For the worship gathering this past Sunday with the Columbia Church of Christ, I preached from Mark 10:17-31. If you’re interested, you can listen to the sermon here. As I said in the sermon, this passage from Mark’s Gospel is certainly one of the most, if not the most, challenging sermons to “church” folk. Here’s why…
In this passage, Jesus is approached by a man asking him what he must do to inherit eternal life? We Christians must think that’s a pretty good question because we’ve created plenty of evangelistic tracts trying to answer that question. The funny thing is that I’ve never read one of these evangelistic tracts that answered the question like Jesus answered it. Jesus’ reply was simple: do what God commands.
Like clockwork, after Jesus named some of the commands, this man told Jesus he has obeyed all of these commands. Whatever was going through this man’s mind up to this point, Jesus “shocked” him (v. 22, NRSV) because Jesus told him that he must get rid of his wealth and then come follow Jesus. Then after the man went away, apparently unwilling at that point to relinquish his possessions, Jesus looked at his disciples and told them how difficult – practically impossible – for such a person to enter the kingdom of God (= salvation).
That’s a sad story and it has nothing to do with his possessions. This man’s wealth is not the problem, it’s just a symptom of the real problem. That problem is a failure to keep the first commandment, not having any other gods before the Lord (cf. Ex 20:3; Deut 5:7). Instead of the Living God being first, this man puts his wealth first. But it could have easily been his career, recreation hobbies, family, politics, etc…
Yet the problem Mark wants us to understand runs even deeper. This man thought his religiosity would qualify him for eternal life even though God was not first in his life. He thought that because his Facebook page something like “Christian” or “The Lord Saves” as his religious views that he was good for eternal life. He thought that because he belonged to the right church where the Bible is taught and obeyed without addition or subtraction, that he was fine. But surprise, surprise…
For him to enter into the kingdom of God, Jesus demanded that God be first. That meant following Jesus, giving 100% allegiance to Jesus so that nothing would stand between this man and the mission of God for which God’s people have been elected. So essentially Jesus brought this rich man to a fork in the road. He was faced with a choice between following Jesus into the kingdom of God or continuing on with his way of life . It was a choice that revealed the possible impossibility of salvation.
We know what sort of conversation this encounter sparked between Jesus and those who already had left everything to follow Jesus. Now I wonder what sort of conversation with the rest of us whose Facebook page says something like “Christian” or “Jesus saves” next to our religious views.
1. N. T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, Christian Origins and the Question of God, vol. 2 (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996), 302.
2. John R. Donahue and Daniel J. Harrington, The Gospel of Mark, Sacra Pagina (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2002), 304, who write, “He had to choose between holding on to his many possessions and joining in Jesus’ movement. His desire to retain his possessions made it impossible for him to accompany Jesus as he moved about the land of Israel.”