How Do I Get Into Heaven?
One of the main themes in the 4 Gospels is the theme of "the kingdom of God". In Mark, chapter one, Jesus begins His ministry by saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand"(1:15). A bit later on in His ministry we hear Jesus say to the religious leaders, "if I cast out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you"(Lk.11:20). These two references teach us that the kingdom of God has a relation to a time in human history--a time that began with the earthly ministry of Jesus.
In Mark, chapter 4, Jesus compares the kingdom of God with seeds that become a harvest and with a tiny mustard seed that becomes a large plant(4:26-32). In these two references, the kingdom of God is compared with something that grows.
And now, in Mark chapter 10, we read that the kingdom of God is something that can be entered, it is something that can be received, and it is something that can be possessed.
With all of these different descriptions of the kingdom of God, you might be tempted to ask the question: Is Jesus talking about the same kingdom? To this, the Bible answers 'yes' and 'no'. The 'yes' is that the kingdom of God is always a reference to God's special reign. But sometimes, Jesus speaks of God's special reign on earth, while at other times, He speaks about God's special reign in heaven.
When Jesus speaks of God's special reign on earth, He speaks of it beginning at a certain time and growing to a certain size. When He speaks of God's special reign in heaven, He speaks of it in terms of gaining eternal life.
In today's text, when Jesus speaks of receiving the kingdom of God, when He speaks of gaining eternal life, He is addressing one of the most basic theological questions, "How do I get into heaven?"
This question was put to Jesus by a man commonly referred to as "The Rich Young Ruler". Only Matthew describes the man as young, and only Luke describes the man as a ruler, but all three mention that this man is wealthy.
This encounter begins in verse 17, where we read, "as (Jesus) was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to Him and knelt down before Him, and began asking Him, 'Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?'"
After challenging this man's notion of what good is, and after exhorting the man to keep the commandments, Jesus gives the rich, young, man some bad news. "One thing you lack", Jesus says to him, "go and sell all you possess, and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven"(10:21).
Now, before we begin to unpack this statement of Jesus, before we examine just what it is that this young man was lacking, it should prove helpful to us to examine what this young man was not lacking.
By examining what the young man was not lacking we can begin to eliminate possible answers to the question, 'How do I get into heaven?'.
As we look at verse 17, the first thing we see is that this young man was not lacking zeal. This man was not indifferent about speaking to Jesus. Mark records that the young man "ran up to Him" in order to ask Jesus his question. The rebuke by Jesus, "One thing you lack" is in spite of the man's zeal. We conclude, therefore, that no person gains entrance into God's kingdom merely by having zeal for Jesus.
We also see in verse 17 that this young man was not lacking humility. Though the young man was a ruler, and had a prominent position in society, it did not prevent him from taking a humble posture before Jesus. Mark tells us that when the young man reached Jesus, he "knelt before Him". But not even humility would gain this young man entrance into eternal life.
In our day, it is a common thing to hear someone say that 'God would never turn away anyone who earnestly seeks after Him'. Yet, the sincerity of the man in this passage is difficult to miss. This young man had zeal, he had humility, and judging by his question, this young man had a sincere desire for eternal life. Kneeling before Jesus, the young man asks, "Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" Even still, Jesus offers the rebuke, "One thing you lack".
What is the man lacking? He does not lack zeal, he does not lack humility, and he does not lack a sincere desire for eternal life? What is he lacking? Is it morality? No. In verse 20, we read that the man was very careful to keep the commandments named by Jesus. This man was not lacking morality and he was not lacking in outward religion. When we read in Luke that this man was a ruler, many commentators take this to mean that the young man was a ruler in the synagogue.
We should pause here to do the math. This man was zealous, he was humble, he was sincere about obtaining eternal life, he was moral, and he was careful to follow the externals of religion. And when we add all of these things together do we have enough to gain entrance into the kingdom of God? The answer Jesus gives, is 'No', "One thing you lack".
What did the young man lack? And what did selling all of his possessions have to do with what he lacked? What this young man lacked was a heart that was entirely surrendered to God. Jesus sought to demonstrate this by asking the man to give up the thing that he was most devoted to.
The problem with this young man was not that he possessed great wealth(v.22). The problem with this young man is that he had become attached to his wealth, and so we read that "he went away grieved"(v.22).
As the young man went away, Jesus said to His disciples, "How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!"(v.23). What's this--no rich people in heaven? That can't be right. Abraham is in heaven. King David is in heaven. King Solomon is in heaven. We know of many wealthy people in heaven. What does Jesus mean by this?
Have a look at the end of verse 24, where Jesus speaks in more general terms, "how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!" At hearing this, the disciples ask an obvious question in verse 26, "Who then can be saved?"
And finally, Jesus gives a most shocking response, "With men it is impossible"(v.27). So far as our salvation depends on us, it is impossible to enter the kingdom of God. So far as gaining eternal life depends on something we must do, no one will enjoy the fruits of heaven.
Thankfully, gaining eternal life does not depend on you. Entering the kingdom of God does not depend on your zeal, your humility, your sincerity, or your morality. If it did, salvation would be "impossible" for you to obtain. Thankfully, Jesus teaches that getting into heaven is God's work--not yours. And "With God all things are possible"(v.27).
What is it then, that you must do to get into heaven? There is nothing you can do. When it comes to salvation, we must throw our self-sufficiency out the window. It is for this reason Jesus teaches that "whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it"(10:15).
Small children have no illusions of self-sufficiency. Have you ever heard a 6 year-old say, 'That's it, I'm moving into my own place and getting a job'? No, we don't hear that until they are teenagers. Small children are unashamed of their utter dependence on their parents for virtually everything.
How do we get into heaven? The answer is not, 'God helps those who help themselves'. The answer is not, 'Be a good person'. The answer is not, 'Go to church every Sunday'.
Heaven is given to those who have nothing to give in return. Heaven is given to those who have recognized their utter dependence on the grace of their Heavenly Father.
This is what we learn from Jesus in Mark 10. And this is what we learn from many of the old hymns that we list as our favourites. We do not sing, 'Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a good person like me'. We do not sing 'Just as I am, with a hand full of pleas and a lengthy resume of good works'. No, the hymn writers understood what Jesus was saying about our entrance into God's kingdom. We come as poor, wretched, blind people, who are utterly dependent on the amazing grace of God.
Put away every notion of self-sufficiency, and surrender your life wholly to Christ. For this is not simply the road to everlasting life in heaven, but it is also the road to abundant life on earth. Amen.