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Archive for the ‘The Gospel of Luke’ Category

The following is a sermon preached at First Baptist Church in Pine, Arizona on August 15, 2010:

Death is one of the most frightening things we can ever face in this life.  I have become acutely aware of this in the last couple of years working for hospice.  Everyday… I interact with people who are standing on the threshold of death… and most… not all… but most of them are afraid.

Why?  What makes death so scary?  It is the unknown.  Do we continue on in some different kind of existence?  Or does everything cease to exist?  Is there a God and is there a judgment?  How can we be sure that we will enter into a positive afterlife experience?

The Bible is clear… this life is not the end… this life is only the beginning.  For those who have trusted in Christ… there is a beautiful eternity to come… living forever in the glorious presence of the all-loving and gracious God… to bask in the blessing of knowing Him for ever and ever… to be set free from the bondage of sin and suffering and death.  But for those who reject Him and stand before Him guilty of sin… there is nothing but judgment to come beyond the grave…

There is an eternity to face when this life is over.  How will we face it?  How can we gain eternal life?

This is an important question… one which we will see answered for us in our passage today.  Open your Bibles with me to Luke 18:18-27

In context, this event takes place near the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry.  He is traveling toward Jerusalem for the last time intending to offer Himself as a sacrifice for the sins of His people.  Over and over again, in this context, Jesus talks about what it takes to gain eternal life.  He refers to it in different ways and calls it different things…being saved… or being justified… or receiving the kingdom of God.  In this passage… it is called “inheriting eternal life”…

Luke 18:18-27 (ESV) – 18 And a ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 19 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. 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.’ ” 21 And he said, “All these I have kept from my youth.” 22 When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 23 But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich. 24 Jesus, seeing that he had become sad, said, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! 25 For 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.” 26 Those who heard it said, “Then who can be saved?” 27 But he said, “What is impossible with men is possible with God.”

This passage begins by introducing us to a “ruler” (ἄρχων) among the Jews.  He is an important man… a leader among the people.  He was probably either a synagogue leader (i.e. Jairus – Lk 8:41 or Nicodemus – Jn 3:1) or a civil magistrate.  Either way, he would have had some religious leadership among the people, because in 1st century Israel, there was no distinction between the secular and the religious.  The religious leaders were the secular leaders of the day.

Now this is remarkable when we consider the fact that in Matthew’s account of this event, we are told that he was a young man (Matt 19:20, 22).  Unlike our culture today… the Jews of the 1st century valued age and experience rather than youth.  To be an older person was equated with wisdom.  The fact that this young man was recognized among the people as a “leader” says something about him. There is no doubt that the people around him probably saw him as a pretty good person… a righteous man… a religious man.

On top of this, we are told he was “extremely rich” (Lk 18:23).  The Jews of this day often equated material blessings with the favor of God.  You can understand how they would arrive at this conclusion… if all earthly blessings come from God… then surely those who have the most must be the “best” people in God’s eyes.

I think it is safe to say that from the outside looking in… most people in this day would have assumed that this rich young ruler was bound for heaven.

But he doesn’t seem to be so sure of himself.  Here we see he is coming to Jesus with a question. “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Lk 18:18.)

Do you hear the insecurity in his question?What must I do to inherit eternal life?”  He seems to fear that maybe… just maybe… he hasn’t done enough. And this seems to haunt him.  In Mark’s account, we are told that he “ran up to Him and knelt before Him” (Mk 10:17.)  I think this implies urgency… insecurity… maybe even fear???

(Transition: What we have here is a man seeking answers.  This is a man who wants to understand matters of ultimate importance.  He believes that there is life after death and he wants to be sure that he is right with God.  He wants to be sure that… when death comes… he is ready for it.  And he seems to believe that Jesus has the answers…)

I get this from the way in which he addresses Jesus.  He calls Him, “Good Teacher.”  Think about this.  Some scholars say that this man is trying to flatter Jesus.  I don’t think so.  Mark 10:21 says that Jesus “looking at him, loved him.”  That is an odd thing to say if this man is trying to manipulate Jesus.  I don’t think this is flattery.  I think this shows us what he thought about Jesus:

1)      That Jesus is a good man… a righteous man… a man who is blameless in the sight of God.

2)      Second, the Jesus is a wise Teacher… a man who can answer his question regarding eternal life.

3)      But he probably means even more that Jesus is a Prophet of God… One who speaks on God’s behalf.  That is what makes Him a “Good Teacher.”

4)      This… combined with the fact that he “knelt before Jesus” (Mk 10:17) tells us that this man seems to deeply respect Jesus.

I think this is interesting… and frightening… because it tells us something very important.  There are people who deeply respect Jesus and who believe that He can answer their questions about matters of life and death… heaven and hell… and yet some will not be saved. More on this in a minute…

He comes asking Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?

He is asking “What must I do to gain a positive afterlife experience?”  “What must I do to be able to enter into God’s presence when this life is over?”  “What must I do to avoid the judgment of hell when I die?”  He wants to inherit eternal life… and he assumes that there is something he must “do” in order to earn to earn it… something which he isn’t doing now.

This is not uncommon.  I talk to a lot of people about death… and most of them believe in some kind of afterlife to come.  And when I talk to them, most of them tell me the same thing.  They think that gaining a positive afterlife is the result of a life well lived.  In other words… heaven… (however they want to define it)… is obtained by doing more good than bad.  But how good is good enough?

Other people think that their religious practices will get them into heaven.  I hear it all the time… “I was baptized”… “I go to church”… “I pray and read my Bible”… Again… these people believe that what they do will determine whether or not they inherit eternal life.

The same thing is going on here with this rich young ruler.  He thought he must DO something in order to merit the rewards of heaven.  But he had a feeling that something was missing.  He seems to be afraid that all he was doing wasn’t good enough.  He had no assurance of salvation despite his efforts to keep the Law.  I think he seems afraid of death… because he doesn’t know if he is right with God.  And he thinks that Jesus will give him the answer… the one thing he must do in order to make sure that he will inherit eternal life.

This man has come to the right place.  He has come to the One Person who can answer this question.  But Jesus isn’t going to give the answer that he wants…

Notice Jesus’ response.  He begins by critiquing this young man’s greeting… “Good Teacher…” by saying, “No one is good except God alone” (Lk 18:19.)  Now when Jesus says this, He is not denying that He is good.  He is the sinless Son of God and both Jesus and the whole of Scripture are very clear on this fact (Heb 4:15, Heb 7:26, II Cor 5:21, I Pet 2:22, I Jn 3:5.)  What He is doing is challenging this man’s understanding of what it means to be “good.”  In other words… no person is good… only God.  So if “goodness” is what it takes to inherit eternal life… we are all in trouble… because no one except God is good enough to get into heaven.  We all fall short of God’s perfection (Rom 3:23.)

Jesus begins to prove this point when He tells this man to obey the commandments (Lk 18:20.)  You see, Jesus is saying, “You already know what is needed… you know God’s Word… you know what God requires.  Obey the standards set down by God.”  And then He proceeds to list several of the Ten Commandments.  “Do not commit adultery.  Do not murder.  Do not steal.  Do not bear false witness.  Honor your father and mother” (Lk 18:20.)

You can almost see this man’s spirit lift when Jesus gives him this answer… can’t you?  He says, “All these I have kept from my youth” (Lk 18:21.)  What is he saying here?  He is saying that he thinks he is a pretty good person.  He’s never done anything “really bad.”  You can almost see him breathe a deep sigh of relief can’t you?  And say, “Well, if that is all takes, then I must be okay?”

This may seem a little arrogant to us… but most people would answer exactly the same way.  If we went out and polled 100 people… I bet most of them would say they had kept these commands… at least most of the time, because, inherently, we all want to believe that we are pretty good.  We all want to believe that we are good enough to enter heaven.

But Jesus isn’t going to let this young man stay here and believe in his own goodness.  Jesus isn’t done with him yet.  Notice what He is doing here.  Jesus doesn’t list the entire Ten Commandments when he tells this man to keep God’s Law.  He only cites the commandments that have to do with our relationship with other people.  He leaves out the first four commandments and the last commandment.

1)                          He doesn’t remind this man that it is necessary to worship God first and foremost.

2)                          He doesn’t command him to flee from idolatry.

3)                          He doesn’t warn him against taking the LORD’s name in vain.

4)                          And He doesn’t command him not to covet.

This isn’t an oversight on Jesus’ part.  He is doing something intentionally here.  Why does Jesus leave these commands out? What is He doing here?

I think Jesus is putting His finger on the sin in this man’s life.  He is pointing out that no matter how good this rich young ruler thinks he is… no matter how good everyone else thinks he is… he does not measure up to God’s standard.  He is not perfect.  Therefore, he is not good enough to inherit eternal life.

I think it is probably safe to say that…wealth was first and foremost in this man’s life.  We’ll see that very clearly in a moment.  Therefore, he was violating the 1st commandment to worship God above all else.  I think it is safe to say that money was his idol.  Therefore, he was violating the second commandment.  And I think he coveted that which riches can provide.  So he was violating the tenth commandment.

Do you see what Jesus is doing?  He is baiting this man into admitting his own “righteousness”… his own goodness… only to pull the rug right out from under him…

Notice what Jesus says, “One thing you still lack…” (Lk 18:22.)  Jesus says here, “If you want to inherit eternal life… there is one thing you need to do.  There is one thing holding you back.”

I find it interesting that He tells him that he lacks one thing… but then gives him three things to do…

1)      Sell all that you have… which was quite a bit because we are told that he was extremely rich.

2)      Distribute it to the poor.

3)      And come and follow Me.

What is Jesus saying here?  He is not saying that everyone must give up all their wealth in order to be saved.  We know that because he doesn’t tell everyone else to sell all their belongings and give the proceeds to the poor in order to be saved.  What does Jesus say time and again is necessary to gain eternal life? He says, “Repent and believe in Me.”  Jesus calls us to turn away from our sin and idolatry and trust in Him alone for salvation.

So what is the “one thing” this man lacks? He lacks Jesus.

And what is standing in the way of Him coming to Jesus? His trust in his own goodness and his love of wealth.

Jesus does not command everyone to give up all their wealth in order to gain eternal life… but He does command all of us to repent of our idolatry and abandon all hope in ourselves and the things of this world and put all of our trust in Him and in Him alone.  We must turn away from the things of this world and come and follow Him if we want to inherit eternal life.

Let me prove this to you from the lips of Jesus Himself…

Luke 9:23-25 (ESV) – 23 And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. 25 For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?

Luke 9:57-62 (ESV) – 57 As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” 59 To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” 60 And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” 61 Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” 62 Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

Luke 14:26-27 (ESV) – 26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.

This is radical!  Jesus demands that He must occupy first place in our hearts and lives.  He must be more important than anything else… because anything else that we value more than Him is an idol.  And Jesus demands that we must abandon all our idolatry and all hope in ourselves and all trust in the things of this world if we are to gain Him.  This is repentance and faith.  Turning from the idols of our sinful hearts and trusting in Jesus alone to save us.

And this isn’t something that we do under duress.  When we see Jesus as He truly is and we desire to have Him and eternal life with Him more than the things of this world… then we are willing to joyfully give up everything for Him.

Remember what Jesus said about gaining the kingdom of God in Matthew 13

Matthew 13:44-46 (ESV) – 44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. 45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, 46 who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.

When we see the beauty of Jesus and eternal life with Him… and we want Him more than anything else… we willingly give up our idols and our own efforts to do anything to earn eternal life… and we joyfully grab hold of Him and cling to Him alone to save us.

Jesus may not call you and me to give up all our wealth in order to gain Him… but He does call us to give up everything for Him.  He calls us to treasure Him above all treasures and to cling to Him and Him alone so that we might have eternal life.  This may cost us everything in this life… but it is worth it… because it brings with it “treasure in heaven” (Lk 18:22)… riches beyond compare.  Notice how Jesus describes this down in verses 29-30

Luke 18:29-30 (ESV) – 29 And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, 30 who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.”

Those who abandon all for Jesus now gain more than we can ever imagine both now and forever in Him.  What Jesus is calling for here is a “trading up” if you will.  He calls this man… and every man, woman and child… to give up one source of wealth in order to gain the everlasting source of wealth found in Him.

There is a good illustration of this in the movie “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.” Do you remember the end of the movie?  Indiana Jones is pursuing the Holy Grail and at the end he is clinging to the edge of chasm in the midst of earthquake and the Grail is just out of his reach.  His father is above him and reaches down to save him.  But in order to be saved… in order to take his father’s hand… he has to abandon the Grail.  His father is calling him to take his hand… and he keeps saying, “I can reach it”… and he responds, “Indiana… let it go.”  Remember?  He lets it go and takes his father’s hand and he is saved.

That is what Jesus is saying here.  As sinners we stand before Him with our hands full of idols.  And He says all you lack for eternal life is Me.  Take My hands and be saved.  But we can’t take His hands until we let go of the idols in our hands.

But notice… this young man couldn’t do it.  “When he heard these things, he became very sad…”  Why?  Because “he was extremely rich.” (Lk 18:23.)

I actually find this to be rather odd.  And sad.  Notice that he doesn’t become angry at Jesus.  That would be the natural response wouldn’t it?  To get mad at Jesus?  To say, “Who does He think He is…”

But he doesn’t get mad.  He becomes exceedingly sorrowful.  Remember… he seems to recognize Jesus as a “Good Teacher.”  I think he believes that Jesus has the answer to his question about eternal life.  And it is not that he fails to understand Jesus’ answer.  He just doesn’t want to accept it.  He chooses to walk away and hold on to his wealth rather than repent of his idolatry and trust in Jesus alone to save him.

We see this all the time, don’t we?  I do.  I meet people all the time who believe that Jesus has the answer to their questions regarding eternal life… but they aren’t willing to repent and believe in Him.  They aren’t willing to give up the person they once were and turn from the idols of their heart and trust in Him alone to save them.  Instead they walk away saddened because they refuse to receive the salvation which only He can give.

Why?  Because we love our idols… and it is hard to give them up.  In fact, Jesus goes so far as to say it is impossible in our own strength.  He says, “…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” (Lk 18:25.)  I have heard a number of preachers say that “the eye of a needle” refers to a particularly small gate in Jerusalem which was difficult to get through with a camel.  But there is absolutely no historical or archaeological evidence to support this (Bock, 1485.)  I think Jesus means exactly what He says here.  It is easier for a big, hairy, smelly camel to walk through the itty-bitty eye of a needle than for a rich person to be saved.  In other words… it is impossible.

Jesus talks about this in the Parable of the Soils.  Remember He talked about the Word of God like seed that fell on different types of hearts.  Some seed fell among the thorns…

Mark 4:18-19 (ESV) – 18 And others are the ones sown among thorns. They are those who hear the word, 19 but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.

That is exactly what we see going on here.  This rich young ruler heard the Word… but the “deceitfulness of riches” choked it out and he was not saved.  He refused to respond to the invitation of Jesus to enter into the kingdom of God.  He refused to let go of his wealth and trust in Jesus.

This had a definite impact on those who were standing around.  Remember… wealth was seen as an indication of the blessing of God in those days.  If a person who was uniquely blessed by God could not be saved… “Then who can be saved?” (Lk 18:26.)  In other words… “will anyone inherit eternal life?”  And Jesus’ answer simply highlights the grace and power of God in salvation for, “What is impossible with men is possible with God.”

God in His grace delights in doing the impossible and saving those who cannot save themselves.  But notice from here in this text… the only reason why anyone is saved… rich and poor alike… is because God does the impossible and saves idolatrous sinners… like you and me.  Remember… it is not just wealth that chokes out the word of the gospel… but “the cares of the world” and “the desires for other things” can also choke it out (Mk 4:18-19.)  In other words… no one is immune.  Salvation in and of ourselves is not only an impossibility for those who are rich… it is an impossibility for all of us.  That is why Jesus says in John 3 that “unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (Jn 3:3.)  Unless the Holy Spirit of God blows across our hearts and gives us new life… we will never see the beauty of Jesus and we will hold on to our idols and refuse to cling to Him for salvation.

Do you see what Jesus is saying here?  There is nothing we can do to inherit eternal life.  It is impossible for us to be saved in our own strength.  But the human situation is not hopeless because of God’s power.  Jesus is placing the responsibility for salvation squarely upon the shoulders of God.  It is not possible for the rich to be saved on their own… it is only possible through God.  The same is true for the poor… and also the intelligent and ignorant… the Jew and the Gentile… the strong and the weak.  Salvation is impossible on our own.  It is God that brings about the impossible when one lost sinner is saved.

What must we do to gain eternal life? This is a question which is relevant to each and every one of us here today.

What must we do to gain eternal life? There is nothing we can do to gain eternal life.  Salvation is by the work of Jesus Christ alone.  He lived the perfect life we could never live in order to earn the right of eternal life… so that He could give it to those who trust in Him.  He died the death we deserve so that our sin debt could be paid and we could be forgiven.  He alone can earn our eternal life and we can only receive it through coming to Him.

We do nothing to earn our salvation, but coming to Jesus is costly.  It requires us to “lose our lives” in this world (Lk 9:24)… to deny ourselves and take up our cross daily and follow Him (Lk 9:23.)  To receive the gift of eternal life means we must repent of our sin and idolatry and all our hope in ourselves and the things of this worldWe must turn away from these things and leave them behind in order to cling to Jesus alone in faith for our salvation.  We will not do this perfectly in this life… but we must strive to do this… or we are not saved.

Are you a Christian here today?

Have you repented of your sin and are you trusting in Jesus to grant you eternal life?

If not… then what is holding you back???  What is standing in your way???

Will you leave here today saddened because you don’t have eternal life?  Or will you leave rejoicing… having given up your idols and your own efforts to save yourself… but having gained eternal life in Jesus?

Death is an enemy we all face.

“What must we do to inherit eternal life?” is a question which is relevant to all of us.

Do you understand the answer?

There is hope beyond the grave and that hope is not in ourselves.  It is not in our…wealth… or intelligence… or popularity… or success… or even in our good works.

Eternal life is not the result of our efforts… it is the work of Christ alone.  I urge you to repent of your sin and trust in Him alone.  There is no salvation to be found apart from Him.

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