A very rich young Israelite came running to Jesus. We read that Jesus loved this young man. Every word which he spoke to him was infinite love in the form of instruction and correction.
Strange as it may sound, this young man has a troubled soul, a troubled and accusing conscience. He did not yet find rest for his soul. And so he comes running to Jesus, and the question is a very necessary one.
Listen to it, will you my dear young reader?
He asks: “good master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Matthew 19:16, Mark 10:17 and Luke 18:18 all record these words. These words must be of extreme importance. The fact is, that that is the question which filled the heart of the great Martin Luther after he became a Monk in the cloister at Erfurt. He went here to find peace of soul in becoming thus, by his efforts, holy enough to be accepted of the holy and righteous and good God. He tried to do this in the way of works. He walked the road of “penance,” “contrition,” “confession,” “absolution.” But he found no forgiveness from God. He did not hear Jesus say “Thy sins have been forgiven thee” (Mark 2:5). He met an angry God, whom he could not really love and adore.
And thus it was with this young man who came to Jesus. Yes, thus it is with every one of us until we rest in the blessed grace of the free gift of the forgiveness of our sins.
This rich young man must find rest for his soul. He must learn that he will not merit, but that he will inherit eternal life. Eternal life is for “heirs” of the promise. And so he must learn to look at all his good works as so much loss and dung for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus. To bring this young man to his spiritual senses, and to the old tried paths, Jesus recites to him the second table of the Law. He recites Commandments 5-9. Thou shalt not commit any sin. Be perfect!
As this young man read this law he said: all these things have I observed from my youth! I have done all this, “Master!” Oh Jesus loved this young man. He reaches out to give him the inheritance of eternal life: faith in Jesus Christ! He shows him in a very pointed and pedagogical way that he does not understand what observing of the law is. He fails to understand that the law is spiritual, holy and good. So he says: one thing thou lackest. Go sell all that thou hast and give it to the poor in love, and come follow me, taking up thy cross for the gospel’s sake, for my sake.
This is a very disappointing answer for our sinful flesh!
The young man went away sorrowful. He had been rebuked by the law of God as to its spiritual nature. He had been told in this answer of Jesus what it means that there is only one who is good, that is, God. Let God be true and every man a liar! And this answer of Jesus to the rich young self-righteous man had drawn blood from the disciples of Jesus. Who then can be saved? Who then can inherit eternal life?
No one! There is none that doeth good, no not one! There is none that seeketh after God! God looked down from heaven to see if there were any that understood. And there was none! There is none!
The camel must pass through the eye of the needle! That is easier than for a rich man to inherit eternal life and enter into the kingdom of God.
Luther learned this very profoundly. He saw this in himself and in all his fellow men. His entering into the cloister-life at Erfurt afforded no help; it deepened his problem! Until….
Yes, until he heard the gospel-call: come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. (Matt. 11:28) Then the heavy burden of his sins and guilt was taken from his back. He learned that it is tempting God to try to do what none of the fathers in the Old Testament were even able to do. ( Acts 15) Christ took Luther’s burden. He gave him a new yoke to bear, and a light burden. He gave Luther his prepared righteousness without works of law which he performed. Luther heard the gospel of the glory of the blessed God. He heard the message that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, the lost, the guilty, the filthy sinners, yea godless sinners, who were enemies.
The just shall live by faith!
That is the miracle of grace. Yes, the camel passes through the eye of a needle. A man is born from above. With man this is impossible, but with God, all things are possible. This is the mystery which the believing saints of all ages experienced, and the angels, which hover over the mercy-seat, wonderingly adore, and seek to look into.
How shall these things be, since I know not a man?
This shall be the wonder of the Incarnation: the Holy Ghost shall come upon you…. Even Elisabeth, who was barren is made alive. For with God, all things are possible!
In the dead bones of the church which seemed to lie dead in Sacerdotal error, God stirred with his Spirit. He stirred up one man: no he stirred up the hearts of all the elect in the Sixteenth Century, and gave them to bewail their sins before God’s face, but now to seek their all, not in an attempted life of good works of merit where they could say “all these things have I kept from my youth.” Perish the thought! Now they come to the blessed “rest” of soul of the justified-sanctified believer, who confesses: I am righteous before God and heir of everlasting life! I am an heir-child of God! Yes, my conscience accuses me that I have kept none of God’s commandments, I have transgressed them all, yea, even now I am still inclined to all evil, I have but a small beginning of the new obedience. But, the blessed rest! God deals with me as if I had never sinned, yea, as if I have kept all of his commandments, since I receive the benefit of his justifying grace with a believing heart!
The Reformation wonder of the sixteenth century was not something new. It was not something which Luther discovered and which was a novel gospel for a Calvin and the reformers. It was simply a return to the call of Jeremiah 6:16: “Thus saith the Lord, stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls”!
And then there were ever those of whom it is said that when they heard this message, responded: “We will walk therein.” Luther joined the throng of believers before him. And multitudes have found this way of the Lord, coming to Jesus, our peace. And they sang of this “rest” from pulpits, it was heralded from the housetops, it was written in confessions of the believers, it became once more the clarion call of the gospel preaching, and the keys of the kingdom of heaven opened the doors for every believer unto life, and shut the very doors for unbelievers.
Blessed rest for the weary! Streams of water for the thirsty, the balm of Gilead for all our wounds.
Yes, the camel goes through the eye of the needle. This is no challenge for a Houdini to master. It is the power and wisdom of God!
Such is the very heart of our blessed gospel. It is the pearl of great price. This gospel of grace is entrusted to us as churches. It is entrusted to the minister each Sunday, and to the teachers in our schools, and to the professors in our seminary.
The Reformation is lived over each day and in every life of every believer. He comes from the dead center of “all these things have I done from my youth,” to the cry, Good master what must I do to inherit eternal life? And then, by grace he sees the cross, the merits of Christ, delivered from his sins and raised up again for his justification. And he believes with the heart and confesses with the mouth unto salvation. And so this word is not far from us, it is nigh in our hearts. And then we live reformation life; life out of God!