A Church for All People

Sunday, August 20, 2023

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First Lesson: Isaiah 56:1, 6-8 (NIV)
Second Lesson: Ephesians 2:13-22 (NIV)

Gospel: Matthew 19:16-20 (NIV)


  • Hymn CW 914 “Christ Is Our Cornerstone”
  • Hymn CW 855:1-4 “The Church’s One Foundation”
  • Hymn CW 768 “Lord of All Nations, Grant Me Grace”

Salem Lutheran Church

Pastor Jon Enter                 SalemLutheran.org

Theme: What Do I Still Lack?

Text: Matthew 19:16-20

In 1715, King Louis XIV of France died after a reign of 72 years. He called himself “the Great” and was the monarch who made the famous statement, “I am the state!” His court was the most magnificent in Europe and his funeral was equally spectacular. As his body lay in state in a golden coffin, orders were given that the cathedral should be very dimly lit with only a special candle set above his coffin, to dramatize his greatness. At the memorial service, thousands waited in hushed silence. Then Bishop Massilon began to speak; slowly reaching down, he snuffed out the candle and said, “Only God is great”. And he was exactly right! Only God is great!

The rich man in our text today thought he was rather great, something spectacular. He thought pretty highly of himself and why shouldn’t he? He made it! He achieved! His actions and his righteousness were nearly unmatched. Or so he thought.

After Jesus finished answering questions from the fake-faith Pharisees and right after Jesus celebrated the simple, yet strong faith of little children, a man approached Him. “A man came up to Jesus and asked, ‘Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?’” At first his question sounded sincere; it sounded heaven focused. It sounded that way if you place the emphasis on his final words. “What good thing must I do TO GET ETERNAL LIFE?” If you think this man’s heart was truly on heaven, think again. He didn’t ask this question because he was interested in Eternal Life; he was more interested in the here and now. He was interested in personal glory and self-justification before the ears of all who could hear of his high-achieving greatness. He was interested in gaining confidence in his position before God by HIS actions, by HIS good life.

Jesus heard this man’s question with the emphasis where this man’s heart truly was. “What good thing MUST I DO to get eternal life?” One of the biggest flaws sinful humans have is thinking we can earn God’s favor. We falsely think we can work and wiggle our way—by our great actions—into God’s favor and into God’s heaven. That’s exactly what this man thought. He pulled Jesus aside—even though he was pretty convinced he had already busted wide open the gates to heaven with his long list of accomplishments but just to be sure he pulled Jesus aside—to ask Christ if he missed anything. What must I do to get myself to heaven?

This man had it wrong. All wrong. He was looking to himself, his life, his actions to earn for himself the perfection of heaven by offering God his imperfect actions. Know what that is? It’s wisDUMB. It’s wisDUMB to trust our actions to gain us glory. This man’s spiritual wisDUMB is revealed in our text as he trusted his goodness to get glory:

Jesus replied… “If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.” “Which ones?” he inquired. Jesus replied, “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’” “All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?” (Matthew 19:16-20)

Can you hear this man working to calm his troubled conscience to know if he did enough? “What must I do…?” “Which commandments are the most important to follow…?” “What do I still lack…?”

If your entrance into heaven was based on your actions, how could you ever, ever have confidence you’d done enough to get in?

In November 1989, Ohio State University opened a new art building called The Wexner Center for the Arts. This fascinating building was built to reflect the minds of people in our culture and era of life. The building has no pattern. Staircases go nowhere. Pillars support nothing. The architect designed the building to reflect life. It went nowhere and was mindless and senseless. That’s the way life is when the meaning of life is based on yourself. That’s the way life is when you focus on yourself to advance yourself to heaven. You’ll climb a staircase leaning nowhere. You’ll build a pillar of actions that support nothing.

This man before Jesus outwardly followed the commandments. Jesus said, “You shall not murder.” “Nope, never killed anyone. Checkmark!” The man thought he had earned for himself one step closer to heaven. “You shall not commit adultery.” “Nope, never had intimacy with anyone except my wife. Checkmark!” He exclaimed, thinking he earned another step towards glory. “You shall not steal nor give false testimony. Honor your dad and mom, love your neighbor.” Jesus commanded. “Didn’t do it. Didn’t do it. Did it. Did it. Is that it? Is that all you got, Jesus? Am I done? Am I in? Did I lock up heaven already at my young age? Man, I’m good.” Or so he thought. He was on a self-built set of stairs leading nowhere.

With each of these answers he gave, I envision this man’s chest puffing out broader and wider as he continued to self-promote his accomplishments. I’m not surprised he did. I’ve done it too. Have you?

It happens when we compare ourselves to others whether on purpose or by accident. But it happens. And when it does, we start ascending our own set of stairs leading nowhere, we start self-promoting and self-congratulating ourselves for how much better we are compared to others or compared to the person we used to be.

If only, right? If only other people were as spiritually sound and awesome and had their lives together like we do! I’m I right? We are with it; we are with God! We’ve got it figured out…this whole fully trust in Jesus and get to heaven Christianity thing! High heavenly five for us! We’re like the all-star A-team of awesomeness for believers!

Would you ever say that? Would you ever puff out your chest broad and wide and self-promote your accomplishments that way? I doubt it. You know better. You know that’s not right or righteous. Our self-focus and self-reliance isn’t as vocally obvious but it is to God.

What thoughts cross your heart when you drive past a strip club and see the cars parked there? Thoughts judging others? Thoughts puffing out your chest about how, “Oh, I’d never!” What family member or friend is the perpetual screw up that constantly keeps botching up life? Dumb decision after dumb decision. But not you! They just can’t get it together but…puff out your chest a little bit…not you, you’ve grown up! You know better and live better.

The person in the strip club, the person clicking through porn, the person cheating on their spouse, the person quick to lie, the person who drinks too much and gets drunk, the person who disrespects their father or mother, the person who despises another…that person is no different from me. That person is no different from you. For one reason, each of us may find ourselves somewhere on the list I just gave. If you didn’t, there is another sinful vice you fall into. There is a different sinful weakness you have. None of us is perfect. None of us is righteous. None of us can make the claim like that man tried to make before Jesus, “All these I have kept.” No, he didn’t. No, he didn’t keep them. None of us can.

There is one thing that binds us all, whether someone is Pro-Life or Pro-Choice, whether someone is Democrat, Republican, Independent or doesn’t vote, whether someone is Black Lives Matter, Blue Lives Matter or All Lives Matter, there is only one truth that is true for all. There is only one truth that binds all humans together. The answer is just three letters long. SIN. And the middle letter gives away the real reason for the problem. I. We are all about self. We are all about doing what I want. Thinking I am better. Thinking I am better than others so I’m closer to God. Thinking I sin less than those people. Thinking I am a better version of myself.

Friends! You are not going to heaven because you sin less than others. The man in our text didn’t understand this. You are not going to heaven because you sin less than you used to. The man in our text didn’t get this either. You are not headed to heaven because your Christian actions and faithfulness have improved and grown stronger or more regular. You cannot earn heaven! You cannot become righteous and heaven-worthy by your actions or by your sin-tainted righteousness. You are headed to heaven only because of the blood of Jesus. You are headed to heaven only because of the perfect sacrifice of Jesus your Savior. You are headed to heaven not because you earned it—you are not righteous or perfect—but because the righteous and perfect Savor Jesus lived a righteous, perfect life in your place!

“Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law…” Following and trying to fulfill God’s law can’t save you. Being a better version of yourself and a better human than others won’t save you. It’s never enough. “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather through the law we become conscious of our sin.” (Romans 3:20)

As we look at others and as we look in the mirror at ourselves, one thing stands out. We become conscious of our collective brokenness and need for grace. Don’t look down on others because their sinful weakness is different than yours. Don’t judge others because they sin differently than you do. Don’t look down, look up! Look up to Jesus! Look up to Him who climbed on a cross to heal your very life. Look up to Jesus! Look up to Him who knew we couldn’t earn heaven on our own—we were lost without Him—so He came among us to save us. Look up to Jesus! Look up to Him who destroyed the devil’s dark grip on your soul as He proclaimed you freed and forgiven forever! Look up to Jesus! Look up to Him who knows just how hard life can be, just how difficult it is to get up each day to face new problems and new pains and more of the same. Look up to Him who walked this earth with His heart on the Father and His purpose to save you. Look up to Jesus!

When you do, life changes. Confidence comes. Fears fade. Perils perish. Guilt is gone. Grace is given. Peace prevails. And your perspective changes.

There is no confidence in self. You becoming a better version of you doesn’t gain you glory; you becoming better than your neighbor doesn’t gain you God’s favor. God’s favor and God’s heaven are given to you as a gift, a free and forever yours gift, from Jesus’ cross. As you trust in Him, as you look up to Him, as you look up to the perfect sacrifice of Jesus in faith, righteousness is given to you by God. “Be found in [Jesus], not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but…the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.” (Philippians 3:9)

The man in our sermon text wanted to stand righteous before Jesus and gain heaven on his own. He never could. And neither can we. To get into heaven, it depends only on the perfect work of Jesus. What Jesus did, who Jesus is, gives you glory. So don’t look to yourself. Look up! Look up to Jesus! Amen.

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