Proper 25

Pentecost--Lord Increase Our Faith  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  25:01
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Many of you remember the old TV program Mission: Impossible, and some of you have become acquainted with it through the more recent movie versions starring Tom Cruise. Basically, the television program revolved around an agent, originally by the name Jim Phelps, receiving dangerous government assignments. The tagline was a tape recording at the beginning of each show that said, “Your mission, Mr. Phelps, should you decide to accept it, is . . .” And then after relaying the message, the tape would self-destruct “in five seconds.” The name of the show came, I suppose, because these assignments appeared impossible. They certainly were difficult. However, by the end of every show, Agent Phelps and his team of agents had triumphed, had done the “impossible.” I suppose Mission: Very Difficult just doesn’t have the same zing.
In our Gospel reading today, Jesus talks about entering the kingdom of heaven. In one case, he describes it as very hard, like the Mission: Impossible assignments—not really impossible but really, really hard. In another, he describes it as truly impossible. So which one is it?
In the last part of our mini-series, “Lord, Increase our Faith!” we will be asking the question: Is the Mission Just Hard, or Is It Impossible?

How Hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!

A rich young man came to Jesus, asking what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus truly loves this young man. And this rich young man appears sincere in his request. He has many things right. Certainly, he’s come to the right person, Jesus. The reading of this in Mark’s gospel tells us that unlike the scribes and Pharisees, the young man kneels before Jesus, as a sign of respect. He addresses Jesus in a very complimentary way, “Good Teacher.” It’s so complimentary that Jesus uses it to encourage the young man to consider the full implications of what he just said: “Why do you call me ‘good’? Only God is good.” With this reminder of the First Table of the Law, involving God and his name, Jesus doesn’t seem to be criticizing the young man, but rather asking if he understands the true implications of his address. It’s as if Jesus is saying, “How far are you willing to take this? Do you know who I really am? Are you willing to confess who I really am? With not just your lips but with your actions? Are you willing to believe in the impossible? Are you willing to accept just how difficult this mission is?”
The man asks his question: “What must he do to inherit eternal life?” The Psalmist states: “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word” (Ps 119:9). Thus, Jesus points the man to the commandments.
The list of commandments Jesus gives isn’t exhaustive, nor need it be. It makes the point. The man responds that he has kept these from his youth. Amazingly, Jesus does not contradict him. He doesn’t lecture him on the fact that we’re all sinners and no one has kept the commandments perfectly. Instead, Jesus “loves” him and tells him that “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” (v 22).
Jesus’ “assignment” forces the young man to acknowledge whether or not he can say with the Psalmist, “I have rejoiced in the way of Your testimonies, as much as in all riches” (Ps 119:14). It also challenges him to place Jesus and his mission first, thereby testifying to whether the man gets the full implications of calling Jesus “good.” The man leaves saddened because he had many possessions.
When Jesus said this the man became very sad. Was his sadness indicating that he realizes now just how hard genuine discipleship is? Or does his downcast demeanor indicate a refusal on his part to pursue the path Jesus has laid out? Whatever the case, Jesus turns to his disciples and comments how difficult it is for the rich to enter heaven: “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!” (Luke 18:24). Hard. Very hard.
This surprises the disciples. Perhaps they assume that wealth is a sign of God’s blessing and therefore an indicator of one’s relationship with God. Money is a good gift from God, but “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils” (1 Tim 6:10). How many of us are rich toward God by supporting the preaching of his Gospel? The text as it stands warns us today about the danger of allowing riches to get in the way of our total devotion to God. Riches, rather than always being a sign of God’s favor, can actually get in the way of one’s trust in God.

The truth is, it’s impossible for anyone to be saved on his or her own.

But it gets worse—or at least it appears to. Jesus goes on to teach his disciples a deeper truth.
Jesus said to them again, “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.” And they were shocked, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?”Jesus looked at them and said, “What is impossible with man is possible with God” (vs 27). Humanly speaking, no one can slip a camel through the eye of a needle. Not only are riches a huge hindrance to entering the kingdom and thus difficult, but Jesus also says it is impossible for a rich man to enter the kingdom. And not just the rich! “Then who can be saved?” Jesus answers: it’s impossible for anyone to enter the kingdom of heaven on one’s own.
It’s not just riches that can get in the way of heaven. Indeed, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above” (James 1:17). But any of God’s greatest gifts can and often are used by Satan as his greatest temptations and most powerful idols. “Whoever loves father or mother more than me” (Mt 10:37) shows that parents, children, and spouses can become idols. How many people forego church attendance because of their family members? How many leave a church where God’s Word is properly taught to join a church that errors in some doctrine, or doesn’t believe everything in Holy Scripture is God’s Word, all because they want their kids to have a “better” youth group?
The Gospel account of the rich man serves as an example of our Epistle’s warning to all believers: “Do not love the world or anything in the world” (1 John 5:15). The author of the book of Hebrews also admonishes us: “Let us [all of us!] therefore strive to enter that rest” (Heb 4:11) and, as was urged earlier in this same Letter to the Hebrews, to “exhort one another every day . . . that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Heb 3:13)—any sin.
The truth is that no one can save himself. It is impossible. And unlike things that are “hard,” there are not grades of “impossibility.” With man, it is simply impossible. With any man, all men, anyone, anywhere. There are no exceptions. No matter what race, no matter how smart, no matter what age, no matter what gender, no matter how rich, no matter how poor. Man cannot and does not do it, not even with a little help from God. It isn’t that man does his part and God does his. Man’s only part in the equation is the impossible. What man brings to the table is the impossible. We can only bring sin. The only thing man supplies is need.

But God has Done the Impossible—leaving us “only” Mission: Hard.

No, man needs the God of the possible to do the impossible. “ Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at [the disciples] and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” For us, it’s not just difficult; it simply cannot happen. But with God, nothing is impossible.
Friends, are you willing to believe in the impossible? Are you willing to believe God’s holy Word that is without error, and completely infallible? The Bible tells us that God does the impossible for you. He paid the price that was impossible for you to pay. He paid for your sin, my sin, the sin of the whole world. No mere mortal could do that. But with God all things are possible.
God became man so that you and I might be saved. In Jesus, God died for you. The impossible is possible with God. Indeed, he and he alone opens stony hearts to believe. He truly can make a camel go through the eye of a needle. Whether you are rich or poor, you believe. You are saved.
We confess this truth whenever we say with Luther in the Small Catechism,
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, and sanctified and kept me in the true faith...
Martin Luther — Small Catechism
He has taken care of not only your salvation but also your conversion; it is all God’s doing. God doing the impossible.
Even though God has done the impossible and redeemed you, paying for all of your sins, and even though he has done the impossible and turns our hearts of stone into believing hearts, until we enter fully into the kingdom in the resurrection, the road will be hard. Jesus calls us to our own Mission: Hard—very, very hard, as in the TV show. Jesus, the one who did the truly impossible job of the cross for our salvation, calls upon us to pick up our cross daily and follow him.
Jesus wants to alter the simplistic thinking of his disciples in this regard—especially in regard to prosperity being the sign that we are among God’s blessed people. Quite to the contrary—being a follower of Jesus might entail persecution. And such persecution will seem to the world and even to our own flesh as if God is abandoning us. Contrary to many popular health, wealth, and prosperity preachers, your best life now might entail the cross.
Jesus explains to the disciples that the benefits are huge—“in the age to come,” Jesus says, “eternal life.” But in the meantime, he says, God’s many blessings come “with persecutions” (John 15). The difficulties are also great. Jesus implies that we might lose family members because of the faith. As he says elsewhere, “I have come to bring division . . . a son against his father” (cf Lk 12:51, 53). And he specifically warns about persecutions. In this life we will have great blessings, as fellow believers will make up our new family. But we will also have trials and tribulations. And along with these there will be constant temptations, not least of them the desire to look for our security and comfort in wealth.
But remember, no matter how hard it gets, the Mission: Impossible is Mission: Accomplished because Jesus has completed his mission for us. We are assured of the victory in Christ because he did the Mission: Impossible.
And by the way, this promise of God will not self-destruct in five seconds.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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