10/10/21 – Pentecost 20 – “Following Jesus” – Mark 10:17-22

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. Our text for this morning is the Gospel Reading – Mark 10:17-22, which picks up immediately after last week’s reading. As you might recall, the first twelve verses of Mark 10 deal with the topics of divorce and the sixth commandment, which we discussed at length last week. But at the end of last week’s reading, there is a short account which provides a buffer between last week’s text and ours. In next week’s Gospel Reading, our story for today will be completed and the buffer text about Jesus and the children will become quite significant. But for now, we turn to our text where we learn something about what it means to follow Jesus.

1. Our text begins: And as [Jesus] was setting out on his journey… (Mark 10:17a). Before we get to the content of what happens next, it’s important to recognize an important detail that sets the scene. Jesus is about to go on a journey. He is still in Judea on the eastern side of the Jordan River in the place where he had been teaching about divorce and blessing the little children. Where will his journey take him? None of the disciples or the men with Jesus know. But Jesus knows. And a quick glance ahead will cause us to see what Jesus has in mind. As this particular interaction concludes in verse 31, we see in the very next verse that Jesus and his disciples are on the road going up to Jerusalem (Mark 10:32). Why is Jesus going to Jerusalem? We need only take a cursory glance at the headings in the next several chapters to find out, if we don’t already know. At the beginning of chapter 11, Jesus will enter Jerusalem riding on a lowly donkey on what we know as Palm Sunday. Through the next two and a half chapters, Jesus will cleanse the temple and teach his disciples more about God’s kingdom and the end of the age. But finally, in chapter 14, the real reason for Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem begins to play out when he is arrested, put on trial, and killed. More on this later, but for now it’s important to recognize this. If we’re going to learn about follow Jesus, it’s helpful to know where he is going.

2. Back to the text: And as [Jesus] was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother’” (Mark 10:17-19). There are two significant details for our discussion in these verses. The first is related to the overall thrust of the man’s question. The man is concerned with eternal life. He’s asking about the right thing. His focus is on more than just this life—which is good. But the problem is, he’s actually asking the wrong question. He asks, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” The question is all wrong. Jesus is going to inductively (that is, by showing rather than telling) teach this man that it’s not about what “I do.” Inheriting eternal life involves something else. This leads to the second observation. Jesus inductively invites this man into the proper way of inheriting eternal life—into the proper way of following Jesus. Following Jesus, and thus inheriting eternal life, means acknowledging him as God. And Jesus invites the man to do just this. Remember how the man addressed Jesus initially? He called him, “Good teacher.” That’s a strange way to address someone. But Jesus uses this strange address to invite the man to reflect on why he is calling Jesus “good.” Jesus said, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone” (Mark 10:18). Jesus is not condemning the man for calling him “good.” Quite the opposite. He is inviting the man to realize just how correct he was in calling Jesus “good.” Jesus is inviting this man to acknowledge him as God.

3. But as the text continues, the man does not accept Jesus’ invitation. He doesn’t call Jesus “good.” The text tells us: And [the man] said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Mark 10:20-21). Even though the man rejects Jesus’ first invitation, he is not done with him yet. Jesus goes on to expose the man’s delusions and then issue the invitation to follow him. Remember how Jesus had just listed off a bunch of commandments? The man tells Jesus that he has kept all of those commandments, and to be fair he’s probably being genuine in this. So, Jesus in effect says to the man, “If you think you have kept all of those commandments, then let’s try one more. What about the first commandment? What about your possessions which have become your gods? Are you willing to give them up and follow me?” And we’re told in the final verse of our text, Disheartened by this saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions (Mark 10:22). We’re not told whether or not the man accepted Jesus invitation to follow him. But perhaps that’s the point of the text. The point of the text is not for you to know what this nameless man did. The point is, what will you do? You know where following Jesus leads. You know that Jesus is God. The text is asking you a simple question: Will you follow Jesus?

4. The question itself is simple, but answering it isn’t. We have the same problem this nameless man did. We too have gods which get in the way of our love for Jesus and prevent us from following him completely. Quite often, the stuff that gets in the way of following Jesus is material things—a collection, a home, a vehicle, or money. But it doesn’t have to be a physical possession. Maybe it’s something intangible—experiences, entertainment, or pleasure—that has become a god for you. Martin Luther famously said, I say that whatever you set your heart on and put your trust in is truly your god. So, what is your god? What do you love so much that you couldn’t imagine life without? What do you trust in during your most challenging moments that you would be lost without? We all have gods which prevent us from following Jesus completely. Jesus invites us to follow him and surrender our gods. The question is, will you?

5. For most of us, this is not an easy question to answer, even if we’re a longtime Christian. To surrender my gods means to give up the only way of living I have ever known. It means to follow a new path where I’m not in control. It’s scary. But it’s a path that’s worth following Jesus down, at least for a little while, even if we’re not fully committed at first. Some people believe that this nameless man from our text was none other than St. Mark the Gospel Writer. They suggest that the detail in verse 21 that Jesus loved him (a detail which is unique to Mark’s account of this story) indicates that this man is the Gospel Writer himself. This is similar to how St. John in his Gospel account refers to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” Whoever this nameless man was, let’s imagine for a moment that he did follow Jesus. What would he have seen? He would have seen Jesus ride into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday as the humble king riding on a donkey. He would have witnessed Jesus being arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane where he was led away to be put on trial and killed. And he would have no doubt heard the news that this Jesus who had been killed was now risen from the dead, having defeated the power of sin, death, and the devil. My friends, this is why Jesus wants you and me to follow him too. He wants us to see how he surrendered everything so that he might win forgiveness for us by his death and resurrection. He wants us to see that inheriting eternal life is not dependent on what we do. It’s dependent on what he has done for us. It’s only through following Jesus and seeing and experiencing the forgiveness and the new life that he has won for us that our lives will be transformed and we will learn slowly but surely how to surrender our gods as we follow Jesus more completely. My friends, you don’t have to have it all together in order to follow Jesus. Following Jesus is about putting one foot in front of the other and seeing where he leads. And I can promise you this, wherever he does lead you, it may not be easy, but it will be for your eternal well-being.

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

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