18 A certain ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
19 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 20 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.’”
21 “All these I have kept since I was a boy,” he said.
22 When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
23 When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was very wealthy. 24 Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! 25 Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
26 Those who heard this asked, “Who then can be saved?”
27 Jesus replied, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.”
What happens if 100% isn’t good enough? Let’s say you have the chance to be a quarterback for just one play in the NFL. You could try your very best, 100%, for just one play. Now, what if a 325-pound lineman broke through and was heading, full steam, for you? You would probably break a bone or get knocked out cold. 100% of your very best effort in the NFL would not be good enough.
Kids in elementary school can study until their math book is memorized backwards and forwards, but if that math test was college level calculus, how do you think that will go? At work, your computer system develops a glitch and an order that was supposed to be done by the end of November now is expected by the client in two days. No matter how much extra help you call in, an order that was supposed to take a month won’t be done in two days. Teachers and parents, you can do everything in their power to lovingly and carefully correct poor attitudes, but kids will still misbehave. Your 100% isn’t always enough.
Jesus brings up a pretty good example of that for us today. You can try as hard as you want, you can explore every option, you can use all the force and energy you have, you can think up every trick, but you will never get a camel through the eye of a needle. When my best, most efficient, most careful, most loving effort doesn’t get me where I want to be, what then?
That is kind of what the rich man was dealing with when he walked up to Jesus. He was giving a good life 100% of his effort. He had a good reputation. The Bible says he was a wealthy ruler of some kind, likely in the local synagogue. But to be sure, he wanted to know if there was anything else that he was missing. You see, he was making sure that his 100% was good enough for heaven.
Jesus is perfect at getting to the heart and core of the rich ruler’s request. First, Jesus says that anyone who wants to have heaven must obey the commandments perfectly. He lists a few: do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, and honor your father and mother. This pleased the rich man, because he readily admitted that he was a good, law-abiding citizen since his childhood. This man gave no one any reason to second-guess his decisions or his lifestyle.
Each one of us here today would like to say we fit into the sandals of the rich young ruler quite well, right? We like to think we have a pretty good reputation. Maybe you run down the list in your head. ‘My character is not questionable. I have not killed anyone. I have not been openly perverse. I have not lied about my life. I have not stolen someone’s belongings. I was always the perfect child for my parents, but I have learned and recognize them as God’s representatives.”
However, Jesus has one more thing to add. God makes the rules and sets the standard by which the rules must be followed. So what Jesus adds next for the rich ruler is what all of us need to hear. You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.
The life of someone who wants to live in the kingdom of God forever, is not only about being good, showing kindness and care to others, and being respectful to all authorities, but it is also about how you live and for whom. Your motivation must be pure and your attitude needs to be selfless. So too, your life must be for others – others in your family, others at work, others who you don’t know, others who are even cruel to you, and, most importantly of all, your life needs to be dedicated to the Lord, all the time.
That is where the ruler’s good life, his 100% effort, wasn’t quite up to snuff. This is also where my 100% isn’t good enough and neither is yours. I don’t have the pure motivations and selfless attitude all the time. My sinful nature is just like yours – it has made me unclean in God’s eyes. Those thoughts aren’t always decent and caring, are they? The words coming out of your mouth don’t always give God glory, do they? In one way or another God’s laws have been broken, if not in the grossest, public ways then privately in thoughts or intentions. I may not struggle with the same sins as one of you and you may not struggle with the same faults as a family member or friend, but God’s law still convicts us, that even one time is enough to shatter God’s commandments to pieces. This is what Jesus tells the rich young ruler inside of each one of us. The life of a Christian is all or nothing. Jesus gets to the heart of the issue and says our 100% effort isn’t good enough.
What Jesus says is pretty uncomfortable isn’t it? He told a rich man that he couldn’t be rich anymore if he wanted to be in heaven. Today, those same uncomfortable words apply to us. If there is anything in the way of a fully dedicated, 100% Christian life, then you need to get rid of it. If you are trusting that your income and savings will give you a better life, then you need to give it all away. If you really enjoy using your HDTV, iPad, cell phone, if the TV schedule, texting with friends, checking facebook is preventing you from following Jesus all the time, then you need to get rid of them. If traditions are becoming so important that you’ve lost sight of why you follow them and what Jesus says about them, then you need to throw them away. If your garages are filled with boats and snow mobiles and 4-wheelers and other fun toys that you enjoy so much, to the point where on a sunny Sunday morning you would rather be on your boat or snow mobile, then you need to sell them. When hunting takes over for these fall months to the point where parents and kids are regularly neglecting the Savior and their relationship with his Word, then Jesus says you can’t go hunting anymore.
Are you starting to see the problem? Our best efforts aren’t even close to good enough? Jesus says if anything is more important than him, get rid of it. Jesus says if anyone is more important than him, that relationship must change. Jesus says you must follow him with everything you have. God says he must have 100%. That means all your motivations, all your attitudes, all your interests, all your hobbies, all your character, all your love, all your respect, all the time. In other words, Jesus is telling us today that he must have your entire life if you want to be in heaven forever.
For those standing around Jesus back then and for us right now, the question becomes, “Well then, who can be saved?” As people heard Jesus talking to this rich man, they were really starting to wonder if it was possible for anyone to go to heaven. Today, you and I might be taking a step back wondering, “Who can be saved?”
I have to be honest with you, this is an impossible task for us. Every one of us needs to see just how similar to this ruler we really are. Today, realize that even your best effort isn’t good enough. You and I cannot earn a place in heaven and we can’t try to make up for our mistakes so God will take it easy on us. Every day you must hear Jesus say, “It is impossible for you…
…but not for me.” Jesus started the whole conversation with the rich man by saying that God alone is good. Only God could follow the commandments with 100% of the effort, 100% of the attitude, 100% of the motivation, and 100% of the time. Only God could walk this earth always caring about others more than himself. Only God could do the good things necessary for heaven. Only God is good, Jesus says.
With people like us heaven is an impossible dream never to come true. But God took human flesh, gave us his 100% in every way, paid the price for all our mistakes and errors, and opened heaven for us. You do not need to walk away sad, because Jesus has saved you. You do not need to walk away sad, because our good God has restored the broken relationship and brought you into his family through Christ Jesus. You do not need to be nervous, because God did the impossible.
Today, that’s what we need to hear. Living as a follower of Jesus is not a life like that rich ruler, where you’re not quite sure about your salvation because you are nervous if your 100% is good enough. That’s why Jesus didn’t leave it up to us. Jesus accomplished eternal life fully for us. When he died, he said, “It is finished. My work to save you is 100% complete.” And then he proved that the impossible was possible when he rose from the dead on Easter.
But how does that certainty become ours? Do we have to sell everything and give to the poor? Do we have to say prayers 5 times a day? Do we need specific qualities or talents? Well… NO! If that were the case then heaven would be impossible for us. See, we don’t have what it takes to believe all of this. We are like the rich ruler; we just can’t make it all work out. It is not possible for us to make the right choices or do the right things in order to believe in Jesus. We weren’t able to turn on our own spiritual light bulbs. We aren’t able to crawl out of the deep pit of sin and death.
So God did the impossible. Not only did Christ die to pay for our sins, not only did Christ go into the pit of death and destroy it when he rose, but he also gives us his robe of righteousness with the sacrament of Baptism. God uses baptism to plant faith in your heart. Heaven is not possible without this gift of God, so God made it possible for you with something so simple. He uses plain water connected to his all-powerful Word to change your identity. We were born just like that rich ruler, but in baptism the Holy Spirit put saving faith in our hearts. It’s this gift that holds on to Jesus and his forgiveness. It’s this gift that makes our eternity in heaven secure. It’s the gift that changes our life.
If you are a child of God, that means you live by faith alone. You don’t need the riches to be God’s child. You don’t need everything your heart desires to believe in Jesus. In fact, sometimes those things need to be taken away so that our faith is not distracted or destroyed. We live by faith alone, because faith in Jesus is all we need for eternal life.
That’s what makes faith in Jesus such a treasure, a treasure we will never give up. God gave this eternal treasure to us by grace alone found in Scripture alone. That’s our identity. And it always will be, because Jesus made the impossible possible. Amen.