He Takes A Needle And A Camel; Watch What Happens Next

Text: Mark 10:23-31

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

I have a challenge for us today.  My challenge is for us to consider the task of putting a large camel through the eye of a needle.

Yes, let us imagine that we have a 2,200 lb. six foot camel in our midst, a large harry and spitting camel with two humps on its back.  Then imagine that we have been given a simple needle.  Not a large needle, but a simple crafting needle that is thin with a sharp point for sewing and a small open hole on the end.  Our mission – if we choose to accept it – is to get the camel to pass through the eye of a needle, the small hole where the thread goes. 

Now that we have accepted this task, one way for us to accomplish this challenge would be to thread a chin hair of the camel through the eye of the needle and then pull on that chin hair as hard as we can.  If we pull hard enough, we may just be able to get the rest of the camel to go through the eye of the needle as well.  He may just pop through.

If this does not work, there is always Plan B.  Plan B is a bit messier, for it involves greasing the camel down.  Maybe a little WD-40, Vaseline, and motor oil will do the trick.  After the camel is greased down, if we hold the needle steady while pushing the greasy camel, we might with enough force be able to push the camel through the eye of the needle. 

If Plan B does not work, we can then move on to Plan C.  We could shave the camel down and then pass each camel hair through the eye of the needle, one by one.  Then we would have to dismantle the camel piece by piece and force each piece through the eye of the needle.  The challenge though would be to put the camel back together on the other side.  We would have to put the hooves, legs, body, tail, neck, and head back together.  Then we would have to glue every hair back on the camel. 

All this said, I hope you are arriving at the same conclusion that I have arrived at, and that is, it would take a miracle to put a camel through the eye of a needle.  Even talking about strategies of getting the camel through the eye of a needle shows the foolishness of such a task.  Otherwise stated, it is impossible to put a camel through the eye of a needle and it is also impossible for you and me to pass into eternal life by the power of our own works and by the influence of our wealth.  In fact, it is easier to make a camel go through the eye of a needle than for you and me to make it to heaven on our own strength.

Dear friends, the Kingdom of God – Heaven - is not for sale.  It cannot be earned and it cannot be manipulated.  Just as we cannot force ourselves through the eye of a needle, we cannot force ourselves through the Kingdom’s door.  This is what Jesus is attempting to tell us in Mark’s Gospel reading from this morning. 

You see, during the first-century the people of Israel looked at wealthy people as honest hard working citizens.  Wealthy people were considered blessed by God and they were assumed to be honest and noble.  If anyone was fit for the Kingdom of God, it was those who had wealth.  They were the model citizens; they stood at the front of the line.  Thus, when Jesus says that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven, the probability of entering the Kingdom of God went way down - down to 0%.  The disciples actually exclaimed, “Then who can be saved?”

We are also reminded of this same kind of talk from Jesus in Matthew’s gospel, the seventh chapter, where Jesus said the following,

“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few."

Like the small and narrow eye of a needle, Jesus says that the way to eternal life is through the narrow gate, not the wide gate. 

With that stated, many Christians will unfortunately hear sermons on the wide versus narrow gate from their pastors, where the pastor will “define 'entering by the wide gate' as following the ways of the 'world' - that is, going to worldly movies, reading dirty magazines and frequenting bars. Conversely [the pastor will say that] 'entering by the narrow gate' means going to church, reading the Bible, memorizing Scripture, getting perfect Sunday school attendance pins, visiting people in nursing homes, and giving money. The narrow and wide gates are reduced to lists of things we are supposed to do or not do.”[1]  Bad things are the way of the wide gate and good things are the way of the straight and narrow. However, this is not what Jesus was getting at.  In other words, the wide gate is the gate of religious performance and self-effort that leads to toil and weariness and hell; whereas, the narrow gate is the gate for those who are tired, worn out, beggarly, and beating their breast saying, ‘God have mercy on me the sinner.’  The narrow gate is only fit for those who drop their works and religious performance baggage and come through empty handed depending upon the grace of God. On the other side of the narrow gate is heavenly rest. Indeed, if we try to go through the narrow gate with our perfect attendance pins, and Bible quiz trophies, or any of our own righteousness, we simply won't fit like we won’t fit through the eye of a needle. Jesus is the narrow gate. 

Dear friends, all of this said, it is not bad to be rich, it is not bad to possess material possessions, and it is not bad to use resources in your vocations to serve your neighbor.  But rather, the point of Jesus’ message with the illustrations of the narrow gate and the eye of the needle is that no one is able to enter the Kingdom of God with their own resources.  “When Jesus said that the most respected members of the culture could not earn their way into God’s Kingdom, He was saying that none of us rich or poor can earn a place in God’s Kingdom.  All of us are as likely to enter God’s Kingdom as a camel is likely to pass through the eye of a needle.”[2]

Then who can be saved, you might ask?  Who can obtain eternal life?  Who can merit the Kingdom of God?  No one!  Not you and not me.  Indeed, “it is impossible—for all people—no matter how old or young, wise or foolish, rich or poor, free or slave, law-abiding or illegal…it doesn’t matter.  For every child born of Adam it is impossible to enter into the kingdom of God if your merit and worthiness is to be factored into the decision.”[3] 

. . .

Oh, but here the good news of the Gospel!  “With God, your merciful and gracious heavenly Father, nothing is impossible.  No one is too far gone or beyond hope for the unconditional and unfailing grace, mercy, peace, and love of their heavenly Father.”[4]

Dear Baptized Saints, the Kingdom of God is not a private country club for the self-righteous or for those who possess super-Christian powers.  Your spiritual resume, your resources, your actions, your piety, and your works cannot put you through the eye of a needle into the Kingdom of Heaven.  These things do not put you through the narrow gate. 

But rather, the Kingdom of Heaven is for sinners only.  It is for blood-bought-baptized-sinners such as you and me.  It is for fisherman, tax collectors, and reprobates, such as the disciples. 

And yes, you and I as sinners are pulled through the eye of the needle into the Kingdom.  By Christ’s shed blood we are taken from the wide gate of destruction and placed through the narrow gate of life.  The impossible is possible with the Lord.

You see, through your baptisms you are undone.  Through your baptism you are joined to Jesus’ death and then joined to His resurrection.  Yes, you are taken from death through the eye of a needle to life by the Lord’s work to and for you.  You are taken from the wide gate that is a black hole of death, and joined to Christ who is the narrow gate of life.   It is the Lord that takes us from the kingdom of darkness and puts us into the Kingdom of Power and Glory.  God puts you and me to death in Christ as we are undone in our baptisms and brought back to life in Christ’s resurrection.

We cannot put a camel through the eye of a needle, but the Lord can surely forgive a sinner and usher a sinner like you and me into the Kingdom of God. 

He does all the work to and for you; rest and receive.  He made it possible for you to receive the Kingdom of God and for the Kingdom of God to receive you. 

Do not fear; the Kingdom belongs to you. 

Do not be distraught, you are in Christ. 

Do not be shocked, you are forgiven. 

Indeed, your salvation is a miracle; it is a gift; it is an inheritance.  All for you, nothing held back. 

Today in conclusion we have learned two things.  It is impossible to put a camel through the eye of a needle, but it is completely possible and an actual reality that you have been put into the Kingdom of God, for Christ died and was resurrected - for you.
In the name of Jesus,  Amen

[1] David Johnson and Jeff Van Vonderen, The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse: Recognizing & Escaping Spiritual Manipulation and False Spiritual Authority Within the Church (Bloomington, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 1991), page number unavailable.

[2] James T. Batchelor, “Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost,” LCMS Sermons, http://lcmssermons.com/index.php?sn=4328 (accessed October 16, 2015).

[3] Jason Zirbel, “Unquestionable Christian Richness,” LCMS Sermons, http://lcmssermons.com/index.php?sn=4327 (accessed October 16, 2015).

[4] Ibid.

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