Mark 10:23-31

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Last year was a big year for us Lutherans. It was 500 years since Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses, setting in motion the Lutheran Reformation. We’ll celebrate that event more again next week, but today, it is good for us to recognize another 500th anniversary in the life of Martin Luther. 2018 marks the 500th anniversary of a debate known as the Heidelberg Disputation. This debate was meant to be about sin, free will, and grace, and so as you can imagine, Luther went to town. But instead of 95 theses, he wrote just 28 theological theses meant to argue his case. Thesis 3 helps us answer the disciples’ amazement in today’s reading from Mark. Luther writes, “Although the works of man always seem attractive and good, they are nevertheless likely to be mortal sins.” The best things we have in life and the best things we do are the most dangerous and are most likely to tear us away from the faith.

You would think it’s be the opposite, that it would be our sins, our bad works, our brokenness, or the troubles of life that would cause the problems, but no. It’s the good stuff that causes us to fall away. Here’s why. When you sin and recognize your sin, you’re likely to humble yourself, repent, and turn to Jesus. You don’t trust in your sins or in the brokenness of this world for salvation. But when you do a bunch of good things, when you have things that bring you joy, when your experience of life is pleasant, it’s incredibly easy to forget about Jesus altogether and to trust your own works for salvation.

“How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” For most people, money brings comfort. It lulls you to sleep, thinking that you have all that you need, when in reality, it drives you further and further away from God. Very quickly life turns from serving God to growing your bank account. “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! 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.” And the disciples were exceedingly astonished, and said to Jesus, “Then who can be saved?” He looked at them and said,“With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.”

“How difficult it will be for those who have cell phones to enter the kingdom of God!” You’ve all seen it happen, either around your dinner table or around the table next to you at the restaurant. An entire family is gathered together for a meal—which is a rare enough thing nowadays—but they’re all sitting around the table in noisy silence on their phones. Someone’s checking Facebook. Someone’s texting their friends. Someone’s reading the news. Instead of strengthening relationships with one another or with God, they’re strengthening relationships with the little metal and glass box they just can’t live without. “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone with a cell phone to enter the kingdom of God.” “Then who can be saved?” “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.”

“How difficult it will be for those who have a loving family to enter the kingdom of God!” When your spouse is kind and self-giving, and your kids are well-behaved and get good grades in all their classes, it’s easy to become complacent. Instead of praising God, you praise your spouse and lift up your kids. “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a person with a loving family to enter the kingdom of God.” “Then who can be saved?” “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.”

“How difficult it will be for those who have their health to enter the kingdom of God!” When we’re healthy, we don’t turn to God and ask for our health. In fact, it’s even rare for us to turn to God and thank Him for it. We take it for granted that we’re healthy. We thank doctors for their work and praise the researchers for creating vaccines and miracle drugs to keep us from getting sick. “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a healthy person to enter the kingdom of God.” “Then who can be saved?” “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.”

“How difficult it will be for Americans to enter the kingdom of God!” We are blessed to live in an excellent nation, one more free and more more just than most across the globe and throughout human history. Because of that, we would sooner demand our rights than to bear with one another in brotherly love. When the other political party takes office, our entire world is quick to crumble. Our foundation has shifted from Christ alone to nation alone. “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for an American to enter the kingdom of God.” “Then who can be saved?” “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.”

“How difficult it will be for those who have all their doctrine right to enter the kingdom of God!” You know it all. You’ve got everything in the right categories. You’re able to point out what’s theologically wrong in all the so-called Christians music and movies and books that are so popular today. Your faith is not the faith of a child, but the faith of a scholar. “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a theologian to enter the kingdom of God.” “Then who can be saved?” “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.”

“How difficult it will be for those who are members of the church to enter the kingdom of God!” I was born and raised in the church! I went through the new member class! That ought to count for something. I’m part of the life of the congregation. I volunteer for all sorts of events. I teach Sunday School. I give money. Don’t tell me that doesn’t count for anything! Don’t my good works add something to my salvation? “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for church members to enter the kingdom of God.” “Then who can be saved?” “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.”

Be it wealth, family, nationality, or church membership, these are all good things. And because they are good, we are most likely to turn them into deadly sins. Most people don’t make evil acts or brokenness into idols; they turn what is good and beautiful and wise into their false gods. The good things in life are the most dangerous, since they tempt us the most to take our eyes off of Jesus. Even and especially when these things are religious things, the temptation is there to make our faith all about prayer or worship or Bible-reading instead of about Jesus. If that’s the case, then the disciples’ amazement and astonishment make a lot of sense. Who then can be saved? If even the best works can’t save you, then how can you be saved? Only those in Christ Jesus. You’re not saved by your works, however good. You’re not saved by your things, however pleasant. You’re not saved by your wealth, however abundant. You are saved always and only by the death and resurrection of Jesus.

It’s why Paul can say in Philippians 3, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.” It all depends on Christ. Everything else is rubbish, even and especially our good works. It all depends on Christ. “With man, salvation is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.”

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.

 

Lobe den Herrn

 

B. A. Woell