Mark 10, 17-31
TITLE: Gambling on Jesus!
SCRIPTURE: Mark 10:17-31
The story is told of a middle-aged man who came to talk to his pastor. He was depressed. His life seemed meaningless. He had been quite successful, but his money didn't seem to be buying him happiness. Something seemed to be missing. His life felt flat. He thought that he should be getting more pleasure out of his success, and he was trying to figure out what to do.
The pastor remembered something that Karl Menninger, the famous psychiatrist, had said. Menninger said that, when you are feeling blue, you should get out of the house, go across the tracks, find someone in need, and help them. The pastor told the man about that, and said, "Perhaps you should use your money to help people in need -- give some of it away."
The man thought for a moment, and with a wry smile on his face said, "Preacher, I'm not sure that I'm that desperate to be happy."
In our scripture today, a rich man came to Jesus. He treated Jesus with great respect, kneeling at his feet and addressing him as "Good Teacher." He had a question that had been rolling around in the back of his mind for some time, and he saw Jesus' visit as an opportunity to get an answer. "Good Teacher," he said, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?"
This was a rich man -- a man with many possessions -- most likely a man who had inherited a good deal of land from his father. Such a man would understand inheritances. He would know the Old Testament rules – how much the first son should get and how much the other sons should get. He would also know that it was possible for a father to disinherit his son. The fact that he asked about the requirements for inheriting eternal life tells us that he was a careful man -- the kind of man who would maintain a good relationship with his father so that he would get his full inheritance.
"Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" Good question! Today, we would say, "What must I do to be saved?" It is a life-or-death question!
"Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" This man had gotten a good inheritance from his earthly father. Now he wanted to be sure to insure a good inheritance from his heavenly father. He was rich in this life. Now he wanted to make sure that he would be rich in the next life. "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?"
Jesus answered, "You know the commandments: 'You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother." The man said, "Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth."
I don't know whether that man had really kept all those commandments, but very possibly he had. He almost certainly hadn't murdered anyone. He probably hadn't committed adultery. A good lawyer could surely prove that he had never stolen anything.
At any rate, the man thinks that he has done everything that Jesus has told him to do, so you would think that Jesus would say, "Keep up the good work!" -- but Jesus doesn't say that. Jesus said:
"You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me."
And the man was shocked! Shocked! He had expected Jesus to say, "Attaboy!" He had expected Jesus to say, "Keep up the good work!" He had thought that Jesus might say, "Put in a good word for me with your rich friends." But never, in his worst nightmare, did he think that Jesus would tell him to give away his money. So he went away grieving, because he had many possessions.
When we hear that story, we think, "Foolish man -- to trade away eternal life for money." But I don't think the man thought he was trading eternal life for money. He was saddened by Jesus' answer, but I think he planned to get a second opinion. There were lots of rabbis around. Surely one of them would give a better answer.
But those of you who memorized the Ten Commandments will realize that Jesus listed only a few of the commandments for this man. He left out the big one -- the first commandment -- "You shall have no other gods before me" (Exod. 20:3).
When Jesus listed the commandments for this man, he listed the easy ones -- "You shall not commit murder" and "You shall not steal." The man said that he had kept those commandments, and he probably had.
But Jesus could see that there was something missing. This man had not done as well with the first commandment -- "You shall have no other gods before me." Did this man have anything that he loved more than he God? Jesus knew a good way to find out. He said, "Go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor." That would be the big test.
The man responded by walking away -- walking away sadly, for sure, but walking away nonetheless.
He had come to Jesus with the question, "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" and Jesus had said, "You must rearrange the furniture of your life so that nothing is standing between you and God." And then, knowing this man's heart, Jesus said, "In your case, that means getting rid of your furniture altogether."
And the man went away sadly, because he was happy with the furniture of his life.
John Killinger is a Presbyterian pastor -- a former professor of preaching at Vanderbilt. On one occasion Killinger was attending a conference in Texas when a woman came running up to him. She said, "Do you know what I used to be?" It was a Disciples of Christ church, so he thought that she might have been something dastardly -- like a Methodist or a Baptist --but she said, "No, I wasn't any of those. I was a professional gambler."
She told him about going to Las Vegas with $5,000 in her pocket and watching that grow to $109,000 at the gambling tables. She said, "I bet that $109,000 on one turn of the wheel. That was the biggest risk I had ever taken in my life -- and I lost!"
Then she said, "Since then I have made an ever greater risk than that. Someone told me that God loved me -- and that His Son, Jesus, died for me -- and that Jesus wanted to live within me. So I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. That's the biggest risk I have ever made in all my life."
Several years had passed, and the woman's whole life had changed. She was directing the whole educational ministry of her church -- and she was having a great time doing it!
When I read her story, I was intrigued by her comment that the biggest risk she had ever taken was to accept Christ as her Lord and Savior. What did she mean by that? And then it came to me!
-- Accepting Christ as Lord meant rearranging the furniture of her life --making sure that there was nothing standing between her and God.
-- Accepting Christ as Lord meant letting go of the things she had loved and loving God instead.
-- Accepting Christ meant leaving behind all the things that were familiar to her and letting Christ lead her into his topsy-turvy world -- a world where the first are last and the last are first -- a world in which the poor are blessed instead of the rich -- a world in which we die to self that Christ might give us life.
And she made it very clear that, this time, putting all her chips on Jesus, she didn't lose. She was happy as a lark.
That is what Jesus promised. He said:
"Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age -- houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields -- and in the age to come, eternal life."
That is the promise, and it is true. Millions have tried it, and found Jesus faithful. Try it yourself. Let Christ rearrange the furniture of your life so that nothing stands between you and God -- learn to let go of the things you have loved so that you can love God instead -- leave behind your familiar world and let Christ lead you into his topsy-turvy,
upside-down world. I promise you that it will be the best risk you have ever taken -- the best bet you have ever made.