Pursuing Answers to Questions of Faith & Life

Monday, May 08, 2006

May 7, 2006--Graduation Recognition

Yesterday was a great day at University Baptist Church. We have about 11 people graduating from Western Illinois University in the next week or semester and most of them were on hand to share the experience with us. I can tell that over their time here at UBC, these students have been loved and cared for. I know they will be missed but not forgotten.

As is becoming usual, I will post the sermon manuscript from Sunday. If you weren't there, hopefully, you'll get a sense of how God is speaking to us through His Word.

Here goes:

Today we are celebrating the Graduation of members of the University Family. Many of them at this moment are still trying to figure out what direction their life is going to take, you may feel lost on the road of life. And that’s OK. It’s OK to need to ask for directions, our problem lies with the fact that we don’t want to ask for directions.

We have all heard how bad most men are when we get lost, or are unsure of how to get where we want to go; how we never want to stop and ask directions. Asking for Directions definitely falls into the “Have to” category. For the most part, whether we will admit it or not, this stereotype is true. Men either want to have detailed directions before they get started, or they want to trust their instincts to find the place for them. Stopping and asking for directions is very difficult for us to do.

Do not fear ladies, there is hope. This morning, we are going to be looking at Mark 10:17, an example from the Bible of a man asking for directions. Ladies, I want you to put a special page marker here so you can quickly find it if you are in any car with a man that is lost.

Most of us have read or heard of this event before. It is so familiar to us that all you have to say is the “Rich, Young Ruler” and most will know the general story. Well, I would like you to forget that you know all that for the moment. Forget that you know that he’s young, forget that he’s rich. The common title comes by compiling information taken from all the Gospel accounts. Matthew 19:20 tells us he’s young, and Luke 18:18 calls him a ruler. In Mark’s telling of this event, all he wants you to know at the beginning is that it is a man. Mark gives us no other information about him until later, and that is important, it matters to the story and the listeners. So for this morning, forget that you know all that, in courtroom terms, strike that from the record.

In this section, Mark is emphasizing the cost of discipleship and Jesus’ focused journey to Jerusalem. In chapter 9, Jesus is in Galilee, but chapter 10 marks a change. Jesus leaves Galilee and begins moving toward Jerusalem for the Passover feast, while fully knowing that crucifixion is awaiting Him. Our attention starts at verse 17, when Jesus is just setting out to continue His journey toward Jerusalem. Here we find a man coming to Jesus before he left the area. So if you are there with me, follow along as I read Mark 10:17-19

The first thing that I want you to notice is the way this man approached Jesus. 3 things are important to notice.

He Ran—He Fell—He called Jesus “Good”

The man ran up to Jesus He obviously thought it was important to talk to Jesus. Now think about this for a second, if you’re lost and you see someone who knows the way just down the street, like a police officer, you don’t want him to get away before you get a chance to talk to him. You’re going to start running, waving your hands, calling out “Hey! Officer!”, you’ll let yourself look like a fool just to talk to the one you need This man, by approaching Jesus this way, could easily have been ridiculed by those who saw him. It demonstrates how desperate he was to catch Jesus before He was left the area.

Not only did he run to Him, but he fell on his knees before Him. This was an act of reverence usually reserved for a king from his subjects, or masters from their slaves. Bowing before someone or something was a big deal and many, like Mordecai in Esther, or Shadrach, Meshach, & Abednego in Daniel who were only willing to bow to God.

This man was desperate to catch up to Jesus because he believed Jesus had the answers to the questions he asking. When was the last time you ran to Jesus like that, that you believed or hoped with all your heart and soul that He could give you direction, the last time you fell at His feet in reverence? When was the last time you felt lost? This man knew where he wanted to go but didn’t know how to get there. He was asking about “eternal life.”

Imagine having one question you could ask the Master about. You graduates could probably pose a few. What must I do to get a good job? What must I do to get rich quick? What must I do with the rest of my life now that I’ve graduated—more school, where should I live?

This man wanted the really important question answered. To this man, Eternal Life meant the promise of the Messianic Kingdom, and the blessings of God in his life. But notice how he intends to get his blessings; he wanted to do something to get them, he wanted to inherit them.

You could argue that this man was expressing a common sentiment of that day, which is actually common today, that someone could do something to earn or merit an eternity in heaven with God. That may be the case, but I am inclined to believe that this man was expressing something different because you can see it in his approach.

There is an element of desperation in the way he ran to Jesus and fell on his knees. I think that this man was much like many of us today; he had exhausted every avenue he had been taught about how to please God, and get on God’s good side, and realized that there was something missing in his attempts. Life left him hollow and searching, it did not satisfy because he really didn’t know where he was going, he just knew he wanted more than this life had to offer. The question that he asks Jesus was not an abstract game, it was haunting him.

It was a question that none of the other teachers of the Law were able to answer for him; the notion of, “is there anything else I can do to increase my chances that God will look favorably on me because I’ve tried everything?” That sentiment may describe many of you today as well. You feel like you have tried everything to please God, but something is still gnawing at you deep inside, telling you that something is still not right, that you’re missing something. It’s a worse feeling than being lost on an unknown highway. What you need is someone to give you direction.

As I have mentioned, the man clearly holds Jesus in high esteem as seen by his humble approach, but he does something unusual, he addresses Jesus with the title “Good Teacher”. This may not sound all that unusual to you, but Jews of that day did not throw around the word “good” like we do today.

When we speak of something good, it means we like it; “that was a good song”, or “that food was really good”. Good to the Jews had very little to do with whether they liked something or not. Rather, good had to do with something’s moral quality. They would not call something good lightly, if at all. Typically, the only thing the Jews would consistently describe as good, was God. This man would have known this, and so would Jesus. That is why Jesus challenged him in verse 18-19—“Why do you call Me good?”

Some say that the man was mocking Jesus by calling Him good, or using kissing up to Him, but again, I believe the man’s question was sincere. The effect of Jesus’ challenge was essentially, “do you realize what you’re saying? Are you sure you want to call me that?”

There are two formulas that shed light on this exchange, and you might write these down. First, Jesus’ challenge suggests:
1. God alone is good, you do not believe me to be God, therefore, do not call me good.
2. Second, God alone is Good. If you want to call me Good, take the next step and believe me to be God

I want you to put a circle around the one that you believe Jesus would prefer to see happen. Now, look down at the beginning of verse 20, and put a check mark by the possibility the man picks.

You can see that the man understood Jesus’ correction because he drops the title of “good” when next speaking to Jesus. This shows that he might have though highly of Jesus, but was not ready to make a statement of faith about Him, to believe in Him.

Even though the man was unwilling to make such a commitment, Jesus was still willing to deal with him and answer his questions. Jesus knew that this man would have an understanding of the Law, so when He mentioned the Commandments it wasn’t particularly groundbreaking. His answer was pretty standard for a good Jew and was likely the kind of answer this man had heard all his life.

What is significant, is that Jesus listed all those Commandments that dealt with a persons’ relationship with other people. No mention of one’s relationship with God is made at this point. This is not to say that Jesus considers the others, the ones dealing with God, are less important or unnecessary, rather, Jesus will fill in that aspect later. However, not only are these commands dealing with relations between people, they are also the most external and easily seen by oneself and the public eye. In other words, these were the easiest to claim good adherence to.

For someone who is desperately seeking an answer, I believe Jesus’ answer was extremely frustrating and disappointing at this point in the conversation.
These external commands were something that the man had heard all his life. It’s like what happens to us when we struggle with our Christian walk and all we hear is Pray and Read your Bible. Those things are good and vital, but if that’s the only answer, help or assistance, it’s not always the insight and discipleship we need.

And because they were things he could do in relation to other people he thought he could say that he had kept all these. Many of us today consider ourselves to be good. Most of us are very moral in the way we treat other people. That doesn’t make us arrogant to think so. Like this man, we have to realize that just being a good person is not enough, it certainly doesn’t merit eternal life.

► I can easily see this man near tears, saying in an exasperated voice, “That’s it? All these I have kept since I was a boy”. Come on Jesus, I know and feel that there’s got to be something more to it than that.
► He is frustrated with this answer
► He has heard it before
► He knows there has got to something more

To get a sense of what he may have been feeling at this point, consider this, we all have experienced times when you were hoping that someone had the information to assist you. Think back to your childhood to a time when you did not know how to spell a word. If you’re anything like me, then most of you would have gone to a parent and asked them how to spell it. Whenever I did that, the most frustrating thing they could say to me was “Well, did you look it up in the dictionary?” Because my thought always was, if I can’t spell it, how can I possibly look it up in the dictionary? More than likely, they were trying to teach me how to find answers for myself, but sometimes I think they just didn’t know how to spell it themselves and used that answer as a way to avoid showing me that they didn’t know how to spell the word themselves. It was a cop-out in other words. Jesus’ words were no cop-out, rather, they were more of a test of his heart. The man’s exasperation showed the intensity of his heart.

That is why v. 21 makes the point so strongly that Jesus looked at him and loved him. Jesus didn’t condemn him, didn’t ridicule him, didn’t laugh at him, didn’t throw up His hands and say—“why am I wasting my time with you?”It is not a moment of pity, but of warmth and patience at seeing his struggle and heart. It shows Jesus’ desire to bring him to the next level in relationship with God. Instead, Jesus says:

“One thing you lack”—at hearing this, the man probably leaned in to hear what it was. Now, there wasn’t just one thing that was keeping this man from receiving eternal life, rather, Jesus was getting to the heart of what would prevent him from truly following God. And here, I can picture the man excited to hear what that one thing is because it was the answer above what he had always heard.—“OK, this is it, what I’ve been waiting for.”

Jesus gives the man five command statements: Go, Sell, Give, Come, and Follow Me. These are not five separate commands, but rather, five motions signaling one decision. Despite how it looks, especially in English translations, the most important part of that statement is “Follow Me”. This is where Jesus deals with the man’s relationship with God. This is essentially a call to the man to become Jesus’ disciple; it is the same kind of call that we see Peter, Andrew, James and John receiving in Mark 1:16-20. If this man was truly interested in eternal life, he would have to follow Jesus. Anything that gets in the way of Following Jesus must be csat aside—Hebrews 12:1-2a

The same is true for you and me. If you are confused about where you’re going in life, what you’re supposed to do, how you’re supposed to live then Jesus’ answer will be—“Follow Me”—it will never be more complicated than that. Anything that prevents you from “Following Him” must be Left Behind.

Remember, I want you to forget for the moment what you know about this man. Consider this as if it were the first time you have read this passage, because at this point, Mark has told us nothing more about him.

Right in the middle of Jesus’ statement, He interjects a promise: “you will have treasure in heaven”. This seems to be exactly what the man was asking for. It speaks to the blessing of God that the man would like to inherit. More important, however, this statement speaks to the value of the relationship we can have with God. It is a treasure, immeasurably valuable. It would be exciting, it would be the kind of news that makes you jump up and down and bring tears to your eyes.

But this is not the type of reaction that we see in this man. V. 22 says it all. His face fell and he went away sad. He what? Why on earth would he walk away sad from the prospect of getting a treasure?

That is the reaction of the person who hears this story for the first time. Sometimes today, we miss little details in the text because we are too familiar with them. We know some stories so well, they don’t shock us anymore. To a first time listener, because in the early church, the Gospels were typically read to the congregation, this man’s reaction was the exact opposite of what was expected.

It’s like a child on Christmas morning that thinks his greatest desire is in a particular box, the one you’ve been asking Mom & Dad about for months. The “Red Ryder BB Gun” if you remember “A Christmas Story” movie. You’ve measured, shaken, and guessed that this is it. Then from the word “Go”, you head for that box and start ripping off the wrapping paper, your excitement building with every satisfying rip of the paper. And when you get down to the box, it doesn’t tell you anything, so you start working on the taped cover. And of course, whoever wrapped it used too much tape so you start biting at the tape to get this stupid lid off. You finally break through that last bit of tape and rip open the box and look inside… When you look in there, it’s not the toy you wanted after all. Can you feel your face fall, feel the sadness and despair in that moment? No matter what the toy is, it’s not what you wanted. The rest of that morning, no matter how many presents you unwrap, your heart and mind will still be focused on the disappointment of that moment.

That is the kind of reaction that this man had. That is how shocking it was to him, and to the first time listener who at this point does not know why he would walk away from Jesus.

This is actually the first and only rejection of a personal call from Jesus in the Gospels. The greatest evangelist the world has ever seen; the one with more truth than anyone else on earth, before or since; the only one who Has the directions for life you need, who can lead you into a personal relationship with God, was rejected.

Why would the man’s face fall? Now we find out why—vs. 22b. The man had great wealth. Can you hear the “oh”’s and “so that’s why” from the first time listeners? His wealth is the reason he is not willing to follow Jesus; his wealth was his stumbling block. He apparently valued his own earthly treasures more than the “treasure in heaven” that Jesus promised.

Don’t we do that? Don’t we value our things more than God? Don’t we hold on to something that keeps us from following His directions? Do you realize how stupid that is? Here were getting the best directions we’ve ever had and we ignore Him entirely b/c we think we know better. I know I’m the one lost and asking, but I think I’m going to do _________ anyway. “then why did you bother to ask. You’re not going to get there the way you’ve been going”

This is not to say that wealth in and of itself is bad, rather, when you trust your wealth more than you trust God, you’re saying it is more important. In essence, you have become an idolater.

In his prosperity, the rich man was trusting in what he had accomplished and what he could do. Jesus wanted to take his attention from his accomplishments and focus it on reliance upon God, not self. He had asked Jesus for directions on how to get to heaven but was not willing to follow them

When Jesus looked around at His disciples in vs. 23-24, the man was probably still in sight. They were watching him go. After the rich man had run to catch them, not behaving like a wealthy dignitary, his back was now to them and he was walking away. Jesus, the master teacher, used this opportunity to summarize the encounter and teach His disciples about the cost of discipleship. He was stating directly, that wealth can be a hindrance to a right relationship with God. It is not the only hindrance, but it was the last thing the disciples expected to hear. READ 23-24

In their day, wealth was mistakenly seen as an automatic sign that God was pleased with someone. It wasn’t true then, and it’s not true now. The size of your bank account is no indication of God’s blessing or whether His is pleased with the direction of your life. Jesus was asserting that their traditional understanding was mistaken. Those listening were forced to ask themselves whether they could give up all their possessions in order to follow Jesus. So are you. You are forced to ask yourselves the same question, “would I be willing to sell all that I have to follow Jesus?”

Jesus’ statement shocked and amazed His disciples. In their mind, if anyone was going to enter into the Kingdom of God, it would be the wealthy. Then, he said it again just in case they were assuming He didn’t really mean that. This time, however, Jesus expanded the statement to say that obtaining eternal life and entering the Kingdom of God is difficult for everyone. It’s not about money, it’s not about what you bring to the table. It is beyond everyone’s ability; the problem is the sin that is present in all of us, regardless of our pocketbook.

To emphasize this point, Jesus told the Jewish proverb in v. 25 of a camel trying to get through the eye of a needle. This statement is intended to create a picture in one’s mind of something impossible. Some have tried to soften this statement and make the “Eye of the Needle” a gate or doorway in the walls around the city of Jerusalem. There is no archaeological evidence of such a gate, nor was that interpretation proposed until the 9th Century AD but more importantly, such attempts miss the point. It impossible for anyone to earn their way to heaven.

The disciples react with complete disbelief, in vs. 26. The listening audience would have reacted the same way and asked the same question the disciples did, “who then can be saved?”
Everyone reading this account, was then and is now, brought to the same question. How can it be done? How can anyone get into heaven and be with God?

The God’s honest answer, is that you cannot. Just as it is impossible to get a camel through the eye of a needle, it is impossible for you or anyone to buy, fight, or earn their way into heaven. It is not something bestowed upon you just for being here. READ v. 27

Jesus says for humanity, the way to heaven is impossible. But it is not impossible with God. God and God alone can do it. Just like Jesus is willing, God is willing to give us directions to heaven and also pave the way for us.

The directions are to “Follow Christ”

Follow Him to the Cross
Follow His path of Forgiveness
Follow Him in a New way of Life

The way was paved by His blood shed on the Cross. It was finished in the Power of the Resurrection

Many of you may see yourself in the same way the rich man saw himself at the beginning. You’ve heard and tried all there is to try and get in a right relationship with God and be secure in your place in heaven. But for all you’ve tried, you still feel frustrated and even desperate. Like this man you need to see that Jesus is the one you can come to ask for directions and any other question. He is more than willing to answer you and show you the way. Jesus won’t make fun of you, won’t get irritated at you. He has been there before us and knows the way. Jesus is looking forward to showing you. Instead of walking away from this moment sad, with a burden still on your heart, come to Him, run up to Him and fall before Him. Will you come and follow Him?

1 comment:

Eric Ribbens said...

I've always been intrigued by the fact that he left feeling sad. We don't know what he eventually decided, but the fact that he was sad meant he was taking Jesus' words seriously. He clearly was not being facetious or mocking Jesus, and he was at least willing to consider the implications of what Jesus said. He was seeking.