachers, even pastors have said, go to church, go to bible class...well of course, I do those things! I must be doing alright. I’m a pretty ok guy. I even leave 20% tips when the waiter wasn’t all that great.
This is what Jesus is getting at! So many times, our ideas of obeying God becomes self righteously twisted. We begin to think, well, I’m good enough to go to heaven. It is a pity that so many people fail to see what Jesus really demands. He demands our whole heart, even if it means giving up something. How willing are we to give up everything we own? How willing are we to give up watching TV? How willing are we to give up a smart phone or listening to music? These things are all blessing from God, and yet God still wants our whole heart and mind to be focused on him. When we fail to keep God as the focus in our lives and let the peripherals become the focus, we begin to rely on ourselves. We rely on our supposed good deeds, that are in God’s eyes, nothing but filthy rags, worthy of eternal punishment.
Who then can be saved? And here sat the disciples, wondering that same question. They were probably thinking, hey, we’re not rich. So maybe it’s is easier for us? On the other hand, the disciples probably thought that wealth was a blessing, and even more than that. They looked on wealth as a sign of God’s approval. And if the rich aren't getting in, the ones who we thought were blessed and approved by God, who can be saved? We see the implication of the disciples with their question, that they believed that a man can and should do something toward being saved. Even the disciples didn’t get it. But they were beginning to recognize the complete inability of humans to merit or attain eternal life and salvation. Jesus clears up the misunderstanding.
The words that the man first uses in his question are interesting. He asks what must I do to inherit eternal life? How do you get an inheritance? Do you put in hard work for it? Maybe in some cases. But is it guaranteed? No. You can't do anything to take an inheritance; it is always given. God did what we as humans would view as impossible to attain on our own, he gave us life. Salvation is a gift. Take a moment to sit back in awe of the simple complexity of that statement! Our God did the impossible, something that so many people attempt. Sometimes, even in our sinful delusions we attempt at earning our salvation. No. God did the impossible. He sent his Son, Jesus Christ. HE gave up all his wealth and riches for us and chose not to make full use of His divine power for us, so that he would die in our place and wash away all of our sins. Even our feeble attempts at listening to Jesus and giving up our priorities, which we inevitably fail at, even those attempts, Jesus perfectly did for us and he washed away all those sins. Jesus did it all for us as our Substitute.
Now it would be a serious misunderstanding if we take Jesus to mean that by actually selling and giving away all our stuff, we would receive this treasure in heaven as our reward. We don’t have to become monks living in a monastery cast on a mountain side with no blanket to even keep us warm at night. That isn’t what Jesus is saying. This treasure is the grace and pardon of God. In fact, all those things are blessings from God. Just like Luther mentions: house, home, food, clothing. Those are all blessings from God.
In fact, this isn’t some moral story saying, this man was to give up everything, what are you going to give up! That is not the case! It is a question of, what will make your top priority. Which is interesting how this section stands in opposition to the small section immediately before. The disciples and this man were so concerned about how to inherit eternal life. And yet, the section before describes little children having faith in Jesus. They don’t over think all life’s problems and all the things we have to do. They simply believe. With childlike faith, one must pray like the tax collector in the temple: “God have mercy on me, a sinner.” Faith is a fine thing. But “faith” is not just a subjective phenomenon: it is not something simply inside us. It isn’t measured by how “strongly” we believe. Faith must have an object. And faith is only as solid as that object; only as valid as the thing we put our confidence in, which is Jesus Christ.
Here eliminates all ideas of work righteousness. In other words, we as humans can do absolutely nothing toward being saved by any natural powers of our own. The more all hope in ourselves dies, the more our hope in God rises. We can have no greater assurance than the fact that God can save even us wretched sinners.
Faith in Jesus, a full-hearted confidence, frees us and motivates obedience. It can transform our lives. For me, I realize that I’m a poor manager of my time. If I didn’t spend the time on my computer or in front of the television, I probably could spend more time in God’s Word to be reminded of his grace and mercy, which is what we need to be reminded of every single day of our lives. Let’s dedicate our whole lives to God!
What a joy and a blessing that we don’t have to do anything on our own to earn or merit eternal life, because on our own it is impossible. This lesson of Jesus should lead us to not only give thanks for what God has done for us, but to put always put our trust in God and to fully obey him, who did the impossible for us.