You may recall the space shuttle, Colombia. Beginning in 1981, it had flown 27 missions into space. But ten years ago last month, on Feb 1, 2003, Colombia disintegrated over Texas, Louisiana, and Arkansas as it reentered earth’s atmosphere. Seven astronauts were killed. And what was the cause that led to the shuttle’s demise? A small piece of foam broke off of an external tank during the launch. It caused some minor damage to the heat protective shield on the left wing — a small hole just 6″ by 10.” The shuttle was 122′ long with a wingspan of 78′ — but a 6″ by 10″ tear brought it down. When the Colombia began to enter the atmosphere, that area heated up to 3,000° F.
The official report said: “…a breach in the Thermal Protection System on the leading edge of the left wing …allowed superheated air to penetrate the leading-edge insulation and progressively melt the aluminum structure of the left wing, resulting in a weakening of the structure until increasing aerodynamic forces caused loss of control, failure of the wing, and breakup of the Orbiter.”
Shuttle Flight Director Paul Hill wrote: “The most complicated machine ever built got knocked out of the sky by a pound and a half of foam. The message that sends to me is that we are walking the razor’s edge. This is a dangerous business and it does not take much to knock you off.”
A pound and a half of foam, a 6″ by 10″ tear in an aircraft larger than this building — the lesson for us is that small things matter. And that’s what we’ll see in our story today, taken from Mark 10. Big things can be destroyed if only one, small thing is missing.
Mark 10:17-24 (NIV)
17 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’”
20 “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”
21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
22 At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.
23 Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!” 24 The disciples were amazed at his words…
This man apparently got everything right…except for one thing. He scored 99 on his exam, but he missed one question — and that was enough to keep him out of the kingdom! Now, doesn’t that seem kind of extreme? Isn’t that crazy? It doesn’t seem to make sense to fail someone because of one, small problem!
This is what I love about the Bible: it keeps stretching us, challenging us. To modern ears, the Bible sometimes seems “crazy.” But that’s exactly why we need to read it and know it — the more insane, the crazier the world gets, the more the Truth will seem strange…and the more we need to hear it.
For the last few weeks we’ve been looking at some “extreme” statements made by Jesus found in the Gospel of Mark: (1) “I am willing…” to touch an unclean leper in order to make him clean; (2) “Your sins are forgiven…” which means Jesus put himself in God’s place; (3) “Why are you so afraid?” when you’ve got One in the boat who can control the wind and the waves. Today: “One thing you lack.”
You know, Jesus has often been misunderstood and misinterpreted, especially when he said things that seemed extreme — things way over the top. To the average person, his words often didn’t make sense.
In fact, Jesus did and said things that caused even his family to say, “He is out of his mind” (Mark 3:21). So Mark writes that they tried to “take charge of him” — today we’d say they wanted to “have him committed.”
Others had a different explanation for his extreme ways. They said, “He is possessed…he has an evil spirit” (Mark 3:22,30). Perhaps Jesus’ words seem even more crazy to people today — because…
- society makes “tolerance” a higher value than “truth”;
- many think there are no “absolutes”;
- anyone who seems to be an extremist is ridiculed, considered out of touch with reality.
For many today, Jesus’ words are too difficult, too extreme, too bizarre. For many, his “straight” talk is seen as “crazy” talk. But here’s the thing. Maybe in our crazy, mixed-up world, we need some truth and honesty. Maybe we need God’s perspective more than our own human rationale.
I think we can agree that our world has a lot of problems: mass killings and drive-by shootings; drugs, addictions, crime; domestic abuse; poverty and welfare; unfaithfulness in marriages and families; a self-centered, self-indulgent, entitlement society (leading to all sorts of problems: obesity, obscene wealth, debt-driven consumerism); grid-lock in government; class warfare; and the list goes on and on. We live in a crazy world.
I suspect that it’s when we begin to wrestle with the extreme statements Jesus made that we can finally begin to find some answers to the mess we’re in. Maybe his “crazy talk” is precisely what we need to find balance and hope to our problems. Perhaps it’s when we get in touch with the amazing, outrageous Jesus that we can begin to find the solution for our own crazy lives.
So today’s crazy statement is: “One thing you lack.”
This man came up to Jesus with a question. Now, catch the scene: Jesus had been going to various places, teaching the people wherever he went. In the verses just before this story, he said that anyone who wanted to gain the kingdom of God needed to become like a little child: “…anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” (Mark 10:15)
I’m imagining this man, listening to Jesus, trying to figure out what in the world he meant. In his mind (and in the conventional wisdom of society), children, women, and slaves had next to no rights. They were at the bottom rung of society. And so, it was obvious that they were not blessed by God. No, it was the rich and the powerful who enjoyed the blessings of God — not the poor, the downtrodden, the disadvantaged.
So this man was a bit confused. He had followed all the religious rules and commandments. He was wealthy. He had influence. He enjoyed the respect of others — the prestige of being successful. He had always considered himself blessed by God. So what Jesus said didn’t make any sense to him.
I’m imagining him, frowning, scratching his head, thinking to himself, “I must have heard wrong. Maybe Jesus was talking about others — he couldn’t have been talking about me!”
So as Jesus turned to go, he ran out of the crowd and ran up to Jesus. “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” What must I do? You can see I’m not like all the others. Surely, I’m good enough to make the kingdom, aren’t I? I’ve done everything required, haven’t I? What would you say to me?
Before Jesus answers the man’s question, he asks him a question: “Why do you call me ‘good’? No one is good — except God alone.”
Here is another example where Jesus made an incredible, preposterous claim of being God — sometimes proving it by what he did! We’ve seen this in other “Crazy Talk” messages in this series:
- only God can forgive sins, but Jesus did exactly that;
- only God can control the wind and the waves, but Jesus did exactly that. [The disciples were afraid of the storm, but when they saw what Jesus did to the storm, Mark says that they were “absolutely terrified” about his power and authority, asking themselves, “What kind of man is this?” (Matt 8:27, TEV)]
Jesus stretched the man further, telling him to obey God’s commandments. He replied, “I’ve kept them all, ever since I was a boy.”
There must have been something about the man that tugged at Jesus’ heart. Maybe it was a hint of desperation in his voice, as if to say, I’ve done everything I know to do, but I’m still unsure. I still have doubts.
Or maybe it was his sincerity — his desire to know the truth. I’ve always believed one thing, but now you’re telling me something else. Help me understand.
Whatever it was, Jesus paused and gazed intently at the man. It was as if he were taking stock of him, considering him carefully. Maybe he was thinking about the man’s past — all his effort, his hard work, his dedication to do his very best. It wasn’t an accident that he was successful. He was extremely disciplined: he had kept all the commandments. Maybe Jesus was thinking about his past.
Or maybe Jesus was contemplating his future, considering his potential. Here was a dedicated, sincere, disciplined man. If he surrendered himself to God’s will and purpose, he could have an enormous impact on others. Maybe Jesus was thinking about what this man could be.
Or maybe Jesus simply saw him for what he was, a self-made man who needed to discover God’s grace. Whatever it was, Mark says Jesus looked at him and loved him.
No matter what your past, no matter what your future, Jesus looks at you — and he loves you. And because he loves you, Jesus keeps calling, keeps stretching, keeps challenging one more area in your life — just like he did with this man who had everything and who tried so hard to do everything.
Jesus said to him (he says to us), Everything is good, except…there is one thing you lack. You’ve done well. You’re almost there…but not quite. Jesus has something more in store for you.
Whether we’re talking about a small piece of heat shield, or a virus so small you can’t see it with the naked eye, or even a small nail on a horse’s shoe: For want of a nail the shoe was lost. For want of a shoe the horse was lost. For want of a horse the rider was lost. For want of a rider the message was lost. For want of a message the battle was lost. For want of a battle the kingdom was lost. And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.
In Shakespeare’s play, Richard III, having just lost his horse in battle, the king shouted: “A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!”
Small things matter. And small things make a difference in God’s kingdom, as well. Jesus put his finger on the one thing that was coming between this man and God. He was counting on wealth, his position in society, and his own goodness (when only God is good).
And Jesus still points out small areas in our lives that come between us and God. “One thing you lack,” is a warning not just for this man, it’s for all of us. We must be humble enough to listen to God’s voice, so we can continue to grow closer to the kingdom. Think of it like this:
Imagine that you are the best long jumper in the world. Do you know what the world record long jump is? In 1935, Jesse Owens jumped 26 ft 8 in, a record that stood for 25 years. Now the world record long jump, held for over 20 years by American Mike Powell, is 29 ft 4¼ in. So imagine that you (being the fine athlete that you are) go through extensive training, hire an experienced coach, and practice diligently until you’re able to break the record and jump 29 ft 5 in.
But now we’re going to put you on the edge of a chasm. We’ve asked others to jump across the chasm, but they either don’t try…or they fall short of the other side. But you are different from all those others. You’re the world champion long jumper. You can clear 29 ft 5 in. The problem is, this chasm is 29 ft 6 in. So you back up to get a running start and you give it everything you’ve got, leaping from the edge across the chasm. But instead of landing on the other side, you’re 1 inch short. You crash into the other side. You grasp at the edge, but now you’re sliding down the opposite cliff, your fingernails scraping the wall all the way down. You were close. So close. But there was one thing you lacked. You lacked one inch.
The Bible says that all have fallen short of the glory of God. All have sinned and fallen short. (Rom 3:23) That means everyone. Even the world champion spiritual giants — even they fall short: Mother Theresa, Billy Graham, Martin Luther, Pope Frances, the apostle Peter. All have sinned; all have fallen short.
We all lack something — one thing at the very least. Many of us lack more than that. No one is perfect. And we rely on God’s grace and forgiveness to get us across the chasm of sin. We’re saved by grace, but because of grace, we should be changed. Transformed. We’re not supposed to stay at the same place we were when we surrendered to Jesus.
The Bible says we should “make every effort” to add certain things to our faith…and then we should work to add other things on top of those things: “make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love.” (2 Pet 1:5-7)
This should become a way of life for us — always aware of where we need to grow, listening to God’s Spirit when he shows us something that needs to change. We may be forgiven, but we are still in the process of being transformed. We haven’t arrived yet. We all lack one thing — the next thing.
This should be the attitude of every person who desires eternal life — a motivating force to those who want to get to heaven. It should inspire each one who wants to follow Jesus.
Each day we should get up and say to God, “What one thing do I lack? What is one more step I can take on my spiritual journey today?”
Paul said, “I haven’t arrived. I’m not perfect. But I keep striving. I keep pressing on. I keep leaning forward toward the finish line. I’m on a journey to achieve that upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 3:12-14)
This man lacked one thing, and the disciples were blown away by what Jesus said to this wealthy man. Marks says that they were absolutely amazed — stunned. Jesus’ words sounded crazy:
To say to a man who had it all that he lacked one thing…well, that was crazy. When Jesus said it was hard for the rich (those blessed with abundance) to get into heaven, that only added to their astonishment..
To say to a man who obeyed all the commandments that he lacked one thing…well, that was crazy too! So when Jesus says to us that there is one thing we lack, one more thing to surrender, it may seem crazy to us as well.
We are saved by grace, but grace requires a response from us. Receiving the free gift of grace requires a commitment, a surrender. God gave his Son; but he expects us in response to give ourselves.
Grace is not cheap. It came at a great price. We can never earn it or deserve it. Our good works, our best efforts at being righteous or holy, our very best attempt to leap over the chasm of sin that separates us from the glory of God will always fall short.
So when God’s grace provides a bridge over that chasm, we must choose to accept that bridge and walk across. We must choose to trust the bridge to hold us.
Jesus is that bridge. We must trust him. We are not saved by trying harder. It’s not by practicing more. It’s not by getting the best coaching. Counseling will not save you. Rehab will not save you. Self-help books or positive thinking will not save you. Your parents’ faith will not save you. Your wife or your husband’s faith will not save you. Keeping all the commandments won’t cut it.
“One thing you lack” may mean letting go of one of those things. This man was challenged to give up the very thing he was relying on — his wealth and reputation. Maybe you’ve been relying on something other than God’s grace — your good reputation, your religious activity, your disciplined life.
The lesson here is not that everyone should do what Jesus asked this man to do — although that could be true for some. Some would do better if they gave away the material things that have stunted their spiritual growth. The deeper lesson, though, is that everyone has something more in their lives — one more thing that God wants to deal with.
No matter how far we’ve come, no matter how much we’ve matured, no matter how much we think we know, there is still “one thing” we lack.
What has Jesus put his finger on in your life? Has the Spirit of God reminded you of some issue, some lack. Let God rummage around deep inside your heart. Everyone else might think you’ve got it all together. You may look okay on the surface, but allow God to come along, peel back the layers, and say, “What about this?”
It’s crazy, isn’t it? “One thing you lack.” Take care of that, Jesus said, and you will have treasure in heaven. Take care of that one thing, and you can follow Jesus.
Will you dismiss Jesus’ words as crazy? Will you think it crazy — too radical — to surrender one more thing to follow him? Will you respond like this wealthy man? Walking away, shutting out God’s deeper work? Will you go away sad? Or will you surrender to Jesus’ ongoing work of grace within your heart?