Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Gospel, which was read earlier.
Today’s text is the continuation of the encounter of the rich young man from last week’s Gospel reading. As we left that man, Mark records, “Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.” That’s the last we see or hear about this rich young man, for the man went away sorrowful because he was not able to fulfill Jesus’ command. How sad it must have been for the young man, but what is even more sad is how many more people are just like him.
As sad as the interaction was with the man, Jesus continues teaching the disciples, saying, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” This was not only a problem for the man who left Jesus, but it is an important lesson for us today as well. Jesus explains how wealth makes it difficult to enter God’s kindgom. He then generalizes this statement to include all people. While there is nothing wrong with being wealthy or having lots of possessions, our riches cannot and will not earn us entry into heaven, nor will they earn us everlasting life. This is the point that Jesus was trying to make to the disciples and to the rich young man a few verses earlier who went away sorrowful. Our earthly riches will do us no good when it comes to the gift of salvation, for this gift cannot be bought or purchased for any amount, other than the blood of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
To stress the point of just how hard it is for the wealthy to enter the kingdom of heaven, Jesus tells them that “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.” So just how does one go about making a camel go through the eye of a needle? Imagine pulling hair by hair out of the camel through the eye of the needle, then someone disassembling the camel on one end, pulling the camel through and somehow reassembling the camel back together and giving it life again. Obviously, it is a ridiculous notion that Jesus is putting before them, making something so huge go through a hole so small. The disciples knew this and were left with the same question that we all have: “Then who can be saved?”
We go back to the question that the man asked last week, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Right away, we’re saying that there must be something that we can do. But sadly, even though the question is wrong, there are plenty of people who will be happy to give you an answer, albeit a wrong answer.
In more than one church and from more than one pastor, the answer is that you must do good works in order to inherit eternal life. You must lead a good life. You must keep all the commandments of God, or at least as well as you can, and the Lord will graciously open the gates of heaven to you. This is such a popular doctrine among us today, that as long as we go to church x number of times a year, we’ve done enough and eternal life is ours. Or better yet is the notion that as long as we do our best each day, what more can God ask for from us. Doing the best you can isn’t good enough in God’s book, for Jesus says, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
These answers are appealing to our sinful nature – it means that we can do this on our own. It means that we don’t have to get it all right and God won’t punish us. It means whatever you want it to mean and God will grant you everlasting life regardless of what you have done or haven’t done. The easy answer is good works. But how many good works are necessary? What constitutes a good work? Can you ever do enough good works? The answer to this question is that good works will not earn you salvation.
When Jesus turns His full attention to the disciples, His words are centered around salvation, but the disciples focus on some sort of human-achieved salvation. Jesus has just explained about the camel and the needle and Peter is quick to respond that they have left everything and have now chosen to follow Jesus. In his thinking and logic, they have done exactly what Jesus told the rich man to do: go and sell all their possessions and to follow Him. Yet again, the disciples miss the point of Jesus’ teaching.
It is humanly impossible for a rich man to enter heaven. It is humanly impossible for the poor man to enter heaven. It is humanly impossible for any man to enter heaven on their own accord. To gain heaven by our works, we must walk that tightrope of God’s Law, without wavering and without breaking any of His commands. Because of that reason, St. Paul writes in Romans, “No one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”
We as God’s people would do well to remember that also; that we all have turned aside from God and that we are not capable of doing good. Only by fulfilling the Law of God are we saved. However, there is one problem with that: we can’t keep God’s Law. Paul tells us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” That includes you and I. We have all failed in keeping God’s Law. Our salvation could never rely upon us. Paul continues by saying, “[we are] justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus….”
So where does that leave us? How is it then that we able to be saved? We’re left asking the same question that Peter asked. The answer is Jesus. It is Jesus who died for our sins. It is Jesus who gives eternal life. This isn’t about what we do, but it is about what Jesus does for us. It’s not about you – it’s about Jesus for you! What is impossible for us is completely possible for Jesus.
Through our Baptism, we are joined to Christ. His perfect life, His suffering, and His death all become ours. That means that when we stand in judgment, we stand not in our sin, but in Christ’s righteousness. We receive full credit for what Christ has done. Because of Christ’s work, we will rise again to new life.
Nothing in us is capable of our salvation and so we rest solely on Christ and what He has done for us. Eternal life is impossible when left to us, but all things are possible with God; and because we have Christ, we have the One who sacrificed Himself because He was and is and will always be about us. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.