Theme: Radical Obedience
This sermon focus on Jesus' call to Radical Obedience. An obedience that leads us to enjoy the discipleship and being able to be a positive witness for Him in our world.
Grace and peace from God our Father and from Our Savior and Lord - Jesus Christ!
It is interesting how our lives are affected by certain key events that happened during our childhood, our growing up years and while we are raising our families.
For example, both my parents were born in the early 1930's in Eastern Kentucky. It was a time filled with adversity and hardship. The depression that plummeted the nation in 1929 had already had more than 10 year head start in the Eastern Kentucky region.
+At the turn of the century (1900) the state of Kentucky was ranked first among Southern states in per capita income. Over the next generation that changed drastically for by 1940 the state was ranked last in per capita income in the nation.
+ The lumber industry quickly began to fade out after the end of WW I causing many lumber mills to close and hundreds of mill workers to be unemployed.
+The only two other major regional employers, textiles and coal were struggling because of over production, low wages and rising unemployment. Increasing numbers of everyday Americans could no longer afford to buy large quantities of coal or clothes. The very goods that Eastern Kentuckians could provide the nation were no longer in great demand.
+Fifty years of environmental abuse had exhausted the majority of the family farm land. It increasingly became more difficult to grow such everyday staples as beans, corn and potatoes in the family garden and almost impossible to grow a good crop of tobacco. It would be another 15 - 20 years before commercial fertilizers would be easily assessable.
+By the mid 1930's some of the counties in the region were experiencing unemployment as high as 80%.
+Over 30% of the people could not read or write bringing in even more hardship and poverty. Public education was almost non-existent and books of any sort were in short supply.
All of those things affected how my parents and how many other people viewed life in general. It affected how they looked at things. It affected what they thought was important in life. Everything they would do later in life was filtered through those difficult years.
By the time I came into the world things had radically changed in Eastern Kentucky. With the advent of WW II the nation desperately needed the coal, the crude oil and the timber that was plentiful in Eastern Kentucky, It needed the cheap labor that was available as well.
President Roosevelt's New Deal brought further positive changes as well. Millions of dollars were invested in building roads, schools, hospitals and factories. Everyday life was radically transformed. While one would have to say we were never rich, the truth is, we who grew up in the 1960's in Eastern Kentucky enjoyed good schools, wonderful teachers and were blessed with a life that progressively got better each and every year. We truly were experiencing the goodness and greatness of the American Dream. Things were not perfect but they were a lot better than they had been for past 40 - 50 years or more.
All of those positive changes affected the way we looked at life as well. Where hardships had affected our parents' mindsets the continual economic, social and educational advancements affected our generation. We came to believe that with hard work, unity and time we could achieve almost anything.
The people that lived during Jesus' time knew what it mean to be greatly affected by what was going on around them as well. They had been adversely affected by the Roman Government. They had watched as the Romans had invaded and taken over their beloved land and ruled over them with an Iron Fist. They had endured the hardships that had come with higher taxes, less freedoms and being treated at times as if they were less than human.
However, many believed that a New Day was just on the Horizon. They believed that the time was ripe for God, the Good God of Creation to come and bring justice, peace and freedom for Israel. The time was right for God to make all things new. They believed that the day of the LORD was at hand when God would punish all those who were evil and a new age of prosperity would be ushered in for those who were living righteously. It was a time of great anxiety and expectation at the same time.
There was a lot of talk about what they labeled THIS PRESENT AGE and the AGE TO COME. This Present Age was their time - a time filled with sin and injustice, lying, oppression and immorality. Good people suffered while evil people prospered and got away with all kinds of sins. But in the Age to Come all that would be altered. God would take charge and things would radically change.
In the Age to Come things would be set right. God would be ruling the world as He always wanted to rule the World. Evil would be cast out. Sin would be no more. The Devil and his demons would be removed from the face of the earth. All of creation would be living according to God's way of purity and righteousness.
There was, however, a little confusion about when the Age to Come would actually arrive. Many felt that such a life could only be enjoyed after a person had died and was resurrected. Others thought that somehow God would enter into the World and immediately put all things into order right then and there. The believed that one day God would show up and that would be the end. All evil (including evil people both dead and alive) would be cast off the earth. The Earth would undergo a purification by Fire and all righteous mankind would be raised/transformed into being able to live out a New Life on the New Heaven and Earth.
The main question was not how all of that was to happen. Most Jews were not concerned with looking at the signs and trying to figure it all out. What they were concerned about was how they could make sure that they would be ready for God's arrival. How could one make sure that when the Age to Come arrived that they would be part of the "chosen ones" who would be able to live on the New Heaven and New Earth?
That is the question that this man comes up and asks Jesus - "What should I do to inherit the life of the Age to Come?" "What must I do to inherit eternal life?"
He wants to know what he has to do to make sure that his ticket to living on the New Heaven and Earth has been punched so to speak. In no way does he want to be condemned to everlasting death, non-existence or having to spend eternity in the flames of Hell.
It's not a bad question is it? But it leads him to a much bigger question and a much bigger decision. But before we get there let's go back and look at this man for a minute or two.
I. His Impeccable Life Witness
+We see that He is passionate
He is passionate about life. He is passionate about finding the answers to life's ultimate question. He is emotional. He is head strong. He is running.
He doesn't just leisurely stroll up to Jesus. He doesn't just arrive haphazardly. He is determined. He is driven. He is full of energy and emotion. He is on a mission. He has got to find Jesus and find Him as quick as he can.
+He is courteous and well mannered.
He doesn't demand things from Jesus. Instead he kneels down before Jesus as one would bow before a Lord, a Master or a Great Rabbi. He tells Jesus that he is a Good Teacher - a rabbi that is to be praised for living a life of holiness. A rabbi that is to be praised for teaching his disciples and others how to live a life of righteousness.
Mark tells us that Jesus pauses here. Jesus is not into all that flattery and adulation. Jesus did not come to promote Himself but as Paul tells us in Philippians 2:5-11 Jesus came to give praise to His Heavenly Father. Jesus is not being coy. Jesus is not degrading himself. Jesus is being a witness for His Heavenly Father. Jesus is wanting everyone to focus on His Heavenly Father.
+He is spiritual.
You have to like this man. He knows what he wants. He is passionate. And on top of all that of he lives a righteous life. One writer describes him as a person who had the wealth of a Bill Gates and the spiritual life of a Billy Graham. I don't know if Mark would agree with all of that but you get the impression that this man made sure that he lived by the Law.
Each time Jesus gives one of the commandments the man does not flinch.
- # 6 Don't kill - No, I have not killed anyone.
- # 7 Don't commit adultery No, I have lived a moral life
- # 8 Don't steal No, I have not taken anything that is not mine
- #9 Don't swear falsely No, I am a truth teller
-Don't defraud No, I am an honest man
-# 5Honor You Father and Mother Yes - That is the type of son I am
He has no problem telling Jesus that he has lived a very faithful and spiritual life. He doesn't bat an eye or look down. He believes that his life has been impeccable.
Notice that Jesus doesn't counter question him or dispute his claims. We need to take a moment and reflect on this. Jesus doesn't rebuke him or refute him. This man has been living the 2nd Table of the Commandments to the tea. This guy is really good! He is the real McCoy when it comes to treating others the way that God wants us to treat one another. At least it appears that way on the surface.
+He is Anxious/Frustrated
With all of that there is something that is amiss. He is passionate. He is courteous. He is spiritual. He has led a wonderful moral life. But in his heart he feels that there is something off balance.
His heart is restless. For all his outward perfection there is this nagging feeling that he needs to do more. There is something inside of him that is convicting him that there is more to his relationship to God than following all the rules and regulations.
He knows that he has been faithful doing all the "things" that are necessary for all of his life. By now all those commandments - five through ten have become a part of his DNA. He is a truth teller. He is a man who is careful not to take something that is not his or allowing himself to be caught in the snare of immorality. He is a man who no doubt people looked up to and was an inspiration to all those around.
But deep in his heart there is a void. There is something that he believes that he has to do or to become to make sure that his life will include resurrection and the New Heaven and New Earth.
It is here we have to remember the work of the Holy Spirit. This man did not approach Jesus by accident. Mark does not record this story just to fill up some space in his book. This passage reveals to us the workings of the Holy Spirit. It was the Holy Spirit that was working on the inside of this man that caused him to come to Jesus. It was the Holy Spirit that led him to the One who could give him the answers that he needed. It was the Holy Spirit that would reveal to this man what the final step he needed to take to ensure His present and future salvation.
II. Jesus Calls Him to a Life of Radical Obedience
Over the years this passage has been toyed with, transformed and rearranged to cause it to make sense or at least be tolerable to all of us. In the 9th century a scholar suggested that the "eye of the camel" was really a gate outside of the Temple but the truth is there was no gate outside of the temple that was called the "eye of the camel". But by saying such a thing it enabled us to look at this passage and decide that the man just needed to be more humble and reverent.
Some have tried to link the man up with Saul of Tarsus. They theorize that this was the first encounter Jesus had with Saul who later on repent and give Jesus everything and become the great missionary Paul. It would be a nice story but there is no evidence that it is true.
Others have overly focused on "being rich" and have said that this man was a multi-millionaire. If Jesus is talking to multi - millionaires that leaves us off the hook because we don't have anything near that amount so this passage has nothing to say to us.
Being rich, though, is a relative term. Being rich in America is different than being rich in other places of the world. In a recent survey among people who have amassed around 5 million dollars in assets over half of them believe that they are just one step away from poverty. They do not believe that they are rich at all. It's the other people who are rich. They are merely middle class Americans.
In Cuba the idea of being rich has a whole different meaning. The average person in Cuba makes less than 100.00 a month. Therefore, a person with a few thousand dollars in assets is seen as being rich. It's the same for most people who live in Second and Third World countries.
We miss the whole meaning of this story if we only focus on the wealth aspect. We get caught up in the dollars and cents and forget to read the real story. Yes, the man's wealth became a stumbling block. It is true that one of the biggest problems that any of us can have is to allow our money, our materialism and our assets to control our hearts, minds and souls. The Devil knows all too well the attraction and addiction that money and materialism can be to all of us. He plays that card very well.
The sins of greed and materialism happens to people, to families, to businesses and believe it or not even to churches. Sometimes I wonder at the Last Judgment if the LORD is going to ask us how much we spent on these buildings of brick and mortar verses how much we gave to the poor and needy. It doesn't do us a great deal of good to build churches that are worth millions of dollars when we then only give pennies to the poor and the needy. (Ouch - I said that didn't I?)
The crux of this story is in verse 21 - Out of a heart of love, Jesus gives this man a series of commands. These commands cause this man to look at Table One of the Commandments - the part that deals with radically loving God, listening to God, obeying God and putting away any false idols and worship (commandments 1 - 4).
Jesus tells this man five commands - Go - Sell - Give Away - Come Back - Follow Me
Obey me. Untangle Your Life. Invest in Others. Return Free. Follow Me.
Obedience, commitment, surrender and consecration are the doorways.
Investing in others - using what God has given you and co-partnering with God to change the lives of others.
Remember my story about Eastern Kentucky? Remember what I shared about the 1930's with unemployment as high as 80%? Remember the story about over 30% not being able to read or write?
The Government's New Deal included the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Public Works Administration and a great many other programs that brought help and jobs to the region. Along with those programs thousands of people stepped in and volunteered their time, energy and resources. Hundreds of librarians rode horses throughout the region as traveling libraries teaching people how to read and write. Going on horseback they were able to go to places that vehicles could not get to because of the poor road conditions. Millions of dollars, hours and resources were invested into the lives of people that could never return the money or the favors.
You see, Jesus wasn't interested in this man taking his money somewhere and setting it on fire. He did not want him to bury it in some hole. What he wanted the man to do was to obey. Part of that obedience would be for this man to take the funds that he raised to invest in those who needed it most - the poor.
There were parts of ancient Israel that looked a great deal like Eastern Kentucky did in the 1930's and 1940's. There were families that were dealing with disease, death and hard times that needed someone to believe in them and help them. There were widows and orphaned children in every little village all over the land that needed someone to invest in their lives so that they could live.
Jesus was giving this man one of the greatest ministries in the world. He had been commissioned by the LORD to go out and make a difference in people's lives. He had been commissioned to go out and transform the world to be a better place. And he had the ability to do all of it. He was not told to go out and fundraise. He was not told to go away and beg and borrow the money. He already had all that he would need.
God had already placed in his hands the necessary materials and money that were needed.
And that was the crux. Not only was he called to be obedient but He was called to be obedient in a fashion that would prove to himself and to others who was the true God in his life.
Remember Jesus had quoted from what the Jews call the Second Tablet. Now, Jesus was confronting the man with the First Tablet - the parts that talk about that there should be no other gods besides the Good God of Creation - Yahweh, the LORD GOD ALMIGHTY. That a person must worship only One God - the Good God of Creation - the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. That all other things that have holds on our lives must be let go so that we can worship God with all our hearts, minds and souls.
Sadly, Mark tells us that this young man left before he could hear Jesus' final conversation with His disciples (verses 26 -27). He rejected Jesus' call to radical obedience - giving away, investing, returning and following Jesus before he heard the Good News about Radical Grace.
One also has to wonder if this man was being given the call to become the 13th disciple. The disciple that would one day replace Judas following his betrayal and death. Was Jesus seeing something in this man that potentially could lead him to becoming Judas' replacement?
We will never know on this side of eternity. What we do know is that his man allowed his gods (his wealth, his position and his pride) to get the best of him. He did not want to invest that the things that God had placed in his hands. He did not want to live among the poor or ultimately, perhaps be one of the poor. He did not want to untangle his life. He did not want to follow Jesus if it meant giving up all his toys, his position or his power.
And in the midst of it all he left before he could hear Jesus speak verse 27. All this time the man thought that he needed to do something - he needed to say a special prayer or be better at following a certain commandment.
Jesus reveals the truth in verse 27 - Mankind in his own strength can never save himself. Only God can save us. And the only way God can save a person is for that person to put everything in God's hands. It takes a life of obedience and trust to receive God's salvation.
It was never about the money and yet it was all about the money. It was only about the money because it had become this man's false god. It was never about the money because in the end it was never his in the first place. It had only been loaned to him by God. And now the God who loaned it wanted to put it into the hands of others.
You see you and I really don't own anything. Oh, there are financial records that state that we do and there are pieces of paper in government places that tell us that we do but the truth is we do not. If we did then we could take it with us when we leave this earth and we all know that is impossible.
What we think is ours is actually on loan. We are mere stewards of property, materials and assets. God has allowed us to be their stewards. They have always been His. Our task is to use them to take care of ourselves and others.
I really wish I could state that we no longer have the same problem as this man did in his time. I really wish I could state that the Church no longer has this problem but the truth is we are still wrestling with it.
It is still easier for us to raise millions of dollars for our own buildings, salaries and denominational needs than it is for us to raise millions of dollars to give to the poor and the needy. It is still easier for us to superficially live by the Second Tablet of Commandments than for us to live by the First Table of Commandments.
The only answer to all of this today is the same answer this man had in his day.
+Whatever Jesus says - Just Do It.
9 "Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. 10 "If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father's commandments and abide in His love.
11 "These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full. - John 15:9 - 11
+Let Obedience and saying Yes be the main words of our Discipleship.
"The person who has my commandments and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I, too, will love him and reveal myself to him." - John 14:21 (NIV)
+ Whatever tangles us up we are to unloose it and let it go.
"Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God." (ESV)
Whatever we need to do to allow God to be God and Us to be His Disciples then let's do it.
Otherwise we will ultimately do what this man did - we will take our toys and go back home.
This man came with so much energy and so much passion. He came with so much anticipation and righteousness. He came filled with so much love for Jesus and for God.
But he left - walking away the Truth, the Way and the Life. He left walking away from the Light of the World. He left walking away from the Resurrection. He left walking away from Jesus - the Son of God, Messiah and Lord of Lords.
He came with so much joy and yet left with such sadness. He came ready to empty everything but left with the chains of greed, pride and rebellion dragging behind him.
This morning, I am so glad that I am not his ultimate judge. I feel sorrow for him. He was called to follow Jesus but according to our Gospel writers he did not obey. He did not allow the LORD to do a complete work of salvation in His life. He followed some of the commandments but not the ultimate commandment of making God Lord of His Life.
I am glad this morning that this man's destiny does not have to be our destiny. The poor choices that he made we do not have to make. We do not have to turn around and walk away from Jesus.
Instead, we can allow the Holy Spirit to help us to obey Jesus. We can allow the Holy Spirit to help us untangle ourselves from anything that would cause us to be tempted to stop following Jesus. We can allow the Holy Spirit to help us to put away all false gods.
And we can allow the Holy Spirit to work in our lives to better the lives of others. We can allow the Holy Spirit to show us where we can help others.
What this man did not understand was that the same God who wanted him to invest in others was not going to leave him penniless, lying on some street corner begging for scraps of food. No, the same God who wanted him to invest in others was going to invest in him. The same God that wanted him to share with others was going to share with him.
To me that is the saddest part of this man's story. He never allowed himself to tap into God's riches. Our God, the Good God of creation is not against anyone being rich. After all - Abraham was rich. Joseph was rich. King David was rich. Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea was rich. But none of them allowed their riches to get the best of them. None of them allowed their riches to take over their hearts.
Today, I believe Mark is challenging us to be open to Jesus' words. To have the word "YES" always at the tip of our tongues. To be ever present to the leadings of the Holy Spirit. To join in with Jesus in following Him and doing all we can do to lead others to salvation.
I believe one of the greatest things we can do is to live a surrendered and obedient life - to go all out for the LORD - to hold nothing back. And then to live the life of a person surrendered and secured by the LORD. To live a life in which God is going to open doors for us to help others and for us to receive God's care, love and provision as well. To live a life of experiencing God's favor, God's grace and God's mercy.
Open Altar/Sending Songs/Benediction
+Traditional - I Give All to You
+Contemporary - I Give You My Heart | Hillsong