Summary: Don’t Try This At Home! (or anywhere else)1) Don’t overestimate your goodness. 2) Don’t underestimate your God.
A man cannonballs from the top of his garage into his neighbor’s pool. A skateboarder grabs on to the back of a speeding car and zips down Main Street. A motorcyclist skids under an 18-wheeler and pops up on the other side. You’ve all seen these stunts in the movies. And you’ve also heard the warning: “Don’t try this at home!” Still, there are always a handful of daredevils who think they can safely copy what they see the professional stuntman do. What usually follows is a clip worth sending into Funniest Home Videos – that is if the amateur stuntman didn’t get hurt too badly.
In our Gospel lesson today we meet a young man who thought he could do the impossible. He thought he could earn his way into heaven. “Don’t try that at home, or anywhere else,” says the Holy Spirit to us this morning. Overestimate your goodness, or underestimate your God and you’ll be in for an eternal world of hurt.
The thing about stunts like jumping off a building or hopping between moving cars is that the professionals make it look so easy. When the young man in our text considered God’s commands he thought these were easy too. And so he approached Jesus looking for more of a challenge – something he could do to guarantee his place in heaven. In spite of his false presumption there is something likeable about this young man. He doesn’t saunter up to Jesus with a chip on his shoulder and something to prove. He runs to Jesus and falls on his knees before him. Would that we sought Jesus with the same energy and humility! Instead we often find it more desirable to run to the computer after dinner to check email than to dive into God’s Word for a quiet ten-minute devotion. Or if we do open his Word, we’re hardly on our knees in eager anticipation of what pearls will pour forth.
However, there is something about this young man that we don’t want to copy – namely the way he overestimated his goodness. When Jesus told him that he should not murder, not commit adultery, not steal, not give false testimony, not cheat, but honor his father and mother, the young man replied with a straight face: “All these I have kept since I was a boy” (Mark 10:20).
Have you ever made a claim like that? Many people do. When I ask the question: “If you were to die tonight, and God should ask: ‘Why should I let you into my heaven?’” The answer I often get is “Well I’ve been a good person. I haven’t killed anyone. I haven’t cheated anyone. I’ve tried my best to be a good father…” This response is really no different than the one the young man gave Jesus. We too tend to overestimate our goodness. We overestimate our goodness because we underestimate the precision with which God wants all of his commands obeyed. We forget that being good in God’s eyes means always responding to hurtful comments with loving words. It means speaking well of your neighbor even when his dog yaps all day long. It means respecting your parents even when they don’t let you hang out with your friends. It means protecting your neighbor’s investment of a new lawn by weeding out all the dandelions in your yard. It even means praying for those who burn down your church. There is no way we obey God with such precision, and neither had the young man in our text. All have sinned, says the Bible.