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Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost

Mark 10: 23–31

James T. Batchelor

Pentecost 21, Proper 24, series B
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church  
Hoopeston, IL

view DOC file

Sun, Oct 18, 2015 

Last week we heard an encounter that Jesus had with a man who ran up and knelt before him and asked him, Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life? (Mark 10:17) Jesus used this question to teach this man and us that there is nothing that anyone can do to earn eternal life for himself.  God is the one who must act if we are to have eternal life.

Jesus specifically showed the man that he loved his stuff more than he loved God.  Jesus 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. 22Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. (Mark 10:2122) Jesus gave the man a lot to think about.  He had to come to grips with his sin of idolatry and his need for forgiveness from Jesus.

Todays Gospel then continues this account.  As the man went away sorrowful, Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! 24And the disciples were amazed at his words. (Mark 10:2324) Jesus said something that seems fairly reasonable to us, but the disciples were amazed at His words.  Why did these words seem so unusual to the disciples when they dont seem all that unusual to us?

This is where we need to remember those three things that are very important for Biblical interpretation (Youve heard this before.) context, context, and context.  In this case, we need to review the cultural context of First Century Israel.

The twenty-first century culture of the United States simply does not have the respect for wealth that was common in First Century Israel.  In fact, there are quite a few people who look down on wealth.  The first instinct of many people in our culture is to assume that wealthy people are somehow unethical, cruel, heartless, unfeeling, and so forth.  This was not the case in First Century Israel.

The average citizen of First Century Israel looked up to the wealthy.  As long as a person came by wealth honestly hard work, good fortune, inheritance, and so forth Wealthy people were considered especially blessed by God.  Ordinarily, people assumed that honest wealth on earth indicated an equivalent treasure in heaven.  People assumed that the wealthy would be at the front of the line when it came time to enter the kingdom of God.

So when Jesus said, How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God, everyone who heard Him would think, Well, if the wealthy have a hard time, then the rest of us dont have a chance! That is the reason that the disciples were amazed at his words.

Then Jesus reinforced His teaching with the camel through the eye of the needle metaphor.  Jesus said to them again, Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God. 26And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, Then who can be saved? (Mark 10:2426) Remember now, that culture thought that it was easier for rich people to enter the kingdom of God than for poor people.  So, if the impossibility of a rich person entering the kingdom of God is greater than the impossibility of a camel passing through the eye of a needle, then Jesus is basically saying that no one has a chance.

When the disciples asked the question, Then who can be saved, (Mark 10:26) The obvious answer is that nobody can do this.  No one, not the rich, not the poor, no one can enter the Kingdom of God.  That is the message of the law in todays Gospel.  The teaching in todays Gospel is not that it is bad to be rich, but that no one is able to enter the Kingdom of God with their own resources.  When Jesus said that the most respected members of the culture could not earn their way into Gods Kingdom, He was saying that none of us rich or poor can earn a place in Gods Kingdom.  All of us are as likely to enter Gods Kingdom as a camel is likely to pass through the eye of a needle.

Jesus then revealed the one and only way to enter the kingdom of God.  Jesus looked at them and said, With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God. (Mark 10:27) Here is the main teaching of todays reading from the Gospel.  It is indeed true that no one can earn his or her own way into the Kingdom of God.  Instead, God must do all the work.

When God does all the work, it makes it look easy for us.  Earlier in the service, I stood up here and forgave your sins.  All I did was say the words.  It was easy for me because God does all the work.  Holy Baptism looks simple a few words a little water.  It doesnt look like much.  God makes it look easy because He does all the work.  Later on in the service, I will say a few words over some bread wafers and some wine.  It doesnt look like much because God does all the work.  Even now, this sermon sounds like any other speech.  It doesnt seem like that big of a deal because God makes it look easy.

In fact, in all these things, you are witnessing something more amazing than a camel passing through the eye of a needle.  You are witnessing God at work forgiving sins.  In Holy Baptism in holy absolution in the preaching and reading of the Word in the Lords Table God is at work.  The Holy Spirit is busy pulling people into the Kingdom of God.

Now I said before that it looked easy for us.  We say a few simple words.  We apply a little water.  We eat a scrap of bread.  We drink a swallow of wine.  Although it is easy for us, it was not easy for Jesus.  A camel through a needles eye pales in comparison to what Jesus did to bring you and me into His kingdom.

In order to bring you and me into the Kingdom of God, Jesus, the Son of God, had to take on human flesh and become one of us.  He had to live with sinful people without sinning Himself.  Then He had to suffer unjust torture and a cruel death by crucifixion.  That is the price that God paid so that you and I could enter His kingdom.  Jesus had to sacrifice Himself for us on a cross.  His death, the death of a perfect, holy, and innocent man, did for us what it is impossible for us to do for ourselves.  He made it possible for the Kingdom of God to be in us and for us to be in the Kingdom of God.

When God brought you and me into the Kingdom of God, everything that Jesus did now belongs to us.  Jesus lived the perfect life and you and I get the credit.  Jesus sacrificed Himself on the cross and you and I get the credit.  Jesus rose from the dead and you and I have the promise of eternal life.  Jesus did all the work.  You and I receive all the blessings.

When we think about the miracles that God works so that we inherit eternal life, there are three that stand out.  First of all, Jesus had to take our place and satisfy Gods justice.  Second of all, the Holy Spirit had to work the miracle of faith in us.  Finally, the Holy Spirit continually delivers forgiveness through the Gospel.  Jesus took our place by living the perfect life, dying on the cross, and rising from the dead.  The Holy Spirit did His part by joining us to Jesus in faith so that everything Jesus did now belongs to us.  Now the Holy Spirit delivers forgiveness to us in the wet Gospel of Water and Word, the audible Gospel of absolution and preaching the Word, and the very body and blood of Christ in our mouths.  That is quite a set of miracles.  With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God. (Mark 10:27) Amen

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