Pentecost 2218 (PR24) – “Wealth, Camels, Needles and Eternal Life.” Mark 10:23-31

Pentecost 2218 (PR24) – “Wealth, Camels, Needles and Eternal Life.”  Mark 10:23-31

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

The text for our sermon meditation is the Gospel account of St Mark, the 10th Chapter.

“23 Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!”

24And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”

26And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” 27Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” 28Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you.”

29Jesus 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 lands, for my sake and for the gospel, 30who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. 31But many who are first will be last, and the last first.””

So far the reading.

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Who is Mr. Jim Phelps?  No he is not the Olympic swimmer who did the impossible of besting the number of gold medals earned by any Olympic athlete.  He earned 18 gold medals in the Olympics and 61 total gold medals overall.

Mr. Jim Phelps was the main character in a television series and I believe a few big screen movies.  At the beginning of the show he would receive a recording with instructions.  The recording always began with the words, “You mission, should you choose to accept it ….”  Mr. Phelps was always given an impossible mission, which, by the end of the show, was only difficult and not impossible.

Our Lord speaks of a difficult and totally impossible outcome for sinners the world over.  It matters little who you are, Jesus solemnly declares with divine clarity that for anyone to try to enter eternal life on their own merit, it is impossible. This personal merit is addressed in the verses previous to this passage from Marks Gospel account.  In those verses a rich man approached Jesus seeking the answer to a question that filled his thinking.  How might he, the man, enter the kingdom of heaven?

This question is quite appropriate for anyone walking this earth.  It shows that we must be mindful that there is more to life than the days we spend upon this earth.  Quite often we are occupied only with the here and now and think little of the hereafter.  What consumes our lives that we are led to think of nothing but day to day life?  Health, wealth, security, national and local elections, school work, daily grind, family obligations, community obligations, national championships or world series championships are only a few of the distractions to concern about the hereafter.

Yet this man was thinking.  He heard the work and message of Jesus.  He heard of God’s favor being revealed in the healing of bodies and limbs as Jesus touched those afflicted.  He heard of God’s grace as Jesus multiplied loaves and fishes.  He heard of God coming kingdom as Jesus cast out demons.  He was seeking to know if such things were for him.  He believed such things because God gave him many material blessings.  He comes to Jesus to reinforce what he believed about his abundance of earthly wealth.  I do everything righteously and God multiplied his blessings to me.  My accumulation of wealth is the visible sign of God’s favor.

Lest we today think such things remember the words of Ecclesiastes.  King Solomon in his great wisdom understood the place of earthly blessing in the lives of men.

“He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity. When goods increase, they increase who eat them, and what advantage has their owner but to see them with his eyes? Sweet is the sleep of a laborer, whether he eats little or much, but the full stomach of the rich will not let him sleep.”

Where is the eternal benefit of such things?  Our Lord questioned the man according to his keeping of God’s covenant.  The man said he had kept the law of God from the time he was young. Our Lord said the man still was wanting in one area of his life. Our Lord told the man to go and sell his possessions and give to the poor. With this instruction Jesus showed the man he worshiped a god of his own making and not the God of heaven and earth.

The cost of discipleship is great for those who seek to follow Jesus.  The follower of Jesus must lay aside any value on earthly glory and blessing.  These are blessings from the hand of God to be used in service to God.  Such blessings are given to be shared and not hoarded.  His does not mean we are to go about in sack cloth and bare feet.  Nor does it mean that our home is cardboard box under a highway overpass.  Rather it means we use what we are given for the care of our own lives, for the proclamation of the Gospel, and for sharing with those who have need.

What is the motivation for this use of God’s blessings?  It is nothing less than faith in the God who blesses us with life and salvation.  We love God because He first loved us.  We serve God because He first served us.  We give to God because he first gave to us.  We die to self because Jesus died for us.

How difficult it is for us to believe such things.  The disciples listen to Jesus as he instructs this man who turned away in sadness because of his many possessions.  Jesus declares the impossibility of wealth to be the proof one is under the grace of God.  Just as true is the impossibility of one who has very little to be the proof they are under the grace of God.  For the disciples declare they left everything to follow Jesus.  They believe they have done the hardest thing required of those who follow Jesus.  But Jesus declares this impossibility with the familiar proverb “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.”  Realizing what Jesus is teaching they ask who can be saved?

Indeed, who can be saved?  Who will enter the kingdom of God?  What man woman or child will enter heaven?  We confess the answer to these questions each Sunday. What did you learn to recite concerning the Creed of the Church? According to the Third Article of the Creed we confess this truth.

“I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.  In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian Church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers. On the Last Day He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ. This is most certainly true.”

The one whom God calls, gathers and enlightens is the one who will enter eternal life.  God does this through the proclamation of the Word of Truth.  That Word of Truth calls sinners to repentance and brings them to faith in the God of gods and Lord of lords.  In repentance and faith, redeemed and forgiven sinners break the hold of their sin-veiled hearts.  God works the impossible work by bringing those dead in trespasses and sins to life in Jesus Christ.  God takes the camel of unbelief, if you will, and passes it through the eye of the needle of salvation and eternal life.  Passing through that eye of the needle, God strips away all that would prevent passage and rids us of the sin, doubt and rejection that would keep us from entering His eternal Kingdom. In this Kingdom of God the believer has everything necessary for eternal life.  Even if we lose everything, we still have everything in Christ.

Notice this thought is spoken by Peter.  He says “See, we have left everything to follow you.”  Following our Savior means separation from people, places and possessions we hold dear.  However, this is the nature of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Jesus said this Gospel will bring division, separation from the world.  Believers will be separated from father, mother, sisters, brothers, homes, lands and country.  This is the result of becoming a child of Christ.

When you were baptized, God separated you out of this world and marked you as His child and heir of eternal life.  In that holy washing Jesus did what man thinks is impossible.  He joined you to the death and resurrection of your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Joined to that death and resurrection of Jesus Christ you are cleansed from sin and death and receive authority over sin and death.  These enemies have no hold on you for you have passed from death to life.

In the Holy Supper of Christ’s Body and Blood you confess this truth.  You confess that God comes to you from His altar and feeds you the very body and blood of Jesus Christ given and shed for the forgiveness of your sins.  With your eyes you see bread and wine.  With faith you see Jesus in all his power and glory risen and reigning over you and leading you to eternal life.

You are in the world and not of the world.  The world will reject you because it rejected Jesus. The world will persecute you because it persecuted Jesus.  The world will seek to silence your witness to Jesus because it sought to silence the voice of Jesus.  Jesus was crucified for his confession and to fulfill His Father’s redeeming will to bring us to eternal life.  As St Paul rightly teaches, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” Romans 8:29

As with anything that is good and comes as a gift from the Father of Light, there are the trials of faith.  We will be assailed on all sides in order to undermine and destroy our confidence and faith in Jesus Christ.  As Satan tempted Adam and Eve in the garden so will we be tempted. You will hear the voice of the world questioning your faith and resolve.  “Did God truly say …?”  The believer’s response is to return to the Word of God and proclaim, “Yes, God truly said …!”

Let us recount these promises of God.

“By grace you are save through faith in Jesus Christ.”

“Your treasure is in heaven where moth and rust cannot destroy and thieves cannot break in and steal it.”

“Those who come to Jesus, He will in no way cast out.”

“Jesus is the good shepherd who laid down His life for the sheep.”

““Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, 30who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.”

In Christ Jesus God does the impossible.  He redeems sinners for the Kingdom of God.  His redemption remains firmly established for all believers for all eternity.  God keep you in that redemption unto eternal life.  Amen.