A Loving Look

Sermon for the Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost based on Mark 10:17-22

Dear people who are greatly blessed: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Do you want Jesus to look at you lovingly? Sounds like a simple enough question with a simple enough answer: of course I want Jesus to look at me lovingly. The rich young man who ran up to Jesus would probably have answered the same way before he knew what it meant.

The rich young man showed great enthusiasm as he ran up to Jesus and knelt before Him on the ground. “Good Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Surely this Jesus, as a great teacher, would know what he had to do.

Jesus answered his question. If he wants to do something to be saved, he has to do it through the Law. He has to keep the Law. Jesus says, “You know the commandments” and He lists off several of them: “Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honour your father and mother.” If you want to do something to be saved, here’s what you have to do; you have to keep the Law.

But the Law bounces off of the rich young man. It has no effect on him. He replies to Jesus’ preaching of the Law, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” He thinks he’s done everything necessary to save himself. He sees no sin in himself. He thinks he has met all of the demands of God’s Law.

So Jesus looked at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure I heaven; and come follow me.” That’s what Jesus tells you when He looks at you with love? Sell everything you have and give to the poor. So again, I ask, do you want Jesus to look at you lovingly?

Now before you answer “no” to that question, let’s examine why Jesus would answer this rich man in such a way. How could it be loving to tell the man to sell everything he has and give to the poor?

The rich man thinks that he has kept God’s Law. The Law has not done its work in his heart. If you can hear the preaching of the Law as this rich man and confidently say that you have done it all, then the Law is not done with you yet. You have to get to the point that the Law is too much to bear; that the Law demands too much from you.

Jesus had to hit him one more time with the Law to wake him up to the realization that he has not and cannot keep God’s Law. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and come follow me. Isn’t this what the First Commandment demands of us? God must be first in our hearts. Nothing else can be more important. No possession, no person, nothing.

Jesus looked lovingly at the rich young man, and crushed him with the Law. The man then recognized his attachment to his riches. Thus, he was disheartened by Jesus’ saying and he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. He didn’t want to give up what he had. He was more attached to his earthly possessions than he was to God. Jesus lovingly showed this to him so that he would realize that he has not and cannot keep God’s Law.

Immediately following this, Jesus says, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” And “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” (vv. 23, 25) This shocked the disciples. They undoubtedly thought, as many do today, that being rich is an indication that God is pleased with you because He is so richly blessing you with wealth and possessions. Surely if God has blessed you in this life He will bless you in the life to come, right? But Jesus says it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.

The more we have, the more easily we become attached to it. Wealth can also quickly become fuel poured on the fire of our appetites and lusts as it enables us to pursue our appetites and lusts. Wealth also brings a certain power, along with the thinking that we are able to control our own lives and even manipulate the lives of others since we have the means to do so. Certainly very often wealth leads us to focus more on ourselves and tempts us into selfish and unfruitful choices, leading us away from loving our neighbour as ourselves. And certainly we as a nation have been blessed with more wealth than many generations before us and many nations around the world.

So at this time of Thanksgiving, what are you thankful for? We are very often ready to give thanks to God for the wealth that He has given to us. But how often are we ready to thank God for what we do not have; to thank Him that we don’t have all the wealth our hearts would desire, knowing the temptations it would bring? Even further, when we pray, do we pray that God would take away from us that which is not good for us? Do we pray, “Christ Jesus, Lord of our lives, destroy all that we have built with our hands, and bring to ruin all of our plans, and frustrate all our hopes that would seek more than is good for us”? Do we pray, “Lord God, open my selfish and greedy heart to release my sinful grasp on the possessions you have entrusted into my stewardship so that I would generously give to those in need”? Do we pray, “Lord, cause my pension fund to crash, my house to burn down, and my car to be stolen because I am too attached to my possessions”? I don’t think those are prayers that we pray. But we should pray in exactly this way. We should pray that God take away from us that which would lead us away from Him.

We don’t know what the end result was for the rich young man who came to Jesus, but Jesus didn’t just look at him lovingly to hammer him with the Law. Jesus looked at him lovingly to lead him to see his sinfulness and his need for a Saviour. Jesus does the same to you. Whether you want it or not, Jesus does look at you lovingly. He lovingly uses the Law to crush your thinking that you have kept the law perfectly. He lovingly brings you to despair so that you might despair in yourself, not in Him. Jesus leads you to despair in yourself so that you will cling to His promises. He leads you to despair in doing something to get eternal life so that He will give you eternal life as a free gift.

As often as the Law accuses you of your sins, you must admit that the Law is right. You are guilty. The Law is too much to bear; it demands too much. You are a sinner and have not, do not, and will never keep God’s Law perfectly. But Jesus did keep the Law perfectly in your place. Although the Law demands too much of us, Jesus met the Law’s demands. His entire life was for us and our salvation. He died for us and in our stead. We should have been the ones crucified for our sins. We should have suffered hell for our sins.

Instead, Jesus was crucified for us. He suffered hell for our sins. By His agony and bloody sweat; by His cross and passion; by His precious death and burial; by His glorious resurrection and ascension Jesus saved us. All our sins are forgiven. Jesus paid off the debt of sins of the entire world. He satisfied God’s wrath against the sins of the whole world.

Because Jesus paid the debt of the sins of the whole world, you can know with certainty that He paid the debt of your sin. Your sin is covered. Your sin is removed from you as far as the east is from the west. Your sin is forgiven.

So do you want Jesus to look at you lovingly? Yes, absolutely. If He looks at you lovingly as He crushes you with the Law, know that it is only so that He can comfort you with the Gospel, the sweet and comforting forgiveness of sins. There is nothing for you to do to inherit eternal life; Jesus has already done it for you. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Jesus, Do You Not Care?

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost based on Mark 4:35-41

Dear disciples in the boat: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

“Teacher, do you not care?” The disciples were fighting just to keep the boat afloat. The great windstorm brought waves crashing into the boat. The boat was already filling with water. Soaked and tired, the disciples fear that they are perishing. Doesn’t Jesus care? He’s in the stern sleeping! The disciples are fighting for their lives while Jesus takes a snooze. “Teacher, do you not care?”

We’ve been there. We have faced the storms of this life and wondered whether or not Jesus cares. When the diagnosis of cancer comes, does Jesus care? When the loss of employment comes, does Jesus care? When health deteriorates and death seems inevitable, is Jesus sleeping?

In Psalm 44 we pray, “Awake! Why are you sleeping, O Lord? Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever!” (v. 23) Sometimes to us it does seem like God is sleeping. We pray, but the wind only seems to get stronger and the waves bigger. We pray but hear no answer. Our boat is getting filled up and we are at the point of despair. Does God even know what I’m going through? Where is He? Is He sleeping?

Psalm 121 tells us, “He who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.” (vv. 3-4) God does not sleep as we do. Here we see the distinction in the persons of the Trinity. God the Son was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. He became man.

Only by becoming man could the Son of God suffer and die for us. Only by becoming man could He fulfil the Law of God on our behalf. Only by becoming man could He become tired and require sleep.

God the Father does not sleep. Yet, Jesus, God in the flesh did sleep. He tired Himself serving mankind. He wore Himself out teaching the crowds, dealing with hatred and opposition. Jesus exhausted Himself carrying our sins, sorrows, and sicknesses. Jesus was so worn out that He could sleep through a great storm in a small boat while waves beat upon it and great waves crashed inside of it.

Yet Jesus did what we should all do in such a situation. He entrusted Himself to God the Father who will neither slumber nor sleep. Jesus knew that everything is in the Father’s hands. Human though He was, Jesus had no fear. He slept soundly through the storm because He feared God more than the storm. He knew the Father’s will was good, even if it meant His death.

Jesus is the only one who has ever kept the First Commandment – You shall have no other gods. Whatever we fear, love, and trust above all things is our god. Jesus did not fear, love, or trust in anything other than the Father, even while the disciples cried out in fear. The disciples feared the storm more than anything else. At that moment they did not love or trust God.

This we have to admit of ourselves as well. In the storms of our lives, we have often not feared, loved, and trusted in God above all things. We have had fear of our situation instead of fearing God. We have loved what we were losing instead of loving God. We have trusted in what was being taken away from us instead of trusting in God. We have cried out, “Jesus, do you not care?” when He is right there in the boat with us.

Scripture tells us time and time again, that we have nothing to fear. Ps 27 says, “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” Isaiah 41 says, “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God”. Matthew 28 says, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” We are only to fear God.

We don’t need to fear loss, illness, or even death. Unbelievers fear such things. We don’t need to fear natural disasters, war, or plague. Those who do not fear God fear such things. We do not have to fear any of these things. Instead of sleepless nights worrying about such things, we should be able to sleep soundly even in the midst of whatever storm is crashing into our boat. While others around us despair about perishing, we should be calm, trusting in the Lord who created all things and still takes care of them and controls them with His powerful Word.

Our solution, however, is not in our ability to fear, love, and trust in God above all things. Our solution is that Jesus did fear, love, and trust in God the Father above all things. Jesus didn’t keep all the Commandments as God, but He kept them all as man. He kept the Commandments for us, so He had to keep them as a man. He is our only solution. He did what we have failed to do.

Jesus also suffered as a man for us. He had to become man so that He could suffer and die on the cross in our place. This also was no easy task, because Jesus was true man. Jesus was true man, that’s why He was in such agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus was true man, thus His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground (Lk. 22:44). He prayed that if it was the Father’s will, He would not have to drink the cup of the anger and wrath of God (Lk. 22:42). Yet, Jesus was ready to do the will of the Father even in this. Jesus did drink the cup for us and suffered hell for us. Jesus took our punishment on Himself, suffering for us and for our salvation.

Baptized into His name, we have nothing to fear. Whatever storms of life we must face in our boat, we know that Jesus is with us. We don’t need to fear the wind or the waves. Jesus will rebuke the wind and say, “Peace! Be still!”

Jesus might not say this when we want Him to say it. We may cry to Him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” He may seem to us to be sleeping. But because Jesus feared, loved, and trusted in God above all things and died for our failure to do so, the storms of this life will cease. Through death we will awaken to the peace and stillness of Paradise. Through death Jesus takes us from the storms of this life to the great calm of our eternal home. Jesus does care. “If the boat goes down, He goes with us. We couldn’t be safer.” (Quote from Rev. Norman Nagel) Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.