Mark 10:23-27 (Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost—Series B)
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
October 21, 2012
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Gospel lesson from Mark 10:
And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24 And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult 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 a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” 27 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.”
It is really THE question that the disciples ask Jesus today: “Who is able to be saved?” It is a question that impacts each and every one of us. Am I able to be saved from my sins, from death, from hell? Are you? Jesus takes us today from impossibility to possibility to reality in answering this question, “Who is able to be saved?”
Our Gospel reading this week is part of the story we started last Sunday. (See why it’s so important to be in worship each week so you don’t miss things!) Last week we heard about the rich man who came up to Jesus and asked, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” In this man’s thinking he was asking Jesus if being good is good enough to be saved. “You know the Commandments: Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness. Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.” The man replies to Jesus that he has kept all these things from his youth. So is being good what it takes to enter the kingdom of God? Is being good what saves a person from sin, death, and hell?
What did Jesus answer the man last Sunday? “One thing you lack which you need.” In other words, “You think you are good. But in reality you are not good enough to enter the kingdom of God. You are not good enough to save yourself.” So how good is good enough? Don’t worry. Jesus tells us what is good enough in order to be saved. “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Good enough to be saved is only found in complete perfection. It means that you have kept every single commandment of God without fail, without mistake, entirely, completely, all the time every time. It means that you are without sin, without the punishment of death and hell against you. “I have kept all these things from my youth,” doesn’t imply perfection, however. It’s more along the lines of, “I’ve done my absolute best to guard and keep God’s commandments.” But our absolute best isn’t good enough. It’s not perfect. So being good will not save us since we are not without sin. We are not without the punishment of death and hell.
What about being rich? The rich seem to have everything going for them. Perhaps the rich can use their wealth to help others and in that way earn God’s approval and so earn salvation from their sins and the sentence of death and hell. Maybe we can’t keep the commandments, but can we do enough nice things with our wealth and possessions to get in to the kingdom of God and earn our salvation? If we give enough to the church or to charity, or donate items for the Food Shelf Ministry, shouldn’t that count for something?
There is no mark of God’s special favor in possessions, nor in the lack of them. There is no merit before God accumulated through good works accomplished by the use of our wealth and possessions. In fact, there is a particular danger that faces us who have quite a few possessions and are comparatively “rich.” Our wealth can create a false sense of security as we put our trust in what we have instead of in the Lord. We are tempted to trust in our material resources and personal power to save us. Consider this parable of Jesus from Luke 12, “The land of a rich man was very productive. And he began reasoning to himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no place to store my crops?’ Then he said, ‘This is what I will do: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your soul is required of you.’”(Luke 12:16-21) So Jesus says today in our text, “How difficult it will be for those having wealth to enter the kingdom of God. . . . It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” Having wealth and possessions cannot save a person anymore than the largest animal in Palestine could pass through the smallest of openings.
Good people aren’t saved by being good enough since people have to be perfect. People with wealth and possessions aren’t saved because they have it or because they use their wealth and possessions to do good works. So it looks like we are left at the same point as the disciples. They were exceedingly astonished, saying to Jesus, “Who is able to be saved?” It’s time to panic! The way in which Jesus spoke of the rich having difficulty entering the kingdom of God is the same for any person who desires to achieve entrance into the kingdom and salvation, “Children, how difficult it is to enter into the Kingdom of God. . . .With people it is impossible.”
We are not at all comfortable with impossibilities especially when it comes to being saved from sin, death, and hell. Jesus comes out and point blank says there is no way that you and I can be saved by ourselves. Be saved by being good enough—impossible. Be saved by having wealth and being generous—impossible. Impossible means that you and I are incapable of earning or achieving salvation. Impossible means that we don’t even possess the ability to get into the kingdom of God. The disciples get it; and we get it. It’s impossible to save ourselves. But . . .
What is impossible with people IS possible with God. Jesus immediately moves us from hopelessness and despair over the impossibility of earning or meriting salvation and takes us into the blessed realm of God’s possibility! “With people it is impossible to be saved, but not with God. For all things are possible with God,” especially our salvation!
And that is truly Good News. God accomplished for us what we could never do. Because of our sins we can never be good enough, perfect, and so achieve salvation. We would be lost forever in sin, death, and everlasting condemnation. But God would not have it that way. God could not have it that way because of His great love for us and for all people. So God did what is impossible for us—He saved us from our sins, from death, and from hell. As we read in God’s Word from Titus 3, “He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit.” (Titus 3:5)
It is God the Holy Spirit who delivers to us personally in the Gospel Word the forgiveness of sins and the eternal life which Jesus Christ alone purchased and won for us by His death on the cross and by His resurrection from the dead. Christ lived a perfect life for all people. Christ died for the sins of all people—for every commandment we have broken, for all the good we have failed to do, for our failures to be perfect, for our failure to always love God. Because of what Jesus did for us on the cross, God our heavenly Father declares us and all people saved! “It is finished,” as far as God is concerned. Forgiveness of sins belongs to you and is delivered to you by the Holy Spirit through the Gospel and the Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. And where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also the gift of eternal life and salvation!
Martin Luther brings this Gospel into our homes as we confess the Apostles’ Creed. In his explanation our brother in Christ wrote, “I believe that Jesus Christ . . . has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom.”
You are God’s own. You belong to Christ who has redeemed you, bought you back from sin, from death, from hell. You are members of His kingdom through your baptism into Christ Jesus. You are saved! This is not your doing. It’s the gift of God to you. Forgiveness and eternal life are so much yours that it’s not a gift for the asking. It’s already yours, now, today! You don’t have to earn the gift. You don’t have to be good enough. You don’t have to be rich. You don’t have to be anything except grateful receivers of what God in Christ has given to you simply because He loves you and has saved you from sin, death, and hell.
“Who, then, is able to be saved?” Our Lord Jesus has taken us from the impossibility of saving ourselves, to the possibility of God alone saving us, to the reality that our God has done just that. Christ Jesus has died for us and won our forgiveness. We have eternal life through faith in Jesus. That means the kingdom of God is ours today and into eternity. It means, because of Jesus, you are saved! Amen.