Sunday, October 11, 2009

What Must I NOT Do to Be Saved?

Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost
October 11, 2009
Mark 10:17-22

You do a lot of things. Conversely, there’s a lot of things you don’t do. A lot of what you do you do purposefully, a lot you simply do with no thought to it. At the same time, there are things you don’t do because you choose not to do them, just as there are things you don’t do because it never comes to mind.

Today’s Gospel reading is all about doing and not doing. In other words, it’s just like life. There are two people here, Jesus and a man who comes up to Him, both of whom are doing distinct things and not doing distinct things.

Jesus is as He always is. He is doing something but not just anything. He is going about His specific work of salvation. Mark says Jesus is setting out on His journey. We know where that journey led Him, to the cross. Nobody else around had a clue that that’s what Jesus was doing.

Certainly not the man who showed up who likewise was doing something very specific. Accomplishing a lifetime of obeying God’s Law, he found in his life there was still something missing. Jesus, what must I do to be saved? There’s got to be something more than what I’ve already done.

His focus was on what he must do. Jesus answers that it is not what he must do but what he must NOT do. What He is getting at is the First Commandment: You shall have no other gods.

Interesting, then, that He doesn’t mention that commandment at all. He lists seven commandments. The first three of the Ten Commandments He doesn’t state. The ones He does all deal with the second table of the Law, the ones dealing with our relationship with others. The first three commandments, the first table of the Law, deal with our relationship with God. The first table is the one Jesus is concerned with with the man who seeks to gain eternal life. The whole Law is summed up in the First Commandment: You shall have no other gods.

What must you do to be saved? It’s what you must NOT do. You must have no other gods. This was this man’s problem. This is our basic problem. We have other gods. We put all kinds of things in place of God. Actually, that we place many things in place of the true God is the way we place ourselves in front of God.

If we search for what we must do we will not find it. Rather, God says, You shall have no other gods. Jesus was the one rightly doing something in this episode. He was on His way. He was heading to the cross. That’s where salvation takes place. Not in your heart where you are proud of yourself for obeying the second table of the Law. You take care of your ailing parents and patiently put up with their eccentricities and demands. You bite your tongue when your co-worker makes backhanded insults to you. You obey copyright laws even when no one would ever know if you didn’t. These are all good things. And we should do them. God’s Law is clear on that. But do these things end up becoming our gods? The apostle Paul even said of himself that before he became a Christian “as to righteousness under the Law, I was blameless” (Philippians 3:6).

The man who was seeking salvation from Jesus went to the right person. But he had it all wrong. Jesus, what must I do? No, it’s rather what you must not do. Why did Jesus go to the cross if you could gain salvation from obeying the Law? Why was Jesus so intent on getting to that cross if it came down to you doing something in order to be saved?

It’s what you must not do to be saved that Jesus drives home in His directive to the man, to sell all he has and follow Him. The man was convinced he had kept all the commandments. Jesus doesn’t dispute that. His reply is simple: “You lack one thing.” The one thing is the only thing. It is the main thing and the thing without which you have you have nothing. It is having no other gods. It is fearing, loving, and trusting in God above all things.

Money may not be your thing, like it was for that man. It may be your charisma, or your unwavering service to others, or your comfortable habit of being here in God’s House when it’s convenient, or your consistency in being here in God’s House. There are a lot of things we do. So often in our lives what we do reflects our natural penchant toward ourselves rather than having no other gods.

The man walked away from Jesus and what he had been seeking, eternal life, not because his wealth was his god, but because he himself was his god. If what you do gains for yourself eternal life you don’t need Jesus. The man didn’t want Jesus, he wanted Jesus to clue him in on what he was still lacking. Or perhaps he just wanted Jesus to confirm the man’s worthiness. You’re good to go, pal. Keep up the good work. Wish there were more guys like you.

But Jesus gives us the one thing we lack, and that is, well, it’s Him. Jesus gives us Himself. He is the heart of the First Commandment. Having no other gods means nothing other than Jesus is your hope of salvation. Jesus didn’t go to the cross for nothing. He went to the cross for the world. Nobody was doing anything that accomplished their salvation while Jesus was hanging on the cross. Jesus was doing it all. Salvation is in Him: His suffering, His death, His resurrection.

What you must not do to be saved is have other gods. What you must do is nothing. You’re very good at doing all the things you do and very good at not doing all the things you don’t do. Don’t continue down that road. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. It’s also the road of a lot of people doing a lot of things; many of them good, wonderful things—loving people, being kind to them, obeying God’s Law.

The road to salvation is the road Jesus walked. It’s the road that led to the cross and continues on from the empty tomb. This is the road you follow. You’ll still be tempted to think of this road you’re on, the one of following Jesus, as one in which you’re doing good things for Jesus. I’m following Jesus, it’s a good thing I’m doing this! I serve Jesus, it’s a good thing I’m doing what He wants!

But on this road Jesus will keep bringing you back down to earth: There is one thing you lack, and that is Me. What I accomplished on Calvary. What I give to you in My Holy Supper, My very Body and Blood, given and shed for you. In this way He raises you up to heaven. Amen.


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