June 18, 2017
Monkeys are notorious for not wanting to let go of food. A man put some food in a hole and then waited for the monkey to come. The monkey put his hand into the hole and grabbed the food. But in holding the food his hand was too big to pull out of the hole. The man came and got the monkey because the monkey wouldn’t let go. The monkey lost his life because he couldn’t let go.
In the passage for today we see a similar situation except that the stakes are much higher. In Mk.10:17-31 we see how a person can forfeit eternal life by holding onto the wealth of this world. This morning I want to point out that the power of wealth can keep us from finding life in Jesus.
I. WEALTH CAN BE A SNARE FOR UNBELIEVERS. Mk.10:17-22
When I sat down to think about this passage I was immediately struck by the fact that this man ran up to Jesus and knelt down as Jesus was getting ready to leave for Jerusalem. There was a sense of urgency in his heart. He recognized that there was something different about Jesus. He rightly believed that Jesus had answers to the most important questions of life and he didn’t want to miss his opportunity. “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Every one of us has questions like this, questions that deal with meaning and purpose in life, questions that deal with the quality of life we experience, questions concerning eternity. These are existential questions for which we long for answers. These are religious questions because they have to do with the spiritual dimension of our lives.
And it is important to see that religion in and of itself does not adequately answer these questions. This man was very religious but obviously his religion didn’t satisfy the deepest questions of his heart, especially the question of life.
He calls Jesus, “good teacher.” And Jesus immediately picks up on that. This man was concerned about goodness, and we should all be concerned about goodness. Goodness is very important for life. Jesus asked, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” I don’t think Jesus is just trying to point to his deity as much as he is trying to help this man think more deeply about what it means to be good.
He reminds the man about the commandments found in the Old Testament. “Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud or cheat, Honor your father and mother.” The man responded by saying that, in fact, he had kept all these commands from his youth.
Part of the problem for this man is that when he considered his own goodness he was comparing himself to the goodness of others. As far as he could tell, compared to others he was good in that he kept these commands. Jesus wanted to help the man understand that one’s goodness must be seen in relationship to God who alone is good. The man was not thinking deeply enough. He was not self-aware enough about his life in relationship to the goodness of God.
Now we are all like this man. In the world people regularly compare themselves against others. “I’ve got my problems but I’m not like so and so.” Our tendency is to give ourselves the benefit of the doubt. As long as we see ourselves as good as, or better than the general run of society, we feel we are okay. But if we are okay, why do we have the gnawing questions about life and eternity? Well, it’s because personal goodness is not the only issue involved.
You notice that Jesus did not challenge the man’s self-assessment. Jesus didn’t say, “Are you kidding! No one keeps these laws. You are a sinner!” What it does say is that Jesus looked deeply at this man and loved him. He fixed his eyes lovingly on the man and gave the answer that was needed. “You lack one thing; go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”
Did Jesus give the man the gospel? He surely did. He gave the gospel in a way that was personally relevant to this man. The gospel message is not, “Go, sell all that you have and give to the poor.” Jesus was not giving this man one more thing to do in order to have eternal life. Jesus was putting his finger on the thing that kept this man from following him. Like most people in that day, this man would have considered himself highly blessed by God because of his wealth. Wealth was a sign of God’s blessing. Jesus wanted to help this dear man see that his wealth had such a grip on him that it kept him from eternal life in Jesus. For this man, finding treasure in heaven did not seem as real or valuable as treasure on earth. Following Jesus did not seem to have the same payoff as the wealth in his pocket. It wasn’t the keeping of the law that kept this man from having eternal life. It was his wealth that had such grip on his life that he could not see his way clear to follow Jesus. And so the man went away sorrowful because he had great wealth. He did not see that Jesus is a treasure of far greater value than his money.
Anything that keeps one from following Jesus is a snare and money and possessions are particularly powerful. But it’s not just money. You may be one of the most religious people living a moral, upright life. Jesus is fine with that, but his gospel call is to lay everything aside and follow him. Your moral, upright life can be just as much of a snare if it promotes pride of life in your heart. The thing that Jesus gave this man to do was designed to help him become vulnerable, needy, and receptive like a child. In Mk.10:15-16 Jesus says, “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.’ And he took [the children] in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.” Jesus did not take the man in his arms like the children, but he took the man into his heart by holding him with his eyes. Unfortunately the man’s heart was held more tightly by the things of this world and he went away sorrowful. He just couldn’t let go of his money.
In the world everyone’s heart is gripped by something or someone, some snare that keeps them from following Jesus. You and I may not know what that particular snare might be for someone else, but we can love a person with the love of Jesus that has been poured out into our hearts. We can love a person until the Lord shows us what to say. What would Jesus put his finger on in your life? What is keeping you from turning to and following Jesus for eternal life? He loves you and deeply desires for you to find life in him.
II. WEALTH CAN BE A SNARE FOR BELIEVERS. Mk.10:23-31
In v.23 Jesus turns his attention to his disciples. He tells them that it is very difficult for those who have wealth to enter into the kingdom of God. Before we go on, notice that in v.17 the man refers to eternal life. In v.23 Jesus speaks of entering the kingdom of God. In v.26 the disciples ask, “Who then can be saved.” Salvation, entering the kingdom of God, and eternal life all refer to the same thing which comes through faithful discipleship to Jesus.
The disciples are amazed at what Jesus says. They are amazed because they also believed that wealth was a sign of God’s blessing. Surely the wealthy will be saved for God has blessed them abundantly. But Jesus says, “No.” And he uses a humorous proverb to drive home his point. It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God. I don’t get the sense that the disciples appreciated the joke. They are astonished and they ask, “Then who can be saved?”
Jesus’ response is important. “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” Jesus is pointing out that when it comes to entering into the kingdom of God, self-effort is ineffective. Entering the kingdom of God is not a human achievement. It is a God-made, God-given gift. Salvation is only possible through the work of God in his Son, Jesus Christ, through the ministry of the Holy Spirit upon a person’s life. Salvation is a gift of God’s grace. There is nothing you can contribute to your salvation. Salvation is receiving new life in the kingdom of God which implies a new way of living. We live as followers of Jesus. And just as we must become childlike to receive Christ, so we must be childlike to follow Christ.
As Peter listened to Jesus it dawned on him that what the rich man could not do, he and the others did. They left everything to follow Jesus. So Peter says, “Lord, we did what that man could not do. We left everything to follow you. We have taken up the life of discipleship. Does our sacrifice count for anything?”
Jesus goes on to talk about what it means to follow him. And, indeed, following Jesus means we give our life over to him. In v.29 we learn that living a life of discipleship to Jesus means we put Jesus above every other allegiance. We put Jesus above the security of family, home ownership, and vocation, seen here in the word, “lands” or farms as it can translated. Everything in our life takes second place to Jesus and living out his life in us. In fact, in v.30 we see that we put Jesus even before our own life because Jesus points out that as we seek to follow him we may experience persecution.
But notice what else Jesus says in v.29-30. Whoever leaves all these things for the sake of following Jesus, will receive a hundredfold in this life and in the life to come. And Jesus refers to homes, family and lands. What is Jesus talking about?
I believe that he is saying that when we let go of all the things that secure our lives in this world in order to follow Jesus, we are more than compensated through the community of Jesus, namely the Church. You remember in Mk.3 the crowd told Jesus that his mother and brothers were seeking him. Jesus asked, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” We read, “And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother." In other words, as Jesus points out in v.31, those who seek to find their life in the things and people of this world will end up last. Those who find their life in following Christ, with all the sacrifices that entails, will end up first. There is great blessing and reward in following Jesus Christ. That blessing begins now in the church and blossoms out into life in the new heaven and earth.
I see a double challenge in the passage. First, there may be some here who have never come to Jesus to find eternal life. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. Eternal life is found in him. What is holding you back from turning to Christ? You are currently finding your life in something? What is it? What you value more than Jesus is what you think will give you life. The rich man found his life in his wealth and rejected Jesus. What about you?
And then for those who are followers of Jesus I wonder if your discipleship to Christ is compromised because you are gripped by the things of this world. What loyalties in this world keep you from putting Christ first in your life? What about your loyalty to your money? What about your loyalty to family? What about your loyalty to your career? James Edwards writes, “Jesus will have no divided allegiances; he will have all of us or he will not have us at all, so jealous is his love.” What keeps you from following Christ wholeheartedly? Whatever it might be is a snare to finding your life in Christ. Let it go! Amen.