“All The Fitness He Requireth      Mark 10:17-31        October 14, 2007

 

SCRIPTURE INTRO:  We’ve seen in recent weeks in our study of Mark

   that Jesus came to set things right through his suffering and death.

   He came to redeem the world, to restore what is broken.

In this passage we see how Christ’s redemptive work radically changes

   the way we view our money and our morality

 

INTRO:  Several years ago we were in Colorado, and there was a road

   that I wanted to take because I had read it led to a beautiful view.

But when we got to the beginning of the road, there was a big sign:  Danger!

   And then it listed all of the dangers of this road.

   Falling rocks, landslides, flash floods, drop-offs,

   limited search and rescue in case of accident or injury.

 

It was a sign that really got your attention.  And it got mine.

   There was no way I was going to take my minivan and family up that road.

Of course, I pretended to ignore the sign and started up the road—

   just so I could hear Allison let out a shriek.

   And she did.  Something like:  You’ll kill us all!

But really, the sign convinced me.  I turned around and went the other way.

 

Supposed you were asked to make a danger sign that listed the biggest threats

   to a person’s soul—what would you put on that sign?

You might think of the first nine chapters of Proverbs where

   the father warns his son over and over about two things that will

   destroy him spiritually—evil companions and immoral women.

 

Or you might think of Paul’s warning about

   the root of bitterness, and the sun going down on your anger—

   which are said to give the devil a foothold.

There might be other things you would put on your danger sign—

   maybe things you have personally seen destroy people spiritually

But whatever your danger sign said—it would probably be a list of bad things.

 

That’s what makes this story so powerful.  It’s a warning. 

A young man misses eternal life—not because of evil companions,

   or immoral women, not because of the root of bitterness,

   or the sun going down on his anger or anything else bad—

But because of his prosperity and his morality.

This story is a warning that being morally upright and prosperous

   can actually be a threat to your soul.

 

We never think that way.  When you are doing well financially, what do you say?

   “We’re just so blessed.”  God has blessed us financially.

And if you are doing well in life morally—

   doing the things you know you should do, not doing things shouldn’t,

   you have a sense that God is smiling on you. 

When you think about your kids, what do you want for their future?

   You want them to be solid, moral people who don’t struggle financially.

 

We never look at our prosperity and our morality and say:

   This gives me deep concern.

   These things could be blinding me to my true condition.

   They could be permanently damaging my soul by keeping me from Christ.

But that’s exactly what this story is about.

 

Jesus warns that your moral uprightness and your financial prosperity

   can be threats to your soul.

Just like this very moral, religious, and prosperous young man—

   they can blind you to your true spiritual condition—

   and keep you away from Jesus and the Gospel and salvation.

 

This is an important story.  It’s recorded in three of the Gospels—M, M, L.

   Made a huge impact on the disciples, wanted to pass it on to future Christians.

   Because this story is not just about people who never come to Christ because

   of these things—it’s also about struggles Christians continue to have.

 

I’d like us to work our way through this story step by step—

   but want to give us a kind of framework for our study—

   so for your notetakers—three big headings.

1.  The danger of morality

2.  The danger of prosperity

3.  Avoiding these dangers


MP#1  The danger of morality

A man ran up to Jesus, fell on his knees before him and said:

   Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?  Sounds promising.

But Jesus saw right away that this man would never understand salvation,

   unless he could look past his own morality. 

   So Jesus answered abrasively, started poking this man, harder and harder.

   Trying to get him to think, and see himself rightly. 

 

This form of address “good teacher” was a tremendous compliment.

   But Jesus says:  “Why do you call me good?  No one good but God alone.”

Do you think the secret to getting right with God is

   just to find a really good teacher who can mentor you? 

If no one is good, then you aren’t good.

   If you aren’t good, a teacher isn’t going to help you, you need a savior?

 

But the man doesn’t show any understanding—so Jesus pokes him again.

How do you inherit eternal life? 

   “You know the commandments—keep the law.”

   And then Jesus recites some of the ten commandments—second table of law.

   The commandments that have to do with how we treat other people.

 

All of you here know enough about Christianity never to say what Jesus said.

   You never tell a person who asks you how to be saved—keep the law.

   You say—it’s all about grace.  Not what you do, what God does.

Which is, of course, what Jesus believed.   So why doesn’t he say it? 

   Because he’s trying to get this man to see himself as he really is.

 

But how does the man respond?  I’ve kept all these since I was a boy. 

On the one hand, this man is telling the truth.

According to his conscience, he was a good person.

   He was a moral person.  He had been moral since he was a boy.

   He had ever murdered or committed adultery or stolen, or any of these things.

 

What do you think of his answer?  If know anything about biblical religion—

   you know that he was missing the point of the law.

The commandments a mirror that shows us that we don’t live up to God’s law,

   and that’s why we need Christ.

Jesus makes this very clear in sermon on the mount.

   You say:  I’ve never murdered anybody—but if angry, called fool—you have.

You see, if this man had understood the commandments rightly would have said:

   Jesus, I haven’t kept any of these as a boy!

   If that’s how you get eternal life then I’ll never get it—save me!

So Jesus pokes him one more time, very hard.

   Ok, you just lack one thing—

   Sell all you have and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven. 

 

What was Jesus trying to show him? 

   You say have kept the commandments all you life—

   in fact, you have never even kept the very first one:

   “You shall have no other gods before me.”  Your god is your wealth. 

And if you’ve never kept the first one, you’ve never kept any of them.

   But the man still didn’t understand, face fell, went away sad, had great wealth.

 

What was this man’s problem?

   What caused him to turn away from Jesus?

   You might say:  Love of money.  That’s certainly true, in a way.

But there was something even deeper—his morality. 

   You see, this man still did not understand Jesus.

 

He really thought Jesus was saying: 

   You’ve been good, add this to your list and you’re in.

   Move from the gold level of giving to the platinum level—you’re in heaven.

The man went away thinking there was still something for him to do.

   Something hard, that he didn’t want to do—but still something for him to do.

  

Which is not what Jesus was saying at all. 

   Wanted this man to see that he was morally and spiritually bankrupt—

   that he could never do enough for eternal life, that he needed a Savior.

He wanted this man to say:

   Jesus, I can’t do it.  I can’t give up my money—like ripping my heart out.

   Because it’s my idol.  I don’t love God like I should—and I can’t.

God have mercy on me.  And that would have begun his spiritual transformation. 

 

The danger of morality is this.  If you’ve been a good person morally,

   in an external sort of way, it’s very difficult for you to believe that you do

   nothing to contribute to your salvation—absolutely bankrupt spiritually.

May be very uncomfortable spiritually, know you need something (like this man),

   even come to Jesus, but whole perspective wrong—think something you do.

That brings us to the second danger—


MP#2  The danger of prosperity

 

The disciples were stunned by this exchange.

   This was just the sort of man they wanted for their movement.

   Wealthy, well-connected—would have been a huge asset.

And Jesus sends him away with a sad face.

 

And then Jesus amazes them more by saying:

   How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God.

   Again:  Easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than rich . . .

Which is just another way of saying—as disciples understand—it’s impossible.

   Jesus affirms—Yes, it’s impossible.  Takes a miracle.

 

Tempting to read this, and pull some punches theologically and say:

   Every time a person becomes a Christian it’s a miracle.

   Downplay what Jesus says here about wealth.

But we can’t.  Jesus clearly saying—It’s a miracle anyone is saved, rich or poor. 

   But it’s an even bigger miracle when a rich person is saved.

   We need to pay attention to this—because we are, most of us, rich people.

 

Why is wealth such an obstacle to salvation?

Being wealthy means that you are able to fix things.

   You have resources to handle the contingencies of life.

   If you have a problem you hire an attorney, or repairman,

   or you go to a counselor, or a doctor.

You have the means to fix your troubles.

 

Being wealthy means that you are more independent and in control.

   And that’s a great feeling, not to have to depend on anybody.

It feels great not to be the one with your hand out.

   It feels great not to be the object of pity in your family,

   the family member who everyone worries about and takes care of.

 

It’s great to be able to give back some of what you have.

And by the way—this rich man was not a stingy person—he was a giver.

   Told he was a synagogue ruler—usually the biggest giver in congregation.

   Often the one who actually gave the money to build the building.

And that feels great, to be able to do that. 

But to have to say—I’m at my wits end.

   I’m desperate.  I’m broke.  I’ve got nowhere else to turn.

   Will you help me?  Nobody wants to be there.  That feels awful.

 

But spiritually, that exactly where you have to be to get eternal life.

   Have to be at your wits end.

   No power to change yourself.

I’m broke.  I’m out of resources.  I have no where else to turn.

   Jesus, have mercy on me. 

 

If you never have to do that in your regular life—

   then it will be very hard for you to do it in your spiritual life.

 

The reason the Bible over and over says that the poor are blessed

   is not because the poor are more moral or lovely—they aren’t.

It’s because the poor get the Gospel more easily

   because they know what it means to be desperate.

 

They have an analogy for spiritual desperation in their daily lives.

   They know what it’s like to have nothing to fall back on.

And so they get it when Jesus says that you have to come with nothing.

 

For most of you, and for me—I’ve never lived with poverty.

   I’ve never known what it’s like to live with absolutely nothing

   to fall back on financially and I hope I never do.

But the Lord, in his mercy gets us there in other ways.

   It might be through failure of your health,

   or a professional or financial

   failure, or even through a moral failure.

Sometimes the Lord allows Christians to sin in ways

   that surprise and humiliate them.

 

It’s his mercy to show us our spiritual poverty and need for his grace—

   by bringing us to our wits end in different ways here.

 

Mo Leverett:  Minister who worked in 9th Ward of New Orleans before Katrina.

   We’re all from the ghetto.  If see self rightly, in cycle can’t break,

   no options, in need of someone to rescue—see self rightly.

 

Brings us to—


MP#3  The way we avoid these dangers.

Obviously, morality and prosperity aren’t something we give up

   in order to experience God’s grace. 

Fringe groups through the history of the church who have advocated.

   Let’s sin more so we can experience God’s grace.

   Let’s literally get rid of all possessions, so know spiritual poverty.

   Both of those are obviously wrong, don’t even need to address.

 

But how do we keep these things from marginalizing Jesus in our lives?

   How do we keep our morality causing us think our standing with God

   is based on what we do, how do we keep our prosperity from robbing us

   of feeling a desperate need for Christ?

 

The answer is the Gospel.  You have to know and preach the Gospel to yourself.

   This is the only way to avoid these dangers.

There are many ways you can summarize the Gospel.

   But the most helpful to me, one I’ve told you many, many times

   was expressed by Presbyterian minister named Jack Miller.

 

The Gospel is that I am more wicked and sinful than I ever dared to admit.

   And at the same time, I am more loved and accepted in Christ

   than I ever dared to hope.

 

You deal with your morality by allowing the law of God to show you

   that you are more wicked and sinful than you ever dared to admit.

I’ve never murdered—Jesus says—but you’ve despised and scorned people.

   You’ve hated them.  You’ve called them fools.  That’s murder.

I’ve never committed adultery—Jesus says—but you’ve lusted.

 

And on and on—the law is spiritual.  It penetrated to the deepest motives.

Shows your idols and your coveting—and demolishes your confidence in morality.

   Not your morality itself—but confidence—so put confidence in Christ.

 

Those of you who were at Jim Edwards’ mother’s funeral, Louise Edwards,

   heard a very moving expression of this.  Mrs. Edwards was 99 when passed away.

The family gave me something to read at funeral—something written 12 years ago.

   Personal reflections on the love of God.

 

Because God loves me, he is deeply grieved when I do not walk in ways that please him, because he sees this as evidence that I don’t trust and love him as I should.

 

Because God loves me, he stands with me when I have reached the rock bottom of despair, when I see the real me and compare it with His righteousness, holiness, beauty and love.  In moments like this I realize the depth of God’s love. 

 

Here was a woman, everyone would say was moral, good, kind—and she was.

   And yet even in old age, letting the Gospel do it’s work.

   Able to say—when it searches me, I see that my morality does not save me.

 

And that brings us to the second theme—At the same time, in Christ, 

   I am more loved and accepted than ever dared to hope. 

This is what enables you to deal with the danger of prosperity—

   knowing that you are loved and accepted by God in Christ.

 

Knowing the love and acceptance of God means an assurance

   he will take care of all of the contingencies of your life.

   In fact, He’s the one who causes the contingencies—

   for your good, because loves you. 

You prosperity doesn’t really make you free and independent—

   it enslaves you in many ways—it’s confidence in Christ’s love that frees you.

 

His love frees you to be generous with your money, give sacrificially. 

   Delivers you from being embarrassed by what you have,

   or envious about what you don’t have. 

Because you know that everything you have is from loving hand of God.

 

I know that there are some of you here this morning, feel like the rich man.

   Christian, but something doesn’t feel right.  Something broken.

   Wish you could come to Jesus and say—what else do I need to do?

 

He would say—If God judged you on the basis of what you do—

   you would go to hell, but I went to the cross for self-righteous,

   money-lovers like you. 

That’s the Gospel.  Believe embrace it. 

 


CONC: 

This is the constant struggle of the believer.

Martin Lloyd-Jones once said that the Christian life really comes down to this.

   Are you listening to yourself, or are you preaching to yourself?

 

Are you listening to yourself

   It’s all about what I do and how much I have.

 

Or are you preaching to yourself. 

   No—I’m more wicked and sinful than I ever dared admit—

   and at the same time I’m more loved and accepted than ever dared to hope.

 

When you know that—as the old hymn says—you have all you need.

   All you really need, is to feel your need for him.

 

This is what the rich young man didn’t have—to his great sorrow.

   Don’t let that be true of you.