David Guzik's Commentaries on the Bible
Luke 18 - Prayer, Humility and Discipleship
C. Riches and true discipleship.
1. (18-19) A rich young ruler comes to Jesus.
Now a certain ruler asked Him, saying, "Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" So Jesus said to him, "Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God."
a. Good Teacher: This was a title never applied to other Rabbis in Jesus' day, because it implied sinlessness, a complete goodness. Jesus, and everyone else, recognized that this was a unique title.
i. "There is no instance in the whole Talmud of a rabbi being addressed as 'Good Master'" (Plummer, cited in Geldenhuys). The insisted only calling God "good."
b. Why do you call Me Good: This is not a denial of deity. Instead, Jesus invites the young man to reflect upon it. It is as if Jesus says, "do you really know what you are saying when you call Me Good Teacher?"
c. What shall I do to inherit eternal life: If the man really knew who Jesus was, he wouldn't ask Jesus for advice about how to get to heaven. He would be on his knees before Jesus, asking for His mercy and grace - as the tax collector did earlier in the chapter.
i. The man also didn't really know who he was. He thought that he was righteous, and didn't really know the kind of person he was. When you don't know who Jesus really is, you probably won't know who you are either. And knowing Jesus comes first.
2. (20-23) Jesus' counsel to the young man.
"You know the commandments: 'Do not commit adultery,' 'Do not murder,' 'Do not steal,' 'Do not bear false witness,' 'Honor your father and your mother.'" And he said, "All these things I have kept from my youth." So when Jesus heard these things, He said to him, "You still lack one thing. 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 this, he became very sorrowful, for he was very rich.
a. You know the commandments: This man was a ruler, and educated Jew of his day, so of course he knew the commandments. In His follow-up, Jesus is careful to quote to him only those commandments that have to do what is often called the second table of the law - how we treat one another.
i. Incidentally, each one of these commandments is pure, just, and good. How great the world would be if everyone would live by just the five commandments Jesus mentions here?
b. All these things I have kept from my youth: In his reply, this ruler says of himself that he has kept all these commandments, and that he has done so since his youth. Is this possible? Yes and no; yes according to the way these commandments were commonly interpreted, but no according to the true meaning God had for these commandments.
i. In Philippians 3:6, Paul says that in the eyes of the religious Jews, he could say that for him, concerning the righteousness which is in the law, [he was] blameless.
ii. Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, gave us the real meaning of the law - it goes to the heart, not just to your actions. You can have a heart filled with adultery even if you never commit it; a heat filled with murder even if you never do it; a heart that steals even if you never steal. And God looks at the heart as well as the actions.
c. You still lack one thing: Though the man had everything - riches, an outwardly righteous life, respect, prestige, Jesus could still say You still lack one thing. The man had everything but knew that he did not have eternal life - so he really had nothing.
i. In Mark's recording of this incident, he adds one aspect that Luke left out. Mark says: Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him . . . (Mark 10:21). Jesus was filled with loving compassion for this man because his life was so empty. He had climbed to the top of the ladder of success, only to find his ladder leaned against the wrong building.
d. You still lack one thing. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me: Instead of challenging the man's fulfillment of the law (which Jesus had every right to do), Jesus points him to what is commonly called the first table of the law - the laws having to do with our relationship with God. Jesus challenged him to put God first; to fulfill the law to love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength (Deuteronomy 6:5).
i. So, could the man love God more than his wealth? No, he could not, even though Jesus specifically promised him treasure in heaven. The man was more interested in man's earthly treasures than in God's heavenly treasures.
ii. Essentially, this man is an idolater - riches are his God, not the true God of the Bible. He puts money first.
iii. Men will be tested by both tables of the law. It isn't enough to do good by our fellow man and be decent folk; we must do right by God, and give Him the glory and honor He deserves.
e. He became very sorrowful, for he was very rich: We notice the balance. Very sorrowful, and very rich. The man's riches were an anchor dragging down his soul, and because he was very rich, the anchor was very heavy.
i. Jesus' purpose wasn't to make the man sad; but he could only be happy by doing what Jesus told him to do.
f. Then how can we be saved? This man, like all men by nature, has an orientation towards a works-righteousness; he asked what shall I do. If we really want to do the works of God, it must begin with believing on Jesus, whom the Father has sent (John 6:29).
3. (24-27) The problem of riches.
And when Jesus saw that he became very sorrowful, He said, "How hard it is for those who have riches 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 man to enter the kingdom of God." And those who heard it said, "Who then can be saved?" But He said, "The things which are impossible with men are possible with God."
a. He became very sorrowful: The rich man was sorry, and now Jesus was sorry. Jesus did not want the man to walk away in his idolatry, loving his riches more than God. Yet, Jesus still let him walk away.
b. How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God! Jesus makes it clear: riches are an obstacle to the kingdom of God. They are not an insurmountable obstacle, but they are an obstacle nonetheless.
i. We usually only think of poverty as a problem. Jesus reminds us that riches may present a much more serious problem. Riches are dangerous because they tend to make us satisfied with this life, instead of longing for the age to come. Also, riches often must be acquired at the expense of acquiring God.
ii. We often excuse ourselves from what Jesus says here because we don't consider ourselves rich. Yet who among us would not be considered richer than this rich young ruler was?
c. 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: With this image, Jesus illustrates the difficulty riches present to entering the kingdom of God.
i. "Attempts have been made to explain Jesus' words about the camel and the eye of a needle in terms of a camel shuffling through a small postern gate, or by reading kamilon 'cable' for kamelon 'camel'. Such 'explanations' are misguided. They miss the point that Jesus is using a humourous illustration." (Morris)
d. Who then can be saved? We are like the disciples; it is hard for us to see how riches would hinder us from the kingdom of God. We think that riches can only bring blessing and good.
i. The words of Jesus amaze the disciples because they assume that riches are always a sign of God's blessing and favor. After all, if the rich aren't saved, then who is?
ii. Remember what Paul said to Timothy: But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows (1 Timothy 6:9-10).
e. The things which are impossible with men are possible with God: However, God's grace is sufficient to save the rich man. We know of many rich men in the Bible who were saved, including Zaccheus, Joseph of Armithea, and Barnabas.
Copyright David Guzik, Siegen, Germany.
Sermons and Bible Commentaries for the 6th Sunday after Sleebo
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