Mark 10:17-22 (Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost/Proper 23—Series B)
“Inheriting Eternal Life”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
October 10, 2021
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:
17And as He was going out to the road, one man, upon running up to Him and kneeling before Him, began to ask Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do in order that I may inherit eternal life?” 18And Jesus said to Him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except one—God. 19You 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.” 20And he said to Him, “Teacher, all these things I have kept from my youth.” 21And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “One thing you lack. Go, as many things as you have, sell, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. And come, follow me.” 22But he was shocked and dismayed at the statement and went away grieving, for he had many 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, but he had also 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 shall I do in order that I may 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? I think it was probably 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 someone 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, says Jesus, and Jesus shows Him that the thing He lacks is actually 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 apparently had not kept the First Commandment because 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. Remember Jesus’ words last week about being like a child? “Assuredly I say to you, whoever does not receive the reign and rule of God like a little child shall surely not enter into it.” (Mark 10:15)
Inheriting the reign and rule of God means receiving, not earning. Inheriting eternal life means receiving from God what is His, what He wants to give to us who know our helplessness. Our only hope of salvation and life is not by “being good,” but a complete reliance on God who alone is good and who alone can give eternal life to sinners. You can see that the question, “What shall I do in order that I may inherit eternal life?” 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 or gift, 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 reign and rule from God. But the Lord teaches us that His reign cannot be taken, earned, or deserved by any of our efforts. It cannot be bought with money. It is a gift that He alone 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 Christians say, “I hope I’ve been good enough to go to heaven.” It’s like they are saying, “What shall 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 into His reign and rule.” We hear and listen to and believe his lies. Then we try even harder to be good and fail again and again leading to more despair and worry over our salvation. What shall I do to be saved? Martin Luther reached this point. He tried to be good enough, but it was never good 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 satisfaction.”
The man who came to Jesus went away “shocked and dismayed” because he had many possessions. Did Luther also go away from the Lord like that man, shocked and dismayed? Do we go away from Jesus like that man, shocked and dismayed? No, because we by the power and grace of the Holy Spirit receive the Gospel which that man walked away from. Luther wrote, “The righteousness of God is revealed by the gospel, namely, the passive righteousness with which merciful God justifies us 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 all of His commandments perfectly. In Baptism, God adopts us into His family and freely gives us 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. We confess in the Explanation of the Second Article of the Creed, “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.”
Our salvation from sin and death, the eternal life that Jesus won for us that brings us into His kingdom, 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 actually do have it all together. You don’t ever have to walk away from Jesus shocked and dismayed because you are not “good enough.” Jesus’ righteousness, His goodness, is counted as your own. His keeping the Commandments perfectly is credited to you as if you have done so. Before God the Father, in Christ, you stand holy and perfect. Your sins are forgiven, and where there is forgiveness, there is eternal life and salvation. It’s not earned; it’s freely given. It’s not merited but inherited as God’s complete gift to you in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ your Lord! Amen.