One of the blessings of the Covid-19 pandemic is how it caused humanity, on a global scale, to come to terms with its limitations. While it did not exactly end our belief that we can by our own reason or strength overcome the frailties of our physical bodies, it did force us to see there was and is much in our life which remains beyond our control. Early on, as we all sat in our homes and watched the constant ticker of the latest death tolls, I said to my wife and some close friends that I just do not think many people realize how many people actually die each year. Sure, the pandemic caused the numbers to surge, but it turned out what seemed a massive uptick was about a 2% increase over the year before. A significant increase to be sure but nowhere near the largest surge we have had in our country. What we were faced with was not anything all that new, it was the forgotten reality of death itself, which is something we had been quite good at hiding from for a long time. We hid it away in our nursing homes and hospitals, we numbed its pain through entertainment and distraction. If it was not happening directly to us or to our close family members, why then it was not happening at all. But this time we could not hide from it. It was on every channel, it was used and marketed by every politician, it was a rallying cry of the Hollywood elite. Death was front and center and it was coming for us, and we needed to do whatever we could, take whatever measure to stop its advance.
But one of the blessings from this, that came from facing this final enemy of mankind, is it has caused us all to long for the promises which go beyond this age, beyond the sorrows, beyond the grave itself. What we have been given to remember is how the hope of the Christian faith, the hope towards which all the promises of God lead us, is not just physical health and wellbeing, and not even just peace at the end of our lives. No, the promise speaks of something more, something beyond. The pandemic with its threat of death blesses us by the confession that our God has promises a new Heaven and a new Earth. He has promised a defeat of death and the end of the grave. Our faith ought to be the envy of the world, especially during a pandemic, or our faith never rooted itself in this age or in this life. No, it is bound to something more, something perfect, something eternal. There will be a resurrection of the dead. There will be a drying of every eye and a reunion for all the people of God. That is our hope, and it gives us strength and courage in these days.
We are reminded that the promises of our Lord do not end with the weeping and mourning of death. It does not end with graves filled with the saints of God. That may happen, it may come to pass but it is not the end. The end is a resurrection and entrance into eternal life. The end is Paradise itself. Imagine, if you will, a place without destruction, without the stain of sin and the sorrow of loss. I can only guess at what that might be. But this is the promise. It is the hope each of you carry with you as the children of God. Life, real life, full life, a complete and perfect life stretching out for all eternity is our hope. Thank God for this pandemic. Thank God we are reminded there is something more than this age, something beyond the shadow of sin and death.
The hope of life in the midst of death, of joy in the midst of pain, of certainty in the midst of confusion, this is what your faith has to offer your friends and neighbors. And now, imagine all the things a person would carry with them as they approach the entrance to such promises. Perhaps they carry along their losses, their hurts and pains, their feelings of being alone and forgotten in this world. Perhaps they carry the terror of the sins they have committed against those they ought to have loved, the strong words said in moments of anger, the regrets they cannot undo. Perhaps they come just overwhelmed with fear and uncertainty. But they have heard there is a gateway to something more, to a new thing, a new Heaven and new Earth. Would they not fall in desperation and cry out, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”
That is why this man falls at the feet of Christ. That is his question. In many ways it is the question, the only question which matters in a fallen and broken world. What must I do to inherit eternal life? What must I do to enter those eternal promises? What must I do to have that joy and light and life? Jesus is the Gate to such blessings. He is the Key to entrance. So, the man falls before Him and asks. And what does our Lord say? He says, “You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not bear false witness, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.’” The way to eternal life, the way to get to such blessings is through faithful obedience to the Word of God. The Commands of God are not just tips on how to live a morally upright life, they are the guide to living as those who will inherit life eternal.
And the man answers, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” Now look, we can easily dismiss this guy as some sort of arrogant egotist or pompous narcissist who cannot see his own faults. But I think he was being honest. He was sincere in his answer. In a very practical way, he has done this. He has not murdered or committed adultery or bore false witness or defrauded anyone. The point, I think, is he has tried hard to be faithful in such matters. He desperately wants to inherit eternal life. So, he has conducted himself in the best way he could to be sure he would receive it. But eternal life is not taken by force. It must be received. So, he wants to know what else he needs to do to be sure he will inherit it.
Notice how Jesus responds to this answer. Before He says anything, we are told Jesus loves him. I think this is crucial. What He says to this man when He calls for him to sell all he has and give to the poor is motivated by His love. The love of Christ calls this man to sell it all and follow Him. It is not anger causing these words. It is not disgust at his boldness or pride. No, it is love which attacks the one thing this man does not want to deal with: His wealth, his possessions, his temporal treasures. And it is not just that he is to sell it all, he is then to follow Jesus. In other words, Jesus demands from this man everything, no half measures, no fractional life of discipleship. So, this man goes away disheartened for he had many possessions.
In the end, the answer to the great question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” is you cannot do it. There will always be something you will not want to let go of. Out of love our Lord demands everything from you. He demands your life, your goods, your attention, your strengths, your weaknesses, everything. Now, his demands can hit us several ways. They can function as a never-ending list of things we need to do; of things we begin to check-off but the longer we try the more we struggle. Or they send us all away disheartened, unsure, and confused. They can cause us to throw our hands in the air and say: “Well, who cares. It’s all too much. Why even try? Why even bother?”
But sometimes the Spirit works upon us to produce something different, something utterly amazing. Instead of running from His demands because they are too hard and instead of being overwhelmed by them because they are too many, we simply fall emptyhanded before the One who loves us enough to make those demands in the first place. You confess you cannot do it, that eternal life is beyond your ability. And perhaps, for a moment, it feels as if the darkness and despair of this age is simply all there is, that all you carried to your Lord is simply yours for eternity. But it is because He loves you that He has brought you to this. So, Jesus now gives you everything. He gives you love. He gives you the perfect life of obedience. He gives you forgiveness and hope. He gives you entrance into eternal life. The promises of eternity are yours; the new Heaven and the new Earth are yours. The resurrection from the dead, victory over sin, death, and the Devil is yours in Christ alone. He has done it all, for you.