An audio recording of this sermon is available.
What leads people who seemingly should know better to the point of rejecting Jesus, to saying no to His Kingship and Lordship over their lives? To seeking to gain the world at the expense of their souls. I am not talking about the people around us who maybe haven’t heard the gospel yet, we have a job to do to proclaim it to them and to live out the results of the gospel in front of them. I am more thinking about the people who go to church each week, who know lots of what the Bible teaches, who recognise that the cross is important and the empty tomb matters and yet still want to live their own life their own way. Of course all of us here are guilty of that to some extent and so we publically confess our sin each week (privately daily), we repent and seek by God’s spirit to go back to living His way. But the very concerning thing is that for some regular church-goers all across this nation and the world, the rejection of Jesus as the real King of their lives is a hardened and fixed pattern. Why?
In Mark 10 today we see 2 of the key reasons this is so; some of the people approaching Jesus are self-righteous and so think they don’t need to bow to Him and others approaching him are self-reliant and so are unprepared to give up ownership of their lives to him. And what is so sad and so frustrating about this is that they are settling for things that are temporary, that are so much smaller and less glorious than what Jesus offers, and even worse that lead to eternal condemnation and judgement rather than eternal blessing.
Think of it like this. Imagine an excited young couple get engaged and do the 3D tour of Beverley barn on the website. They love it, of course they would, and so their families sort it all out for them, they ring up and book the full works, the top package on offer. It is all paid for and they are sent the booking confirmation and receipt and so they can get on with preparing for the big day safe in the knowledge that it is going to happen, it is just a matter of time. Do you think there is any chance that one day they would get to talking and say, “you know what, let’s just use your Dad’s garage instead, let’s make do with the garage even though something far better is already arranged”? Not going to happen is it? Not with the confirmation of something far better to come.
What King Jesus offers to those who would deny themselves, take up their cross and follow him is infinitely better than anything offered by the world. Rejecting Jesus because of the trials he brings and settling for the comforts of this world, be it religion, riches or anything else, is infinitely worse than settling for a garage when a beautiful wedding barn is already paid for. But praise God there is a third set of people approaching Jesus in Mark 10 and the way they approach him leads to blessing forever; we want to approach Jesus in exactly the same manner.
1. The Pharisees came to Test King Jesus (v1-12)
Let’s begin in verses 1-12 with the self-righteous Pharisees who come to test Jesus (notice that detail in verse 2). They aren’t coming to listen to him, to learn from him, certainly not to submit to him, rather they want to test him and find him wanting so that either the crowds will reject him or they will have a good reason to get rid of him (or perhaps so that Herod will get involved – remember what he ended up doing to John the Baptist and that all started with John challenging him about marriage). And so they ask him a question that is still a very loaded one for us today; “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” A big question.
By now though, the Pharisees should be realising the wisdom of Jesus and as usual he doesn’t immediately commit himself to an answer but instead asks a question that forces his examiners to take part in their own exam. “What did Moses command you?” he replied. In other words, ‘what does the law that you claim to care about so much have to say about divorce?’ Don’t worry, these men knew the answer to that one, they knew it well because their attitude to this subject was a very hard and selfish one. ‘Moses permitted divorce.’ They knew what the law said and they had decided it gave them the right to divorce their wives at will and marry someone else. This ‘right’ was put to regular use amongst these ‘respectable religious men’ no matter what hurt would have been caused along the way.
This is typical of the impact that religion has on the hearts of humanity. You may have heard the story before of a rich man who lived at the top of a high mountain and wanted to hire a chauffeur to drive his only daughter to and from school. The roads were very windy and so he gave 3 different drivers a trial run. The first one knew he was a brilliant driver and screeched up the mountain in record time. The second one thought, “I have to outshine that” and with wheels on the verge round the corners all the way up and the revs at maximum managed to do it even quicker. The third driver was very slow, very cautious, never going near the sides and regularly braking when the speedometer got close to 30mph. And of course it was the third driver that got the job since he was the driver the loved daughter would be safest with. Religion leads to those first 2 drivers, it leads to people serving themselves at the expense of others – as long as the rules are followed the religious person is satisfied. Religion hardens hearts and does not lead to people being treated with the love and care God intends.
So how will Jesus answer these self-serving men? How will he challenge the sin and selfishness that is a mark of self-rule in their lives without contradicting the law given by God? He answers with the wisdom of God himself. And so let’s read those words again and recognise that what Jesus is doing here isn’t referring to any man-made argument that will have to be altered as men change and society progresses but instead explaining a timeless truth that is rooted in how we have been created, READ v 5-12.
Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife? Yes. Should a man divorce his wife? No. Why not? Because they are one flesh joined together by God and so what God has joined shouldn’t be ripped apart by man. Provision for divorce was only included in the law because sin is a reality and is only needed because of sin. Sin destroys relationships. But we are to avoid sin and live in obedience to God. By divorcing their wives so that they can marry someone else these men who claimed to love the law were rejecting God’s rule and committing adultery. I will summarise CC Riverside’s approach to this teaching on marriage in my reflection on Youtube tomorrow but for now I want to stick with the Pharisees.
The main problem with the Pharisees is that they are self-righteous – they bring their religion and the law to test Jesus. Despite the law being a very good thing, it has taken them away from God. Their hearts are hard - religion has become their way of ruling their own lives and rejecting King Jesus. They will carry on divorcing their wives and marrying new ones when they want rather than submitting to God’s revealed will because in every area of their lives they want what the world offers them now. They think have a great deal in life – respect and honour and comfort but they don’t realise that in settling for this now they are missing out on the Kingdom, they aren’t happy to wait for the wedding barn and are making do with the garage. Don’t come to Jesus as a self-righteous religious person, don’t test King Jesus, there is too much at stake.
2. The Rich Man tried to impress King Jesus (v17-31)
Self-righteousness is one way of rejecting Jesus by saying “I have religion so I don’t need you.” Self-reliance is another and it says “I have enough stuff to make me happy now, I don’t need you.” Verses 17-31 are one of the saddest accounts in Jesus’ life, with a rich man trying to impress Jesus (v17-31). He has a great posture before Jesus (on his knees), he asks what sounds like the right question to Jesus (“Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”), and his own personal testimony is one of rigorously sticking to the law of God (“Teacher, all these I have kept since I was a boy.”) He really does look like an impressive man – rich yet pious, respected yet humble. And his question must be a genuine one since Jesus doesn’t treat him the way he treats the Pharisees who come to test him, in fact what makes this account so sad is verse 21; “Jesus looked at him and loved him.”
This man genuinely wants to do what is right but even though Jesus looks at him with a gaze of love, he also is able to see what is making this man tick. And so he gives this man the same call that he gave Peter, James and John and the other disciples, the same call that still rings out today to us. Leave your old life and follow me, rip up your old allegiances and give me yours. For this man, his old life revolves around money; and money is a pretty big opponent to come up against in a battle for your soul.
It is so difficult that Jesus later gives this warning to the disciples; “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle that for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” This is David and Goliath stuff, this is one of us stepping into the wrestling ring to try to fight a combination of Giant Haystacks, Big Daddy, Hulk Hogan and the Rock. It isn’t going to end well. And it doesn’t, it ends terribly, v22 “At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.” The man wanted to be able to follow Jesus, he wanted eternal life, but he also wanted to be able to keep control of the one area of life that mattered most to him. And you can’t do that – it is the garage or the wedding barn and this man sadly chose the garage.
The disciples are amazed at his words in v24, and then even more amazed in v26. Why? Because this man seemed like the perfect follower for Jesus, in our words we would look at this good, successful, impressive man and think ‘that is what a Christian should look like.’ And that is because we are as disturbed as the disciples at the implications of this incident in Jesus’ life. So disturbed that we try to make this into an incredibly specific problem for this rich man rather than the general principle of true discipleship in Mark’s gospel. From Mark chapter 1 Jesus has demanded the allegiance of his followers, they are to leave their old lives, forsake self-reliance, put their trust in him and follow him. Are you supposed to sell all your possessions and follow Jesus? Yes, in a real way. Christians are to be sold-out for Jesus; the use of all our resources is to be centred on him, his glory, his people. Our wallets are not our own if we are to take up our cross.
This is so frightening and disturbing to those who don’t trust Jesus yet that the question the disciples ask is the natural one; “Who then can be saved?” They know that money will win in the wrestling ring every time against humans, but Jesus says God steps into the ring; “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.” And Peter recognises the truth of this because it has happened in his life – “we have left everything to follow you.” We don’t want the garage, we want the wedding barn. Yes says Jesus that’s right.
But this leaving of everything, this handing over of control to Jesus, this refusal to rely on self won’t leave you worse off. The first will be last and the last will be first. You will be miles better off as a result (though your bank account might not be), you will have given up on the garage and you will get the wedding barn – more brothers and sisters than ever before (the church family), more resources than ever before (God provision for everything we need) along with the persecution that comes as a follower of Jesus in an unbelieving world. It is all worth it now, and then there is heaven! You don’t lose when you give up things to follow Him. Bank on that. If you are not sure, check the receipt; the tomb is still empty because Jesus is alive and reigning now. Holding on to nothing to follow Jesus leads to everything promised by God.
3. God’s people are children who come to be blessed by King Jesus (v13-16)
Try to test Jesus and you will fail the exam. Try to impress Jesus and you will go away sad. Praise God for the third group in this passage in v13-16; the children don’t test him or try to impress him, they come to be blessed by him. Think of the lovely little kids in this church family – if Lydia or Emily or Amica or Willow or Grace or any of them come to you with their arms out what will you do? You will pick them up and be kind to them. Why? Because they have been really good at keeping the rules that morning? Because they are so clever at nursery? No, because you love them and they know that. We try hard every week in this church to explain the difference between Christianity and religion but these verses do it better (after all they are Jesus’ words!) God’s people are children who come to Jesus with nothing to offer knowing He will bless them.
You don’t become a Christian by simply knowing lots of stuff or by having lots of stuff, you become a Christian by admitting your need. This is not good advice, this is the only way to be saved, v15; “Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” As Jesus says this he is indignant with the disciples – he is strongly displeased as they try to prevent these kids coming to be blessed. And this is utterly wonderful news for us.
I wonder has Jesus’ teaching on marriage this morning left you feeling rotten or condemned or useless? Have you messed up badly in marriage or been messed up badly by a divorce? What about his teaching on money? Are you feeling condemned because you are making or have made a real mess of money matters? What are you to do if so? Self-righteously try to explain it all away as someone else’s fault? Self-reliantly try to fix things so that God is impressed with you again? No. A Christian will come to Jesus like a child, admitting their mess, confessing their sin, ask for help in their determination to change, and Jesus will put his hands upon them and bless them. The cross and the empty tomb mean full forgiveness and new life, new life with Jesus as Lord, a safe present and a glorious future of eternal blessing. A wedding barn instead of a garage. Everything instead of nothing. Pray Is 55 v1.
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