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The Greatest Possession

Text: Mark 10:17-22

Proper 23, B


17As [Jesus] 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?” 18And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.What a wonderful change for the normal kinds of people that come at Jesus! Here is no religious antagonist, not poor and huddled masses with their never ending list of needs. No, here we have a young man who is enthusiastic, energetic, polite and deeply religious. The man doesn’t want to argue or beg. Instead he speaks of doing something, of earning, if possible. And best yet, he wants to be considered an heir of eternal life, one for whom the glories will be laid up in heaven. He wants the right thing!

He was loved by the people, and he was pretty sure he was loved by God for the exemplary life he had tried to live. He wanted heaven, but by becoming an heir through his good works instead of by God’s promise. That’s clear in how he addresses Jesus as a much needed teacher rather than as the very way unto everlasting life itself. He just needed Jesus to tell him how to make his good life even better ... And this is the man’s fundamental problem, because no one is good enough nor can they get better enough. No descendant of Adam possesses what it will take.

19 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.’”20And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.”Notice here, dear friends, how Jesus mentions only parts of the second table of the Law, since these are of such a nature that a person ought to be able to note his transgressions of them very readily. It takes very little spiritual understanding to note the faults in thoughts, words, and deeds that are committed against one's neighbor. They are usually very helpful in letting you know.

And that is why Jesus starts easy before breaking down this man’s misconception. And the young man without boasting or bragging says he has done all this. He has been complimented for his kindness, his obedience to parents, his clean living and hard work. He is the young man every Jewish mother would love to have as a son-in-law. Like far too many people in the world, he believes that If he live an outwardly moral life, then he has fulfilled God will, and therefore he will be acceptable on the last day. No forget for a moment that any honest examination of those works would likely show they are not as good or as complete as one imagines, the other hurdle in all this is the abject failure to have ever examined their heart to see the mass of filth and transgression to be found there that no amount of words or deeds can cover. And that is what Jesus hits this young man with … but not to punish him for his arrogance … but because He loved him and wanted the very same thing for him. His desired heavenly possession.

21And 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.” 22Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. Talk about harsh! Demanding! Unfair! Yet such a deeply ingrown self-trust needs radical surgery. Jesus is not saying that everyone must give up all their wealth ... just their idols. Whatever your idol is that and that alone is what must go. No matter how much it may hurt. Jesus’ words are intended to unveil his true greed and selfishness, thus destroying his illusions of worthiness before God.

How many people still encountering the Gospel and the work of the Church are willing enough to listen, yet meanwhile secretly pride themselves upon the goodness of their lives. But when a sacrifice is asked for the sake of the Savior, their zeal cools rapidly enough. Then they lose interest in the work of the Church, and turn back to the life that offers them more for the present. More safety, more acceptance, more accolades, more fun. But this life is not the end. And the proof is in the reaction. The rich young man is not just sad. He is appalled. Crushed. And so he left. The gift Jesus was extending was not nearly so desirable as all that he thought he already possessed. He would just have to find salvation somewhere else.

“Before God can make us glad,” Luther said, “He must make us sad.” The alien work of the Holy Spirit is to convince us of our absolute need to be saved before He can do the proper work which is to create faith in that very Saviour! And that good news of the salvation that awaits us is all over this otherwise disappointing text ... if you stop to consider it.

17As [Jesus] 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?” 18And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone ... 21And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him … Notice how Jesus did not demure to say that He is not good. He is actually very careful not to deny it. Nor does He deny that being good He is therefore God. Notice too, that in spite of the young man's foolish answer, Jesus looked upon him earnestly, affectionately, He regarded him lovingly. He loved him, not only on account of his youth, his earnestness, and his evident sincerity, but because He was already on the very journey that would take Him to that young man’s cross and tomb. His eyes are already set on Jerusalem and the salvation He (and He alone) would earn there for all people. Jesus going there because of his love for this man


And that is why He alone is good. He is God!

Christ lived and died for all people. Because of all the good that Jesus did God the Father declared all people saved – including that rich young man. Ironically this man, like so many others, was inquiring about and searching for something God had already given; a gift he would ultimately spurn. The gift of eternal life is so real, so much ours already, that it cannot be a gift for the earning, it is only a gift that can be refused. We don’t have to get the gift, earn the gift, work for the gift. It is already ours! All of us have this great possession. We can only reject the gift after God has placed it into our possession.

On this day of praise and thanksgiving, may we be reminded once again that of all the gifts God has given us there is only ONE worth giving everything else to keep. Only ONE that lasts unto eternity. Only ONE that makes us better for possessing. And He is the ONE who is still here loving and forgiving selfish hearts and self-righteous sinners like you and me.

AMEN.

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