How can anyone get into heaven?

As Jesus was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “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.’” And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said 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.” Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen. At first glance, you might think this is all about wealth, riches, bank accounts, real estate, and the like. And you would be wrong. Instead it is all about stripping us of our own gods and goddesses, the delights of our hearts, and pointing us again to the CROSS of Jesus.

How difficult it is for a man to enter the kingdom of God. Who, then could ever enter the Kingdom?! The rich young man had kept the commandments…right? Just like you and me, right? You are Christian, you come to church, you pray, you may even come running to Jesus in the delights of your successes, but you have a heart just like this young man. And what kind of heart is that??

The intention of man’s heart is evil.

Every heart has been since Adam’s fall. No matter how good you look, how great you work, and what bottom line you have in your bank account or portfolio, or even what ears you can bend by the water cooler, your heart is corrupt. It’s only an evil diet of filth continually. The problem isn’t your wealth or lack of it, it is the god that you have made yourself out to be.

This young man’s sin wasn’t that he was wealthy or that he was young or even that he was greedy. His sin was trust. Jesus explains: “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!” Not because riches are inherently sinful, but because those who have wealth see little need for a Savior. Wealth is an easy thing to trust in, and those who trust in wealth aren’t trusting in Christ. And so Jesus says, “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!”

Yes, the young man trusted in his wealth. But it may not be wealth for you or it may be wealth for you. It may be how you treat others or what you say about them or to them. Your bottom line might be how well you gossip or what you can steal from those who are vulnerable. You want to be able to trust in the things of your life, people, possessions, etc. We are very good at putting all sorts of things in our life in order to not have to trust in a Savior.

You’ve heard it said, “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” Jesus says, “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” The Law is a gift of God for you, but it isn’t something you can handle. It does one thing, it kills you. It leaves you sorrowful, it crushes your allegiances and unravels your trust. God’s law is meant to remove those things in life that can’t save you!

Have you kept the commandments? Really, have you had no other gods in your life? Have you called upon his name in every trouble? Have you remembered the sabbath day and held the preaching of God’s Word as sacred and strived to hear and learn it? Have you honored those in authority over you, loved them, honored them, served and obeyed them? Have you hurt your neighbor? Have you spoken well of him, built him up, defended him, and put the best construction on everything – explaining it all in the kindest way?? And what of your neighbor’s possessions and family…have you coveted, schemed, and enticed?

How difficult it is for a man to enter the kingdom of God! Repent!

The kingdom of God is at hand!

Jesus looked at the young rich ruler and loved him. He taught him using the full weight of the Law and yet there was sweet and full Gospel there for him. Jesus looks at you and loves you! Who can be saved? Well, with man it is impossible. You can’t ask: what must I do! Your faith asks, what has Christ done for me! Because with man it is impossible, but with God all things are possible. Camels can go through the tiniest of openings and you can be made new, clean, and holy in the working of faith in your heart.

And so unlike the rich young man and unlike us, Jesus picks up his Cross and goes all the way to death, emptying himself of the riches of heaven so that he could have you as his own.

But He is not finished. The Good Teacher now offers that cross to you. By His holy Law preached to you this day, He still warns and accuses of sin-not so that you walk away sorrowful, but so that you might repent and turn away from that which would destroy you. And by His holy Gospel, He gives you His cross. He takes away your sins-you need not suffer and die for them because He already has. He gives you His righteousness, giving you the credit and benefits of His perfect keeping of God’s Law. He makes you His family, members of His household. He marks you with His cross in Holy Baptism, that He might join you to His death. He gives you His body and blood as he bids you come to the table of his supper, that He might join you to His life.

You can’t. He can; and He does. Faithfully, again and again granting you forgiveness for your sins.

This is the Good News He has for us-that He has won salvation for us and gives it freely. And this is the message that He calls us to proclaim as a Church-continually, faithfully. At times, people will hear and walk away-even some such as the rich young ruler. We watch such go with sorrow, praying that they will return to the grace of God. And we continue to preach the same life-giving Gospel which our Lord proclaimed and fulfilled: You are sure of your salvation: Not because you can earn it, but because He has won it for you by His death and resurrection.

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The Son of God Breaks In

So as the season of Epiphany comes to a close, we return to the recurring truth that is the Son of God: He walks through locked doors. We would have all sorts of walls to keep him out, but instead, he walks right through them and settles in on our sin. What does he do that for?? He comes for one reason: to take it from you. In its place he puts his righteousness and salvation. As you celebrate Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras or Carnival… remember that we celebrate because our God has become a Man and he walks through the mess that is your sin and forgives it all. He comes for you and clothes you in his righteousness. You don’t have to go find him, he has sought you and found you.