“Risk and Return”
October 11, 2015
By John Partridge
Scripture: Job 23:1-9, 16-17 Hebrews 4:12-16 Mark 10:17-31
Have you ever taken a risk?
Almost certainly you have. Life is all about risk.
Every time we get out of bed, there is a risk that the effort of waking up will cause a heart attack or a stroke.
Every time we get in a car, there is a risk that we will be in an accident.
Every time we take a bath or a shower, there is a risk that we will slip and fall.
Every time we eat fresh produce, or other foods, from the grocery store or prepared meals from a restaurant, there is a risk that something has gone wrong somewhere along the line, and there is a risk of serious illness.
We make choices, and take risks, all day, everyday.
The choices that we make cannot eliminate risk; all that we can do is to make choices that limit our risk to a level where we feel comfortable.
Some of us feel safer staying at home, while others are perfectly comfortable skydiving or SCUBA diving.
But our ability to risk, our comfort level with risk, is also a key factor in the way that we invest and prepare for the future. Investment advisers make a living helping others to make wise choices, based in-part on how comfortable they are with risk, in how they invest and prepare for retirement and other future events.
And our understanding of risk also plays a big part in how we understand the choices that we make about what happens after our lives end. We must decide what happens when this life is over and what preparations we can or should make for what comes next.
We begin again this morning in the book of Job (Job 23:1-9, 16-17), where Job wrestles with his suffering which he perceives as being sent by God unfairly.
Then Job replied:
2 “Even today my complaint is bitter;
his hand is heavy in spite of my groaning.
3 If only I knew where to find him;
if only I could go to his dwelling!
4 I would state my case before him
and fill my mouth with arguments.
5 I would find out what he would answer me,
and consider what he would say to me.
6 Would he vigorously oppose me?
No, he would not press charges against me.
7 There the upright can establish their innocence before him,
and there I would be delivered forever from my judge.
8 “But if I go to the east, he is not there;
if I go to the west, I do not find him.
9 When he is at work in the north, I do not see him;
when he turns to the south, I catch no glimpse of him.
16 God has made my heart faint;
the Almighty has terrified me.
17 Yet I am not silenced by the darkness,
by the thick darkness that covers my face.
Job wants to confront God and demand answers for the injustice that he feels. He knows that God is fair but God seems to be missing and Job cannot find him. Job is accustomed to talking to God and to feeling his presence but suddenly he cannot and this, combined with the terrible things that have happened to him, make Job afraid. But even in the face of injustice, even in the face of fear, even in the face of death, Job perseveres and presses on. As Job evaluates risk, even in the face of all that he has endured, Job will not give up, and he will not give up on God.
But even if we are enough like Job to hold on to God in times of trouble (and it isn’t always easy), we still worry that God’s standards are too hard. We worry that we aren’t good enough, that we don’t trust enough, or have enough faith. We worry that God’s judgement will be too harsh when our lives are finally weighed in the balance. And it isn’t just paranoia that feeds this kind of worry. There are well-known stories in scripture, stories about Jesus which can feed our fear if they are understood incompletely. One of those stories is found in Mark 10:17-31, where a man wants to follow Jesus, but finds that he cannot because Jesus’ standards are just too high.
17 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’”
20 “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”
21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
22 At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.
23 Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”
24 The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
26 The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?”
27 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”
28 Then Peter spoke up, “We have left everything to follow you!”
29 “Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel 30 will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”
This man, known as the rich, young ruler, claims that he has followed all of the commandments of God (Jesus only listed six) but when asked to give away his money he cannot. Most of us, even if were asked by Jesus himself, would hesitate to give up everything that we own, but the rich, young ruler believed that he kept all of God’s commands. He walks away not because Jesus condemns him, but because Jesus’ question reveals his sin. He loved money more than God. He coveted money and has made money into an idol. That’s at least three commandments that he couldn’t keep.
And he is not the only one who is worried about Jesus’ reply. The disciples themselves worry that this standard is so high that none of them would be good enough. But Jesus’ answer to them is one of comfort as well as mathematics. Jesus tells the disciples that God keeps accounts. God keeps track. God knows what we do and how we live our lives. God knows the risks we take and he knows what we give up to serve him. God knows what you have given up in terms of money, family, time, pride, prestige and popularity to follow him. And Jesus promises that your return on investment will be 10,000 percent. As we evaluate the risk of investing in a future that lies on the other side of the chasm of death, we recognize that there is risk, but the reward is so significant, so amazing, that even a small amount invested will result in enormous returns.
But the best wrinkle in this story of risk is shared with us by the writer of Hebrews (Hebrews 4:12-16) who reassures us about the fairness of God’s judgment where he says:
12 For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. 13 Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.
14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
Simply put: God is not dead.
The word of God slices into us, even in the darkest corners of our soul, and reveals our sin. God’s word shines the light of judgement on our actions, thoughts and attitudes. But even though our innermost thoughts are revealed before the judgement seat of Jesus, we have no need to fear. Our high priest, Jesus, who sits in on the throne of God, was a human being just like us. He knows exactly what it means to be afraid. He knows how it feels to take risks. He understands us better than we do ourselves and it was his sacrifice that rescues us from our sins.
Even though it is frightening to know that God keeps an accounting of every moment of our lives, God’s accounting of the followers of Jesus Christ is not intended to condemn or destroy us. Instead, because Jesus knows us and understands what it is to be human, and because we have put our faith and confidence in him, we can approach the throne of God with confidence instead of fear. When we are weighed in the balance, the penalty for our sins has already been paid.
On the day that we approach the throne of judgement, instead of finding condemnation, we will instead find a place of mercy and grace.
There is no risk in trusting God.
There is no risk in following Jesus.
There is only reward.
There are only two real risks that we need to worry about.
First, there is the huge risk of failing to put our trust in Jesus.
And the second is in failing to invest in the life we have with him both now and forever.