Mark 10_17-31 the righteousness of Christ
What would things look like if Satan really took control of a city? Over a half century ago, Prespyterian minister Donald Grey Barnhouse offered his own scenario in his weekly sermon that was also broadcast nationwide on CBS radio. Barnhouse speculated that if Satan took over Philadelphia, all the bars would be closed, pornography banished, and pristine streets would be filled with tidy pedestrians who smiled at each other. There would be no swearing. The children would say, ‘Yes, sir’ and ‘No ma’am, and churches would be full every Sunday…where Christ is not preached. (Christless Christianity by Michael Horton pg 15)
Quite the opposite to what you or I may have envisaged, yet very insightful, and could very well be close to the truth. Why? Why would Satan want everyone be well behaved, loving and accepting toward each other, attending church, and doing all the right things, and yet not hearing Christ preached?….Then sin would not be preached. The great divide which separates us from God…our sinful nature, the fact that ‘no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born again’, would not actually be addressed.
The offence of preaching the cross would be replaced with the more acceptable preaching of love and moral improvement. Everyone would be obeying the law, but no one would be keeping it; not to God’s standards, as Jesus demands in Matthew 5 ‘Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.’ Everyone would be nice, but no one would be saved.
A rich young ruler came to Jesus and said ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ This is a question about justification; a question which asks, ‘HOW perfect do we need to be to enter heaven?’; a natural question that you and I may even ask; a question that presupposes and has as its premise the assumption that we CAN do enough to get to heaven and the decision is ours. You may not ask this question to God in such an arrogant way, as this young man did, but there are other more subtle ways we ask the same justification question, which ignores the reality of our sin ‘what must I DO to inherit eternal life?’
Deep in your conscience you may be making deals with God; deals that involve improvement on our behalf to gain God’s favour? Perhaps, you may say, if I just put more effort into my marriage, then God will look favourably upon me and forgive my continuing failings. Perhaps if I can just curb my lustful thoughts then God will be more gracious and overlook my sin. Or perhaps if I am more accepting and loving to the ‘someone’ no one else loves, then God will love me more…then I will inherit eternal life…with God’s help of course.
All deals about how WE are to justify ourselves …how WE are to enter eternal life, but all these deals between you and God are of no use because they do not flow out of the gospel of Christ; and as long as Christ is absent, we remain under the demands of the law and original sin is not dealt with and eternal life is not inherited.
When the rich young man came to Jesus with a question on justification, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’, Jesus saw that he was living under the demands of the law. He could see that this young man, try as he might, had spectacularly succeeded in missing the point of the law in relation to being right with God. He had fallen into Satan’s world where everything is nice, where being good is the train bound for heaven and self-righteousness is the ticket to hop on board. This man needed to hear just how hard the law’s demands really are. We need to hear it is not what we do that justifies but who justifies!
Jesus sees the man and loves him and in love does quite the opposite to what we imagine. Jesus, who St John said, came from the Father, full of grace and mercy, puts the man under the law…gives him even more to do. ‘”One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
This friends is the correct use of the law…Jesus uses the sword of the law to cut through the sin of pride and self-righteousness, in order to reveal the futility of keeping the law to inherit the kingdom, as Paul writes in Galatians 3 ‘All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.”
Jesus used the law to show this young man, that there is one thing he will not do. One thing he cannot do; one thing he does not even have the will to do and that is, sell everything and follow him. The conscience of the young rich man was hit by the double edged sword of God…swish…gotcha! He went away with a sad face and unfortunately never hung around long enough to hear the comforting words of Jesus.
Jesus still speaks to us in our deals with him, in the same way. If you want to justify yourself with God by trying harder to be good, you too, as I am, will be cut by the same sword of God’s word, and perhaps you have already experience this. The more you try and stop lustful desires…the stronger and harder they become…the law demands ever greater obedience. The more you try and love, ever more love is demanded of you. The more you try to avoid temptation by your own effort, the stronger they become. This will keep happening, and the sword of God will keep cutting our conscience, until we too join with the disciples and say ‘”Who then can be saved?”
Perhaps you have yet to experience this, or perhaps you are at this point now. Or perhaps there has been a time in your life recently when you were sick of ‘trying to always be good’; sick of trying to live up to the ideal Christian life. Perhaps you have even felt a failure before God and thought ‘Who then can be saved ‘?…good, that’s the law, the double edged sword of God’s word, cutting away any self righteousness to reveal sin and point you to Christ. Hear Jesus’ words to Zacchaeus who also felt convicted ‘Today salvation has come to this house…For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.” ‘Who then can be saved?’ For with us, salvation is impossible, but with God all things are possible.’
The good news is that we are justified, made right with God by trusting in Jesus who was put to death on the cross; put to death in order to put right the wrong. Paul writes in Colossians 2 ‘When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross.’
The gospel, or Christ preached into our hearts deals with sin; deals with the question of justification. Once you take hold of this gospel by faith, that Jesus has already justified us and given us eternal life in our baptism, the question ‘What must I do to inherit eternal life’ becomes irrelevant; pointless.
After all, its an oxymoron, you cannot work to gain an inheritance, an inheritance is given when you are born into the family. St Peter declares ‘Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade– kept in heaven for you.’
A historic decision was made at general synod last week, which will reinvigorate faith and joy by rediscovering the power of the gospel through the reintroduction of private confession and forgiveness into our church. Private confession and forgiveness is a rite which enacts the sword of God’s word of law and gospel to bring repentance and faith. This rite allows God to speak into our lives and into our hearts in a personal way by giving us an opportunity and safe place to confess our sins and to receive a personal absolution as if from Christ himself.
Let me read (Pg 56 7.2.2)
I commit this to you for prayerful consideration and plan to teach and preach about the use of this rite in the expectation that this congregation will be able to make regular use of this gift to us from God in the following years. Amen