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AND THEN WHAT HAPPENED?     Mark 10:17-30    Dr. Scott Wenig   (2nd Service)

{Manuscript–View video for complete content.}  So good to see all of you here today.  If you’ve been with us, you know we’ve been walking our way through the Gospel of Mark.  Starting about the eighth chapter of Mark, Jesus begins to orient himself and his disciples toward Jerusalem, where he’ll eventually end up, in what we call, Holy Week.  Today we’re looking at Mark 10.  At the beginning of Mark 10, there’s an encounter that Jesus has with the Pharisees over the issue of divorce.  After that, a bunch of children come to Jesus and they want to sit with them and the disciples get all upset so he has to correct them.  Let the little kids come to me, because that’s what the kingdom of God is about—accepting Him as a little child does.  Then once again, Jesus points himself toward Jerusalem.  He’s talking about his death and gets everyone freaked out.  James and John come up to him, in a narrative after that, and they make this weird request that when Jesus comes into his kingdom, they want to sit on his right and on his left—they feel entitled. After that, there’s this blind beggar, Bartimaeus, and he asks Jesus to heal him.  Given all of that, what I decided to do today was focus our attention on a narrative right in the middle of that starting with Mark 10:17.  That’s what we’ll look at today.  Jesus has an encounter with a young man that I think, Lord willing, speaks to all of us.  So before we look at that, let me lead us in prayer and then we’ll walk our way through this story.

Lord, you are a great and awesome God, and because of your power, grace, and mercy, you have called us out of that grave, and we thank you for that.  And Lord, because you’re sovereign and you care about your planet and you care about all the people of this planet, we pray today for the removal of the coronavirus.  We pray for government and health officials, that you would give them wisdom and grace, all around the world to get a handle on this.  We pray for our administration.  We pray for local and state officials, that they would be really up to speed.  Lord, we would pray that you would protect us.  Lord, as we think of other issues in the world, other issues in our own lives, we pray that you would come and meet with us.  We pray that you would speak to us.  We pray that you would give us wisdom and guidance.  Lord, as we look into this text today, I ask that you would enlighten our minds, you would touch our hearts, that you would speak to us through your word.  We ask this, Lord, for your glory and for our benefit, and we pray all of this in your powerful name, Jesus.  Amen.

This is Hetty Green.  She lived in a dark, downtrodden, cheap boarding house in New York City at the beginning of the 20th century.  Because of, what she perceived, the high cost of food and energy, each morning for breakfast she would eat cold, dry oatmeal.  A lot of people who saw or knew her called her a witch and didn’t want to be close to her, partly because she wouldn’t pay for soap or buy new clothes.  When her son injured his knee, she didn’t want to take him to a doctor.  Instead, they sat at home for two years and eventually, when his pain became excruciating, she decided to dress him and herself in rags hoping that the doctor would treat her son for free out of pity.  When the doctor found out who she was, he kicked her out and several years later her son’s leg had to be amputated.  Now what’s really interesting is that as a young woman, Hetty Green had inherited 20 million dollars in today’s currency from her parents.  And because of her frugality and her focus on enhancing her wealth, she eventually turned that into 100 million by the time she died in 1916.  She was the richest woman in America – the richest, saddest, loneliest, and poorest woman in America.  I wonder if there are any rich, lonely, and sad Hetty Greens around today in 2020?

Jesus once said, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”  He was a wandering, itinerant preacher with no home, checkbook or retirement account and only a cross to bear at the end of His earthly life.   But did Jesus live a life filled with purpose and joy?  Well, He must have possessed something magnetic because all kinds of people were attracted to him, not the least a young man who was seeking the kind of life that Jesus exhibited and lived out with the men and women who were his disciples, even though they didn’t have much of what our culture (or even theirs) supposedly has that makes for happiness.  To see who this man was and what happens in his encounter with Jesus let’s look at Mark 10:17-20. 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?”  “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone.  You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’”  “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”

In the parallel texts in Matthew and Luke, we’re told that his man was young, rich, and a ruler, and so we know him and refer to him as the rich, young ruler.  It seems that he was a person of wealth, power and prestige. In all likelihood he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth; perhaps he inherited the family winery and the business had gone from good to great.  And it’s clear that he was also well-educated in the local synagogue, because as he interacts with Jesus it’s clear that he knows certain portions of God’s Word. But despite his wealth, his education and his upper class culture something was missing; there was a gap in his heart—a yearning for something that life offered beyond the business, the clothes, and the books—so he comes to this rabbi seeking salvation.

Initially, Jesus directs his attention to the commandments and in v. 20 the rich young ruler responds that he’s kept them all since he was a child.  Now, to our ears, that sounds a bit presumptuous, doesn’t it?  From a Bible-believing Protestant perspective—where we emphasize the sinfulness of humanity and our inability to keep God’s commands—we might interpret that statement as either a sign of spiritual pride or a reflection that this guy’s unaware of how spiritually crippled he really is.  But here’s where his interaction with Jesus gets really interesting. Look at v. 21:  Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said.   Jesus doesn’t appear to interpret him as we might; instead Mark says Jesus loved him which means that He felt tremendous affection for this young man.  And because of that affection He tells him that he lacks one thing.  And once again, from our Protestant evangelical perspective, we might be pretty sure that Jesus means that ‘The thing you lack is faith in Me’; or ‘The thing you lack is finding your personal identity in me,’ or ‘The thing you lack is that you’ve never bowed your head and prayed that prayer to invite me into your heart.’  But Jesus says something really different.  Look at v. 21-22.  “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.

Jesus loved this guy and so He called him to give his money to the poor, to those who could really use it, and then join His apostolic band as one of His disciples.  But the rich, young ruler wouldn’t do it.  He couldn’t let go of his gold!   And what’s so tragic is that Jesus didn’t want his money.  He’s not doing a building program or a capital campaign or looking for a raise—not that those are bad things at all!!   What Jesus wanted was this man’s heart.  He wanted him to become like a child and enter God’s kingdom where there’s joy and fulfillment and purpose and happiness, but the rich, young ruler shook his head, and walked away dejected and sad.  C.S. Lewis once said, “Hell is the place where you get what you want but you’re incapable of wanting what is good.” Instead of following Jesus, this man decided to keep his wealth which he saw as his security, but in reality it was his prison, and in time it became his hell!

Friends, let’s not kid ourselves, that’s what money can do to us, whether we have a lot or just a little, because money has tremendous power in our lives.  Money can motivate people to neglect friends and family, in order to amass a fortune.  It can block out everything else of importance in life. It can cause us to turn away from God and others and live a life of frugal misery, just like Hetty Green.  In fact, money is so powerful that Jesus gave it a personal name.  He called it Mammon, because He understood that it’s a living, driving force in our lives.

Now, if you think that I’m misrepresenting the Scripture or over-stating the case, then let me ask you to consider how we treat money.  Do a little social experiment:  The next time you’re at a friend’s house or at a party and the conversation lags, just say, “Let’s all share how much money we made last year.”  See, how that goes over!  In our society, people will tell each other the most intimate details of their lives, but they’ll never share with you the contents of their checkbook.  Many of you here have heard of Howard Stern, the disc jockey and sometime cable broadcaster, who is well known for his vulgar, crude and, often times, very lewd antics on both radio and TV.  In fact, over the past 25 years, he’s been fined almost $2 million by the FCC for various and sundry violations. Back in 1994, Stern was considering a run as governor of New York, UNTIL he found out that he would be required to issue a public statement disclosing his finances.  At that point he withdrew, because he reasoned that talking about his money was WAY TOO personal to be made public.  Here’s a guy who regularly talks about his sexual behavior in vulgar detail to hundreds of thousands of people, but he won’t talk about money.

The reality is that lots of people aren’t all that different from Howard Stern when it comes to their finances. They’ll fight about it with their spouses, hide it from the kids, fret over it at three in the morning, spend hours and hours planning investment strategies to double it, work lots of overtime to get more of it, and then do anything the can to avoid talking about it in public or with others.  Money has an enormous spiritual power that can come to control us.  That’s why Jesus says what He does in v. 23-24:  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 someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

One of the things we must remember is that when a biblical author, or in this case the Lord Himself, repeats something, it’s VERY, VERY important because the Hebrews used repetition—like we use bold, CAPS, or underlining, or italicizing—in order to get the readers’ or the listeners’ attention.  Jesus uses repetition and this picture of a camel trying to go through the eye of a needle because He loves us and wants us to know that money can be dangerous to our spiritual and emotional health.  Wealth can give us the illusion that we’re self-sufficient and independent of God.  It has a way of binding us to the physical and temporal, and blinding us to the spiritual and the eternal.  Instead of being a friend that can be used to help ourselves and others, money can become an enemy of God’s best for us that leaves us unhappy, just like Hetty Green and the rich young ruler.

And what’s really scary is that wealth can deceive us into thinking we’re spiritually okay, when in reality we’re on the broad road that leads to destruction.  Here’s a man who thought he was godly, after all he told Jesus had kept the commandments, and yet when Jesus told him to give his money away and become a disciple he said ‘NO!’ and lost out on salvation!  Is it possible that the same thing might be true among some in 21st century America who call themselves Christians?

Let me give us a statistic to ponder.  Twenty-five years ago the average amount of giving to charity in American households under $10,000 a year was 2.8%.   Not exactly a tithe of 10% but not bad considering that $10,000 a year isn’t much money.  You’d think that as income goes up so would giving, but in households with income between $50,000 and $75,000 a year, the average percent was 1.5%, and recent statistics don’t look any more promising even though Americans increased their net worth since 1970s by billions of dollars.  Have millions of people sitting in churches in North America been deceived into thinking that they don’t need to give to their church, or to the poor, or to other ministries and yet still be saved?  Have those of us who call ourselves Christians and live in the most affluent civilization the world’s ever seen been lulled into the false belief that what we do, or don’t do, with our money has zero impact on our relationship with Jesus?   If that’s true then Jesus wants to set us free from that erroneous cultural narrative.  Look at how He interacts with the disciples in v. 26-27 after the rich young ruler leaves.  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.”

The disciples were shocked when they heard Jesus say that wealth could be a huge hindrance to the kingdom, because they were part of a culture that believed being rich was a sign of God’s blessing. In fact, Mark says that they were amazed and then even more amazed because from the perspective of 1st century Judaism the amount of money you had was a sign of God’s blessing; the more you had, the more God was blessing you!  So Jesus corrects their misinformed and culturally-conditioned theology by teaching them about the true nature of salvation and eternal life.  He says that no one gets into the kingdom of God by what they do, not even someone like the rich young ruler who said he kept all the commandments.  Our entrance into the kingdom and our enjoyment of life in the kingdom is totally by the GRACE OF GOD.  Jesus went to cross for us and rose from the dead for us and ascended to heaven from where He’ll return, for US.  That’s grace and it simply requires that we receive from God what we can’t do for ourselves.

About four months ago I was on my way to school.  I was driving this way.  I always go through River Point.   I came up to the stop sign and went through it.   I’m turning right onto Santa Fe to go south towards school, and I notice there’s a Littleton police officer behind me.  Except, he’s not just right behind me, he’s on my bumper.  I think, “That’s a little bit weird.”  I pull out on Santa Fe and he is still on my bumper.  I’m thinking, “He’s running my plates.”  He wants to know if there are any outstanding warrants on me.  I’m thinking, “Wait a minute!  I haven’t done anything wrong!  I’ve kept all the commandments!  Why is he tailing me!”  Before I get down to Bowles, he turns the lights on.  I’m thinking, “Busted! But I don’t know for what!  I’m innocent.”  I turn onto Bowles and eventually pull over and stop.  The officer comes up—young guy, big guy, brute guy.  I give him my license and registration and as he looks it over, he says, “Mr. Wenig, do you realize that back there at River Point, you slid right through that stop sign?  You kind of slowed down, but you didn’t stop.”  I said, “You know, officer, I’ll be honest with you, I have a lot on my mind.  If you say I slid through that stop sign, I believe you.”  He says to me, “You’re confessing that you slid through the stop sign?  You’re taking responsibility?”  “Officer, if you told me I did that, I believe you.  I’m taking responsibility.”  He said, “That’s good to hear.  I’m going to let you off.  I’m going to tell you that from now on please stop at the stop signs, but no ticket.  We’ll let it go today.”  HE. GAVE. ME. GRACE.  He had me dead to rights, guilty as charged, I slid through the stop sign.  Yet, he let me off, and all I had to do was receive it.

It’s easy to make this story about Jesus’ encounter with the rich young ruler all about money, when in reality it’s just as much about God’s grace.  And Jesus’ response to a question Peter poses reinforces this.  Look at v. 28-30.  Then Peter spoke up, “We have left everything to follow you!”  “Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life.  Now, a lot of commentators think Peter was out of line for asking what he and the rest of the disciples were going to get out of their sacrifice to follow Jesus. But Jesus doesn’t seem bothered by that at all.  He responds by telling them that everyone who follows Him will ‘receive a hundred times as much and will receive eternal life.’  The point is that we RECEIVE.  That means that when we genuinely, in our hearts, truly receive God’s grace, that enables us to follow Jesus fully.  When we’re following Jesus fully, we’re going to manage our money wisely.

This is Count Nikolaus von Zinzendorf.  Zinzendorf was a rich young German count who grew up in the Lutheran church and went about his life as a nobleman with all the privileges that came with that.  He lived in the early 18th century.   One day, Zinzendorf was touring a museum in the city of Düsseldorf when he came upon a portrait by Feti called “Ecce Homo.” It’s a picture of Christ.  Christ has been beaten and is wearing the crown of thorns on his head.  At the bottom of the painting it says, “I’ve done this you for you; what have you done for me?”  Zinzendorf said later, “I’ve know Him all my life but I’ve never done anything for Him. From now on, I’ll do whatever he tells me.”  So he went home and prayed about it, and the Lord told him to open up his vast estate, called Herrenhut, to a group of Christians known as the Moravians.  Zinzendorf invested and gave his resources and helped these people.  The Moravians became the first Protestant cross-cultural missionaries in Christian history.   Zinzendorf was the rich young ruler who said YES!

See, once we realize that God really loves us and that He’ll provide for us, our whole perspective changes about what it looks like to follow Jesus.  We can enjoy all the blessings of life and God’s kingdom and live with purpose, peace and joy.  And then we can begin to value what God values.  His heart is our heart.   We start to  invest our financial resources in people, and projects, and institutions, and churches, that are about God’s advancement.  When we truly receive God’s grace, it enables us to follow Jesus fully and then manage our money wisely.

One of my favorite writers is Philip Yancey.  A long time ago, he wrote this article in Christianity Today and it’s still the single best essay I’ve ever read.  It’s about the relationship between Christian faith and money.  Yancey was talking about his pilgrimage with money.  In the mid-seventies, he and his wife Janet lived in a depressed area of Chicago.  She was a social worker there and he was a struggling writer.  He said they were kind of living on the edge.  Then he wrote a book called Where’s God When It Hurts?  The book went viral.  It sold thousands and thousands and thousands of copies very quickly, and all of a sudden Philip Yancey, poor writer, is now Philip Yancey, rich young guy.  He got a lot of money really fast.  He wrote more books and got more money.  He said, “Most of my life I haven’t had money and now I have a ton of money.”  In this article, he talks about his pilgrimage of learning to navigate money.  Here’s what he concludes:  “The act of giving best reminds me of my place on earth.  All of us live here by the goodness and grace of God – like the birds of the air and the flowers of the field, Jesus said.  Those creations do not worry about future security and safety; neither should we.  Not even Solomon, the wealthiest man of his time, could outshine a common lily.  Giving offers me a way to express my faith and confidence that God will care for me just as he cares for the sparrow and lily.”  Yancey’s right….If we’ve really received the grace of God, we can follow Jesus fully, and that will enable us to steward our money and give a lot of it away, very wisely.

I’ve been a pastor now for over 40 years, and I’ve learned that whenever you teach on money or giving, everyone gets nervous or defensive.  But I don’t want us to get nervous and I certainly don’t want to make you defensive.  I just want us to receive the abundance of Jesus’ loving grace, follow Him fully, and then steward wisely what He’s entrusted to us, however much that is or however little that may be.

In late 19th century Philadelphia, there was a church that wanted to construct a new building because their Sunday School was so over-crowded. One little girl, Hattie May Wiatt, went to that church and she knew there wasn’t any room for new children, so she began to collect pennies to contribute to the new building.  Tragically, two years later, she died from diphtheria.  Her parents found her purse, a short time later, which had 57 pennies in it and a note saying it was for the new building.  Her parents gave that note to the pastor who used it to make a dramatic appeal to the congregation.  Obviously, people’s hearts were touched and they generously responded.  One realtor gave the church a piece of land and said he wanted a payment of just 57 cents.  The local newspaper picked up that story and it went across the wire-services—like a U-Tube video going viral today —and money flowed in from all across the country.  People were touched by the story and the generosity of Hattie May Wiatt.  Now, in 2020, you can see the results.  That church has a 3300 seat auditorium and tons of space for Sunday school.  And eventually, due to its growth, it helped start Good Samaritan Hospital and Temple University in downtown Philadelphia.  And at Temple University there’s a special room dedicated to the memory of Hattie May Wiatt, the little girl whose 57 cents made such a dramatic impact for Jesus and the spread of His Kingdom.

Friends, you don’t have to be rich, or affluent, or live in Cherry Hills Village to make an impact for the Kingdom.  We all need to just receive God’s grace daily and then follow Jesus fully.  As we do that, we’ll manage our money wisely for the expansion of God’s kingdom, the good of His church, and the blessing of other people. Let’s pray.

Lord, wherever we are at today, I just pray that by your grace and your Spirit you would speak to us and that we would hear.  For our benefit and the good of the kingdom, we ask this in Jesus’s name.  Amen.