The Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost
11 October Anno Domini 2009
By Rev. Steven D. Spencer
And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, "Good Teacher, what must 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, all these I have kept from my youth." And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, "You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me." Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
Grace, mercy and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, amen!
Last week we left Jesus in a house with the disciples. He was explaining to them the proper understanding of marriage. People were bringing their children to Jesus to have them blessed. But the disciples became annoyed by such action and tried to send the children away. Jesus rebuked the disciples and said, unless one receives the kingdom of God as a little child, they shall never enter in. So Jesus held the children in His arms, laid hands upon them and blessed them.
Today we see Jesus leaving that house and setting out upon a journey. As he begins to enter the street a young man runs up to Him and kneels before Him. But what do we know about this young man? Last week we heard the phrase Sola Scriptura, Scripture alone interprets Scripture. So what does God’s Word tell us about this man? From Matthew 19 and Luke 18 we learn that this man was a rich young ruler, very likely a synagogue ruler. The man evidently was waiting for Jesus to come out of the house and when He does the man runs up to Jesus and kneels before Him.
Remember the three important rules to understanding the text, CONTEXT, CONTEXT AND CONTEXT! To properly understand Scripture we need to keep it in context. Narrow context what do the passages say around the text, how do they clarify the understanding of our text? Broad context, how does this text remain consistent to the Christocentricity of what does the whole Scripture says? And the historical social context, the Sitz im Leben, where does it sit in life, how would it have been understood by those original hearers of the text.
After the man runs up he kneels before Jesus. What is the first thing that comes to your mind? We know Jesus as our Lord and God. This man must have come to worship Him, right? After all why do so many Lutherans Churches kneelers under the pews? To give us something to kneel on when we pray, praise and give thanks! When we come to the altar to receive the Lord’s Supper we kneel! It’s a form of worship for us, isn’t it? It’s how we come into God’s presence. We humble ourselves and give Him all praise and glory, all honor and adoration. So if you are thinking this man came to show worship to Jesus as his Lord and God, well, you’re wrong.
It wasn’t the custom of his time to kneel before God. To worship God was to proskuneo, to prostrate oneself. Worship was the act of placing your forehead or body as close to the ground as possible. It was an act of humility and respect. Kneeling was the custom of greeting given to a teacher with authority. We might think of it like a handshake or the oriental custom of bowing to each other. It’s a simple salutation, a way of showing respect for those we place in human authority. This man viewed Jesus as nothing more than a human teacher.
The man was asking, “Teacher what must I do to inherit eternal life?” I like the way Matthews account records this: "Good teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?" You see this gets to the root of the problem. He had attempted to keep all the commandments. He had been taught by his Jewish teachers that people were to be saved by doing something - that is, by their works; and he supposed that this was the only way to be saved. He believed that he had lived externally a blameless life, yet he wasn’t at peace: he was anxious, and he came to discover what Jesus thought he ought to do so that his righteousness might be made complete.
The man’s focus was inward. He was looking to what he had done, what he had accomplished with his own life. The question has a false premise. The young man became arrogant through the observance of the law. He didn’t recognize that the consummation of the law is Jesus. He assumed he could be justified by works. He was not aware that Jesus had come for the lost sheep of the house of Israel, and that the law couldn’t save except through the only one who truly kept the law perfectly. Of course I speak of Jesus. He questioned the Lord of the Law and the only begotten God as if He were some ordinary teacher of the Torah. So the Lord rejects his declaration of a counterfeit faith, because the question was put to Him as if He were merely a teacher of the Law.
"Why do you call me good” Jesus asked? To make sure that He should be recognized and acknowledged as good, Jesus adds, “No one is good but God alone.” Notice Jesus doesn’t rebuke him for calling Him good. He doesn’t say: “You shouldn’t have called me good”. Jesus would not have rejected the accolades of goodness if it had been attributed to Him as God. But this man called Jesus good as if he were offering him some kind of favor or an honorary title.
So Jesus preaches some Law to the man. He uses the Law as a checklist. 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.'" The man asked what works needed to be done for peace and salvation. He was looking inward. He suffered a dose of original sin, Curvatus en Se, to be curved in on self. He was looking inward. He had I problems, I have done this - I want to know what - I want to be in control. It’s all about what I do, and what I want from God. This man had become smug in the Law. So after the simple checklist he replies, "Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth." Notice the I again!
So Jesus who loves this man, and every sinner, gives him just a bit more law. "You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me." This time, the man sees how the Law accuses him - it crushes him. Jesus, the Law personified and grace personified, just pointed out his sin to him. But what sin is that, exactly?
Is it greed? Certainly greed existed. The man loves his wealth and doesn’t want to be separated from it. But that’s only a byproduct of a deeper problem. So is it wealth? No being wealthy isn’t a sin! The man’s sin is idolatry.
Jesus does show to the man that he suffers from greed, most likely he didn't even know it until that moment; and because he suffers the sin of greed, he isn't keeping all of God's commands. Because he trusts in himself by the keeping of the commandments he can't earn eternal life if he fails at even one. As long as the man believes that he can save himself, he doesn’t trust Jesus to save him. Jesus shoots down his whole plan of salvation. For greed, the man can be forgiven if he trusts in Christ alone for salvation. But the Law and his wealth became his god. His eyes were looking inward, Curvatus en Se. The man’s sin is idolatry he hadn’t placed all things in subject to God.
So what are the idols of your life? What is it that you trust in? What is that you hang on to for security? Is there something that you have made into a god? What keeps you from full obedience to God? If Jesus told you to get rid of every earthly thing and follow Him what would stop you? What is stopping you?
Listen carefully once again to the Jesus words. “Go, sell all that you have and give to the poor”. Jesus preaches the Law in order to show that man and us that we cannot save ourselves. He does so that we might be saved. Afterwards Jesus preaches the Gospel, saying "and come follow Me."
In other words, Jesus says: "You can't save yourself. But I can. I can save you by going to the cross and dying for your sin. Don’t trust in your own efforts, trust me. I will share my cross with you, so that you don’t have to suffer and die for your sins. You can't save yourself, I can." It’s all about focus. Look out - not in. The answer is the cross not self. Grace comes from the outside not the inside. We can’t save ourselves!
The Lord declares the Gospel to this man. But it's too much for the man and his preconceived notions. He arrived expecting a blessing for the keeping of the law and for his well-run life and wealth. But instead, he's told to throw it all away and trust in Jesus. This isn’t the way his personal salvation plan is suppose to work. So he walks away.
Martin Luther during the Reformation pointed people back to St. Augustine’s teaching of Sola Gratia. Today in our text Jesus reminds us of Sola Gratia. It is by Grace Alone that you are saved. Not by your works, not by your wealth, not by anything other than the grace of God. By God’s grace alone declared upon you in the baptismal flood you have been purchased by the blood of Jesus and made a child of God. You are saved. No longer are you a slave to the Law but one that lives the Law by the grace of God. The Law is now a tutor not a master. So don’t look to the Law for salvation, LOOK OUT, look to the cross for your redeemer draweth nigh.
For Jesus sake all your sins are forgiven, in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit in Jesus name. Amen and amen!The peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep