Certainty In Uncertain Times: Luke 18:18-30 – So Rich, Yet So Poor

Grace For The Journey

We are making our way, verse-by-verse, through the Gospel of Luke.  As a church we believe that God wants His people to “Cherish the Word.”  We believe the best way to learn God’s Word is through verse-by-verse expository preaching and teaching.  We are in Luke 18 and we will be starting today’s study at verse 18.  I have spent some time as we have gone through this study noting the importance of context when going through Scripture.  When it comes to understanding a passage of Scripture, context is king. 

So . . . it is important to remember what precedes this passage.  Jesus teaches in verse 9-14 the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector and in verses 15-17, the He teaches about entering the kingdom of God as a little child.  It is important that we keep both of those passages in our mind if we are going to rightly understand our passage this morning about the rich, young ruler.

The pharisee back in verses 9-14 thought he was good enough to have eternal life; whereas the tax collector knew he was not good enough.  Jesus then talks about how we must be as infants and small children if we hope to enter the kingdom of God – that is, we must regard ourselves as totally helpless, wholly dependent upon another to save us.  Now maybe this “certain ruler” heard Jesus say these words in verses 16 and 17 and had seen Jesus blessing the little children and he knows that he is not a child anymore, but surely there is something he can do to inherit eternal life, and that is his question in verse 18.

When I was in high school, I took a driver’s education course in the summer.  I learned a lot that semester.  Part of the class involved getting in the car and the instructor would run through various scenarios that were important in driving.  One exercise I recall as particularly helpful was a time when he instructed each of us to position our cars in such a way that the cars were staggered left and right behind one another.  He then instructed each of us to turn and look in our left and right side-view mirrors.  I looked and saw nothing.  Then he said, “The cars behind you to your left and right are in what is called your ‘blind spot.’”  I looked again in the mirrors and this time leaned forward and also turned around and, sure enough, there was a car in my blind spot!  The lesson was extremely valuable in teaching us to remember that what you see in your mirrors is not necessarily all that is there.  There may be something hiding in your blind spot that you do not see nor even realize is there.

In our passage this morning is a rich young man with a blind spot.  There is something that he cannot see.  He thinks he sees well enough.  In fact, he is prepared to talk to Jesus about what he can see and probably expects Jesus to agree that everything looks good and is in proper order.  But Jesus points out there is something there that this young man is missing, something lurking in his blind spot

I want to provide a very basic, simple outline and we will go through the text and then we will give some thought to specific principles to live by. 

Number one . . .

I. Consider The Nature Of The Lord.

Verse 18 tells us, “Now a certain ruler (Matthew’s Gospel tells us he is young (Matthew 19:20) asked Him, saying, ‘Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’”

I think the young religious ruler is trying to be kind and respectful in his addressing Jesus with the title, “Good Teacher.”  At the same time, however, he creates something of a breach of social and religious etiquette in addressing Jesus this way.  In the Jewish Talmud, for example, there is not a single instance where a Jewish rabbi is addressed as “Good Teacher.”  This seems to be that which is pointed out by Jesus in His reply in verse 19, “So Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God.’”  It is as though Jesus is saying, “I want you to think about what you just said!  You call Me good, but no one is good, but God.”  And this is true, just scan the psalms and read . . .

 Psalm 25:8, “Good and upright is the Lord…”

Psalm 34:8, “…Taste and see that the Lord is good…”

Psalm 86:5, “For You, Lord, are good…”

Psalm 106:1, “Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good!”

No one is good but One, that is, God.  I want to dig into this truth much deeper in tomorrow’s blog.  God is good; God has revealed Himself to us in the Person of Jesus Christ.  Jesus Christ is good because Jesus Christ is God. 

Jesus gets right to the young man’s question.  He had asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life.”  Jesus answers the question by getting the man to consider how he was doing in keeping the Old Testament Law.  Jesus says in verse 20, “You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery,’ Do not murder . . .’”

I want to look at the goodness of God in more depth in my next blog. Now let’s look at our second consideration.  Number one was “Consider the Nature of the Lord,” Number two . . .

II. Consider the Nature of the Law.

At first reading we may wonder why Jesus directs the man to the 10 Commandments here.  Most of us know that New Testament teaching tells us we are not saved by keeping the law, not saved by our works, but by grace through faith in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8-9).  Then why does Jesus direct the rich young ruler to the law?

Maybe it is because Jesus – as God in the flesh – knows the young man’s heart.  He can see the young man’s blind spot and He is trying to get the young man to see it himself.  Jesus is wanting the young man to face his blind spots.  Jesus quotes from the “second table” or the “second half” of the commandments as they are given in Exodus 20.  He says in verse 20, “You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not bear false witness, honor your father and mother.”  Jesus uses the law to reveal the man’s inability to keep it perfectly.  But what is the young man’s reply?  Verse 21 tells us, “And he said, ‘All these things I have kept from my youth.’”  Here we see the young man’s blind spot?  Does he truly understand the nature of the law?  The Bible says Romans 3:20 that, “By the law comes the knowledge of sin.”  If we read the law rightly, we will read the law say, “Man, I am such a sinner.  I cannot keep the law as I should.”

It is as though Jesus is saying, “You are asking me what you must ‘Do’ to inherit eternal life and I have just been teaching you can’t really ‘Do’ anything.  You have got to come to me as a baby, helpless, and depending upon God alone to save you.”  There is nothing you can do because you cannot do it perfectly.  You cannot merit your salvation.  You cannot “measure up” to the perfect standard of righteousness required.  Jesus may have said, “That was my point with the story of the pharisee and the tax collector.  The pharisee thought he could do something to inherit eternal life and actually believed he was worthy to receive it.”

To help understand what Jesus is doing here with the rich, young ruler, imagine how the conversation might have gone were He talking with the tax collector back in the preceding passage.  Imagine the tax collector from the earlier parable having this discussion with Jesus.  Unlike the self-righteous pharisee who prayed in a braggadocios manner, boasting of all his accomplishments, the tax collector in his prayer would not so much as lift his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and said, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”  Imagine it is the tax collector approaching Jesus here in the place of the rich young ruler.  I think the conversation would have gone a little differently.  It probably would have gone something like this: The tax collector would not so much as raise his head to talk to Jesus, but asked him quietly, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”  Jesus says, “You know the commandments, ‘Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not bear false witness.”  The tax collector replies, “O, Teacher!  May God have mercy upon me.  I have broken every single one of those commands and will likely do so again before the sun sets this evening.  Is there any hope for my sin-sick, soul?!”  And we imagine Jesus saying, “My friend, the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as yourself, those who regard themselves as helpless children.  Yes, you may have eternal life, resting your faith and your life wholly upon Me and My work on your behalf.”  But of course, the rich, young ruler does not talk to Jesus as we might imagine the tax collector talking to Jesus.  He says, “I have kept the law.  I have done what is necessary to do.” 

What is the response of Jesus?  We see it in verse 22, “So when Jesus heard these things, He said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”  This is Jesus’ way of putting his finger directly upon the very thing that would keep this man from becoming a follower of Jesus Christ.  Jesus identified the one thing that would get in the way of this man’s being a committed disciple.  It was the one thing hiding in the man’s blind spot.  

We have considered the nature of the Lord and the nature of the Law.  Thirdly, let’s consider . . .

III. Consider the Nature of Your Lack.

What is the “one thing” lacking, the one thing that keeps people from following Christ?  For the rich young ruler, it was his riches.  Jesus knows this.  That is why He says to Him, “You still lack one thing. Sell all that you have, give away all your stuff to the poor, come follow Me, I will give you treasure in heaven,” a metaphor for eternal life.  Is this a universal commend?  Does Jesus mean that every person must sell everything he or she has and give it all to the poor in order to be saved?  No, riches themselves are never the problem.  There were several rich people in the Bible who truly loved God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength.  Riches were not their problem . . . But riches are this young ruler’s problem.

Remember that Jesus is the Good Physician.  He is the Good Doctor prescribing according to the disease before Him.  As the Master Physician He has diagnosed this young man’s problem and He prescribes the cure.  The rich, young ruler loved his riches more than he loved anything else.  That is why verse 23 reads as it does, “But when he heard this, he became very sorrowful, for he was very rich.”  His riches stood in the way of eternal life.  While he was proud of his self-righteousness, he has just learned that he does not have enough righteousness.  What is worse, where he comes up short in righteousness, he has just learned that he cannot make up for by purchasing what is lacking because it is money itself that stands in the way.  For the first time in his life, he cannot buy his way in.  He is so rich yet so poor.  He wanders away never to be heard from again. 

Verses 24 and 30 say, “And when Jesus saw that he became very sorrowful, He said, ‘How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!  For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.  And those who heard it said, ‘Who then can be saved?’  But He said, ‘The things which are impossible with men are possible with God.’  Then Peter said, ‘See, we have left all and followed You.’  So He said to them, ‘Verily, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or parents or brothers or wife or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who shall not receive many times more in this present time, and in the age to come eternal life.’”

Now let us conclude with a few practical principles.  These are principles that surface from our study of this passage.  I call these: Rich Thoughts for Poor Sinners:

1) Not Everyone Who Looks Like Disciple-Material Is Disciple-Material.

I get the impression the 12 were watching this rich young ruler with a sense of great expectation.  They probably thought this guy was going to be a tremendous asset to the cause of spreading the Good News of the Kingdom.  But such was not the case.  The guy leaves spiritually lost.  We are tempted to look at the finely dressed businessman or woman who visits our church and we think to ourselves, “Now here is a real winner!”  People are tripping over themselves to go say hello.  A real winner, we say. On what basis?  Their money?  Their morality?

On the other hand, we look at the shabbily dressed man who enters the sanctuary with nothing to commend and we are tempted to ignore him.  “Oh, he could’t possibly be of any use to the advancement of the kingdom.” Something we see time and again in the Gospel of Luke is this “Great Reversal.”  Jesus has said more than once that “The first shall be last and the last first.”  Things are not always as they seem.  Not everyone who looks like disciple-material is disciple-material.  You never know.

You and I had need remember that everyone stands equally before God.  No on stands any taller than the next guy, nor any shorter than the next guy.  As we are found of saying, “The ground is level at the foot of the cross.” 

2) Salvation Is Not Something I Earn, but Something I Receive.

May I never forget this truth!  What can I “Do” to inherit eternal life?  Answer: NOTHING. All the major religions focus on what man must “Do” to be right with God.  Judaism, Buddhism, Islam, all of them focus on what man must “Do.”  Christianity is focus upon what Christ has “Done.” 

Jesus did what you could not do yourself.

 The Bible says in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace are you saved through faith, and this not of yourselves, it is a gift of God, not of works lest any should boast.”  Jesus lived the perfect life you could not live.  He died as your substitute, taking your place on the cross, taking the punishment you deserved.  Salvation is not something I earn, but something I receive. 

3) If I Am Saved, I Can Thank God For Making Possible The Impossible.

When the disciples hear Jesus talking about how difficult it is for rich people to enter the kingdom of God, they are flabbergasted.  Jesus says in verse 25 that “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God” and in verse 26 the disciples wonder, “Well, then WHO in the world can be saved?”

In Jesus’ day, a person’s wealth was considered a sign of God’s blessing.  The Jews regarded wealth and possessions as the smile of God upon one’s life and so what Jesus has just said sent them reeling in wonder as to WHO then can be saved?  Jesus teaches, “It is impossible.”  You cannot do anything to earn it, you cannot buy your way in.  You can do nothing.  It is impossible.  Jesus says in verse 27 says, “The things that are impossible with men are possible with God.”  If I am saved, I can thank God for making possible the impossible.  It is all owing to God’s grace.  I hope when you sing, “Amazing Grace” that you really feel the joy of God’s making possible what was impossible.

4) What Do I Love More Than God (What Is My Idol)?

In verse 28, Peter says, “We have left everything and followed You!”  Jesus responds to him in verse 29 and 30, “So He said to them, ‘Verily, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or parents or brothers or wife or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who shall not receive many times more in this present time, and in the age to come eternal life.”  Few of us know what it is like to leave house, family, and possessions for the sake of the kingdom of God.  It speaks to the kind of commitment required to follow Christ.  It speaks to the matter of where our heart is.  Jesus says, “Where your heart is, there your treasure will be.”  Put another way . . . What do you love more than God?  Whatever that thing is, is your idol.

Would you be willing to give up house, parents, wife, or children for the sake of the kingdom of God?  Perhaps this thought may be used as a test to authenticate genuine salvation.  Do we love God and the things of God more than we love house, family, possessions?  If we love anything or anyone more than we love God, we are guilty of idolatry.

What is your “one thing?”  What is the one thing “you lack?”  What is your “Blind Spot?” What is the thing that will cause you to crash on your spiritual journey?  For the rich, young ruler, it was money.  It makes sense.  When you have a lot of money, it is easier to trust what you have than to trust God.  It is easier to love what you have than to love God.  Does your money lurk in the side-view mirror?

It is important to realize that Jesus is talking to you and me, as we as the rich young ruler.  Where is your blind spot?  Money?  Stuff?  A relationship that is not good for us?  Work?  A hobby?  A sport?  Health?  Need help identifying your blind spot?  What stands in the way of your love for God and the things of God?  That is where you will find your blind spot, your idol. 

May God help us each identify our blind spots.

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

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