Sermon for the Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost based on Mark 10:17-22
Dear people who are greatly blessed: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
Do you want Jesus to look at you lovingly? Sounds like a simple enough question with a simple enough answer: of course I want Jesus to look at me lovingly. The rich young man who ran up to Jesus would probably have answered the same way before he knew what it meant.
The rich young man showed great enthusiasm as he ran up to Jesus and knelt before Him on the ground. “Good Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Surely this Jesus, as a great teacher, would know what he had to do.
Jesus answered his question. If he wants to do something to be saved, he has to do it through the Law. He has to keep the Law. Jesus says, “You know the commandments” and He lists off several of them: “Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honour your father and mother.” If you want to do something to be saved, here’s what you have to do; you have to keep the Law.
But the Law bounces off of the rich young man. It has no effect on him. He replies to Jesus’ preaching of the Law, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” He thinks he’s done everything necessary to save himself. He sees no sin in himself. He thinks he has met all of the demands of God’s Law.
So Jesus looked 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 I heaven; and come follow me.” That’s what Jesus tells you when He looks at you with love? Sell everything you have and give to the poor. So again, I ask, do you want Jesus to look at you lovingly?
Now before you answer “no” to that question, let’s examine why Jesus would answer this rich man in such a way. How could it be loving to tell the man to sell everything he has and give to the poor?
The rich man thinks that he has kept God’s Law. The Law has not done its work in his heart. If you can hear the preaching of the Law as this rich man and confidently say that you have done it all, then the Law is not done with you yet. You have to get to the point that the Law is too much to bear; that the Law demands too much from you.
Jesus had to hit him one more time with the Law to wake him up to the realization that he has not and cannot keep God’s Law. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and come follow me. Isn’t this what the First Commandment demands of us? God must be first in our hearts. Nothing else can be more important. No possession, no person, nothing.
Jesus looked lovingly at the rich young man, and crushed him with the Law. The man then recognized his attachment to his riches. Thus, he was disheartened by Jesus’ saying and he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. He didn’t want to give up what he had. He was more attached to his earthly possessions than he was to God. Jesus lovingly showed this to him so that he would realize that he has not and cannot keep God’s Law.
Immediately following this, Jesus says, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” And “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.” (vv. 23, 25) This shocked the disciples. They undoubtedly thought, as many do today, that being rich is an indication that God is pleased with you because He is so richly blessing you with wealth and possessions. Surely if God has blessed you in this life He will bless you in the life to come, right? But Jesus says it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.
The more we have, the more easily we become attached to it. Wealth can also quickly become fuel poured on the fire of our appetites and lusts as it enables us to pursue our appetites and lusts. Wealth also brings a certain power, along with the thinking that we are able to control our own lives and even manipulate the lives of others since we have the means to do so. Certainly very often wealth leads us to focus more on ourselves and tempts us into selfish and unfruitful choices, leading us away from loving our neighbour as ourselves. And certainly we as a nation have been blessed with more wealth than many generations before us and many nations around the world.
So at this time of Thanksgiving, what are you thankful for? We are very often ready to give thanks to God for the wealth that He has given to us. But how often are we ready to thank God for what we do not have; to thank Him that we don’t have all the wealth our hearts would desire, knowing the temptations it would bring? Even further, when we pray, do we pray that God would take away from us that which is not good for us? Do we pray, “Christ Jesus, Lord of our lives, destroy all that we have built with our hands, and bring to ruin all of our plans, and frustrate all our hopes that would seek more than is good for us”? Do we pray, “Lord God, open my selfish and greedy heart to release my sinful grasp on the possessions you have entrusted into my stewardship so that I would generously give to those in need”? Do we pray, “Lord, cause my pension fund to crash, my house to burn down, and my car to be stolen because I am too attached to my possessions”? I don’t think those are prayers that we pray. But we should pray in exactly this way. We should pray that God take away from us that which would lead us away from Him.
We don’t know what the end result was for the rich young man who came to Jesus, but Jesus didn’t just look at him lovingly to hammer him with the Law. Jesus looked at him lovingly to lead him to see his sinfulness and his need for a Saviour. Jesus does the same to you. Whether you want it or not, Jesus does look at you lovingly. He lovingly uses the Law to crush your thinking that you have kept the law perfectly. He lovingly brings you to despair so that you might despair in yourself, not in Him. Jesus leads you to despair in yourself so that you will cling to His promises. He leads you to despair in doing something to get eternal life so that He will give you eternal life as a free gift.
As often as the Law accuses you of your sins, you must admit that the Law is right. You are guilty. The Law is too much to bear; it demands too much. You are a sinner and have not, do not, and will never keep God’s Law perfectly. But Jesus did keep the Law perfectly in your place. Although the Law demands too much of us, Jesus met the Law’s demands. His entire life was for us and our salvation. He died for us and in our stead. We should have been the ones crucified for our sins. We should have suffered hell for our sins.
Instead, Jesus was crucified for us. He suffered hell for our sins. By His agony and bloody sweat; by His cross and passion; by His precious death and burial; by His glorious resurrection and ascension Jesus saved us. All our sins are forgiven. Jesus paid off the debt of sins of the entire world. He satisfied God’s wrath against the sins of the whole world.
Because Jesus paid the debt of the sins of the whole world, you can know with certainty that He paid the debt of your sin. Your sin is covered. Your sin is removed from you as far as the east is from the west. Your sin is forgiven.
So do you want Jesus to look at you lovingly? Yes, absolutely. If He looks at you lovingly as He crushes you with the Law, know that it is only so that He can comfort you with the Gospel, the sweet and comforting forgiveness of sins. There is nothing for you to do to inherit eternal life; Jesus has already done it for you. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.