Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Dangerous Faith: What do you have to lose?

As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. "Good teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" "Why do you call me good?" Jesus answered. "No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: 'Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.'" "Teacher," he declared, "all these I have kept since I was a boy."

Jesus looked at him and loved him. "One thing you lack," he said. "Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." At this the man's face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth…
Mark 10:17-22

Last week we looked at this rich young ruler who walked away from a personal invitation to discipleship from Jesus. We only covered half of the story though. Mark, the gospel writer, has written this story to us in a certain context, and that context helps us to see what he is trying to teach us. A little later in the chapter Jesus sets a shocking standard for faith. He says: "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth; anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it" (Mark 10:14-15).

What is it that Jesus saw in those first century children that  would make him say something so bold? In those kids Jesus saw exactly what the rich young ruler had lacked. They had nothing whatsoever to offer God. They were not especially holy or clean or righteous. I believe they were just regular, everyday, snot-nosed, play in the dirt kind of kids. They were wholly incapable of meeting the criteria of righteousness under the Mosaic laws. But, they had nothing to withhold from God either. Children aren't too proud to admit their need for God's love and forgiveness. They don't try to hide who they really are from God. They just want Him to love them. These children were completely incapable of dealing in the currency of the old covenant—keeping the Law, but they understood the currency of the new covenant—grace—better than most adults. 

What’s more, Mark juxtaposes the story of the rich young ruler (who did not have child-like faith) with the story of a blind man named Bartimaeus who did:
Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (that is, the Son of Timaeus), was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, "Son of David, have mercy on me!"

Jesus stopped and said, "Call him." So they called to the blind man, "Cheer up! On your feet! He's calling you." Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.

"What do you want me to do for you?" Jesus asked him. The blind man said, "Rabbi, I want to see." "Go," said Jesus, "your faith has healed you." Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.
Mark 10:46-52

There is one crucial detail that I want to point out in this passage. Bartimaeus throws his cloak aside before running to Jesus. This cloak would have been very important to him. It would have protected Bartimaeus from the rain and sun. It probably would have served as his blanket at night. Most likely he set it on his lap to collect the coins that people gave him as they passed by. Very likely it was all that he owned in the world, yet Bartimaeus casts it aside at a moment's notice. Why?

Bartimaeus believed that Jesus was going to heal him. He believed the promises that Jesus had to offer were worth far more than even his most prized possession.  He didn’t have very much, so he did not find it difficult  to lay it all down in order to follow Christ. We should all seek to be more like blind Bartimaeus. He exemplifies what dangerous faith is all about—complete surrender. Like him we ought to throw off all that would hinder us from running to Christ. A call to discipleship entails taking up our crosses and laying not only our possessions but our very lives on the altar. “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). 

But the more we have to lose, the harder it is for us to live fully surrendered to God. I like the way Wesley put it, “Beware that you cleave not to the dust. ‘This earth is not your place’” (Wesley, 6). This world is passing away. It is but dust. We cannot cling to this world and live our lives for the kingdom of God at the same time. If our hope is placed firmly in the promises of God concerning the new world that is to come, then we must walk through this world “as aliens and strangers” (Hebrews 11:13, I Peter 2:11).

I challenge you today to surrender your whole life and all of your possessions to God. I am convinced that this is a necessary component of the call to faith. This is not optional. According to Romans 10:9, in order to become a Christian you must confess “Jesus is Lord.” This is, at its heart, a recognition of Christ’s sovereignty over all of creation. He is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Surely, this requires acknowledging Him as Lord of your own life as well. Has your heart been relinquished to His control? If not, then I urge you today to confess “Jesus is Lord.” Maybe you have confessed it in your own heart but not publicly. If so then I challenge you to consider being publicly baptized as a symbol of this declaration.

I leave you with this. Which of these two men are you most like? Are you willing to lift your life up to God with open hands and tell him that he can have total control? Are you willing to live fully surrendered?

For further reading this week:
  • Mark 10: Read the whole chapter.
  • Galatians 2:19-21: Dying so you might live?
  • Hebrews 11: Consider how the heroes of our faith had to let go of this world in order to grasp onto God's promises for their lives. What do you need to let go?
Wesley, John. “On Riches: Sermon 108.” ed. Thomas Jackson. 1872. http://new.gbgm-umc.org/umhistory/wesley/sermons/108/

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