Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!
Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.
Sunday, October 21, 2012
God Makes Heaven Possible - October 21, 2012 - Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 24) - Text: Mark 10:23-31
Last week we heard the narrative of Jesus being approached by the synagogue ruler who thought he was a good man and even good enough to earn his way into eternal life. Through the law of the commandments Jesus helped the man to see that he could not justify himself in God’s presence. We were also shown that although God does not ask us to “sell everything we own, give it all to the poor, and then follow Him,” His desire is that we give ourselves to Him and trust and depend on Him alone, as a little child, and know that as He has provided for all that we need in this world, so He will continue to provide for all that we need.
Our text for this morning moves us on to the next verse. Jesus has gathered with His disciples and is giving them a bit of instruction. Jesus had just finished speaking to the rich ruler who went away disheartened because he was very wealthy and because he truly was dependent on himself rather than on God.
And now Jesus tells his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God.” And Jesus reiterates, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God.” And finally Jesus gives a proverb, “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.” Notice that Jesus does not say that there is no hope for rich people to get to heaven. Jesus is simply stating one of the temptations of worldly wealth, which is the fact that the temptation of worldly wealth is to put our faith and trust in ourselves and in our wealth rather than to trust in God. We saw this temptation last week when the rich young ruler who believed he was good enough to be saved was shown that his trust was in himself rather than in God and that it is God alone who gives eternal salvation.
As for this proverb Jesus speaks, there have been numerous explanations including one that says the door next to the gate which opens into the city is called the eye of a needle and it is difficult to get a camel to get on its knees to enter through this door. I think we can take Jesus’ words at face value. It is difficult for a camel to pass through the eye of a sewing needle, and that is the point. The temptations of this world make it difficult, not only for the rich, but for all people to get into heaven. Notice Jesus does not simply say how difficult it is for the those who have wealth, but “how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God.” Jesus’ message last week, and His message this week is again, do we depend on ourselves or on Him and Him alone for salvation?
As Jesus was speaking with the disciples, the disciples then asked, “Who can be saved?” And Jesus response was that “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” Jesus words from this week, from last week, from week before last, all tie in together. We are indeed to have the faith of a child. Children believe and trust in God unconditionally, because they cannot take care of themselves. As we grow from being children to being teenagers, to getting our first job and pay check, to being able to purchase some of the things we desire, to graduating from high school and college and getting a job and earning a pay check, to renting an apartment or purchasing a house and a car and so on, we begin to depend on ourselves more and more and on God less and less. We begin to forget that it is God who has given all things in the first place. It is God who has given us life, who gives us gifts, talents and abilities, who gives us a job, work and a career. We are tempted by the world to believe that we have pulled ourselves up by our bootstraps, that we have done it our way, that we can only depend on ourselves. We begin to lose our childlike faith. And as we listen to the humanistic culture of our world today, we begin to believe that we are innately good, that we can be good and that we can somehow justify ourselves before God so that we deserve heaven.
But, our text is not complete. As Jesus is speaking with His disciples, Peter speaks up for the disciples and reminds Jesus that they left everything to follow Him. And I do not believe Peter is trying to justify himself or his fellow disciples, rather he is simply concerned about how difficult it sounds to get into heaven.
And Jesus agrees as He explains that what they did was not an attempt to earn heaven but what they did, “left everything and followed Jesus,” was a response of faith, as it will be to all who are saved. Certainly we would understand Jesus’ words to His disciples are spoken to us here today. Today Jesus does not ask us to physically leave everything and follow Him, yet, we might understand that when we do have the faith of a child, we do separate ourselves from depending on the things of this world, on what we believe to be our own good works, we leave our dependency on these things and follow Jesus.
Finally, Jesus says, “But many who are first will be last and the last first.” While we live in this world we will not and should not expect justice. Time and again we hear of the rewards that are reaped by the unjust and the punishment inflicted on the just. Time and again we see how good is rained down on the just and the unjust. Time and again we see the unfairness of this world. Yet, a time and a day will come and is nearer now than ever before. The day will come when justice will be delivered and that day is the day of judgement, the last day. On the last day God will right every wrong. God will bring pure justice so the first will be first and the last will be last.
So, as usual we ask, what does this mean? As I look at our world and listen to the messages that are spoken to the world, I believe we are drawing closer and closer to the end of the world. I say this, not as a fear monger, but simply as an observation. The world, and I mean the world, not simply our own country, but the world has truly bought into the lies of humanism, that is that we can be good people and that as good people we will all go to heaven. This lie is what is behind the reason that people see less and less of a need to be in divine service and Bible class. This lie is being propagated by pastors and churches which are simply seeking people to come in and fill the pews so they look like they are being successful at bringing people to Jesus. Yet, this lie is what is condemning the world. As Jesus has been trying to tell us over the past few weeks, we cannot be the people He would have us to be. We cannot point to anything we have done which would undo our condemnation. Our own self-righteousness, our own good works, or what we think of as good works, avail nothing.
Certainly, if we could be the person God would want us to be, if we were good people, then we would most certainly have no need for a Savior. Jesus is speaking to us. Point blank, it is impossible for us to save ourselves. And yet, the world continues to tempt us to think we can save ourselves and too many in our world and yes, even too many in our own midst have bought into this lie of the world and so Sunday after Sunday we see people absenting themselves from divine service and Bible class and refusing the gifts God has to give thinking they do not need the gifts because they are innately good enough.
We are conceived and born in sin. We daily sin much and are in need of forgiveness. We depend on ourselves which, contrary to what the world would have us believe, is fruitless. Certainly we would understand Jesus’ words to us today as, “How difficult it will be for those who are dependent on themselves to enter the kingdom of God.”
The good news is that Jesus has not given up on us. Here again this week, we have Jesus words of warning and His words reminding us of all that He has done for us. We cannot save ourselves. No one can save themself. When God created the world, He already knew that Adam and Eve would sin. He already knew that He would have to wash the world with a flood. He already knew that He would have to confuse the language of the peoples in order to get them to move out and inhabit the entire world. He already knew that He would have to do for His world what the world would not and could not do for itself. When God created the world He created it perfect and holy. When Adam and Eve sinned they brought God’s curse on the world and yet, God immediately stepped in and promised to make amends, to reconcile His world with Himself. God’s demand is perfection and we cannot be perfect. God chose Israel to be His people and as we have been hearing in Bible class, time and again they failed. Jesus was born, of the tribe of Israel, as the one to fulfill the promise in Eden. Jesus was born in perfection and He did the impossible for us. With man this is impossible, but not so with God. With God all things are possible. Jesus was born in perfection and lived a perfect life, for us, in our place, as our substitute. Not only did Jesus do the impossible in living perfectly for us, He then took all our sins upon Himself. He who was without sin became sin for us. Jesus took ours sins and then suffered the punishment for our sins, the complete punishment, eternal spiritual death. And He died. Jesus died. Our God died. On the cross Jesus died for our sins. And yet, we know the story, the rest of the story. Jesus did not stay dead, but on the third day He rose, victorious over sin, death and the power of the devil.
With man this is impossible, but not so with God. With God, all things are possible. With God we have forgiveness and eternal salvation. On Calvary Jesus earned forgiveness. Through His means of grace and in particular, through His means of grace delivered in divine service every Sunday He distributes the gifts He earned, faith, forgiveness, strengthening of faith, life and salvation. And so, now, our lives are lived as a response of faith as moved by God. Our desire is to be where the gifts are distributed.
Jesus’ words of promise to His disciples are His words of promise to us today, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, 30who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. 31But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” God loves you. He created you. He gives you life and new life through Holy Baptism. He gives you forgiveness of sins and strengthening of faith through His Word and Sacraments. He gives you the faith of a child to depend on Him and ultimately, He will gather you and all the faithful and give us eternal life. To Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.