Friday, October 15, 2021

Cost Benefit Analysis

Here, belatedly, you'll find last Sunday's worship service with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio, as well as the text the message that day. I hope that you find it helpful.

Mark 10:17-22
The incident recounted in today’s Gospel lesson, Mark 10:17-22, in which a wealthy man asks Jesus about eternal life, is among the saddest events in Jesus’ entire earthly ministry. 

Mark says that Jesus, God in the flesh, “who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth,” (1 Timothy 2:4) is Himself saddened by the conversation. 

And, we learn that this man who came to Jesus to understand how he could have eternal life, walks away from Jesus, filled with sorrow. 

And yet our lesson shows us that we can have an eternity with God. 

The question is whether we’re willing to receive the gift of Christ and the eternal life He brings.

In today’s lesson, a man runs up to Jesus, kneels before Him, and asks, “Good teacher,...what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mark 10:17) 

Here is a man who wants eternal life with God. But Jesus sees that the man is muddled by the ways this world ordinarily operates and by his own particular sin. Rather than taking the man and his assumptions head-on, Jesus decides to meet the man where he is.

“Why do you call me good?” [Jesus asks] “No one is good—except God alone.” (Mark 10:18) If the man is calling Jesus good because he knows Jesus is God, he’s on his way to knowing the way to eternal life.  But, Jesus is saying, if the man is throwing out an honorary title to prove himself worthy of eternal life, he needs to save his breath.

Jesus then says, “You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.” 

Since you’re so interested in earning eternal life, Jesus is saying, you know about God’s moral standards. He then lists commandments four through eight of the Ten Commandments, all drawn from the second table, which addresses how we are to relate to our neighbors. He doesn’t mention the ninth and tenth commandments. Nor does He mention any of the commandments in the first table, the first through third commandments, which address our relationship with God. 

But the commandments Jesus does mention should be sufficient for what Jesus wants to accomplish in citing them. He wants this man who thinks he can earn the inheritance of eternal life to look into the moral Law of God as he might look in a mirror.

I don’t know about you, but the older I get, the less I like looking at a mirror. (And I never was that keen on it!) Sometimes when I pass my reflection, I’m startled and wonder, “Who is that old man?” 

To look into the mirror of God’s Law and see what it shows about us is even more startling. 

The apostle Paul, quoting the Old Testament psalms, says: “There is no one righteous, not even one…” 

And God was including me when He observed in Genesis, that “every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood…” (Genesis 8:21) 

Speaking for myself, I know that I’m a sinner from birth, a sinner by inclination, and a sinner not only in my actions, but also in my thoughts and desires. 

Whenever God holds up the mirror of His Law before us, He wants to drive us to be like the repentant tax collector in Jesus’ parable, who cried, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” (Luke 18:13) 

God wants to lead us to such prayers because it’s only in seeing the truth about our sinful nature that we understand, first of all, as sinners, we could never be good enough or do enough good to earn eternal life. 

God also wants us to see that Jesus, God the Son, is our righteousness, the One Whose death and resurrection makes all who repent and believe in Him fit for eternal life. As Saint Paul says, Jesus is “our righteousness, holiness and redemption.” (1 Corinthians 1:30)

But it’s really true that “we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves.” 

It’s also true that we each have particular sins that can enslave us and prevent us from seeing our need of Jesus for eternal life. 

After Jesus held up the mirror of God’s moral Law to the man wanting eternal life, the man says with self-satisfaction: “Teacher...all these I have kept since I was a boy.” (Mark 10:22) 

Maybe the man actually thinks he’s never done anything wrong. But even if that were so, it wouldn’t account for the wrong he’s thought or the wrong he’s felt. No, he, just like you and me, needs the Savior Jesus.

Even now, Mark tells us, “Jesus looked at him and loved him.” (Mark 10:21) 

Friends, that’s precisely Jesus’ attitude toward you. Although our sin is the reason that Jesus had to die on the cross, bearing the punishment for our sinful nature, Jesus still loves us. 

He died for us because He thinks you and I are worth saving! 

It’s at this point in their conversation that Jesus decides to drill down to this man’s favorite sin, his idolatry of wealth. Sell off all your assets, Jesus tells the man, give the proceeds to the poor, and follow Me. 

You see, you can outwardly appear like a disciple of the God we know in Jesus, but still be turned away from God, filled with raging and selfish sinfulness. This man would never be free to take eternal life from Jesus until he let go of the thing he relied on more than God.

Money, of course, isn’t the only god we may need to turn from to receive eternal life with God. A colleague of mine told me about counseling with a couple having problems because the husband insisted on looking at pornography. “It’s harmless fun,” the man insisted. “It’s adultery and idolatry,” the pastor said. The marriage ended when the man decided he wanted porn more than he wanted the married life with his wife that God had gifted him. 

Are there things you love in this life that threaten your eternal life with God? Could it be money or security, good looks or good times? Whatever it may be, Jesus can set you free, eternally free.

Verse 22, at the end of our lesson tells us, “​​At this [Jesus’ suggestion] the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.” 

The man knew what he was giving up. He knew that he was turning his back on the greatest gift anyone could ever receive: forgiveness and eternal life with God. 

“Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live,” is a promise we have from Jesus. (John 11:25) 

Jesus also says, “...whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.” (Luke 9:24) 

And Jesus promises that “the one who stands firm [in trusting in Him] to the end will be saved.” (Matthew 24:13)

Eternal life with God is an inheritance that we cannot earn and do not have to earn. 

All the earning has already been done by Jesus Himself. 

He earned it when He died on the cross. 

Our call is to, each day, turn from the dead and dying things of this world and turn to Him for life. 

Do a simple cost/benefit analysis: Which lasts longer, a comfortably sinful life here in this world for seven, eight, or nine decades, or a life of love and righteousness with God for eternity? 

Turn to Jesus. Today and every day. Amen