Have you ever experienced a film that ended too soon? The credits roll but you wanted more. There were questions left unanswered.  Issues unresolved. 

We crave closure. We want neat and tidy packages. We need to know what happened.

When movies end too soon, we wonder: Did the couple stay together? Did the good guy live?  Did the bad guy get his? Did she ever find him?

Good storytellers have the ability create compelling stories while still holding back. In movies, writers, producers and editors continuously craft the film to keep viewers engaged and wondering what will happen next. Tension is built and released in a calculated manner. One difference between a good storyteller and a bad one is how they build and release tension.

The same is true for theologians.  

@@Good theologians know when to increase the tension of the Law and when to release it by sharing the Gospel.@@

Did Jesus Know His Own Theology?

A rich, young man asked Jesus a seemingly simple theological question when he said, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Jesus responded, “You know the commandments: Don’t murder, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal…”

This is one of those places in the Bible where my good theological training makes me freak out. Jesus answered the question wrong. Luther would have even argued the answer was wrong!

What are we supposed to do with the theological issue that Jesus created when his answer to, “How do I inherit eternal life?” is a list of commands?

Did Jesus forget about grace?  

Jesus showed his artistry as a theologian. Jesus knew exactly what he was doing when he delivered his answer. Jesus created an unresolved tension in this powerful scene.

The young man believed that he had kept the commandments since he was a young boy. Jesus seemingly ignored the young man’s arrogance at his ability to follow the law and responded, “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.”

And the rich, young man walked away. Sad.

And that was the end. The credits rolled. The house lights came up. The story was done. 

Where’s the closure? What’s the rest of the story.

Jesus didn’t chase after the rich, young ruler to clarify. Jesus said, “Give away all your stuff,” and the young man left. 

The End.

Not even close.

As we share the message of the Scriptures, we have the same difficult choice that Jesus faced with the rich, young man. What words do we share? If the Bible is a book of two words: Law and Gospel, the great art for the Christian is distinguishing Law and Gospel in the midst of spiritual conversations. It requires skill to discern when to build the tension in order to point someone toward repentance, and when to release the tension so one might rest in the grace of Jesus.

When do we share the words that expose the sin and condemn the sinner? 

When do we share the words that offer grace and forgiveness and life to that same person? 

The rich, young ruler was a bit arrogant in judging his ability to keep the Law and he needed to hear a word that would bring him back to reality and realize his need for grace. Neither his money nor his obedience entitle him to a life of grace and forgiveness. His pride must be killed in order that he might be given life. 

@@The Law shatters the self-made delusions about the goodness we offer and leaves us broken with nowhere to turn but the cross.@@ 

The young man’s response to Jesus’s words wasn’t surprising. In fact it’s all too common a response even centuries later. Christianity, numerically speaking, is in a decline. Everyday people are walking away from grace. Many walk away like the Rich Man, arrogant enough to believe that they are good enough on their own.

At this point, Jesus made an important decision.  Jesus let the story end. And that was really the end. There is no follow up with this man … no personal visits, phone calls, e-mails or texts that offer grace. The final scene was the lingering sting of the Law. 

Jesus embraced the unresolved tension by not sharing grace so that the law might linger and do its work.

The disciples on the other hand responded much differently to Jesus’ conversation with the young man.

Jesus’ preaching of Law led the disciples to ask the question, “Well, who then can be saved?”  

This is the point. 

The law did its work for the disciples; they recognized their inability to measure up to God’s demands. The disciples felt the screws tighten. They felt the pressure. They knew that what they had to offer would never be enough.

So the disciples needed a different word. The disciples didn’t need words that condemned. They didn’t need more rules and laws. They didn’t need “Seven Steps to a Life of Discipleship.” They needed the Gospel.  They needed the word that brings life.