Pastor Stephen Muncherian
February 1, 1998
In about 45 minutes or so we will begin our Annual Congregational meeting. Its pretty easy some times to think of a congregational meeting as a business meeting - we give reports - we go over the budget - we operate by Robert’s Rules of Order.
But we know that there is an intensely more important reason why we have congregational meetings. We have an opportunity to consider what God has done in the life of our congregation - what He’s doing - and to consider what He may do and how we might be a part of it. A congregational meeting is a chance to evaluate our ministry together - and to think about who God is in our lives.
Maybe that idea of a congregational meeting may seem a little strange to some. But, in reality its the heart of what we as Christians should be continually doing - examining our lives - our service before God - to see if we really are following God’s plan for our life. It is hard to imagine any Christian - or any church - not wanting to follow God’s plan for their lives.
So, this morning we want to look at “servanthood” and the possibilities that God lays before us as His servants. I invite you to turn with me to Mark 10:17-28 and we’ll come there in a minute.
There’s a story told about President Bill Clinton, Vice President Al Gore, and Bill Gates dying in an airplane crash. They arrive in heaven to find God on His throne.
When God asks Vice President Gore what he believes in, Vice President Gore answers, “Well, I believe that the internal combustion engine is the root of all evil, and that we need to save the world from CFCs and that if any more freon is used, the whole Earth will become a greenhouse and we’ll all die.”
God says, “OK, come and sit at my left.”
Then God asks President Clinton what he believes in. “Well,” says President Clinton, “I believe in power to the people. I think people should be able to make their own choices about things and that no one should be able to tell someone else what to do.”
God nods and says, “Come sit at my right.”
And then He asks, “Bill Gates, what do you believe?”
Bill Gates says, “I believe, you’re in my chair.”
Its hard to imagine arrogance like that. And I believe that even Bill Gates - standing before the throne of God would never tell God to move over. Its hard to imagine any of us having that type of arrogance.
In Mark 10 - a rich young aristocrat comes and kneels before Jesus - he’s very wealthy - powerful - a man of influence - able to buy and control anything he wants. He’s probably a member of some ruling council - a mover and shaker - a first century yuppie. And this wealthy man has been listening to Jesus’ teaching - and about what it takes to enter the Kingdom of God - and he senses that there’s something he doesn’t possess - something that Jesus offers.
As Jesus is leaving, the man runs up, kneels at Jesus’ feet - and asks the question - verse 17: “How do I enter the Kingdom? What must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus answers Him - verse 19: “You know the commandments, ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not bear false witness, do not cheat, honor your father and mother.”
“What has God said to you? Have you obeyed?” And this young man’s response is beautiful. Without hesitation he says - verse 20: “Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up.” Here’s an open-hearted - morally excellent - young man. Since the point in a young Jewish boy’s life when he became responsible to live by God’s commandments - he’s been obedient. Which of us could make such a claim?
Jesus observing him and his answer - speaks to him in love - here is a man who has the qualities which make it possible to enter the Kingdom - he’s obedient - he’s teachable. But, Jesus has one more thing to say to him - verse 21: “And looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him, and said to him, ‘One thing you lack; go and sell all you possess, and give it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.’”
We know the response of the young man - he went away sorrowful - because he owned much property.
If Ed McMahon and Dick Clark came to your door and handed you $10 million would you be sorrowful and upset? If you had the income of Bill Gates would you be depressed? I can think of a lot of things I’d do with just 1% of the interest from Bill Gates’ money. But this man went away sorrowful - because he had great possessions.
Why? Of course the answer is that he could see there was no way he could serve two masters - we can only surrender to one. Jesus pierces to the heart of the matter. This man had glimpsed a quality of life that he lacked - an emptiness within his spirit he could not fill - he wanted it. But he was sorrowful, because he also knew, at the words of Jesus, that he had to surrender everything - everything he controlled his life with - to have it.
Verse 23: “And Jesus looked around and said to His disciples, ‘How hard it will be for those who have riches to enter the Kingdom of God - not because they’re wealthy - but because wealth represents self-control over our lives - our security - and that’s very hard for us to surrender. Verse 25: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.”
Consider the image - a needle - make it a big needle - with an eye you can put a piece of string through. Try to imagine a huge lumpy, humpy camel trying to squeeze through a needle’s eye. We get the picture the disciples got. Jesus is saying to them, “It’s impossible.” And that’s what they thought.
Verse 26: “And they - the disciples - were exceedingly astonished, and said to Him, ‘Then who can be saved?' Jesus looked at them and said, 'With men it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.'”
This last week I was reading one of our Armenian Evangelical publications and the writer used Mark 10:27 to say that there was no limit to the power of our prayer.
We often we hear people misuse Mark 10:27 like this: “Because nothing is impossible with God - if I do something for God - then He will see its accomplishment. God will answer my prayers - bless my efforts - or reward my faith - according to His omnipotentance. I can’t do it - but God can and will.”
On all our stationary - on many of our church publications - our Annual Report - and even our FAX form - there’s this one verse of scripture - Mark 10:27 - “...With men it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.’”
We are reminded that this verse does not talk about God partnering with us for great accomplishments - but our complete surrender to God - about God’s work of salvation in our hearts.
Jesus is saying is that our greatest efforts for salvation - or any good work - fall short of anything that is acceptable to God. Salvation is a work of God alone. All we can do is surrender our lives to the will of God - and trust His graciousness and mercy.
The disciples struggled with this. In verse 28, Peter says to Jesus: “We’ve left everything to follow you!” - See, Jesus, we’ve taken the vow of poverty - we’ve given up everything and followed you - what do we get?
And later in the chapter James and John make a request to sit on Jesus’ right and left hand in His kingdom - and the disciples end up quarreling about who has the greater place in Jesus’ kingdom - which one is greater in servanthood - which will earn them the greater position in Heaven.
For hundreds of years in the Christian church, almost from the First Century, men and women have taken vows of poverty, given away everything and become monks and nuns and priests and hermits. Some gave away everything and went around as beggars. But does this mean that they have the type of surrender that Jesus is teaching about?
The disciples, in a moment of arrogance, remind Jesus of how they have left everything to follow Him. Their claim is to servanthood - by acts of outward righteousness - poverty. And, Jesus rebukes them with a reminder that no matter how surrendered they may think they are pride and control still reign in their hearts. The reality - even the disciples have still not surrendered their lives to God.
And so the question - “If this is the case, who can be saved?” And the answer - “With man its impossible....with God all things are possible.”
This wonderful truth invokes a question, “Who really is on the throne of our lives?” If we retain control of our lives it is as if we have told God that we should sit on the throne and not Him.
When we come to God with our declarations of humility, our agenda for servanthood and our acts of righteousness, will these save us? Is God, who knows our heart, impressed? When we set out our church agenda and programs and then seek his blessing, isn’t this arrogance? What do we expect from Him if we come on Sunday morning out of obligation, or pay pledges as a responsibility, or perform church service because it is our duty?
God’s promise, and His possibilities, are worked out in our lives when we can admit that we are incapable of any act or righteousness. When we can come to the point of surrender and say, “I have nothing to offer. I am yours. I am even incapable of surrender. God help me! Please take control.” This is where real servanthood begins.