Bench-pressing Your Way to Glory!
Mark 10:17-27 And
when he was gone forth into the way, there came one running, and
kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Master, what shall I do that I may
inherit eternal life?
18And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God. 19Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Defraud not, Honour thy father and mother.
20And he answered and said unto him, Master, all these have I observed from my youth.
21Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me.
22And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions.
23And Jesus looked round about, and saith unto his disciples, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!
24And the disciples were astonished at his words. But Jesus answereth again, and saith unto them, Children, how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God! 25It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.
26And they were astonished out of measure, saying among themselves, Who then can be saved?
27And Jesus looking upon them saith, With men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible.
Before we get into the insights from this portion of the Bible, we will look at one verse. Verse 18. The young man addressed Jesus as good. Jesus replied, “Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God.”
Rabbis did not let people call them good. They felt only God was good and that the word good should be used only for God.1 When the rich young man said Jesus was good, he confirmed the Messiah. Jesus’ answer was not a denial of divinity.2 It can be seen as a confirmation of His divinity, by wanting the young rich man to understand the implication of what he was saying.3
Jesus may have wanted to hold off on letting people see Him as the Messiah, until His work on Calvary was complete. If the people had clearly identified Jesus as the Messiah, they would have tried to prevent Calvary.
There are several insights we can learn from this brief encounter. They relate to the role of emotion and personalities in church. We can also learn a lot about salvation from this story.
•First, the role of emotion in spirituality.
William Barclay, a respected theologian, commentator, and Greek language authority, translates the first verse like this. “As Jesus was walking along the road, a man came running to him and threw himself at his feet . . .”4
This must have been quite the site for the disciples. Here was a rich man, a ruler. Why you could almost say he was an aristocrat!5 And what does this aristocrat do? Just what nobody would imagine. He races up to the Messiah and throws Himself down at Jesus’ feet! An aristocrat kneeling at the feet of a poor servant from Nazareth.6
The young man had enthusiasm! Tons of it! And Jesus threw a bucket of cold water on the fire of his enthusiasm.7 Jesus told the young man the cost of following the Messiah.
The Messiah’s approach shows much balance. Emotion and passion for the Lord always needs to be held in check by the reason of the Word. Jesus made the young man stop and think!8 Not a bad idea when you are wanting to follow the Lord. Think and emote! Think with your head and feel with your heart! Both your head and your heart are important.
I love the charismatics and charismatic congregations. Charismatics show devotion for the Lord, a fire and a zeal for service that are to be commended. Many times, I have wished that fire for the Lord was as contagious as the flu! We’d set the world on fire in a few weeks.
I also love those congregations that have a prayer book and follow it. Some faith traditions have used a prayer book for hundreds of years. As a result, their members have a quiet, solid witness for the Lord. A witness that is able to withstand the storms of life, a witness that understands you have a duty to serve and you can serve the Lord, even when you are not walking on cloud nine, swinging from the chandeliers or dancing on the backs of the pews!
We have some liturgy in this congregation, but we do not follow a prayer book. The wonderful news is that you can have a prayer book and follow a prayer book for your daily devotions. And that will help you have a good balance of emotion and stability, emotion and reason, passion and Biblical understanding in your service for God and for humanity.
When we call people to service, when people are asked to help in the Lord’s work, we should do as the Lord did. We should help prepare people for what they will face. Otherwise they will never handle the storms of life and the storms of serving God.
•The role of pastors and prophets in churches. This passage gives us many insights into the role of spiritual leaders.
The role of every single person in leadership in a congregation or a denomination is to point people to the heavenly, to point people to God. We are only finger-posts (small sign posts) pointing to the Lord.9 In a way, Jesus’ response said, “You cannot become a Christian by sentimental passion for a prophet. You must look to God.”10
There is a danger for all teachers, pastors, and church leaders. The danger is that people will develop such a strong emotional bond to the person that a good bond to the Lord will not form.11
Unfortunately, some people take advantage of the emotional bonds people naturally form with church leaders. They proclaim themselves inerrant prophets. In the process, they degrade the Word of God, by claiming equal status with the Word. Or, they do not disagree with those who may, out of love for the pastors, want to count the pastor’s words as equal to the Bible. There is only one who is inerrant; that is the Lord.
The sad thing is some people do not know how to reconcile contradictions between their favorite religious teacher and the Word of God. Upon seeing contradictions between the Bible and the teachings of a person, they try to prove the Bible is wrong on that point. Hold on guys! God does not get it wrong! Many of our problems with the Bible are not problems with the Bible; they are problems with interpretations of the Bible. As a result, they insult God and weaken His life-giving Word.
When a religious teacher is wrong, you say, “That does not hold up to the Bible. I reject that teaching.” Rejecting one point of a person’s teachings does not mean you have to flush the pastor down the toilet. You only put the pastor in the rightful place - below the Word of God, below God; not above God.
•This passage talks about the law.
The rich young man had everything going for him. He had the strength and vitality of youth, combined with wealth. He was respected and powerful. Luke relates that he held an office (Luke 18:18).12 And somehow, with all of the money and power he had, this young man had manners. This young man had potential!13 He was going places in life.
Unfortunately, he had a superficial view of spiritual things.14 He has a skin deep view of the law. Now way could he see the principles. He thought keeping the law meant not doing things, when it means doing things for the Lord.
We are not called to merely not hurt people. Our call is to actually reach out and help people. Want to know if you are following the Lord. The question is not, “Have I harmed anybody?” The question to ask is, “What good have I done?”15
•This story helps us understand salvation - big time.
Verse 10. The young man asks what he must do to get to heaven. The Greek carries the meaning of exercising.16 You almost get the picture of the young man, covered in sweat, working with spiritual barbells, until he is so spiritually buff God lets him into the Kingdom.
Tried to curl a California redwood? Salvation by works is harder than curling a California redwood. Ya. Don’t think you are quite that buff! Salvation by works is even more difficult than changing your sexual orientation and becoming straight. You definitely are not that buff!
The Word says, He “went away gloomy and sad.” Many people come to Jesus hurting and unhappy. This may be the only person to leave the presence of the Lord sad.17
There is a reason why he went away depressed. He, like the disciples, did not understand salvation. The disciples seemed to equate respectability (wealth, power, and prestige) with salvation. That is why they were shocked when they heard the Messiah say, “It’s hard for rich people to get into God’s kingdom.”
This young man was respectable. His wealth, and power made him respectable. But being respectable is not enough.18 Part of being respectable is not doing things - not breaking laws, not acting gay, not being queer. Following the Messiah is doing things.19
Following Christ includes doing things for the queer community. We sacrifice some respectability to serve the Messiah, to help people. Those that do the most are not always the most respected. We see that in the fight for rights for gay and trans-identified people. Those who fight the hardest to help gain equal rights for people regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identification often lose some respect from the general population. The old-fashioned church people of society do not like strong advocates for the queer community.
You may be thinking, “This is the only time I have been glad I am not rich.” No time to be smug. My not-very-literal paraphrase would read, “It is hard for people with things and with toys to get into God’s kingdom.”20 Perhaps, for us it is the large screen TV, an awesome stereo, designer clothes, the car, the computer, the internet, or the new home that makes it difficult for us to follow Jesus.
In Matthew’s account, Jesus told the rich young man to be perfect. The rich young man only lacked one thing. What he needed to do was to give away his wealth to help the poor and to follow Jesus. The Greek word translated perfect does not mean without sin.21 The word is better translated complete. To be complete, is to reach the goal for which you were created.22 We were created to be obedient to Jesus,23 to follow Jesus. When we follow Christ, we are complete. Christ has called queer people to be queer people, not straight people. Queer Christians are complete only when they answer the call to be queer.
Shalom means completeness and perfection. In the gospel of Luke, Jesus asked his disciples to say, “God bless this home with peace,” when His disciples entered a home. That was a wish for every good thing for the home.24 From Hebrew, we understand having shalom is having wellness, happiness, health, and prosperity.25 When you have all of those things, you are perfect, complete. With the word shalom is the meaning wholeness or completeness.26
Tried to gain shalom, peace, completeness through things? The very things we turn to for peace and wholeness leave us stressed. We get stressed slaving for bigger toys. We sweat the daily news, worried about taxes, stock values, and the crime rate.
Salvation, perfection, peace, wholeness are not for sale! They cannot be purchased. The cry of the disciples, “How can anyone ever be saved?” is answered “ . . . God can do anything.”
Perfection or completeness is impossible to purchase, but easy to get. Sounds like a contradiction. Not really. Salvation is impossible for people to grasp, but God easily places the gift in your lap.
Want perfection and salvation? Follow Jesus. Keep reading the gospel of Mark. Follow Jesus’ life to Calvary, to the cross. And there you will find salvation, and the perfection of complete wholeness and peace.
Thank You Lord that perfection is following Jesus, not being straight, not living without ever making a mistake. That gives us hope.
As you gave us hope and salvation, give hope and salvation to others, through us. Make each person here the living home of Jesus the Christ.