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Nearly There

October 21, 2018
By Rev. Peter Heckert


+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our meditation is from our Gospel lesson, specifically where Mark records, [T]he disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! 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.” And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…

Nearly there. We are nearly to the culmination of this particular discourse in Mark’s Gospel account. It may have started only in the previous chapter, but so much has happened in that short amount of time. Since Jesus’s transfiguration, we have seen Him heal a boy with an unclean spirit, even as the boy’s father begs with Jesus, “I believe; help my unbelief!” We heard the dunderheaded disciples ask among themselves who the greatest was immediately after Jesus had told them, for the second time, that “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him.” We’ve heard the disciples complain to Jesus that some dude is casting out demons in His Name, and that since he’s not one of them, he should be stopped; Jesus makes short work of those complaints, telling them that “no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. For the one who is not against us is for us.”  

We were uncomfortable as Jesus told us how sin is so serious, that if a body part causes us to sin, we ought to remove it; we were made to be even more uncomfortable as our Lord and Savior delivered some tough love to His hearers regarding divorce. Then, when His disciples wanted to dismiss approaching children as an annoyance, we saw Jesus rebuke them, and instead gather them into His arms and bless them. And just last week, we heard about a rich young man who walked away, sadly, from the Messiah because he wanted to do something to earn his salvation, and Jesus gave him a commandment that he couldn’t and wouldn’t be able to fulfill.

The theme in our texts over these past few weeks has been, essentially, the same. It’s been the same because, in case you didn’t notice, the disciples are portrayed as … well, they’re a little dense. They don’t get it, and neither do most of the people around them. They don’t understand what Jesus has been saying all this time, so they need to hear it time and time again: Salvation does not come to you by what you do because you are a lousy, rotten, no-good, stinkin’ sinner, and the best of your works are worthless toward your salvation. Over these last weeks, Jesus has been systematically tearing down the walls of self-righteousness and self-assurance that His hearers had built up around them, and now He’s got them where He wants them.

Immediately after the rich young man slinks away, Mark paints this dramatic picture: Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” This saying apparently throws the disciples for a loop, as Mark tells us how amazed they were that Jesus would say this. So Jesus reemphasizes His point – not just making mention of those who have wealth, who certainly have their own trials and temptations, but now speaking of everybody, He says, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! 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.” Our response to this likely echoes what the disciples ask. See, they perceive what Jesus has done, how the cats have now been fully painted into the corner. There’s no wiggle-room here, no possible out, and so they ask Him in there utter astonishment, “Then who can be saved?”

Because this is what the sinful human being does. Not only do we try to weasel our way out of being in trouble, out of confessing our sins, but we also try to flip our sin on its head and call it righteousness. The sinful human being tries to save itself, to redeem itself, to show that it’s not so bad and thus not meriting eternal condemnation, but instead, deserving praise! Accolades! Honor! All because we haughtily and foolishly say with the rich young man, “All these commandments I’ve kept; I haven’t done anything wrong since my youth!”

Jesus puts an end to that nonsense tout-de-suite. To the rich young man, He gives a command that is impossible for anyone to keep: sell all that he has, give the earnings from those sales to the poor, and follow Him. Let me ask: let’s say, hypothetically, somehow the rich young man were able and willing to do this very thing. Do you think that, had the young man done this, he would have been saved for that reason? OF COURSE NOT. Sure, part of the rich young man’s problem was his attachment to his earthly goods, those temporal blessings and gifts that God had given into his possession. However, there was a bigger problem, a deeper issue that cannot and will not be solved simply by selling all that one has, giving the money to the poor, and supposedly devoting one’s life to God.

This deeper issue here – one which we all have to deal with, by the way – is the desire, the need of the sinful flesh to try and self-justify, to stand before God and say, “I’m good, and I deserve salvation! It’s what I have earned by my good deeds!” It’s this mentality, this false theology, that has spawned every man-made religion across the globe – whether in Islam, Buddhism, Wicca, or whatever, it’s always you and what you do to get in good with God or Allah or Shiva or whoever. You’re working your way into the deity’s good graces. You’re doing something to earn nirvana or enlightenment or heaven. Indeed, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

The disciples ask of Jesus, “Then who can be saved?” They are, surprisingly, exactly right in their exclamation. They’re feeling the squeeze, recognizing that there’s no way out. Essentially, Jesus responds: “EXACTLY. THAT’S the point!” He says, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.”

Once again, this point is made, and it’s repeated here in this sermon because, like the disciples, it’s a message that we need to hear over and over again! We need to hear it because our sinful flesh wants to reject it! “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” He is the only One who can save, to do for us what is impossible for us to do for ourselves!

And we’re nearly there; in the context of our reading, we are nearly to the point where God will do the impossible. A little later in this same chapter, Jesus tells His disciples what must happen to Him in order to make it so everyone can be saved: “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.” THAT is how God does this impossible! THAT is how sinners, wretched and miserable as we are, can be saved! Jesus is condemned, delivered to unbelievers, mocked, beaten, spat upon, flogged, crucified, and killed – all while He is, at the same time, truly God and yet made to become the embodiment of sin. THAT, my friends, is how God does the impossible!

Because of this impossible work that Jesus accomplished perfectly, flawlessly, those who believe that this was done for them will have it done to them as they believe. At the end of Mark’s Gospel, Jesus makes a point of saying, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” Am I a sinner? Are you? Are our best works, our most righteous deeds, as Isaiah puts it, like a polluted garment, a filthy rag? Yes we are, and yes they are. We cannot save ourselves, but thanks to Jesus’s sacrifice on our behalf, we are given the promise of sins forgiven and the seal of life everlasting. He is coming soon, my friends. We are nearly there.

+ In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.