The Nineteenth Sunday After Trinity October 17, 2004
747 (TLH alt. 39), 286, 366, 430(7-8)
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Now as [Jesus] was going out on the road, one came running, knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?” So Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not bear false witness,’ ‘Do not defraud,’ ‘Honor your father and your mother.’” And he answered and said to Him, “Teacher, all these things I have kept from my youth.” Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.” But he was sad at this word, and went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. Then Jesus looked around and said to His disciples, “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were astonished at His words. But Jesus answered again and said to them, “Children, how hard it is for those who trust in riches 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 enter the kingdom of God.” And they were greatly astonished, saying among themselves, “Who then can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said, “With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible.”
In the name of Jesus our Prophet, Priest, and King, dear fellow redeemed:
When I was growing up the daytime television scene was populated with game shows. Many of you may remember “Let’s Make a Deal.” On this show contestants would choose either curtain or door number one, two, or three. If he picked the right curtain or door he would win a great prize. If not, he would win a year’s supply of Rice-a-Roni. There wasn’t a lot of logic to the game. It was mostly chance or listening to the fervent shouts of the studio audience.
Some would regard the entrance to the Kingdom of God in much the same way. People go by their instincts or what feels right or they follow the shouts of others saying, “Do this” or “Do that.” But with so much at stake, we can’t afford to guess how to enter God’s Kingdom. Today we’ll learn from the Scripture before us that there is only one entrance to God’s Kingdom. In the process we are reminded that the most popular choices are impossible, but with God all things are possible, even your entrance into His Kingdom.
When the young man in our text approached Jesus he thought that he had a slam dunk question and answer. It seems that he was only asking it to hear Jesus praise him in His answer. The man thought that Jesus would verify that he indeed was on his way to eternal life due to his outstanding way of living. This young man was used to the Pharisaical point of view which advocated keeping of the Law as the way by which people were saved. To make matters easier, the Pharisees watered down God’s Law to the point that by their outward actions it appeared that they had conformed to it right down to the last jot and tittle.
Evidence of this view is found in two ways as this man conversed with Jesus. First of all, he thought Jesus was “good.” There is nothing wrong with that thought. However, by the way Jesus responded to the man it is apparent that he thought Jesus was good because He was a teacher, not because He is God. Secondly, when Jesus listed several commandments as the way to eternal life this man believed in his heart that he had done all of these things. He said, “All these I have observed from my youth.” [v.20] The man believed that through his own accomplishments the door to heaven would swing wide open for him. He didn’t realize that this was a dead end. He had actually failed in the observing of God’s Law, as Jesus would now point out to him.
Out of love Jesus showed this man his blind spot. The key phrase in verse 21 is, “Jesus loved him.” That was the basis for Jesus’ dealing with the man and that should be the basis for our dealings with each other. The young man was especially lacking when it came to the first table of the Law—his relationship with his God. It turns out that he had failed even with the very first commandment—You shall have no other gods. He was not willing to part with his riches when Jesus asked him to choose between them and Him. He loved his money more than God.
Each one of us has blind spots—areas in which we think we’re doing well, but really are not. Maybe like this young man in our text the problem is money. How many of you would give up all of your possessions to follow Jesus? Maybe the area of weakness is in the second table of the Law concerning your relationship with your neighbor. Does your television viewing violate the sixth commandment, concerning a chaste and decent life? Do you obey all government laws, even those which pertain to the highway, hunting, or taxes? These weaknesses need to be exposed and pointed out in love, just as Jesus did for the young man. This exposure of weaknesses is important so that we have the realization that our own goodness is not an entrance to heaven. Quite to the contrary, reliance on your own goodness for salvation is a short road to damnation.
So, door number one is a dead end. What about money? That seems to solve just about every problem here on earth. If you have enough money, you can do just about whatever you want. Jesus slams this door shut in our text. “Then Jesus looked around and said to His disciples, ‘How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!’ And the disciples were astonished at His words. But Jesus answered again and said to them, ‘Children, how hard it is for those who trust in riches 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 enter the kingdom of God.’” [vv.23-25]
Evidently the disciples had the same view of money that many do today. I say this because they were “astonished” when Jesus told them these words. Many today think as the disciples did that a rich person has it all—power, success, access to things that we only dream about. We all, I think, would like to be wealthy. Don’t we calculate what we could do with an extra thousand or ten thousand dollars. If that would happen, then we’d happy, then things would go our way. So often we’re jealous of what others have and covet what we wish to possess. The millions upon millions of dollars poured into the states’ lotteries prove how desperate people are to be rich.
I would contend, however, that today we are all rich. Generally, we consider someone to be rich only when that person has more than we do. You and I have much, much more than the majority of the world. What did this rich young man have that you don’t? How many more things do you have than he did not? We are rich, whether we’d like to admit it or not. Apply these words of Jesus to yourself, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
Now, we should be clear that having riches and faith are not mutually exclusive. It doesn’t have to an either/or situation. In the Bible men of faith such as Abraham, Job, and David were very wealthy. But riches become a trap when they come between you and God. Even a poor person can be covetous and greedy and focus his life upon the acquisition of money and the spending of it. Instead of praying for more and more, our Lord wants us to be content. A better prayer is one found in the book of Proverbs: “Give me neither poverty nor riches” (Proverbs 30:8).
Instead of focusing on what will not last beyond this life, look ahead to the eternal treasure of heaven. On Judgment Day you can’t make a deal with God, and say, “What will it take to take care of this problem?” Money is not the entrance to God’s Kingdom. In this life it may actually interfere when it comes to entering the Kingdom of God.
These questions lead to the one Jesus’ disciples voiced: “Who then can be saved?” [v.26] The answer is the last verse in our text. “Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible.’” [v.27] To become a member of God’s Kingdom God Himself has to be involved. He can put a camel through the eye of a needle. Even more impressively He can turn a heart of stone to one that is alive and full of love. He has made your salvation possible in what was an impossible situation. How was He going to grant access to His Kingdom to a bunch of condemned sinners? Holiness was the ticket. To make that a reality to us who lacked holiness and righteousness, the seemingly impossible had to happen. God had to die.
The dilemma of the eternal, ever-living God dying was solved when Jesus became man, and took on human flesh and blood. As true God and true Man, Jesus laid down His life, cleansing sinners with His holy blood. We have the reminder of that sacrifice in another seemingly impossible situation—Holy Communion. In a supernatural way beyond our imagination, you receive the very body and blood of Christ together with the bread and wine at the Lord’s Table. What a blessing to leave this table with the assurance that Jesus died for you personally and through His death made you fit for God’s Kingdom and eternal life with Him in heaven.
It is quite easy to take our salvation for granted because God did all of the work. When I was at the University of South Carolina, I could generally tell which students had to help pay for their schooling and which ones had their schooling paid entirely by their parents and grants. Many of the latter did not appreciate what they had. These would party through the night and skip their classes, while those who had to pay for their education were generally more careful and studious.
God has given you and me free entrance into His Kingdom and yet how often are we unappreciative of that by our lack of zeal for Him, and our lack of restraint in our way of living. Take some time to appreciate the difficulty of your salvation, the obstacles that God overcame—even your own lack of goodness—and the ultimate sacrifice that He made. He did what you could not.
Jesus is the only entrance into God’s Kingdom. Don’t hang on tightly to your own accomplishments. Don’t hang on to money as your pacifier when you’re troubled. To trust in yourself or riches actually steers you away from the one true entrance in Christ. So then keep on looking straight ahead at the goal, knowing just how valuable your salvation is and how only God could accomplish it. At the end of life it is going to be either heaven or hell for every soul. This isn’t a game. Know where the entrance to heaven is. It is Jesus Christ alone. Amen.
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