Based on the story of the Rich Young Man

Mike Frank © 4/69


Last week was Easter Sunday, and during that time we focused our every thought, our every prayer, our total attention on our Lord's resurrection. And in it, and through it we witnessed once again our God's victory over death, over sin, over our own stubborn and evil selves. In it we saw the basis for hope, indeed, for the confidence that, in spite of everything, the power of evil has been shorn, and though it still does its bloody work on this earth for a short while, though this is so, we saw in the resurrection the truth that in Jesus Christ evil has been ultimately conquered. In Jesus Christ evil is done away with and has been brought to nothing. We knew this to be true, in spite of all that assails us today or tomorrow. We knew this to be true, because of what God has shown us in the blessed resurrection of His Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ.

Today we turn to a passage in the Gospels, a passage which will help illumine for us just what the victory of God, the power of our Lord's death and resurrection, means to us in our everyday Christian life. Today, let us then turn to the story of the Rich Young Man. Let us hear it once again and through it let us so grow in the power of God that we might build up His body, the church, even though we are wretched and miserable. Indeed, God can do this. For with God, all things are possible.


The very center of the story of the Rich Young Man is to be found in the comment of our Lord: WITH GOD ALL THINGS ARE POSSIBLE. This is the point of the story. This is the bright center of the story which is surrounded by darkness and gloom. WITH GOD ALL THINGS ARE POSSIBLE. The point of the story is not that we should be middle class instead of rich, nor is it that we should be upper lower class instead of middle class (although God might demand any one of the things from each and every one of us). Nor is the main point of the story that during our Lord's ministry, there was a Rich Young Man who obeyed the commandments, got hung up on a command of Christ's and went to hell. This is not the point at all. Everything which precedes the comment WITH GOD ALL THINGS ARE POSSIBLE is meant to illuminate the meaning of this phrase.

To be sure the story is dark and gloomy, and we, like the Rich Young Man, shudder at the demand of our Lord. We understand why the Rich Young Man turned gloomily away from Christ. With our Lord's command, a wall of darkness is set up, a wall which cuts us totally and (seemingly) finally from our Lord and His saving power. And we are tempted, with the Rich Young Man, to turn sorrowfully away from Christ. And turn away we would, if it were not for this comment: WITH GOD ALL THINGS ARE POSSIBLE. The darkness which has been created by our own disobedience is suddenly split asunder by our Lord, and we find these words drawing us back to Him, on our knees to be sure. In utter and abject remorse, to be sure. But surely and definitely we ARE drawn back. Back to Him, who has broken us and now promises to help us to stand. WITH GOD ALL THINGS ARE POSSIBLE.

Let us look a bit more closely at this phrase.

WITH GOD: In the context of the story, this phrase tells us that it is only with God that eternal life is secured. The disobedience of the Rich Young Man has shown us the impossibility of our winning eternal life in and of ourselves. It has created a darkness which shuts off the Rich Young Man from his Lord. Indeed, our Lord suggests that we all create this darkness when He suggests that with men (the winning of eternal life) is impossible. But this is not all. What is impossible with men IS possible with God. The affirmation is cast forward. Light slashes through the darkness. WITH GOD. In this phrase, Christ turns our eyes from ourselves to God. No longer will we burst forth and confront our Lord as did the Rich Young Man, seeking a task by which we might win our eternal life.

For we have already been confronted by the demand and have gone away sorrowful, time and again. But now we look to God for His help, for we have discovered that in and of ourselves we are nothing. We have discovered that the self-reliance of Ralph Waldo Emerson is a lie. We have discovered that the naive optimism of our pagan forefathers--of Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and all the rest--are lies proclaimed by blind men. We have discovered that when God confronts us we are not the Horatio Algerian heroes pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. Nay, before God we are as the drunk and prostitute. We are all beggars, but because we come as crawling beggars, we are given Bread, and we are enabled to stand as men (as long as we remember the source of the bread and constantly seek, as the beggars we are). We stand as men who have forgotten themselves, men who look not to themselves, but to God. For we have stood in amazement with the disciples and despaired about our ever obeying God. We have heard our Lord utter the phrase BUT WITH GOD, and we have turned in hope. For WITH GOD, if he will just stoop a bit and will it.....

ALL THINGS: The light of hope grows a bit... WITH GOD ALL THINGS. What? ALL THINGS? Yes, all things! In the first place we at once realize that this refers to the obedience of the Rich Young Man. All things with God! Even the obedience of this sorrowful man. Even his eternal life.

Eternal life and obedience. Both? Yes, both, The gospel ties these things so closely together. Obedience and eternal life. Are they not connected? Does not eternal life mean obedience and vice versa? Yes, but the point is that in all things we are not obedient to God, we are not worthy of the inheritance of eternal life lived in love and joyful obedience with God. For here on earth we find even a grudging obedience impossible. But our Lord who gives us the command, leads us not only into sorrow but into hope. My obedience, my Christian obedience, is possible here and now because WITH GOD ALL THINGS... ALL THINGS... everything which God wants of me is possible with God.

Even my life with God is possible... all things. We have felt the sting of God's demand. In His demand of our love for the poor. In His demand that we share with others, or perhaps in his demand that we love others of a different skin color.

Love your neighbor as yourself. Sure, as long as he is white. Love your neighbor as yourself. Well, sure, but does loving the North Vietnamese really mean sending him medical supplies? Why, that is treason. Love your neighbor as yourself. Oh, I just hate to visit the sick. Can't stand hospitals. Love your neighbor as yourself. Why that man has never had a good thing to say about me. He has been a lousy neighbor, hasn't kept up his house, leaves the garbage all about, and now I'm supposed to give him a hand.

"Give away all that you have to the poor." But that isn't reasonable, You lack one thing. "Give away all that you have to the poor." Surely God wouldn't ask that of me. Well, he might. He didn't of everyone but he did of some. Have you left yourself open to that possibility?

"Give to them that ask of you." He is my brother in Christ, but this is tiresome. She is my sister in Christ, - but really? "Give to them that ask of you."

"He who will not hate mother and father, son and daughter, and wife and himself, for my sake, is not worthy to be my disciple." But surely God always wants us to put our family first. How can I hate myself? I believe that intelligent self-interest is what God wants of us. "He who will not hate himself for my sake..."

Surely it is altogether right and proper that we should laugh at someone who thinks that what being a Christian is all about is simply obeying the Sermon on the Mount. We should laugh at him as we would laugh at an idiot who spoke of swimming the Atlantic Ocean in an hour. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus Christ lays before us the demand of God and we break over that demand. We find it to be impossible and find that we hate it, thus turning sorrowfully away. Or if we remain with the disciples, we ask who can be saved and who can obey.

We find ourselves overjoyed with the answer: WITH GOD ALL THINGS...

With God it is possible for me to receive eternal life. It is possible for me to start living as a Christian. With God. Not just for the most pious of us. Not just for the nicest of us. Not just for the most generous of us. But for each and every one of us. There is no excuse. The words ALL THINGS ensnare each and every one of us with hope. First we found ourselves condemned, and rightly so. There was with eyes turned in on ourselves, no excuse for hope. But in light of Christ's words, WITH GOD ALL THINGS ARE POSSIBLE, there is no excuse not to have hope. WITH GOD ALL THINGS...

ARE POSSIBLE: The phrase ends ARE POSSIBLE. In the context of the story, this means that it is possible that the Rich Young Man will indeed receive eternal life. It means that it is possible that before he dies, he will again begin his stumbling steps of obedience and of following Christ. But these things are not possible in his own strength, but in the strength which God gives to him. ARE POSSIBLE: if God acts.

The apostle Paul had a strange passage which might illumine this. He told others in one of his letters to "become what you are." This is certainly a strange thing to say but it is in this strangeness that we understand a possibility based on an actuality. If only God will stoop to help... he has stooped and he has helped!! Our obedience IS an actuality. Jesus Christ has obeyed in my place and in your place. He obeyed for the Rich Young Man. In Jesus Christ, God has swept up all of mankind, and has brought them from disobedience to obedience. This is why we come to God in Jesus Christ. It is because we can't on our own, obey and win eternal life. We can't begin to act like the real children of God. We need Christ's obedience, not our own. If only God would stoop down. God has stooped. And he has helped. WITH GOD ALL THINGS ARE POSSIBLE. With God, my obedience and life as a Christian is possible because God has stooped down to me in Jesus Christ. I have only to turn away from myself to Christ. To stop being proud of myself and confess myself a beggar and in need of help. And I will do that, if I will but confess the depth of my need for the grace of God, indeed, if I but confess this, I will discover to my amazement and eternal joy that I already have His help. I will discover that in Jesus Christ, God has taken my hand and is ready to lead me.

I will discover that in Christ, God has crucified my disobedience to the cross; that in the power of his resurrection. he has overcome my disobedience, my evil self. I will discover that in Christ my real self lives and moves and has its being. It I look to Christ...

For each and everyone of us, there is some area or other where we are breaking over the will of God and there will always be. But in Christ we have overcome these barriers. In Christ we have been made anew, and if we will but turn to God and beg the Father to send His Holy Spirit that we might know Christ and follow him, we will discover what the love of God means, and what it means to be able to love. Indeed we will begin to make our own stumbling steps of obedience, and perhaps to say with Paul: "Not I, but Christ in me."


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