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In this thought-provoking text, we see Jesus' response to the rich young ruler who outwardly expressed a desire to be right before God. But we learn that outward signs of piety are not necessarily an assurance of an inward surrender to God; and that correct professions of faith are not to be confused with a correct position before the Father.
A Great Assurance From a Great Leader
Looks, Lips, and Lives That Leave Us Still Lacking Before the King: A Rich Lesson from the Rich Young Ruler
Adult Applications from Four Verses About 'Children'
Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage: The Ordeal and The Ideal, part 2
Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage: The Ordeal and The Ideal, part 1
Three Salty Statements to Spice up Your Understanding of and Effectiveness for Him
One for All, All for One - Just be Sure You're for Him.
Prioritization, Patience, Pithy Statements, and the Practice of Selflessness? Do It Anyway.
When Life Throws You to the Ground, Here's What to Do
The King on a Hill: Listen to Him to be Transformed
Lord, thank you for songs that do declare what makes this season what it is for us. I pray that as a result of what we reflect on together now and, frankly, all the time that we're together as a people when we gather corporately like this, and we gather individually throughout the week, because of the truth that impacts our hearts, that song would ring out in our lives and in our words all throughout the year.
We thank you for today. We thank you that it's a little bit of a time of rest. We slow down a bit. We remember a lot about days gone by as familiar music reminds us of a lot of stories in our hearts and our minds.
In the midst of all of the normal memories that folks have around Christmas, we pray that when those of us who are gathered here today reflect back on that familiar music we go to a story that will be increasingly familiar to our hearts and to our minds, a story that transforms us from beginning to end, the story about your love for us, about the need that you saw in us, and about the way you dealt with it. Use this morning towards that end, Father, so our lives will be more of a joy to you as we are in Christ, your perfect joy. In Christ's name, amen.
Welcome again. We have a very transient group. A lot of folks can go a lot of places. So we get a little intimate this time of year as we're together as folks go different places to visit family. We're excited for those of you who have family here who are joining us today and then again tomorrow night at 5:00. We will be especially mindful of those folks.
I'll tell you what we're going to do tomorrow night. We're going to deal with this question: What's all this singing about? There's probably no time of the year that is more associated with songs than Christmas, so we're going to show you in a very short and tight way what all the singing is about. We're going to talk about the two times that singing is especially evident in the Scriptures. They're both around the coming of the same one. So we're going to talk about what all the singing is about tomorrow night, and we're going to reflect on that.
This morning we're continuing in Mark. If you've not been with us (as I know many of you have not), we've been making our way through one of the four places in the Scripture you find an extensive amount of writing on the one who was born, or at least who we celebrate was born, this Tuesday. Of course, he wasn't. It was a different time of year, but this is what the church has historically claimed as the time we celebrate the birth of our coming King.
Let's take a look at Mark 10. Here's where we are. We've been making our way through and seeing that Christ just had a pretty stern conversation with some people in positions of influence and power and the way that they typically used those positions of influence and power to exploit those who were weaker than them and were subject to them and how he didn't have much patience for that. In Mark 10:15, it concluded with him saying, "…whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all."
Let me just wrap up last week by telling you what that doesn't mean. That doesn't mean you should have a belief that just exists because you grew up in a culture that told you should believe that this Jesus (who the West largely now worships) is who you should believe in. Some people will tell you that you shouldn't believe in this for that very reason. They will tell you the only reason most folks believe in Jesus being who we teach that he is here, is because they were predisposed to believe that.
There are a couple of problems with that. First of all, not everybody who believes Jesus is the coming King or Jesus is Immanuel (which means God with us) was predisposed to believe that as a child. Secondly, just because you're predisposed to believe something as a child doesn't make it true or false. Something is true or false because it's true or because it's false.
As a child, you were taught 2 + 2 = 4. As a child, you were taught the reason a ball comes back down after you throw it up in the air is because of this force called gravity. Those things are true and whether you were predisposed to believe those things or not as a child has nothing to do with their truth.
In the same way, many of us were predisposed to believe in a little fat man who wore a red suit, who flew behind eight reindeer (one especially with a shiny nose), and delivered gifts to good boys and girls all around the world on Christmas Eve. You were predisposed to believe that, and yet that predisposition doesn't mean it's necessarily true. You have now grown up to understand that there's a lot of magic and wonder there but not necessarily truth associated with it.
Many of us in this room weren't raised in homes where people talked to us about the person of Jesus Christ: who he was, why he came, and what he meant with us. What Jesus is not saying here is, "Hey, just believe what you're given." In fact, one of the great errors of the church has been that we've not created an environment that's safe for folks to ask questions and where they can come humbly and begin to investigate as to whether or not there's any credence to the belief of the church.
We tell folks, "We don't ask those questions here. We don't go that direction. We don't question why this book stands alone among all the sacred writings that different faith systems have. We don't talk about the evidence for the creation. We don't talk about evidence for the resurrection. That makes us a little uncomfortable." That's been the history of the church.
We want to let you know that's not the attitude we take here. We welcome folks who are exploring truth. We welcome people who have hard questions. The great thing about truth is that if it is true, then no amount of scrutiny can affect it.So let's ask hard questions about our Bible. Let's ask hard questions about what we believe and what the Scripture says is true.
If this is a book that is written by God for man through man and its source is an infinitely perfect being, then it ought to be consistent and true. It ought to speak about things we don't know and things that eye hasn't seen, ear hasn't heard, and things which haven't entered into the hearts of men.
So we welcome those questions, and we want to explore with you the truthfulness and the claims of Christianity. We want to show you why this book is unique among all writings that claim to be divine. It's anchored in history and archeology, especially. It also does what a book that's written by God ought to do. It ought to talk about things you can't see and things you can't know, specifically the future. When it was written, over 25 percent of this book was prophetic.
If it's from God, one aspect of that book shown to be not true will show you that God is either not the God as we hold him up to be…perfect and omniscient (all-knowing)…or it's something much less than that…it's not a book from God, or maybe God is who he is, but this isn't his book. We welcome those questions.
What it means when it says, "You have to accept to the kingdom of God like a child," is not, "Take it as it comes and believe it because of where you live or how you were raised." But it does suggest something else. It suggests that you come, trusting completely in one who would provide for you in such a way that you could never provide for yourself.
Now leaving that context, we go right to another story that is also pretty familiar to a lot of people. It's the story about one who we've come to know as the rich young ruler, one who comes to Jesus, not as a child but one who comes presenting his own resume. Let's read this story, and then we're going have some fun picking our way through it. This is Mark 10:17.
*"As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to Him and knelt before Him, and asked Him, 'Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?' And Jesus said to him, 'Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments, 'DO NOT MURDER, DO NOT COMMIT ADULTERY, DO NOT STEAL, DO NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS, Do not defraud, HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER.' *
And he said to Him, 'Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up.' Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, 'One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.' But at these words his face fell, and he went away grieved, for he was one who owned much property.
And Jesus, looking around, said to His disciples, 'How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!' The disciples were amazed at His words. But Jesus answered again and said to them, 'Children, how hard 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 man to enter the kingdom of God.' They were even more astonished and said to Him, 'Then who can be saved?' Looking at them, Jesus said, 'With people it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.'
Peter began to say to Him, 'Behold, we have left everything and followed You.' Jesus said, 'Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms, for My sake and for the gospel's sake, but that he will receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last, first.'"
Now, this was a pretty radical statement. as you might imagine, if you've been tracking with us, Jesus was not one who was averse to making pretty radical comments. In fact, he loved to stir it up.
He said, "I didn't come necessarily to bring peace, but I came to bring a little bit of a conflict sometimes between those mothers and fathers I just talked about and between sisters and brothers. I'm going to have folks deal with the truth that I proclaim, and I'm going to give you some works that authenticate I don't just come saying certain things, but I have a certain right to claim them."
What he's doing right here would be akin to this. It'd be like a child, not a rich young man or an influential, self-sufficient person, coming to Santa Claus and saying, "What do I have to do to really get the meaning of Christmas and to really enjoy Christmas?" and having Santa say, "You need to not be so concerned about being naughty and nice. It's, frankly, not about you naughty and nice. You need to not ask anymore what you want for Christmas.
It's not about you and what you get, kids. It's not about what you can do to make me give you something, and it's not about what you get. What I want you to do is denounce ever receiving another toy at Christmas. I want you to be focused on doing what you know I'm about, which is working all year long to sacrifice to serve others and make other people feel loved on this day. That's where you can get the real joy and meaning of Christmas."
How many kids do you think would walk away from that Macy's Santa Claus grieved? I think a bunch. That would be a radical hit to youth in our culture. It was that radical not just to this guy who came to him, but it was that radical to the guys who were already running with character. They were astonished. They were amazed. "You've got to be kidding me?"
What I want to do is break this down and explain why. One of the things I want to accomplish now, as we do many times, is when you read a story like this, we don't read the story, so we're familiar with it. God has given us his Word so we can learn something from it. The purpose of Bible study and the purpose of God's Word in our lives is to bring us into his image and into his likeness. We've been given the Word of God, so we might know the mind of God, so we might live as he lives and glorify him and be transformed, as we say many times, into new creatures.
There's certainly a lesson here for the folks who were there in that present day, and God has preserved it for us for a reason. So let's ask ourselves what some of those reasons are. Let me remind you that this guy who came was a faithful man. He wasn't a pagan in the sense that he wasn't out there indulging and using what most folks want money for (for wine, women, and song).
We're going to find out in a little bit that this guy had chosen to live a chaste life. He was not an immoral man, as we typically assign immorality. This was a man who believed in God. This was a man who believed in the reality of judgment and a man who believed in the immortality of the soul.
This is not just some hack who's walking up to Jesus. But he does have a problem and a pretty serious problem. The problem starts with where he begins to ask the question. The question he asks tells a lot about this guy. He says, "Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?"
Let me give you some simple timeless truths and points of application we can wrestle with. I'm going to click off four or five of them right here at the beginning, and we have a couple more stuck in here as we go along. Let me lay this out for you as we begin here in Mark 10.
1._ Outward signs of piety are no assurance of an inward surrender._ We know the Scripture says, "A broken heart and a contrite spirit…" I'm going to say it's synonymous with this idea of inward surrender. "…God has yet to deny." He has never denied that. I'm going to tell you what he has denied. He has denied outward signs of piety, individuals who do religious things or who look religious or who look spiritual or who look like or who do kind things or who say spiritual things.
Simply being someplace where you sing songs and say certain things or when you send out a Christmas card, if yours doesn't say Season's Greetings or Happy Holidays but you put on your Christmas card, "Christ is King," or "Our Savior has come," means absolutely nothing in and of itself about where you stand with this one the story is about.
What God's looking for not necessarily and not alone are your outward signs of piety, but he's looking forward an inward surrender. Here comes this man. A man ran up to him and knelt before him. That's the right thing to do. It's what we found that the angels did and the shepherds did. But this is a guy who, although he is outwardly right on, is inwardly still a ways away. How about this one?
2._ Correct professions of faith are not to be confused with the correct position before the Father._ He began by asking him, "Good Teacher…" Jesus is brilliant with the way that he deals with this guy because he's going to say in just a minute, "Why do you call Me good?" The word for good this guy used is the word that means intrinsically good or good in countenance and being. Not just assigning an adjective to his behavior. This is assigning an adjective to who he is innately, and it said, "You who are wholly good."
Jesus responds to him in a little bit by saying, "Why do you say I'm wholly good? Don't you know nobody is really good except God alone?" Jesus is implying, "If you knew what you were saying, if you didn't just put something on your lips that sounded right and sounded impressive and sounded contrite and sounded spiritual…
If you know what you were saying when you sang those songs, 'Hark! the herald angels sing. Glory to the newborn King! Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled," if you knew what the words of Christmas were about and you just sang them, it would literally change your eternity. But just singing them means nothing. It means no more than this guy saying, "Good Teacher…" assigning to Jesus an attribute which can only be assigned to God.
Was that the right thing to do? Was Jesus denying that he was God? No. He was saying, "Why do you say that? Do you know that I am alone intrinsically good, and that means you're not, that means your lack of perfection has created a wedge between you and the perfect Father who created you? As a result of that, you are in need of a Savior, not a plan you can accomplish."
There's a big difference between what is called a said faith and a saving faith. There's a big difference between professing to know Jesus Christ and possessing his Spirit in your heart as evidence that you are rightly related to him. Here we have a guy who is outwardly pious. Here we have a guy who is saying all the right things about Jesus.
Let me tell you what else we know about this guy (this good man who believed in God, the reality of judgment, and the immortality of the soul). He had a concern for spiritual things. But a concern for spiritual things does not ensure there's a condition of spiritual trust. Look again at what he said. "What shall I do to inherit eternal life?" This guy was concerned about eternal life. He was concerned about what was on the other side of the grave.
I am so glad this message came where it did because this one of the two times of the year that everybody knows that churches operate. Nobody is here to make you feel bad. It makes me sick when I hear folks give people a tongue lashing that this is the only time of the year they come. We're thrilled we're here. I don't care if you never come again.
I really appreciate the opportunity to speak into your world today about the God who loves you. I do care that you come again because it's for your benefit, but I'm so glad you're here. I'm glad you're here on this day as we are making our way through this book. Today, here's the message.
There are going to be some folks who don't go to church on a regular basis, but they will come now, and they will go Easter, and they are much like this individual. They know the right words, they take the right positions, and they go to the right places. They will even say, "Of course I'm going to go. I have to go."
In the Jewish faith, the synagogue fills up around September when Yom Kippur… Yom is the Hebrew for day. Kippur has the roots in the ideas of atonement. The day of atonement. The highest holy day on the Jewish calendar. Some temples sell seats…literally…so you can get a good place. You have to be there. If you don't ever go, you'd better go that day, and you'd better take the right seat and say the right things about Jehovah, Adonai, HaShem. If you don't go then and don't take that right position, you're not right with him.
I have some awful news for folks who think saying the right things, assuming the right positions, taking Communion, going through an act of baptism, singing a certain song, and praying a certain prayer have nothing to do with, in and of themselves, a broken heart and a contrite spirit. There is a spiritual revival happening in the world, but a spiritual revival (a hunger and thirst for spiritual things) does not ensure there's a spiritual connection.
By the way, spiritual seeking is very in right now (do y'all know that?), but spiritual finding is not. It's cool to be a seeker. You can go into Barnes & Noble, and you can find racks of books to talk to you about all the different ways you can seek what is spiritual. There are groups who will sit and talk and love to process it with you. There will be show after show on in the afternoons, different folks telling you how you can connect with a different type of spiritual insight. But when you say, "I've found it," or when you say you know the way, that is not in.
3._ Being theologically sound is not being politically correct._ This is a guy who was being spiritually curious, but his spiritual insight, his spiritual quest, did not show that he was a spiritual man. Let me give you another one. This guy was there. What was he seeking? He was seeking some assurance. He was seeking some peace.
4._ A works-based religion always will produce insecurity._ It's going to force us to think of ourselves and not others. I'm going to take this out to an extreme. When you have a system that tells you that you have to do certain things to ensure your salvation, you'll do anything, and who cares what it does to other people. Even to the point of training on how to fly an airplane and flying that thing into a building and letting thousands of people die. If you are assured that act will grant you a place in eternity with 70 brown-haired virgins, you'll do it.
That's exactly the line that was sold to those men on that day. They were told the greatest way to serve Allah or the only way to know that you could be an individual who would have an absolute peace and assurance from Allah is to live perfectly in the fight against evil and to live against all that is against Allah. When they assigned evil to our country, much of which is evil in our land… We've talked about that very honestly. There's a lot in our country that is not just against Allah but against the God of the Scriptures.
When somebody then says, "The way I'm going to serve God is by being an instrument of judgment, by destroying them, and dying as an act of sacrifice and suicide giving my life in the fight against evil. I don't really care how it affects innocent people and children because I'm going to earn my eternity with my 70 virgins…"
A works-based religion says if you don't die in your effort to serve God, you will never die with any security. That is why you see people who are involved in different religions, and that's why you'll see people who are involved even with religions that bear the name of Christ that are confused about what the work of Christ on the cross accomplished, religiously attend certain ceremonies.
They can't miss a mass, they can't miss a sacrament, because, "To miss that is to miss part of the means of grace by which I will be acceptable. I'd better make sure right down to the very end I get my last blessing and my last rights so I am secure with him." A works-based religion will always have you doing what this man is doing.
Let me tell you about this guy. He worked his whole life to accumulate riches so he would be secure in his place in this world. He worked his whole life accumulating obedience so he would be secure in the next world. There are a lot of people who have this idea that you please God by what you do who are accumulating works and tasks and sacrifices and acts of penance and service.
The reason Muhammad Ali continues to labor right now, through all his Parkinson's, to sign any autograph he can is he believes that's part of what he needs to do to earn his assurance with Allah. How awful would it be to think, "Maybe it was that one autograph I blew off or that one moment I wasn't kind enough that's going to have me on the short side of the stick with Allah"?
Let me tell you what's worth singing about. Let me tell you a little bit of where we're headed tomorrow night. Let me tell you why people sing. It's because the King has come to pay our debt, so we are free from the wages of sin, which is death. Now the free gift of eternal life is in Christ Jesus, our Lord.
Works-based religion always produces insecurity. Although this guy had worked his whole life to give himself security on this earth, we're going to find out in a little bit, he wasn't secure at all on this earth. Even though this guy had worked his whole life to be secure in the next life, the fact that he had to go to ask if he was in, in Christ's opinion, showed he wasn't secure at all in the life to come, and this guy has a pretty decent resume.
Let's take a look at what it says. Jesus comes at him, and I love the way Jesus responds. One of the things we can learn from this is that Christ always responded appropriately to those who were seeking and who were in a conversation with him. This guy says, "Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?"
Jesus didn't jump down his throat right there by saying, "What are you doing asking what you can do to inherit eternal life? Haven't you been hanging around me? Let me ask you again. Why do you call me good? If you get that right, our conversation will change. But since I think you just said that to be nice and polite and to look pious, let me take you someplace and teach you a little bit about what real holiness looks like."
He says right here, "You know the commandments…" and then he randomly starts at number six. "Don't murder. Don't commit adultery [he fires that one off]. Don't steal [that's number eight]. Don't bear false witness [there's number nine]." Then he sticks in this idea of not defrauding.
There was an idea among Jews of the day that if you were rich, you were rich because you cheated somebody else. It could be a way of his tying back in the idea of taking from somebody what was rightly theirs in order to feather your own bed. It could be a way of his tying it back into commandments eight and nine, or maybe he's just saying, "Don't covet what's somebody else's," which is the tenth commandment. Then he goes back to number five. He says, "Honor your mom and your dad."
This guy is not shy and doesn't struggle with a good self-esteem. It's the kind of guy who comedians would tell you that when he hears about the three wise men, he goes, "I wonder who the other two are," or the kind of guy who calls Dial-A-Prayer to check for messages. He says, "All these things I have done since I was a youth." Do you see what's implied? "I've toed the line. I haven't missed a mass. I haven't missed a Sunday service, and I still don't have this sense of peace."
Do you know how Martin Luther came to Christ? He was in a Catholic monastery. He was studying to be a priest. He had a number of chores along with his learning of the Greek and Hebrew and Latin and all the things he had to do in order to study to become a priest, like his scribal work and his studies.
As he was there and as he was doing his job in the kitchen and doing his job around the monastery and spending his time in all the different things he was to do, he was the first one to finish the chores, and he was doing it with absolute excellence, yet he was racked with guilt. He was never at a place of peace. This guy was the priest's priest and the monk's monk.
His mentor finally went to him. At first, they thought Luther was obsessed with this idea of being right with the Lord because he was trying to get out of work, and then they went a looked at the stuff, and he was the first one finished, and his work was done the best. So they finally went to him, and a Catholic priest said to him, "Luther, you need to understand this. God doesn't have a problem with you. You have a problem with God."
Luther started to think about that. He went and began to read in Romans, and he realized he did have a problem with God. His problem was that he was serving the God who was not the God of the Scriptures. He said, "You guys have me working my tail off because I've always believed, and I'm about to go out and teach, that you have to do these things in order to get peace with God. It says right here, 'Therefore, we have peace with God through Jesus Christ our Lord.'"
Romans 5:1 says, *"Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God…" * Luther said that changed his life and set him free. He came to realize it wasn't about what he did. It was about what God did for him. So he began to read the Scriptures with more diligence, and he began to protest the traditional teachings of the church.
He had 96 things that he protested as what the church claimed and what the Bible had always taught. Those protests lead to this thing called Protestantism, which largely is based on the idea that you are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, and God's word alone should be authoritative in our life.
This man had insecurity. He said, "Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up." Obviously, this guy wasn't with Christ when he taught the Sermon on the Mount because Christ said to them on the Sermon on the Mount, "I know you guys think you're being holy. I know you think that what you're doing is just keeping the commandments and that is enough…"
Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount in verse 21, "I know the Scripture says you shouldn't commit murder, but anybody who looks at his brother and says 'raca,' [which is, 'I hate you,' or 'You blockhead'] has committed murder in his heart." Then the one that has gotten all of us…certainly if you're of species of the human kind that I am. "I know you've heard it said that you should not commit adultery. But I say to you, if you've looked at a woman with lust in your heart, you're guilty of adultery."
That should make almost any male at that point go, "Awe man. That hurts. That puts me in that side of the camp." This guy apparently didn't understand that. He just thought, "If I don't go through with the act, if I don't actually murder somebody, I can hate him or lust after him all I want." Jesus didn't even go there with him, but he exposes him by taking him to the next step.
It says, "Looking at him, Jesus…" I think when that guy said, "I've done all these things since I was a youth," that idea of looking at him is he just gazed at him. He just stopped. He was just amazed. First of all, that there was a guy who could just say, "I haven't done those things." Especially a guy who had the entitlement this guy did.
Christ looked at him, and I think he said, "I really love this guy. This guy is a good man. He believes God exists. He believes in the reality of judgment and the immortality of the soul. It says he loved him. That word for love is the word that we always see associated with God's love: that unconditional, agape love, that perfect covenant love of God.
I believe Jesus does what any spiritual man does at that moment. I think Jesus just sat there, he looked at him, and the thought, "I love this guy. How can I serve him right now? This is a guy if he just starts tracking with me, I have it good. We'll eat differently. We'll sleep in nicer places. I wonder how I could work him into my ministry, get him on my team of supporters, keep him near me, and get him as a member of my congregation? We've got a building campaign coming up if I decide not to go to the cross."
No. Jesus decided to love him. I think he just sat there, and he looked, and he said, "All right Lord, what do you say to a guy like this? I just tried to take him to the law, and I've taught him what the law really meant. He didn't hear that, and he's not really here now. Do I need to go back over Sermon on the Mount type stuff with him? No, I'll tell you what I can do. I can expose this guy. I can help him see he's missing the law another way."
Because he loved him, this is what he said. This is brilliant. He said, "One thing you lack…" I know what I'm thinking. When I read that, if it didn't say anything else, I'd go, "A clue. This brother lacks a clue," but that's not what Jesus has here. Does he say, "One thing you lack is you're not tithing 10 percent of all you own"? Nope. "One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven and follow me. You want eternal life? It's with me. Come with me."
Jesus was very purposeful in picking out the commandments he did. The commandments he picked out (five through nine) were commandments that dealt with the way you love your brother. In fact, there was another time Jesus was confronted by a guy and said, "What's the greatest commandment?" Jesus looked at him, and he thought, "Here you guys are. I gave you 10, and now you just want to get to the one that if you do that you think you'll be okay with God."
The heart of the legalist always wants to know the rules. It's the heart of love that wants to serve and go above and beyond what the minimum is. So this legalist came and said, "Boil it down to one. Give me one thing I really have to do."
Jesus says, "All right, here it is. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, but there's another one that's just like the first. You can't love me and not love your neighbor. You can't be consumed with self and say that you love me, because if you love me, I'll have a relationship with you and a relationship with me will bring about transformation into your life to where you will behave as I behave. You're going to love people, and you can't get away from that. So I'm going to give you two. All the Law and all the Prophets hang on these two. One hook is love God, and the other is love your neighbor."
What Jesus just did is he said to this guy, "Have you always loved your neighbor [numbers five, six, seven, eight, nine]?" The guy said, "I've done that since I was a kid." So Jesus says, "Okay. You love your neighbor? Is that what you're telling me? Then go and quit being concerned with feathering your own bed, and don't sit there and tell me you can live in luxury and be complacent while you live in luxury about the needs of others while you profess a discipleship and love relationship with the one who came to serve."
What Jesus is going to do is show the guy… He said, "You have not been about loving other people. You're a legalist, and when you're a legalist, even the things you do, you do for you. You don't do it for other people." Churches in this city and around our country are the worst about this (a lot of times) around Thanksgiving and Christmas. We look for these feel-good experiences where we can take a turkey and give it to some needy family.
Most of the time, the way it's done is not for the people; it's for us, so we feel good like we've done something warm and sentimental during the holidays. We just want to know that we did something so if God's watching, he's going to give us enough extra turkey we can give it to somebody else next year. Many of us don't have any idea what it means to be sacrificial in the way that we give. We go to an Angel Tree family, and we make sure we can get in and get out and don't get too tied in where there might be a relationship where God has us really sharing life with them.
Jesus says, "You just said you did these things to love other people. I don't think you really do. Beyond that, the reason you're not going to go and sell all your money is because, frankly, that money is your god. One, two, three, and four that I didn't mention to you talk about that you should have no other Gods before me.
"You have a god before the God, and it's the god of money. It's the god of accumulation. Your security and peace come not from a right relationship to my Father. Your security and peace come from your portfolio. I know that. I'm going to tell you to do this as a way to expose to you that you don't even keep the law that you think if you kept would get you into heaven." Do you see why Jesus goes this road with him?
What about us? Does Jesus want us to sell everything, go give it to the poor, and follow him? What a lot of us want to do is we want to say this is just for him and it's just for people who have wealth beyond a certain amount. Without fail, whenever people go that direction, it's always wealth a little bit more than they have. I believe that's what Jesus wants every single one of us to do. I believe he wants every single one of us to sell ownership to everything we have and say, "It's yours, Lord.
Jesus had…I want to make this very clear…friends who were around him who were very well off. He said to them, "You have to hold that money with a loose hand." He didn't say you can't live in certain zip codes. He didn't say you couldn't dress a certain way or drive a certain car. He just said you'd better make sure as you make those decisions you make them as a steward and not as an owner.
Like any father, God wants us to have our needs taken care of. I think sometimes, God loves to bless us and see us have joy even in material things, but he never wants us to love the gift more than the giver of the gift. The way that God wants you to live as a servant of his, frankly, is between you and your master. It's none of my business about the freedom you have, about the kind of car you drive, the zip code you live in, or the zip codes you own houses in.
I will tell you that you are in a place of grave concern if you're not willing to say, "Lord, is this okay? Is this how you want me to use your resources?" You go back to the early church, and the early church said they shared all things in common, selling their possessions as anyone might have needs.
Let me make this very clear. In Acts 2, we do not have communism, nor do we have enforced socialism. What we have is a group of people who are following the example of their servant leader who were willingly taking what they had and as they saw a need, using that to meet the need. That's the mark of a follower of Christ.
You cannot tell somebody is a follower of Christ because they take an oath of poverty. Why? That was an outward sign of piety, and outward signs of piety don't make you a follower of God. It's individuals who say, "Lord, this is your world. I'm living in it. The resources that I have in this world are your resources."
The Scriptures are very clear. It says, "Who are you to judge the servant of another?" We would be very wrong to say, "The elders have gotten together and prayed, and we believe if you live on X number of thousand dollars every year, then that's appropriate for a servant of Jesus Christ in the city of Dallas." I believe there are some folks who are living with less, who are living a godless life and folks who are living with more who are living completely appropriately with their Master. But we'll never know. This gets us to our next application point.
5._ Having self-confidence in our character doesn't mean we have salvation before our King._ Let me take you a few places here. Follow along behind me in 1 Corinthians. This is what Paul says in regard to his serving Christ.
In 1 Corinthians 4:1-6 he says, "Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. In this case, moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy." If you're going to be a servant of God, you have to have a reputation where people can trust you as a man who would walk with God. He says in verse 3,
"But to me it is a very small thing that I may be examined by you, or by any human court; in fact, I do not even examine myself. For I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord. Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men's hearts; and then each man's praise will come to him from God."
This is specifically in the context of Christian ministry, but it especially and also fits with us as we sit there and say, "Because of what I do, surely God loves me." What is the one thing God has yet to deny? Is it faithful, consistent service in the nursery? Is it giving philanthropically, graciously, and sacrificially to your church? Is it living below your means? No.
The one thing God has yet to deny is a broken heart and a contrite spirit. A broken heart and a contrite spirit is the heart that says, "This is not mine. Everything that I have is from my Father, who is good. Every good and precious gift comes from above from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.
So if I've been given a lot of good things, as the world would label them good (a lot of resources and wealth), let me just say, in my brokenness I know it's not because I'm great, grand, or brilliant. It's because God has trusted me and counted me worthy as his steward to use these things for his glory and my good."
Do you see why there isn't a standard of living we're going to publish? Do you see why it's not fair for us to walk up and say, "You're not living the way you should live," and say that definitively? As a brother in Christ, as I get to know individuals, I will do in your life what I expect you to do in mine, and that is ask hard questions to help you do the best you can to examine the spirit of God and trust it to the day.
Ultimately when you give me the right answers and when you say, "I really believe this is how the Lord would have me live. As much as it matters to you Todd, I have peace with God about the way I use the way I'm blessed with my physical talents, my physical beauty, and my tangible talents and resources and my gifts. So I'm at peace with God," you know what my response ought to be? "Then who am I to judge the servant of another?" I don't know your motives. God does, and I pray that you hold stuff the way I ask you to hold me accountable to hold them, and that is with a loose hand.
The guys who are serving as leaders of this church and I, we've had some conversations along this line recently. God has recently, as you guys know, blessed my family in a crazy way. Without thinking about it, we also realized we all live now in an area that people go, "That's a pretty nice area." It had nothing to do with why these men were selected, but we just observed that.
We started talking about the fact that our culture and our society is heading towards, possibly, some real crises, and there are individuals in our body who might be out of work. If we as leaders say, "I wonder how we can help them as long as it doesn't cause us to change our standard of living or our school system our kids get to go to?" If that's the attitude we have as leaders, you don't think that's going to permeate through the church?
We have to ask that very honest question. Are we willing to do what we need to do as leaders and call other people to do as leaders what we need to do as anyone might have need? If not, we're just playing a game. So we wrestle with those things, and together now (I mean the body at large) we need to ask ourselves if we're doing all that we should and if we have the right attitude about what God has given us.
Let me make another application point right here in the midst of all this. When Jesus says this to this guy, you're going to find out that the guy's face fell when he heard Jesus say this. "…and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property." This will tell you something about being a follower of Christ and part of loving people.
Remember how Jesus looked at him? Jesus just sat there and goes, "Am I going to love this guy, or am I going to feather my bed right now?" Part of loving people is telling them the truth even when it's painful and might mean your relationship with them will suffer. I have to tell you something. This is one of the hardest things to do. I think this is just as hard as being willing to hold what God has given you like this.
Now you're talking about something that, frankly, if there's anything we hold as dear as material possessions in our world, it's relationships. The reason there's so much dysfunction in the church is because we think, "I get something from you, so I don't want to ever say something to you that might be painful that's going to cause you to move away from me because I need you too much to love you."
Or because if I don't give you what you want, back to the financial side, you may not go to church here. If I don't tell you what you want to hear, you may not give as graciously here. It's a very insecure leadership which is concerned about how their message is going to affect their bottom line. It's a godless leadership, frankly, and a godless friend.
Part of loving people is telling them the truth, even when it means it might cause you pain and might cause them pain, and it might mean the relationship will suffer. Let me give you a verse that dictates this. "Better is open rebuke than love that is concealed. Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy."
One of the great things about this little text is you see the heart and character of Jesus Christ. He knew God would care of him. Just like John the Baptist spoke the truth to Herod, and Jesus spoke the truth to the Pharisees, Jesus spoke the truth to Michael Jordan and said, "I know you're not going to now call yourself my disciple, and it'd be a big coup if you started to worship here. I'm not looking for a coup. I'm here to love you, and I'm here to serve you. I don't want to necessarily hit you with a club to drive you away, but if you want me to be what I am, which is the good teacher, I'm going to love you and say the right thing."
It says, "But at these words his face fell, and he went away grieved, for he was one who owned much property." Verse 23 says, "And Jesus, looking around, said to His disciples, 'How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!' And the disciples were amazed at His words."
Why were they so amazed? I'll very quickly tell you. I won't go there, but on your own this week read Deuteronomy 28. It talks there about how in the Old Testament, again and again, the expectation was if you do these things, God will bless you. Financial blessing and provision were consistently associated with God's presence and blessing in a right relationship with him.
So what Jesus was saying as he's blowing their categories and their miss-application of that…where Jesus said he would take care of Israel as a nation and the wine would flow, and there would be milk and honey, and their land would be safe from oppressors, and God said he'd be their fortress…
They took that to mean that anybody who is doing well is doing right with God. The friends of Job took this to mean, if you're not doing well or if havoc is coming on your life, then you must have some sin in your life that we don't know about. God never intended that to be, but that was the belief of the day.
So that's why they were so amazed. They go, "Wait a minute. You're telling us it's hard for the very people we think God is obviously having favor with to go to heaven? Well, then who can be saved?" In the same way, earlier he had said, "Unless you are more pious than the Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven," and people went, "Wait a minute. The people who are the most pious that we know are the Pharisees in terms of external behaviors of religion."
Jesus is saying it has nothing to do with their external behavior. It has everything to do with the heart. It has nothing to do with where you're going to sit tomorrow night. It has everything to do with where Jesus Christ is enthroned in your life. As lovingly as we can to our guests and our friends who are here today and to those of us who have given testimonies and been baptized, I just want to ask you this.
Are you right with God? Not because of what you have said or what you've done but in your heart have you acknowledged your sin and your need for a Savior? Have you done your work to say this Jesus is the good one who has died for me? Has that radically changed everything about you? When there are things in your life that come up that are inconsistent with this Jesus, does it grieve you and do you repent and do you say, "God forgive me, and thank you that you died for me"?
That's what it means to be rightly related to this Jesus. The rest of my life, I'm in the process of responding rightly to that decision that made about the child in the manger. When there are things in my life that are inconsistent with following him, I ask forgiveness to those I'm with who I've affected, and I ask his forgiveness. I say, "Lord, change me. Change me radically."
This is a church which is going to boldly proclaim grace, but when you accept the gift of God, the best gift of all, we're going to call you to a life of radical discipleship to follow him and be patient with you in that process and loving with you in that process. These guys were blown away. They couldn't believe that Jesus would say that these pinnacles of piety and these people who are blessed with this great provision are not saved.
He says, "It's harder for them to know their need." This is what he continued by saying there in Mark 10. "And the disciples were amazed at His words. But Jesus answered again and said to them…" This is the only time in the Scripture he spoke to them with this title. "Children…" Why is that significant here? He just got through talking to them about the kind of individual who is rightly related to him.
Jesus is saying, "You guys are here. You weren't the prettiest. You weren't the best and the brightest. You came to me because you acknowledged I had something you could never get on your own [a right relationship with God], and I've given it to you. You've come to me as children, and you do rely upon me to get you where you cannot go." He says, "Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!"
There's a great story. I don't know if it's true or not, but it's a story of a man who was a Supreme Court justice in England. This well-known church in England had several missions in the city, several different churches (Union Gospel Mission and Dallas Life Center-type places). During the first worship service of the new year every year, all those different bodies would come together and worship, and they would have Communion together.
The pastor of the church was watching as he was handing out the Communion. He noticed the Supreme Court judge took Communion right next to a man who was released from prison for a burglary he committed. This judge had indicted him on the burglary and pronounced him guilty and given him a multiple-year sentence. This guy was out of jail, and when he got out of jail, he had trusted Christ and now had given himself to the mission and was working downtown. These two men came forward and took Communion together.
This judge was good friends with the pastor, and they were walking home together after church. The judge turned to the pastor and said, "Did you see who took Communion next to me this morning?" The pastor said, "I sure did, but I didn't think you saw him." He said, "Oh, I saw him. What a miracle of grace." The pastor said, "Awe man, what a miracle of grace."
The judge said, "Of whom do you speak?" He goes, "Well, the criminal, of course." The judge said, "That's not who of I speak. I'm talking about me. It didn't take much for that criminal to see his need for Jesus Christ, to leave his ways of destruction and his ways of shame, and to come to the Savior who offered him forgiveness.
But for me, from the earliest time I could remember, I was taught to be a gentleman. I was taught the Scriptures. I was trained at Oxford. I became a member of the bar and a distinguished judge in the city, and for one such as me to see my need of forgiveness and grace, the same as this man had, that my friend is a story of grace. It amazes me."
That's what Jesus meant when he said, "It's really hard for those who are rich [not just financially]." The reason there are more folks proportionately in church in the inner city than there is out here in the suburbs is because we don't see our need as much. I'm going to tell you. It's just as great. There's a reason there are going to be a lot of inmates taking Communion in prison tomorrow night, and there are going to be a lot of folks here doing some other things because we don't see our need.
It's difficult for us to see how poor we are because we are self-sufficient and because we can provide for ourselves. We don't need to thank God for our food. We just go to stinkin' Tom Thumb. We're decent people. We think we're good. You know what? There are many good people. The hardest folks in the world, though, to bring to a place where they acknowledge their need for the child of Christmas are people like the rich, young ruler and people like me and people like most of you.
There's no shame in being blessed, but I'll tell you something, there is an eternity of consequence to counting on that blessing. Jesus says, "It's easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle," and what we have done historically, because it's a tough verse, is we have dumbed this down.
There's an expression back in the ancient Near Middle East when the walls or the gates of the city were closed at night. There was a little entrance that was still left open for people who were making late-night caravans. It was a little opening warriors can't get through, but one camel at a time could. You had to unload the camel. The camel had to get on its knees and had to shimmy through the opening. They called it the eye of the needle.
So what people have traditionally done with this verse is they say, "It takes a lot of work, but if you're patient you can do it." That is not at all appropriate to do with this text. If you've ever heard it taught that way, you've heard it from somebody who wanted to keep you coming back. The word Jesus used here is the word for sewing needle, and the word he uses for a camel is not a cigarette.
C.S. Lewis says, "It's the right word for camel. If you want to get that camel through that eye of that needle, you must make it one long gut string, about 35 feet long, and you can feed the camel through that way." They go, "You can't get a camel through that sewing needle," and he says, "You're right. If it weren't for the majestic work of the grace of God, there would be not one that would make it."
There are some trophies of grace who are here this morning. I look out there at the beautiful, blessed, strong, sufficient people, morally good people, good citizens, who have come to see their sin, and who, in mercy and grace, bow before that child of the manager and say, "Unless you died for me, I could not be saved." The last application is just that.
6._ Being good isn't good enough; works don't work_. The Scriptures are packed with all kinds of truth that talk about the fact that no matter how much you want to make an effort on your own to be saved, it has nothing to do with your ability. Let me give you a little collection of verses. This comes from Ephesians, Galatians, and Titus. Paul says it this way, "I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law [if you can be saved] , then Christ died needlessly."
Paul's point in Galatians is Christ didn't die needlessly. The reason Christ died is because you need a Savior. He says in Ephesians, "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast." In Titus he makes it very clear. He says, "He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit…"
What we want to share with you this morning and the reason we're going to sing tomorrow night is because people such as us who could never be good enough, whose wages for the life we live is death, and who've been eternally separated from a holy God, God has rent the heavens and come down, and he has become the consequence and taken the wrath of what we deserve. He who did not sin became sin on our behalf that we might become the righteousness of God in him.
I don't care how long I preach, how faithful I am, how much money I give, how pure my thoughts and how righteous my deeds, if it were not for this child, I have no claim before Jesus Christ, and neither do you. Today I welcome you to that throne of grace, and tomorrow night I call you to come and sing and declare to the world what we've come to know by grace, that he has died for us.
Charles Wesley, the one who wrote "Hark! the Herald Angels Sing," said to a friend one day when he came to understand that Jesus died for him, "Now that I've made this decision, should I tell somebody?" The guy said, "Should you tell somebody? If you had 10,000 tongues you should use them all."
So those of you who grew up in churches, there's a little song that you sang much, "O for a thousand tongues to sing my great Redeemer's praise." Folks, you don't have a thousand tongues. Here's the good news. You don't need it. You need one tongue that is consistent with one heart that is broken and contrite before him. If you bring him anything else, he will reject it. Let's pray.
Father, I thank you for friends who are here today and so patiently sat through us working our way through this text. I was ready and glad to be here today to hear about some problem you have with some guy who lived 2,000 years ago who didn't want to give up his cash, only to find out it's really me you wanted to deal with. I don't want to give up my pride. I don't want to give up my sense of self-sufficiency. I don't want to acknowledge I've offended you, except for your amazing and wonderful grace.
Lord, I want to pray for the friends who are here today who have never really gotten on their knees, and never been an individual who acknowledged their need for that baby in that manager. Oh, they culturally celebrate it. Yeah, they give the right words, they'll go to the right places, but their pious actions and their professions of faith have been found wanting in your sight.
I pray today, Lord, they do business with you. I pray that tomorrow night, because of that, they would worship and sing like never before, that they wouldn't be concerned that they may not be good enough or give enough to get in, but that they would have absolute security that having been justified by faith, they have peace with God through Jesus Christ, the King, the baby in a manager, who died for their sins.
Father, I pray for those of us who have come to that realization. I pray we would radically follow him, and we wouldn't just give words that say that and then have inconsistent lives and be terrors in our home and go back to old patterns of anger and self-service but, in humility, would we begin to not use our positions of power and influence for ourselves, but we would serve other people, and we would bear the image of our Servant leader who did not come to be served but to give his life as a ransom for many.
Would you take our hearts and first just convict them of sin then overwhelm them with grace then fill them with your Spirit and bear fruit to your glory and to the glory and good of all that come into our path?
Would you make our lives like the lives of your Son? Lives so radically transformed that the people would want to sing of them, and wives would want to declare to their friends how transformed their husband is and moms would want to say to their husbands how different the child is and children would want to sing to the world how incredible the transformation in their parents and grandparents is. Would you do that? Would you perform that miracle this Christmas, and would you start with me? We thank you for Jesus, the best gift of all. Amen.
The most influential person in history is also the most misunderstood and misrepresented. Two thousand years after He walked the earth, Jesus of Nazareth is still a mystery to many people. Whether you admire Him, worship Him, despise him or simply don't know about him, it's difficult to deny that any other single person has had more influence on our world than Jesus has. But how do we come to understand a man who is so commonly misunderstood? Join Todd Wagner for a walk through the Gospel of Mark and look into the life of one man who changed the entire course of human history. See Jesus for who He truly is and learn how He can change the course of every individual life that understands, responds to and trusts in Him. This volume covers Mark 9:1 through Mark 10:34 and includes the 2-message series "Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage: The Ordeal and the Ideal".