Rebel - Week 4: We Have Left Everything
Today we're going to conclude the sermon series Rebel. This series has been focused on one very simple, but life-changing idea: Following Jesus isn't easy. It was never meant to be. The Way of Christ sometimes demands a radical, countercultural and even rebellious kind of sacrificial love.
Today we're going to be exploring a passage of Scripture where Jesus makes a ridiculously radical demand on his followers... but before we get there, let's talk a bit about heaven, and how to get into it.
Nice segue, right?
I call this little side street on our journey "Getting Into Heaven" or Adventures in Missing the Point. Here's what I mean...
There is a significant cross section of Christians who believe that the reason why you become a Christian is because you get to go to heaven when you die.
Spoiler alert: Getting "into heaven" is not the point. It never was, really.
Jesus rarely talked about heaven... or hell, for that matter. He was more concerned with the present than the future, by far, and infinitely more occupied with helping his followers understand how the kingdom of God was breaking through all around them, in them and through them.
But still, this theology is what undergirds so much of what is wrong with Christianity right now. Stick with me while I unpack that last statement.
I did a quick internet search this week using this search term: "How do I get to go to heaven?" The top search results were almost all step-by-step instructions on how to pray what is known as the sinner's prayer...
Dear Lord Jesus, I know that I am a sinner, and I ask for Your forgiveness. I believe You died for my sins and rose from the dead. I turn from my sins and invite You to come into my heart and life. I want to trust and follow You as my Lord and Savior.
According to all of the links I clicked on, praying that prayer or others like it was my assurance that I would have eternal life... which they described as spending all of eternity with God in heaven.
Now, I'm not going to spend a lot of time talking about the meaning of "heaven" here, but suffice to say my definition of heaven according to what I understand from Scripture and the teachings of Jesus and the Apostle Paul is that "heaven" isn't a place it's a state of being, and quite simply... heaven is where God is.
And since we would all agree that God is everywhere, and everything---the very center of all being and all of creation... then heaven is accessible whenever and wherever the kingdom or the shalom of God is evident, right here right now.
The bottom line is that the focus of the whole "go to heaven when you die" Christianity is that it's kind of about then, and not really all about now.
What we need is a new understanding of "eternal life."
Lucky for us, Jesus talked about this a lot. And what Jesus taught over and over again is that eternal life... heaven... begins now if we are willing to embrace it.
If that old escapist kind of theology is the status quo, and I think it is, then we need to push back against it in order to see things differently. This is what Jesus wanted his followers to learn and to live.
Heaven isn't too far away... closer to it every day.
In short, when it comes to understanding how to move beyond the status quo theology of cultural Christianity, we need to know one very important thing:
Following Jesus rebels against the status quo.
Our passage of Scripture for today comes to us from Mark 10:17-31:
17 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?”
18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 19 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.’[a]”
20 “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”
21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
22 At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.
23 Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”
24 The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is[b] to enter the kingdom of God! 25 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.”
26 The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?”
27 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”
28 Then Peter spoke up, “We have left everything to follow you!”
29 “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 30 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. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”
Okay, let's dig into this text. Because there've been some serious problems with its interpretation over the centuries.
For starters, an ancient scribe added words to make 10:24 read "how hard it is for those who trust in riches to enter the kingdom of God."
This is the version that is in the King James Version of the Bible. Scholars discovered earlier source materials that did not include that phrase, but you can see how that shaped the theology. It's not about being wealthy, it's about placing faith in wealth.
Then there is the oft-used interpretation that what Jesus was referring to was a gate in ancient city walls known as the "eye of the needle." This interpretation is kind of the "you can't take it with you" theology, but serious scholars have dismissed it.
The one most preachers seem to prefer is the "One Thing" interpretation where Jesus knows that the one thing the rich young man will have a hard time letting go of is his wealth, so that's what he asks of him. I struggle with this interpretation because it kind of makes Jesus a jerk who sets the guy up to fail.
Another approach is to assume that Jesus is shaming the guy because he is bragging about being a good person. This one usually finds its way into traditions who spend a lot of energy decrying the idea of "works righteousness." That can't really be reconciled with the fact that Jesus looks on the guy and loves him. Why would he shame him. It's evident the young man is sincere. He's on his knees after all.
So what's going on here?
Well for starters, Jesus is described as being "on the way," which refers to the fact that he is on the way to Jerusalem and ultimately the Cross. His followers are challenged to follow him, to take up their own crosses, and to journey with him toward sacrificial love.
And then there's the way that Jesus sees the potential in the young man, and desires more for him. He wants him to know that there is more to life than the rather small way he's viewing it. That eternal life was bigger than then.
Jesus also doesn't technically ask the young man to get rid of everything---he asked him to change his relationship with his wealth. It wasn't really about just getting rid of what he had it was about seeing those who were in need around him... seeing the world in it's brokenness and doing something to change it.
In the end, the young man was unwilling to give up his privilege, his power and status and went away sorrowful.
The shift from the young man to the disciples is to be expected, especially when Jesus makes the statement about camels and needles. Honestly, I think he meant what he was saying not literally, but as a shocking metaphor that blew his disciples up a bit.
"Who then can be saved?" They ask. Because in the first century, wealth was a sign of the blessing of God. You wanted wealth and status because it meant that God favored you.
The disciples are basically asking, "Are you serious? You are saying that we shouldn't aspire for more and better? What the heck Jesus? Why bother with all of this? We don't want to be cursed, we want to be blessed!"
But here's what Jesus wanted them to know. This wasn't about keeping laws. It also wasn't about achieving some kind of success as a good person, who was good enough to go to heaven when they die...
This is not about being good enough, its about being willing enough.
Jesus wanted his followers to understand that impossibility of eternal life right here and now is made possible when we are willing to give up our power, privilege and status for the sake of Shalom.
So what do we learn from this about the kind of radical, countercultural discipleship that is part and parcel of following Jesus?
1. Radical Discipleship isn't focused on the minimums. The rich young ruler wanted to make sure that what he was doing was good enough. It didn't make him a bad person. He just couldn't think bigger.
2. Radical Discipleship demands the surrender of the whole self. Jesus wanted him to realize that eternal life happened when he surrendered all of himself, and everything.
3. Radical Discipleship is grounded in the eternal now. What does heaven really look like? Does it look like getting everything we want, or getting whatever God wants, because what God wants is total healing, total restoration, pure joy, pure peace, pure hope... all of it... everything.
The status quo needs a gut punch. Are you all in?
Following Jesus rebels against the status quo.