MARK 10: 17-31
I got good news and I got bad news. The good news is you don’t have to sell everything you have and give it to the poor. The bad news is if when I read this verse and you thought, “ I hope the preacher says I don’t have to give away all my money,” you too are the rich man. We are all the rich man in some respect. It just depends where we put our riches. It depends on what we value. If we wish to inherit eternal life we must know where to find it. We must move from tunnel vision to eternal vision. Tunnel vision is caused by putting our treasures in the wrong place. Eternal vision is caused by putting our treasures in the right place. Today I have three points
- Jesus is saying to the rich man he has the wrong type of vision
- The rich man suffered from tunnel vision and so do we
- Jesus wants us to have eternal vision.
First, Jesus made clear to the rich man and to his own disciples that they had the wrong type of vision. When Jesus told the rich man to sell everything he had and give it to the poor, the scriptures say the man was saddened, literally the text suggests a storm or cloud came over his soul, and he turned away. Jesus disciples made a different decision than the rich man. Many of them had given up a significant amount to follow Jesus. What they are shocked by is not that the rich man turned away because they had made a different choice and perhaps they had come to see how hard of a choice following Jesus was. No they were shocked that Jesus ascribes consequences to the man’s decision. Jesus basically says the man might lose eternal life because he did not obey Jesus’ command to him, to sell all that he had and give it to the poor. They thought it was a matter of personal choice.
They like most people at the time believed if you have lots of money you deserve it. Not only do you deserve it God gave it to you. Not only did God give it to you but he gave it to you in response to your obedience. Being wealthy in the ancient mind and in today’s mind meant not only that you deserve your wealth, but that you are a better person, that you are blessed. And Jesus challenges this notion by saying to his disciples,
“Children, how difficult 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 person to enter the kingdom of God. And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved? Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.”
Some have suggested Jesus may have meant a large rope called a howser which fisherman would use as an anchor. This would make sense since Jesus’ disciples were fisherman. Whether it is a camel or a giant rope the point is it is impossible to pass large things through the eye of a needle.
But Jesus says nothing is impossible with God.
For a long time I thought Jesus was saying if I just believed with enough intensity in God nothing would be impossible. But the word Jesus uses for “with” God perhaps better means to come alongside God. Indeed, Jesus calls the Holy Spirit the comforter, the one who comes along of us. So it came to me that Jesus didn’t mean nothing would be impossible if we believed in God. He said nothing would be impossible if we went where God is going. Nothing would be impossible if we go where Jesus is going. If we follow him. We have to follow Jesus because even though we can’t see where we are going he sees what is down the road. Even though we can’t see a way through the eye of a needle, Jesus can. We think passing a camel or an anchor through the eye of a needle is impossible because we are not seeing what Jesus sees. But if we saw what Jesus saw we wouldn’t think it was impossible. Jesus is saying that the rich man and the disciples were not seeing clearly. Even though Jesus’ disciples followed him they have no idea where they are going. And because of that they deny him. The rich man and the disciples suffer from tunnel vision. They have tunnel vision because they feel like they lack something. They are operating from a mentality of scarcity. They do not believe that their Father in heaven provides for the sparrows so He will provide for them.
The Rich Man makes clear that he feels like something is missing in his life. Jesus is about to leave town so that is why the man rushes to find him. Perhaps he felt comfortable in his life. But stories of what Jesus was doing reminded him of an emptiness inside himself. The man knew there was a problem but he couldn’t see what the problem was. He had kept the law with a good heart. Jesus does not dispute this. Jesus does not suggest that his wealth came through ill gotten gains or that the man misused his wealth. This seems to be an honest man ,who did good work, who was deeply committed to his faith, and had did well in his life. And still he felt it wasn’t enough.
The man thought it was about something he wasn’t doing. But Jesus loved him and he told him his problem. It wasn’t about what the man was or was not doing. It was about where the man was looking. It was about where the man’s treasure was because that was where his heart was. The man was sincere in his confession he was just sincerely wrong in his direction. The man thought his heart was for the Lord but Jesus loved him and told him his heart was with his wealth. If the man could have seen the weight of glory Jesus saw he would have sold everything with the joy of a man who had found a pearl of great price. But to see treasures in heaven your heart has to be Jesus’ heart. Jesus statement about the camel passing through the eye of a needle isn’t a judgment of every individual rich person. Jesus does not say that the man is certainly damned. He just says that it is hard for people like the rich man to enter the Kingdom. It is a general principle not a particular judgment. We have to have the right mind to see. The man could not see. So though he was sincere he did not sincerely embrace eternal life because he did not have eternal vision. You can’t have eternal life until you have eternal vision. Eternal vision breaks us out of tunnel vision. Though it can be a struggle not to fall back into tunnel vision.
We cannot hide from Jesus. We may be nice to him and call him good teacher. But only God is good. If you want to call him good either call him God or go find someone else to flatter and ask for religious advice. But if you really want eternal life, if you really want to see through the eye of the needle, give your life to him, and he will show you where you have put your treasures. When he shows us we have a choice. Continue to follow him. Or turn away. If we turn away perhaps we never saw Jesus in the first place. Maybe we only saw who we wanted Jesus to be. Maybe we turn away because we are hoarders with tunnel vision. Just some of us are lucky enough that the things we hoard can’t be seen by others. Because they are misplaced values in our heart and not physical stuff.
First, Jesus says to the rich man his vision is wrong. His eyes are not where they need to be. Second, he tells us that we all have a terminal case of tunnel vision. Finally, he says to enter into eternal life we need eternal vision. This is saving faith. But true faith will have costly consequences for every disciple. It is just that consequences will vary depending upon where we put our treasures.
You can’t enter into eternal life until you have eternal vision. You can’t pass through the eye of the needle unless you follow Jesus to lead you through something that is impossible to get through on your own. Even if we are a good person, even if we have led an upstanding life, even if you pulled yourself up by your bootstraps, your very pride in these things is what keeps you from seeing Jesus. As Richard Foster, says in Celebration of Discipline, living a simple life faithful to the Lord isn’t about how much stuff you do or do not have it is about where your heart is at. And the fact remains where you put your money and your time usually shows where your heart is at. In a shifting world we need a place to stand and that place is Matthew 6:33, “seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be given unto you.” We cling to Jesus as tight as we can and we hold the rest of life loosely. I have come to see that what we see is fundamentally determined by our fundamental assumptions and beliefs. People can change. It is just our experience is that people do not change because we don’t know how people do change.
I am talking about what the scriptures call the fruit of the spirit, the particular fruit being the fruit of self control. I have become increasingly convinced that though I am a sinner, if I walk with Jesus, full of the Spirit, he can change my mind, how I react to the world, and even the emotions I have. And when I react to the world differently God can use me and guide me down a path where all things are possible with God. God can change not just how we react to our circumstance but how we feel about our circumstances.
As many of you know one of our long term members Dan Dickenson went to be with the Lord two weeks ago. I had the chance to visit Dan and his wife Karen and offer communion to them both. Dan and Karen met at Calvin so Calvin has a special place in their heart as it does in the hearts of many. Before Dan passed I got to sit down with Karen. And we talked for a long while. I notice a book in her room entitled, “The Perfect Wife,” and I was like, “wow that is sort of what I am looking for.” The book is about the life and choices of Laura Bush. Even though I wasn’t exactly a fan of her husband’s administration I try to have a teachable spirit. So I asked about the book. We talked about the book for a while and I asked Karen the key to a successful marriage? I don’t remember exactly what she said but in so many words it was something like be considerate of the other person and love the other person more than yourself. She talked about all the ways Dan had loved her well. And when she called me on Saturday I could feel the deep grief from losing such deep love. In that moment I saw with eternal vision. I saw that though Dan had done great things in his life, being the first Director of Westminster Canteburry being one of them, he held the things he had loosely. He did not use his wealth for himself he used his wealth to love. To love his wife and to love others. And it reminded me of the deep ache within myself to have such a relationship. I felt the lack of that love. But is that feeling true?
I have often referenced an experience of the Lord’s love that I had in March of this year. The outline of it is this. The LORD introduced me to who I thought was my perfect woman, and he said I couldn’t have her. He spoke to me from far away and said I have loved you with an undying love. I have loved you with loving kindness, I will build you up again, and you shall be rebuilt. This comes from Jeremiah chapter 31. When the Lord gave me this scripture a strange thing happened. Late at night, when I was alone in my bed, I began to feel a heat, a warmth around my chess. I believe it was the Lord saying that he would love me more than any woman could. Richard Foster, the author the Spiritual Disciplines book we are going through, wrote about a similar experience at a seminar he was teaching. He asked what he should teach. And the Lord told him, “tell them I want to warm their hearts.” At the seminar he found a pastor who was very popular but burned out on the inside. He prayed for that pastor and the pastor described the same experience I had alone in my bed. His heart was physically warmed as a sign that God was working on the inside. I wondered how could a man I have never met before describe an experience I am having if there is not a God who loves us who made those two things happen independently of one another? Every ones mind and emotions are different. Yet we seem to have common emotional experiences. Could there be a God that binds us together? Could there be an eternal person in whom we live and move and have our being? Could there be a God who loves us and can show us the way through the eye of the needle? My friends the light is not at the end of the tunnel. The light has destroyed the tunnel and torn apart the veil. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. The light makes straight the way of the Lord. He raises every valley and flattens every mountain. I see a vast horizon. I see a weight of glory that shall cover the earth as the waters cover the sea. I see treasures in heaven. I see a pearl of great price and my heart cries out, “glory and honor to the lion and the lamb!” Today this day the Lord says unto you,
“I want to warm your hearts” I want to be your vision.” Wherever you are today. Whatever you are going through, the Lord wants to warm your heart today. He can be your vision, he can be our vision, he can be my vision.
“Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart; Nought be all else to me, save that Thou art-though my best thought, by day or by night, Waking our sleeping thy presence my light. Riches I heed not, nor vain, empty praise, Thou mine inheritance, now and always: Thou and Thou only first in my heart, Great God of heaven, my treasure thou art. Be thou my wisdom, and thou my true word; I ever with thee and thou with me Lord; Heart of my own heart, whatever befall, Still be my vision, O Ruler of all.”
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.