“‘Follow Me’: The Crown of Discipleship” (Mark 10:17-22)

Midweek Lenten Service
Wednesday, March 24, 2021

“‘Follow Me’: The Crown of Discipleship” (Mark 10:17-22)

Today we conclude our series on the “Follow Me” sayings of Jesus in Gospel of Mark. Last week we took up “The Cross of Discipleship.” Today our theme is “The Crown of Discipleship.” And that’s a good order to go, because there is no crown without the cross, and there is no cross we endure that will not be far outweighed by the crown we will receive. And both the cross and the crown come as we follow Jesus.

Last week we talked about the cross. Now we take up the crown. Well, maybe not just yet. We take up the crown as the theme of this message, but we haven’t actually taken it up in the sense of experiencing it. We still have a ways to go till we get there. But the crown, the crown of life, is laid up in heaven for those who follow Jesus.

The promise of that crown is given in our text today from Mark 10. There Jesus looks at a rich man and loves him, and says to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Jesus promises the man a crown, that is, “treasure in heaven.” But first he has to undo the man’s messed-up thinking about how we get to heaven. Let’s see how he does it.

“Go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.” Does Jesus mean that if only we would sell our earthly possessions and give the money to the poor, then we will have heavenly treasures? There have been those who claimed that, that if only we renounce earthly wealth, we will merit a heavenly reward. That is a natural inclination, to think that if only we do something good and noble, then we deserve God’s approval and can earn our way into heaven. That’s our natural human instinct, and it comes in various forms: “I’m a good enough person.” “My friend or my loved one who died was good enough. Surely God must reward them with eternal life in heaven.”

That was the thinking of this rich man, that you can be good enough by your works to merit God’s approval. But by telling him to sell his possessions and give to the poor, Jesus was not encouraging him to do more of the same, only harder or better. No, the man already thought that way; he didn’t need Jesus to reinforce it. What he needed was for Jesus to pull the rug out from under him, to remove the thought that by doing something meritorious you earn God’s favor and eternal life. Jesus strips that idea right away from him.

Here’s how he does it. The rich man comes asking, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Already there’s something wrong in this man’s approach. He’s approaching Jesus as though Jesus was just another rabbi or religious teacher, which he’s not. Jesus is not some religious guru who happened to hit upon the winning formula, the teacher with the best advice.

No, Jesus won’t be put into that little box. So he tells the man: “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. 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.’” See, it’s not as though Jesus has some secret formula that everyone else missed, the one good thing you have to do that God hasn’t revealed elsewhere. There is no secret knowledge when it comes to doing the works of the law. God has made that plain. “God isn’t holding anything out on you as far as the law is concerned,” Jesus is saying, “as though I’ve got something hidden up my sleeve that no one else has.” No, if you want to gain eternal life by your works, you’ve got to keep the commandments.

Notice, the commandments Jesus mentions are the ones that have to do with how we treat our neighbor. You see, those are the ones we think we can actually keep: “Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.” And the man responds without batting an eye: “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” The man is disappointed. “I come to you asking for secret knowledge, Jesus, and all you can do is to recite the old commandments? I was looking for something new. I already am careful to keep the commandments. I wanted you to tell me something different, something above and beyond what I already do.”

This man takes it for granted that he already keeps the commandments. But there is his mistake. He thinks he does, but he doesn’t, really. Oh, I’m sure he did a pretty good job of keeping the outward form of the commandments. He avoided the gross violations. He didn’t commit adultery, in the sense of actually sleeping with another man’s wife. He didn’t commit murder, by actually taking another person’s life. On the outward level, I’m sure he practiced a morally upright life. He probably did better at it than a lot of us do.

What he missed, though, was the depth of these commandments, their power to accuse and convict us as sinners. For even if we manage to avoid the gross, outward violations, none of us can keep God’s law as it must be kept in order to please God. Our doing of the law is always imperfect; it always falls short. And this man was no exception. So Jesus must lead him to see it. Because, so far, he doesn’t. He does not see himself as a sinner in need of forgiveness, a sinner who cannot earn or merit salvation before God.

So Jesus puts his finger on where the law will most clearly show this fellow that he is a sinner. He reveals what the man’s god was, the idol that he worshiped. For this rich man, it was his wealth. That’s why Jesus says, “Sell all that you have and give to the poor.” But that was the very thing he was unwilling to do. That was the area of his life where the rich man refused to let go. Money, wealth, possessions–that’s where he placed his security and happiness. It had become his god. Earthly wealth was the treasure he really valued, and it got in the way of his receiving the heavenly treasure, which he would have found in Jesus. The rich man is unwilling to part with his idol. So he walks away from Jesus sad.

It isn’t by selling your possessions that you gain God’s favor and a treasure in heaven. But for this man, that’s what it took to point him to his sin and to show him his need–which Jesus would have then supplied. But this man was not willing to be a sinner before God. He had too much invested in his earthly wealth. People have no need, no desire, to follow Jesus when they’re content with what they’ve got. Whether it’s money or family or friends, popularity or the pursuit of pleasure–whatever your god is here on earth–if that’s what you desire most, you’re not going to be too interested in listening to what Jesus says.

Jesus points this man to his idolatry–earthly treasures–and thus to his inability to keep God’s law. Jesus wanted to show him his need and then point him to his Savior, which is Jesus himself. “And come, follow me.” Don’t miss that in what Jesus tells the man. “Follow me.” That’s how you will find the true treasure. The treasure in heaven, which God gives to sinners as a free gift. You don’t earn it. You can’t exchange your wealth for it in some sort of bargain. No, simply follow Jesus and you will find it in him.

The good things of this life cannot hold a candle to the greater gifts that God gives. The good things of this life are temporary, transient. To focus on them, to obsess over them, to value the things of this life more than following Jesus and receiving the gifts only he can give–that is idolatry, and it is to miss out on what is so much better.

So what does following Jesus gain us? What does Jesus give us as a gift? Treasure in heaven. As he says in the Sermon on the Mount, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven. . . Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.” Jesus directs us to the higher treasures, the treasure in heaven.

Dear friends, let go of your false gods, and let the true God take hold of you! Follow Jesus! That’s how you will find the true treasure. In him. He it is who gave up the treasures of heaven to come down to earth to be our Savior. He who was rich became poor for your sake, so that in him you might become rich by his poverty. He humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Jesus, the Son of God come in the flesh. Jesus, the only man who ever kept God’s law fully, completely, perfectly. Jesus, who took the punishment for our failure to keep the commandments by dying in our place. Now the judgment against sin has been served. For us, by him. Now the treasure is given. To us, through him. The treasure in heaven. Now it is yours. All who follow Jesus will have eternal life. It is yours as a gift. Receive it from him. There is your true treasure, there is your crown of life.

“Follow me,” Jesus has been saying to us through this series. He calls us, unlikely candidates for discipleship though we are. And we follow him, through the cross, toward the crown. And as we follow Jesus, we find life, new life and eternal life, in him.

Published in: on March 24, 2021 at 10:12 pm  Leave a Comment  
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