Note: This is Part 4 of a series of sermons based on Pastor J.D. Greear’s study, Gospel Revolutions.
Part 1, Gospel Change
Part 2, Gospel Discovery
Part 3, Gospel Acceptance
Part 4, Gospel Approval
Part 5, Gospel Response
Part 6, Gospel Faith (Coming March 11, 2012)
Part 7, Substitute Gospels (Coming March 18, 2012)
Part 8, Gospel Depth (Coming March 25, 2012)
Text: Mark 10:17-31
I am often amused – or, more accurately, annoyed – by those coupons that come in the mail or in the newspaper that offer a percentage off of everything in a certain store. Sometimes, the coupon even exclaims that there are almost no exclusions. It sounds like a great offer. And it would be a great offer, except for the fact that, nearly always, the things that I would actually be interested in buying are marked off the “everything in the store” list by an asterisk that qualifies the offer and excludes several – or many – items the store carries. In the end, the asterisked qualifiers and limitations make the coupon worth much less than the print would lead us to believe.
Far too often, we approach God in the same way that the stores and advertisers approach us with these offers, the same way the Genie first presented himself to Aladdin. We come to God in response to verses we read or hear, such as Romans 12:1-2 or Matthew 11:28. We respond to God’s pursuit of us by coming to God, just like He desires us to. We come offering ourselves over to God “completely.” Only, we bring ourselves “completely” in such a way where the “completely” is marked by an asterisk.
Others tried to follow Jesus with an asterisk on their coming. We read about them at the end of Luke chapter 9. Listen as I read starting in verse 57:
“As they were going along the road, someone said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’
“To another he said, ‘Follow me.’ But he said, ‘Lord, let me first go and bury my father.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’
“Yet another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.’ Jesus said to him, ‘No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.’”
These are not outrageous asterisks. They were asterisks that sought a sheltered bed to sleep in, the opportunity to obey the command to honor one’s parents and provide for them (something Jesus himself had just spoken of to the Pharisees a few chapters earlier), a few moments to say a quick goodbye to people who might never be seen again. No major limitations like we might find on those coupons. But they are asterisks. They are exclusions. They are provisos and limitations on what we will allow God to do with us. And God will have nothing to do with it. “Come completely or don’t come at all,” that’s what Jesus tells them, in a nutshell.
The rich young man in Mark 10 comes to Jesus with his own asterisk. He comes in all the right ways. He approaches Jesus in deep, utter respect and honor, kneeling before him. He calls Jesus, “good.” We don’t think much of that, but at the time, that was a big deal. You see, for the Jews, “good” was the realm of God. So men were rarely called good, because calling them so would elevate them to a plane of equivalence with God. It was a rare and blessed man indeed who could garner such high praise from another.
So the young man does all the right things. And he has been doing all of the right things ever since the obligations of the law fell on his own shoulders. That happened for Jewish young men when they reached the age of 12. The young man facing Jesus here confesses that he has kept all of the laws Jesus mentioned in the passage from his youth. But what else could he do to make sure that he would have eternal life? All of the doing was leaving him still in a place of uncertainty.
So Jesus looked at the man and loved him for his deep desire to stand right with God and secure that eternal life that would allow him to be with God forever. Then Jesus shocks us by going to the thing in the man’s life that was in his asterisk list. When he heard it, the man’s face fell, for he knew immediately that the thing Jesus demanded was a price too high. After all, there was a reason it was on his asterisk list. So he turned, crestfallen, and walked away. The asterisk list was too dear to him.
We must be sure as we read this in 21st century America that we do not take Jesus’ words to the young man as commandments meant to be applied universally. The lesson isn’t the specifics of what was demanded of the young man, but the principle it represents. For the young man, his wealth and his possessions were on his asterisk list. That’s why his wealth and possessions were what Jesus demanded of him in response to the man’s persistence. Your asterisk list and my asterisk list almost certainly look different. Whatever is on them, however, is precisely what it is that God will demand of us when we come to him.
Our asterisk lists might contain any variety of things. We might come to God if He will heal us. We might come to God if He provides for our children. We might come to God if He will grant us fabulous wealth and a lavish lifestyle. We might come to God if He promises to protect us from all the evil of the world. We might come to God as long as He never asks us to leave home, to go “there” wherever “there is. We might come to God as long as He understands that there are certain people we will not talk to – Muslims, illegal immigrants, people of another skin color, someone who speaks another language, or the neighbor who has bothered us for years. Whatever they are, more often than not, we come to God with conditions, provisions, limitations on our willingness on just how far we’ll go in this belief gig. We have our asterisks.
I am sure the same question has gone through your head that went through mine: what is the big deal about these asterisk lists that we have? Why does Jesus go for this man’s jugular when Jesus knows that it is going to cause him to turn around and walk away? Clearly, the man had a strong desire to obey God, to do what he says, and to gain the blessings of eternal life. Why are those things not enough? Shouldn’t our desire for God alone be sufficient to allow us into His presence?
Here’s the problem. The desires are all well and good, but the young man desires all of them on his own terms. He wants eternal life and his wealth. You see, the man who turned away wanted God, plus. He wanted God and the eternal life God could grant, but he also wanted to keep his wealth and the self-identity he had established for himself around it. The lesson of this middle part of Mark 10 is that there is no such thing as God+.
If we are truly honest, we are also guilty of wanting God plus. This is our asterisk list. We will surrender everything about ourselves to God except for a few items we cling to that are most dear to us. Our last penny, our exercise program, our freedom to travel and do as we please. The variety of what they might be is endless. What we are saying, though, when we make such criteria is that God in Himself is not enough. We are saying that we need more than just God. We need God plus.
The Bible has a word for this. It’s idolatry.
We like to excuse ourselves from being idol worshippers, because we have the image of idols as those things carved from wood or stone that have human characteristics – eyes, mouths, hands, and feet. We imagine idols as being those things that people serve by bringing them food and water and bowing down to them and singing to them. We never bow down to anything or bring food and water to a lifeless material thing. So we presume that we have no idols.
But an idol is really anything we turn to for sufficiency and completion that is in addition to or other than the God who created us and came himself to redeem us on a cross. The Israelites never stopped bringing their sacrifices to God in the tabernacle or temple. It’s just that they also made sacrifice to the gods of the people around them that claimed to control fertility of crops and people. They went for God, plus. They were afraid that God alone wouldn’t be enough to complete them, to care for them, to fully provide for them. So they sought more.
This is idolatry: the seeking of our fulfillment and completion and contentment in something more than, or in place of, God. Those things that we turn to for our fulfillment outside of God are on our asterisk lists. Sports, hobbies, jobs, people, political parties, entertainment, pleasure, even beliefs can be on our asterisk list. God, I’ll come to you as long as the Republicans win. God, I’ll come to you as long as you make sure to rapture me BEFORE the tribulation starts. God, I want you, plus.
And this is where God draws the line. This is why He will always go after our asterisk list. God expects that He alone will be sufficient for us, even when everything else is stripped away. What He desires is that when everything else is gone and God is all that is left, we are still completely satisfied, full of joy, lacking nothing. No God plus. Just God. When everything else is taken away, when you are left with nothing – no wealth, no health, no family, no friends, no job, no future, nothing of anything that you value of this world. When it is all gone, is having just God enough for you?
Can you stand in the presence of God and find full joy in just that Presence? Is He fully sufficient? If you found yourself dead, in heaven, and learned that in fact you did not get to see your beloved relatives again, but only God, would you be satisfied with that? Would you be full of joy in the sight of God without your parents and siblings and children and others who have gone before us or will go after us? Is a heaven with your loved ones on your asterisk list?
Now, hear me carefully. I am not standing here trying to tell you that you won’t see your loved ones in heaven after death takes you. I am saying that the point of our salvation is not so that we can see our friends and loved ones after we die. The point of salvation is God. It is God alone, without any addendum, with no accessories. And the challenge of the Gospel is to find that God and God alone is enough approval for us to find complete happiness, contentment, and joy. Even when everything else is stripped away.
The Gospel reminds us that we cannot come to God with limitations on how we come or expectations that God bring more than just Himself. The Gospel demands that we find God and God alone all that we need for everlasting joy, contentment, and peace. God plus nothing. Just God. The God who loves, justifies, and redeems. The God who is Father, Son, and Spirit. But just God alone.
What is your asterisk list? Get rid of it. Seek God and God alone as the complete fullness of all that you need to live fully and completely a life that is abundant.