Seminarian Martin Loescher delivers a sermon entitled “With Man, Salvation is Impossible, but Not With God” based on Mark 10:17-27 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.
Delivered: Sunday, May 20, 2018
Our first lesson today was a call to repentance, spoken by the prophet Amos, to the nation of Israel, which applies very well to us. At this time in Israel, things were pretty similar to 21st century America. Money was plentiful, but honesty and generosity were scarce. The love of money was everywhere, but the love of God was hardly anywhere to be found. And so the prophet Amos pleaded with his countrymen, “Turn away from this cult of money, and worship God, “Seek the LORD, and live!”
Our second lesson today urges us to do the same, “Keep your lives free from the love of money, and trust in God instead!” “Stop loving your money, and start loving each other like family!”
And in our Gospel lesson, Jesus asked the rich young man to give up all of his money for the poor. It kind of seems like God asks a lot from us, doesn’t it? God wants us to put him and our neighbor before all these other things that we earned by the sweat of our brow? What if we refuse? What if we can’t put God before everything, even though Jesus clearly says in the Gospel, “Do this, and you will have treasure in heaven”?
After reading all these Bible passages, having treasure in heaven, being saved that is, begins to seem like a very tall task, maybe even impossible for us. But as we hear more about Jesus and his encounter with the rich young man, let’s listen very closely to hear what Jesus has to say about being saved: this is impossible with man, but nothing is impossible with God.
Now this rich young man had stopped Jesus along the road, in order to ask him his burning question about salvation. “Good teacher, what must I do, to inherit eternal life?” But Jesus fired a question right back at him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.”
Of course Jesus was good, he was in fact, God; but what Jesus was doing was dropping the man a hint: “You are mistaken right from the start to think that anyone but God is good.” But Jesus moved on and humored him a little. “Ok, what must you do to inherit eternal life? You know the commandments. You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not cheat/swindle anyone, and you shall honor your father and mother.” But the young man, who considered himself to be something of a moral expert, felt disappointed by such a no-brainer answer. “Is that it?” the man said. “You’re telling me the commandments are all I need to do? I’ve kept all those since I was little boy!”
But Jesus knew that couldn’t be true, and so he looked at the man. And out of love and concern for him, because Jesus really did want the young man to inherit eternal life, he exposed his flaw. “One thing you lack. Go sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come follow me.”
Now hold on just a minute. When Jesus told the man to give everything away, was he adding another commandment? Do we now have to give everything away if we want to get into heaven? Not exactly. By telling the man to give away everything, Jesus was teaching him something very troublesome about the 10 commandments. Jesus was pointing out to him, “Friend, you think you’ve nailed down all the commandments? You think you can check every one of those off your list?
Obeying the 10 commandments isn’t just about filling out checkboxes; obeying the 10 commandments is about loving God over everything you have, and loving your neighbor as yourself.” And when Jesus told the young man to let everything go–he got Jesus’ point. He didn’t love God more than his possessions, he didn’t love the poor as much as he loved himself, and he knew it. And so he hung his head and walked away, because he realized how much he cherished his wealth, and it was so close to his heart that he couldn’t let anybody have it, not even God.
When the man had gone away, Jesus turned to his disciples and lamented, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!” Now we modern Christians get it, we know what Jesus means, right? It’s tempting for rich people to love their money more than God. They can be led astray to the point where it is hard for them to get into heaven. But surprisingly, the disciples didn’t get it! The disciples were amazed at Jesus’ words, Jesus had baffled them. And he went on, “How hard it is to enter the kingdom of God. It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get to heaven.”
Now the disciples were more baffled than ever, in fact they were worried. You see, the Jewish people viewed riches in a slightly different way than we do. They viewed riches as a sure sign of God’s favor! To them, riches were God’s special way of rewarding the wisest, most upstanding citizens. Do you see now, why the disciples were worried? “If the rich, that is the wisest and most upright Jews can’t get into heaven,” they think, “what’s going to happen to us? If it’s going to be impossibly difficult to be saved for people like that sterling young man whom Jesus just shot down, who on earth can be saved?”
What about us now, can we be saved? Most of us are pretty model citizens, and we do a pretty good job of keeping the commandments day after day. Most of us can go right down the list of commandments and check them off one right after the other. “Keep the commandments? Ok, well let’s see, Jesus, the 1st one (You shall have no other gods) I don’t even have to think about that one. The second one, (You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God) I’ve kept that one all my life. And the 3rd commandment (Honor the Sabbath day by keeping it holy) well I’m here aren’t I? You’ve got to hand it to me, Jesus,” we think, “I’ve been pretty faithful with these commandments.”
The problem is, actually being faithful with the commandments is much more complicated than it seems. Even if we seem to have checked them all off, Jesus says that there is still something we lack. Remember what the 10 commandments is all about? It’s about loving the Lord your God with all your heart, and loving your neighbor just as much as you love yourself. This we know we can’t do. Just like the rich young man, there are things we refuse to give up for God, and for each other.
Most of us have a pretty good reputation, and we don’t like to risk losing it! When a brother or sister needs to be confronted about sin, or when an unbeliever needs us to tell them about Jesus, we may wish the best for them, but what happens when we have to choose between talking about God, and holding on to our good name? We need our good name, God can’t ask us to give it away. Then of course there’s our money, which we hold pretty tight, too. What if God asked us to let it go? What if he didn’t even ask, what if God just took it? If God took away our money, that wouldn’t seem fair at all; God can have our Sundays, he can have our attention for a few hours each week, he can even have a few dollars from our wallets, but all of it? That money is how we take care of ourselves, and our family, our way of life depends on it—no way, we think, God wouldn’t take our money if he was good; not if he loved us.
Finally, there’s something else too that we feel we simply cannot give up—our sin. All of us have at least one sin, one sin that we’ve fallen into so many times, it’s like it’s become a part of us. And when God confronts us about the sin, and commands us to give it up, we dare to think, “God I don’t even think that’s possible. I wish it were possible for me to give up this sin but I can’t. This is who I am, and I hope you’re ok with that.” How dare we refuse the almighty God. How dare we hang our heads and walk sadly away from Jesus when he asks us to let go. How dare we love ourselves more than our neighbor, and how dare we love things more than the one who created them, and yet we still think, “hey I kind of deserve to be saved.” Instead we should be thinking right along with the disciples, “Who then can be saved, Jesus? No one can surrender everything to God, we can’t do that. Jesus, this is impossible.”
But listen closely to Jesus words, as he answers us in today’s Gospel. He says to us, “You know what, you’re right, salvation is impossible for you. But think no more about what you have to offer, about your ability to be saved; think about the power of God. Who then can be saved, you ask?”
With God’s power, anyone can be saved. Do you remember how exactly Jesus put it according to the Gospel? “With man this is impossible, but with God, all things are possible!” Just because salvation seems impossible for us, doesn’t mean it’s impossible for God. Quite the opposite! Take the rich man in the gospel, who went away sad; it hardly seems possible to us that he could be saved, but God could save him. God could put that rich young camel through the eye of a needle. He can take us too, in all of our hairy, bulky, humpy sinful bodies, and squeeze us through the eye of the smallest needle, because nothing is impossible with God!
We may doubt ourselves, we may doubt we have enough faith, enough love, enough goodness to be able to put God first in our lives, but God told us in our second lesson, Hebrews, that we can trust him. God told us, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” As much as we have forsaken God and flung ourselves away from him in pursuit of riches and pleasure, God can always save us, he can always get us into heaven.
But how is that possible? If God is a just God, who punishes sinners, how is it possible for him to allow us into heaven? Well when Jesus told his disciples, “anything is possible with God,” he had the answer very much on his mind, he knew every gory detail of how exactly, God was going to get us into heaven. You see, when he said “all things are possible with God,” he was on his way to Jerusalem for the last time. He could say that all things are possible, that sinners can get into heaven, because he knew that, come one Friday, he was going to be the one to make them clean.
He could say, “It is possible for you, my friends, to avoid God’s judgment,” because he knew that God would judge him instead. He could say, “Anyone can be saved,” because he knew that he would save every person who ever lived. And Jesus can now say to you and to me, “Yes, it is possible for you to be saved too. Because no matter how much difficulty you have in loving me, and giving up everything, I have given up everything for you on the cross. And no matter how much guilt you carry, no matter how many sins you have piled up in your efforts to get ahead, my death on the cross has taken it all away. My death on the cross has taken away the sins of the whole world; of course that includes you!”
And if Jesus words ever begin to sound impossible—and they may—if we ever become scared that maybe Jesus death 2000 years didn’t take away our sins, Jesus our brother can be found right here, quieting our fears with the mighty words of Scripture: Nothing is impossible, with God.
And the beautiful thing is, those words don’t just apply to salvation, they apply to our everyday lives. Do we really think we’re so timid that we can’t bring ourselves to risk our reputation for Christ? Do we really think we need our money so much that we could never let it go if God asked us? And do we really believe our sin has attached itself to us so tightly that we are powerless to give it up? We were baptized! God promised us forgiveness through Jesus and we have received it through faith, don’t we know what that means? It means that God the Holy Spirit has taken up residence in our very being, and we are filled with his awesome power. Just as it was not an impossible task to save us, so it is not an impossible task for us to obey God’s commands. For he has not only commanded us to love him and one another, but he has empowered us to go and do so freely. Amen.