THE GOOD NEWS: Why losing everything can be a blessing

Kevin Wendt
Kevin Wendt

Pastor Randal Ehrichs pastors God’s people at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Callaway, Florida. I spoke with him the Sunday that Michael was tracking as a category 2 or 3 hurricane. He told me of his plan to stay and of interacting with his unchurched neighbors as together they prepared to ride it out in the neighborhood they share on a small bayou.

“It’s possible we’ll have water in our homes, lose everything,” one neighbor said to him.

To which Pastor Ehrichs responded, “And if we do, it’ll be a blessing!”

Just weeks after Michael hit Callaway, I can tell you the storm surge did not reach those homes. Nevertheless, that hurricane ended up a category 4 and its 155 mph winds left widespread destruction and death.

What’s the blessing?

In the Gospel of St. Mark chapter 10 we read of a very accomplished rich young “ruler” who considered Jesus a model of moral achievement. So he ran to Jesus, humbled himself before Jesus, and addressed Jesus in a flattering way (“Good Teacher”). He did all of this because he was desperate for conscience peace about his own life after death.

“What shall I do that I may inherit life eternal?” he asked Jesus. He wasn’t worried he wouldn’t be able to do it. He was just at a loss to know what was to be done.

At first Jesus dodged his question to convey that he, Jesus, is divine. He asked, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except one, God.”

(Hurricane victims might find claim of a good God particularly hard to believe.)

But Jesus was saying that the answer he was about to give to the man’s question was God’s answer.

Jesus then answered the man’s question by suggesting he could earn eternal life by keeping the commandments of God — perfectly.

Notably, the young man was not deterred and replied with confidence. “Teacher, all these I did keep from my youth on.” The rich young ruler had judged himself perfect.

Anyone who judges themselves perfect practically begs God to expose their imperfection. And God complies because he loves people too much to leave them in their delusions.

So Jesus took aim at the rich young ruler’s heart and popped his perfection balloon. “One thing makes you come up short,” Jesus said, “Go, whatever you have sell and give to poor people and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, be following me.”

It’s hard to overstate the scale of that command. Go. Sell all. Give all. Follow me. Jesus’ command was a Category 5 hurricane to the man’s heart because human nature is to buy, to keep, and to walk away from Jesus.

That word of Jesus exposed the man’s spiritual vulnerable spot. Which wasn’t his wealth. His love for earthly wealth indeed was pushing away love for Jesus, but his spiritual vulnerable spot was his rejection of the word of God. For it was at Jesus’ word that the man became visibly gloomy and went away from Jesus. All of his willpower to prove he could earn eternal life evaporated when Jesus spoke his word.

Gloom at the word of God is disinterest and boredom with the word of God. This is the heart of sin. From the beginning. As Martin Luther wrote, “Satan’s chief temptation in the Garden was not to eat forbidden fruit but to listen to another word and depart from the word that God had already spoken.”

To go away from Jesus and his word is to choose eternal death over eternal life. Hurricane Michael was a cool breeze compared to eternal damnation.

And for that reason Jesus loved the rich young ruler.

In the Greek language of the New Testament there are four words for love: storge, eros, philia, and agape. Storge, eros, and philia are essentially selfish love. They expect something in return. Agape is selfless love. It gives without return. Agape sacrifices.

The text says, “... Jesus, having looked on him, agape’d him ....” For Jesus had come to sacrifice himself for that man. Jesus wanted that man to have eternal life more than that man wanted eternal life for himself!

This is the good news for every sinner! Because Jesus Christ is the good God who determined to love us all by becoming a poor young slave to inherit life eternal for us all through his own death. That is, Jesus Christ sacrificed himself to save us from the storm of sin, death, and the devil.

(A destructive hurricane makes claim of a good God a good question. But a God who sacrifices himself for sinful people makes claim he is good no question at all.)

And yet from the destruction and death wake of Jesus on the cross came the blessing of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.

Therefore, Jesus is our life. No matter the storm in your life, that is the blessing!

Days after Hurricane Michael, Pastor Ehrichs’ wife shared that her terror in the storm was listening to her son cry for help over the phone as he, his wife, and their young child were huddled in the bath tub under a mattress as their house disintegrated around them. “If we had known it was going to be this bad, we would have left. But right now I’m happy as can be because my kids are alive,” she said.

Life trumps stuff. By God’s love for us in Christ, may we be gloomy for stuff and not for his word. For through faith in what God has said we believe — that we are aliens and strangers in the world (1 Peter), that we await the city with foundations whose architect is God (Hebrews), where we will hunger no longer, nor thirst anymore; nor will the sun beat down on us, nor any heat; for the Lamb in the center of the throne will be our shepherd, and will guide us to springs of the water of life; and God will wipe every tear from our eyes. (Revelation)

Kevin Wendt is pastor of Grace Lutheran Church in Destin.