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.]

God is Jealous over You

Sermon for the Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost based on James 2:1-10, 14-18

Dear spirits for whom God yearns jealously: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Saint James, for the third week in a row, hammers us with the Law. He is unrelenting. Two weeks ago he told us faith without works is dead and cannot save us. Last week he accused us of setting the entire course of our lives on hell fire with our tongues. Today he is calling us adulterers. Not because of breaking the Sixth Commandment, but the First Commandment. He is saying we’ve been unfaithful to God in the love we have shown to the world.

How much time have you spent hearing God’s Word compared to how much time you have spent listening to the world? How much time have you spent pursuing worldly activities compared to how much time you have spent pursuing spiritual activities? How much money have you spent on worldly things compared to how much you have given to God? As Jesus says, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Matt. 6:21)

We are either following the wisdom that comes down from above, or the wisdom that is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. There is no other wisdom. We are either serving God and our neighbour or we are serving ourselves. We are either following God’s will for our lives, of we are following the will of our flesh, the world, and the devil.

We think we can have it both ways. We think we can be friends with the world and still be friends with God. Scripture says, “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?” A life that is devoted to selfish ambition, selfish gain, and selfish passion is a life that has no room for God. It is a life that makes us enemies of God. Yet, we are jealous and covet what God hasn’t given us and we get upset with God because we don’t have all our desires. We covet the things of this world. We are jealous of those who have more worldly things than we have.

God is jealous for us. Our text says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us.” God wants us, but we want the world. God wants us, but we want our passions. God wants us, but we want selfish things of the world for ourselves.

God’s jealousy is not wrong, but ours is. God’s jealousy can be compared to a husband’s jealousy when his wife spends all her time with other men and is unfaithful to him. That’s why James uses similar language as the Old Testament prophets, calling our unfaithfulness adultery.

God created us. We are His people. He has redeemed us with the blood of His own Son. But we are chasing after the things of this world. We want all kinds of things other than God. When we don’t get them, we get upset with God. What kind of backwards people are we?

James calls this double-mindedness. It’s like the wife who comes home from other men every once in a while to tell her husband how much she loves him. It is double-mindedness to try and be friends with the world and friends with God. It is spiritual adultery.

Our Scripture lesson hammers home the Law, but James also continuously also tells us that it is impossible to fulfil the Law. Last week he said man can tame all kinds of wild animals, but no one is able to tame the tongue. This week he says we are double-minded, which we cannot stop being until we are dead. We cannot remove our sinful minds from our heads. We cannot rip out the sinful desires and jealousy and covetousness out of our brains.

So what then? Why did the Holy Spirit inspire James to write these things if we cannot do them? Why is God commanding the impossible?

First, it is because He wants us to know His will for us as His creatures. He wants to teach us what is holy and righteous and good (Rom. 7:12), and He wants us to strive for them.

Even more, God wants to impress upon us our sinful nature and the impossibility of us saving ourselves so that we would humble ourselves and mourn over our sin.

“Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will exalt you.” Humble yourselves before God because of your sin, and He will forgive you your sin and raise you up.

Humbling ourselves is what we do when we confess, “I, a poor miserable sinner, confess unto You all my sins and iniquities with which I have ever offended You and justly deserved Your temporal and eternal punishment. But I am heartily sorry for them and sincerely repent of them, and I pray You of Your boundless mercy and for the sake of the holy, innocent, bitter sufferings and death of Your beloved Son, Jesus Christ, to be gracious and merciful to me, a poor sinful being.” (Public Confession in Divine Service setting three, LSB 184)

This is humility. It is confessing our worthlessness before God and begging Him for mercy. It is drawing near to God, for He draws near to us. It is being wretched and mourning and weeping over our sin. It is humbling ourselves before God because we know He will exalt us. It is knowing that God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.

Grace. God gives you grace. He does not leave you in your wretchedness, mourning, and weeping because He does not leave you in your sin. He gives you grace. He exalts you. He forgives you all your sin in Absolution and takes your sin away from you. He cleanses your hands and purifies your hearts. He does this all on account of Jesus fulfilling the requirements of the Law in your place. He does this on account of Jesus’ suffering and death for your sins. He does this on account of Jesus taking the punishment that you deserve.

God is jealous over you and does not want the world to get you, so He gives you the forgiveness of sins and takes you exclusively for Himself as His pure, holy, forgiven child. He doesn’t just do this once. He does it again and again until you need no more forgiveness, that is to say, until He takes you home to be with Him to the sinless perfection of Paradise.

In Paradise, we will not sin any more. This is one of the greatest joys to which we look forward. We will never again sin against our Creator. We will never again have desires that are contrary to His will for us. Long forgotten will be the selfish ambitions, selfish gains, and selfish passions of this world. Long forgotten will be the world that will be burning along with all those things we used to care about. We will no longer be double-minded, but we will want everything that is holy and righteous and good. We will no longer have the wretchedness, mourning, and weeping of sin, but only laughter and joy forevermore. And we will be faithful to God, as He is faithful to us. 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 begin using the One-Year Lectionary.]