Mark 10:17-22 (Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost/Proper 23—Series B)
“Inheriting Eternal Life”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
October 11, 2015
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text for our time together this morning is the Gospel lesson recorded in Mark 10:
And 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?” 18 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. 19 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.'” 20 And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” 21 And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and 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.” 22 Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
He had it all together. From his youth. He was a “bar mitzvah,” a son of the commandments. Not only did he know them, he had kept them—do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not bear false witness, do not defraud, honor your father and mother—all of them done since he was a young man.
He had it all together. Or did he? Did he feel like he was missing something, and that is what prompted his question to Jesus, “Good Teacher, what should I do so that I might inherit eternal life?” Or was he looking for confirmation that he had already done what he should do, thus earning the everlasting life he sought? Probably it was that reason. In the man’s mind, goodness was defined by achievement. “I have done what is good, therefore I am good.” And so he questioned Jesus, whom the man perceives as one who, like himself, is also good, in order to be to be confirmed in his understanding that because he had kept “all these” commandments that he had indeed inherited eternal life because of his good actions. But Jesus shows him where his thinking had gone all wrong.
The man understands eternal life as something that he must earn by “being good,” keeping God’s commandments. Jesus points Him to the only One who is good, God. The man lacks one thing, and Jesus shows Him that the thing He lacks is God! All the commandments that the man says he has done are from the Second Table of the Law, Commandments 4-10, which deal with showing love to your neighbor. What was missing in this man’s life is fear and love for God alone. He had not kept the First Commandment. He loved possessions more than God. He loved “being good,” relying on His own achievements, more than trusting in God’s grace to provide eternal life to him in his helplessness and littleness. Remember Jesus’ words last week about being like a child? “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” (Mark 10:15)
Inheriting the kingdom means receiving, not earning. Inheriting eternal life means receiving from God what is His, what He wants to give to us who are little and know our helplessness. Our only hope of salvation and life is not by “being good,” but an utter reliance on God who alone is good and who alone can give eternal life. You can see that the question, “What should I do so that I might inherit?” indicates the level of confusion. You can’t “do” something in order to “inherit” or “receive” a gift. If you earn it, it’s not inheritance, that which you receive by the gracious will of the one giving it to you!
In a Peanuts coming strip, Lucy told her brother Linus how she was intending to grow up one day and be a queen and live in a big house and even wear a crown while swimming! Linus shatters her daydream with the sad news that you have to be born into a royal family to be a queen; it is inherited. Lucy gets very angry and announces that she intends to work very, very hard and make lots of money, so that she can buy herself a queendom and kick out the old queen, so she can live in a very big house and wear her crown while swimming. Like Lucy, and like the man who came to Jesus, our temptation is to think that by working very hard we might finally be able to take the kingdom from God. But the Lord teaches us that the kingdom cannot be taken, earned, or deserved by any of our efforts. It cannot be bought with money. It is a gift that He delights to give.
As strange as it may sound, even Lutheran Christians, who know that it is by grace alone through faith alone that we are saved, still fall into the trap of seeking to be “good enough” for God. How sad it is when I hear members say, “I hope I’ve been good enough to go to heaven.” It’s like they are saying, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” And they run through the list of the Commandments and quickly realize that God alone is good and they are not, and so they despair. None of us are good. I’m not good; you’re not good. We daily sin much, breaking the commandments, especially the First. We do not always fear, love, and trust in God above all things. We love our possessions, our pleasures, and our lives more than God’s Word. We love our own so-called “achievements” and seek to glorify ourselves and not the Lord who is truly good.
Our consciences become troubled and concerned over the judgment of God’s Law that declares us “guilty as charged.” The devil steps in to lead us into further doubt and despair, “You haven’t lived up to God’s good standards. You are not good enough for Him. You didn’t earn it; you don’t get it.” We hear and listen to and believe his lies. We then try even harder to be good and fail again and again leading to more despair and worry over our salvation. What do I have to do to be saved? Martin Luther reached this point. He tried to be good enough, but it was never enough. He wrote, “Though I lived as a monk without reproach, I felt that I was a sinner before God with an extremely disturbed conscience. I could not believe that He was placated by my [so-called good works].”
The man who came to Jesus went away distressed because he had many possessions. Did Luther also go away from the Lord like that man, distressed? Do we go away from Jesus like that man, troubled? No, because we receive the Gospel which that man walked away from. Luther wrote, “The righteousness of God is revealed by the gospel, . . . a merciful God justifies us [declares us not guilty of sin] by faith. . . . Here I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates.” The Gospel is God’s gift to us. It is God’s mercy toward us who are helpless in our sins to keep His commandments perfectly. In Baptism, God adopts us into His family and gives us freely the inheritance He wants us to have—forgiveness of sins and eternal life.
That inheritance, your inheritance, was purchased and won by God the Son, Jesus. He alone is God and is Good. Yet, He took our sins upon Himself as if they were His. Jesus went to the cross willingly, in our place, to suffer the death we deserve because of our sins. He suffered our punishment of hell on the cross for our breaking God’s commandments. His shed blood merited our forgiveness for our failure to keep any of the commandments. His death won for us life eternal because our sins are forgiven and He is risen from the dead as He said. Our salvation from sin and death, the eternal life that Jesus won for us, He gives to us as the gift of our inheritance. God’s Word to us in Galatians 4, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.” (Gal. 4:4-7)
Because of Jesus, unlike the man in our text, you and I do have it all together. We don’t ever have to walk away from Jesus distressed or troubled because we are not good enough. Jesus’ righteousness, His goodness, is counted as our own. His keeping the Commandments perfectly is credited to us as if we have done so. Before God the Father, in Christ, we stand holy and perfect. Our sins are forgiven, and where there is forgiveness, there is eternal life and salvation. It’s not earned by us; it’s freely given. It’s not merited, but inherited as God’s complete gift to us. Amen.