WOW STATEMENTS OF JESUS
Your Money Can Keep You Out of Heaven
November 23, 2008
What is at the center of your life? What represents your significance, your sense of identity, your self-esteem? Is there anyone or anything that you are holding onto that you’re not giving to Jesus? What does Jesus tell us about the things we put in the center of our lives? Join Ben as he navigates through a radical passage of Scripture and addresses one of the most challenging WOW statements of Jesus, “Your Money Can Keep You Out of Heaven.”
Many years ago, I was tubing down the San Marcos River with a friend of mine named Greg. How many of you have ever tubed or canoed down the Guadalupe, or San Marcos? Raise your hand! Don’t be shy! There you are! I see those hands out there! I was at this particular spot, and there was kind of what I would call an island in the middle of the river. The currents that day were really strong. My friend was on this island standing around, and I hit this rock or this big old stump and fell off my tube, 125 pounds of faith. I was about to go under because the current was sucking me under! My friend reached down and grabbed me by my hair, pulling me up literally out of that situation so I did not drown. I will never forget that! You never forget moments like that. It just shows you how powerful water is, and how powerful currents are.
Whether you are in a river or an ocean, sometimes you can see the strength of a current; sometimes you can see a riptide, and sometimes you can’t. What I’ve discovered, and you don’t have to be a sociologist or anthropologist to figure this out; but all cultures have currents. In other words, they have these currents that are kind of underground, or unspoken, and they are pulling you and me in the direction they want us to go, many times without our even knowing it. We want to be here, but we drifted away because the current has pulled us, and pulled us away. Sometimes the current can be so deadly it can threaten to take us under.
This morning I want to talk about one of the currents that is pandemic in our culture today. I want to talk about it as it connects to our series we’re doing called WOW Statements of Jesus. We’re talking about the radical statements that Jesus made. Some of Jesus’ statements are so great; we want to go, “Amen! That’s right! I believe that!” Other statements are kind of like, “Oh me! Are you talking to me?”
In the first week, we said what? That God has great things in store for you. We need to allow the Lion of the tribe of Judah to roam around in our lives.
Last week, we talked about how to build strong faith. We said everybody has faith! Atheists have faith, agnostics have faith, and Christians have faith! Everyone has faith. If you want to grow in your faith relationship with God, you’ve got to be what? Very intentional in doing that.
All these sayings, truths and radical statements we’re looking at; these WOW statements are under the big umbrella of the K.O.G. That stands for the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is this radical lifestyle of grace and truth that God through Christ calls us to.
The current we’re going to look at today is antithetical to the K.O.G., and it’s almost everywhere we go. It’s like the air that we breathe. This current is consumerism. We live in a free-market society in a capitalistic country, and we are consumers! What is consumerism? Here’s the definition: “Consumerism is the equation of personal happiness with the purchase of material possessions and consumption.” What does that mean? That means you gain your sense of happiness from getting and buying stuff, and using the stuff you buy. You consume.
Question—and I’ve been thinking about this for a while: Are you a Christian, or are you a consumer? One of the characteristics of consumerism, if you have that disease, is that when you maybe feel empty inside, you have to buy something new. Or if you feel pain, and you want to numb the pain of your life; then go buy something. Go do something to numb that pain.
If you’re a parent, let me ask you a question: Are you raising Christians, or are you raising consumers? Consumerism in Christianity and in the Kingdom of God is antithetical to one another.
Allow me to let you in on a secret. It’s not really a secret, but it’s this: Following Jesus is difficult. Do you remember M. Scott Peck with the classic million best-seller book, The Road Less Traveled? It began with, “Life is difficult.” Listen: Following Jesus is difficult. It’s hard! Let me read you a quote by this astute philosopher. He says, “Drinking beer is easy. Trashing your hotel room is easy; but being a Christian—that’s a tough call! That’s rebellion.” Do you know who said that? Alice Cooper! Jesus said this, “It’s not easy to enter the K.O.G.” He said, “The way is narrow, and the way is hard.”
Last week I read you one of my favorite stories in the Bible. This week I want to read one of my least favorite stories in the Bible. I’m sorry there are not airbags in front of us today, because we’re all going to need it, but check this out! By the way, if you’re an action kind of person and you’ve never read the Bible, read Mark! He’s all about action. If you’re contemplative and more philosophical; start with John. If you’re really wound up tight, start with Matthew!
Mark 10:17, “And He went out into the street, and a man came running up and greeted Him with great reverence.” Remember last week, the father ran up to Jesus. Remember that? He had the son who had the demon? He is another guy. “‘Good teacher, what must I do to get eternal life?’ Jesus said, ‘Why are you calling Me good? No one is good, only God. You know the Commandments: Don’t murder, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t cheat, honor your father and mother.’ He said, ‘Teacher, I have – from my youth – kept them all!’ Jesus looked him hard in the eye and loved him. He said. ‘There’s one thing left: Go sell whatever you own and give it to the poor. All your wealth will then be Heavenly wealth. And come follow Me.’ The man’s face clouded over. This was the last thing he expected to hear, and he walked off with a heavy heart. He was holding on tight to a lot of things and not about to let go.”
How does this story strike you? How does it hit you? Let me tell you how it hits me: It made me feel the way Randy Couture felt last week when he got the knee and that hit over the back of the ear in Vegas. That’s what I felt like when I read that passage. I asked myself the question, “Jesus, are You talking to me?” In other words, “Am I the rich, young ruler? I haven’t sold everything I have to follow You.”
It makes me wonder, “What about grace? Amazing grace, how sweet the sound?” I thought we were saved and got into a relationship with God by grace, not by works. It seems to be teaching here that if you give some kind of vow of poverty and sell all your stuff, then BAM! You get in! That seems to contradict other things that I’ve seen in the Scripture. But this story again challenges and convicts me, and it sheds light on the consumerism, materialism, and selfishness in my own life, because that’s the current.
This guy that ran up to Jesus had it all. He was young and handsome. He had money and inheritance. He was rolling it over! He had the brand-new Hickey Freeman suit on, and the nice Prada shoes, and he was just looking fine! He had it! He went to church; he was a righteous guy. He was active on committees, a deacon and all that. He came up to Jesus because he still lacked something. He still wanted to know what he needed to do to have eternal life. There’s something kind of wild—can you see this guy in this $1,500.00 suit, kneeling at the feet of this penniless prophet from Nazareth? Do you see that?
The fascinating thing about this passage is that this guy who had it all, the rich young ruler is the only guy in Scripture who after kneeling at the feet of Jesus was worse off afterwards than when he came. I challenge you! Google the New Testament and check it out! Everybody who kneels at the feet of Jesus find themselves healed upon standing! When they get up, they’ve been made whole again! When they get up, they’re forgiven!
When they kneel and get up, they feel like a brand-new person. But this guy, when he got up—he felt worse. He didn’t go away feeling brand-new; he went away feeling ashamed, rejected and embarrassed.
The easiest thing for us to do here is to distance ourselves from the rich young ruler. “That’s not me, because I’m not rich! That person over there is rich!” I love the definition of rich, or materialism. “Materialism ends where my income ends!” It just keeps moving and changing.
Listen: If you live in the United States of America, there’s a 99.9% chance you are rich! You’re rich! Compared to most of the world, we live in Disney World. God is breaking up Disney World, isn’t He? He’s breaking it up right now. Rich young ruler. Give away everything! Sell all your possessions! Where’s the 10%? Everything! Jesus loved him. I believe Jesus was calling him to be an Apostle, one of the elite group. I don’t think it was just a little, “Hey…” Jesus saw the guy had the good stuff. He walked away. Why was it? What is it about money that makes us so funny? It’s awkward for me to get up here and talk about money, because so many church people and T.V. people are always just begging and talking about money all the time! It’s awkward! It’s like going lingerie shopping with your mother-in-law. It just doesn’t work sometimes.
What is it about riches? They make you self-reliant. What was Jesus doing? He was simply pointing out to this guy what was at the very center of his life. His riches represented his significance. They represented his sense of identity, his self-esteem. It was everything to him. It was his center and his core. When you come into a relationship with Jesus Christ, He says, “You have to replace the center of your life with Me.” We can even put good things at the center of our lives. There’s nothing noble about being rich, and there’s nothing noble about being poor. It’s a matter of what is at the center of your life. Jesus comes in and says, “I want you to give Me the center.”
He asks you and me this question today, “What are you holding on to? What is at the very center of your life?” You say it’s not money! Well, it’s not money until someone says, “Hey, give it all away!” Just like the last few months, you don’t realize how much you love money until you start losing it! A lot of it!
So what is at the center of your life? What is at the core of your life? Is there anyone or anything that you are holding on to that you’re not giving to Jesus? If you want a practical way to evaluate that, then get out your day-timer, or your Black Berry or your calendar; get out the checkbook and credit card statements. How did you invest your money in 2008? Did you invest your money in the K.O.G., or did you invest your money in the big M.E.? Do a check!
I forgot to tell you, but I’m reading out of The Message translation Bible, Eugene Peterson. So if you’re wondering as you looked at your NIV, NASV, KGV, or NKJV; I like what The Message says. Did you see the last verse, 22? It says, “He was holding on tight to a lot of things and not about to let go.” He was holding on tight!
I need a volunteer! Anybody willing to volunteer? Do you have any money? Could you give me a one dollar bill, or a five dollar bill? Abe Lincoln, United States of America is on the five dollar bill. On the back, it has the Lincoln Memorial. Then it has these four words over the Lincoln Memorial. Do you know what they are? “In God We Trust.” It’s even on the penny! Do you believe that? Do you believe that we as a nation or as a people of the United States trust in God? Do you believe that? No! We don’t trust in God. We believe in God, but we trust in money. Right? We believe in God, but we trust in our cash. I’m going to give you your money back! He was sweating! Let’s give this guy a hand for participating! Thank you!
So here is this guy who has it all together. He approaches Jesus and kneels at His feet. “What can I do to get eternal life?” Jesus says, “You’ve got to sell everything.” The guy’s holding on too tightly to a lot of stuff and won’t let go. Can’t you see as he’s leaving Jesus, he’s getting the dust off his beautiful suit, and Jesus and His disciples are kind of watching his figure as he just kind of disappears and recedes into the distance? Now it’s just Jesus and His disciples. The disciples, as usual, are dumbfounded. Look at verse 23.
Mark 10:23, “Looking at His disciples, Jesus said, ‘Do you have any idea how difficult it is for people who “have it all” to enter God’s Kingdom?’ The disciples couldn’t believe what they were hearing! But Jesus kept on.” I thought He was going to throw us a bone, or a cushion, or find some commentary. But He piles on! It says “Jesus kept on…” I love that! “You can’t imagine how difficult! It’s easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye than for a rich man to get into God’s Kingdom.” This set the disciples back on their heels! “Then who has any chance at all?”
In that day and culture as well as today, if you had riches and went to church and were religious, that was a sign that God was blessing you! Jesus was saying, “That may be a sign, and that may not be a sign.” But the disciples thought, “This guy is so blessed—he’s got it all together!
If he’s not getting in, who’s going to make it?” Jesus was blunt, “No chance at all if you think you can pull it off by yourself! Every chance in the world if you let God do it!”
Basically Jesus was saying this: Salvation, entering the Kingdom of God, going to Heaven for anybody, any time, any place, rich, poor, or middle-class, upper middle-class, whatever is impossible in and of yourselves. It’s humanly impossible! Salvation is impossible. Getting into God’s Kingdom is impossible. A miracle has to take place! We looked at this in our first week in the series. You’ve got to receive from God this gift of righteousness. But to receive salvation, you can’t receive from God like this when your hands and your heart are holding on tightly to someone or something else. How can you receive from God? It’s going to fall out! So to receive God’s grace when grace does call your name; then you have to open your hands to receive it.
The key to this passage is really the passage before. Remember when you’re reading the Bible, context is king? Context, context… Check this out! Here’s the key. Mark 10:13-36, “The people brought children to Jesus, hoping He might touch them.” Everybody wanted to be around Jesus! “The disciples shooed them off. But Jesus was irate and let them know it: ‘Don’t push these children away! Don’t ever get between them and Me! These children are at the very center of life in the K.O.G. Mark this: Unless you accept God’s Kingdom in the simplicity of a child, you’ll never get in!’ Then gathering the children up in His arms, He laid His hands of blessing on them.”
What’s the key to getting into the Kingdom of God? What’s the key to staying in the Kingdom of God? Of growing in your faith? It’s learning to trust Jesus with total trust! It’s learning to become like a child; not to be childish, but to be child-like. When we come before God in Christ, we say, “God, I come to You empty-handed. I open my clenched little fist, and I open it up to You to follow You and to do what You want me to do, and to go where You want me to go.” Children are utterly dependent upon their parents. That’s what Jesus calls us to do. He calls us to total trust. He calls us to let go of that white-knuckled grip we have of things, or of people, or of relationships.
God asks us, “What’s going on in your life? What is the most valuable thing you own? What do you value the most? If you’re to follow Me, you’ve got to give that up to Me.” You say, “That’s difficult!” No it’s not difficult! It’s impossible! But isn’t that the point? I mean, if there is a God, can’t this God do the impossible in your life and my life? If there is a God, and He does know all things; doesn’t He know what’s at the center of all our hearts? It may be cash for one person, cars for another person; it may be houses for you, or shoes, or a relationship with someone else.
I don’t know what it is, but God knows what is at the center of your life. You’ve got to give it to Him. Become like a child.
Years ago, we were doing a short-term mission trip in Mexico City, and there is a neighborhood in Mexico City called Chimalhuacán, and it’s located right near the airport. I say “neighborhood”—that’s being generous. It’s basically a group of houses of just hovels that have been built over a garbage dump in Mexico City, the largest city in the world. When I first went there, the sewage drains were just ditches, so you had open sewage everywhere. The electricity they had was pirated from the street. Over one million people lived in Chimalhuacán in utter poverty.
We were there, helping to build a church literally, laying the foundation and pouring cement. We were also doing Vacation Bible School for the kids. There was a girl in our group called Cheryl who befriended this beautiful, 9 year-old little Mexican local girl. They had become friends, although they didn’t speak the same language. The last day there, we were giving things to the children as we were leaving, like T-shirts, and taking our shoelaces out of our shoes and making little bracelets and giving them to the girls. This little girl went to her place where she lived and came back, talking through a translator to Cheryl. She had in her hand a beautiful gold necklace. She said through the translator, “Tell Cheryl that I want her to have this.” Cheryl looked down at this gold necklace and said, “I can’t take that!” The little girl said again through the translator, “No, no, no—really, really!” “She says she really wants you to have it”, said the translator. “Take the necklace!” Cheryl said, “No, no! That’s a beautiful necklace! I really appreciate it, but I can’t take it!” Finally, the little girl said again, “Really, please—take it! Take it!” Cheryl was compassionate but a little exasperated. She said, “I can’t take that gold necklace! That’s the most valuable thing she owns!” The translator looked back at Cheryl and said “That’s why she’s giving it to you. It’s the most valuable thing she owns.”
Lord, we learn so much about Your Gospel from children. Lord, we thank You that You gave what was most valuable to us so that we could turn around and give what’s most valuable in our life to You. Lord, I pray that during this time of invitation that You would lead men who need to stand and come today and walk down these aisles, and say, “I want God to be at the very center of my life. I’m letting go of my white-knuckled grip on whatever it is, because I know that God has made me. I want God to be the center of my life.”
Lord, there are some ladies here today who need to stand and walk down these aisles and say “Today’s the day I am fully turning my life over to Jesus Christ. I want Him to come in and not only forgive me and cleanse me, giving me a new life; but I want to follow Him.” Lord, lead them to stand and to come.