Sermons

Spiritual Beggars

October 17, 2021 Speaker: Ray Lorthioir Series: Sermons 2021

Passage: Mark 10:23–10:31

Sermon 10-17-21

Pastor Ray Lorthioir

Trinity Lutheran Church

W. Hempstead, NY

Based on the Gospel for the 21st Sunday after Pentecost, Mark 10:23-31

 

Spiritual Beggars

Last week we saw a man approach Jesus and ask, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Because we all die, that’s the big question of life. In response, Jesus tested this nameless man concerning his obedience to all the commandments that pertain to our neighbors. The man claimed that he had followed those commandments since youth. And apparently it was so because we were told that Jesus loved this man. Jesus’ very being reached out to this seeker after eternal life.

But, Jesus told the man he lacked one thing to enter eternal life. And that is Jesus Himself. He invited the man into His inner circle. In effect, Jesus was calling the man to be a potential apostle. But Jesus knew quite well that an obstacle stood in the way of this man becoming part of His inner circle. The man was wealthy.

In Jesus’ time legitimately gotten wealth was considered a sign of God’s great favor. This had been the case for centuries. Indeed, Yahweh had blessed the founding fathers of Israel, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, with great wealth as a sign of His favor. And in the Torah, Israel is promised great abundance if they will keep Yahweh’s Law.

When Job lost all his wealth and family, his friends argued it had to be because he was hiding a very great sin and God had found him out. In other words, sin was the cause of Job’s fall into poverty. But at the end of the book, Yahweh proves Job’s righteousness by restoring Job’s wealth so that he was wealthier than ever. So, based on Scripture, it’s very likely that this young man believed his wealth indicated that he was already close to God.

However, Jesus changed that understanding of wealth forever with the words He spoke to the man seeking eternal life. After Jesus, wealth could no longer be the sign that a person has Yahweh’s favor and is headed for eternal life. Instead, the sign is now Jesus Himself. 

For, once Jesus completed His work on the cross as Messiah, He became the one and only thing necessary for anyone to enter eternal life. Because Jesus was faithful to Yahweh’s plan for Messiah to the last breath, He’s the only one who can justify our sinful lives before Yahweh through the forgiveness of our sins. That’s the great good news of the Gospel.

Now, Jesus was inviting the man to enter His inner circle and get a ringside seat to watch this all happen. But Jesus knew that the inner circle of Apostles He was training would be sent out into the world to proclaim the Gospel under harsh conditions and great opposition. Therefore, they would have to get used to living hand to mouth without visible resources. They would have to depend entirely upon God. I think that’s the reason Jesus urged this man to sell all his wealth.

Obviously Jesus’ call into the inner circle of disciples was something this man never expected. As much as he might have thought Jesus was Messiah, even God incarnate — indicated by calling Jesus “good teacher” — he nevertheless didn’t see himself as one of the inner circle. And it seems he was stuck in the old way of figuring wealth as God’s promise of eternal life. His wealth was all the testimony of righteousness he needed. And he couldn’t let go of it for a far better testimony of righteousness — Jesus Himself.

Indeed, that attitude seemed to be a considerable problem with many in Israel. They had no clue that the true Messiah was among them. As Jesus said to the crowds at one point in Luke 11:31-32, “31 The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with the men of this generation and condemn them; for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon's wisdom, and now one greater than Solomon is here. 32 The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here.”

Like all the others, this man could not believe He was standing in the presence of one far greater than any who had come before and ever will come. Therefore, he wasn’t about to give up his wealth for an unknown, when the wealth itself was a known.

So in today’s Gospel lesson we come to the question of the New Testament perspective on wealth itself. As we read in Mark 10:23, “Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, ‘How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!’” Only knowing the teaching that the rich were among the blessed, the disciples reacted in a predictable way. We read in Mark 10:24-26, “24 The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, ‘Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.’ 26 The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, ‘Who then can be saved?’” Indeed. If the legitimately rich, those favored by God, are not among the saved, then who could be saved? That was the question Jesus raised in their minds.

So, Jesus answered them in Mark 10:27, “. . .  ‘With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.’” Now, at that moment Jesus didn’t explain how God would make salvation possible. But we know that it would be through Jesus’ obedient, sacrificial death.

As we’re seeing, then, one salient feature of the New Testament is that Yahweh shifted the sign of salvation from earthly wealth to heavenly wealth — namely faith in the work of His beloved Son on the cross for our sake, and the outpouring of Lord Holy Spirit. So what becomes of earthly wealth in the New Testament?

With the words Jesus spoke here in Mark, He let it be known that since wealth could no longer be considered a sign of righteousness, instead it had to be considered a significant obstacle to righteousness. Why? Because wealth is one of the many idols we can worship and serve instead of Jesus Christ.

For instance, Jesus warned His disciples in Luke 12:15, “. . . ‘a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.’” He then went on to tell this parable. Luke 12:16-21, “. . . ‘The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. 17 He thought to himself, “What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.” 18 Then he said, “This is what I'll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I'll say to myself, ‘You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.’” 20 But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” 21 This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.’”

What’s the point of this parable? Death ultimately disconnects everyone from all the things of this life. Death causes all our treasures and wealth to belong to someone else to do with as they please. Therefore, since death wipes out all the value of worldly wealth for the person who dies, Jesus wanted all of us to know that only heavenly wealth will endure forever. 

Heavenly wealth is gained by being rich toward God. Yahweh gives us wealth so that we have resources to dedicate to Him and the people He tells us to support. In Ephesians 4:28, Paul declares that every Christian able to work must work, doing something useful with our own hands so that we may have something to share with those in need. 

There’s one other point. Anyone who makes a god out of worldly wealth will never be able to find the true God, the Creator of heaven and earth and His Son, Jesus. Consequently, that person will never know the most blessed wealth of all — Jesus. And that includes anyone who considers wealth a sign of a man’s righteousness, when only Jesus can be the sign of our righteousness.

Paul says in 1 Timothy 6:10, “. . . the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” Money is not the evil. It’s the love of money, so that we make money a god that we serve with all our heart, soul, mind and spirit. That’s how people wander from the faith into idolatry. Wealth is not a god. It needs to be managed and that management is time consuming. However, one can manage wealth and in the process serve the Holy One who alone is God.

Therefore, it’s not evil to be wealthy in the New Testament. In our present day society, wealthy people are the employers who provide work so that their employees may be able to support themselves. Wealth is evil only when it becomes an idol. As it says in in the 5th chapter of James, it’s also evil to do evil in order to accumulate wealth. James says it’s also evil to make an idol out of luxury and self-indulgence.

There’s one other way to look at Jesus’ statement that it’s difficult for the rich to enter the Kingdom of heaven. To understand this we turn to what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5:3, “‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’” Another way to translate Jesus’ words more literally from the Greek is, “blessed are spiritual beggars.

What is a spiritual beggar? Let’s use St. Paul as an example. He writes in Philippians 3:4-6, “If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.” What Paul is doing here is describing himself as a spiritual rich person. He’s doing something similar to what the man in Mark’s gospel did when he told Jesus that he had obeyed God’s commandments from his youth.

Those who think themselves spiritually rich think they have a standing with God based on their own effort and goodness. In Philippians, Paul is confessing that that’s exactly what he believed and felt as the self-righteous Pharisee who persecuted the church.

But then Paul goes on to say in Philippians 3:7-9, “7 But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ — the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.”

Paul is confessing here that the spiritual wealth he once believed he possessed was actually worthless. It’s worthless in God’s sight because sinners cannot perfectly keep the Law of God. Because of original sin, we cannot produce a righteousness equal to Yahweh’s righteousness. Therefore, by proclaiming the worthlessness of his own spiritual efforts, Paul proclaimed himself to be nothing but a spiritual beggar. He proclaimed himself empty of any righteousness to brag about before God.

And because Paul recognized himself to be a spiritual beggar, he could receive the greatest gift of all — Jesus, the Messiah, our only righteousness before God. Consequently, Paul could proclaim himself a different kind of spiritually rich person in verse 8, saying that by God’s gift of faith he has “the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus, my Lord.”

But Paul confessed that he could not earn such great riches. Rather, he was given Jesus as God’s free gift. He was a beggar in need of a righteousness he did not have. In Jesus, Yahweh graciously gave Paul the righteousness he needed. And this is why Jesus said that the Kingdom of heaven only belongs to the spiritual beggars. Only those who are empty of righteousness can joyfully receive the righteousness they crave — Jesus Christ. And Jesus is King of the Kingdom of God.

Now, the purpose of God’s Law is to prove that we all are truly spiritual beggars because original sin prevents us from keeping the Law in perfect righteousness. But this is a good thing. For Jesus only fills spiritual beggars. On the other hand, those who consider themselves spiritually rich without Jesus, God sends away empty — no matter how much or how little of this world’s wealth they have. Therefore, when Jesus said that it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, He was not just speaking of those full of earthly wealth, He was also speaking of those full of imagined spiritual wealth of their own making.

On the other hand, spiritual beggars get much from God, and not just salvation. Speaking of the church, Jesus said to the disciples in Mark 10:30 that they would “receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields — and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life.” Yahweh makes spiritual beggars rich spiritually on this earth. He can even give worldly wealth to those capable of handling it properly. This is because all things are possible with God. He sent Jesus to the cross so that we might have the incredible riches of Christ Himself — His mercy, His love, His atonement for our sins, His righteousness and His resurrected life. Amen.

 

All Bible quotes are from the NIV.

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