21st Sunday after Pentecost
October 18, 2015
“What is Impossible?”
God’s grace, mercy and peace be to you all in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
My Dear Friends in Christ Jesus,
You can do cool stuff with language. Add “im” to “possible” and it changes the entire meaning of the word. You can do the same in Greek. The Greek word for “possible” is dunatos while the word for impossible is adunatos. Hear the difference? What a difference one little Greek letter – the letter a or “alpha” – can make in a word; it switches possible to impossible! Indeed, what a difference an Alpha can make. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, okay?
Last week in the Gospel Lesson we heard Mark 10:17-22 in which a rich man wanted to inherit eternal life. Jesus responded, “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” (Mark 10:21 ESV). Jesus told the man that lacked for nothing that he still lacked one thing. The rich man responded by going away sorrowful; he didn’t want to lose his earthly stuff now in exchange for a someday kingdom.
And then we get today’s Gospel. How difficult it is to enter the kingdom of heaven! A camel passing through the eye of a needle? That sounds impossible! With the rich man, Jesus gets to the point. “If you want to be part of the kingdom, then go sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.” The statement leaves the young man distraught and the disciples bewildered. And the disciples were left confused. In their day, the rich were automatically going to heaven, maybe God would show mercy on the poor, and the lame must have sinned against God terribly for Him to strike them down! But, according to Jesus, finances had nothing to do with the Kingdom!
Their question could be ours: “Who then can be saved? How are we supposed to get in heaven” Jesus’ answer shell-shocks the listeners, “With man this is impossible…”
Impossible. There’s that word again.
He doesn’t say improbable. He doesn’t say unlikely. He doesn’t even say it will be tough. He says it is “impossible.” Does that sound counter-cultural? All your life you’ve been rewarded according to your performance. You get grades according to your study. You get awards and promotions according to your success. You get money in response to your work. Faith should cost something, but not everything we have, right? That’s why the rich man thought heaven was just a payment away. It only made sense. You work hard, you pay your dues, and Shazam! your account is credited as paid in full and in the gates of heaven you go. Impossible.
Jesus says in effect, “No way. What you really need costs more than you’ll ever have. You might as well give your money to the poor; you cannot afford this.” All our lives we’ve been told we need success; what we need is a Savior. All our lives we’ve been told to build an impressive resume; what we need is a Redeemer.
Friends, God does not save us because we’re so awesome or what we’ve done or gathered unto ourselves; a camel cannot pass through the eye of a needle. Having money or possessions itself wasn’t bad, for they are gifts from God. But to think that they will somehow earn, buy, or reserve your spot in eternity certainly is problematic! That is the message of Paul: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9 ESV). Even those with the greatest worldly means cannot enter the kingdom of God through their own merit or net worth. You might have more money than Saudi Arabia, but you still won’t have enough to buy your way into heaven. No way to “afford” salvation; no way for us to pay what it costs.
From 1957 to 1990, the per capita income of Americans doubled; talk about a reason to be happy and boast. Yet in both 1957 AND 1990 only 30% of the group responded that they were “very happy” in life. People today have plenty to live on, but little to live for. So where do we get a sense of joy or purpose from? With man, this is impossible. But with God…
A Greek Alpha, just as it does to change the word “possible” to” impossible,” has actually made the impossible possible for sinners like us. Jesus says in Revelation 22 “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end” (Revelation 22:13 ESV). Jesus Christ is the Alpha – the first – and faith in Him is of first most importance because it makes an eternal difference. His life matters; your investment portfolio really doesn’t. His sacrificial death matters; your checkbook balance not so much. His resurrection from the dead? That means WAY more than your wallet. What Jesus has done for you through the love and grace and mercy of God changes EVERYTHING for you! You are a loved, forgiven, redeemed child of God! You have a forever; what was impossible is now possible for you – life everlasting – because of what the Alpha and Omega did for you at Bethlehem’s manger, Calvary’s cross, and Easter’s tomb.
In 1845 a British expedition force headed to the Arctic. The preparations made were more suitable for the Royal Navy officer’s club than for the frigid Arctic. The explorers made room on their ships for a large library, a hand organ, china place settings, and sterling silver flatware instead of, oh I don’t know, extra food and additional coal for their steam engines. The expedition never made it to their destination. Later, search parties found clumps of bodies of men who had set off to walk for help when their supplies ran out. One skeleton wore his fine blue cloth uniform edged with silk braid, hardly a match for the bitter arctic cold. Another apparently chose to carry with him the place setting of sterling silver flatware. What must he have been thinking to take fancy tableware in a search for help and food?
That’s crazy, right? So also our hanging on to things that are ultimately useless will look no less foolish on the Last Day. Many cannot envision life without things they cherish – their stuff – but they are in danger of losing the only life that counts. Stuff is just that…stuff. The Christian faith involves letting go of sinful pride and greed. Our possessions and our accomplishments mean nothing in regards to entering God’s eternal kingdom. All things are possible with God, and because of Christ, now all things are eternally possible for you too. And all God’s people said