Down-Size to Jesus

Sermon 1827 Luke 18.18-30 October 23, 2022

Ever since the end of World War II, the American Dream has been bigger and better. Young families get married, rent, then move into a starter home. As babies arrive and finances prosper, they move on up. Four bedrooms. Five bedrooms, three car garage. 2100 square feet, no, 3000, no! 4200 with a pool and a second floor balcony outside the master bedroom! But the Baby Boomers have aged and started a counter-trend--down-sizing. The breakfast glare off the pool gives them migraines and good pool service is hard to find. With creaking knees, those stairs are a bit much. Would the kids be traumatized if their old bedrooms, unchanged from the days she was on Homecoming Court and he got honorable mention on the soccer team, were cleaned out?

Outcomes are not a sure thing. Realtors report those seeking to down-size may be ready to pay top dollar for a one story 1500 square foot home, but they may be equally ready to sell their 2500 square foot two story for a 3100 square foot five bedroom two story. The secret lies in two questions. “What do I need?” and “What can I have?”

Those are good questions. Maybe we should ask them more often, especially when it comes to what we want out of life, this life and the next.

Down-Size to Jesus

1. What do I need? (18-23)

2. What can I have? (24-30)

A guy with a lot of stuff comes up to Jesus one day. His heart is in the right place. “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life (18)?”

He’s got a lot of class. He knows how to flatter people, how to lay the groundwork for successful collaborations. My good friends, my irreplaceable co-workers. My esteemed members of the jury. Smooth. He knows how things are done.

But that’s not how God works. “Why do you call me good? No one is good—except God alone,” Jesus responds (19). Schmooze will get you nowhere with God. You don’t need charm and sophistication before God. It isn’t going to earn you anything. There’s too much rotting food in pantry for your air freshener to cover. Nobody is good, Jesus says. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. So don’t go thinking you can earn your way to heaven.

It must have been apparent the guy hadn’t caught on, so Jesus runs through some of the simpler commandments. “Don’t cheat with someone’s wife, don’t murder anyone, don’t steal, cut the gossip, listen to mom and dad.” Softballs. Jesus didn’t want to make him look like a fool in front of everyone.

Check, check, done, done and done! What next?

“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 (22).”

This man could be the 13th apostle! Down-size. Give up your wealth, all of it. What I want you to do, you can’t carry that baggage. Give it to the poor.

Jesus was serious. The man didn’t need all that stuff. If he followed Jesus he would learn that Jesus was more than a “good teacher.” Through Jesus’ teachings, the Holy Spirit would sustain the growing conviction in the man’s heart that Jesus was the Savior. Through his miracles, Jesus would reveal himself as the powerful Son of God who cared and used his power to help. It would deepen the man’s new faith. Walk with Jesus and you were on the path to heaven.

“When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was a man of great wealth (23).” He couldn’t down-size for Jesus. What did he need? Everything he had now.

What puts that special shine on you and me that will win a hearing from God? What is our entry ticket to heaven? Is it all the good things we’ve done? I am the patron saint of dogs. That should count for something. I never say a harsh word to anyone. God should like that. I try to be the best neighbor I can be. I never cause a ruckus and my lawn decorations are always in line with HOA guidelines. God needs people who won’t rock the boat in heaven. If I don’t get to heaven, nobody will.

What do I need? The sinful human nature says we need it all. Our pride. Our resilience. Our can-do attitude. And who can object? These are the best sides of the human race. But who cares if a mass murderer always took care of his pets? How can always paying your taxes make up for running over a Greenspun student in the walkway right after school? And let’s face it, a lot of times we are only good as we have to be to cover over the times we were as bad as we could get away with.

“How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God (25).”

Ah, don’t try to rationalize Jesus’ words. He meant what he said. The eye of a needle. A sewing needle. Try to get a camel squeezed through that. Impossible. Same way for a rich person who is so used to making his own way, creating his own luck, lifting himself up by his own bootstraps and helping others up to the mountaintop as well. Impossible for such a person to enter heaven by his own works. You don’t need them.

Down-size to Jesus.

God always offers an alternative. There is always a way. Every wall comes to an end. Through his use of the Ten Commandments, Jesus has shown this self-assured rich man he hadn’t even kept the First Commandment. He loved his stuff more than he loved God. But the real way to heaven was right in front of the man’s eyes—Jesus! Let’s get back to that in a moment.

Down-size to Jesus. What can I have?

The whole scene hit the disciples hard. It wasn’t that they were rich, but they liked stuff. If you had to give up everything to follow Jesus, if you had to endure food insecurity to be saved, who would make the cut? And Peter got to thinking. “We have left all we had to follow you!”

“I tell you the truth,” Jesus said to them, “no one who has left home or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age and, in the age to come, eternal life (29-30).”

It comes down to what I can have. Anybody looking to buy a home takes stock in what they can have. If I am planning on living in Nevada, ocean front property is not in the mix. Sweeping vistas from on top of your mountain retreat are not in the picture for Florida residents. What Jesus offers us is breathtaking.

Eternal life. For the young this is hard to comprehend. They are alive. They are going to be young forever! It reminds me of the difficulties a great pastor of yesteryear had in Santa Barbara. He had founded a tremendously successful church in Garden Grove—they had grown so quickly during the construction they had to increase the size of the church by a third—that’s why to this day one roofline extends almost to the ground! Then he got to Santa Barbara and his efforts landed in a muffled thud. “It’s hard to convince the people of Santa Barbara that there is another heaven,” he explained.

Even if we are young, none of us are living in Santa Barbara. It is not so hard to see the advantages of heaven. To live forever. To have such a forever life so secured for you that nobody has to warn you about behaviors that can cut your life short. Downed power lines. Drug overdoses. Flooded roadways. Buckling your seat belt. Preventative screenings for cancer. Low fat diets. Floss! Behind all these pitches is the unspoken warning, “If you don’t do this you will die!” Talk about scare tactics! And people gripe about God when he lays down the Law to us?

But that eternal life seems to be out of my price range. With man—impossible! Jesus says. But not with God. With God all things are possible.

Now let’s get back to something I put aside just a minute ago. I’m ready to take it up now. Jesus.

What can I have? In Jesus I can have heaven. Throughout his life Jesus travelled lean and mean. He didn’t drag a lot of stuff with him, even for his day. No banquet halls filled with the finest of wines and the richest meats. No palaces overlooking Mediterranean beaches. Birds had their nests. Foxes had holes in the ground. The Son of Man didn’t know where he was going to sleep the next night. When the authorities arrested him on that Thursday before his death, he had been camping out in a park for the week. The only thing of value on his person at his execution was a seamless robe. The soldiers cast lots to see who would get that. If ever someone had down-sized for God, Jesus was it.

And what did it get him? Ridicule from his own people. Scorn from those being executed with him. But worst of all, the Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all, Isaiah says. God treated Jesus as if he were the only hoarder in this world, a hoarder who had saved up, catalogued and treasured all the sin there ever was.

That’s why we have eternal life. The Father was so pleased that his innocent and holy Son would make such a sacrifice for us, he freely gave Jesus his request. He forgave the sins of all the world. And where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation. You and I are going to live forever in heaven because of Jesus.

No weary bones, no gray heads, no listening to all the warnings about doing this or taking that or else you will die. In heaven we could be log rolling on great white sharks and we wouldn’t die! In heaven we could be playing jump rope with high energy transmission lines and we wouldn’t die! Death will be an impossibility in heaven. Death will be the last enemy Jesus destroys on the Last Day when he returns to take us and all believers to himself in heaven. Everything this life isn’t, that life is.

I should give all of us about three hours to let the idea of eternal life sink in. We never give it the time it deserves, even in a sermon.

There is even more I can have as I down-size to Jesus.

Did you remember what Jesus told Peter? “No one who has left home or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age.”

Already in this age, in this world, we will have blessings from the Lord.

Driven by our sinful human nature (which always gets it wrong), we think Jesus is presenting us with an either/or proposition. It is either him or family. That is a false comparison. It is a both/and proposition. We are to put Jesus first. That’s the First Commandment. “Fear, love and trust in God above all things.” God comes first. So if my family were confirmed atheists for the past three generations, I am not going to let my family heritage lead me to turn a deaf ear to Jesus. By the power of the Holy Spirt working new life in my heart through the Gospel, I will cling to Jesus as my Savior.

But it is a both/and situation. Don’t you remember Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount words about worry? “Seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness and all these other things will be given to you as well (Matthew 6.13).” It’s both/and. We see the same thing in Jesus’ words to Peter in our text. You will not “fail to receive many times as much in this age.” Jesus doesn’t specify what the “many times” are. If I give up a bicycle and get a Land Rover, I’m not going to gripe that I lost my bicycle. If I lose a bushel basket of bad apple friends and find myself surrounded by people who care for me and, by their great examples, help me be a better person, I am not going to bewail the bad old days. If through my uncharacteristic humility and gentleness the Holy Spirit brings the Gospel to my atheist relatives and melts their hearts of stone, turning them to Jesus, I am not going to fret that heaven will be overcrowded! Blessings on a far greater magnitude await everyone who down-sizes to Jesus. Through faith in Jesus, I can have a lot.

Down-Size to Jesus

1. What do I need? (18-23)

2. What can I have? (24-30)

Got to admit one more thing—Americans hate down-sizing. It forces them to make decisions and evaluations on lifetime behaviors and acquisitions. That’s why I think Americans should love down-sizing to Jesus. Yes, it is a total break with the past. Yes, much has to go, but it seems what has to be thrown away never really worked that well to begin with! What should really makes down-sizing for Jesus attractive to Americans is that it offers so much. A bigger and better future! So American. And a rewarding right now! Down-size to Jesus.

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