Put God First

Sermon 1766 Mark 10.17-27 October 17, 2021

We’ve all been there. You are arguing with your childhood friend over whether it is safe to jump off that low railroad bridge into Miller Pond. Or you are arguing with your brother or sister over how you are going to divvy up the chores, especially picking up the backyard behind your flatulent dachshund.

You come to an agreement. The pond is deep enough. It’s settled. You are going to take turns on the back yard. Now a new argument starts—“You go first,” the other person says.

Who goes first? Who will risk it first? If the pond isn’t deep enough, will the other person jump in for the sake of fairness? Who goes first? Who will do the dirty work first and then, once the yard is clean for about a week, will the other one remember the deal? Who goes first?

That’s the dilemma we all face, but it is not a childhood friend or a sibling we are dickering with. We are face to face with God and he demands

Put God First

1. God will not disappoint (17-22).

2. God will do the impossible (23-27).

Just because Jesus went out and called his first disciples, don’t think there weren’t other highly qualified candidates who volunteered! We’ve got the story of one before us today.

“As Jesus started on his way a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. ‘Good teacher,’ he asked, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life (17)?’”

Now, there’s a few things wrong with this man’s opening statement. So Jesus starts to unpack it before, well, you know how it goes. Once misstatements pile up upon exaggerations like stains on a sandstone brown carpet, you finally can’t figure out where the stains stop and where the carpet begins. “‘Why do you call me good?’ Jesus asked. ‘No one is good—except God alone (18).’”

No one is good except God alone. That will eventually stick with this man. As the story unfolds, it should stick with us, too. If we are trying to get to heaven, no one is good enough. But right now it is bouncing off him like tennis balls off a garage door.

“You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother (19).’”

Jesus directs the man to the Ten Commandments, at least the part that deals with our relationships with other people, the “love your neighbor as yourself” part. Of course the man knew the commandments. Every Jew knew the Ten Commandments. It was their Constitution, Declaration of Independence, National Anthem and bank PIN number rolled into one!

“‘Teacher,’ he declared, ‘all these I have kept since I was a boy (20).’”

Right about now, if we had our childhood friends around us and we were talking to Jesus, the eyes would be rolling and some would be sticking fists into their mouths to stifle the laughter. Kept since I was a boy? Are you kidding me? You got a spanking every day when you were young and you got off easy! You were so bad, you deserved to get spanked twice a day. But Jesus doesn’t roll his eyes. This young man was a good person, really. Jesus receives the man’s self-assessment. "I've done that—what else do I have to do?”

“Jesus looked at him and loved him. ‘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.’ At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth (21-22).”

Jesus accepts the man’s resume. He offers him a spot among the Twelve. Move over Peter, James and John. There’s going to be one more disciple. But there’s just one more thing. Back in the Medieval Roman Catholic Church they called this one more thing one of the “Evangelical Counsels.” For a man to enter the priesthood or a gal to become a nun, they must sell everything they had. Jesus told this man to sell everything he had. Every priest has to sell everything they have. But wait. Jesus never told Peter and Andrew, James and John, to sell everything they had! It seems like Peter kept his house—Jesus performed enough miracles in it. And Peter kept his boat—the disciples even go fishing in it after Jesus rose from the dead. No, far from being a new commandment for those entering a higher calling or for those who had already mastered the Ten Commandments, Jesus was trying to teach this man what the Ten Commandments really were and how we fail to keep the Ten Commandments. No one is good when measured against God’ requirements in the Ten Commandments.

Put God first. He will not disappoint.

Jesus promises this man treasures in heaven. By following Jesus this rich, young man will find out you can’t (as the preschool song goes) work hard enough, be rich enough or act nice enough to get to heaven on your own. He will find the true Savior who freely gives heaven to us on the basis of faith in him, not on the basis of trust in our own works. Put God first. Trust in him with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. God will not disappoint.

But this rich, young man can’t. He can’t sell everything he has. He is very wealthy. He can’t part with that wealth. He can’t trust that God will take care of him better than the man’s ample financial resources could take care of him. The pond is deep enough. You go first. He walks away knowing that he hasn’t kept the Ten Commandments perfectly since he was a young boy. Even now he was not keeping the very first commandment. He didn’t trust God as much as he trusted his money. He feared losing his money more than he feared losing God.

“Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, ‘How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!’ The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, ‘Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 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.’ The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, ‘Who then can be saved?’ Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God (23-27)

Put God first. God will do the impossible.

The disciples certainly weren’t in the same category as the young man they saw walking away from Jesus. But it didn’t take long for the disciples to realize something. They were as attached to wealth as he was. Whether you had a billion dollars or a thousand dollars, money had its claws in you. Jesus increases their amazement as he doubles down on the rich having a hard time getting into heaven. Easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle! Jesus here is using literal language. Easier for a big, loaded camel to go through, not a narrow city gate, but literally through the eye of a sewing needle, than it is for a rich man to get into heaven. Well, that’s impossible! It is ridiculously impossible! The disciples realize that. And, since their consciences are also bothering them that they have more than a fleeting attachment to money and the things it can buy, it is impossible for them to get to heaven. Who can be saved?

“Nobody!” Jesus replies. Nobody can get to heaven by their own works. It is impossible. But it is not impossible with God. God can do anything. God can and will do the impossible. The impossible is standing right before them. They see Jesus. The impossible has been worked in their hearts. They believe.

Let’s talk about us. Let’s talk about you. Let’s talk about me. I think Jesus’ proclamation of the Law has more than convicted us, too. Nobody’s good. Keep the commandments about loving your neighbor as much as you love yourself. Trust in God more than we trust in our money to bring us happiness. We aren’t good. We haven’t put as much love and attention and effort into others as we have put into ourselves. We don’t give God all our trust. Like people who don’t make enough money on their day job, we’ve always got a spiritual side hustle going. Hedging your bets is not faith.

Put God first. God will not disappoint.

We will live in heaven forever through our trust in God. Believe in the Lord, Jesus Christ, and you will be saved. That’s what “treasures in heaven” mean.

It is no secret there is a tremendous backlog in the harbors of America. We are so prosperous a nation, not only do we have traffic jams on our freeways, we have traffic jams of cargo ships trying to get into our ports. Toys and other presents may be in short supply come Christmas. Why should they be any different than appliances and car parts? So get ready for an onslaught of advertising saying the cool thing this Christmas is to give experiences. Visit Disneyland! Come to Tahoe! Rent a yurt for winter camping in Montana! Hit the Big Shot on top of the Strat! Explore an escape room!

That’s living. Experiences! You will forget the toys. They will be broken or lost before Easter. But your first skiing trip to Mount Charleston, that rafting trip down the Colorado! Forever memories, baby!

Well, let’s leave the Madison Avenue hype by the wayside and look at the major premise. Life’s treasures are experiences, not things. We all would agree that is correct. We’d rather be surrounded by family at the Thanksgiving table than sitting alone in a room filled with gold bars that we owned. Life’s treasures are experiences. God is promising us experiences. We will live in heaven. We will live in heaven forever. We will experience joy and happiness, love and care for all eternity. We will be able to chum with all the believers of all time. Tennis with Timothy, supper with Sarah, watching Monday Night Football with Moses. It’s always the Saints and the Angels ending in a tie. We will be with our loved ones, never forced to say “goodbye” after the holidays are over. The sights we will see! New heavens and a new earth unstained by pollution, natural disasters and death. And all of it sized to fit us and tickle us pink! And the biggest kick is to be able to be with our Lord and Savior, Jesus. To have God living among us! Billionaires can’t buy experiences like that! That is what Jesus is promising us. Treasures in heaven.

Put God first. God will do the impossible.

As wonderful as those treasures in heaven sound, however, by nature we will turn God down. Too good to be true? Figments of our imagination? False advertising on God’s part? You name it. The sinful human nature isn’t buying it. Impossible. But God will do the impossible. God will give us trust to put him first.

Jesus said it. God can get people into the kingdom of heaven. With God, all things are possible. But part of solid educational practice is to give examples of the principle. That’s why my high school math and physics teachers sent me home with so much homework. They didn’t expect me to give quiet consent to the rules of acceleration, vectors and solving quadratic equations. They wanted me to, grudgingly submit after kicking and screaming against it, 30 problems a night, odd on Mondays and Wednesdays, even on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

So here are the flesh and blood examples from the Bible. Adam didn’t trust in God after he ate the forbidden fruit. He actually implicated God in his own sin when he blamed Eve. Yet, after God gave the promise of a great hero who would destroy the devil’s power at the cost of his own life, Adam called his wife Eve, the mother of all the living. There was life with God. Or look at Abraham. God told Abraham to move to a place he would show him. To give him the power to do so, God created trust in Abraham’s heart through the promise, “All peoples on earth will be blessed through you (Genesis 12.3).” The Savior would come from Abraham’s family tree. Jacob, fleeing his murderous brother and uncertain whether a stolen birthright was really his to keep, dreams a vision of God promising to be with him and repeating the promise, “All nations will be blessed through you and your offspring (Genesis 28.14).” Jacob turned the stone he had used as a pillow into an altar to express his new trust and confidence in God. These are not obscure and hidden secrets of the Bible. These are Sunday School stories we have taught the children this fall! I could go on and on. “Faith comes from hearing the message and the message is heard through the word of Christ (Romans 10.17).” The Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life, creates faith through the Gospel, God’s good promise of forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. This faith is “not from yourselves, it is the gift of God (Ephesians 2.8).” Without that faith, every one of us would still be arguing with God over who goes first. But with that faith, the impossible becomes a blessed reality. We do

Put God First

1. God will not disappoint (17-22).

2. God will do the impossible (23-27).

There’s no arguing. Far from us being forced to go first, God has gone first. He always has. He loved us first. He sacrificed for us first. He created faith in our hearts first. Just follow his lead.

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