What Must We Do to Inherit Eternal Life?
[Luke chapter 18, verses 15-30]
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Last week when we left off at verse 14, we had just gone over the story of the proud Pharisee and the remorseful tax collector. As you recall, Jesus had just made a sharp contrast between the arrogance of the Pharisee and the humility of the tax collector. “He who exalts himself will be humbled”, Jesus remarked at the time, “but he/she who humbles themselves will be exalted.” This week as we take up where we left off, we find ourselves at the same time and place while the apostle Luke narrates his ongoing observations of the activities and performance of Jesus’ ministry. So let’s all begin at verse 15, shall we?
“People were also bringing babies to Jesus to have him touch them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. 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. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter into it.’” (Luke 18, verses 15-17)
Evidently the apostles thought there was insufficient time for Jesus to be doting on and playing with little children. I would say the rebuke Jesus gave to his apostles was much sharper than the rebuke they had just given to the parents of that bunch of kids who were gathering around Jesus. That’s because the exact wording of his rebuke is not disclosed. It was probably on the order of a sergeant barking out orders to his platoon. “Do not hinder them”, he said, “for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” Unless we experience our faith like the wide-eyed wonderment of a child – as if it were Christmas morning and Jesus came to visit – we will never see the kingdom of God. While this truism gives us the route to the heart of Christ, it does not give us license for immature behavior. So, it’s safe to say Jesus wants us to have the innocence of little kids while remaining cognizant of our discernment as adults, all at once. It was a similar train of thought that caused our Lord and Savior to say in the very next sentence, “…anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter into it.” However, note the flip side of this coin, which is that heaven will be devoid of the immature as well as the cynical. Let’s move on now to part 2 of today’s lesson.
“A certain ruler asked him, ‘Good teacher, what must I do to enter eternal life?’ ‘Why do you call me ‘good”, Jesus answered. ‘No one is good – except for God alone. 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 these I have kept since I was a boy’, he said. 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.’ When he heard this, he became very sad, for he was a man of great wealth. Jesus looked at him and said, ‘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.’” (Luke 18, verses 18-25)
“No one is good”, Jesus said to the wealthy ruler, “except for God alone”. Why did Jesus not call himself good even though he was the Son of God? Because at that point in time our Lord and Savior had not yet risen from the dead, gaining for himself and all who follow him eternal life together with the Father who is the Lord God Almighty! Since he had not yet been sanctified, Jesus had not yet been purified through his resurrection on the morning of the third day. Moreover, he was the only one who knew this at the time. But when Jesus was asked about the way to immortality, he responds by telling the man he must obey God’s commandments. “I have done all this since my youth”, the gentleman responded to Jesus. The man who inquired of the Lord was evidently a devout Jew. Jesus was not at all critical of the wealthy ruler’s answer to his question, so he must have spoken truthfully to Jesus.
Jesus’ answer evidently surprised everyone due to their preconceived notions about the nature of God. “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.” Notice how the wealthy ruler was living his life on the right track in so many ways, and yet still came up short in the eyes of Christ! Our good deeds, in and of themselves, will never get us into what we call ‘heaven’, nor can we attain eternal life by getting there on our own efforts. Remember it was God the Father who raised his Son from the dead. Jesus didn’t raise himself since he was part God and part man – like a hybrid car. They don’t start until somebody starts the engine or electric motor. Jesus couldn’t be raised from the dead until God did so, and not before the appointed time in Scriptural prophecy.
“Sell everything you have and give to the poor”. Our worldly goods are utterly worthless in God’s sight, and materialistic people are shallow-minded individuals who disregard the spiritual side of themselves. Those who are enamored with the pursuit of wealth trade their spiritual worth for material worth, and that’s an unfavorable trade any way we look at it. Instead, let’s all learn to trade our worldly goods for heavenly ones, and to cease from living for ourselves so we can devote our time to living for Jesus Christ by emulating the good he showed us how to do! “Then come, follow me.” That means unconditionally, with nothing held back! We must never allow any distractions from Satan (and that’s where most distractions come from) to interfere with our walk with Christ. Otherwise, how can we ever truly follow him? And how could we effectively serve others in the process?
“When he heard this, he became very sad, for he was a man of great wealth. Jesus looked at him and said, ‘How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!’” As Jesus said in the gospel of Matthew, “You cannot serve both God and materialism.” (Matt 6: 24) Let us ask ourselves this question – could any of us sincerely and truthfully follow these instructions of Christ? Although I do not currently own any property, many of my readers are homeowners, and at least a few own businesses. Jesus is telling all of us to sell our houses, cars, jewelry, and to liquidate all our investments. Once that is accomplished, we are to give all the money to the poor, to the sick (including the mentally ill and those in addiction recovery), the disabled, orphans, widows, the homeless and other vulnerable individuals with no questions asked nor any qualifications demanded. Could you do that? What about those raising families? Does Jesus want folks with families to sell their houses and give away the proceeds, rendering the wives and children, or the single parents, both homeless and penniless? Of course not! Jesus would never make such an unreasonable demand from us because, as the Son of God, he is the very personification of reason, logic and balance. On the other hand, there are many people out there who could easily afford to obey such a commandment and yet they refuse to. The very idea of having to share any of their “hard-earned wealth” literally drives them crazy! Having said that, let’s close out this week’s Biblical teaching beginning from verse 26.
“Those who heard this asked, ‘Who then can be saved?’ Jesus replied, ‘What is impossible with men is possible with God.’ Peter said to him, ‘We have left all we had to follow you!’ ‘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 will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and the age to come, eternal life.’” (Luke 18, verses 26-30)
The question being asked in verse 26 was a follow-up to Jesus’ statement, and I paraphrase, “It’s easier to get a camel through the eye of a needle than for the wealthy to have an eternity with God.” The unidentified person asking this question was voicing a similar objection to what I wrote further above. Jesus doesn’t make unreasonable demands because as the Son of God he cannot. All the same, what seems unattainable to us is effortless for God. But there’s something we’ve overlooked, and I would be remiss to not mention this, and that’s the part about selling all we have, giving it all away, and then following Jesus for the rest of our lives. In today’s world of ever-rising prices in the face of stagnant or falling earnings, shady politicians who play with people’s lives for sport, rampant hatred and random violence, the very idea of opening up our homes, hearts and wallets to complete strangers sounds laughably naive at best and suicidal at worst! Do either of those adjectives describe our Lord and Savior? Absolutely not!! Was Jesus merely rambling or even babbling when he said these things? Same response as before.
Let’s be realistic here – no one wants to make themselves this vulnerable unless it’s someone they know, and sometimes not even then. OK then, does this teaching still apply here in the early 21st century? If we sell our vehicles and give the money to the poor, how are we supposed to get to work? If we sell our houses and donate the net proceeds from the sale, where are we supposed to live? The answer is something many people can’t wrap their brains around, which is that if everybody followed this teaching of Christ, all those questions about who gets what (and how much) would be immaterial and beside the point! There would be more than enough for everyone, and with room to spare! I can define the reason why we can’t follow this teaching of Christ’s in one simple word: Inequality! We have 99% of the world’s wealth in the hands of 1% of the population. This problem, contrary to popular belief, is global. It’s not limited to North America, or more accurately the US since Canada already offers her citizens nearly free lifetime medical care while heavily subsidizing higher education. Now you know why Jesus statement about rich people not being able to enter heaven was also a prophetic one. The world is more prosperous today than any other civilization in history. Jesus, you can now see, was talking about us – Americans! Now there’s something you can spend the rest of the week thinking about. And next week we’ll finish up chapter 18 of the Gospel of Luke.