Sometimes, by the way we present things, it can seem like a person can be saved but not really a disciple of Jesus. All you have to do is say a prayer, and you are in! You can’t earn your own salvation so it doesn’t really matter what you do from here on out because you have said this prayer.
But the Bible takes a rather different approach. It talks about is in terms of relationship and journey. It talks about following Jesus and making His life the pattern by which we live ours. That is something completely different than how I grew up understanding salvation. I thought once I said the prayer that I was in...Jesus talks about relationship and following...so that things like spiritual growth and obedience are a necessity to our faith.
We could really say that over the past few weeks we have been looking at things that hinder our ability to be true disciples of Jesus Christ.
A couple weeks ago we looked at how ritual can hinder our ability to have a real relationship with Jesus. Last week as we looked at leadership, Jesus pointed out how grabbing for power and authority over others hinders our ability to be a disciple as well.
These were common in Jesus’ time and they are common now.
Today, we are going to look at one more thing that can hinder our ability to follow Jesus. We are going to talk about money. Yeah, I know. We are all excited. A church talking about money.
But if you have been here any length of time, I hope you know that when we talk about money, we do so because it has to do with our relationship with God and not some cloaked guilt trip about giving more to the church.
People get uptight when the idea of money is brought up in church. And I want you to be able to relax in the sense that we do not beg for money. I think those who follow God and take part in the life of this church should tithe, but it is not my place to play the role of the Holy Spirit. I fully believe the words of the great missionary Hudson Taylor, “God's work, done God's way, will never lack God's supply.”
Let’s read today’s passage and dive in shall we?
17 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”The last few passages of Scripture we have looked at are grouped in a section of teaching on discipleship, and throughout this section Jesus is interweaving predictions about his upcoming crucifixion. So as Jesus is teaching about what it means to be His disciple, He is purposely talking about it in relationship to His sacrifice, and this passage is no different. When this passage opens with the statement, “As Jesus was on his way...” it is talking about on His way to the crucifixion.
18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’”
20 “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”
21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
22 At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.
23 Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”
24 The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
26 The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?”
27 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”
So as Jesus begins this journey that ultimately leads to a cross, this rich man comes to Jesus asking a question that everyone on a spiritual journey must ask, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” And despite our modern understanding of this phrase, the man is not asking about life after death. He is asking Jesus what it means to have a life God blesses.
He has obeyed all the commandments, and yet there is still a sense of lacking. This man, we discover, has great wealth, and yet something is missing. And as Jesus is always able to do, He goes right to the heart of the issue... “One thing you lack,” Jesus says.
One thing...this man had not realized that despite all the things he did right and all the things he owned...there was just one thing keeping him from entering, and this man’s “one thing” serves as a reminder to us that...
Our stuff can keep us from the Kingdom of God.
This young man comes to Jesus, he has been obedient to the Law, but his stuff, his wealth gets in the way. In the entire Gospel of Mark, this is the only place where someone seeking to be a disciple of Jesus turns his back and walks away.
Jesus looks at him, and with 5 very sharp commands says, “Go, Sell, Give, Come, and Follow.” “One thing you lack,” Jesus said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” This one statement cuts right to the heart of the problem for this young man, because our passage says that he owns a lot of property.
In the 1st Century, as it is in many places today, wealth was seen as a sign of God’s blessing! The startling thing for Jesus’ disciples is that Jesus saw that wealth could be a hindrance to true discipleship. When Jesus says, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!” The disciples are amazed. Riches and property were a sure sign that you were loved and blessed by God...but here is a man, loved by Jesus, but just “one thing” shy of being part of the Kingdom of God.
Every time this passage is brought up, people ask, “Are we really supposed to sell everything we own and give it to the poor?” It is tempting to soften or explain away this story. It’s easy to do that. But just like power and authority are discipleship issues, so too are wealth and poverty.
I don’t know if you’re supposed to sell every thing you have and give to the poor. Wealth is one of those things that can stand in the way of a person being part of the Kingdom of God, and not when people have money...it can be those who do not have money. Wealth has a way of creating a dividing line that makes the wealthy want to keep it at all costs and the poor want to get it at all costs, and neither of these two approaches can coexist with those who want to be part of the Kingdom of God.
What is really at stake as we read this passage is not just money. For the rich man it was his wealth, but just a few verses later...it was Peter’s prideful humility and poverty that stood in the way when he said, “We have left everything to follow you!”
We have stuff that can stand in the way of our entering the Kingdom of God. For some it might be wealth. For others their poverty. For some it might be a wrong belief about how something should or should not be. For James and John it was their desire for power and authority over others...
Here is really what is at stake in this passage...
Being part of the Kingdom of God requires us to rid ourselves all false Gods.
Stacey Elizabeth Simpson, The Christian Century, 2000. Religion Online, says, “What must we do to inherit eternal life? We must let go of all that we have and all that we do that gets in the way of seeing we can do nothing to save ourselves."
There are so many false Gods we use to gain salvation or verify that God loves us, and they attempt to replace God...wealth, church attendance, leadership positions in the church, our own comfort, recognition for the good we have done, the amount we have sacrificed for God, how blessed we are, and the reverse of that...if things aren’t going well we assume we have sinned or God is doing this to teach us a lesson. We allow so many things to get in the way of single-minded devotion to God...things that derail our relationship with God.
I know I do. It is so easy to get distracted by the bills that must be paid, the next message that has to be prepared, the appointments, the worries, the job...you name it. Pretty soon I am acting like those are the most important things in life. And Jesus constantly challenges those other gods that would take over control of my life, and distract me.
This passage causes so much discussion and anger and resistance precisely because money is such a big issue for those us us living in America. We are the wealthiest country in the world. Even the poorest among us are extremely wealthy by world standards. We live in a country that either has money, wants money, or wants to live like they have money.
And we know, deep down, that this desire and striving for more is contrary to what Jesus is teaching. Jesus is not against having money or property or wealth, but against making it our god.
For this young man his false god was his wealth. Jesus told him he lacked one thing, and to go, sell, give, and then come and follow. For some of us, though, money isn’t the issue. If Jesus told us to sell everything and give it to the poor, some of us would have no problem...but Jesus isn’t just concerned with money. More deeply than money He asks us to name our false gods, draw them out into the light of day, and get rid of them.
It pushes us toward an uncomfortable question, what if Jesus were to look at us...what is the “one thing missing” he would see in you and me? What would we have to go, sell, and give in order to really come and follow Him unhindered?
There is a prayer that I pray on very rare occasions. I pray it rarely because, honestly, I’m a little afraid of what I’m going to hear. It is a dangerous prayer, I believe. Do you want to hear it? That’s rhetorical, I’m going to tell you whether you want to or not.
Here is the prayer: “Lord, is there anything in me that stands in the way of my being all you want me to be?”
You see wrestling with this passage and Jesus’ ability to regularly point out my “one thing,” which seems to be a lot of things, I realize that...
Entrance into the Kingdom of God is difficult.
I was always told that getting saved was easy, free, simple, and then like a salesman’s bait and switch, only after you said the prayer did they start adding all these do’s and don’t’s and attendance requirements and the list seemed to go on forever.
And in a sense they were right, it is simple and easy in the fact that Jesus has done all that needs to be done for my salvation, but that is really the end of easy because what He asks is that I destroy all the other things that rival His leadership in my life. And that is difficult.
Jesus says, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!” and the disciples are amazed at his words. But Jesus goes on to say, “How hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
The disciples are even more amazed, and say, “Who then can be saved?”
So Jesus looks at them and says, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”
Do you see what Jesus does there? He goes from talking about how hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God to how hard it is to enter the Kingdom of God period. It isn’t just difficult for the rich...it is difficult for all of us.
The Kingdom of God requires my very best obedience and all that I have, but even then all I can do is still not enough to achieve eternal life. It is a tension that we live in...God’s standard is set so high that I must offer my best obedience and my full-commitment to Him, but that is not what saves me...it is only God’s grace that saves us.
There is that wonderful statement Jesus makes, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”
Things are not hopeless...difficult maybe...but not impossible because God makes it possible.
You see we can look at the life God is calling us to live and say, “That is just too hard. I can’t do it. I can’t get rid of the gods in my life.” But God promises that we are not alone...we don’t have to do it on our own. We have to offer up our best obedience, but it is his wonderful love and grace that comes along side and helps us make it.
You see God loves us so much that He does not want to sit back and watch us waste our lives on worthless gods. Gods that promise satisfaction and fulfillment, but ultimately leave us empty. That is the Gospel. The Gospel is not the presentation of salvation. The Gospel is the belief that Jesus’ death and resurrection has made it possible for us to live as God asks us to live. That God in His grace makes it possible for you and I to follow Jesus.
At the end of this passage Jesus once again brings up the principle that the first shall be last, but right after that He does what no one expects, especially of the Messiah...He predicts a horrific beating and death on a cross to pay the price for our sins.
Here is what no one else has done. Jesus says pay any price to be obedient to God...and then He led the way. Philippians 2:8 says that Jesus, “ humbled himself and became obedient to death--even death on a cross!”
We have a leader that walked the walk before us. He doesn’t ask us to do anything He hasn’t been willing to do, and He doesn’t ask us to do anything He isn’t willing to help us do either.
As we close, I want to return the question I asked earlier, what if Jesus were to look at us...what is the “one thing missing” he would see in you and me that he would want us to go, sell, give, and then come and follow?