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Do You Still Lack One Thing?

Date: Apr. 11, 2010

Author: Bob Henkins

Luke 18:15-30

Key Verse: Luke 18:22

“When Jesus heard this, he said to 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.’”

As we follow the life of Jesus we find that he talks a lot about the kingdom of God, it’s his main theme. And today’s passage is no exception, in fact he mentions it five times in just 16 verses. And if you remember from chapter 13 Jesus compared it to a mustard seed or yeast. The kingdom of God could be translated, “the rule of God,” the sphere of God, where God’s people are, or where the gospel of Jesus has been accepted and people have been set free. Still it is somewhat of a mystery to us. Even in this passage Jesus says that it’s impossible for men to enter and yet it belongs to children. It’s very mysterious. I’ve also heard it explained something like this. The kingdom of God is like WWII between D-day and VE-day. What does that mean? In this analogy, we comfortably put the allies on the side of the kingdom of God and the Nazis on the side of the Satan. But please keep in mind America is not the kingdom of God. However in the illustration the Nazis have controlled Europe for 4 years but on D-day the allies land in France. And when in the next week and month the Germans don’t drive them out it become obvious who is going to win the war. After D-day you can tell the Allies are going to win, because on the other side the Russians are already giving the Nazis all that they can handle. So after D-day the war is won and yet they have to fight for another 11 months before the Nazis finally give up. We can say that D-day is analogous to Jesus’ death and resurrection. After his death and resurrection the writing is on the wall, God has won and yet the devil still has some time to operate. And he continues to have time until VE-day, that is, until the day of Christ’s second coming. And we are all called to enter into this kingdom now. This is where the illustration begins to break down. We all have to get out of German held territory and get to the Allied held territory. Because when Jesus comes the second time he will not come to invite, he will come to judge and it won’t be good for those remaining under Nazi control. We are living in the interim period where victory has been declared and we have been called to Jesus, but the battle against our sinful desires is still fierce.

Our Lord Jesus Christ is the Son of God. Although he came to this world in the form of a man, he is God. His touch was not the touch of an ordinary man. It was the touch of our holy God. Miracles happened at the touch of Jesus. When Jesus touched a man with leprosy, immediately he was healed. When a woman subject to bleeding touched Jesus, instantly her afflictions were gone. People recognized Jesus as the source of God’s blessing and because so many babies never made it to their first birthday they wanted to be touched by Jesus. Take a look at verse 15. “People were also bringing babies to Jesus to have him touch them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them.” When the disciples saw what was going on, they felt Jesus may be overrun by demanding parents and crying babies. And since many babies wouldn’t survive anyway, it seemed like a useless burden to them. Probably they thought they were protecting Jesus.

Why did the disciples tell them to go away? Cultures are superficially different about children.

Our culture is at least superficially kid friendly. Whenever we see a little child, like baby Paul K, our hearts are moved and we want to be around the cute baby. But in their culture a baby didn’t contribute to the bottom line, they were just a mouth to feed. The child had no wisdom, couldn’t produce anything and they might die soon. So why waste time on a child? Maybe when they grow up, then they will be worth something. This may sound a bit harsh, but if you look deeper into our culture, we are pretty hard on children too. A mother can kill her child for any reason, as long as she does it before it’s born. As long as she says that it will cause her mental distress, she has the right to put to her child to death. That’s not child friendly. So we can understand the disciples a little better. Lots of cultures de-value children but Jesus did not. Jesus says let them come, don’t hinder them. What’s his reason? Did he have a bad day and needed to hug a baby? Did he need a little kid to make him smile? Actually he gives a theological reason.

Take a look at verse 16. “But Jesus called the children to him and said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” To such belongs the kingdom of God. To such, that is, to these and others like them. If you’re a citizen of the kingdom of God then you have access to Jesus, so let them come. He goes on to explain a little bit more about what he means. Take a look at verse 17. “I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.’” Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God LIKE a child, shall not enter it. Thankfully we are not to old for the kingdom of God no matter how old we are, but we do however have to receive it like a little child. We should also not that the kingdom of God in not just in the future, but it also in the present. In the future it will come in power and glory that’s why we pray, “your kingdom come,” but in can also be with us here, now. You’ll notice that Jesus says “receive,” not “you will receive.” He says, “To such belongs,” not “will belong.” There is a present to the kingdom of God. It is already here in grace but not yet in power.

So how do we receive the kingdom of God LIKE a child? And to be in context, think of a baby because they were bringing infants to him. How can receive the kingdom of God like a small child? We can think sentimentally, that children are so innocent and pure. We could talk about the goodness of children but that’s probably another reason why the following story comes next for as soon as you start thinking about the goodness of kids you hit the verse “no one is good but God alone.” Children are complex little creatures. There’s lots of good and lots of bad in them and you get to see more of it the older they get. But how do small children receive anything? It has to be given to them. They don’t earn it. What has a two year old ever earned? Everything a small child gets has to be given to them, they have to inherit it. And that’s how we have to receive the kingdom of God. We can’t bring something in our hands and say, see wheat I have done now give me what I have earned. No, we have to go with empty hands and receive it like a little child, into our empty little undeserving hands and say thank you for this gift. Jesus explains a little more about what he means in Mt 18:3-4 when he called a child to him and said, “unless you humble yourselves like this child you won’t enter the kingdom.” So the child thing has something to do with humility. That is how we are to come to the kingdom of God, not with reluctance, not with arrogance, not with conditions, but to receive it like a gift.

When Jesus says this it sparks a question from one of those listening. Take a look at verse 18. “A certain ruler asked him, "Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” In Matthew’s gospel he is described as young, Luke calls him a ruler and he’s rich so he is known as the rich young ruler. And he is asking the same question the lawyer asked him back in chapter 10. What can I do to inherit eternal life? Only the lawyer was testing him, but this guy is serious and he really wants to know. And it’s a good question; you might say that it’s the best question. Jesus gave the theory now he wants the practical and he’s saying, “How do I do that? What can I do to get eternal life?”  

But before Jesus answers him, Jesus corrects him. Take a look at verse 19. “Why do you call me good?" Jesus answered. "No one is good—except God alone.” Why does Jesus say this? He is telling the guy to think carefully about what he is saying because he doesn’t have the right concept of good. Jesus doesn’t want any false ideas when he is talking about something as important as eternal life. Jesus’ point is, “If I am only a teacher, if I am only a man, then I am not good and neither are you. But if I am good, it’s because I am more than a man, I am God and deserve a better title than good teacher.” Jesus begins to work toward his conclusion. Take a look at verse 20. “You know the commandments: 'Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.'” All the verses that he recites have to do with the second half of the commandments, the “love your neighbor as yourself” part. They are all outward actions. And if you remember this is the same way that he started with the lawyer. Jesus starts with the commandments because our conduct matters. Justification is free, it’s by faith alone, but it’s not as if you can be saved and live however you want. We have to repent and believe.

And as Jesus talks about the commandments, if the rich young ruler has a true understanding of them he would say, “No I haven’t kept them, what can I do about it,” and the way would be open for Jesus to tell him. But when the rich young ruler answers, “Yep I’ve kept all of them since my bar mitzvah,” Jesus knew that his understanding of the commandments was shallow. He did not know the spiritual meaning at all. As Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount, to look at a woman lustfully is sinning in the heart; hatred in the heart is akin to the sin of murder. This man disregarded motive in practicing the law. He is like those who decline Bible study, saying, “I am okay,” without any deep thought. Through this the young ruler revealed that he still lacked one thing.

Take a look at verse 22. “When Jesus heard this, he said to 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."”  What Jesus does is test him on the great commandment, to see if he loves the Lord with all his heart, strength, soul and mind. Because if he does then this would not be a problem for him and he would gladly come and follow Jesus. Not only that, Jesus is also testing him on the second great commandment, “do you love your neighbor as your self.” If he does love them, he would have no problem spending his money on the poor as he spends it on himself. But if he refuses Jesus’ command then at the crucial point he will reveal that he doesn’t serve God, but in fact serves money.

This is a frightening moment in the gospel. It’s frightening because at first you many wonder, is this what he says to everyone. Do we all have to sell everything we own? This isn’t a requirement for everyone. Jesus is saying this to the ruler, his focus is on the young man. As we go through the Bible we do see where people sell their belongings, but it is not required of everyone. But, Jesus may call you to give up other things that are dear to you. Job lost everything. Abraham was called to sacrifice his son whom he loved. God may call a loved one home before you and you are called not to be bitter. God may have put the call of missionary on you, to leave all and follow him. If you’re in a Christian family thank God for it. For when God calls a Muslim, or Hindu they are often killed at the hands of their family as they follow him. This is core of discipleship: follow me wherever I lead you. Do you love God with all of your heart, strength, soul and mind, then you will follow him wherever he leads you. And if he says to sell all, then you will do that. If he takes away all the things that you pride yourself in, your strength, memory, position, health, belongings will you follow him? Do you love God more than yourself? Because you’re to love your neighbor as yourself, and God more. That’s the core of discipleship; follow God. That’s why Jesus says things like, deny yourself and take up your cross and follow me. And that’s why he taught his disciples to pray, “not my will, but yours be done.” If you refuse Jesus’ command, then you are a rebel and a rebel has no place in his kingdom of God until he repents.

Verse 23 tells us, “When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was a man of great wealth.” This is how it ends in Luke, but in Matthew and Mark we see that the man leaves without a resolution. At the critical moment he decides, I’m going to keep my car and house and not follow Jesus. He is sad about it, but he’s not obeying. This is a picture of worldly sorrow. It’s the sorrow that makes us feel bad, but we don’t do anything about it. He’s not sorrowful enough to turn from it, to God. It’s not repentance which leads to life, but grief that leads to death. And so he says, “I’m sorry Jesus, but I won’t give that up.” It’s interesting that Jesus pin points his problem exactly. The guy doesn’t have a problem with power, but with money. And what’s frightening is that Jesus lets him go. He didn’t run after him, or beg him. He let him go and chase after his things. Jesus won’t beg us to enter his kingdom – he gives us the freedom to do what we want, but the consequences are scary. Another thing that is frightening is how much good there is in this guy. This is a good guy. You would love to have this guy as your co-worker, son-in-law, neighbor. He’s got everything one could want. He’s young, rich, powerful and moral. And he’s going to the right person with the right question. There’s a lot of good in this guy, but there is that one thing that is holding him back from a full devotion to Jesus. And there are a lot of people who have a lot of good in their lives but they have that one thing that holds them back. And it’s different things for each person. Like our relationships, maybe we are afraid of rejection from others, or maybe a boyfriend/girlfriend, our career or school or maybe even our sins hold us back because deep down we really don’t want to give them up.

If there is one thing holding you back from a full devotion to Jesus, it’s time to look at it realistically. Does this thing give you eternal life? Does it give you the kingdom of God? Does it store up treasure in heaven for you? Does it give you peace of conscience? Does it give you joy, and if so, for how long? Be realistic and honest. Jesus said, come follow me, the core of discipleship. As the man goes away, Jesus is looking at him with sadness and he says, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, 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."” (v24-25) Jesus is taking Palestine’s biggest animal, a camel, and their smallest hole, a needle, and he’s making a point that it is easier for a camel to go through a needle that for the rich to enter into heaven. Basically he’s saying that it’s impossible. And those who heard this asked, "Who then can be saved?" (v26)

But some may say, “That’s a stupid question, he said a rich person can’t. Who can? Virtuous poor people like me, that’s who.” But the reason they asked, “Who then can be saved?” was because in their thinking if someone was rich, they must be blessed by God. Abraham was rich, Jacob, David and Solomon were all rich. A blessing from God in each case. Proverbs; the lazy man gets poor and the hard working man gets rich; therefore the rich and poor get what they deserve. And so if the rich man can’t enter the kingdom of God, no one else can either. But Jesus has a more balances view of things. The hard working rich person is often busy, anxious, proud, has no time, no humility and most importantly they won’t give it up if Jesus calls him to. So Jesus stresses that it’s really hard for the rich person, in fact it’s impossible. Even though their view that a rich person was closer to God was not true, still their question was on target, because if it’s that hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God, it’s that hard for everyone to enter the kingdom of God. Being poor doesn’t give you some kind of moral boost. Just because you’re poor doesn’t mean that you don’t love wealth. A poor person can be just a hung up on money as a rich person for there are poor people who wouldn’t sell everything and follow Jesus, either. And Jesus says, “You’re right. It is impossible, but What is impossible with men is possible with God.” (27) It is impossible for men so we have to do it like a little child. Kids don’t have anything to hold them back. Kids are free in their heart and the completely trust their parents. Kids are not bound by their possessions and don’t agonize over what they have or don’t have. As we get older, our hearts become loaded down with the things of the world, but we have to be more like little children and trust in our heavenly Father and believe that he has better things in store for us.

And Jesus points this out in the last part. We see hope for the disciples, which is good, because that means there is hope for us. Peter, always the impulsive spokesman says, “We have left all we had to follow you!” (v28) And it’s true. Back in chapter 5, Peter, James and John left their boats and nets and everything and followed Jesus. This is not him bragging, because it’s the truth they did. I don’t think Peter is speaking here from pride but rather from uneasiness. What Peter’s really asking is, “What about us?” He’s uneasy, and Jesus gives him reassurance. Look at verses 29-30. “I tell you the truth," Jesus said to them, "no one who has left home or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God 30will fail to receive many times as much in this age and, in the age to come, eternal life.” Although Jesus answers Peter he phrases it so that it applies to everyone. It applies not only to the disciples, but to anyone who follows him so that all of us may have assurance. Let’s pause there for a moment. There are people who leave all for the sake of the gospel. Even in our ministry I’ve heard about some in India who have left all and were disowned, beaten and left for dead, for the sake of the gospel. And what do they receive when they leave? If they have left their biological family and follow Jesus, they are adopted into a much larger spiritual family with brothers and sisters throughout the world. And God will provide fellowship and care in most cases for what was lost. There are blessings when we have commune with God. There are blessings in having peace within your soul. One Muslim convert said that as long as he was a Muslim he was tormented by nightmares but when he received the gospel of Jesus, he finally had peace in his soul and the nightmares were gone. It was a great benefit for him. There are many blessings when we have commune with God, joy in the spirit and peace in conscience. However we are not guaranteed a one to one correspondence. I left my car, I want a new car. Jesus doesn’t give us that kind of point to point equivalence. He simply says that you will have something better in this life and in the age to come, eternal life. Remember this also, in the parallel passage in Mark, Jesus adds persecutions to the list. We will receive many times as much, along with persecutions. Jesus never promises us an easy life. If you hear a preacher promising you an easy life, he’s either talking about heaven, or you need to get out of there. Jesus does promise great blessings to those who follow him in this life and an even greater gift, eternal life in the age to come. We should understand that following the commandments is expected, however it does not earn us a spot in heaven. For only God is good. And it is by the grace of God that we may have eternal life. It was by God’s plan that Jesus died on the cross to pay for our sins, so that we may enter the kingdom of God. So as we follow Jesus, we have to be like a little child to receive the kingdom of God. When we come to a cross road where following God conflicts with going our own way, we have to stop and think. This is how we find out what that one thing that holds us back from God is in our life. Do you still lack one thing? Do you lack treasure in heaven?

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