Mar 24 2019 Luke 18 - The Rich Young Ruler - What Do You Value?
25th March 2019
Lord, thank You for the opportunity to worship You and the work You are doing. Thank You for the women’s retreat – women growing in relationship with You and with one another – that is what the Christian life is about – help us to remember that.
We are going through Luke 18 – a very familiar story – and I think – how many times have I talked about some of these stories – how can I whiz-bang this story?! I need to give up on that! It doesn’t need to be dressed up!
18 A ruler questioned Him, saying, "Good Teacher, what shall 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 things I have kept from my youth." 22 When Jesus heard this, He said to him, "One thing you still lack; sell all that you possess and distribute it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me." 23 But when he had heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich. 24 And Jesus looked at him and said, "How hard it is for those who are wealthy 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 man to enter the kingdom of God." 26 They who heard it said, "Then who can be saved?" 27 But He said, "The things that are impossible with people are possible with God."
Now, for us, this can be a difficult passage to interpret and understand and it brings up a huge question that can be perplexing! He is just asking – what do I need to go to heaven? I mean, that’s how we would understand it – and we would have a quick answer to that – wouldn’t we? Ask Jesus into your heart and you’ll go to heaven! But that is not the answer Jesus gave, is it? Sell all you have and give to the poor! And we think – that can’t way that it fits with our understanding and theology rather than first letting the passage speak. Then, after the passage speaks, we can go back and answer the questions and concerns it brings up!
We are too busy making it palatable to our theology than letting it speak to us.
Luke, the writer of Luke – is a theologian, but he is also a pastor. The writers were all pastors in the sense that they were caring for Christian communities, writing to people and churches who have real needs and concerns.
You might notice that some of the stories are arranged differently in the gospels. And you can go bonkers trying to figure it all out! But the simple answer is that Luke is writing to specific church communities – and was selective in what he wrote about – and the selection had to be selective for the people he was writing to.
There were two concerns he was trying to address – the first one – the issue of salvation by grace – you cannot earn your salvation – we don’t deserve God’s favor. And the second – there was a concern about the dangers of wealth. These two concerns were causing a great challenge in the church at the time. But I would like us to imagine Luke writing to these churches. They were a mixture of Jewish and Gentile Christians. And this caused problems. Through history, the Jews had pictures of what it meant to follow God – and that meant following all the Laws – ritual laws, and circumcision, and foods, and all that – and the Gentiles – who had never done any of that. And the book of Galatians and the first half of Ephesians address these issues.
The second problem – there were a few rich folks, and many poor folks in the church. They were a culture of status and position – the rich were of higher status than the poor. We don’t overtly say this today! But the book of 1 Corinthians, Timothy, and James each address this issue.
As we look at their world – bring it to our world. Think of how these conflicts are at work in our world today? Do we have Jews and Gentiles meeting in our church? Probably not. But we do have conflict in a similar fashion. We could say race is a conflict in our church. If you say it is not, wake up – it is time to recognize it. In our church – we are all one – and that is a problem.
Let me throw one out here – politics. I have made a commitment to not bring this up! Believe it or not, in this church, there are people on each side of the aisle! How should social justice relate to us and the gospel. There are those, in worship, who like liturgical stuff – and those who came out of that are trying to get as far from that as possible. And there are young people who are from the evangelical churches who don’t want to go back to the way we worship!
We think the way we look at the Bible, worship, and theology is normal, and anyone who looks at it differently is not normal! The person who looks at it differently from you thinks he is normal.
The ruler seems to have a genuine question – Good Teacher – he seems polite and respectful – but Jesus’ response shows something – why do you call me good?
He first is saying – you have a misunderstanding of who I am, and a misunderstanding of eternal life.
The ruler lives in a world of being good. That is his world. The world he privileges. Good – if you keep the Jewish laws and rituals, you will have eternal life. That is the normal way of looking at that. And Jesus will change that perspective.
18 A ruler questioned Him, saying, "Good Teacher, what shall 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 things I have kept from my youth."
According to the ‘letter of the Law’ – this guy had it. This story is in Luke 18 – which has other verses –
Luke 11: 9 And He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt: 10 "Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 "The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: 'God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 'I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.'
So the Pharisee is connected to the rich young ruler. The tax collector is just asking for mercy – and he is the one who goes away justified. The rich young ruler is a kinder, gentler version of the Pharisee – the same worldview – by following the right rituals and laws. Both the Pharisee and the ruler follow the letter of the law. And Jesus will move from the letter of the law to the heart of the law:
18:22 22 When Jesus heard this, He said to him, "One thing you still lack; sell all that you possess and distribute it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me." 23 But when he had heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich.
The man who had everything lacked the most important thing. Someone who thought he had it all together lacked something. Jesus’ reply reveals that the man broke the two most important commandments.
In Matthew – he adds – and you shall love your neighbor as yourself. The two most important are to love God and neighbor. That is the heart of all the law – and you are missing the heart. Money had taken the place of God in his heart. It had become more important to him than God. His true devotion was to his wealth. We all will worship something – either God or something else. Money had also become an idol in his life – so he broke that commandment too.
Being extremely rich – which is an unusual thing for a Jewish person of that day – He was a ruler, and the rest were oppressed by the Roman Empire – and the only way to become rich was to cooperate with the Roman Empire. So all the wealth one possessed was a result of the oppression of others. There were systemic issues in their culture that allowed him to be wealthy by the oppression of the people – and you cannot love people without cooperating with the oppression that causes wealth. He benefited from a system that was oppressive.
We don’t see the systemic issues in our world – it is really hard to see those. We get so wrapped up in them – and we think it is normal how things work.
Luke 18:24 24 And Jesus looked at him and said, "How hard it is for those who are wealthy 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 man to enter the kingdom of God." 26 They who heard it said, "Then who can be saved?" 27 But He said, "The things that are impossible with people are possible with God."
Jesus is using hyperbole – others try to figure ways that this makes sense. It is not possible. So impossible is it for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God. Luke uses this term 13 times – and only once is it positive – RICH.
The story is teaching that wealth poses unquestionable danger to our faith and discipleship.
It is just a reality. Yes, we know that money itself is neither good nor evil – but it poses danger to our faith and discipleship. That is why in Timothy – the instruction to the rich – the way to guard from wealth causing danger is to give it away!
To receive the treasure the ruler wanted was to give up the treasure that he had.
The response of the people – who can be saved – the people there would think that the ruler would have been fully qualified – if anyone were to go, it would be him! And Jesus changes the thinking.
Luke 18:15 15 And they were bringing even their babies to Him so that He would touch them, but when the disciples saw it, they began rebuking them. 16 But Jesus called for them, saying, "Permit the children to come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 17 "Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all."
So we have a contrast between the most highly qualified person to get in – and the babies – who can’t do anything to get in – who get in. And we need to become like the babies. There is nothing you can do to get in – the only way is to receive it – to accept it. The two people who were qualified – were the tax collector and the babies.
I was trying to think about this while traveling – probably most of us, if not all of us – do not identify with the rich young ruler – primarily because our bank accounts aren’t big enough – but let me suggest that we are all the rich young ruler – no matter how small your account is. Almost anything can take God’s place in our lives – family, entertainment, politics, food, we can go on and on down the list. Anything can be an idol that we worship, if we let it, and our hearts aren’t fully devoted to Him.
The rich young ruler – like the older brother in the Prodigal Son – it was his goodness, he trusted in his goodness, that kept him from God. The younger brother, it was the outright sin that broke his relationship – but it was the goodness of the older brother: “I’ve worked for you! I’ve never left!” And how many people are out there saying – God, I’ve done this for you and that for you… but God says – that is not how it works. We need to ask, what goodness do we trust in?
Do we trust in the goodness of our morality? For many, it is trusting in their sexual morality. It is important, but it not what gives you eternal life! Maybe it is a religious activity, service, or ministry – all of those are important – but it boils down to – where is our trust? With people, this is impossible – but with God, this is possible.
It is only by grace – we can only cry out for His mercy.