November 17, 2019
Conversations with Jesus – Luke 18
When it comes to driving somewhere or making a road trip-are you the sort of person who likes to get into the car and make really good time in getting where you need to go with no stopping-not even bathroom breaks? Or are you someone who likes to take their time and make frequent stops along the way, exploring what there is to see? I’m in that later category. I like to see what’s interesting on the route, to explore some new town, find some fun restaurant or discover some hidden gem tucked off the exit. To me that’s a large part of what a road trip is all about-the fun along the way. But what would happen if somewhere on the journey, you find an interesting place and decided that’s good enough-no need to finish the journey? For example, Monica and I and the kids will be driving back to IA for Thanksgiving this year to see our families. And along the way on I-80 in New Jersey-just before you cross into PA-I think it’s like exit 4-there’s a rest stop with Chick-fil-A and Starbucks. That’s a great combo for me-get my chicken sandwich, waffle fries-and my big grande coffee. But what if while we’re there we decided to stay and not go any further? That we said-Thanksgiving dinner is good-love the turkey, stuffing, pumpkin pie-but Chick-fil-A is good too. Why don’t we just forget the rest of the journey-call our families to cancel-and stay put here at this rest stop? That wouldn’t make any sense at all! Or what if it’s not a road trip but you’re flying to Florida to go to Disneyworld or Miami-and you had a connecting flight in Charlotte. You fly from here to Charlotte-and then in Charlotte you have to catch your flight to Florida-but what if you’re at your gate or walking through the airport and decide this is good enough. I remember flying though Charlotte once and there was a spot in the airport where they had a whole bunch of big, white rocking chairs. The kind that would go on someone’s front porch-it seemed out of place to me at an airport. But what if you walked by the rocking chairs and thought-Those looks great-forget the place I booked at Disneyworld-I’m just going to stay put here for my vacation and sit on this comfortable rocking chair at the airport! People would think you’re crazy! No one stays at the connecting airport and scraps the rest of their vacation. You’d sell yourself short if you stopped halfway and didn’t reach your destination. So nobody is foolish enough to do that on a physical journey-whether a road trip or a flight-but unfortunately people do it all the time on their spiritual journeys. Too often we can be content to settle halfway with the things of earth, the little rest stops or comforts this world offers, and miss out on that heavenly destination that God offers. Today, as we continue our series-Conversations with Jesus-we’re going to see someone who does that-who settles midway along the journey-and we’re going to discover it’s one of the most tragic mistakes a person can make.
So turn in your Bibles to Luke 18 where we’ll pick it up. And right in the middle of the chapter it starts off with a conversation Jesus has with His disciples. Take at look at v. 15. The disciples were saying to these parents-Look, Jesus has a lot more important things to do than hang out with your kids and bless them. Give Him some space! But of course Jesus uses it as a brilliant teaching opportunity-v. 16-17. Jesus is saying that the simple, trusting dependance of children is a perfect picture of the way in which we need to come to Him. We don’t bring our efforts, or achievements or moral accomplishments or good deeds to Jesus. Instead we come humbly to Him like a little child with nothing of our own, nothing we can do for Him-we’re like that helpless infant that can’t get itself breakfast or change it’s own diaper. He’s saying that we don’t come to Him like adults with the ability to take care of ourselves. We come to Him as infants with complete dependance for all that He’s done in saving us. It’s a picture of our faith-and a powerful reminder of how we bring nothing to our salvation-but simply our own need to be saved. Have you come to Jesus like a little child? That’s the question this passage is asking. You have to evaluate your heart and remember there’s nothing you bring to the table, nothing you’ve done to earn His favor. Nothing in you that makes you more worthy or deserving of being saved.
And that thought leads right into the conversation we want to examine-because take a look at how it begins. It seems that quite possibly this guy just got done overhearing what Jesus was saying about coming to Him like a little child. His interest is perked. He wants to explore this idea further so he speaks right up-v. 18. Basically-I hear what you’re saying about coming to you like a little child-so what does that mean in my life? What am I supposed to do? And he’s asking this with all sincerity-he really wants to know. Which is unlike the guy we saw a few weeks ago-Luke 10:25. Identical question-but Luke has pointed out his true motive-it wasn’t to learn about the way to eternal life-but to trap Jesus and try to expose Him as a fraud-which of course backfired on him. Jesus went on to tell him the parable of the Good Samaritan which left him trapped in his own question. But here in Luke 18 there isn’t any sort of false motives that have prompted this question. He wants to know what he has to do. What’s necessary for eternal life? I want to make sure I’ve done it. Yet right there lies the crucial piece he’s forgetting; the crucial truth Jesus just got done talking about. This guy was already assuming at the outset of his question that he has the ability to do what’s necessary. Somehow the part about being a helpless, dependent child didn’t quite penetrate his brain-because he thinks he has the power to do something to inherit eternal life. And he’s going to quickly explain why he thinks that way.
But before we get much further in this passage we need to see some important descriptions about this man-in v. 21 he comments on his youth (and if you read Matthew’s account of this story it clearly says the guy was young). And then in v. 23 it says he was extremely rich. Again, Matthew account says he had great possessions. So if you put those two things together-he’s young and rich. Let’s be honest-at some point isn’t that the dream of everyone? To be young and rich! Usually people are young and poor, starving artists living in a tiny apartment. Maybe you’re starting your first job out of college, hoping to climb the career ladder-but barely making ends meet. Or if you’ve worked hard all your life, gotten the right promotions and progressed in your career, you’re finally rich, but now you’re old. So it’s often young and poor or old and rich. But young and rich is the perfect combination-and if we can’t be young and rich we hope we have a friend who is-so we can tag along on his/her extravagant life! But it’s hard not to daydream a minute and think to yourself-If I was young and rich life would be perfect. I would have the money to buy whatever I desire, whatever I want, and the youthful years and energy to enjoy it. And yet here’s what so interesting about this passage. This is a guy who has that-all he could ever want-youth and riches. But notice how else he’s described-a ruler! This guy has authority! He’s the boss, the CEO. He’s in charge of people and calls the shots. So here’s a young man who’s got it all together-career is on the right track, his investment portfolio is sound, health is good, lots of people answer to him. This guy’s future is as bright as it could be, wide open horizon-sky’s the limit. He’s not the guy living in a tiny apartment-but a brand new loft with stunning views overlooking Central Park. He’s already made several million, has no reason to think that should change and he’s like 27 years old. Near enough to earthly perfection as possible-yet here he is seeking out this teacher named Jesus. He’s effectively saying-Teacher, I’ve accomplished so much in my short life already, success is in hand, my finances are great, you would think my life is perfect-and it nearly is-but something is missing. What do I have to do spiritually? To this young man, spiritual success is just another goal to accomplish, another piece of the puzzle in being able to construct the perfect life. He wants his spiritual portfolio to be as good as his financial one. He’s a guy who obviously likes to cross all his T’s and dot all his I’s and that’s what he’s trying to do now by conversing with Jesus-v. 18-20a.
Now Jesus has said two very important things. First, Jesus has just subtly reminded him that only God is good, and mankind isn’t. He’s wanting this guy to come to the conclusion-Why do you call me good? Do you mean that? What’s your definition of goodness? Because we know of course that Jesus is good-perfectly good. He was the only person who ever was good because He’s God in the flesh. But for this guy to grasp that theological concept-he has to think about what being good actually means. What would you say? Do you call yourself a good person? Probably so-most of us think we’re fairly decent-that on the spectrum of goodness vs badness we tip towards the goodness side. But that’s the second thing Jesus does. He wants this guy to wrestle with the concept of goodness in his own life. He’s saying-If you claim to be good than just keep all the commandments-live a morally perfect life. And this guy, who’s clearly an accomplished individual, rising quickly in his career, buys into that idea-v. 20-Me to all those things-v. 21. Jesus has just listed 5 of the 10 Commandments and with all the confidence in the world the young man is saying-Got it-checked off the list-I’ve been behaving well since I was a little kid. And doesn’t that make you want to roll your eyes in disgust? If I’m Peter or John standing there next to Jesus, this is when I’m jumping into the conversation saying-Seriously, you never disobeyed your parents once? You’ve never stolen anything or even told a little lie? I think you’re lying right now! I would totally press him on this point-but we see his moral arrogance rising to the surface as he boasts of his goodness. And to be fair-he probably was a really good guy. He was probably one of those people who are so good that it’s kind of frustrating for the rest of us. And yet being a “really good guy” is not the same as being good in God’s eyes. Look at-Rom 3:10-12. Kind of hard to argue with that-but unfortunately a lot of people ignore it and go with the view of this guy. That all we have to do to enter heaven is avoid the big sins-I haven’t killed anybody, I haven’t cheated on my wife, I haven’t robbed a bank so I’m good, right? It’s the idea that God won’t get too worried about the small stuff; that all the well-meaning, good-natured people ought to go to heaven. That’s what this guy is thinking-and society hasn’t changed much in 2,000 years. Lord, I’ve lived a pretty good life, I haven’t done anything too bad that would disqualify me from heaven, so is there anything else, otherwise I should be set?
And this is when Jesus comes in with the big boom. v. 22. Does that sound harsh to you? Does that sound like a lofty thing for this guy-like Jesus was being mean? I don’t think Jesus was picking on him because he was rich, rather Jesus was basically saying –If you want to have eternal life of course you shouldn’t kill people or commit adultery or do lots of bad things, but if all you do is repent of the bad things, you haven’t gone far enough. If you truly want eternal life and desire to follow me, then you have to surrender the good things in your life. Jesus is saying that following Him isn’t about maintaining the right outer behavior-it never has been-it’s about having a heart on the inside that’s been humbled and transformed to love Him above all else. Big difference. You see while Jesus had previously mentioned 5 of the other 10 Commandments, here He is rephrasing the heart of the first 2 Commandments-Ex 20:2-5. And what was the rich, young ruler doing? Letting money become his god, wealth was his idol. He was bowing to it and allowing it to fill the place in his heart that only God should fill. So in this moment Jesus was letting him consider his life free of that, to glimpse what it would be like if money wasn’t his idol. Jesus was asking him the question-Could you live without all your money? No large bank accounts, no loft apartments or vacation homes, no investments, no stock options or steady salary. What if it was all gone and all you had was me? Could you live that way? Jesus wanted this young man to entertain the idea of having his idol removed. That’s the question. But don’t you sometimes think Jesus was being a little too hard on this guy-To lose all his money and wealth-to have to give it all away-that seems harsh, Jesus. This guy worked hard to get where he’s at-that’s awfully mean of you to make him give it up! And yet Jesus’ question is anything but mean, because what is He wanting this young man to see? Back to Ex 20:2-5– Jesus is saying to him-I’m your God and following Me is what you need. You were created to follow Me, not just serve money and bow down it’s wishes. Jesus is showing this guy what his true purpose in life is-and that’s not to be an idolater, caught up in wealth which is here today and gone tomorrow, but to be a worshipper of Him. Jesus wanted to help this young man set aside his idol of earthly treasure and pursue a heavenly treasure that will never fade. So this request by Jesus is anything but mean-it’s entirely loving and full of grace. So Pt1:Jesus asks: Can we live without our idols? That’s what He’s asking this guy-and that’s what He’s asking you and me.
We have to put ourselves into the shoes of the rich, young ruler-which are probably pretty expensive shoes. But this is one of the most profound questions you can ever be asked in life. Probably a question you don’t want to be asked or have to consider. I’m sure it doesn’t take you long to pinpoint an idol in your life, maybe there’s more than one. Could you live without that idol? What if the Lord removed it? Could you carry on without it and be okay? Or would your life just start to crumble and fall apart if that idol was gone? Keller, Counterfeit Gods, Intro. An idol is something we worship-whether we realize it our not. And the reality is that we were made to worship One-and that’s God! What is it you worship in place of Him? Answering that question might require some serious wrestling in our hearts-and we don’t know how long this young man stood there and wrestled with Jesus’ question in his heart-all we have is his final answer-v. 23. Not just slightly rich-but extremely rich-and it tugged on his heart. If you remember that show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire-they had the 3 lifelines-50/50, Phone a friend, Ask the Audience-this guy needed to ask Peter and John and the other disciples for their advice. What should I do guys? But it doesn’t appear he did that. Being extremely wealthy wasn’t the problem-that wasn’t the bad thing. Wealth like that can be a great blessing from the Lord. So what was the problem? What is this verse really saying? The young man loved his extreme riches more than he was willing to love Jesus. There he stood-weighing this out-Here’s my money and here’s Jesus-I think I’ll see where the money can take me. And Matthew’s account says he walked away. That was his final answer. Sadly he traded away the riches of following Jesus for the fleeting riches of this world. And that’s a trade-off people are still making every day-and it’s just as sad. It’s so telling that this guy was sad-very sad-from his decision. Don’t miss that. By following his idol he ended up in a place of sadness. And that’s true of any idol we put in place of God. It doesn’t lead to joy-only sadness and slavery. It leads to the chains those idols put on us as we worship them-and there’s no joy in it. Pt2:Rich Young Ruler reveals: Our idols always lead to sadness in the end.
This guy didn’t skip down the street on the way home-Whew-I made the right choice there! That was close almost gave it away-but good thing I’m keeping all my money for myself. Not at all. He was sad! I think all of us want to shout at him-Don’t be sad-there’s no reason to be sad. Let the riches go and you’ll feel the joy of following Jesus! But look at Jesus’ response-v. 24. Jesus felt that sadness for this guy. His heart hurt for him-because of his poor choice. But what is Jesus saying-Pt3:Jesus says:What we’re not willing to give up ends up owning us. Extreme wealth ended up owning this guy. It directed his life, it dictated his decisions. Impacted his destiny. So we have to ask ourselves what idols own us? What decisions do our idols dictate?
Let’s be honest-we live in an affluent society where money and possessions are at our fingertips-so this is a trade-off we might be tempted to make. Now you might be saying to yourself-No, I can handle it. I’m different from that rich young ruler. Money won’t distract me. Lord, you just keep dumping riches in my lap-I’ll keep following you. It’s easy to think of ourselves as someone who can handle riches and won’t make it an idol. But all of us would do wise to heed Jesus’ follow-up words to His disciples because they’re so relevant. Look at what he says-v. 24-25. Jesus is flat-out saying that wealth can so easily become an idol. He’s saying that it’s really difficult not to worship it, or be pulled away and distracted by it. That money can be the thing that keeps a person from the kingdom of heaven-just like the rich young ruler. Now obviously in and of itself, money is an amoral thing-it’s not good or bad-it’s how we use it. But when our hearts hoard it or crave it or treasure it that’s when we turn into idolaters. In commenting on this passage, RC Sproul does a great job of highlighting 3 problems that come with idolizing money-and this builds on what we talked about last week. First, he says that money creates a sense of self-sufficiency. The more wealthy a person becomes, the less dependent he is on other things. A false sense of self-sufficiency can rob us of the dependence we need on the grace of God for everything. Second, he says the acquisition of wealth and the maintenance of it requires almost total absorption. Wealth forces people to keep their eyes on their businesses, their responsibilities, their purchases. People can become so absorbed with their wealth that it becomes their master. Every Christian needs to ask him or herself on a regular basis,‘How much of my thinking, how much of my planning, how much of my effort or concern is about money instead of the things of God?’ And third, he says the acquisition of wealth can become an obsession. He says sometimes I find myself thinking about what I could do if my income was just a little more. And somehow that goal keeps getting higher and higher and I’m never satisfied, I never have enough, and wealth becomes a snare and obsession.
Maybe you’ve struggled in these ways too It is an easy snare-and that’s where this young man was-totally absorbed, fully obsessed, feeling completely self-sufficient in all his riches-and that’s why he missed his need for Jesus. He got so caught up in the fleeting fascination of his idols that he missed the Lord Himself right in front of him. So Jesus is spot on-v. 24-26. Insightful question-because Jesus is talking about an impossibility. No camel is getting through the eye of a needle-pic. And even if it was-there’s a giant hump in the way! He picked the right animal to make his point. But quite literally, Jesus is saying it’s easier to push really hard and get that camel through the needle-hump and all. You can imagine someone pushing with all his might-I’m getting that camel through! It’s easier to do that-than for someone worshipping money to be saved. So his disciples are asking Jesus-If money and idolatry are traps that easy to fall into, if our hearts can that quickly lose sight of God and worship other things then how is salvation even possible? And listen to Jesus’ answer-v. 27. And that’s Pt4:Jesus says: What we can’t do for ourselves, God does for us (transforming our hearts from idolaters to worshippers)!
That’s what following Jesus is all about. If you’re someone sitting here this morning challenged by that question-Can you live without your idols?-don’t miss the fact that Jesus says He can make you overcome them. If you’re thinking to yourself the same thoughts as the rich young ruler-There’s no way I can live without this or without that in my life. It’s not possible. Then it’s time to hand them over to Jesus. Maybe your idol is money or maybe it’s your career or your grades at school, or getting into the right school. Maybe it’s comfort or pleasure; maybe your idol is your pride and reputation-you so deeply crave the approval of others you’ll do whatever they say, give in to whatever sinful behavior will gain you acceptance. Maybe your idol is your marriage or your kids or your family. That creating the perfect home is what you worship. Maybe it’s your car or sports or you own comfort. Our hearts can turn anything into an idol-especially good things. Most often our idols are good things. But they’re good things we’ve turned into ultimate things. Wilson, Imperfect Disciple, 187. So if that’s you-thinking there’s no way you could give up that one thing, no way you could go on in life if that thing was removed-then instead of walking away sad like the rich, young ruler, admit it to the Lord. Tell Him-There is no way I can do this on my own. Giving this up is impossible for me so I need you to change my heart and make it yours. That’s what you’re supposed to do. Jesus say-v. 27. He will change your heart and turn you from an idolater to a worshiper if you’re willing. He’ll do the impossible in your life if you humbly come to Him in faith and surrender that thing. It’s never been in your power to do it-it’s all of Him! See I’m not convinced that Jesus wanted this rich young man to muster up his own strength and instantly, right there on the spot, remove his idol, thus proving his worth to follow Jesus. Who do I write the check to-I’m handing all my riches over right now. That’s not what Jesus was after. Following Jesus has never been about-What do I have to do? It’s always been about who you have to trust. That’s what the rich young ruler needed to realize; to simply say to Jesus-You’re right. I need to leave my riches behind, I need to eliminate that idol in my heart, but I can’t do it on my own. I’m going to need you to help me do it-step by step, moment by moment. Where do we begin? That’s what he needed to say-and sadly he didn’t-but this passage is calling you and me to say that. To trust the Lord and let Him do the purifying and transforming work in our hearts that changes us from an idolater to a worshiper.
I don’t know about you-but for me this passage brings a great sense of freedom-that Jesus can do in my life what I think is impossible. That those idols which have such a firm grip on my heart can be eliminated through Him, as I surrender myself to Him and continue to offer up my heart to Him. This passage is saying that the answer to that scary question-Could I live without my idol? is a resounding yes! It’s entirely possible because of Jesus. And that’s what the disciples discovered. Look at how this passage ends-v. 28-29. Or in Matt 19:27-28. That is an incredible glimpse of what lies in store for us as followers of Christ, that’s what it’s all about. Not the fleeting idols of earth we get so wrapped up in, but the glory of the new world. Look back at v. 23 and compare it with this description Jesus has given-extremely rich (a nice house, a good wardrobe, maybe a boat or a vacation place) vs. being the presence of the glorious throne of Christ, ruling with Him, inheriting eternal life. There’s absolutely no comparison! This rich young ruler may have been a wise financial investor on earth, but when it came to eternal investments, when it came for what really counts, he was lousy. This guy just made the worst investment, the worst transaction, that could ever be made-settling for earthly riches that will last 70, 80, even 100 years while overlooking heavenly riches that will last forever. Pt5:Jesus says: Don’t do bad math! I used to say this to my students when I taught math. But do the math- compare 100 years on earth, if we live that long, with the first 10,000 years of eternity. 100 isn’t too long in comparison. But 10,000 years is only the beginning of eternity, it’s just started. Now compare that 100 years to the next million years of eternity, it’s a whole lot smaller, and yet at a million, eternity is just begun. Compare that 100 years to the next 100 million years of eternity. We can see the math. Eternity never ends and the 100 years of our earthly lives condenses down to almost nothing. And Jesus is telling the disciples the immeasurable glory that’s in store for eternity so don’t make the foolish mistake of missing that destination now. Like we said at the beginning of the message, the rich young ruler got caught up halfway along the journey, he decided to settle for a rest stop along the interstate and not complete his journey. He chose to stay at the connecting airport instead of reaching the glorious destination. He opted for his meager earthly treasure and walked away from Jesus, the one who is the greatest treasure we could ever discover. Might you and I never make that same mistake. Might we leave the idolatry of earthly treasures behind and become worshippers of the One we created for. Might we not settle for anything less than Jesus Himself ruling in our hearts!