The Coast Guard receives an urgent call from a vessel in distress and deploys a life-boat to the exact coordinates of the accident. When they arrive they find a man clinging to a capsized fishing vessel that is slowly sinking. The officers throw a lifeline to the castaway and instruct him to take a hold of it and wrap it around himself. But he hesitates. In order to take the lifeline, he must let go of the sinking vessel. He must choose between the two and his choice will determine his fate.
In this world everyone seems to be clinging to something. Some cling to science, some to religion, some cling to pride while others cling to fantasies. The imperative of the Gospel is to repent; to change ones mind and direction. Essentially to let go of whatever one’s hope is in and to take hold of that which can truly save them. It is often the fear of letting go that keeps many people from eternal life. The scripture gives us a living parable of this truth. (Matthew 19:16-26)
The culture in which Jesus lived was one that viewed wealth as a sign of God’s approval. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had all been exorbitantly wealthy men as a result of God’s blessing and it was widely believed that all those who were righteous would also receive such blessings from the Lord.
It was in this cultural context that a rich young man came to Jesus one day and asked a question. “Good Master”, he said, “What good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?”
This young man came to Jesus, not for salvation, but for affirmation. He started out with a compliment (Good Master) and was hoping to receive one in return.
When Jesus told him to keep the commandments, he requested clarification, “Which commandments?” He wanted to be very specific so that he could check them off his laundry list of good deeds.
At first Jesus played along; “Thou shalt do no murder, thou shalt not commit adultery, thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not bear false witness, honor thy father and thy mother and thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”
This was the moment the young man had waited for. “All these things have I kept from my youth up”, he said, “What lack I yet?” This is where Jesus was supposed to say, “Wow! What an honor to meet you. Let me shake your hand. You are an incredibly good person!”
But instead Jesus threw him a curve ball. He said, “If you wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast and give to the poor…and come and follow me.”
Some have mistakenly thought that the instructions of Jesus to this rich, young man were implying that giving to the poor is the key to righteousness or that one can buy salvation, but actually the opposite is true. Look carefully, Jesus was asking this young man to let go of the very thing that was a tangible symbol of his “righteousness”. The riches of this young man were “evidence” that he was a good person and he put great confidence in them. They were essentially the capsized boat to which he was clinging and now Jesus was instructing him to let them go and follow him.
The rich young man went away sorrowful, the Bible says, because he had great possessions and here we learn a great lesson about the grace of God. Jesus will send no on away empty except those that are full of themselves.
Jesus then turned to his disciples and made a remarkable comment. “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle,” he said, “than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.” I have heard some people try to explain this passage by saying that the “eye of the needle” was an ancient term for a very small door that a camel would have to crawl through. This is nonsense. If I were telling the story I might say, “It is easier for an elephant to bathe in a thimble than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” The point is what Jesus reiterated with the next breath, “With men this is impossible”.
Entire sects of Christianity have misunderstood this passage to mean that money is bad and that rich people cannot go to heaven, but such an interpretation misses the whole point of this story! You see, the disciples had always considered rich people to be the ones who were MOST righteous and the ones with whom God was MOST pleased. If rich people were not even “good” enough to enter the Kingdom of God, then who was? This is why it says that, “When his disciples heard it, they were exceedingly amazed saying, “Who then can be saved?”
The message was obvious. If it is impossible for the rich to be saved, it is impossible for anyone to be saved. No matter how big your capsized boat is, they are all sinking. There is nothing “with men” that can save you. It is impossible to earn salvation through righteousness, riches or any amount of “goodness”. Religion can’t save you. Science can’t save you. Education can’t save you. Pride and self-confidence can’t save you. “With men this is impossible.”
Then Jesus gave them the Gospel of Salvation; “But with God” he said, “All things are possible”. When Jesus declared this, he was already on his way to Calvary. He knew that God had a plan to make the impossible possible. Jesus would bridge this impossible chasm between God and man, between sin and salvation, between Heaven and Hell. He would be the lifeline that God would cast into the boiling ocean of sin. I can hear the imperative from Heaven to the drowning soul, “Put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Salvation comes down to a choice between what is “with man” and what is “with God”. With man we find nothing but a capsized boat; a world full of impossible situations, sickness, death, hatred, murder, sorrow and misery. Some are sinking faster than others but all are sinking. It would be easier for you to bathe an elephant in a thimble than it would be for you to save yourself. “With man” this is impossible.
BUT…“With God” there is a solution. “With God” there is an antidote. “With God” there is an answer. “With God” there is a Savior…and his name is Jesus.