We long for happy endings. We want the rainbow after the storm. We cheer when the superheroes defeat the villains. We applaud when James Bond saves the world and saves the girl. We are gratified when the hunter finds the treasure, when the hero rides off into the sunset, and the lovers live happily ever after.
Despite our longings, life doesn’t always turn out so happy. Sometimes, we are faced with a myriad of choices and we pick the wrong one. On occasion, we walk away from a door of opportunity instead of taking advantage of it.
In Mark 10:17-31, a young man asks Jesus how good he must be to enter heaven. Rather than follow Jesus’ instruction, the man walks away. His actions paint a stark contrast and serve as a warning sign to all of us. Rather than receive the kingdom like a child (10:15), he wants to achieve the kingdom through personal effort. Rather than leave everything to follow Jesus like the disciples, he will leave Jesus to follow everything.
The young man comes to Jesus with a burning question, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” His approach is unlike any other. Jewish males typically did not run. He ran and bowed before Jesus. People did not address anyone as “good,” especially a rabbi. His approach could indicate humility and eagerness, or just be a form of simply flattery. Either way, he wants an answer to his query.
Jesus answers his question by pointing him to the second half of the 10 Commandments. The first half dealt with one’s relationship to God, but they were difficult to measure. The second half revealed one’s relationship with people, and were clearly followed or not. The young man affirmed he was perfect in the eyes of the Law. He had kept each of the commandments since his bar mitzvah at the age of 13.
While he may have honored the second half of the commandments, Jesus knew he struggled with the first half. In telling the man to hold a giant tag sale and liquidate his assets, Jesus was revealing the man’s struggle with idolatry. Things, money, possessions, and stuff were all more important to him than a relationship with God. The young man was unwilling to take the next step and make that commitment.
As much as Jesus loved him, he did override the young man’s decision to walk away. As C. S. Lewis stated in his novel, The Great Divorce, “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’ All that are in Hell, choose it.”
Jesus uses the teachable moment to explain to his disciples that no one buys their way into heaven. Good people don’t go to heaven. In fact, the better you are, the more assets you possess, the harder it is to enter heaven. People of means and resources don’t feel they need anything better. They have a false sense of security. Using a figure of speech, Jesus said it is easier for a camel, the largest animal in Palestine at the time, to go through the eye of a needle, the smallest opening he could think of. The disciples understand the meaning and exclaim, “If that’s the case, then what chance do we have?”
Jesus responds that while no one can earn their way to heaven, it is freely available as a gift from God. “With man, it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.”
While salvation may be free, discipleship is costly. But whatever we give up to gain the kingdom of God is well worth the price. And God will repay us many times over for our sacrifice.
Principles to practice
- Salvation is based on what God did for us, not on what we do for him. It is a free gift. We cannot earn it or deserve it.
- Having possessions is not a sin in itself. There is nothing wrong with houses, cars, vacations, second homes, education, dreams, promotions, family, etc. However, when they begin to possess us, they turn into idols and must be discarded.
- Everything we give up for Christ will be returned to us a hundredfold and become part of our eternal reward.
Have you allowed anything to prevent you from following Jesus?
This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Baptist Church in Chicopee, MA, on August 16. It is part of a series in the Gospel of Mark. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.