Remember the nails that were impossible to get apart in the children’s sermon 3 weeks ago? Well, there was a trick to it. Some of the children afterwards wanted to keep trying and a few of them figured it out. What seemed impossible was in fact possible if you knew how to do it.
So many people today think they have getting into the kingdom of God figured out. All you have to do is be the best person, the most righteous and generous person you can be and then God will accept you. However, Jesus has some harsh words for anyone who thinks they have figured out the way to get to heaven. Let’s read Mark 10:17-31.
I. Let’s look first at this man’s misguided discipleship.
This rich young man who came to Jesus had it all but he also was someone who wanted to achieve success in his spiritual life as well. Notice that Mark describes him as “running” up to Jesus, reflecting his eagerness. He falls on his knees in front of Jesus, showing his great reverence for Jesus. He says: “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” In the Old Testament only God is called good and this man calls Jesus “good.” Clearly Jesus had made a profound impression on the man. He wants to know what he must do to inherit eternal life. He wanted peace of mind for the present and eternal blessedness for the future.
Jesus’ answer seems harsh: “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God.” But Jesus is redirecting his focus to God, who alone is the source of all that is good. The young man undoubtedly regarded himself as “good” in the sense that he had fulfilled all the requirements of the Law. So Jesus lays out what it means to be good using the second table of the Law. “You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.’” Jesus does not accept any other good than God’s will revealed in the Law.
The young man answers that he has done this since he was a twelve-year-old boy. This young man is confident in his abilities to do exactly what God has laid out in the Law -- and has done so since he was twelve, the age of responsibility! Yet the way that he asks his question betrays his thinking and his weakness. He wants to know what he must do, emphasizing his own pious achievements. He is overly confident in his piety, but he is about to learn a humbling lesson.
II. And so let’s look at Jesus’ answer to this young man in verses 21-22.
Jesus said, “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.” Now let’s be clear that Jesus here is not teaching that this man needs to take this one additional step in his works righteousness plan. Rather, Jesus was simply telling him that he must trust completely in him. And in fact, the real key here is in Jesus’ call to the man to follow him. Jesus put his finger on the man’s idol which was his wealth and his status. This man must deny himself, take up his cross and follow Jesus.
Mark reports that at this the man went away sad because he had many possessions. This man had to learn that keeping the individual commandments is no substitute for giving in to the absolute claim of God seen in the call of the gospel. Anyone following Jesus must be completely devoted to Jesus alone. This man will receive eternal life when he gives up his idols and follows Jesus. We want to read that the man got off his knees, left everything and followed Jesus. Instead he chose to cling to his idols and so forfeit the blessings of eternal life. Eternal life means giving yourself completely to Jesus and giving up everything for him. What is required is total devotion to Christ and not clinging to the things of this world.
Yet there is one aspect that we must not lose sight of here: Jesus’ love for this man. Jesus looked at this man and the proud answer he had just given and loved him. He saw that he had it all but knew exactly what the man’s problem really was. His heart was focused on the wrong things, but Jesus loved him. This young man seemed to have it all in every way, but was missing what really mattered and for that reason, Jesus loved him. Yet notice that Jesus did not lower his standards for discipleship, but still loved him. Jesus didn’t run after him and make an exception for him, but he still loved him. Jesus used it as a teaching point for his disciples, but he still loved him. Jesus loved this man because the man was so close but yet missed the essence of Jesus.
III. The disciples were amazed at the bluntness of Jesus’ statement in verses 23-27.
Jesus gives a strong and solemn warning: “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God.” This statement of Jesus should cause us to think carefully about the call of the gospel. Remember that the man was talking about his efforts of entering the kingdom. Jesus is talking here about the reality of life with God without grace and he drives it home in the next thing he says.
In verses 24-25, Jesus says it is impossible for anyone to enter the kingdom of God. The camel was the largest animal found in Palestine. And so the contrast between the largest animal and the smallest opening expresses what is impossible from a human perspective and thus absurd! The reference to the camel and the eye of the needle are to be taken literally, for the response of the disciples shows that it is a real impossibility.
Now as we read in verses 26-27, the disciples are more bewildered than ever! They understood that the manner in which Jesus spoke of the rich in fact blocks the way for any person to achieve entrance into the kingdom of God. And as a result they were frightened by the implication. No one then can actually enter into the kingdom! But Jesus’ response in verse 27 provides the key to the impossible situation. Salvation is completely beyond the realm of human capability. Every attempt to enter the kingdom of God on the basis of human merit is futile. The ability and power to have salvation come from God alone as a gift. So what began as a dire warning ends up with tremendous hope! It concludes with directing the attention to the ability and goodness of God and brings about beautiful hope.
“Hard-nosed statistics and political realism drove the discussion throughout the day, and as the day progressed the mood became more somber and pessimistic. There was so much intimidation and violence in certain parts of the country that everything pointed away from the elections fulfilling the necessary criteria. Having agreed with a great deal of what was being said, De Gruchy began to share the mood, yet there was always something nagging in his consciousness that prevented him from succumbing to the pessimism. Finally, in an act of desperation, he blurted out that no matter what statistics and the wisdom of political science might tell us, they could never have the last word. From a faith perspective nothing could happen to bring about change in South Africa unless people lived and acted in hope. Politics might be the art of the possible, but theology is the art of the impossible and unexpected.”
4. With God what may seem to be impossible is possible and that gives us hope.
IV. We see next what Jesus says it takes to follow him in verses 28-31.
This whole teaching leaves the disciples bewildered and Peter expresses this for all of them: “We have left everything to follow you!” His statement goes back to Jesus’ demand to the rich young man in verse 21 and he makes it clear that they have left everything in clear contrast to the rich young man. But this shows that they still don’t understand the nature of the kingdom. He thinks being in the kingdom is based on something that they do.
Jesus’ response in verses 29-30 shows precisely what is required by focusing on the fact that the real goal is the life to come where all God’s promises will be fulfilled. What is lost in this world will be regained a hundredfold in the new kingdom. God takes nothing away from us without restoring it In a new and glorious form. Jesus’ referring to the new family prepares them for the loss that they may have in their own family now. Notice that the “father” is omitted in verse 30 because God the Father is the new head of the spiritual family. And there may also be harsh persecution that is coming as a result of the gospel. However, the promise of eternal life in the age to come looks beyond the conflicts and losses of life now. But we must be willing to submit in obedience to the will of God in faith.
The final statement is a powerful summary of Jesus’ teaching. If the disciples thought that they would enter the kingdom because they had left everything behind in order to receive a reward later, Jesus stopped those false ideas. What Jesus demanded was a total, radical commitment to himself, expressed in the act of following him faithfully. In return, he gave the disciples the responsibility to accept the consequences of commitment, with the assurance that God would be with them powerfully.
So what do we take away from this encounter with Jesus? It is all grace, grace, grace! Let’s never forget that there is nothing we bring to our salvation; it is all grace! Yes we are to live obedient lives but it all begins with God’s grace given to us.
We watched a program where the question was posed, “What should you do if you get lost in the woods?” I believe the options were: 1)Try to retrace your steps; 2) make a fire to attract attention; or 3) find shelter and wait for someone to find you.
Here’s the good news: when we were lost in sin, God was looking for us. We need to stop trying to get out on our own and simply let God rescue us. Rest in him and trust that he will do it.