19 Pentecost Proper 23B
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
Mark 10:17-31 Sermon
October 11, 2009
Hymns (from The Service Book and Hymnal):
550 "Lead On, O King Eternal"
146 "In Heaven Above, In Heaven Above"
505 "Thee Will I Love, My Strength, My Tower"
566 "Thine Is The Glory"
TEXT (vs. 17; 21-22): "As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. 'Good teacher,' he asked, 'what must I do to inherit eternal life?' Jesus looked at him and loved him. 'One thing you lack,' he said. 'Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.' At this the man's face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth."
It was in January of 2006 that my father, my mother, myself, and our attorney gathered at the First Nebraska Trust Company to discuss arrangements for something called a "special needs trust" that was to be established for my mentally retarded brother. The reason for this, is because he receives certain benefits because of his handicap; so in order to protect his benefits, this trust was established so he could receive an inheritance from my parents' estate after they pass away.
My parents realize, and rightfully so, that they have a responsibility to see that my brother's needs are met, and that he is otherwise taken care of. And why? It is because my brother is the son and blood relative of my mother and father. This is a relationship that started at his conception, and will always be. Nothing can change that.
Now certainly there are a great many others that have similar conditions to what my brother has. But my parents' primary concern is with my brother. And since he has that familial relationship with them, then he is fully entitled to whatever inheritance they have chosen to leave him.
I'd like you to keep this in mind as we consider our Gospel lesson for this morning, because there is a strong association that we need to consider. And this is an association that is so often overlooked by people.
There is this rich young man who comes to Jesus. It is evident from the outset that this man had a very nice income and was able to lead a comfortable, if not luxurious lifestyle. It would appear that he had everything going for him; but there obviously was one thing that he was lacking. There was a huge void in his life, and he wanted to take care of that.
So he approaches Jesus. And in so doing, it would appear that he either knew who Jesus was, or at least that Jesus was a reliable authority on spiritual matters. When this man comes to Jesus, he does something that no person would normally do. This man kneels before Jesus, which was an ultimate sign of respect. And then he asks the question that reflects the void, or the thing that he recognized was lacking in his life. Verse 17 of our text records his question: "Good teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?"
Now this definitely sounds like a legitimate question for him to ask. He wants to know how he can get to heaven and receive God's gift of eternal life. But as we examine this question just a bit more closely, we can see that there is a problem coming to the surface, a problem that gives us a good clue as to what this man was thinking.
The problem is connecting the words "I do" with the word "inherit." You do not inherit anything because of what you do. You inherit something because of what someone else did. You inherit something because someone else included you in their will. In my brother's case, it was my parents who established this trust for him as his inheritance. In a similar sense, I too will have an inheritance from their estate. The point is that the heirs really have no say in the inheritance. The person who makes the will determines who inherits what.
Think of it this way. If you or I were to approach someone the likes of Warren Buffett or Bill Gates, and ask them the question: "What must I do to inherit your estate?" we'd either get a perplexed look from them, or be met with laughter. They'd probably tell you something to the effect of, "What can YOU do? Now that's a good one! You're not part of my family, and you're not even remotely related to me. There is no reason that you should be included in my will. You're not my heir."
So when this rich young man approaches Jesus, the idea he has in his mind is just about that ridiculous. The problem this man had was that he thought that if he dotted all the i's and crossed all the t's, he could force God to love him enough to somehow adopt him and make him a part of the holy family, and thereby include him in the heavenly will.
This man honestly felt he had done everything he was supposed to do, but he still had that strong sense of uncertainty. He wanted Jesus to assure him either that he had already done enough, or tell him what sort of task or behavior he still needed to do to guarantee eternal life. If he could just learn the secret, he could guarantee his place in eternity. And then he would be all set; his earthly future and heavenly future would be completely secure, and he could sit back and not worry about a thing.
This whole approach to things isn't new by any means. In Acts chapter 8 we read about a man named Simon the sorcerer who was intrigued with what the disciples were doing after the Pentecost. Verses 18-21 further describe this situation: "When Simon [the sorcerer] saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles' hands, he offered them money and said, 'Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.' Peter answered: 'May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God.'"
Even though this sounds a bit crass, this is exactly what was going on with this rich young man in our Gospel lesson for today. We know that this rich young man and Simon the sorcerer were vastly different people, but they were operating under much the same principle.
Taking this now one step further, we can see an example even more crass with the Pharisees. The Pharisees thought they had found favor with God by going through all of the outward motions. They tried to make themselves perfect by keeping God's law. They attempted to do every outward thing they possibly could to keep God's law. So what does Jesus say to them? Matthew chapter 23 is filled with the words Jesus uses to upbraid them, and otherwise give them a good old-fashioned tongue lashing. Verse 27 provides us with the gist of all this: "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean."
When this rich young man came to Jesus, he did so with complete honesty and humility. He knelt down in front of Jesus and addressed him as "Good teacher." Jesus' reply seems almost shocking. In verse 18 he says, "Why do you call me good?...No one is good--except God alone."
God's definition of "good" and this rich man's definition of "good" were different. To be good in God's eyes meant that a person had to be sinless and holy, without ever having committed even the smallest sin. But the rich man's definition of "good" was tainted with sin and imperfection from the start, and so his definition was very much flawed.
Even so, Jesus was able to recognize that the rich man was not trying to be a hypocrite like the Pharisees. He didn't ask the question he did because he was trying to trap Jesus. He just wanted an honest answer.
The answer Jesus gives this man is one he did not expect, not at all. Verse 21 tells us: "Jesus looked at him and loved him. 'One thing you lack,' he said. 'Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.'"
So what does that mean? Do people have to go and completely divest themselves of every scrap of property and drain every penny out of their bank account in order to be saved? Of course not. That's not the point Jesus is trying to make with this man.
If we go to the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapter 6, Jesus makes the following point in verses 19-21: "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."
This rich young man had a lot of money and possessions. He was financially secure as far as earthly things were concerned. But what he lacked was faith, pure and simple. So Jesus attempts to re-direct his thinking, so he would place his trust in God alone, and not upon what he had accumulated for himself. It's like the words Peter speaks in Acts chapter 8 verse 21: "You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God."
What this rich young man had was a religion. What he didn't have was a relationship. He went through all of the various motions of what he thought his religion required; but there was no foundation under it. He had built his own false facade upon his various deeds and things of this world, and not upon Jesus and his righteousness.
I think that one of the most dangerous attitudes in religion today, is the idea that says: "It's not what you believe that matters; it's what you do that counts." This goes right along with what the Pharisees were doing, and what this rich young man was attempting to do. Unfortunately, such ideas just don't pass muster with God. A relationship has to exist, and not just an empty religion.
The Christian needs to have their priorities in order. The first order of business is having a relationship with Christ Jesus. This is how we become one of God's chosen people and part of his family. And it is because of this relationship that we become God's beloved children, and heirs of his inheritance. This happens through faith, and not through anything we have done ourselves to get this inheritance.
In our Gospel lesson for today, this rich young man came to Jesus with a question. Unfortunately he came to Jesus hanging onto his fortune and his own good works. Consider what would have happened if we change this situation a little bit. Suppose this man would have come to Jesus, fallen on his knees and said, "Lord, I know I have sinned against God and against other people. How can I be saved and be assured that I'll go to heaven when I die?"
Actually we don't need to suppose too much, because there's another story in John chapter 3 about another rich young man that comes to Jesus, a man by the name of Nicodemus. The difference here is that Nicodemus comes to Jesus wanting a relationship, and not to show off his money or religious obedience. Jesus' reply to him are the often quoted and memorized words of verse 16: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life."
The Bible tells us that we are God's children and part of his family by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ our Saviour. When we come to God asking for forgiveness and seeking salvation, we know we have it. This happens not because of anything we have done, but because of what Jesus Christ has done for us. Therefore when the utmost priority in our lives is our relationship with our Saviour, then everything else can take its proper place. It's not wrong to have money in the bank or to establish earthly security, so long as God occupies the place he deserves.
We know that an inheritance can't come about by anything we desire for ourselves. In order to inherit something, it has to be because of something that has been done for us by somebody else. We can't get an inheritance by anything we do or by what we can purchase.
An inheritance comes about because of a relationship that has already been established. When it comes to our heavenly inheritance, our relationship through faith in our Saviour Jesus Christ is what has secured that.
With this in mind, we can be assured of the words Jesus speaks regarding Zacchaeus in Luke chapter 19 verses 9-10: "...Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost."