The grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus rest upon each and every one of you this day.
It’s always quite sad and a bit amusing how often and how easily faithful Christians can fall into the mindset of the “Occupy Wall Street” movement when it comes to matters of salvation. How often and how easily we rejoice when someone “better” or more well off than us gets knocked down a couple of notches; when they take a fall and suffer. The Germans call this schadenfreude. Your Lord calls it sin. Some of you may balk at such an indictment, claiming that you NEVER think or behave in such a way. Well…you’re wrong. It’s part of who we are by nature. By nature—by virtue of Old Adam’s sinful DNA coursing through our veins—we are sinfully competitive and selfish and always a little bit happy when someone we don’t care for gets what they deserve, or at least what we think they deserve.
This “Occupy Wall Street” schadenfreude shows itself in spades when we hear Christ lament about how impossibly difficult it will be for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. “It will be easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” AMEN! Those rotten rich people, with all their false gods and false assurances, putting their trust in their wealth and not in Almighty God (like I humbly do)! They get what they deserve! They need to be more humble and more lowly, like little old poor and faithful me!
But here’s the thing: The disciples who were gathered around Jesus that day weren’t thinking that. There was no schadenfreude when the rich young man walked away dejected, choosing his wealth over faith in Christ; the very thing that caused Jesus to openly lament these words about passing through the eye of a needle and entering into heaven. In fact, the disciples were genuinely troubled by these words, not because they had just witnessed a guy turning around and rejecting Christ and salvation, but because they were now faced with their own impossible salvific reality. “Then who can be saved?”
You see, these folks just witnessed a man who had it all—money, prosperity, youth, status, and rock-solid obedience to the commands of God concerning the neighbor—find out that the way things stood right now, he didn’t stand a chance of entering into heavenly glory. “If this guy can’t measure up, then who can? If he doesn’t stand a chance, what chance do we have?”
This humble, faithful self-assessment is so refreshing to hear! Now, don’t get me wrong: These people are afraid. They’re worried about their salvation; their future. The fear is not what is so refreshing and sweet-sounding to the ears, but their blunt and repentant honesty is what makes the pastor smile. They get it! They understand their own sinful reality. They understand the ultimate impossibility of man earning or even contributing to his own salvation.
And this is where there Lord wastes no time in speaking His Gospel comfort to these troubled souls. “With man it is impossible, but not with God. All things are possible with God.” Notice: Jesus doesn’t disagree with them in their assessment, nor does He correct them, as if they somehow had it wrong. “You’re right. It is impossible—for all people—no matter how old or young, wise or foolish, rich or poor, free or slave, law-abiding or illegal…it doesn’t matter. For every child born of Adam it is impossible to enter into the kingdom of God if your merit and worthiness is to be factored into the decision. But with God, your merciful and gracious heavenly Father, nothing is impossible. No one is too far gone or beyond hope for the unconditional and unfailing grace, mercy, peace, and love of their heavenly Father.”
Now…did you catch what Jesus was saying here? Most people don’t. It goes right over their heads. We understand what Jesus means when He gives all the credit to God for the working of salvation. We get it. We even confess this in the words of our Small Catechism: “I believe I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord…, but the Holy Spirit is the One who calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies me….” This is great! But did you catch how Jesus takes a subtle, light-hearted jab at the disciples? Jesus is lightening the situation with a little humor! “Oh Jesus, if that guy can’t be saved, then who can be saved? It’s impossible!” And Jesus responds to this doubt and worry by saying, “You’re right. It is impossible. But with God, nothing is impossible. You guys are proof-positive of this fact. Look no further than the reflection in the mirror. Even a bunch of fishermen and tax collectors and reprobates can be brought to faith and saved when God is the One at work. Nothing is impossible for Him.”
I love it! It’s so true, not just for them, but for each and every one of us. I also love old St. Peter’s quick response. As is typical of St. Peter, he speaks before he thinks. No one would ever accuse Peter of being the brightest bulb. Maybe the loudest. Maybe the rudest. Maybe the most pull-no-punches, tell-it-like-it-is, but never will he be accused of being the brightest. Jesus barely gets the words out of His mouth about God working the impossible, and Peter chirps up, “Hey, we’ve left everything to follow You!” There it is! Old Adam’s sinful, selfish, competitiveness is never far away. All that was missing was, “Thank God we’re not like that guy! Thank God we don’t have his troubles. We gave up everything to follow You. How awesome is that?!” And before Peter could get his question out, Jesus lovingly and mercifully cut him short.
And make no mistakes, Peter was about to ask a question. In true Peter fashion, he was about to mess things up and make things worse by sticking his proud foot into his open mouth. This is why Mark tells us that Peter began to say to Jesus. He never got to finish. Matthew, however, fills in the blanks in his Gospel account, telling us that Peter plainly asked, “What do we get in return for following You? What’s in it for us? We’ve left everything for You. We’ve shown how good and awesome and faithful we are. What’s the reward? What can we expect for such humble service?” Old Adam is just standing there rubbing his hands and licking his chops! Semper me! What’s in it for me? What can God do for me? Look at all that I do for you, God! How are you going to scratch my back?
We may not want to admit it, but we’ve all been here a few times in our lives. The truly sad thing about this reality is that it doesn’t matter if things are going really well or tragically poor. We still wind up sounding like St. Peter. If we do something really special and exemplary, we expect to be rewarded, not only by our neighbors, but by God. We want that “attaboy.” We want the praise. We want the reward. If times are tight and things are miserable, we go to God as if He’s cheated us. “I do all this for You, and this is how You repay me?! I deserve better than this!”
This is precisely why our Lord lovingly and mercifully cuts St. Peter short. “Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for My sake and for the Gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecution, and in the age to come eternal life.” Before Peter can voice his self-serving sin and ignorance, our Lord gives answer to what’s in Peter’s heart and the heart of every disciple who’s ever followed Christ.
And that’s important. Our Lord knows our hearts. Look around. Being a Christian isn’t easy. In fact, it can be downright disheartening, lonely, and miserable. It’s always been this way. As Solomon reminds us, “there’s nothing new under the sun.” Being a faithful Christian in today’s world, whether you’re financially well-off or completely destitute, will always involve a worldly, cultural poverty of sorts. You will be cut off and set apart from the rest of the fallen world, and such a position can be extremely lonely and depressing sometimes.
And let’s face it: We hear these words of promise about receiving a hundredfold now in this time, and we can’t help but think that something’s just not right. No doubt we hear the promise of persecution in this time and understand perfectly and agree wholeheartedly. We look around at the world we’re living in today and say, “Yup, this is exactly what our Lord promised.” We hear the words of promise regarding the gift of eternal, heavenly reward in the age to come, and we have no problem with this. But…we hear these words of promise about receiving in this current age one hundred times greater than what we leave behind to follow Christ, and we can’t help but shake our heads in doubt and disbelief. After all, we’re all still waiting, aren’t we? No one here has hit the lottery. No one has had Publishers Clearinghouse pull up in front of their house on behalf of Jesus and present them one of those huge checks for faithful discipleship. Maybe our Lord was just exaggerating for effect. Maybe He can’t really deliver all that He promises. Maybe we’re the ones to blame. Maybe we’re not faithful enough or good enough to get the hundredfold jackpot that He speaks of here.
Again, this is where the Gospel promise of our Lord cuts us short in our pity party, our doubt, and our ignorance. Pay attention to what your Lord promises you in these words. You see, Jesus isn’t promising something outlandish. Instead, He’s re-orienting and re-calibrating the eyes of faith to recognize and give thanks for all that they already have in Him and because of Him. Just consider all that He promises to us to receive a hundredfold in this day and age: houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and lands. Did you catch what’s missing? He never promises us fathers! Why? Because in faith we recognize the fact that we have our heavenly Father; the One who so graciously and unconditionally gives us all that we need for this body and life. Everything else is rightly recognized, not through the selfish, wealth-seeking eyes of the world, but through the eyes of faith that rightly recognize all of this God-given wealth and prosperity right here and right now in the context of “church.”
Look around. Here are your brothers and sisters and mothers and children. In fact, we’re getting ready to have us a family feast after the worship service. This is what families do. Go to any land, near or far—anywhere in the world where two or three are gathered in Christ’s name—and there you will find your brothers and sisters and mothers and children. There, gathered around Christ’s Word and Sacraments, you will find your Father’s house and your home.
My dear brothers and sisters and mothers and children in Christ: We are rich beyond belief—right now. In Christ and because of Christ we have wealth beyond all measure, and it’s only going to get better when we get home to heaven. We have Christ. We have adoption into God’s blessed family. We have son-ship with the Father; a brother in Christ Jesus. We have His eternal and blessed inheritance. We have the grace, mercy, and peace of our heavenly Father—right now and into all eternity. This is why Solomon, in all his wisdom, rightly says, “What I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot.” This is what the Christian life is all about! Recognized through the eyes of faith, how can you not rejoice for all that you have and all that you are in Christ? This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it, for whether we live or die, in sickness and in health, in riches and in poverty, and in any circumstance the world throws at us, the impossible is reality. We belong to Christ. We are rich beyond belief! AMEN.
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