TITLE: All Things Are Possible! SCRIPTURE: Mark 10:17-31
This is a disturbing story. A man comes to Jesus and asks, "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" Or, as the Baptists would put it, "What must I do to be saved?"
There are three things about that man's question that I like:
- First, he addressed Jesus as "Good Teacher." That's respectful, isn't it! We know that Jesus was MORE than a teacher, but he WAS a teacher -- and a good one at that. So when this man says, Good Teacher," I would give him at least a B Plus for a good start.
- Second, he came asking an important question -- "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" -- or "What must I do to be saved?" That's a good question.
I have been in ministry now for 16 years, and I have seldom heard someone ask, "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" or "What must I do to be saved?" I rarely encounter anyone so open to the Gospel. Usually people grow into faith a little bit at a time -- and if you try to rush them, they run away.
Sometimes ministry is like fishing in a stream where the fish are just nibbling at the bait. But this man came to Jesus and put himself on the hook -- invited Jesus to reel him in. Where ministry is concerned, it doesn't get much better than that!
- The third thing that I like about this man is his honesty. People often came to Jesus asking trick questions -- trying to trip him up. But that isn't what this man did. This man was an honest Seeker. He came looking for help. He wanted Jesus' advice. He came as a petitioner. We know that, because Mark tells us that Jesus loved him (v. 21). Jesus could see right down to the bottom of people's hearts. If this man had been a phony, Jesus would have known it. But when Jesus looked into this man's heart, he saw something there that he loved. He would not have loved a trickster.
So the man came respectfully, saying, "Good Teacher." He asked an important question: "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" And he asked honestly -- not trying to trick Jesus.
I wish I would get one petitioner like that every day. I would be delighted for one a week. I would settle for one a month.
But when Jesus answered him, his answer had a sharp edge to it. "Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone." (v. 18). That bothers me. I would like to say, "Lighten up, Jesus! Don't drive this guy away!" Of course, I would never talk that way to Jesus -- but I have to admit that the thought occurred to me.
And then Jesus said:
"You know the commandments:
You shall not murder;
You shall not commit adultery;
You shall not steal;
You shall not bear false witness;
You shall not defraud;
Honor your father and mother" (v. 19).
These were part of the Ten Commandments -- all but one -- "You shall not defraud" is not one of the Ten Commandments, but is similar to "You shall not steal," which is.
We usually think of the Ten Commandments as being etched on two tablets of stone. The First Tablet had commandments having to do with God -- such as "You shall have no other gods before me" (Exodus 20:3). The Second Tablet had commandments having to do with human relationships, such as, "You shall not murder" (Exodus 20:13).
The commandments that Jesus mentioned to this man were Second Tablet commandments -- having to do with murder and adultery and theft.
Those commandments were engraved, not only on stone tablets, but also on the hearts of Jewish people. Jewish children learned these commandments by heart. It's no wonder that the man could reply, "Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth."
It's interesting that the man would put it that way -- "since my youth." Some of the commandments that Jesus mentioned are especially difficult for young people.
- For instance, "You shall not commit adultery." That's a tough one for lots of people, but the fires burn hotter when we are young.
- Or how about "Honor your father and mother." That one is especially difficult for teenagers isn't it.
But this man said that he had kept the commandments since his youth. It was at that point that Mark said, "Jesus...loved him" -- so we can be sure that the man was telling the truth.
But then Jesus said -- and this is the part that makes this a really difficult story -- Jesus said:
"You lack one thing;
go, sell what you own,
and give the money to the poor,
and you will have treasure in heaven;
then come, follow me" (v. 21).
This is a difficult story, because we wonder why Jesus demanded so much of this man. He didn't tell the fishermen to sell their boats. He didn't tell Simon and Andrew to sell their house in Capernaum. Why did he require this man to sell everything?
And it is also difficult, because it raises this question: Does Jesus expect me to sell everything that I have and give it to the poor? Is that the cost of true discipleship?
I would like to answer that question for you today. Does Jesus expect you to sell everything that you have and give it to the poor? Is that what he expects of you? The clear answer is "Maybe!" -- or "It depends!"
In some cases Jesus does expect people to sell everything. In others, he doesn't. How can you tell the difference? R. H. Gundry offers this assessment. He says:
"That Jesus did not command all his followers to sell all their possessions gives comfort only to the kind of people to whom he would issue that command"
(Gundry, Matthew, quoted in France, 400).
In other words, if money has become too important to you, Jesus would require you to give it up. The idea is this: God wants first place in our hearts. If we love money more than we love God, God will require us to remove the barrier of money that stands between us and God.
Keep in mind that money isn't the only thing that Jesus might call us to give up. For some people alcohol has become their god, so Jesus would call them to give up alcohol. For others, the problem is drugs. For others, sex. For others, power. For others, football -- or golf. There must be a thousand things competing for Number One in our hearts. Those are the things that Jesus would call us to give up -- anything is taking God's place in our lives.
Jesus said, "Go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor." The man who asked Jesus the question was shocked at Jesus' answer. He went away grieving, because he had many possessions (v. 22).
Jesus' disciples were shocked too. They asked, "Then who can be saved?" They had been taught all their lives that keeping the commandments was the way to please God. Now Jesus said that God wants even more. "Then who can be saved?" they asked. Good question!
Listen carefully now, because Jesus is about to give us some Good News. The disciples asked, "Then who can be saved?" And Jesus said:
"For mortals it is impossible,
but not for God;
for God all things are possible" (v. 27).
What does that mean? It means that there is hope. If you love money too much, there is still hope. If you are a drunk, there is still hope. If you are addicted to pornography, there is still hope. If you are a rotten, mean person, there is still hope.
Does that mean that God will open the Pearly Gates to everyone? No. Jesus was clear about that. On that last day, there will be sheep on his right side and goats on the left -- and it won't be a happy day for the goats.
But it does mean that God can help us to change -- can remake us into people better suited for his kingdom. If you are guilty of loving money too much -- or booze or broads or whatever else might stand between you and God -- ask God to help you -- ask him to help you change. You might think it isn't possible for you to become the person that you ought to be, but Jesus says that with "God all things are possible."
Let me assure you that that is true. I often pray that God will change my heart with regard to something or other. When I pray that kind of prayer, it is usually after I have given up trying to change on my own. I am often surprised at how quickly and decisively God answers those prayers. Jesus says that with "God all things are possible." That is the blessed truth! I have experienced it in my life -- over and over again.
It also means that, even when we continue to sin that Jesus made it possible for us to be forgiven. What we could not do on our own, Jesus has already done for us.
I have sometimes thought, "What if I were to do something really bad and then get hit by a bus -- without ever asking forgiveness. Would Saint Peter bar the door to me?" I am sure that he would not. My assurance is that with "God all things are possible."
There's a name for that. It is called "The Grace of God" -- and we all need it. Not one of us is worthy. But with "God all things are possible." Thanks be to God!
Let me close by asking you to participate in a short litany. I will say, "Is there any hope?" Please respond by saying, "With God all things are possible!" Let's practice that. "Is there any hope?" ("With God all things are possible.")
If you love money too much, is there any hope? ("With God all things are possible.")
If you treat other people badly, is there any hope? ("With God all things are possible.")
If you abuse your wife or children, is there any hope? ("With God all things are possible.")
If you are a drunk, is there any hope? ("With God all things are possible.")
If you care nothing for justice, is there any hope? ("With God all things are possible.")
With "God all things are possible." Jesus said it. It is true. Thanks be to God! Amen!
Will You Come and Follow Me (CP #430; ELW #798; GC #700; TFWS #2130; VU 567; WR #350) Also known as The Summons
HYMN STORY: O Jesus, I Have Promised
John Ernest Bode was an Anglican clergyman serving a small parish near Cambridge, England when his three children, a daughter and two sons, were ready for confirmation. Bode not only presided over their confirmation, but also wrote this hymn especially for the occasion -- telling the children that the hymn included "all the important truths I want you to remember."
The hymn was originally, "O Jesus, We Have Promised" -- in view of the fact that more than one child was involved in the confirmation. Changed to "O Jesus, I Have Promised," it serves as a fitting hymn of commitment for every Christian. It not only reminds us of the promises that we have made to Jesus, but it also asks Jesus to protect us from the dangers and temptations posed by the world -- and it reminds us that Jesus has made promises too -- that Jesus promised that we will live with him in glory.
We don't know what hymn tune Bode used in that confirmation service. The tune with which we are familiar was written later by Arthur H. Mann, the organist at King's College Chapel in Cambridge for fifty-three years.