n this ageless story we hear an unnamed lawyer asking humanitys core question of Jesus: Master, what must I do to inherit eternal life?
We are so Do Oriented; there must be something that we can do to discover this innate human desire to know what happens after the death of the physical body. We inwardly feel as if we are somehow going to survive mortality, but there must be something we can do: So, how can we can really have some assurance. Is there a trip we can take, is there some punishment we can bear, perhaps a course in which we can enroll? What can we do?
By older brother, Eddie, and I say that we are in the same business: He sells insurance, and I give away assurance. Insurance is important; but, isnt it assurance that our souls genuinely crave? Everyone knows that there is something we can do to have insurance; we pay the premium. The way our minds theorize it seems that there must also be something we can do to have the inward assurance of eternal life; perhaps a price we can pay.
Sometimes Jesus did not answer folks questions directly. His answers oftentimes required some thought. It seems to me that he occasionally teased people, especially well educated people who needed to think things out in order to make the answer their own. To the scholar Nicodemus who asked a similar question as our lawyer in this encounter, Jesus said, You must be born again! It was as if Jesus know this would get his mind to working on answering his own question. This required some digging on Nicodemus part, but it also, no doubt, became an internalized reality because of the logical process that was necessitated.
In todays story, Jesus at first glance, seems to be muddying the waters of our minds even more. Jesus tells a parable, about a Jewish man who was beaten up by robbers. The story is so familiar that just another hearing seems to loose its edge. We cant hear it because we have heard it so often--- hundreds of time for many of us. However, our typically trivialized interpretation of Jesus illustration, taken out of the context of the broader encounter with the lawyer, misses the point of Jesus convoluted answer.
Stories about the need to do good are found in manuscripts much older than Jesus time. Everybody knows this moral already, and that is good, but I am suggesting that it is not the full meaning of Jesus answer. After all, even the vilest people can sometimes perform a kind act for somebody in need. There is honor among thieves.
Chuck Colson served prison time for his part in Watergate; and while in jail he met some really good guys. Although he learned early on that you were not supposed to ask another inmate what whey were in for, he had become close to one buddy whom he jogged with every day. One day he accidentally asked off the cuff, What are you in for? I am a Mafia hit man. Came the shocking answer. A murderer, but still capable of a good deed.
One of the problems we have in modern American churches is that we have kind of conveyed the notion that if we just heighten our nice side a little bit, and not be as bad as some out there, and perhaps do a good deed every now and then, well be given a coupon that entitles us to one free ticket to paradise.
The central theme of Dr. Scott Pecks The People of the Lie is that evil people appear to be fine on the surface. They go to church and do good deeds and want to be seen in nice places because appearances keep up the facade of goodness.
But our lawyer must have been a sincere person who wanted to know the truth: So, Jesus gave him enough information that he might work it out for himself. Perhaps this spiritually hungry man was already a disciple of the one he called Master. Could it be that Jesus is saying that as we go about living our lives and doing great things for others, and seeking the deeper answers, that along the way the assurance will come. After all, we have the Old Testament stories and prophets. We have heard over and over the encounters that others have had with Jesus. We have a vast life experience. Is this not the way we received the inward assurance of eternal life?
No simple answer, even from Jesus, will enable us to really have an assurance of eternal life. It comes as a surprising gift of the Holy Spirit as we struggle amidst the good and bad that naturally occurs.
John Wesley was surprised at Aldersgate. He had been seeking assurance for years. At times he had about lost hope. But then, out of the blue sky, in Gods own time, in a humble prayer meeting, he felt his heart strangely warmed. C.S. Lewis had this same experience atop an English double-decker bus. He got on the bus a non believer, and he got off of the bus a believer in Christ: After a long period of seeking, the assurance finally came.
If I might share a personal experience. It was out of the terrible loss of my father that I was finally given a deep inner assurance of eternal life. I had been in the ministry for years, had ten years of theological education, and even though I had accepted the fact of resurrection because of my salvation, call to preach, and my experiences with the living Christ, I had the need to profoundly know that my Dad still walked with God. During a crisis I stumbled across the words of Jesus, In truth, in very truth I tell you, the believer possesses eternal life. (John 6: 47, NEB). I had read those words many times before, but this time the Holy Spirit burned them into my being, and I can never question the victory that I possess.
It is not recorded in the gospels, but just perhaps our disciple-lawyer, was also present for Jesus sermon on The Bread of Life. (John 6: 22-7:1). I like to think that Jesus very clear promise sunk into his heart that day, as it has done so in mine, and as it is doing in your heart. You and I have come to know that we possess eternal life!
a sermon synopsis
by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor