Pastor Stephen Muncherian
June 12, 2016
Inside your bulletin you’ll see the Message Notes and the text for today: Luke 18:18-27 - “With God…” Which we’re going to read together so we can get this - what is probably a familiar account - get this fresh in our minds and then we’ll come back and unpack.
And a ruler asked Him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.’”
And he said, “All these I have kept from my youth.”
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.”
But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich. Jesus, seeing that he had become sad, said, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth 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 person to enter the kingdom of God.”
But He said, “What is impossible with men is possible with God.”
Luke 18 takes place east of Jerusalem on the east side of the Jordan River - which is a whole lot like here. Except the lake is really the river Jordan which should be over there and Jerusalem is over there some place near Planada - not over where Merced is. But, you get the idea.
Jesus is purposefully on the move from Galilee to Jerusalem and His ministry in Jerusalem - His death and resurrection. Along the way it’s kind of like travel camp for the disciples. Lots of outdoor time and teaching.
When they get to this spot just east of Jerusalem and the Jordan - people are coming out to check out Jesus - who He is - what He’s teaching. Some of that is sincere seeking to understand the teaching of the rabbi. Some of that is people trying to trip up and trap Jesus.
One day a ruler comes to Jesus.
Reading through Matthew and Mark’s record of this same meeting - we know that this ruler was probably a rich young aristocrat. He’s very wealthy - powerful - a man of influence - able to buy and control anything he wants. He’s probably a member of some ruling council - an official in a synagogue - maybe even the Sanhedrin. That none of the three gospel writers mention this man’s name may indicate that he was so well known to everyone - on sight recognition - get a selfie with him kind of fame - so that when he shows up everyone knows who he is. (1)
This wealthy young man has been listening to Jesus’ teaching - and about what it takes to enter the Kingdom of God - and he senses that there’s something he doesn’t possess. In the ways that he’s worked out his life he’s still missing something. Something that he senses that Jesus offers.
He addresses Jesus as “Good Teacher” - which probably indicates an attempt at respect - honoring Jesus - sincere flattery. Unlike the jaded religious leaders Jesus had encountered before - this young man is sincere with his question: “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus answers: “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone. 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 - not having much of an ego to stroke - Jesus is not distracted by the flattery. Jesus in His response immediately begins to readjust the man’s thinking about what really is good - meaning morally perfect - sinless. God alone is good. Not us peoples. But God.
Jesus starts ticking off commandments. Interestingly, not the one’s that deal with our relationship with God. Ten Commandments numbers 1 to 4. But the commandments that deal with our heart attitude and our relationships with others. (2)
The young man’s response is text book. Without hesitation he says, “All these I’ve kept from my youth.”
“Jesus, nice try. But that’s not the problem. That’s not what’s missing. Been there. Done that.”
Meaning that by the standards of the Pharisees he probably had kept all five of the commandments Jesus rattled off.
But… none of us can perfectly obey the law of God. So the religious leaders - Pharisees and others - they’d tweeked the law with their own rules and traditions - lowering the standards to what they could actually do - and then pronounced themselves “good.” Good teachers.
Good being a matter of perspective. Like today. Morality is on a sliding scale. Morality - good - is what our culture currently says it is. Which is less moral than it was. Depending on our perspective.
Point being: By his own estimation - his own definition of good - he deserved to take his place in the Messiah’s kingdom. But ultimately the definition of good that counts isn’t ours. It’s… God’s. God Who alone is good.
There’s a story about Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, and Donald Trump all dying at the same time and ending up arriving together and standing before the throne of God. God asks Bernie Sanders what he believes.
Bernie says, “I believe we need to fight for a progressive economic agenda that creates jobs, raises wages, protects the environment, and provides health care for all.”
God says, “Okay. You can sit on my left.” (Remember this is just a story.)
God asks Hillary Clinton what she believes. Hillary says, “I believe we need to raise incomes for hardworking Americans and provide them tax-relief. We need to invest in infrastructure, clean energy, and medical research to strengthen and grow our economy.”
God says, “Okay. You can sit on my right.”
God asks Donald Trump, “What do you believe?”
Donald says, “I believe if you’re going to sit in my chair you’re going to have to pay for it.”
Just a story…
On one hand there’s a huge understandable pride behind this young man’s answer to Jesus. And yet, it’s almost a challenge. Sincere but arrogant. Been there done that. I’m good. And yet...
Since the point in a young Jewish boy’s life when he became responsible to live by God’s commandments - he’s been obedient. He’s done all the right stuff. Which of us could say that about ourselves? He’s been sincerely seeking the Kingdom of God.
And yet - on the other hand - he admits - by his coming and asking - there’s still something lacking. He’s tried everything religiously that he knows how to do and he’s still coming up short. He doesn’t have what Jesus is teaching about. He’s looking for that last key thing that he needs to do that will open up to him eternal life.
Imagine: Position - prestige - religion - financial security - a well ordered life. Enviable. It’s all good… but lacking something. As can be with many of us. We’ve got it covered. And yet…
Jesus observing him and his answer - speaks to him in love. Here’s a man who’s obedient - he’s teachable - he’s sincerely seeking after God. But, his perspective of good needs adjustment.
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.”
But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich.
Jesus just nails this guy - in a God loves you only Jesus can do it like this sort of way. Jesus just pierces his heart. Goes to what’s below the surface of this well ordered “good” life.
We grabbing this? Outwardly he’s doing great at how he’s treating others. As long as it doesn’t cost him his wealth. What at the heart level is what he’s hanging on to for his own carefully ordered sense of security and self-worth.
Point being: If he were able from the heart level to love his poor neighbors as he’s loving himself - give it all up and follow Jesus - what it means to obey commands numbers 5 to 10 - that heart level surrender would also demonstrate his heart level obedience to commands numbers 1 to 4 - which are about heart level surrender to God.
The man had glimpsed a quality of life that he lacked - an emptiness within his spirit he couldn’t fill. He wanted it. But he was sorrowful, because he also knew, at the words of Jesus, that he had to surrender everything - everything he controlled his life with - to have it. There’s no way to serve two masters. We can only surrender to one.
Jesus - touching (literally) the heart of this man’s issue - Jesus raised the bar back to God’s level of what “good” really looks like in real time of where we live our lives. What does it really mean to keep these relational commandments?
Are we together? Being good - in God’s perspective of being good - what Jesus is trying to help this young man to see - being good is about what’s good in our hearts - at the core of who we are. Spiritually, are we good according to what God says is good?
Point being: Good isn’t about being sincere. Good isn’t about what we do or what we’ve done or what we intend to do. Which - they do have their place. But good is about what’s going on in our hearts - where we are in our relationship with God that’s at the core of what it means to be good.
So what’s lacking - what ultimately gnaws at us deep down inside - is our goodness - our rightness before God - or lack of.
Verse 24 - Jesus, seeing that he had become sad, said, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!
Verse 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.”
Which was a proverb meaning that something is extremely difficult - probably impossible.
In cities back then there may have been a large gate for wagons and camels - caravans loaded down with stuff - a large gate for those animals to go through. Then there was a smaller gate used mostly for foot traffic - which some have speculated may have been called the “Needle Gate” - that no loaded camel is going through.
The Persian version of the proverb uses an elephant - what was the largest animal for the Persians. The Jewish version uses what was large for the Jews - a camel. Point being too big - too loaded down - to get through the smaller gate. Might happen. Probably not.
Same image - the eye of a needle - like for sewing - and a large loaded down camel trying to squeeze through that little opening that we’re suppose to be able to get a piece string through. What is getting harder for some of us these days.
If we get that image we get what the disciples got. Jesus is saying to them, “It’s pretty much impossible.” Ain’t gonna happen unless something drastically changes at the heart level.
Verse 26: Those who heard it - the disciples - said, “Then who can be saved?”
But He - Jesus - said, “What is impossible with men is possible with God.”
That is one of the most significant statements in Scripture. Isn’t it? With people - with us - impossible. With God - possible. The two lessons we need to learn from that statement are foundational to how we do life. You’ll see these on your Message Notes.
Lesson One: With Us… Impossible. With us - what? Impossible. To come to salvation and to follow Jesus in living life as God intends for us to live life - goodness for us - is impossible.
That’s a hard lesson for us to learn. Isn’t it? Way too often we’re like that young man - sincerely seeking but trapped by our own pride - trusting our own understanding of life. Trying by our own whit, wisdom, and working to deal with our inadequacies and shortcomings and hang-ups and just stuff we go through in life.
Do you remember Peter? 3 years he followed Jesus around Judea and Galilee and Samaria - traveled dusty roads - almost drowned trying to walk on water - sleeping under the stars - watching Jesus - listening to Jesus - learning from Jesus - learned what moved Jesus’ heart.
Peter knew Jesus. Knew what He sounded like. What He felt like. Knew the color of His eyes. The color of His skin. Knew what it was like to hear Jesus laugh. Knew if He snored at night. What His favorite foods were. Knew what made Him angry and knew what made Him weep. That’s knowing someone. Jesus and Peter were tight.
The night Jesus was betrayed - standing out on the Mount of Olives - what did Peter say to Jesus? “Even if everyone else deserts you I won’t. Even if I have to die with You I won’t deny You.” (Matthew 26:33-35) Pretty self-confident. Pretty sincere.
That night Peter learned - as the rooster crowed - as Peter three times denied that he even knew Jesus - Peter learned that with us - what? Impossible.
We say to our self, “Self, I’m a follower of Jesus. I’ve just got to pray harder. If I have more faith. If I’m more committed. More disciplined. More dedicated.” All good stuff.
But, we know - because of our actions - the things we hear coming out of our mouths - the things we feel deep down - what flashes through our minds - that we live in failure. Despair. Constantly struggling against sin. We realize that we’re lacking. Inadequate to live the life we’re called to live.
We can fight against this. We can choose to deny it. But it’s a truth. A reality we can’t get around.
Paul writes in Romans 7 - remember the chapter where Paul confesses his own struggle with this truth? Paul writes in Romans 7 that what he wants to do he... doesn’t do. In reality he ends up doing the very evil things that he doesn't want to do. I will to do what is... Right. But I can’t do it.
Then in Romans 7:22 - Paul writes: “For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man.” (NASB)
Put simply: God’s law - the very commands that Jesus quoted and this young man lived by - God’s written down standard of how we’re suppose to live - God’s law simply points out that we don’t have what it takes.
Paul writes - strangely - that’s something to be joyful about. The honesty of God - identifying our illness. At least knowing what’s wrong. We’re sick - struck down by this terminal disease of sin. Joyfully we agree. We need a heart level cure.
That’s a humbling lesson for us to learn. More than just intellectually - heard that at church before - saying, “Yeah. I understand that.” But living out that lesson in how we live our lives.
We need to agree with God. With us - what? Impossible.
Lesson Two: With God… Possible. With God… what? Possible. What is impossible with men is possible with God.
Ponder the astounding implications of that truth.
God - by His almighty power - God creates all that is. Everything that we see around us and beyond - this world - light - plants - animals - fish - planets - stars - everything - simply because He wills it. Creates what is unseen - the forces that hold all of that together - and attitudes and feelings - stuff we can’t put into words. God creates all that simply because He wills to create it. And God - by His power - creates mankind. Us.
God says to Abraham - His creation, “I am God almighty; walk before Me, and be blameless.” (Genesis 17:1). God teaching Abraham what it means to live life trusting in God’s power.
The almighty God does this over and over in the lives of His people. Live trusting in Me.
Noah building an ark. Abraham journeying to Canaan - sacrificing Isaac. Moses leading God’s people out of Egypt. Joshua leading God’s people into the Promised Land. David unifying a kingdom. Solomon building the temple. Nehemiah rebuilding a wall.
When the angel Gabriel speaks to Mary - tells her that she - a virgin - will conceive and bear the Son of God. Mary asks, “How? That’s impossible.”
Gabriel tells her, “Nothing will be impossible with God.” (Luke 1:37)
From Genesis to Revelation - there’s example after example - the testimony of men and women - God’s people - people like us - who’ve trusted in the almighty God to accomplish the impossible in them and through them. And He has. Done what is impossible for us.
1 Corinthians 6:14 says that God - by His power - has raised Jesus from the dead - and God - by His power - will raise us from the dead.
Andrew Murray - the great South African Evangelist of a few generations back - Andrew Murray wrote this, “The whole of Christianity is a work of God’s omnipotence.” (3)
Our very ability to know God - to enter into a saving relationship with Him - it all comes because the almighty God wills it to be so.
Paul writes in Philippians 2:13: “For it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”
Are we together? It’s God - who by His power - God who accomplishes what He wills to accomplish in us and through us - even the very basis - the possibility of a relationship with Him. Real goodness. Rightness before God.
From our side: weakness - inadequacy - failure.
From God’s side: omnipotence - adequacy - victory.
That’s a huge lesson for us to learn. More than just intellectually saying, “Yeah. I understand that.” But living out that lesson in how we live our lives.
Meaning if all things are possible with God. Why are we still trying to do the impossible?
Work is killing us. The attitudes of people we work with. The environment we work in. Our income is shrinking. The bills are due. We’re struggling and stressing because we think the total responsibility for all this is on our shoulders.
We’re trying everything we know how to do to keep the family together - to save our marriage - to deal with the kids - aging parents - we’re struggling and stressing like the answers are all up to us.
We’ve got wounds and hurts and issues and sins from the past - anxieties and stresses and psychosis that keep nailing us mentally and physically - tearing at us and dragging us down - we’re torn by guilt and depression as if the only answers lie within us and we’ve got to get it all sorted out.
We’re trying so hard - so sincerely - to live morally upright lives. Living the way we know God wants us to live. To serve Him. To find meaning for our lives. For a few hours on Sunday we may even pretend we’ve got it all together. But we struggle - as if a relationship with God depends on us.
Paul - writing to the Corinthian church about the ultimate issues in life - our inadequacy and failure and the inevitable death - Paul writes, “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:57).
Why are we trying to do the impossible - if victory over all that is impossible for us - if victory has already been made possible by the Almighty God through His Son Jesus?
When we begin to cry out to God - with intense longing - realizing our inadequacy and failure - crying out, “God how can I be freed from all this?”
When we can agree with God that we’re desperate for what He offers us in Jesus our Savior.
When we begin to grab hold of the reality that life with God isn’t possible unless God creates His life within us.
When we begin to realize that even absolute surrender to God isn’t possible without God accomplishing that surrender within us.
When we can come to the point of surrender and say, “I have nothing to offer. I am yours. I’m even incapable of surrender. God help me! Please seize control.”
Then we begin to be at that place where we’re open to God to will and to work within us. For Him to supply what’s lacking. For us to experience the reality of real God empowered life with hope of eternity with Him.
Three quick take home points for this week and beyond.
First: When we don’t know what we want - when something is lacking - missing - gnawing at us - we need to turn to God.
The rich young ruler turned away. His mind was made up. He clung to what was in his heart. He wasn’t willing to be educated by Jesus. He wasn’t open to what Jesus wanted to show him.
Out there is a whole lot of information and thinking and ideas and not much to make sense out of life with. We need to let God educate us. Show us what’s lacking and what to do about it.
Maybe we’ll find that what we’ve believed - something we’ve been clinging to or set our heart on - maybe God will show you that’s not really of Him - not His will for your life. Let God show you His plan for your life - to reveal it in His time and in His way. Be open to what He shows you.
Second: When we don’t know what we need but we know that something’s got to change - let God set you free. Let God transform you.
The young ruler knew something needed to change. He needed something to be different. But he didn’t know what. When Jesus offered to lead him out of where he was - he wasn’t willing to go there with Jesus.
It’s not just the knowing but the going that frees us. Heard that before at church. And yet...
I share from my own experience - probably echoed by others here - it takes total complete surrender - letting down our defenses - our denial - our self-deception - no pretenses - no conditions - and crying out to God and telling Him, “I can’t stop this. You need to rescue me. Take over my life.”
Maybe it’s an addiction. Maybe some emotional scar or wound from the past. It might take time. Probably, if you’re like the rest of us - it will involve some pain. There’ll be times when you might question if it’s worth it.
Trust God to lead you out of bondage - in His time and His way to completely set you free - follow Him into the light - what really will be a new beginning for you.
Turn to God. Let God set you free.
And third: When we have no clue what’s happening - which is pretty frequent - when we’re clueless except to know that things are totally out of control - let God be God.
God only has Plan A. His plan is the only plan worth following. Life is about… God. Our Creator. The God of what’s possible. Wherever and whatever that may mean for you - let God be in control
Bottom line question is this: “Who’s on the throne of your life?” Who’s in control. Who are you trusting? If we’re on the throne - trusting ourselves - going alone or doing as much as we can and then asking God to help us while we try to live for Him - then we’re in serious - serious - trouble.
God on the throne is something different. In a world where - just looking around - we’re surrounded by sin and sorrow - death and decay - failure - if God is on the throne - remember that God is the Almighty God at work in our lives - that Jesus has conquered over all this - that Jesus is the returning Lord of lords and King of kings coming to set all things right and to take us into eternity with Him. He is the answer - our answer - to every question and every struggle we have.
With us - impossible. With God - possible.
1. Synoptics: Matthew 19:16-22; Mark 10:17-31
2. 10 Commandments: Exodus 20:1-17; Deuteronomy 5:6-21
3. Andrew Murray, Absolute Surrender, The Moody Press, 1897
General reference for this message: Charles R. Swindoll, Insights On Luke, Zondervan, 2012
Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.