The Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost
October 14, 2018
Who Then Can Be Saved?
(Note: There were two versions of this sermon. One was delivered at the WELS congregation in Petaluma. This version was delivered at the ELS congregation in Windsor)
As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.’ ” “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.” Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!” The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “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.” The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.” (NIV1984)
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Are you sure of your salvation? Are you confident as to where you will spend eternity? If your journey here on this earth unexpectedly came to an end before the sun sets tonight, what would happen to your soul? If you suddenly found yourself standing before the throne of the Almighty God Himself and He asked you, “Why should I let you live with me in the glory and perfection of my heavenly Home?”— what would you tell Him? How would you respond?
As mortal human beings we want to know the answer to questions such as these. As mortal human beings we need to know the answers to questions such as these. The simple fact that all the world’s religions claim to have the answers to these questions, the simple fact that huge fortunes have been made by people who write books claiming to have the answers to these questions testify to the fact that these questions are basic to our human existence. And if ever there were questions that demand a correct answer— it is questions such as these! We must know the correct answer— because there is only one correct answer!
The text that we have before us this morning, my friends, is a crystal clear example of everything I have just said. For that reason we are going to use a question taken directly from this text and let it serve as our sermon theme for today. That question is: Who Then Can Be Saved? We’ll look at this question from two totally opposite points of view. First, let’s look at man’s way of answering this question. Then, let’s look at God’s way of answering this question.
Our text begins by introducing us to a young man who was on a mission, a young man who was on a serious spiritual quest. Mark writes, “As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. ‘Good teacher,’ he asked, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’” I seriously doubt that this question came completely out of the blue. This young man had probably been pondering this question for quite some time. He may have even been searching out great teachers of the faith to ask them this very same question over and over again. We can probably guess that some if not most of the answers he received were along the lines of: “Son, if you truly want to inherit eternal life, if you truly want to be blessed by God and enjoy His favor— then obey His teachings. Keep His commands. Live an exemplary life.”
As we know from our text for today that is exactly what this young man had been trying to do. He was consciously striving to live according to the rules and regulations of God’s Old Testament covenant. He undoubtedly used his time and his talents to help and to benefit others. He was probably both a model citizen as well as a model child of God— just the kind of guy you would want living next door to you, just the kind of guy you would want your daughter to date! But there was still something that gnawed at this man’s conscience. There was still something that caused his soul to cry out, “It’s still not enough! I am still missing something!” Because of that nagging gnawing sense that something wasn’t right with his soul this young man came running to Jesus, fell on his knees and humbly asked, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus’ response to this man’s question began with something that the young man would be able to understand quite easily. Jesus said to him, “You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.’” Jesus points this man to what we now call the Second Table of God’s Law (Commandments Four through Ten) to give him an opportunity to examine the way he conducted himself in his relationships with the people around him. And once he had examined the conduct of his life how did this young man respond? He said to Jesus, “Teacher, all these things I have kept since I was a boy.”
Was this idle boasting, my friends? Was this egotistical bragging? Not at all! This man was not only expressing his severely limited understanding of how God defines sin, but this man was also expressing man’s answer to that all important question— Who then can be saved? This man was indeed living a respectable upright life. When he was out in public he was undoubtedly the type of person that everyone could easily look up to. If this was indeed the guy who was dating your only daughter you would be thrilled! Today we might say that he was the very same person on Friday night and Saturday night as he was when you saw him in church every Sunday morning! And yet, my friends, even though this young man was confident that he was indeed living the kind of life that he thought even God would be pleased with— deep down inside he knew, didn’t he. He knew that no matter how exemplary our outward life might be, he knew that no matter how many religious teachers say that if you want to be saved you must do this and you must never do that— he knew that on our own we always fall short of God’s standard of holiness and perfection. He knew that on our own we will never be able to do enough to inherit eternal life.
What we see then is that man’s answer to that all-important question is the wrong answer! Any and every attempt to earn or work our own way into heaven will always end in disaster— eternal disaster!
That reality makes the next portion of our text absolutely amazing. Look at verse 21, “Jesus looked at him and loved him. ‘One thing you lack,’ he said. ‘Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come follow me.’” Notice that Jesus did not berate this man. Notice that Jesus did not scold this man by telling him that he was seriously mistaken if he felt that he had kept all these commandments since he was a boy. Instead, we are told that “Jesus looked at him and loved him.” Just as Jesus looked at the little children who were brought to Him and lovingly wrapped His arms around them, just as Jesus looked at the dying thief on the cross and lovingly spoke those amazing words of pure grace, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43) so also Jesus looked at this young man, Jesus loved this young man, and most importantly Jesus shared with this young man God’s answer to that all-important question— Who then can be saved?
Jesus led this man to look beyond the outward actions of his life and examine what was in his heart. And what was obviously the focus of this mans’ heart? His heart was focused on money, wasn’t it. This man had a serious problem with greed, didn’t he. We have clear evidence of this man’s sin when Jesus invited him to give up his focus on material possessions and then follow Jesus as his Savior. Mark tells us, “At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.” This young man who so humbly came to Jesus looking for answers, this young man who was on such a serious spiritual quest to learn how to inherit eternal life did not want anything to do with God’s answer to that all-important question, because God’s answer always focuses our heart on that powerful Gospel invitation: “Come, follow me.”
Do you want to be sure of your salvation, my friends? Then listen to your Savior as He lovingly says to you, “Follow me.” Do you want to be confident of where you will spend eternity? Then listen to your Savior as He lovingly says to you, “Follow me.” Do you want to know how to respond to your heavenly Father if you are suddenly and unexpectedly summoned before His throne and hear Him ask, “Why should I let you live with Me in the glory and perfection of My heavenly home?” Then listen to your Savior as He lovingly says to you, “Follow me.” Don’t be like the young man here in our text and think that you can earn God’s grace by outwardly living a “good” Christian life. Don’t be like the young man here in our text and let the focus of your heart be on the things of this world. Listen to your Savior and follow Him! Follow Him to the cross so that your conscience will be quieted by His loving proclamation of complete forgiveness for all of your sins. Follow Him to the empty grave in the garden so that your heart will have reason to rejoice in the glorious life that He has waiting for you on the other side of the grave. Listen to your Savior and follow Him as He uses His precious Means of Grace to give you both the power as well as the desire to inwardly conform your heart and then outwardly conform your life to what He reveals to you here in His holy Word— not in an effort to earn His grace, not in an effort to deserve His love, but simply as a way of expressing your thankfulness and your love to Him for all that He has so freely done for you. (Pointing to the cross)
“Come, follow me.” Those glorious words are words that our Savior still speaks right down to this very day. Those glorious words tie in very well with the fact that we are celebrating the 100th anniversary of the reorganization of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod. Why was it necessary for the ELS to be reorganized? Because the old Norwegian Synod had lost its way. It had lost its focus. It had let go of the fundamental principles of the Reformation: that the Bible is the inspired Word of God and that salvation is received by grace alone. Let me share something with you that was written by the Synod for today’s celebration: “Four months and 100 years ago today on June 14, 1918, Pastor Bjug Harstad joined a group of almost 200 Lutherans gathered at Lime Creek Lutheran Church. They were all that remained of a once mighty synod, the Norwegian Synod, which had now been abandoned….Tragic things had taken place. For the sake of external unity with other Scandinavian Lutherans, the larger part of the Norwegian Synod had agreed to a compromise on the doctrine of election. The impression was given that a person could believe, teach, and confess that a sinner plays some part in his conversion. But if salvation depends in any way on the sinner, all certainty is lost. To the contrary, said Pastor Harstad, ‘our happiness and salvation we will build solely upon the call of God, when He by visible and undeceiving means chose and rescued us from the power of Satan and our flesh, and adopted us as His disciples and children.’” Because there is only one correct, only one God-pleasing answer to the question, “Who then can be saved?” the ELS has by God’s grace continued to proclaim the wonders God has done so that over the course of the last 100 years thousands upon thousands of people have been able to hear Jesus’ Gospel invitation— “Come, follow me.”
Who then can be saved? Man’s answer to that all-important question will always leave a gnawing uncertainty and a deep-seated doubt in one’s heart. Why? Because man’s answer to that all-important question is always focused on what we must do for God— which always falls far short of the holiness and the perfection that God requires. God’s answer to that all-important question fills our heart with peace and with hope and with confidence. For you see, my friends, God’s answer to that all-important question always focuses our heart on that powerful Gospel proclamation: Come, follow me! Follow Me My cross, follow Me to My empty grave, follow Me and see not only what I have done for you but what I will do for you purely because of My Love for you! Come, follow Me and you will inherit eternal life!”
To God be the glory!