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LSB Proper 23B Sermon – Mark 10:17-22

October 12, 2015

October 11, 2015 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“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.’ Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.”

“Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.” Not many statements in the Gospels are as tragic as that. The man goes away from Jesus, unable to receive His teaching. He had come seeking eternal life, the greatest treasure that one can possess. But he leaves with nothing that will last beyond his days on earth.

The man’s question to Jesus shows his desire: “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Such a question isn’t asked by a person with no concern about his fate and status beyond the grave. The man asks because he wants to know how a blessed end can be ensured. The Gospel Writer doesn’t record what might have motivated that concern for him to come to Jesus. Perhaps he had recently encountered death within his family. Perhaps he had heard Jesus’ disciples speak about the kingdom of heaven. Or perhaps he was fascinated by witnessing what Jesus had said and done. No matter what got him there, the man asks Jesus about inheriting eternal life, believing that Jesus can give the true answer to the question.

So recall the answer that Jesus gave him: “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.’” Jesus directs the man to the LORD’s covenant made with the Hebrews. In essence, Jesus tells the man: “You already know the answer to your question. You’ve heard what the LORD has declared in the Scriptures. Do what the LORD says, and you will have His promised blessing: you shall live.”

Hearing that answer, the man is elated: “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” He claims to have met the LORD’s demands for righteousness, that he is truly good. So he believes that he has eternal life in his grasp. But that is when Jesus has to correct the man’s thinking, to show him what he doesn’t actually have: “And 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.’” 

Jesus’ statement reveals what full and complete righteousness looks like. He makes it clear for the man. “Love your neighbor as yourself,” the LORD demands in the Old Testament. Jesus also notes that this is the one of the two great divine commands. The provisions of the Decalogue that He recited to the man give the basic guidelines of what that requires. But what does such love look like? A complete keeping of that command requires giving away everything, so that the neighbor has it all. You desire the neighbor to have all that you have, and then you actually make it so by giving it to him. Jesus tells the man to do so, and “you will have treasure in heaven.” Full righteousness will be displayed by such an act.

So what happens when the man hears this? “Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.” The man goes away saddened, leaving without the eternal life that he desired. But why is this so? Is it because Jesus placed on him a greater demand than the Ten Commandments did? No. Is it because Jesus revealed what the actual demands of the LORD’s Law are? Yes. Jesus’ statement to the man not only showed what full righteousness looks like in action; it also began to reveal how the LORD’s Law actually demanded more than what the man had done or was willing to do.

Think again on the provisions of the Decalogue that Jesus recited and the man’s answer to them. The man claimed that he had kept all those requirements. Had he actually not murdered, not committed adultery, not stolen, not borne false witness, not defrauded, and honored his parents? Yes, in the most simple way. But when when the expansive nature of those demands are truly understood, as Jesus reveals them in the Sermon on the Mount, then the verdict is quickly negative. That is coupled with the actions that Jesus prescribes for the man, actions that show what true love and devotion to the LORD looks like. For when Jesus tells the man to sell everything and give it away to have treasures in heaven, the man shows himself to be more devoted to the treasures of earth.

But it must be known that all the actions that Jesus outlines as the way to inherit eternal life do not remain uncompleted. The man doesn’t keep them: “Disheartened by the saying, [the man] went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.” But the other figure in this dialogue doesn’t go away. Instead, Jesus takes up the task that He was beginning. Recall the start of the Gospel Reading: “And as He was setting out on His journey, a man ran up and knelt before Him and asked Him, ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’” Jesus was embarking on His journey to completely fulfill the demands of the LORD’s Law and more. Through His acts, He would inherit eternal life for Himself. But then He would bestow that eternal life to others.

Jesus’ answers to the man’s question about inheriting eternal life speak about what He Himself was doing because of what He said to that man: “No one is good except God alone.” But now, that good God was in the world. That good God was fulfilling His own standards. That good God was living among people—not murdering them, but giving them life; not breaking His vows, but keeping them; not stealing, but showing generosity; not speaking falsely, but revealing the truth; not cheating people, but restoring them; and in the great mystery of the Incarnation, He was honoring His Father. That is what Jesus had done from youth. And that is what He was going to complete as He traveled to Jerusalem for what we now call Holy Week.

Jesus’ call to sell all that one has and give to the poor is what He was going to do by literally giving Himself away in atoning death, so that the sinful world could have full righteousness. Jesus doesn’t go away disheartened because He had great possessions and was charged by His Father to give them away. No, the Scriptures speak about Jesus’ giving away everything to have treasure in heaven: “who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

So what must you do to inherit eternal life? You need to be Jesus. Or you need to do everything that Jesus did. Or you must have a righteousness equal to Jesus. All that would have been given to that man, had he taken up the call to follow Jesus. Eternal life is given to you who have been called and do follow Jesus now. For the great mystery is that you have become part of Jesus, you have everything that Jesus did credited to your account, and that you are as righteous as Jesus is.

That great mystery of being united to Jesus is a chief part of the New Testament’s proclamation. In today’s Epistle Reading, you heard the statement: “We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.” But what is shared? And how is it shared? You have a claim to eternal life: “Being justified by His grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” It is yours as you hear and believe the witness of Christ: “Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning His Son. And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.” It is yours as you have been clothed with Christ in baptism: “In Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” It is yours as you participate in the Lord’s Supper: “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” 

Through these acts where the Triune God is at work, you inherit eternal life. Through them, He gives you what you didn’t have. You had no true life in yourself, but now you have been regenerated. Through them, Jesus’ fulfilling of the Law is applied to you. You did not keep the Commandments from youth. You have not sold all that you had and given to the poor. But Jesus did. Through them, the inheritance of eternal life is made yours. You are added to the household of God.

If Jesus had only said, “Obey the Commandments and you will have eternal life” or “Be like Me and you will have eternal life,” then you would all go away from here sorrowful. For there would be no chance of accomplishing that. If you are to be the subjects of those verbs, then you would be left with no hope. Jesus’ statement is true: “No one is good but God alone.”

But Jesus’ teaching about eternal life isn’t left that way. After that incident with the man, Jesus does declare: “Children, how difficult 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 person to enter the kingdom of God.” It leads His disciples to ask: “Then who can be saved?” Jesus’ answer tells you: “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.”

With man, it is impossible to enter the kingdom of God and inherit eternal life: you won’t be Jesus, won’t do everything that Jesus did, and won’t have a righteousness equal to Jesus. But with Him, it is possible. Eternal life is your inheritance because He joined Himself to you, His actions are credited to you, and His righteousness has become yours. It is done again for you this day. This day doesn’t have a tragic end of having you go away sorrowful. Instead, you can leave here joyful, for Jesus’ great possession of eternal life is yours.

+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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From → Sunday Sermon

One Comment
  1. Edith permalink

    Thanks again for sending me the copy of your Sermon. One of my hearing aids is out for repair so I’m sure I missed a lot at church.

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