Oxymoron is not usually the first that comes to mind when we mention things like te gospel, evangelism, and salvation. Yet at its core, the gospel is an oxymoron. The hope filled gospel begins by saying there is no hope. To get to hope, we have to become hopeless. Oxymoron.
In Mark 10:17-22, we watch in disappointment as the Rich Younger Ruler approaches Jesus for salvation only to walk away “sorrowful.” But to fully grasp the magnitude what the story means, we need to put ourselves in the apostles’ shoes. The apostles thought that the Rich Young Ruler was the most ideal candidate for salvation. When they thought about rich people, their minds did not drift to the abuses of the poor that we see on our T.V. screens from the all four corners of our nation. They did not envision morally destitute celebrities or crooked business men pocketing other people’s money. Their minds would have been filled with images of Abraham, David and Solomon, godly men who gained wealth because of their obedience. In other words, they thought that wealth equaled godliness. They fully expected Jesus to welcome the young man with open arms. They could not imagine a moral ideal candidate for salvation. If you had one rose left on the bacheloret, you would give it to this guy every time. The disciples are expected this guy to be the one.
But he is not. The rose is withheld. And now like a bunch of high school girls, the disciples are dumfounded. There whole world is falling apart. They do not know what to say.
Thankful Jesus does. He turns to his disciples and tells them:
“How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God.” And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”
Though the disciples saw wealth as an advantage. Jesus saw it as a hindrance. Often those who are wealthy can insulate themselves from the problems and cares that destroy the poor. The rich can afford good housing, medical care, and food. They tend to think of themselves as being self-sufficient. They can mistake the physical wealth for spiritual blessing. Money can blind people to their own sin.
Even more striking than the condemnation of money is Jesus’ condemnation of those who have money. The people we think are most primed for heaven are actually separated from heaven by an impassable gulf. And to make sure the disciples and all of us know that there is no way for the good people of this world to make it to heaven, Christ gives us the analogy of a camel going through the eye of a needle. He says that it is easier for an animal that weighs between 661-882 lbs to walk through a gap millimeters wide than for a rich man to work his way to heaven. Salvation by works alone is impossible.
Now in recent years, some pastors have tried to equate the needle with the needle gate. They claim that a camel stripped of his baggage could walk through the tiny needle gate if it were willing to humbly crawl through the small door. But this is not Christ’s point. The disciples respond in horror, saying “Then who can be saved.” The context of this passage reveals, that Jesus is communicating that no one can work through way into heaven. He is not saying that salvation is barely possible. He is not saying that salvation will be possible for those who pray a magical prayer or for those who walk down front. He is saying that it is impossible for anyone to save himself. No one can come to Jesus in their own strength. No amount of church attendance, of gifts to our wives, or donations to our church can get us to heaven.
We cannot save any person. We cannot save ourselves. We cannot come up with any method of praying or prayers that get us and others to Jesus. We cannot reach Jesus in our own strength and power. As the Pastor Matt Chandler said,
You cannot scare anyone in heaven….it’s a place for those who love God. You can scare people into coming to your church, you can scare people into trying to be good, you can scare people into giving money, you can even scare them into walking down an aisle and praying a certain prayer, but you cannot scare people into loving God. You just can’t do it.
We cannot do anything to save ourselves or others. Even our church services and revivals have no power to save people from their sins.
So then why do it? Why have church services? Why preach? Why witness? If the wordily people closest to God cannot reach God, then surely there is not hope for the rest of us.
As the disciples have the exact some question, saying, “Then who can be saved?”
A whole bunch of people. Notice verse 27. “With man it is impossible, but not with God for all things are possible with God.” Ah what glorious news. We do not save. We cannot save nor come up with the perfect program, sermon series, or social media platform that will bring the next revival. We cannot do any of those things. But hope is not lost because God saves.
When can tell our lost sister about Jesus for the 100th time, we can encourage the drug addict to repent and believe, we can tell the serial adulterer to repent and expect change to happen because God works. God does not save the self-righteous. He does not save those who think, they have no need of a savior. But, he does save. He saves the most unlikely men and women. He saves the lost cause. He saves the person that society writes off as a failure.
When the rest of our families loses hope, we can and should keep praying because nothing is impossible with God. God can touch the heart and bring life in the twinkling of the eye. In a second, years of death can be transformed into life. Things can and do move past our control and influence. But no person can run away from God. If God can turn murdering Paul into an apostle, he can surely redeem us and our sons daughter, neighbors, and coworkers. Do not lose hope. Nothing is impossible with God.
The great oxymoron of the gospel is that the hopeless have true hope because God saves. God saves those who trust in him for salvation. He saves those who have realized that they cannot save themselves. Hopelessness begets hope.