“Impossible with Men”


Sermon Text: Mark 10:26-27
Main Points:
I. Men’s search for salvation
II. The impossibility with men
III. The possibility with God
IV. The central message of Christianity

This passage we’ve just read begins with a certain man’s sudden action and surprising question to Jesus. He ran up and knelt before the Lord and asked, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” His action was an unexpected behaviour because he was a rich Jewish ‘ruler’ in the 1st century and, being a ‘ruler,’ this man was most likely a member of the Sanhedrin, Jewish high court, and such a Jewish ruler in the 1st century would not do that in public. Moreover, he knelt before Jesus and called Him ‘Good Teacher.’ If you remember the general attitude of the Pharisees and the Sadducees toward Jesus, this man’s words and deeds were almost scandalous. Even Nicodemus of Jn. 3 came to Jesus at night because he didn’t want his visit to Jesus to be seen by the public. So, this man’s action means that he was desperate for something, and he was desperate for an answer to his spiritual quest, that is, how to have ‘eternal life.’ He wanted to know how to be saved, how to possess eternal life.

I think I know what this young rich ruler was after because that was what I also sought in my early 20s. I attended a local Presbyterian church, worshipped almost every Sunday, joined and was active in its young adult’s group, and read the Bible. But I wasn’t sure whether I was doing the right things; I wasn’t sure whether the things I was continuing would save me. Although the minister of that church preached the gospel of Jesus’ free grace Sunday after Sunday, my mind wasn’t processing the message delivered from the pulpit, and I was desperate to know and be fully assured of my salvation. I believe many of you have experienced or are experiencing the same even now. This rich young ruler of Mk. 10 had read the OT many times; he had been keeping the commandments as much as he could since his youth, but wasn’t sure about how to be assured of his possession of eternal life.

This spiritual thirst is the thirst of all men and women from the beginning. Everyone wants to be ‘saved’ and desires ‘eternal life,’ although each one’s idea of this ‘salvation’ differs from each other. The only answer to this thirst and quest is the faith in Jesus Christ, the belief that Jesus is the Son of God who forgives the sins of all who come to Him and He grants them His eternal life. In a word, ‘the faith in Jesus saves.’ This is the central message of Christianity.

And I’d like to deliver sermons in the next two months, beginning from today, focusing on this theme of ‘the faith that saves.’ In this sermon series, my prayer is that we all may come to the core of our faith in the Lord Jesus to regain the gospel grace, and our spirit be enriched with this simple yet powerful message of salvation, and go out to live and share this faith with all people around us.

The first message in this series is ‘Impossible with men,’ based on vs. 26-27 of today’s passage. In other words, ‘saving oneself is impossible with men, yet, with God, it is possible’ – this is the message for us to hear today.

So, let us begin and consider why and how saving oneself is impossible with men. The reason is, in a word, that man has no ability to save himself in whatsoever way. I mean, from within or without, there’s no way that might lead anyone to salvation. It is like an enclosed maze that has no exit and, in this exit-less labyrinth, every man and woman are lost. All people look for an exit, a kind of ‘salvation,’ search for it, but don’t know where to find it.

In their search, people pursue either of two paths, that is, looking inwardly or outwardly. People who look inwardly search salvation from within themselves, thinking that if they cleanse themselves by avoiding evil behaviours, accumulate merit points through doing good works, they would one day be able to claim their self-worth. Because of their tendency to move inwardly to find an answer for their life’s quest, I’d like to call them the ‘centripetals.’

These centripetals love things that might guide them to good works. The Sermon on the Mount from Mt. 5-7 is a typical example of what they love to endeavour, regarding our Lord’s teaching as a measuring stick for how close they might be in their search for salvation. So they try to be ‘poor in spirit,’ ‘meek,’ ‘merciful,’ ‘pure in heart,’ ‘peacemaking,’ and so on. For the centripetals, to meet these qualities is their goal, their salvation. No wonder why our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount is so popular with even non-Christians who are centripetals.

The rich young Jewish ruler of Mk. 10 was a typical example; he had kept from his youth all commands like ‘Do not murder; do not commit adultery; do not steal; do not bear false witness; do not defraud; and honour your father and mother.’ I believe this young man was one of the best ones of the centripetals, if not the best, because in v. 21, we read that Jesus who knew all things of the deepest side of man’s heart looked at him and ‘loved’ him. It means that he was one of few centripetals who have almost reached the core of their inward search. But Jesus said to him, “You lack one thing,” which meant he would never get what he had been searching. In fact, the most and only important thing for salvation he lacked, that is, faith in Jesus.

While the centripetals look inwardly, the others look the opposite way, that is, outside of themselves, yet, the worldly values. I mean, they look for such things as wealth, health, honour, fame, popularity, well-being and so on. I’d like to call them the ‘centrifugals’ because they’re after gaining and achieving all values they desire from the material world. This desire is quite different from that of the centripetals, but it is, in a sense, their ‘salvation.’

Once again, our rich young ruler of Mk. 10 is a good example of describing these centrifugals. He had all things the centrifugals desired and sought after – he was young and rich and famous. Everyone knew that he was one of the greatest successors in this term. Though young, he had reached the summit and only thing left for him to do was to stroll that summit and enjoy his life which was and still is the ‘salvation’ of all centrifugals.

It is interesting to read from v. 26 of today’s passage how Jesus’ disciples were ‘exceedingly’ astonished by Jesus’ words regarding how difficult it would be for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. They were ‘exceedingly’ astonished not because they heard from their Master of how difficult it would be for ‘any’ rich man, but because they heard Jesus explaining that with the example of this ‘specific’ rich young ruler. They thought this rich young ruler had everything, possibly including ‘salvation’; but Jesus declared what he had collected in this world were of no use for his salvation.

In this way, every man and woman search for salvation from either within or without. I believe many people stretch themselves out in both directions. But neither is the way to salvation. The centripetals’ self-cleansing and good works cannot cancel their sins, let alone merit a commendation, while the centrifugals’ worldly collections can never pay for their salvation.

It is impossible with men. The Lord Jesus declares in v. 27, “With man [salvation, entering the kingdom of God] is impossible.” Our Lord’s declaration is the absolute negation of such possibility.

This message hurts people; it upbraids, it condemns, it infuriates people. But it’s true universally. This is not a cultural thing which is true here but not as such in another place. No, that’s not what the Lord declares here. Whether one likes it or not, whether our society accepts it or not, it is true. It is truer than any truth of this world. This truth insults and annoys people, and some people who feel they can save themselves resent it, considering it as impertinent and interfering. Regardless of people’s reaction, however, nothing can be done to make this truth less offensive, friendlier to people.

This is the message we hear from Rom. 3:10 and following which says, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” Vs. 17-18 continue, proving this universal impossibility in these words, “the way of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes.” This is what Jn. 3:18 talks about people who disbelieve in Jesus remain in their original status of condemnation.

Noticing this, Jesus’ disciples were exceedingly astonished, and they asked, “Then, who can be saved?”, meaning that none could and would be able to taste salvation. ‘If that rich young ruler who has got all things man ever could obtain from both inward and outward search for salvation can’t go to heaven, who could?’ A simple answer to that is, ‘None, whatsoever.’ With men, salvation is impossible!

‘But, with God, all things are possible!’ says Jesus in v. 27. Jeremiah the prophet pointed out in Jer. 32:17, “Nothing is too hard for [God].” The LORD who visited Abraham in Gen. 18 asked him with a rhetorical question, “Is anything too hard for the LORD?” This is the key to understanding the entire passage of Mk. 10 and the rest of the Bible. What is impossible now and forever with men is possible with God.

How is it possible with God? First of all, because of God’s grace toward sinners. Ps. 72:13 describes God’s grace in these words, “[God] has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy.” Ps. 103:10 is ever clear about this, saying, “[God] does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.” The well-known verse of Eph. 2 confirms what these verses point out, saying, ‘we’re saved by God’s grace.’ ‘Grace’ means a gift, not a reward. Grace is a gift given to an underserving one. While no man can earn his own salvation, God who is capable of giving salvation to whomever He wishes gives it as a gift.

He gives this gift according to His sovereign and good will. So, the impossible men can be saved, and enter the kingdom of God. Eph. 1:5 wonderfully describes God’s will in these words, “[God] predestined us for adoption to Himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will.”

Yet, the most direct and important answer to this question, ‘how is it possible with God, while it is impossible with men?’, is found in Ps. 68:20 which says, “Our God is a God of salvation, and to God, the Lord, belong deliverance from death.” This is ever clearly confirmed in Revelation, the last book of the Bible, 7:10 and 19:1 with the words spoken by a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and people and languages, clothed in white robes, “Salvation belongs to our God … and to the Lamb! … Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God.”

In a word, God can save the sinners. Martin Lloyd-Jones put it this way: ‘The ablest and the best man in the world cannot save himself, but God, who can do everything, can save all – even the most ignorant and the worst and vilest’ and that in His grace according to His good will!

This is the central message of Christianity. That, with men, it is impossible, but with God, all things are possible! Urging people to hear this and respond to this message is what Christianity proclaims. Know your absolute impossibility of saving yourself; stop and give up all your attempts to save yourself because it’ll surely fail you; your good works will not save you; the merit points you’ve accumulated worth nothing; your wealth, your fame and all other values you cherish will never bring you eternal satisfaction; then, having known and realised your impossibility, come to God and receive His gracious offer of salvation! Jesus Christ asks you and me and all people not to do the impossible, but to allow God to do it for us. His word is clear to everyone’s ears, “Come to Me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” And this ‘rest’ Jesus promises is the ‘rest for our souls,’ that is, the salvation every man and woman thirst for.

Most importantly and amazingly, this offer of God’s salvation is ‘free’! Otherwise, it would be impossible for all men and women to gain it because none can pay for this. In other words, God’s salvation is the only thing that is free in the whole universe! Consider the costs for all things around us. Even water and air that are absolutely essential for our life require payments. Water is now more expensive than fossil fuel; for air, we have started paying for it. There’s nothing in this material world that doesn’t require a cost, payment – except God’s salvation offered in the name of Jesus Christ! Isaiah the OT prophet was almost perplexed by seeing people who spent their money for worthless things and said in Isa. 55:2, “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labour for that which does not satisfy?” So, the message he delivers is this: “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” Rom. 6:23 and Gal. 4:26 repeat this and say, “the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord … the Jerusalem above [that is, the heaven] is free.”

The only condition for salvation is, not your money, not your labour, but your recognition of Jesus as the Son of God, your Saviour, and your submission to Him as your Lord and God!

What a simple yet blessed message this is for all people! It is the good news of Jesus’ free grace! So, come and be saved! And all who have come to Him in repentance and faith must remember that this salvation we’ve freely received through faith in Jesus is of great worth – in fact, immeasurably precious. So, cherish it by living it out in your life, that is, following Jesus in all things. Moreover, you and I must always remember that, when we share this precious gift of salvation with others, its worth never depreciates but increases greatly and joyfully.

Salvation is impossible with men, but with God, possible for all and every sinner who comes to Jesus and believes in Him! **

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