Saturday, October 13, 2018

Loved by Jesus

Mark 10:17-22 Most of us have heard the old expression that “God loves us just the way we are but he loves us too much to let us stay the way we are”.  That’s what we are going to learn about ourselves in our Gospel lesson for the day. 
We see a perfectly nice young man who was the apple of his parent’s eye—a young man who possessed every earthly blessing--and yet he wasn’t all that God wanted him to be because his life with God did not come first. 
The key to the whole passage is that Jesus looked at him with love.  He loved him just as he was—right then and there with his very real sins and failings--but Jesus wasn’t content for him to remain as he was.  So it is for us.  The Bible says that:
As Jesus was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?"  And Jesus said to him, "Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. 
Then and now, when you give a compliment to someone it’s a way of greasing the wheels socially for what is about to follow between the two of you.
But Jesus wasn’t going to let him think that this was just some ordinary discourse between a traveling rabbi and someone who wanted a religious opinion.  Jesus loved the man too much to let him escape from that encounter without having to come to grips with who Jesus really was-- and who he was by comparison.  And so…
Jesus reminded him that only God is good.  People then and now forget that.  We say that this man or that lady are good folks but what we really mean is that they are better than others—maybe even better than us if that were possible! 
But only God is good in the way that the Bible talks about goodness.  He is perfect and holy and righteousness and the difference between him and us is not a matter of degree-- but of kind. 
That is what Jesus wanted the young man to come to terms with that day and he wants the same for us.  Jesus is not merely a good man in that he is better than others.  He is not merely a wise teacher in that he is smarter than others.  He is not merely an inspiring example to follow in that he is more heroic than others. 
Jesus is God in human flesh and his goodness is the goodness of God himself.
Jesus wanted the man to set aside pious-sounding speech that really didn’t mean anything and to confess Jesus for who he truly is:  not just a man who offers an opinion that can be taken or rejected as the young man saw fit—but as the one true God who can command all that is about to follow and who expects obedience.
There is a lesson here for us too.  We call Jesus our Lord and Savior and that sounds very pious.  But is he really our Lord?  Does he have the final say in our lives?  Do we live our lives in his service?  Do we gladly set aside the things he forbids and do the things he commands?  Is his purpose and mission our purpose and mission? 
We call Jesus our Savior but do we recognize him and him alone as our only hope from sin and death or are we still trying to do our part to earn heaven?  Do we truly believe that he has saved us from sin, death, and the devil or are we still walking around with a load of guilt, fearful and worried, and giving in to the devil?  Is Jesus our peace in life or do we find comfort somewhere else like our possessions?
The young man didn’t know Jesus as Lord and Savior-- that is why he asked the question that he did!  “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”  That is the question of all human flesh.  What do I need to do to make my own place with God?  And every human religion except for true, biblical Christianity--gets the answer wrong because they don’t know the truth about themselves or God.  Jesus wanted to open his eyes and our too
And so, in effect Jesus says, “fine, you want to know what YOU have to do to life forever:  keep the commandments”!  With the voice and authority of Sinai, Jesus said:  
'Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.' "   And he said to him, "Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth."   
That is the answer to what we must do to inherit eternal life!  Jesus says that we must keep the law.  But not according to our abilities.  Not better than the guy next door.  Not as best we can.  We must keep the law with the same degree and kind of holiness and perfection and righteousness as God himself. 
That is what the vast majority of the world, then and now, does not understand about God’s expectations for us.  But Jesus is very clear on it. 
Jesus says that it is not just the act of adultery that is the sin-- but also the lust of the heart.  It is not just the act of murdering that is the sin-- but the anger in the heart that preceded it.  It is not just the unkind word to others-- but the way we feel towards them in our heart.  Sin clings to our flesh even when it is not seen or heard by others.
And it is here that outwardly pious people—people like the man that day and people like us —fail.  You see, we are not called to be better than our neighbor-- we are called to be holy just exactly God-- and failure at just one point of the law makes us guilty of all of it.   When it comes to being saved by the law—when it comes to what I must do-- the standard is not “plenty good enough”—but perfection that is required
I have absolutely no doubt that the young man was just exactly the kind of young man that every parent would want for a child—that he stood head and shoulders over his peers.  (He thought he did anyway)!  But that was not the standard.  The Good One who stood next him-he was the standard.  And so then with perfect justice Jesus could have judged him, chastised him and brought him up short.  But he didn’t.  The Bible says that: 
“And Jesus, looking at him, loved him.”  And in that one little phrase we hear the most wonderful teaching of all of Holy Scripture—that God loves us just the way we are.  In our self-centeredness, in our self-righteousness, in our selfishness—God loves us. 
The Bible says that “this is what love is—not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his son as the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world”.  The Bible says that “while we were still sinners Christ died for us”.  The Bible says that “God loved the world and sent his Son that whoever believes in him would have everlasting life.”
Christ lived a holy life for all of us who are caught up in the delusion that we can please God on our own and earn salvation.  He died on the cross for all of us who think God ought to reward us rather than punish us as we deserve.  Christ rose from the dead for all of us who think that eternal life with God is simply the result of having lived an outwardly decent life.
Christ loved that young man (and he loves us) just the way we are—but he loved that young man (and he loves us) far too much to let us remain as we are, living apart from God in the blindness and delusion of sin. 
That is why Jesus was there that day—to change that young man—and that is why he speaks to us through this lesson this day—to change us too.  The Bible says that: 
"Jesus said to him, You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me."   
Jesus knew exactly what the man’s problem was and that was the place that God had—or rather didn’t have-- in his heart.  The young man was careful to keep commandments regarding his neighbor, but he had forgotten the first commandment—that we are to have no other gods than the one true God.
Jesus knew just exactly what came first in that man’s heart just as he knows what comes first in our hearts.  The love of money filled that man’s heart-- and Jesus’ LOVE for him demanded his repentance and a radical change of heart. Jesus told him:  Go, sell all you, and give to the poor. 
With these words, we have come full circle when it comes to who Jesus is.  A wise rabbi has absolutely no right to ask anyone to go and sell all his possessions—but God does.  No matter who he thought Jesus was when he came to him, now he knew the truth—and so do we.
Jesus was and is and always will be God.  He is the One to whom we will bow the knee to in love in this life as our Lord-- or in abject fear in the life to come—and he calls each one of us to repent of all those things that come before him in our life.
And it’s important for us to see what true repentance involves—not just sorrow over sin—not just some words on a page that are spoken while our minds are elsewhere--but a concrete change that truly shows we have turned from sin, to God, in faith.
With that command to repent comes the greatest invitation of all—to come and follow Jesus—to be a part of his kingdom-- and enjoy all of the blessings of peace and joy and hope that he bestows through faith. 
That is what Jesus wanted for the young man that day and it’s what he wants for us.  You see dear friends in Christ, Jesus is not primarily interested in our having enough money or being in good health or having a worry-free, struggle-free life. 
He is perfectly willing to let us go into the kingdom missing an eye or hand or wallet that sins because he knows that there is no comparison between the things of this world and the eternal treasures of a life with God that only he can give.
But in that moment, on that gracious day of salvation, the rich young man turned his back on those treasures.  The Bible says that:   Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.”    
I pray that our response today would be different.  That hearing Jesus’ invitation to come and follow him—that seeing the feast of love and forgiveness that is set before our eyes in the Sacrament of the Lord’s Body and Blood--we would gladly, willingly repent of our love for the things of this world and follow Jesus by faith into eternal life.  Amen.

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