21st Sunday after Pentecost
Grace, mercy, and peace be yours from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, while going through my schooling to become a pastor I had several different jobs. One of the companies that I drove a truck for had a pretty big contract every year with an outdoor country music festival. It was a several day event and thousands of people would come from all over the Midwest to this rural outdoor theater. Many of the people would actually camp there in tents and RV’s. Well, I distinctly remember driving my truck through the campgrounds there and since there was no water access, time and time again people would come up to me and ask, “Can we purchase some fresh water from you for our RV?” I’d usually kind of smile and look at them as say, “You know that nice, clean, shiny tank on the back of my truck, well, it’s not full of water, you see, I work for the porta-potty company.” Looks can be deceiving, can’t they? That’s true for many different areas in our life as well. What we may be so certain is the case, turns out to be something totally different.
Today in our text a young man comes up to Jesus. This same account is recorded for us in both Matthew and Luke as well. We learn that this young man was not only well off but also a ruler or an official in the local synagogue. And he was a pretty stand up guy. Just picture him. He’s an exemplary person, clean-cut, “moral,” probably envied and praised by many people, perhaps the son of well-to-do parents, but not spoiled, very religious, an esteemed member of the church, even an official- like being on the church council. What parents wouldn’t be proud of such a son? What church wouldn’t put him in a high position? What mother wouldn’t want to see him end up with their daughter? What young lady wouldn’t be interested in such a man? Why shouldn’t God admire such a young man? But looks can be deceiving.
In vigor and determination he runs to Jesus, falls on his knees before Jesus, and calls Jesus “good teacher.” “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” There’s the question, that’s the question of a lifetime. But he already wrongly assumes that salvation is something that HE must DO. He had been good. Lived uprightly. Thought he’d followed God’s commands to a tee. But something was missing, he felt he wasn’t quite there yet. He was like the child on vacation who keeps chiming from the backseat of the car, “Are we there yet? Are we there yet?” “Have I done enough yet?” His conscience was still accusing him, there was something missing.
Then notice what Jesus said, “Why do you call me good? No one is good- except God alone.” “You come to me as if I am just an earthly teacher, but consider what you just said. The term “good” is generally reserved for God alone, you better start considering what you just said and looking to me as more than just a teacher.” Then Jesus laid out the commandments before him. “Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.” Keep those commands perfectly, 100% of the time, never slip up on any one and eternal life is yours.
We hear a lot about rhetoric and word usage right now with the different political debates on TV. However, there has never been nor will there ever be someone who is better at using words than Jesus. Jesus set this young man up. He laid out the commandments that have to deal with our interaction with other people. And the man responded, “Teacher, all these I have kept since I was a boy.” He didn’t hesitate; he honestly thought he had done it all. He thought he had kept the law perfectly by not physically murdering someone, not physically committing adultery, not physically stealing something. He saw God as a good businessman. “God surely ought to accept all of these good things that I’ve done in life and in exchange give me eternal life, right?”
Then Jesus who can read hearts looked at him and loved him. It wouldn’t have been loving to let this man think that God simply accepts the “pretty good.” So He sprang the trap. He served him with another heavy dose of law. “One thing you lack. Go sell everything you have and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” Ooh, there Jesus hit the tender spot. If this man was going to trust in God, he’d have to let go of his trust in his wealth. Jesus saw his heart and saw his greed. “At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.” His wealth was more important to him than Jesus. So, here we have a young man who was outwardly good, outwardly seemed to keep the commandments, but in reality didn’t even keep the first commandment, his wealth had become his god and was more important than his Savior. Looks can be deceiving.
Well what about the disciples? What about us? Jesus went on, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!” It’s true. Think about the unchurched rich person. They don’t necessarily feel lonely or feel like they are missing something or lacking something. They have it all and have no need for God or a Savior. Their trust is in their wealth and their possessions. Why should they need God?
The disciples were amazed. So Jesus went on: How difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God. In fact, it’s easier for a camel (the largest known animal in Israel at the time) to go through the eye of a needle (the smallest known opening) than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. In other words, it’s impossible.
There’s a general idea around today just like it was in Jesus’ day. The idea that being rich or well off is evidence that you have it good with God, that God must really like you, that you must be a pretty good person. It’s a false idea; the fact that you are rich or poor is no indicator of God’s special blessing.
So, if it is impossible for the rich to enter heaven, then who is rich? Are you rich? Am I rich? “Well, I’m not as rich as so-and-so. I’m not as rich as that person on TV.” I guarantee you that there isn’t one native Cameroon African person who wouldn’t call each person in this room rich. So, is it difficult for you and me to enter heaven? No. It’s impossible. Why? Because each person here this morning is guilty of treasuring too much what we have or coveting too much what we don’t have and therefore forfeiting any right to salvation by breaking the most important commandment: the first one.
You see, God doesn’t accept the “pretty good.” Most people when they are asked if they are going to heaven, they’ll say, “Yea, I think so.” And then when they’re asked “why?” They usually give the answer, “Well, I’ve been pretty good, I haven’t done this or that, I’m not perfect but I’m pretty good.” Each one of us has that same kind of thought. God must like me because of what I’ve done or not done. “At least I’m not like that rapist or that terrorist murderer or homosexual offender or child molester. In fact I’ve been pretty good: I work hard at my job, I’m nice to those around me, I pay my taxes, people respect me, I do good things, I help out at church, etc. God must like me. Right?”
Each one of us has a part of us that continually says, “I can do it myself! I can somehow, someway earn my right to be in heaven. Either by what I’ve done or what I’ve avoided doing, God must accept me!” But God’s demands are perfection, complete perfection, and not just keeping His laws outwardly, but inwardly, in the heart. To keep him number one in our hearts. But, all we have to do to see how much we’ve failed is look around our lives. What are you willing to give up? What am I willing to give up to follow the Savior? What is it in my life that I could not do without? Or what could I lose that would cause me to doubt God’s love? My house, my job, my car, my retirement account, my savings, my friends, my child? Or what is it that I think is the key to happiness: if only I had this, if only I had this much more money, if only I could afford that, if only I had more of this, etc. We all like this rich young man struggle with a worldly-attachment disorder. We look to this world and the things of this world for that which only God can give- like peace, joy, security, satisfaction. There are things in our lives that we couldn’t bear to live without. And since that’s the case we’ve already broken the 1st commandment. What is it in your life that might cause you to go away from Jesus sad? Yes, each one of us can put on a good appearance recite the 1st commandment with the best of them, but as we know, looks can be deceiving. Each one of us is guilty of breaking the 1st commandment. Our situation is hopeless and impossible! We have no hope of salvation on our own!
This amazed the disciples even more- literally the Greek word means they were knocked off their feet. “Who then can be saved?” They asked. And that’s our question too. If salvation is impossible for us, how can we be saved?
But then we hear Jesus’ words: “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.” There is hope. God can do the impossible. In fact, God makes a habit of doing the impossible. A virgin giving birth to a Son, God taking on human flesh, 5,000 people fed with 5 loaves and 2 fish, sight restored to a man born blind, the Son of God handed over to sinners, mocked and beaten, left on a cross to die, impossible! But on the third day he rose from the dead- alive! Impossible! Impossible to us, but not impossible to God. A poor, wretched, helpless sinner born into this world dead in sins, but made alive by the power of the gospel, given new spiritual life! Impossible. A baby born outside of God and estranged from Him adopted into God’s family at baptism- Impossible! But not to God. Jesus’ own priceless body and blood given to taste in His supper for the forgiveness of sins- Impossible! But not to God! In our world those might not look so good or sound so awesome. But those, my friends, are true treasures. Heavenly treasures for they strengthen our souls for eternity!
The looks and lures of this world can be deceiving. Let us not let our hearts be pulled away from the one thing that matters. Let us not let the things of this world lay claim to our hearts so that we go away from our Savior sad. Let us not cling to the things of our life that will perish in the end. Rather, let us treasure true riches, God and His Word and hearing again and again how He has done the impossible for us. Those are true riches which will last forever. Amen.