So You Want to Follow Jesus...
O Lord God, I am seeking to both know You and to follow You! Open my heart through the work of Your Spirit, so that I might truly understand Your Word and embrace Your teachings. Move me to dedicate myself, body and soul, to service within Your kingdom. As I enter into Your presence this day fill my heart with repentance and faith. As I later leave Your sanctuary, may Your presence remain with me filling me with confidence and hope. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.
Amos warned God’s Old Testament people in Israel to seek the LORD with repentant hearts and so to live. Unfortunately, many in Israel put their trust in their wealth, and their lives revealed a callous disregard for God’s command to love. Let us not follow such a foolish example, but rather indeed seek the LORD and live!
Why should we follow Jesus, rather than our own thoughts and opinions or those of another man? The writer to the Hebrews explains that Jesus is “the Apostle and High Priest of our confession”—the very Son of God who was and remains faithful to us providing for our future now and throughout eternity!
Text: Mark 10:17-22
Now as He was going out on the road, one came running, knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?” So Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not bear false witness,’ ‘Do not defraud,’ ‘Honor your father and your mother.’” And he answered and said to Him, “Teacher, all these things I have kept from my youth.” Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.” But he was sad at this word, and went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
In Christ Jesus, whom we can follow with absolute confidence, dear fellow redeemed:
There is something so very compelling about the incident recorded for us by St. Mark in this text. You have a well-intentioned young man—someone you might be overjoyed to have walk into your business seeking a job or showing up at your door to take your daughter out on a date—coming to Jesus with a question of vital importance, being met in turn by a penetrating question of His own and a series of thought-provoking statements, after which the young man upon reflection leaves Jesus behind in sadness having chosen his possessions over his Savior…this, in spite of the fact that our text tells us, “Jesus, looking at him, loved him!”
My dear friends, this incident is so compelling, because it is a story ultimately of unrequited love—the deep love of our Savior, Jesus, for the soul of someone for whom He would die on the cross to redeem—a love which in the end was not returned. In some ways the story of this young man is our own story. Each of us, after all, must also ultimately ask the question, “How can I be saved?” Each of us has this morning come to Jesus, many of us perhaps with similar questions. Each of us will hear today Jesus’ same question and be asked to consider His thought-provoking statements. As we consider this incident, let us put on this young man’s sandals and pray that Jesus’ love for each of us will not remain unrequited. To that end I would make two observations: SO YOU WANT TO FOLLOW JESUS…following Jesus, first of all, is not a matter of mere morality; but rather, secondly,following Jesus is a matter of absolute trust!
I would never want to question the sincerity of the young man in our text. We are told, first of all, that he “came running” and then “knelt before Him.” Finding Jesus, it would appear, was a matter of urgency for this young man, and he certainly showed Jesus the highest respect. He wanted to do that as well, we can see by the way he addressed Jesus and with the confidence that he had in Jesus’ ability to answer his question: “Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?” I would imagine that he was somewhat surprised by Jesus’ initial response. Jesus responded with a question of His own: “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God.” He then followed His question with a thought-provoking reference to the Mosaic Law: “You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not bear false witness,’ ‘Do not defraud,’ ‘Honor your father and your mother.’”
Are you a bit puzzled by Jesus’ response? Was Jesus in some way suggesting that He was not good…that He was not true God? Was Jesus implying that salvation is in the end a matter of good works rather than of faith? No, not at all! You see, while this young man was completely sincere, he was also completely mistaken in his underlying assumptions both with regard to Jesus’ identity and God’s plan for mankind’s eternal salvation. This young man viewed Jesus as merely a good man—an accomplished teacher of other men, but not as his Savior. His underlying assumption regarding salvation was that it could be earned by good works, and that Jesus would have a certain formula for success. Jesus’ question and His reference to the commandments were intended to reveal that gaining one’s eternal salvation was not a matter of mere morality. Jesus wanted this young man, whom He dearly loved, to recognize that God alone was good and that true goodness could only be obtained from God. Jesus, as true God, could give him the goodness…the righteousness he needed to stand before God, but not until he recognized his own sins and his desperate need for another’s goodness. Consequently, Jesus hoped to jar this young man’s presuppositions loose and lead him to humble repentance and faith—thus the reference to the law, which should have revealed his sin. Unfortunately, this did not happen. The young man failed to examine the true nature of his heart and simply responded: “Teacher, all these things I have kept from my youth.”
My dear friends, as we approach Jesus, do we come to Him with similar presuppositions, or do we truly understand both His true nature and our own? Do we view Jesus as simply a good teacher—as Someone from whom we might upon occasion seek advice, or do we view Him as our precious Savior? Do we come to church thinking quite highly of ourselves—that we are in the end pretty decent people; yes, that we can always use occasional and additional suggestions through which to improve ourselves; but that in the end even if we do not always follow Jesus, we wil be all right because we have not done anything really too bad? If so, we are treating Jesus like a teacher, not a Savior, and we have revealed that we truly believe that we are saved by our own good works, rather than by the grace of God. This is the attitude of the world—an attitude against which the apostle Paul warns us in Colossians: “Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the traditions of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ” (2:8). Let us realize, dear friends, that when we come to Jesus, we do so by nature as damned sinners—sinners who apart from the grace of God would be lost forever! We do not need advice from a teacher, but radical rescue by a divine Savior! Keeping a few commandments will not save our souls, for God’s law demands perfection—“You shall be perfect,” Jesus says, “just as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). Anything short of absolute perfection—even one sin in a lifetime, the apostle James tells us, makes us “guilty of all” (cf. James 2:10). Jesus’ intent is always to bring us to a realization of our great need and repentance over our sins, so that we might see in Him our only hope of salvation. Following Jesus and thereby securing our eternal salvation is not a matter of mere morality!
Rather, it is a matter of absolute trust! It is after this young man’s completely sincere, but utterly mistaken evaluation of his personal situation that we are told that Jesus “looking at him, loved him.” Jesus was not upset, nor was He angry with this young man. He was not a hypocrite as were the Pharisees of the day, who presented a godly façade for the public, but who were so often secretly selfish and ungodly (cf. Matthew 23). This young man was simply ignorant and unaware of his real situation. Consequently, Jesus decided to confront him with the reality of his situation. He said to him: “One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.”
Once again, we might raise our hands to object—Jesus, what are you implying? Are you not contradicting the clear teachings of Scripture by suggesting that this young man could gain his eternal salvation by doing something? No, Jesus is not suggesting any such thing. Jesus was here using the law of God so clearly as a mirror that the young man could not miss it. This young man, who thought himself so righteous because he had managed to keep the commandments of the second table of the law in some fashion, had not even in reality kept the first commandment: “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Exodus 20:3). Jesus’ words confronted this young with his personal idolatry. He had not been loving and trusting in God, but rather had been loving and trusting in his many possessions. Although convicted by his heart, he did not repent, but rather left sadly clinging to all those possessions!
My dear friends, might this be unwittingly our own story? Following Jesus is a matter of absolute trust! That means we are to be willing to give up everything, if necessary, to follow Him. Are we willing to do that? Are we indeed doing that, or are we clinging to our things instead? We sing: “Take my life and let it be consecrated, Lord, to Thee; take my moments and my days, let them flow in ceaseless praise”—yet we find ourselves often too busy for personal Bible study and many of us seldom, if ever, attend Bible Class here at church. We sing: “Take my hands and let them move at the impulse of Thy love; take my feet and let them be swift and beautiful for Thee”—yet we are too preoccupied with our own concerns to volunteer to help others when needs arise. We sing: “Take my silver and my gold, not a mite would I withhold; take my intellect and use ev’ry pow’r as Thou shalt choose”—but we do withhold our treasures from God and from others and we spend our time, talents, and treasures so often on trivial pursuits that simply satisfy our personal wants and desires.
Oh, my dear friends, let us never consciously or unconsciously turn our backs on Jesus and walk away from our Savior’s love. It can so easily happen! Let us rather prayerfully evaluate our attitudes and our life. Jesus is present here today, for He assures us: “Where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20). He loves us so very much! He demonstrated that love by coming into this world, taking on our flesh, and suffering death on our behalf. He wants us to find comfort and security in that message. Consequently, He offers us that very body and blood in the Lord’s Supper many of you will receive today to reassure us of His abiding presence and forgiveness. He beckons to us with His invitation and open arms: “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest…rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:28, 29b). Let us not find our rest in an easy chair in our living rooms, or in the thought of regular contributions to our Roth IRA’s, or in the false comfort of our own outward and supposed goodness. No, let us rather take to heart our Savior’s message and follow Him willingly and joyously wherever He may lead us. For while the course upon which He may lead any of us will indeed vary in this life, as we pursue His will for our individual lives, we can all rest assured that as we follow Him He will ultimately lead us home to heaven. There we will experience His love in the richest of measures forever! Amen.
—Pastor Paul D. Nolting
Soli Gloria Deo!