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Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost

Mark 10:17–22

James T. Batchelor

Pentecost 20, Proper 23, series B
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church  
Hoopeston, IL

view DOC file

Sun, Oct 11, 2015 

The Gospel we just heard begins as a man ran up and knelt before [Jesus] and asked him, Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life? (Mark 10:17) This question is a form of a very basic question that every human being asks.  He was really asking a form of the question, What must I do to get ahead?

Every baby enters this world with the belief that he or she is the center of the universe.  And, for a short time, the world does seem to cater to every little whim the baby has.  The slightest squawk from the baby and someone usually Mom scrambles to care for every desire.  For a brief moment in time, as infants, we all believed that we were the most important person in the universe.  We thought we were the sum total of why the universe is even here.

But then we grow up.  We learn that other people have rights.  We learn to share.  We learn to take our turn.  We learn to stand in line.  We learn that not only are we not the most important person in the universe, but we are not even the most important person in our own house.  We begin to learn that there are rules that govern the way we should live.

It doesnt take long to figure out that some rules will help us get ahead.  The right education will help get a better job.  The right investments will produce a wealthier portfolio.  The right friends will open up new opportunities.  And on, and on, and on.

At some point in time, we begin to wonder if there isnt some sort of rule that will get us ahead indefinitely some technique that will insure that we always win that we always come out on top.  We begin a search for the key to happiness, health, wealth, wisdom, and so forth.  Naturally, there are thousands of authors in the self-help section of Amazon.com who would be more than happy to share the key to success with you for $12.95 plus shipping, and tax.

The fact that there are so many books in the self-help section indicates that no one really has the secret to success.  But even if there was help for you in a book, or a seminar, or some other program, it would not be enough.  Supposedly, someone once asked John D. Rockefeller how much is enough, and He replied, Just a little bit more. Now, whether he said that or not, it does reflect the desires of our inborn sinful nature.  We are always on the lookout for that magic formula that will give us an advantage a magic formula that will give us just a little bit more.

The man who came to Jesus seemed to want a little bit more.  He wanted a little bit more assurance of his salvation.  He had done everything that he could think of to guarantee his salvation, but he wasnt really sure.  Did he have all the bases covered?  Was there one more technique that would give him confidence?  Would one more bit of self-help give him that confidence he needed to live in victory?  Maybe Jesus had that one gimmick that would insure his salvation forever.  So he asked Jesus a question that demonstrated that he didnt have a clue.  He asked Jesus, Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life? (Mark 10:17)

Now, Lynn and I and many of you have been heirs of a few wills, and I can guarantee you that it was nothing that we did that made us heirs of those wills.  We were heirs of the wills because someone else wrote us into the wills.  We had nothing to do with it.  When the man came to Jesus and talked about doing something to inherit something, he showed a basic lack of understanding about his salvation.

Jesus showed love for this man by showing him the reality of his situation.  There is nothing the man could do to earn salvation.

Jesus began by reminding the man that only God is good enough to provide salvation.  Jesus said to him, Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. (Mark 10:18) At this point the man should have stopped to think, If only God is good and I am not God, then I cannot be good. Then Jesus reviewed the commandments that deal with loving the neighbor.  He said, 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. (Mark 10:19)

At this point the man should have realized that he did not love his neighbor as he loved himself.  He should have come to understand that he could not possibly do anything to earn salvation, but he didnt.  Instead, he said to [Jesus], Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth. (Mark 10:20) Once again, he demonstrated his basic lack of understanding about his salvation.  He had deluded himself into thinking he had kept these commandments perfectly.

It is at this point that the Holy Spirit inspired Mark to remind us that Jesus loved this man.  The Greek word is ηγαπησεν, a verb form of the word ἀγάπη, that selfless form of giving love.  Jesus loved him enough to tell him the truth about his condition.  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. (Mark 10:21) Jesus set up a condition that forced this man to realize that he loved his wealth more than he loved God. 

How did the man respond?  Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. (Mark 10:22) The mans possessions were literally more important to him than his own salvation.  This mans possessions were his god.

Is there anything or anyone that Jesus would ask of you that would cause you to be disheartened and walk away sorrowful?  What gods are important to you?  Financial security?  Family?  Friends?  Happiness?  Getting your own way?  Your reputation among your peers?  Later on this month, we will sing A Mighty Fortress. In that hymn we say, And take they our life, goods, fame, child, and wife, though these all be gone, our victory has been won. Could you really surrender your life, goods, fame, child, or spouse?

Our Gospel tells us that Jesus loved this man with ἀγάπη love.  ἀγάπη love gives people what they need, and that often means that it does not give people what they want.  Jesus told this man what he needed to hear, not what he wanted to hear.  This man needed to learn the hopelessness of his situation.  He needed to learn that he could not save himself.  He needed to understand that he needed a savior outside of himself.  That is how Jesus showed His love to this man even if it meant that the man would walk away sorrowful.

Jesus loves us the same way.  He sends the Holy Spirit to convict us of our sin.  The Holy Spirit comes to us through the proclamation of the Word of God in order to shine the searing light of the law into our hearts.  He shows our true nature to us.  He takes us to the depths of pure terror as He shows us the future we have earned for ourselves.  He shows us the true hopelessness of our good works.

It is only after we begin to understand that hopelessness of our own works that the Holy Spirit points to the one who actually did surrender everything Jesus Christ, Gods only begotten Son.  He surrendered His throne at God the Fathers right hand and took up our human flesh.  Even as a human being, He lived in poverty.  Even though He is the author of the law, He lived under the law.

Jesus surrendered everything.  He even surrendered His life, and when He died, He did not even own the clothes on His back.  They crucified him and divided his garments among them, casting lots for them, to decide what each should take. (Mark 15:24) Jesus surrendered Himself so that you and I would inherit eternal life.  It is not what I do that inherits eternal life.  It is what Jesus has already done.  We inherit eternal life because Jesus made us heirs in His last will and testament by the promise of His word and the seal of His blood on the cross.

Jesus Christ Himself demonstrated the inheritance that He offers to all people by rising from the dead.  In His resurrection, we have the promise that He will raise all the dead and give eternal life to all who believe in Him.

Jesus has named an executor to His estate, the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit works through the Gospel to deliver the inheritance of eternal life.  The Holy Spirit also works through the Gospel to establish the faith that receives the inheritance of eternal life.  Through that faith we constantly receive the forgiveness of our sins, and God declares us holy in his eyes.  We stop asking the question, What must I do to inherit eternal life? Instead, the Holy Spirit uses us to point to Jesus and declare Look what God has done to give me eternal life.

We who believe already have our inheritance of eternal life.  But when the time comes for us to leave this life, we will experience our inheritance more fully as members of the Church Triumphant in heaven.  There, in heaven, we shall leave our sins behind and live under Jesus in His kingdom.  There, we shall wait with Jesus for the Last Day when Jesus will raise our bodies to immortality, and we shall once again be complete in body and spirit and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true.  Amen

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