Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. AMEN! Our text for this morning’s sermon is taken from St. Mark’s gospel account the 10th (Mark 10: 17-22) chapter.
Beloved in the Lord,
When the Baptized of God gather in Divine Service it is as His redeemed people. We are the Lord’s Ecclessia, His Church -those who have been called out – for that’s what ecclesia means – to be called out. We have been called of darkness and into His marvelous light. We have been called out of immorality and into salvation. We’ve been called out of the place of thorns and thistles – the realm of God’s curse, and into this place, this Eden, this realm of God’s promises of forgiveness, life and salvation. Here the God, who alone is good, speaks the impossible into the hearts of the inheritors of Adam’s original sin. Through this Word of grace the Lord forgives our sins.
Thus we Christians heed our “calling out” and gather here to seek the Lord that we may have life and have it more abundantly. At times we stand. At times we sit. Sometimes we sing, other times we speak. We listen intently upon every Word. Because the Word of the Lord endures forever. The Word of the Lord gives the life that we seek, the mercy we need, the forgiveness we long for. The Word gives us Jesus, our God and Savior who became flesh, whose living voice cries for each of you even now, whose love cannot be stilled, whose passion knows no bounds, whose outstretched hand – still bearing the marks of death – is ready to still every anxious heart among us.
This is what the rich man in our text longed for. Rushing up to Jesus, falling on his knees, he seeks the life that he has not yet received. “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” This rich young man has everything by the world’s standards that should provide for his happiness. But something is missing. He doubts God’s promises. He is ignorant of God’s heart. He knows that he doesn’t have salvation. Yes, he is pious. The problem is not with his works. “All these I have done since I was a boy.” Yes, he is “spiritual”. His motives, his posture, his pursuit of the LORD is admirable. Yes, he is sincere. He truly wants to be saved. But none of these save him. Works, spirituality, and sincerity save no one. The road to Hell is full of very pious, spiritual, and sincere people. It is a broad road indeed.
The problem for this Rich man lies with the question itself. It’s obvious he’s never attended a “wills awareness seminar.” For if he had, he would have learned that one inherits nothing by deeds. The man’s question of “what must I do . . .” reveals his complete ignorance and unbelief in God’s heart for sinners.
This, beloved is our default nature. We are creatures of deeds who are always bent on trusting ourselves; our strength, our works, our goodness. We want to be able to say to Jesus – “all these I have done.” This is all the more true when the day of affliction strikes us. “What more must I do? Haven’t I already done enough. Aren’t I good enough to avoid this suffering, to be spared this anxiety, to not have to bear this cross, or experience this heartache, or endure this darkness in my life?” Rather than trust the promises of the Lord, seeking His Word and comfort, we prefer to be proactive. We not only want to contribute, we want to be the solution. We want to be able to do something, anything, whatever it may be, to make our lives better. That’s why we purchase self-help books. That’s why flock to “good” and “wise” people for their advice. That’s why we cast our heart upon someone else who promises to “do something, anything, whatever it may be” to bring about change and give us hope.
You see, beloved, we’re looking for a pathway to comfort and peace, and not just any pathway, but a more certain pathway. The heart that doesn’t trust the Lord’s Word is always seeking for a certainty that he will never find. “What must I do to inherit eternal life.” You know the Law – keep it – perfectly. And when you realize that you can’t keep it perfectly, that you can’t do the impossible, then lift up your heads and behold the one who can!
Jesus does the impossible. The rich man was so close, yet his love for himself and his money not only blinded his eyes, but it deafened his ears. All he heard was God’s rejection of his works – so he went away sad, for he had much money. If only he hadn’t gotten up and left during the sermon, if only he’d stayed at Jesus’ feet and listened. “Who then can be saved?” With man this is impossible but with God all things are possible.”
Jesus does the impossible. He is the good teacher, the good God, who became flesh to save those who aren’t good enough. He is conceived without the help of a man – Impossible! He is born without Adam’s curse – Impossible! He heals the blind, the deaf, and the mute – Impossible! He cleanses lepers with the touch of His hands – Impossible! He raises a little girl, an only son, and an old man from the dead – Impossible! He feeds 4000 and 5000 with a few loaves of bread and fish – Impossible! He walks on Water – Impossible. He stills the storms – Impossible. He gives His flesh to eat and His blood to drink – Impossible! He sweats drops of blood – Impossible! He is without sin yet is judged as a criminal – Impossible. He came unto His own but His own rejected Him – Impossible. He is crucified, dead and buried for the sins of the world – Impossible! And on the third day, the first day of the week, Sunday morning very early, before the Sun had dawned, His tomb was and is empty! Jesus is Risen! Impossible! Jesus does the impossible because you and I can’t. His impossible deeds make possible your salvation.The rich man’s problem was not an inheritance issue. It was a grace issue. You don’t do anything to receive an inheritance, it is a gift, freely given from one who has died to give it to you. The rich man had no concept of God’s grace for sinners. Grace seems impossible, improbable – so very contrary to our natural way of thinking, believing, living. But it is by grace that we are saved – not because we are good, not because we are spiritual, not because we are sincere – but because of Jesus. By grace the forgiveness of sins is given to you and me. Through our baptism into Christ we are made heirs of an eternal kingdom. St. Paul says, “for you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have been clothed with Christ. . . .. And if you are Christ’s then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:26-27,29). Grace is not by works it is “according to the promise.” God’s promises are the certainty that your heart needs. Look nowhere else beloved than the scriptures of God. For here, in God’s Word, your eternal destiny is proclaimed. It seems impossible. It sound’s impossible, but God does the impossible. He gives His son into death and raises Him on the Third day. By His holy blood souls are cleansed of sin, hearts are made whole, and peace is granted. And through His Word – this Word which tells you all of this – He calls your heart to faith, to trust that He alone is your God, that His heart is one of love toward you, that He has provided for your salvation, and will continue to provide for you all that you need to support this body and life.
The Rich man would not listen. His faith clung to money and possessions, things that can be earned by the sweat of the brow. Oft times our own anxiety stems from such struggles. Whose word will we cling to? God’s or our own, the Lord’s or our neighbors, the Scriptures or the devil? Whose works will we cling to? God’s or our own, the Lord’s or our neighbors, the Savior’s or the doctor’s? With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible!
Beloved in the Lord, salvation by grace means that we’re not in control. To be an heir means that we’re not the one who dies. There is a benefactor, there is a testator, there is a giver of “good” gifts, and there is a death – the death of His dear Son. For us to look at what we must do only brings us despair. We cannot keep the law perfectly. The sooner we realize this the sooner our hearts will be set at ease through the forgiveness of our sins. Luther once told this story at table: “It was a pious thing to do when a certain monk in the agony of death cast aside all his traditions, took hold of the crucifix, and said: ‘Of what use are my works and merits and those of the entire world? It is His merits and works that I kiss, and I entrust myself to Him!’ [endnote 1] When what we must do fails us – as it always will, not matter how good we think we are – then by God’s grace we can lift up our heads and seek life from Him (point to the cross!) – the God who does the impossible for the world, for you.
May God grant us all the faith of a dying monk. AMEN!
The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding keep your heart and mind through faith in Christ Jesus. AMEN!
Luther, Martin: Pelikan, Jaroslav Jan (Hrsg.) ; Oswald, Hilton C. (Hrsg.) ; Lehmann, Helmut T. (Hrsg.): Luther’s Works, Vol. 22 : Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 1-4. Saint Louis : Concordia Publishing House, 1999, c1957 (Luther’s Works 22), S. 22