Seward United Methodist Church
Wednesday, January 19, 2022
Search this site.View the site map.

Putting Away Our Idols

Hebrews 4:12-16 and Mark 10:13-31

 Before we read our Gospel text this morning, let’s go back and revisit those words from Hebrews 4.  I think they are very powerful.

 “The word of God is alive.”  It is not dead.  It is alive.  It is alive because it is brought to life by the Holy Spirit who speaks to us through God’s word.  

 “God’s word is powerful.”  It is effective.  As the prophet Isaiah said, it goes out into the world and it does not return empty.  It is no coincidence that the Reformation of the 16th century coincided with the invention of the printing press and the first translations of the Bible into common tongues like English and German.  For the first time in a millennium, the average person could read God’s word, and people came to life spiritually in a profound way.  

 “God’s word is sharp.”  It cuts through our pretenses.  It exposes who we are.  It penetrates our inmost being.  Nothing is hidden from God.  We can hide from other people.  We can even hide from ourselves.  But we can’t hide from God.  We are naked, spiritually, before God.  Who we truly are is exposed to him.  And we must face him.  The Greek word used there was normally used in a courtroom setting, and it described a person who was forced, sometimes at knifepoint, to face the judge.  That’s a pretty dramatic picture.  We can’t hide who we really are from God.  Everything we are and everything we have done will be exposed to him.  

 This is the reason we need a Savior like Jesus.  We need someone who knows and understands all our weaknesses and yet loves us so much that he would die for us.

 Our Gospel text today is about a young man who is exposed to the cutting power of God’s word.  Let us turn to it now.  (Mark 10:13-31)

 In the other Gospels, this man is called the “rich, young ruler.”  “Ruler” meant that he was a member of a court or council.  And in the standard way of thinking, the fact that he was wealthy meant that he was blessed by God, and hence, that he was a very pious man.  He was a well respected member of society at a young age.  And it was not unusual for pious Jews to seek out a well known rabbi to teach them.  He chooses to seek out Jesus.  He certainly could have done worse!

 His question reveals his theological starting point, “What must I do?”  This young man has already accomplished a lot.  He views salvation as one more thing to achieve.  

 Jesus begins by saying, “Why do you call me good?”  In the Jewish understanding, only God was called good in unqualified terms.  Other people or things might be called good, but not in comparison to God.  And if only God is good, then this young man must have failed at some point, right?

 So Jesus asks him about the commandments.  Jesus names five of them that could be objectively measured, things other people could see.  

 And the man answers, “I’ve kept them all.”  He is confident that he has done no harm to others.  But has he also done good?  John Wesley said that living the Christian life is a matter of keeping three simple rules:  Do no harm.  Do good.  Attend to the ordinances of God.  He’s done one, but what about the other two?

 Jesus loved him.  Jesus loved this man.  He loved his sincere desire for the things of God.  But here’s the thing about Jesus’ love:  It will meet us where we are, but it will not leave us where we are.  Jesus loves all of us too much to leave us where he found us.  Our encounter with Jesus will not leave us unchanged or unchallenged.  

 “One thing you lack:  Go and sell all you have, give to the poor so that you might have treasures in heaven, and then come and follow me.”  

 Jesus knew this man had an idol.  His wealth was his idol.  It represented his pride, his sense of achievement, his sense of security and comfort.  It was an idol.  Not all idols are graven images set up on an altar.  Some idols are things that we can’t even see.  But anything we love more than God is an idol to us.  For some people, their idol might be wealth.  For others, their idol is their own pleasure and enjoyment.  For others, the idol is their pride, their success.  For others, their idol is their freedom, their demand to choose their own paths in life.  For others, their idol is a person.  Very often, our idol is ourselves.  

 The man went away sad.  He loved his idol more than he loved God.  And so he was unwilling to lay aside his idol.

 I don’t think we should see Jesus’ command to this young man as a universal one.  We don’t have any other stories in the Gospels about Jesus telling someone else to do this same thing.  But I do know we should think seriously about our use of wealth and money.  Do we use money in ways that honor God?  Are we beholden to the way of the world that always demands more, newer, and better things?  

 Of course, the most important question is:  What are you willing to give up for the sake of the Kingdom of God?  Or what are you not willing to give up for the sake of God?  Because that thing you won’t give up; that is your idol. 

 Jesus goes on, “It’s hard for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God.”  Wealth has a way of fixing our hearts in this world.  Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there is your heart.”  

 When Sharon and I were in seminary, we had a classmate named Lucas.  Lucas came from Kenya in east Africa.  When he came to the United States for school, he was a young man with a wife and two little boys.  By the time he finished seminary, his sons had both grown up in the United States, gone to American schools, seen American television, and eaten American food.  He had originally intended to go home to his village in rural Kenya.  But he found he could not.  He didn’t feel free to take his sons away from the comfortable life they’d gotten used to, back to a village with no TV, no electricity, no running water, no fast food restaurants.  He’d become stuck by the wealth they had all grown accustomed to.  I think that should be a warning to us.  We all have a “wealthy” life here in the United States.  Are we stuck in it?  Are we so stuck in this life that we are unwilling to lay things aside for the sake of God’s calling?  

 Jesus goes on, “It’s easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom.”  

Now there is a story that goes around about this saying.  The story is that the wall of Jerusalem had a small gate called the “Eye of the Needle,” and it was too small for a camel to pass through.  So if you wanted to get the camel through it, you had to take off all the cargo, all the wealth, force the camel on its knees, then force it to squeeze through.  It’s a wonderful story.  There’s only one problem:  It’s not true.  The so-called “Needle Gate” in Jerusalem’s wall was built by Crusaders in the 11th century.  So it is not what Jesus was talking about.  

A camel going through the eye of a needle was just an expression of something impossible.  The camel was the largest animal in Israel, and the eye of a needle the smallest opening.  It’s a picture of something impossible.  It is impossible for “not good” human beings to work their way into the good God’s Kingdom.  

But it is not impossible for God.  In verse 15, Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.”  A child

knows how to receive a gift.  And that’s the only way that we can receive the Kingdom of God; as a gift.  What is impossible for us is not impossible for God.  

Peter speaks up:  “What about us, Jesus?  Haven’t we given up everything to follow you?”  

Jesus makes three promises:  

First, we will receive back more than we have lost.  Following Jesus may mean losing a house, but we’ll gain an eternal home.  We may lose our family by blood, but we’ll gain a new family by faith.  

Years ago I met a pastor who became a Christian in college and felt called into professional ministry.  He went home on break and told his father what had happened.  His father hated God and threw him out of the house.  He never saw his father again.  But he testified that he found a new family in the Church.  Jesus is a debtor to no man.  We owe him everything, but he does not owe us anything.  He keeps his word.

Jesus’ second promise is that we will also receive persecution, just as he did.  For some, that persecution might even mean death.  

But the third and final promise of Jesus is eternal life in the world to come.  

God does not take anything away from us without giving back that which is more glorious.  So we should not be afraid to give up anything for the sake of coming into God’s Kingdom.  We can, and we should, lay aside our idols.  None of them are worth keeping when compared to the goodness of God.

Verse of the Day...