Passage: Luke 18:18-30
How do you work out what’s really important to someone? Is it based upon what they say or what they do? A father who works 14 hours a day, 6 days a week, and when his family grumble that they never see him, he tells them, “I’m doing it for you!” What’s really important to him? His family or his job? A guy has a new girlfriend and a new car, he tells her that he loves her but he spends more time and money on his new car than her. What’s really important to him? His girlfriend or his car? There are some clues to look for that show what’s really important to us- what we spend our money on, what we spend our time on, and what we worry about. This week we’re looking at a story about a man who comes to Jesus and says what is really important to him and it sounds spot on. But Jesus exposes what is really important to the man deep down. Jesus tells him what to do about it but it doesn’t go down well with him.
What does the man want? (v18-21)
“A certain ruler asked him (Jesus), “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” The ruler wanted eternal life and reckons Jesus is a sufficiently good teacher to tell him how to get it. What he doesn’t realise is that he is addressing the Son of God. So Jesus quotes five of the ten commandments, all of which are about how we relate to our fellow man, and the ruler is confident he’s kept these. The man’s confidence is often people’s reaction. If you ask someone why God should let them into his heaven, they will often say that they’ve tried to keep the Ten Commandments and live a moral life. Whilst it is good to obey the Ten Commandments and a moral life is better than an immoral one, the problem is that this is never the basis for our entry into heaven. What the ruler wants is eternal life, which is a great thing, but the trap he has fallen into is thinking that his morality and law-keeping is the means of getting it.
Why doesn’t he get it? (v22-25)
It looks as though eternal life is what is important to the ruler but Jesus is now going to show him what is really important to him. “Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (v22) Jesus takes the man back to the Ten Commandments, and indeed the very first one- “You shall have no other gods before me.” By telling the ruler to give away his wealth to the poor and then follow him, he was telling him to get rid of his real god- his money. This is what he really lived for and was the most important thing in his life. Jesus threw down the gauntlet to him. If it’s the Ten Commandments that you think is the basis for eternal life, then fine, let’s start with the first one! Luke tells us that the man “became very sad, because he was a man of great wealth.” Matthew and Mark add a little more detail- “The man went away sad.” This story is not just about wealth, it is about idolatry in general. Anything we put in place of God, is an idol or god-substitute, and we’ve fallen into the same trap as the ruler. It might be wealth but it could also be education, our family, possessions, career, intellect, status, leisure, pleasure, retirement etc. As I mentioned at the start, what we spend our money on, what we spend our time on and what we worry about give a clue as to what is really important to us, and it might well not be God! That is why Jesus tells his disciples- “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! 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.” (v24-25)
Who can get it? (v26-30)
This becomes the disciple’s question to Jesus, “Who then can be saved?” (v26) In that culture wealth was seen as a blessing from God and a sign of his favour. So the disciple’s are perplexed. If those who are wealthy and blessed by God are excluded from the kingdom of God (or don’t get eternal life, aren’t saved) then who can get it? And Jesus replies, “What is impossible with men is possible with God.” (v27) The ruler couldn’t earn eternal life and neither can we. It is impossible. No amount of good works or rule-keeping can twist God’s arm to let us into his heaven. But eternal life is possible with God- because God gives it. It is a work of grace, or unmerited love, towards us. So how are we meant to receive it? Look at the previous story (Luke 18:15-17) to see the answer. Little children were at the opposite end of the food-chain to the ruler as the disciples attitude shows, but they do model how we get eternal life- “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” Eternal life is a gift from God that we’re to receive like a little child- humbly, trustingly, gladly and dependently. It’s a gift and not a reward. Throughout Luke’s gospel one of the staggering facts is that it is often the religious ‘in-crowd’ who miss out on eternal life, because of their pride and belief that it is a reward for their good works, and it is often the irreligious outcasts who gladly receive the gift of eternal life, as they humbly come to God- just like little children.
Points to Ponder
-It is often difficult to accept a gift because we want to pay for it or do something to deserve it. Not so with the most precious gift that any of us can receive- eternal life. It is a gift from God. Take time to reflect on whether you have genuinely accepted it?
-So what is eternal life? Think on this concise definition of it from John 17:3- “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” It’s not only everlasting life but also life with the everlasting one!
Dear Lord God, what is impossible for us you have made possible in and through faith in the Lord Jesus. Thank you for your amazing grace and how you don’t treat us as our sins deserve. Thank you that you have redeemed us in Jesus. Amen