Saturday, June 30, 2012

A Sad Man, a Desperate Man, and a Child

Reading: Luke 18:15–19:10
In Luke 18:15-17 people are bringing little children to Jesus that He might touch them. The disciples think they need to help Jesus by putting a stop to this. Jesus rebukes the disciples with a very well known saying, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” It is what He says next, however, that I want to draw attention to right now, for it sets up the next three stories.
Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” (Luke 18:17)
What does it mean to receive the kingdom of God like a little child? What does it look like when one does receives it like a child, and therefore enters the kingdom? I believe the next three accounts answer these questions through the responses of three different men. Which one best represents how you have responded to the kingdom of God?
A Sad Man (Luke 18:18-30)
A ruler who had great wealth came to Jesus to ask how to inherit eternal life. Rich rulers are supposed to be very happy people. This man had an air of self-confidence. Initially Jesus instructed him to keep the commandments which this man professes to have done since he was a child (Luke 18:20-21). Jesus informs him:
You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Luke 18:22)
The one thing this man lacks is treasure in heaven.1 Jesus is offering this man a treasure that is greater than the wealth and power he already has. One might expect this man to be very happy to have the answer to the what he pursued since a youth, but he is not.
23When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was very wealthy. 24Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! 25Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” …27Jesus replied, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.”
He became sad because he was very wealthy. Before question why he would respond this way, consider: How happy are you when you hear someone say, “Jesus isn't asking all of us to sell everything and give to the poor, he was only asking this man to do it because...?” If hearing that makes you happy, it may be evidence that you too would have walked away sad. Why would anyone walk away sad at the offer of Jesus to have treasure in heaven? Because we are blind to the realities of eternal life. We see our stuff, and we don't see the treasure in heaven. In order to come to Jesus like a little child, we need to be able to see treasure in heaven for the reality that it is. This man could not.
Why is it so hard for the rich to enter the kingdom of God. Because they can see earthly wealth so clearly. They have comfort and ease; they don't long for another day, a better place. They don't carelessly or foolishly, like little children, just get rid of everything to follow Jesus. They have to measure the costs; they have to think about the long term ramifications; they have responsibilities; they have a reputation to uphold. It is as hard for them (us?) to take up this offer as it is for a camel to go through the eye of a needle. The illustration is clear and simple: a camel cannot go through the eye of a needle—it is impossible!2
This wealthy ruler left very sad because he was not receiving the kingdom like a child but like an important, powerful, comfortable person. This outcome shocks the disciples (Luke 18:26). This man must be a likely candidate for salvation since God has so evidently blessed him. They would never guess the next man to be a candidate for salvation.  
A Desperate Man (Luke 18:35-43)
As Jesus is approaching Jericho, a blind man is sitting there begging. Hearing the noise of the passing crowd he asks what all the commotion is about. Then he began shouting and could not be quieted. Just like the little children who were rebuked for coming to Jesus, this blind man is rebuked for his desperate pursuit of Jesus. It is as if the disciples are saying, “Jesus has time for wealthy rulers, but not little children or blind men.” Jesus asked him what he wanted: “Lord, I want to see!” This man understood his inability to see. He knew it was impossible; he needed God's help, and he received it. He received the kingdom like a child.
A Child (Luke 19:1-10)
Now, if we aren't careful, we might stop reading at the end of Luke 18 and think, “Rich people can't get into the kingdom, but blind people can.” (Or something like that.) However, in the next account we have the embodiment of both the rich man and the blind man in Zacchaeus. Like the rich ruler, we are told that Zacchaeus is both rich and a ruling tax collector (Luke 19:2). Like the blind man, we are told he can't see Jesus and wanted to see (Luke 19:3).
Zacchaeus won't be stopped: he runs ahead, allowing himself time to climb the tree before Jesus gets there, and climbs the tree. Like a child he forgets his power and his wealth, he isn't concerned about his reputation. He seems to have caught glimpse of something more valuable than any of it. Jesus comes to the place where Zacchaeus is He invites Himself over for dinner.
Without any instruction, Zacchaeus begins ridding himself of his wealth and helping the poor. He spontaneously rights the wrongs that he has committed. He is a truly repentant man for he has seen something; he has seen Someone—the Someone Who is the Kingdom of God. Zacchaeus didn't do these things sadly; he did them gladly. His joy seems so foolish to the world—like a child's.
Which of these three best represents how you have responded to Jesus Christ? Have you heard about this kingdom in which your sins are forgiven because God Himself bore the punishment and guilt of your sin for you? Would you gladly give up all to follow Him? Is He your greatest joy?
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,

1I have previously written as to why Jesus is only telling him to do one thing and not two things (How Would You Answer This Question?).
2Before you change that from “impossible” (Luke 18:27) to “difficult” by thinking there was a gate called “the eye of a needle” which was so small that a camel needed to be unloaded in order to pass through, you should know: 1) there is no evidence that such a gate ever existed. This appears to be a 5th Century A. D. idea that was offered when the church was experiencing great wealth to explain away this verse. And, 2) Jesus wasn't making the point that it was difficult, but that it was impossible. So such an explanation of a gate doesn't even make sense.