One Thing is Missing

Second in a 6-week series titled “Prime Time.”
Delivered February 23, 2003 by Rev. George Antonakos.

Theme: A question that we must ask ourselves from time to time and especially when faced with transitions – “Who is My Master in Life?” We will look at three things things (from the larger context) that impede our following Christ and show how their opposites encourage our growth in discipleship – i.e., devotion to prayer, humility, acceptance of others.

Sermon Text:
Luke 18:22

All these songs just lend themselves to what I want to talk about today, but I wondered if you are anything like me? When we sing something that is so incredibly dedicated, we say “You are the only thing I adore” you’re it! Sometimes, is there a part of where you say well, I’m not sure, I’m not sure if you are really the only thing I adore?

I would like to introduce you to someone, someone who perhaps you already know, or maybe you know somebody like him. He is in his mid 40’s, married, two kids, one boy and one girl. He is a highly successful businessperson, and he is so successful that he is often called upon to speak to other highly successful people because he is at the top of his field and the top of his game. His wealth is actually intimidating and yet he isn’t. The remarkable attribute of this man is that he has never stepped on anybody’s toes or anybody’s hands as he has climbed his way to the top of the ladder. He is honest. He is moral. And when he pillows his head at night, he often sends a prayer to God thanking God for all of his blessings. In fact, he would say that his blessings are from heaven. He is a leader in his congregation. He gives a double tithe. He gives twenty percent of his income, and he is influential in every respect, in community and church. And yet lately he has been feeling a bit uneasy. In spite of his power and his position, he is worried. He is not sure; he is not completely convinced should the unthinkable occur that he is ready to meet his maker. He has a nagging sense deep within his spirit that something is missing, and when he mentions this to his wife and friends they try to dismiss it. It reminded him of his track record and how much he has done in both community and congregation. But he is not comforted. He is restless for a sense of assurance about eternity. He is restless for a sense of deep assurance that he will indeed possess eternal life. If somebody like this came to you for that assurance, sought you out personally, what would you say to that one? And what would Jesus say if he came to Jesus? Well, we are going to find out. Because his story is in Luke, Chapter 18, Verses 18 through 30, at least the first part, and I have to warn you it is a sad story because the something that he thought was missing was so much bigger than he bargained for. So let’s look at the text either through the scriptures in your Pew Bible or just on the screen.

A certain ruler asked him, ” Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. ” No one is good- except God alone. You know the commandments: Do not commit adultery, do not murder,do not steal,do not give false testimony,honor your father and mother. “All these I have kept since I was a boy,” he said. When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was a man of great wealth. Jesus looked at him and said,” How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” Those who heard this asked, who then can be saved?” Jesus replied, “What is impossible with men is possible with God.” Peter said to him, “We have left all we had to follow you!” “I tell you the truth,” Jesus said to them, “no one who has left home or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age and, in the age to come, eternal life.”

The text ends with the words that the question began with. Lord, what must I do to inherit eternal life? And Jesus uses this encounter with this rich ruler. He was probably a ruler of the synagogue, ruler of the Sanhedrin to teach his followers about what really matters the most. He said, follow me. You know, thirty times in the gospels Jesus says follow me. One time in the gospel he says you must be born from above. It’s not enough just to say, okay I’ve got my ticket punched, I believe. Okay. I am going to heaven. To truly be a Christ follower is to follow him, which in a sense demonstrates that you have been born from above. The rich ruler literally wanted the best of both worlds, but found he couldn’t serve two masters. See, wealth was in competition with God for first place in his life. And his wealth was winning. It is like Jesus said to him, you have everything. You know what, you even have religion, but there is one thing that you don’t have. You still lack one thing. And I can imagine this guy who has lived a lifetime of acquiring things, solving complex business problems, listening to Jesus say to him, you still lack one thing, and he was probably like oh, one thing. Bring it on Lord. Tell me what it is because I am a man who is use to getting things. What’s the one thing that I lack? Here it is. In a double, actually it is redundant in the original language. Jesus says to him, “all things how many you have.” He could have said, “All things you have” or said “how many things you have,” but he said “all things how many you have sell and distribute it to the poor” and he didn’t stop there. That wasn’t the end of it. Then in an imperative he says; now come, follow me. Another imperative. That’s the command that I want you to do. Not just the giving away, the command is follow me.

But he couldn’t follow because all of that stuff was in the way. See, if Jesus said to this man, give me fifty percent of what you have, he might have done it, and then thought that he was entering the kingdom on his own effort. If Jesus said since he was exceedingly wealthy, give me ninety percent of what you have, this guy might still have done it, and thought that he was entering into the eternal life based on his efforts, but Jesus asked him to do the thing that he could not do to remind you and me that nobody gets into the Kingdom of God on their own effort. And he was trying to teach the man how much his wealth had put God in second place. And then one of the most well known images of the whole scripture about a camel going through a needles eye. This man is so sad, that’s why Jesus said that. He looks at the sadness in this guy and sees how he is torn between two masters. And even his own disciples say, Lord who can be saved? Jesus said, you know what? Even with God, rich, self-sufficient people can become like children and get converted.

You know, I wonder are you finding it difficult to follow Christ in these days? Maybe it’s not wealth, but is there something else that God is asking you to choose between following Christ or this? Or are you here today, and all the other things just still leave something missing? Following Christ is the answer. It’s the one thing that is missing in all of our lives. And we can be a Christian for many years and not be following Christ and it can be missing for us. And so that’s why I put the question on the insert and I sure hope you have it this week. Do you all have it? It’s goldenrod. Wave it at me. Who doesn’t have it, raise your hand? Okay. Scott we got about a dozen or twenty that need it, okay? I want you to have these because they are helpful in trying to remember. And that is why I have on the sheet, how do I know if I am truly following Christ in my life? How do I know? That’s the question. And from this gospel text in the context, I want to share with you how I think you can know. Because you know today for instance, there are some people that believe they are following Christ by protesting the military buildup in the Middle East. There are other people who think they are following Christ by praying and supporting the President and the troops and believing that national and global security are such importance that we have to do what we have to do. Which one of these two groups is following Christ most closely? I am not going to answer that question. But I am going to answer this question. By looking at this sheet with you and saying here’s what I think it means to follow Christ. These are not all the answers, but these are the answers from Luke 18.

And so number one, we are following Christ when we choose to pray always and not lose heart. When we choose to pray always and not lose heart. In Luke Chapter 18, Verse 1 Jesus tells a parable to this affect. It’s the very thing. He says, Jesus told his disciples the parable to show them they should always pray and not give up, not to lose heart. He knew that prayer was the greatest weapon of a Christ follower. And he knew that it is easy to get discourage in following Him because He was going to the cross and that’s tough. And so He said, pray always and don’t become discouraged. William Carey was a famous missionary to India and when he was first thinking about going to India, he told his father that he was thinking about this and his father very discouragingly said to him, “William, you have no real academic qualifications or skills for this task. I don’t really think you can do it.” You know what he said to his dad, three words. I can plod. I can plod. I can plod for God. And he in his plodding he prayed and he became one of the most famous missionaries of history. Plodding and praying are the way many, many Christians have gotten through those tough times on the road and that’s one way that we can say that we are following Christ. Because think about it, it is so self-explanatory. If we are giving up and not staying on the road in following Christ, then we are not following him are we? We’ve gone off the road. We’ve let something else distract us.

I remember reading about a marathoner who hit the wall. That is that invisible membrane that runners hit when they feel like every ounce of energy is depleted from them. Now, I don’t know this from personal experience, but I know that people who do know it say that when you hit the wall you feel like your lungs are on fire, like there are knives sticking into your thighs as you go down the road. This marathoner was explaining how he hit the wall, and he turned the corner going towards the home stretch, and he saw in the distance a huge archway of brightly colored balloons over the finish line. He said that just gave him a renewed burst of energy and he said, “I am going for the finish”. But what he didn’t know was that the archway was not the finish line, it was 50 to 100 yards further and he almost collapsed at the balloons but he found a way to keep going. You know, following Christ is an awful lot like that. Somebody will stick up a whole archway of balloons called status or success or wealth or some stupid thing that if we do it, we are really going to be hurting ourselves, and we have to fight through those things to the finish. Christ, followers, finish. Not in their strength, in His. That’s the first way we know we are following Christ, we stay on the road.

Secondly, we choose God’s perspective about ourselves, others and eternity. I have got a couple of things under each one of these. Choosing God’s perspective about ourselves. In Luke 18:13, Jesus begins to tell a parable about a Pharisee and a tax collector, about a proud man and a humble man and he says, those who humble themselves will be exhaulted. So I can say I think without any equivocation that a Christ follower seeks to be a humble, broken, person versus being a proud person, which means that when God touches their life and speaks to them about America they will humbly submit. You know this rich ruler came to him and said, good teacher and immediately Jesus corrects him because back then everybody knew that whenever you use the adjective good, you only used it in speaking about God. For instance in the Psalms, you know, come worship the Lord for he alone is good. Okay? Now he comes to Jesus and he says, good teacher. It’s almost like there is a kind of equality that he feels like my good man kind of thing. My good man. And Jesus corrects him and He says nobody is good but God alone, why do you call me good? Do you ever hear people say today, and it is rather irreverent, I know sometimes people just don’t know how to speak about things, but they say, I think that I will pray about this and ask the man upstairs or the big guy in the sky. You know people are doing that and they are just showing their lack of humility. They are trying to bring the holy down to their level. Here is the neat thing; the holy does come down to our level, but not on our terms. We got to name the name that’s right and that is what this person was trying to encounter. A Christ follower is a humble, broken soul.

Let me give you an illustration. Graham Greene, a famous novelist, wrote a book called “A Burnt Out Case” and the main character of the book, his name is Querry, a very interesting name and inquisitive soul. Querry is his name. And he built cathedrals, but he didn’t believe in God. And he was so disillusioned with life he dropped out of society, and he went to what he conceived to be last place on earth. He went to the Congo in Africa. And we went to a leper colony. And he said to the doctor in charge of the leper colony, I have come here because my soul has been eaten away. While he is there, he meets a patient whose name is Dao Grasius . And he takes an interest in Dao as a person and one day Dao wanders into the jungle and because Querry likes Dao he goes to find him. Night falls and they both get hopelessly lost, they are separated from each other, and in the middle of the night they run into each other. And this is what Graham Greene writes, he says, “Dao raised a stump and howled. And Querry realized that he was crippled with fear. The fingerless hand held him there and there was nothing he could do except to wait until morning. The next day when they worked their way out of the jungle, Querry goes to the doctor and he says this, “Usually nights are when things come to an end in my life, but this was a new beginning.” Listen to this. “There wasn’t a thing that either of us could do but to hold onto each other in this clumsy embrace, completely helpless, completely hopeless, apart from God getting them out of this situation.” And that is what began his pilgrimage back to God. And he builds a hospital for the leper colony and calls it his masterpiece. Even though he has built tons of cathedrals, he builds a hospital, a simple hospital and says this is my masterpiece because I offered it to God out of my brokenness and out of my love for him. You know even serving God, even serving Christ, when we begin with what we have to offer and not with our brokenness, then even what we are doing can be a guide for still remaining powerful. Jesus wants you as a leper spiritually first knowing that you can’t do anything apart from him. That’s what indicates that we are following him, not elevating ourselves. That’s the second thing.

Thirdly, choose God’s perspective not only by yourself, not only by others, but also about eternity and in this text and other places in the chapter, we have to constantly ask what is truly of most value? What is truly of most value? I skipped a part didn’t I? I was just seeing if you were listening. Hold that thought. Let’s go back to 2B. Jesus overruled those who had an exclusive perspective. We have to have the right attitude not only about ourselves but about others. He overruled those who had an exclusive perspective. See the disciples in these other texts were trying to prevent children and a blind beggar from getting to Jesus. They are saying, keep these people who have this certain status away and Jesus welcomed the children, he welcomed and told the blind beggar to come towards him. See nothing will interrupt our following Christ more than an exclusive attitude. More than putting things into a we and they mindset. Whether it is social status, whether it is a lack of forgiveness as Minister Williams was telling us a little earlier, or anything that invites a we/they mentality says that we are not following the one who included everyone in his company.

You know sometimes we can even exclude ourselves. We can count ourselves out by thinking that we either don’t have anything to offer or whatever. God says don’t exclude yourself. Now if you would think about this young man, this rich ruler, if he had just thought twice, he would have realized that he was being invited into a relationship with a living God. He was being invited into a relationship with Christ. And Jesus didn’t want his money. Jesus didn’t want his power. He didn’t want his prestige. He wanted him. And that is what he says to you. That’s what I want; don’t exclude yourself from this relationship. You know, I watch every now and then my wife is a teacher and she has closing programs at the end and everybody has been to a closing program for kindergarten or preschool and her’s are always excellent. Her’s are always excellent. But I have been to some of these closing programs where they are pretty bad. I mean the kids are singing off key. You know they are all over place. They are waving and not even on the song, but I have never been to one of these, never, where I haven’t seen parents with video cameras and regular cameras and they are craning and looking for their child, and they are really happy when he is there smiling or singing properly. That is the way it is with the Lord. He really doesn’t care how well you do it, he wants your heart. He wants you and he doesn’t want you to exclude yourself or exclude others from being part of Gods circle. Take a lesson from the beggar and don’t let anything keep you from getting to Jesus. Okay third thing, that’s eternity.

Constantly ask what is truly of most value, not just choose God’s perspective about ourselves and about others, but also about eternity. Speaking of little kids, if you put a Hershey kiss in your left hand and you put a diamond ring in your right hand and you held it both out to a two-year-old, which one are they going to take? They are going to take the candy. Right, why? Because they don’t know the value of things. And this man, in a sense, when Jesus came to him said, here’s something that you can have which is all that you already have or here is eternal life in a relationship with me. Which one do you want? Do you believe it? He picked the wrong one. He took the one that was of lesser value. And we do the same thing all the time. Jesus recognizes that it is not easy to pick the value because we live in this world and so when Peter said to Jesus, Lord ,we have left everything to follow you, Jesus then said, let me tell you something. It’s not just about what you leave behind, let me tell you what you get. You will get not only many more deep relationships in this life, you will have eternal life with me and with many, many millions in the Kingdom of God forever. What’s greater than that? That is what Jesus was trying to get his attention for and yet he went away sad.

You know in following Christ, think of it like a scale. Think of a fulcrum and then a balance across that fulcrum, and when this fulcrum is balanced, the scale is balanced, you are following. But something in this world distracts you and it starts to tip away from following Christ. Well Jesus will come to us, and he will tip the scale over here and touch your life at a point that says, hey you are not following. You are out of balance. And when he touches that point, what do we do? Many times we say whoa, that hurt. I am not going to do that and we move even further away and get even more out of balance. A person who follows Christ understands that when He touches our life, he is touching us at the point of our greatest need, and the thing that we need to value most. And so, we will align ourselves back toward his touch, and when we do that we are following him and we always recalibrate ourselves. You know how you zero your scale to make sure it is telling you the truth, okay? We always zero our scale or recalibrate our balance right there. That’s the center point. It’s the cross. Because that is where He went and that’s where He calls us to go. It’s not all sacrifice; it’s reward as well. But it’s the one thing that we need to follow Him more than any.

Let me just close with this. There is a story of a confused traveler, not confused because he didn’t know where he was, but confused because he was returning home after being offered a position in a company. And the problem for him was that this offer required him to compromise some of his own values and beliefs and his following of Christ. And he was struggling because the offer was so huge and yet he was just feeling tested. He was just feeling tested. Well, as his plane landed and it was going back to the gate, he said to God, he threw up a prayer and he said, “God give me a sign”. And just as soon as he said that prayer the plane turned and he saw out on the tarmac a vehicle that was leading the plane and on the back of the vehicle was in the hugest letters that you could see from probably hundred yards away, two words. What did they say? Follow me, Amen.

Let’s pray. Lord, we pray for a sign too. We pray that we would see a sign always that says follow me. And we know Lord Jesus that when we have gone off the path and followed other things how dry and empty life becomes. And so we ask that your Spirit will touch our hearts today. There are those here who are still not sure what it means to know you and believe in you. Remind them that you are trustworthy and that because you have died for their sins and been raised a third day, that they too can have life by trusting in you alone. And for those Lord you have trusted but are struggling, help us to continue to prepare for the great things that you have in store for us as we seek to get back in balance. Only your Spirit can do this Lord, we commit it, we confess it and invite your touch again. In Jesus name. Amen.

Sermon Notes:

One Thing Is Missing

When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” Luke 18:22

How do I know if I’m truly following Christ in my life?

We are following Christ when we:

Choose to PRAY ALWAYS and not LOSE HEART. (Luke 18:1)
Choose God’s PERSPECTIVE about:
Ourselves – (Luke 18:13, 14)…those who HUMBLE themselves will be EXALTED.
Others – (Luke 18:16 & 40) Jesus OVERRULED those who had an EXCLUSIVE perspective.
Eternity – (Luke 18:22&29, 30) Constantly ask what is truly of most VALUE.
Choose HIS WAY even when the road and life’s choices are hard.
Road Warnings

Luke 16:15B “…What is highly valued among people is detestable in God’s sight.”
Luke 12:15 Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a person’s life does not consist in the abundance of their possessions.”
Luke 8:14 The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature.
Luke 16:13 No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.
Luke 12:34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Luke 6:24 But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort.
Mark 8:36 What good is it for a person to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?