God Makes the Impossible Possible
23rd Sunday after Pentecost
God Makes the Impossible Possible
Text: Luke 18:18-27
How long did it take you to realize it? Probably too long before you could get out safely. You walked in this morning. You greeted a few people. You smiled. You shook hands. You quickly downed a cookie and a coffee and rushed in to your seat in church before we started (or maybe a little after we started). By that time it was about 10:03. You opened up the service folder and you heard me introduce the service. Then it dawned on you. “Oh boy! Another service about money. Are you kidding me? Haven’t we heard about that enough lately? Is it too late for me to leave without making a scene?”
If you think we have been hearing a lot about money and possessions lately, then you are actually right. I thought the same thing about the Scripture readings this week. So I went back and checked. By my count, about nine of our last 22 services have had something to do with wealth or money or using wealth and money wisely or something similar. If you feel like it has been a frequent topic, then you are absolutely right.
But before you get up to throw offering plates at my head, some of you may not know this: I actually do not pick the readings for each Sunday. The Christian Church has had a cycle of lessons that it uses every year on a rotational basis for hundreds of years. I simply open up the schedule and insert the lessons selected for a given day. If you’ve been really astute and observant, you’ve also noticed that all we have been doing this year is marching our way each Sunday through the gospel of Luke. This week we are in chapter 18.
So I have nothing to do with all of these services about money and wealth. It was our ancient church fathers who chose to have all these lessons about money. Or more to the point, since we have only been hearing from Luke each Sunday, it was Luke who recorded all these stories about money. Or even more to the point, Luke was simply recording what Jesus said and did. So it was Jesus who talked so much about money and wealth and possessions. In fact, somewhere I heard once that around one third of everything Jesus says in the Bible has to do with money or wealth or possessions.
This begs an important question. Why? Why do we need to keep hearing in church about worldly things? Why do we need to keep hearing from Jesus about worldly things? We got it, OK! Isn’t enough enough?
Quite simply, NO. Each of us has a part of our selves that the Bible calls a sinful nature. It is something we are born with. It is something we have to live with and struggle against every day this side of heaven. And our sinful nature absolutely loves to hold on to a sinful world. It will do everything in its power to pursue worldly things and not heavenly things. Ever since Adam and Eve wanted to taste that fruit instead of obeying God, we all have a desire down deep to put something worldly above our God. Even the most outwardly devout struggle with this. Just look at the story today.
A rich young ruler approached Jesus. He must have thought he was Rico Suave Pharisee or politician. We might imagine him haughtily strolling up to Jesus, with chest puffed out like a rooster, as he asked, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
There are several problems with this question. Jesus addressed the first one: “’Why do you call me good?’ Jesus answered. ‘No one is good—except God alone.’” No Jew addressed anyone as “good” in such a way. They reserved that for God alone. So why flatter Jesus in such away? Besides, if the rich young ruler truly believed that Jesus was God, then he would have called “Lord” or “Master,” not “Good teacher.”
Besides this tongue-in-cheek flattery, the rich young ruler had a major problem with his theology. He asked what he must do to inherit eternal life. That’s a rather bold and braggadocios question. A humble man who knows his sins also knows he could never do enough to earn eternal life.
So Jesus started to address this faulty thinking of this proud man. “You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.” Such a great and proud man surely knew all the commandments.
He sure did. “All these I have kept since I was a boy,” the man bragged. Another rather bold statement. But perhaps he was partially right. Maybe this man didn’t understand how often we break each commandment in our thoughts and words, as well as our actions. He probably had lived a chaste life and had never murdered or stolen and usually kept his mouth quiet and always was respectful to his parents. Maybe by outward actions many would look at Mr. Rico Suave ruler and thought, “Wow! What a God-fearing man.”
But there was one huge problem, and Jesus knew it. “When Jesus heard this, he said to him, ‘You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’ When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was a man of great wealth.” Matthew and Mark tell us in their accounts that this rich ruler then left Jesus with such sadness.
Outwardly the man seemed to be a very devout believer. But inwardly he was as big a sinner as anyone else because he loved his possessions more than Jesus. You could imagine him saying or thinking, “But Jesus! I have five flat screen TVs in my house. I just upgraded my kitchen. I have 25 vintage chariots. I’ve carefully saved up millions for retirement. How can I . . . Why would I . . . You want me to give it all up?!” Therein lies the problem. When the rubber met the road, this man chose wealth and possessions over Jesus.
Please don’t misunderstand! Jesus is not telling you to sell all your possessions and give to the poor or else you can’t be a Christian. That’s not what Jesus is saying. But Jesus is addressing the condition of your heart and where it is at.
There are many of us who outwardly look like very fine Christians. We might even feel fairly decent about ourselves. “I go to church pretty regularly. I read my Bible. I live a pretty modest life. I don’t do anything that bad. I’m certainly not like other people.” And maybe that’s true. Maybe you do live a fairly decent life. I happen to like all of you and think you are all very nice people. That’s not what Jesus is calling to question today. Jesus isn’t questioning your outward appearance today. But he is questioning your heart.
So maybe Jesus would say to you, “Fine. I’m glad you live a “good” life. Now sell your big new house and swimming pool and keep following me.” Or “Quit your job and follow me.” Or “Stop advancing your career and follow me.” Or “Sell your retirement fund and your assets and follow me.”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa, Jesus! Hold on a second! You want me to do what? Don’t you know how hard I work? Don’t you know I earned this? Don’t you know how much I deserve this? How can I . . . Why would I . . . You want me to give it all up?!”
Suddenly we find ourselves going away from Jesus sad. Actually, I’ve found some people recently going away from Jesus mad when they hear him talk about possessions. Why would the rich ruler go away sad? Why would we be sad, even angry, when we hear Jesus teach us about money and possessions? It’s that sinful nature deep inside clinging to worldly things not heavenly things.
Jesus doesn’t want you to sell everything. Jesus doesn’t want you to quit your job. He doesn’t want you to liquidate your assets. God gave us many blessings in life. He wants us to enjoy them. Jesus doesn’t want you to get rid of everything, but Jesus does want you to love him more than everything.
When we hear Jesus’ words and think about our lives and the attitudes of our hearts, we humbly and repentantly say, “Who then can be saved?” I know how much I love worldly things. Sometimes it seems like it would be more possible to have a camel go through the eye of a needle than for me to go to heaven. Of course, it is impossible for a camel to fit through a needle’s eye. So it is also impossible for someone like Mr. Rico Suave rich ruler to put anything before God and go to heaven. And it is impossible for me, someone who loves this world and puts things ahead of God, to be in heaven.
Except. Except Jesus wasn’t done teaching his disciples. He pointedly puts us in our place. We are right there with that rich ruler in sadness and desperation. But he doesn’t leave us with no hope. Jesus continues in verse 27: “What is impossible with men is possible with God.”
That rich ruler that one day came to Jesus with great pride, expecting to be commended for his “admirable” life. But quickly he was humbled when Jesus identified his sinful heart. But the rich ruler then completely missed the solution. He not only walked away from Jesus, he walked away from his Savior.
It is true that it is completely impossible for us to do anything to inherit eternal life. It is also true that many times we may outwardly look like fine Christians, but inwardly don’t have our hearts focused on Christ first. Thus, it is true that it is completely impossible for us to be in heaven. But rather than walking away from Jesus sad, we fall at his feet glad. Why? Because Jesus has made the impossible possible.
Jesus did the impossible. He lived in this world sin free. He never fell pray to worldly greed. He always put his Father first. His heart was completely focused on the will of God.
Then Jesus did more of the impossible. He took the sin of every person in this entire world and put it on himself. Our guilty burdens too heavy to bear he put squarely on himself as he suffered and died to pay for those sins.
Jesus made the impossible possible. His life and death bring us forgiveness. His life and death wipe our slate clean in God’s sight. His life and death give us the gift of life forever with him.
It would seem more possible for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a sinner like me to pass through the gates of heaven. But God Makes the Impossible Possible. Through Jesus’ forgiveness, God made it possible for me to live in heaven.
It’s a shame that the Mr. Rico Suave rich ruler completely missed this. He loved his fine tunics and his shiny chariots and his downtown Jerusalem condo so much. How could he give it up for Jesus? But this rich ruler completely missed what (or who) was staring him right in the face. He didn’t want to give up anything for Jesus. But he never considered what Jesus would give up for him.
This is where you and I are different. We have the same struggles as this rich ruler. In fact, I would bet that almost every single person in this room has more money and possessions today than that rich ruler did back then. American wealth is extraordinary. We can relate to this rich ruler. We struggle like this rich ruler. And with so much extravagance of worldly things in our American lives, we do need to hear from Jesus nine times out of 22 Sundays about the dangers of worldly things.
But this is where you and I are different. We aren’t walking away sad or mad. We know that Jesus is right. We know that we have sinned. Yet we know that Jesus has made it possible for us to be in heaven.
You see the difference is, we know what Jesus gave up for us. He gave himself. He gave his life. He died for us. And when we know that Jesus put us first to give us eternal life, it makes it so much easier to put him first.
It may seem impossible at times. How can I live in this world and put God first? I’m too busy. I have too many bills. I need to expand my career. I need to do family things. I need to enjoy life a little. How can I give up money or free time or work time for Jesus? That’s impossible.
Jesus tells us again: “What is impossible with men is possible with God.” Other people of this world think it is impossible to live in such a way. They think it is foolish to ever do anything for God. Why would you do that?
But by God’s strength we think differently. “Why wouldn’t you do that?” we say. When our hearts start to stray and slightly get out of focus, we always come back to Jesus. We see what he has given up for us. We see what he has given to us. Then a big smile comes to our face. “Yes. I will give up hard-earned money to him. We need to share this message!” “Yes. I will give up some of my free time for him. I need to thank him somehow!” “Yes. I will use my gifts he gave to honor and glorify him!”
God Makes the Impossible Possible. He changes our hearts, then he changes our focus. God makes it possible for me to live in this world with him at the center of my heart and my life.
Next Sunday we are shifting seasons in the church calendar year. The next four Sundays are the last four Sundays of the church year, known as the Sundays of End Times. Then we will start a new church year after Thanksgiving with Advent, which leads up to Christmas.
Phew! No more Sundays about money! Right? We would never say such a thing. The Christian heart welcomes everything that Jesus teaches. It welcomes his rebuke and it welcomes his forgiveness. Then the Christian heart welcomes the challenge to put God first in our lives.
At times it seems impossible. But it isn’t. With living in heaven and living in this world, the same is true for both: God Makes the Impossible Possible.
Posted on October 27, 2013, in Church, Sermons and tagged Church, Greed, Impossible, Luke, Luke 18, Money, Possessions, Possible, Rich Young Ruler, Selfish, Sermons, Wealth. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.