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Second Lesson: 1 John 2:15-17 (NIV)
Gospel: Luke 18:18-30 (NIV)
- CW 816:1,4-6 I Am Trusting You, Lord Jesus
- CW 717 What Is the World to Me
- CW 667:1-5 Lord Jesus Christ, You Have Prepared
- CW 510:1,3,4 In Christ Alone
What you lean on must be dependable in order to hold you up. A couple years back when I was using a cane consistently, I had a cane I really liked. It was light so I could pick it up easily. It was strong so I could lean on it with my full weight with no worries of it snapping. It even had a nice rubber grip on the bottom to help me from slipping. In my mind, it was the perfect cane, but I was wrong. You see, for all its apparent strengths it wasn’t very durable. And one day as I put my weight on it, the staff of the cane punctured right through the rubber part on the bottom. Without the rubber grip, the cane slid sideways on the ice and there I went, not far behind. What you lean on must be dependable to hold you up. There is only one thing that is completely dependable all the time, and that’s God. That’s part of the reason we’ve done this most recent worship series: Increase our faith. Because we want to depend on God. And as we will see today, faith is demonstrated through a total dependance on God.
In Luke chapter 18:8 we heard Jesus ask the question “When the Son of Man comes, will he even find faith on the earth?” Then through the rest of chapter Jesus would go on to tell us of people that would indeed enter the kingdom of heaven through faith. He unexpectedly pointed out that even a tax collector, an incredibly hated person back in the day, would enter because he relied on God’s righteousness instead of his own. Then God pointed out that babies and children enter the kingdom of God because often they believe with all their hearts that God saves them. After all, they understand that their God can do anything, including bringing them to heaven. In fact, Jesus goes so far as to encourage us to receive the kingdom of God like a little child, to trust in God and his gifts completely. God shows us that even the unpopular, the hated or even tiny babies receive the kingdom of heaven so of course all people can receive it from him as well.
But today in our text we see the opposite happen, at least at first. Into the scene enters a certain ruler, which most likely would have been a scribe who represents the Pharisees on the Sanhedrin. If that last sentence didn’t make sense to you, basically imagine someone who is viewed as extremely righteous and has power in both religious and government circles. He’s also rich. This well-respected individual comes up to Jesus and asks, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Look at that emphasis in his wording that’s already on the wrong track. “What must I do? ME. MEEEEEE. How do I earn this gift?” I’m not even sure the ruler is really asking. He might just be looking for praise or to try and show Jesus up. The reason this is a possibility is because the other two times someone addresses Jesus as teacher in the book of Luke, it’s spoken by skeptics who don’t respond positively to Jesus and here will be no different. Interesting stuff, eh?
Jesus responds with “Why do you call me good? No one is good—except God alone.” There is a lot of debate about what Jesus is saying here. Since I’m the one up here, I’m going to give you my personal opinion. Hearing that the man is focused on himself, I think Jesus is trying to pull that focus back to God. “Hey, you may not have meant it, but you called me good. If only God is good and I’m good, what does that make me?” I think Jesus is dropping hints that he is indeed good, that you can even take an o out of the word good and it would still match. Jesus is indeed God. And the commandments are so hard to keep so hard that only a Savior could keep them all, especially all these commands about loving every person in our lives perfectly, all the time.
The ruler remains focused on himself. “All these I have kept since I was a boy.” Dude thinks he’s perfect. He’s saying he has assumed personal responsibility for carrying out these commandments and since being a small boy he’s done it perfectly. He’s never sinned once in putting others first. He has always demonstrated his earthly love for his neighbor in every moment. Enough so that he thinks he can earn eternal life because he is perfect as God demands.
Jesus, knowing all things, shows the man something that will prove he is not as perfect as he thinks. “Sell everything you have and give to the poor.” Now this may seem like a jerk move on Jesus’ part until you understand why he does this. The book of Mark tells this same account, but Mark adds a couple words before Jesus gives the command, “Jesus looked at him and loved him.” The true perfection of loving others knows what would be best for this man specifically. In giving away his wealth, the young man would have removed the obstacle that kept him from what he really needed: trusting and depending on Jesus. Jesus even adds in our text, “you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” Jesus is saying to put him as his number one priority in life. “Provide purses for yourself that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. “
Jesus is doing the loving thing. Imagine there are three paths to take. Your family members have been placed on these paths. 2 of them lead to destruction. One of them leads to safety. How will they know which one to take? Unless of course, you know. Then wouldn’t you do the loving thing and try to get them on the path that leads to safety, regardless of whether it’s the path they are on, regardless of if it’s what they want? It might even be a pain for them to switch to an unfamiliar path or traverse back from the path they went so far down. But you’d tell them anyway, wouldn’t you? Because you want them to be saved. You would be showing your love by pointing out the right path.
This is what Jesus is doing here. He wants the rich man to be saved and leads him away from the path of danger and onto the path of salvation. It may not seem or feel like it, but it is the loving thing to do. The Bible doesn’t tell us what happens to the rich man after all of this, but from what we have before us, it doesn’t look good. Jesus is calling the rich man to a loyalty that supersedes that of earthly loyalties, to a love that goes beyond his love of the family estate. And yet the rich man walks away from the very one who demonstrates perfect love for his soul.
Walks away. How could he do something like that? Jesus is not saying everyone needs to go sell their possessions. That was that specific man’s weakness he was clinging to. But there is a 100% chance there is something Jesus is saying that you can apply to in your life. What is it that you continue to cling to? On the path of life obstacles appear that try to lead us off the narrow path and depend on something other than God. And so often God calls to us out of love, warning us to avoid the pitfalls and lean on him completely and fully. And we walk away. For some, it’s riches. For others, it is lust. For some it’s gossip. For some, it’s pride in self. For some, it’s power (and that can be in many forms from political to the power your appearance gives you).
And like a cane that slides out from under you and offers no support, these things can drag you off the path of God and pull you from the unshakable support of the one true God, the only one who is truly good. God is asking a serious question here. Could you give up everything if you had to in order to follow him? Because that would be best for all of us.
I had a conversation with someone this past week about how hard it is to go through health or financial troubles because it shows us so vividly all the things we relied on for strength other than God. When I first got hit with my illnesses, I did not take well. Why? I depended so much on the strength of my body, more than I even realized. I’m not going to say who is older in our congregation, but if you are, you’ll know your body can’t do the things it used to, and often realize how much closer you need to rely on God. That goes for any trouble we go for. It shows us how attached and dependent we are on other things. Again, Jesus asks us, “Could you give up everything if you had to in order to follow him?
This is extremely difficult. Jesus even says, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed 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.” On some days, I can’t even get a thread through a needle. There is no way I’m going to get a camel through! The camel was the largest animal the Israelites would see on a regular basis. Not one of them would be able to do what Jesus suggests. That’s why those who heard this asked, “Who can be saved?”
Go into their minds for a second. Back then there was a wrong, but common perception that those with wealth had been blessed by God because he was pleased with them. If you were poor, then God was angry with you. Now this isn’t a true perception, but they were probably wondering if a rich person couldn’t be saved for what they did (and remember, they thought God was pleased with that person), then what hope did the poor person such as themselves have of being saved?
Jesus’ point is it’s as possible as a camel going through the eye of a needle that anyone can save themselves. It’s absolutely impossible. But “what is impossible with man is possible with God.” This is hopefully the message you hear in some way, shape, or form every single week you are at Salem. Jesus died for your sins. As the only one truly good and perfect, he gave himself up in our place. Our sins have been paid for in Christ. Clinging to those promises through faith, we are saved completely by God’s grace and by nothing we ourselves have done.
Our text uses Peter as an example. Peter followed Christ. He definitely was not perfect at that. He sinned all the time, he was often slow to understand Jesus’ teachings, he was rash and struggled not to follow his own path. But Peter had faith. And that faith clung to everything, every promise that Jesus had made. It clung to the gift of forgiveness and eternal life in the paradise of heaven. And it was very much his through Jesus.
“’Truly I tell you,’ Jesus said to them, ‘no one who has left home or wife or brothers or sisters or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.”
That’s a beautiful thing to hear. God assures us for the now and the not yet. That regardless of what you have been through, in Christ you have more than the world can offer you. Following Jesus, we have been incorporated into a new family, the body of Christ, the church where Jesus dwells. That’s amazing! The kingdom is among you right now and you are a part of it, drawing strength from it even when life decides to throw you another curveball. And the not yet, that is which to come, is breathtaking. For the treasures in heaven will be everlasting life, joy, and family in the presence of the one who loves us most. Totally depend on Jesus. He will not let you fall in this life or the next. Amen!