Then Who Can Be Saved?

Sermon for the Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost based on Mark 10:23-31

Dear believers who will enter the kingdom of God: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Wealth is a blessing from God. It is God who gives riches to those whom He will, and He commands that the rich do good, be rich in good works, and be generous and ready to share (I Tim. 6:18).

Wealth is a blessing from God, but He doesn’t give it to all of us, because “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.”

The truth is that if God gave great riches to most of us, we would not be rich in good works; we would not be generous; we would not be willing to share. We would live in luxury and self-indulgence. We would seek enjoyment and fulfilment in our wealth and in time possibly even turn away from God.

Of course, we will all say, “No, not me! I would be very generous and very willing to share if I was rich!”

Jesus says, “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much.” (Lk. 16:10) Jesus is saying that if you have not been rich in good works, generous, and willing to share if you have very little, you will not be rich in good works, generous, or willing to share if you have much. Instead you will have the temptations that the wealthy face in this world, and it will be harder for you to get into heaven than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle.

Hebrews 13 tells us, “Keep your life free from the love of money and be content with what you have, for He has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’” (v. 5) First Timothy 6 says, “Godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.” (vv. 6-10)

Wealth is a blessing from God, but God wants to protect us from the temptations that money brings. Wealth is a blessing from God, but most of us would not be able to handle the wealth responsibly or with generous hearts. Wealth is a blessing from God, but many of us would wander from the faith and pierce ourselves with many pangs if God would give us greater wealth than He has given us.

“Then who can be saved?” asked the disciples. If Jesus says this of those to whom God gives great earthly blessings, what about those with less blessings? How can anyone be saved? Jesus replied, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.”

With man, it is impossible to be saved whether rich or poor. With God, salvation is possible for both. For all mankind, salvation is as impossible as for a camel to go through the eye of a needle. For God, salvation is not just possible, but it is accomplished, it has been fulfilled.

God didn’t just snap His fingers and save us, because the price of our sins had to be paid. The price of our sins was put on Jesus, who paid for our sins in our place; the righteous dying for the unrighteous.

Jesus had to face all the temptations we face, but He never sinned. The devil even tempted Jesus by offering Him all the kingdoms of the world and their riches and glory (Matt. 4:8-9). This really was a temptation for Jesus to skip over suffering and dying, and jump immediately into glory. Why go through suffering and death for the people of these kingdoms of the world, why not just take the kingdoms and their riches now? Skip the anguish of the soul to the point of death. Skip the beads of sweat dropping to the ground like drops of blood. Skip the torture, mockery, and death. Just take the kingdom and their riches and glory now.

For your sake, Jesus did not fall into this, or any other temptation. Skipping suffering and death would have meant skipping your salvation. For your sake, Jesus chose the anguish of the soul to the point of death. For your sake, Jesus chose the beads of sweat dropping to the ground like drops of blood. For your sake, Jesus chose the torture, mockery, and death.

Jesus chose these so that you would be His own; so that you would live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness. Jesus chose suffering and death so that your end will not be eternal suffering and death.

Your end will be eternal life in the riches of Paradise. No riches of this life hold a candle to the true riches of the new heavens and the new earth. Second Peter tells us that the heavens and the earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly (II Pt. 3:7,10-12). So, don’t cling to mammon that is destined for fire. Cling to the true riches of the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. Cling to Christ, who is your Saviour. The more you cling to Christ, the less you will care about the wealth of this world.

Use the wealth that God has given you, whether very great or very little, and be faithful with it. Put your unrighteous mammon to use for eternal good (cf. Lk. 16:9). Support the preaching of the Gospel both at home and abroad, so that this worldly wealth which is destined for fire might result in souls being saved eternally.

Wealth is a blessing from God, but He may protect you from the temptations of riches. If you have been blessed with wealth, pray that God strengthens you to be faithful with its use.

In death the rich and the poor have the same end, but those who cling to Christ and the forgiveness of sins He freely gives have the riches of Paradise awaiting them. In Paradise there are great riches. Even the streets are made of pure gold (Rev. 21:21). Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

[A note to readers: beginning in Advent, we will be using the One Year Lectionary.]

The Gospel is not for the Hard-Hearted

Sermon for the Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost based on Mark 10:17-22

Dear followers of Jesus: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

The Gospel is not for the hard-hearted. The Law is for the hard-hearted.

When the rich man with a hard heart ran up to Jesus, Jesus didn’t give him the Gospel. He gave the rich man Law.

How do we know the rich man had a hard heart? Because he tells us. He tells Jesus that he has kept all the Commandments of the Second Table from his youth; all those that deal with loving our neighbour. Jesus lists for him Commandments Four through Ten, and the rich man says he’s kept them. He says he has loved his neighbour perfectly in thought, word, and deed. That’s what a hard heart says.

Jesus says, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.” (Luke 5:31) This rich man said he was not sick; that he had never broken a single one of God’s Commandments. He thought he was well. He said he needed no healing from Jesus. So, Jesus gave him no healing Gospel. Jesus gave him more Law: “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 scratched at the scab of his illness. Oh, the illness was there alright. Jesus directs the rich man to the First Commandment. The rich man did not fear, love, and trust in God above all things. He feared the loss of his possessions. He loved his possessions. He trusted in his possessions. He did not fear, love, and trust in God above all things.

Thus, he became sorrowful and disheartened. His face dropped and he grieved in pain. The words of Jesus hurt him to the core. He had great possessions and he did not want to give them up. He could not choose between following Jesus and his possessions. He could not choose between loving God above all things, and loving his possessions above all things.

The man had run up to Jesus with excitement, confidence, and eagerness but departed from Him distressed and gloomy with his head hung low. He walked away from Jesus.

Isn’t this the same reason people walk away from the church? The Law preached to them makes them distressed and gloomy. It’s painful to hear the Law piled up until it crushes their confidence in themselves. It’s such a downer for them to hear about their sinfulness and their many sins.

The problem with the rich man was not that he became disheartened at Jesus’ words, or that he became distressed and gloomy. The problem was that he left Jesus. It was too painful to hear about his sins, so he left the physician of souls who alone can cure.

It is important to point out that just before Jesus piled the Law on the rich man in order to crush him, it says that Jesus “looking at him, loved him.”

This is the loving diagnosis of a physician to a sick and dying man who refuses to see the reality of his illness. Jesus has the eternal cure for our illness of sin, but without God’s Law showing us our sin, we will reject our sinful condition; we will reject eternal healing; we will reject forgiveness.

We do not know who this rich man was or what happened to him after he left Jesus. There are speculations that it was Mark, the writer of the Gospel, or perhaps even Saint Paul, but these are unsubstantiated theories. The Holy Spirit has intentionally left us without this information.

The information that we are left with is that if we think that we have fulfilled God’s Commandments to love Him with our whole heart and our neighbour as ourselves, we need only more Law piled up until we become disheartened and despair in ourselves. If we are asking what must I do to inherit eternal life, we need only more Law piled up until we realize that we are hopeless and helpless and can do nothing to save ourselves.

Once Jesus has looked at us and loved us and piled up the Law on us, He does not leave us in our despair. Once the physician of our souls has diagnosed our problem and opened our eyes to recognize our need for His cure, He gives us the cure. That cure is the forgiveness of sins.

This cure is only available from Jesus. Only Jesus has paid the price of your sins. Only Jesus has earned forgiveness for you by His suffering and death on the cross. Only Jesus has looked at you and loved you to the point of giving Himself into death for you.

Everything has been done for you to inherit eternal life. Jesus has done it for you. Jesus kept the Law for you by fearing, loving, and trusting in God the Father above all things. Jesus kept the Law for you by loving His neighbour to the point of giving His life for all of us.

Jesus wants you to despair of saving yourself, but not to despair of Him saving you. He wants you to fear, love, and trust in Him above all things, because He is your God and Saviour. Our souls are healed at His Word, so He causes us to love and trust Him. We love God because He first loved us (I Jn 4:19). Jesus showed His love for us by laying down His life for us, so we love Him and know that we can trust in Him for eternal life.

Jesus looks at you and loves you, so He has His Law preached to you, so that He might then bind up your wounds which the Law has exposed, and give you His free cure of forgiveness.

Those who are well have no need of a physician, but you who are sick rejoice in the forgiveness of sins Jesus gives to you. Jesus’ body and blood, given and shed for you give you the forgiveness of sins and eternal life.

Jesus does not leave you in despair, but leads you through despair to Himself. He leads you through the gloom and disheartenment of sin to the joys of everlasting life. His hand that sends you sadness will turn your tears to gladness, for after grief God gives relief, your heart with comfort filling and all your sorrow stilling (from LSB 760 st. 2,5).

The Gospel is not for the hard-hearted. The Gospel is for you who have been crushed by the Law. The Gospel is for you who desire the forgiveness of sins. The Gospel is the free forgiveness of sins Jesus earned for you and gives to you as a gift. If that does not lift you from despair and make you rejoice, nothing will. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

[Note: Beginning in Advent, we will be following the One-Year Lectionary]

On Marriage

Sermon for the Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost based on Mark 10:2-16

Dear bride of Christ: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Marriage is good. Marriage is a blessing to husband and wife. Marriage is a blessing to children and children are a blessing in marriage. Marriage is a blessing to society, and is indeed the basis of society.

The devil, the world, and our sinful flesh think they know better. They think fornication is better than marriage. They think divorce is better than marriage. They think the individual is the basis of society.

If the individual is the basis of society, all responsibility of children to parents, parents to children, husband to wife, and wife to husband are thrown out the window. Then I do what I want when I want. It’s all about me. It’s all about whatever makes me happy. Surely you can see how that leads to licentiousness.

It also leads to divorce. We might even start debating divorce with God as the Pharisees did. “Surely God wants me to be happy. He can’t expect me to keep living in this awful marriage. God knows I married too young and my spouse has changed. This marriage is a sham.”

You’re not alone if you’ve tried to make excuses for your sins or the sins of others in this way. You’re not alone if you’ve tried to debate God in this way. The disciples did it too. Jesus’ answer to the Pharisees wasn’t enough for the disciples. Jesus said that Moses allowed divorce because of their hardness of heart, but that that is not God’s design for marriage. It is not God’s intent for marriage. God’s design and intent for marriage is for husband and wife to hold fast to each other as one flesh until death parts them, since God Himself has joined them together. What God has joined together, let not man separate.

The disciples thought that this surely did not sound fair or reasonable. So, when they went into the house, the disciples brought it up with Jesus again. Matthew, in his account, records that the disciples even responded that if divorce is sin, it is better not to marry at all (Matt. 19:10). If you are stuck in your marriage until one of you dies, they thought it better to despise marriage altogether. If you can’t remarry after divorce because it is adultery, then why not just commit adultery and forget marriage altogether?

What a sinful and godless way to view marriage! It sees marriage as being bad. As if marriage is a curse on husband and wife and a curse on society. Certainly, our society takes this view as marriage is abandoned in favour of divorce and adultery, but this view has no place in the Christian church. Afterall, Scripture tells us that the sexually immoral, the adulterers, and those who practice homosexuality will not inherit the kingdom of God (I Cor. 6:9; Gal. 5:19,21).

Does this mean that anyone who is guilty of breaking the Sixth Commandment is going to hell? No, that’s not what Scripture says. It says those who are sexually immoral. Those who practice such sins. In other words, those who remain in their sin and do not repent. Those who will not recognize their sin and turn away from it. Those who despise God’s good gift of marriage and remain in sin.

That’s why the Church has and continues to speak God’s Word on these matters. We love our neighbour, so we want to warn him about the eternal danger he is in if he does not repent. We love our neighbour, so we want him to receive forgiveness from God as we have received and continue to receive forgiveness.

Eve was created from Adam’s side while he slept. In the same way, the New Eve, the Church, has been given life from Jesus’ side. The Church has been given life by the water and blood that flowed from the spear-pierced side of the New Adam as He slept the sleep of death.

Ephesians 5 says, “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendour, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.”

Jesus washed you in Baptism to remove your spots and wrinkles of sin. He washed you to be holy and blameless. His blood continues to flow to you from the chalice with forgiveness and eternal life.

God is not interested in our excuses for sin. He will not debate adultery or divorce with us. But He will forgive adultery and divorce to those who are repentant.

God doesn’t weaken or bend His Law when we break it. The breaking of God’s holy Law means there must be just punishment, but that punishment is not for you. Your punishment was put on Jesus.

Only sinners die. That’s why Jesus died. God put your sins on Him and punished Him in your place. For your sake, God made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him you might become the righteousness of God (II Cor. 5:21). God took all of your sins against His holy institution of marriage and put them on Jesus. God took your selfishness and excuses and put them on Jesus.

Jesus, the perfect bridegroom, gave His life to save His bride, the Church. He washed us through Baptism. He nourishes and cherishes us with His life-giving Word and His true body and blood. He does this so that He might present us to Himself with splendour, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that we might be holy and without blemish. He covers our sins and clothes us with His righteousness so that we will be appropriately dressed for the marriage feast of the Lamb in His kingdom which has no end.

“The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will He keep His anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His steadfast love toward those who fear Him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does He remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion on those who fear Him.” (Ps. 103:8-13)

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

[A note to readers: beginning in Advent, we will be following the One-Year Lectionary.]