Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost (B – Proper 23)
The Baptism of Mackenzie Elizabeth Krenz
October 11, 2009
Text: Mark 10:17-22
Beloved in the Lord, what must you do
to inherit eternal life? This is precisely what the rich man asks in our Gospel lesson this morning: “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mark 10:17; ESV). This man, whom we learn from St. Luke was in fact a leading elder of the synagogue (Luke 18:18), has a legitimate and imperative concern, namely, his eternal salvation. He is concerned with the question of eternal life and death. “How can I be assured that I am among the number of the saints? What must I do
in order to ensure my place as an inheritor of the eternal life of God?” The man’s desire to dwell eternally with God is right on the money! The question as posed, however, is the wrong question. For of course, the man cannot do
anything to inherit eternal life. An inheritance, by definition, is not earned
. An inheritance is the gracious gift of the one who died, bestowed on the heir via the dead person’s last will and testament. One cannot earn eternal life. Eternal life is the gracious gift of the One who died, even Jesus Christ our Lord, bestowed upon His heirs, those who believe in Him and trust Him alone for their forgiveness and salvation.
The question is, what do you bring to the table in matters of salvation? And the answer is, absolutely nothing. Well, except your sin and uncleanness and death. You can hardly merit eternal life with those. The rich man in our text wants to bring his own righteousness to the table in the matter of his salvation. He is hoping Jesus will say, “Why, you’ve already done enough to inherit eternal life, my boy! You’ve kept the commandments. Well and good. Your reward awaits you in heaven!” But Jesus doesn’t say that. In fact, Jesus doesn’t answer the question directly at all. Because if you ask a “Law” question, you will get a “Law” answer. In fact, in His response, Jesus begins by teaching human depravity, that there is no such thing as a basically good person. “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone” (Mark 10:18). Two points here: First, Jesus is not rejecting the appellation “Good Teacher.” Far from it, He is pointing out just what the appellation means. If Jesus is good, and only God is good, then calling Jesus good makes Him equal with God. It is an acknowledgment of Jesus’ divinity, something the rich man, at this point at least, is unwilling to admit. Second, only
God is good. No one else is good, including the rich man, because all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23).
And now Jesus will demonstrate the truth of human depravity to the rich man. “You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother’” (Mark 10:19). Here Jesus lists the commandments of the Second Table of the Law, dealing with our relationship to our neighbor, because they are the easiest commandments to determine whether we have kept, at least outwardly. “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth,” declares the rich man (v. 20). Again, the rich man is searching for an affirmation from Jesus: “You’ve done enough. Eternal life is yours.” But the rich man has misunderstood the holy and righteous Law of God. The Law of God demands not just outward obedience, but the obedience of the heart. The rich man is right where Jesus wants Him. The other shoe is about to drop. Jesus is about to expose the rich man’s failure to keep the Law of God inwardly. With great love and compassion for the rich man, with the gut-wrenching desire that the rich man come to faith in Jesus Christ, our Lord speaks His penetrating indictment: “You lack one thing: go, sell al that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven” (v. 21). Go, get rid of your great wealth. Give it all away. Love your fellow man with the perfect love of self-sacrifice. Trust in God alone, and not in your wealth. Come, follow me. The rich man walks away sorrowful. He is unable to do what Jesus commands.
Why does Jesus give such a radical command to the rich man? It is to expose the rich man’s profound transgression against both tables of the Law. The rich man, remember, a leading elder of the synagogue, fears, loves, and trusts his wealth more than he trusts in God. Thus wealth has become his god. He does not trust in God with all his heart and soul and mind and strength, as the First Table of the Law demands. And the Second Table of the Law, that which commands us to love our neighbors as ourselves, including the commandments Jesus has just quoted, the rich man has transgressed by putting his wealth before the benefit of the neighbor. The rich man loves himself more than his neighbor. The rich man has good reason to walk away sad. He came to Jesus expecting to be commended for his keeping of the commandments. He walks away humiliated in the face of God’s Law. The rich man thought he brought great virtue and righteousness to the table in the matter of his salvation. He found that, instead, all he could bring is his own sin and uncleanness and death.
I should mention at this point that Jesus has not commanded you
to go and sell everything you have and give it all to the poor. This commandment was given to the rich man, not to you. And yet, you don’t get off so easily either. We don’t know whether the rich man does as Jesus commanded. Mark leaves the account intentionally open-ended. Because now each one of us is faced with the question: What about you? How have you transgressed both tables of the Law? What do you fear, love, and trust more than God? Are you willing to give it up? How have you failed to love your neighbor as yourself? Are you willing to give up everything for your neighbor’s welfare? Such questions are enough to cause us to walk away from this church building this morning, disheartened and sorrowful. Jesus has exposed our black hearts for what they are. Truly no one is good except God alone.
Thanks be to God, we are not saved by our works, but by Christ alone. We are saved by grace alone through faith alone, without works, lest anyone should boast. What must I do
to inherit eternal life? Ask a Law question and get a Law answer. If you want to do
something to merit your salvation, you have to keep the whole Law without even the most minor stumbling in even one point your whole life long, from cradle, nay, conception to the grave. And oh, by the way, that keeping of the Law isn’t just your outward actions, but the inner disposition of your heart. Thoughts, as well as words and deeds. It is impossible. Because sin is not just what you do, but who you are as children of Adam and Eve. You’d have to be the Son of God to keep the Law in this human flesh. And that’s just the point. No one is good except God. No human being, no son or daughter of Adam and Eve, is good, except Jesus Christ, the Son of God. We bring nothing to the table in the matter of our salvation except our sin and uncleanness and death. Jesus brings everything to the table in the matter of our salvation, including His sin atoning death on the cross, perfect righteousness and keeping of the Law, and His victorious resurrection from the dead. It all depends on Jesus, not on us. The question is not, “What must I do
to inherit eternal life?” The question is, “What has Jesus done
to graciously merit for me, and give me, eternal life?” And the answer is, He kept the Law perfectly, in your place. He died for your sins, paying the penalty for all of your iniquity, making peace with God. He rose triumphantly from the grave, that you might have eternal life and the promise of your own resurrection from the dead on the Last Day. He ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of God, ruling all things for your benefit, interceding for you before the throne of your Father, speaking His good Word to you in Scripture and preaching, absolution and benediction, feeding you with His true body and blood, present for you, for your forgiveness, life, and salvation, as God and Man in the Holy Supper.
You bring nothing to the table in the matter of your salvation. And the perfect example of this is the Baptism of an infant. An infant is utterly helpless even when it comes to the matters of this life. An infant cannot feed himself, clothe himself, diaper himself. An infant is dependant on his or her parents for even the most basic of needs. And in spiritual matters, it goes without saying, an infant has no intellectual ability to understand Christian theology or confess Christ with his or her mouth. An infant is the perfect example of the truth that we bring nothing to the table in matters of salvation, because an infant is utterly helpless in spiritual matters. Jesus says we should all be infants before God. “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it” (Mark 10:15). This morning we saw my precious little Mackenzie Elizabeth die and rise again in the waters of Holy Baptism. She had to die, she had to be good and dead, for God to do His enlivening work in her. In fact, she was spiritually dead already… born that way. She had to have her old Adam, her old sinful flesh drowned in those baptismal waters. God had to do it. She was utterly helpless, spiritually dead. Even I as her father couldn’t do it. Her heavenly Father had to do it. Because I can’t raise her from the dead. He can. And He did. He raised her out of those baptismal waters to live a new life. Baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ, she died with Christ, and she is risen with Him. She has eternal life now, although that will not be apparent to the fleshly eye this side of heaven and the resurrection. She has the promise that her body will be called forth from the grave by her risen Lord Jesus on the Last Day. She has been washed clean of sin. Her sin-stained robes have been washed white in the blood of the Lamb. She has been made God’s own child. What could she do
to be saved? Nothing. God did it all. Jesus did it all. The Holy Spirit, who now dwells in her by virtue of the water and the Word, did it all. What can you do
to be saved? Nothing. God does it all. Jesus does it all. The Holy Spirit, who now dwells in you by virtue of water and the Word, does it all. Salvation is accomplished. Jesus, who died, and is now risen, has graciously made us heirs of eternal life with Him. This truth has been established on a foundation of solid stone, the Rock that is Jesus Himself. Now, as a result of our salvation already accomplished by Jesus, we, along with Mackenzie, and with the whole Church on earth, daily return to our Baptism in repentance and faith, daily drown the old Adam along with all sins and evil desires that the new man might daily arise in us to live before God in the righteousness of Christ. And we rejoice. We pray, praise, and give thanks. We live in faith toward God and fervent love toward one another, not asking what we
must do, but reveling in the reality of what Christ has done for us. No one is good except God alone. In Baptism, Jesus, God in the flesh, has given us His goodness as our very own, credited to our account. Now when God looks at us, covered in the blood of Christ, He sees only the righteousness and perfection of His own dear Son. To Him alone be the glory. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.