October 10th and 11th, 2009
In some ways you have to be impressed with the question? Here you have a wealthy man, who also attained a position of status, and while he has everything many people want he asks a question about eternal life. Maybe he had made it to the top financially and socially, and in the end found a bit empty. For there is not a more important topic than eternal life? In the Sunday parade magazine which came out two weeks ago, they assessed America’s spirituality in a story titled “How Spiritual Are we”? I did not find much that was surprising in the article. For example people like to define themselves as spiritual but not religious. People leaving the “so called” organized spirituality, and moving toward something else. Twenty Four percent of American describe themselves as spiritual but not religious. That is someone who has combined a “diverse beliefs and practices into a personal faith that fits no standard definition.” Only 24% of people said that religion was the most important fact in their lives. While 22% said religion was in their lives but not particularly important. Oh to have more people like this guy, he seems to be sincere, direct, and willing to do the work necessary to tackle this most important of topics, eternal life. Yet, his question revealed an approach to eternal life that Jesus was trying to undo. While his sincerity is laudable, his question revealed some false assumptions about obtaining eternal life.
The first thing you notice about the man is how he approaches Jesus. He says “good teacher” . Jesus responds by saying why do you call me good, no one is good but God alone? Translation, do you have any idea who you are dealing with? You are dealing with the ultimate in good, the sinless one, the one who is good like no other. This isn’t some itinerant preacher, a great Jewish Rabbi, even someone of great importance. This Jesus is not just one religious leader; he is the God/Man, the creator of the universe, the sustainer of all things, the one who became flesh. Jesus says where two or three are gathered in my name “there am I in the midst of them”. This I, is the first born of creation, he is the way the truth and the life. This is the Jesus who took on death and everything attached to it, and burst through it himself. This is the Jesus who came for you, this is the Jesus who can lift you up, this is the Jesus lives to intercede for us.
Now let’s get back to his question. What much I do to inherit eternal life? Jesus gives the cue, and the man will take it from there. However, there is a huge problem!!!!! It is tied to two words, do and inherit. Jesus could have answered in order to obtain an inheritance you must find yourself a family and get yourself adopted. You can do yourself out of an inheritance, but you cannot do yourself into an inheritance. I counted almost 50 instances of the word inherit or inheritance in the New Testament, and in each instance it means something that is given, and not something that is acquired. Galatians 3:18 states “For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on the promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise. “Ephesians 1 says “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. And into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade, this inheritance is kept in heaven for you”. His sincerity, his wealth, his seeking nature couldn’t pull off this type of inheritance.
Jesus then goes over the commandments. How laudable it is to encounter someone who takes the 10 commandments seriously, and abides by them. He goes over all of these commandments that deal with ones neighbor, and says “teacher, since my youth I have kept these”. Notice that for this wealthy man, he sought not to defraud, to get his money through ill gotten gain. This is the kind of neighbor you want, of course assuming he is fair. My brother is a teacher in Alaska, and because he is in a native village, they have various needs at the school he asks about. He says he can write one state for school supplies, and almost always get a quick response. That state is Utah, and he claims that because of their Mormon background, and because “good deeds” are so tied into their salvation they have more than enough incentive to send him the goods. Now I don’t fault those in Utah for doing this, but again it is the eternal life question rests on our “doing”. He says “teacher I have kept these from my youth”. He could probably even throw out some references, of those who agree that he was a good upstanding man. Again let’s assume he is sincere, and that he was a “good man”, at least in terms of human definitions.
Jesus responds, looks at him, and loves him. Isn’t that marvelous, even though this man walks away, Jesus loves him. He looks and responds in care and compassion. His words may be hard to hear, but they are given out of love. He says you lack one thing, go sell all you have, and give to the poor. It is not about doing, it is about receiving, and you know its hard to receive when your heart is filled with stuff. Notice here it isn’t just wealth, but it is being consumed with possessions. However, it is not just giving up everything, but life is found in following him. Notice it wasn’t a “doing” answer Jesus was asking for, rather it was a “giving UP” answer Jesus was asking for. What is the response of the man. He walks away sad, and dejected. This is the only instance in the New Testaments of a man who walks away sad from encountering Christ. The key here is not that in order to be a follower of Jesus one has to sell everything and live like a hermit. The reality is that each one of us, have things and people we hold on to much more than Jesus. We too say “if I didn’t have this, what is the purpose of going on.” It might be as seemingly insignificant as TV, technology, or as significant as family. We are like the rich man, but we don’t have to walk away rejected.
So what are we to do? Well doing didn’t work so well for the Rich man, but there is something else. That is to follow Jesus. To follow him is to open up our hearts, and be in receiver mode when it comes to the gift of life, salvation, and forgiveness obtained Calvary way. John 10 says my sheep here my voice, I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, no one will snatch them out of my hand.” You see in following Jesus, we can and are cleansed from our “holding” on to those small gods like wealth, people, and things. Following behind Jesus is hearing his voice which says you are part of the family, part of an inheritance. Ephesians 1 says “And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance……”.
On many levels this is a sad account, because this man had “so many things going from him”. To see people walk away from the one who says follow me is disheartening to say the least. Yet, there is an inheritance given by one who loves us and invites us to follow him. You see in hearing his voice, trusting in his love, we have everything even if it looks and feels like we have nothing. To our mighty and merciful Jesus be all glory both now and forevermore. Amen.