Sunday, October 12, 2003

Eighteenth Sunday of Pentecost
Amos 5:6-7, 10-15
Psalm 90:12-17
Hebrews 4:12-16
Mark 10:17-31

And let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us; And establish thou the work of our hands upon us; Yea, the work of our hands establish thou it.

We can't do it by ourselves. It is impossible for man to earn the grace of God. That's what grace is - the unmerited favor of God on His people.

We can't do it by ourselves. When we do, things get turned upside down and inside out. Amos knew this was the problem with Israel. They were on the verge of destruction - God's wrath would fall on those who did not faithfully consecrate their lives to their God. They were not seeking the Lord, instead they allowed false gods into the holy places. They were not seeking justice, but were trampling the poor and gaining off the work of others. Amos indicts the people, they have made justice a bitter thing and have turned away from right living. They hate those who find fault with their ways and despise those who speak the truth. So, Amos warns them that the fine things they have built will be destroyed. "For I know how manifold are your transgressions, and how mighty are your sins - ye that afflict the just, that take a bribe, and that turn aside the needy in the gate from their right." He then encourages them to turn to God, to seek goodness and the LORD will be with them. "Seek good, and not evil, that ye may live; and so Jehovah, the God of hosts, will be with you, as ye say. Hate the evil, and love the good, and establish justice in the gate: it may be that Jehovah, the God of hosts, will be gracious unto the remnant of Joseph."

Amos gives some hope. Those who turn to the Lord, a remnant who seek Him, will live. He defined true justice and righteousness, but sin turned the world upside down. Good became evil and evil became good. It became impossible to identify true righteousness even among those who claimed to be God's people.

This was true in the days of Jesus. A young man came to Jesus and asked, "Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?" Luke tells us that the young man was a ruler, a man of power and wealth. Jesus answered the man's question with another question. "Why do you call me good?" It isn't that Jesus was rebuking the young man for calling Him good, but He wanted to know what he meant by goodness. Jesus then said, "There is no one good, except God." Did the man recognize Jesus as the Messiah? And if he did, did He know that the Messiah was the Lord in flesh? It is unlikely. When Jesus quotes the commandments, the man replies, "I have done all that."

Did you notice that Jesus quotes only the commandments dealing with our actions toward other people? "Do not kill, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor thy father and mother." The man is quick to agree and admit that he had kept those from his youth.

I have never noticed in this story the reaction of Jesus to the man's claim. Jesus looked at him and loved him. Jesus didn't jump down his throat for being haughty or self-righteous. He didn't tell him he was wrong or list all his faults. Jesus simple looked at him and loved him. The man did appear righteous. Jesus had to turn the man's thoughts away from himself and back to God. Jesus responds, "One thing you lack."

What is it that the man lacks? He has kept the commandments so he has not gotten his wealth in the wrong ways. He has treated people rightly and he knows to approach Jesus with a question about eternal life. It seems like there is something good going on in this man. We would probably respect him in our world today. Yet, Jesus says he lacks something. What is it?

He was missing a right relationship with God. He had the opportunity - the Lord was standing right in front of him, offering eternal life. The young man, along with the entire nation of Israel, had redefined righteousness to mean outward goodness, but they had forgotten their Lord. Jesus told the young man to sell everything, give the money to the poor and follow him. At those words, the man's face fell and he went away sad. He thought he was good to go. He'd done everything right, he was probably feeling pretty good about himself until Jesus told him to give up everything.

Jesus wasn't looking for the man to become a pauper; He wanted to see what was on his heart. Jesus had much greater treasures to offer - treasures in heaven. But the man was not willing to risk what he could see for what he did not understand. It was much easier to earn his way to heaven by doing good things and obeying the rules. It is much harder to turn our backs on the life we have created for something beyond our control.

Jesus turned to His disciples and said, "How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!" Mark tells us that the disciples were amazed at his words. Jesus goes on to say, "Children, how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through a needle's eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God." The problem was not his wealth; the problem was that he was putting his trust in the wrong things. He did not have the right relationship with the One who could give him what he wanted - eternal life.

We can't do it by ourselves. We need Jesus to get to heaven. Jesus' statement to the man begs a question. We know what we lack -- God. What is it that Jesus would ask us to give up to follow Him? Our burden may not be wealth. It may be our family. It may be our jobs. It may be our dreams. For Peter, it was his pride.

The disciples were amazed at this teaching. It is impossible to make a camel go through the eye of a needle. The camel is simply too big, the needle too small. "Who then can be saved?" Jesus answered, "You can't, but God can." Peter jumped in and put his foot in his mouth. "But Lord, we did exactly what you told that other guy to do. We left everything to follow you!" Jesus gave Peter the promise the rich young ruler did not get to hear. "You will get a hundredfold back, and even more in heaven." But, even Peter needed to know that it was all about God's grace. He was pretty smug about his obedience to Jesus' calling, and Jesus wanted him to know that he was not any more deserving of God's mercy and grace than the guy who walked away. "The last shall be first and the first shall be last." Peter may have given up the outward appearances that the world expects, but he had a different burden to give up.

The writer of Hebrews says, "And there is no creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and laid open before the eyes of him with whom we have to do." Jesus saw beyond the outward appearances of the rich young ruler and Peter. He knew what was in their hearts. The young man was not willing to give up his wealth for Jesus; his heart was far from God even though he looked like he was a righteous man. He was humbled at that moment when he had to choose. Peter did give up everything and made sure Jesus remembered his sacrifice, but there was a seed of faith in his heart. Peter would also be humbled. On the night Jesus was betrayed, Peter had to make a choice - would he stand behind Jesus, or hide his relationship? Peter denied Jesus three times, but when he realized his failure he repented and found forgiveness in Jesus Christ.

Jesus knew how hard it was to be a human being; He was tested just like every other man. When we go to Him with our pain and frailties, He can sympathize. Yet, He was without sin and because of His own obedience to the will and word of God, we can trust what He says. There is one thing we all lack - God - because we have something that we hold in higher regard than Him. For the Israelites in Amos's day, it was their twisted justice that trampled the poor and oppressed the righteous. For the rich young ruler, it was his wealth. For Peter, it was his pride. What is it that Jesus is asking us to give up to follow Him? In what do we trust more than God?

The Psalmist knew that salvation must come from the Lord. He cries out to God for mercy. "Oh satisfy us in the morning with thy lovingkindness, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days." God's grace, the unmerited favor He grants to those who seek Him, is the only way we will receive eternal life. The rich young ruler did not give Jesus the chance to reveal the grace of God. He heard only the Law and went away sad because it was an impossible request.

We can't do it ourselves. But Jesus makes it possible for us to approach the throne of grace with confidence and to receive that which God gives so freely. At His throne, we find mercy and forgiveness. It is there that God takes away our burdens and makes us free. It is there He helps us through all our trials and suffering. We get to the throne through the cross, because it is there that we see that God does know our suffering and that He can overcome anything we bring before Him.

We can't do it ourselves. It is all about grace. "And let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us; And establish thou the work of our hands upon us; Yea, the work of our hands establish thou it." Thanks be to God.

A WORD FOR TODAY
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