The Impossible God
Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God” (Mark 10:27 ESV). Appreciating The impossible is not easy for us to unpack since it is in principle beyond our ability. Today at International Lutheran Church, we continue reading through the Gospel of Mark. Last week we saw how a young man came to Jesus to ask what he must do to be saved. He sought to probe the mysteries of God’s goodness and yet remained focused only on himself. Jesus’ response left the young man walking away saddened because it was a call to look to Jesus alone. Now it is the disciples’ turn to understand the impossible ways of God and His call to discipleship for all.
The disciples respond to Jesus and the sadness of the rich young man with utter surprise. It is as if the impossible was staring them directly in the face. This is partly why the disciples would be so surprised at Jesus’ two-fold words of the difficulty for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God. Weren’t the rich the ones “blessed by God”? Didn’t their wealth symbolize God’s favor and grace to them? Didn’t their wealth also allow them the ability to fulfill all of God’s demands, time to spend reading the Law, and the ability to offer the sacrifices that God demands? That the disciples would be anything but completely astonished would be astonishing. In a sense, if the rich cannot be saved, then who can?Here is where Jesus reveals the greatest mystery of all. Salvation is not a work or activity of man but an activity of God alone. What is impossible for man is possible for God. One way to understand God’s impossible actions revealed in Jesus is through the insights of the Reformation. Luther, like many people of his day, wrestled with the harsh reality of his own sinful condition and God’s righteous demands. Everything that Luther experienced in his day pointed in this same direction. The church had its lists of expectations and actions for those who would live a righteous life. Society, too, had its own standards of goodness and how it should be lived out. But what was most troubling to Luther was his own expectations that he had for himself. Luther knew how impossible it was to please God, because he knew how his actions at being good were either driven by fear or pride. It was simply impossible to please God because it would always end up either puffing him up or tearing him down.
This is why Luther’s experience of God’s grace in the Word of God was like an “open window” into heaven as he came to a new understanding of just what the “righteousness of God” really meant. Until this point, Luther, like the young man and the disciples of Jesus’ day, saw the righteousness of God as the standard of God’s expectation for our actions that we do to make ourselves right with God. The young man had honestly said to Jesus, “All this I have done from my youth. What else must I do?” This makes sense to us because this is how our world works. There is no such thing as a “free lunch.” Everything comes at a cost. What else must I do? Here is where we need to turn and see it is not our actions that matter but God’s. His work alone is what matters.
Just as Jesus is on His way to the cross, He is looking at this young man, His disciples and you and me with love. What is impossible with man is possible with God, because Jesus is here to lavish on us the true riches of heaven. For Luther, grace is not just a little extra help to get us into heaven. Grace is the “great exchange.” God does the impossible as He becomes a man and suffers for our guilt and shame. Jesus on the cross gives to us all that we couldn’t even imagine. We gain Christ’s riches as He gets our poverty.
Yes, there are lots of things we can do to change our own ways and even the ways of others. But how are we to change the God who changes not? Only He can do this. And in Jesus He does. When it comes to salvation it is all or nothing, and in this we can see how God could and does enact the impossible as He puts Himself into our place on the cross and brings us to where He is.