“Jesus Is Passing By!” (Part One)

Luke 18:35-43

As he approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the road begging. Hearing a crowd passing by, he inquired what was happening. “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by,” they told him. So he called out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (CSB)

One summer we took a “presidential vacation” in Ohio, visiting various historical sites of Presidents McKinley, Hayes and Garfield. As we were concluding our visit at Garfield’s estate, a woman from the museum came up to us and asked if we would like to meet the great grandson of President Garfield. We were able to talk with him, and he autographed a book that I had purchased about his great grandfather. That was unusual, but then a day or so later as we visited my parents in Dover, Ohio, our then current president passed through Dover on his way to a meeting in Cambridge. My uncle and aunt went downtown with many others to see the President of the United States pass by. Yes, people are interested in meeting famous people or their relatives, even in the twenty-first century. So it should not surprise us that in the first century, a time with far less distractions, people eagerly thronged to see Jesus of Nazareth, the Great Prophet of God and worker of miracles. Let us consider what happened one day.

A blind beggar heard about Jesus approaching Jericho (18:35-38). Think about the sad condition of this man. Until we suffer, most people just coast through life, unaware of the challenges that other people face.

  • He was blind. The tragedy of not being able to see is a great disability in any day. But in the first century, there were no forms of public assistance. In a dark world, the blind were totally dependent on other people.
  • Most disabilities were accompanied by poverty, and here we see this man reduced to the task of begging. None of us can understand the degradation that this brought to the blind in that day.
  • He was dependent on others for information about what was happening around him. Since we are created in God’s image, we want to know about the world he has made and what is happening in it. Clearly, this man had heard about Jesus, and had done a lot of talking and thinking about the identity and significance of Jesus.

Think about the drama of this situation. Jesus was on his way to Jericho and from there to Jerusalem to offer the final Passover sacrifice—the sacrifice of himself for sinners. Only twelve men besides Jesus knew what is going to happen; actually, Jesus told had told them, but though they knew, they didn’t understand. All that the crowds knew was that the amazing Teacher and worker of miracles named Jesus was passing through their town and they wanted to be part of the event.

The blind man, however, could not figure out what caused all the commotion. He could hear the noise of the crowds and he knew that it was not normal. So he used what resources that he had available. He asked, what is happening?

Now, we are not given any background information about what this blind beggar may have heard about Jesus. Obviously, he has heard some positive information about Jesus and what Jesus is able to do. But in his inner being, his thoughts about Jesus had generated some ideas, and he made a remarkable deduction: Jesus is the Son of David.

Dr. Luke has already taught us the underlying issues in this theology book that we call the Gospel of Luke. Think of Luke 4:17-21; 7:20-23; 9:18-20; 11:29-32.  What the man did was reason through the acts of Jesus in the light of the interpretative framework of the Scriptures and then he came to the conclusion that Jesus must be the Messiah, God’s Anointed One, the Son of David. And if he is the Messiah, then he would able to help him out of his suffering. So he called out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

What is your view of Jesus? That is a very significant question to have answered. Until you have true and adequate answers about his identity and significance, you will never depend on him for forgiveness and eternal life. Do you think that Jesus can help you out of your troubles?

Grace and peace, David

Jesus Explains God’s Plan (Part Three)

Luke 18:31-34

Then he took the Twelve aside and told them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem. Everything that is written through the prophets about the Son of Man will be accomplished. For he will be handed over to the Gentiles, and he will be mocked, insulted, spit on; and after they flog him, they will kill him, and he will rise on the third day.” They understood none of these things. The meaning of the saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said (CSB).

Jesus’ teaching was not understood by the disciples. We, very sadly, have a “superstar” mentality in the American church regarding preachers and teachers. People assume that if they had a mega-gifted pastor that both they and their church would be much better. That assumption is wrong for several reasons, but notice in this text that the disciples understood nothing about what Jesus had taught them. None of these things! Now Jesus is the Teacher. Obviously, there are other factors than a great teacher in our growth in grace and knowledge.

Let’s learn some lessons about ourselves.

  • We are not nearly as smart and insightful as we give ourselves credit for being. Here were men who constantly heard the Lord Jesus teach for three years and who were eyewitnesses of many miraculous signs, and they didn’t understand any of this! How much of the Christian message can you explain to someone outside? Truthfully, what can you do? Picture yourself being asked tough questions by your friends. What can you tell them about God, mankind, sin, Christ and the way of salvation? If you’ve been a follower of Jesus for three years, you ought to be able to explain a lot!
  • We must not lose patience with one another in the church. We expect to say something once and everyone immediately understands. Peter, John and Matthew all wrote significant books in the Bible later on, but here they don’t know anything! However, we must apply ourselves to learning the Bible. Simply doing little devotional readings will not accomplish this.

Let’s learn some lessons about grace.

  • This text does not say who hid this from them or how it was hidden. Neither do the parallel passages in Matthew or Mark. So again, it is useless to speculate. Every Christian must learn to be silent where the text of the Bible is silent. That is a tough lesson to learn, because we have so many questions!
  • However, following on the heels of Christ’s instruction about the impossibility of salvation by human effort, we ought to think about how this lack of understanding can be corrected. This only happens when God teaches the truth to us by the power of the Holy Spirit. When the Holy Spirit gave the New Testament Scriptures though the apostles and prophets, he explained the meaning and significance of the cross and the empty tomb to them. We have that explanation written in God’s word. We should praise God for this written instruction. But in another sense, we still need the work of the Holy Spirit, if we are to understand. Praise God; he can open minds darkened by sin to the glories of saving grace.

Has the Spirit of God given you an understanding of the sufferings and glories of Jesus Christ, the Son of Man? Are you relying on him for salvation? What is impossible for you is very possible for God.

Grace and peace, David

Jesus Explains God’s Plan (Part Two)

Luke 18:31-34

Then he took the Twelve aside and told them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem. Everything that is written through the prophets about the Son of Man will be accomplished. For he will be handed over to the Gentiles, and he will be mocked, insulted, spit on; and after they flog him, they will kill him, and he will rise on the third day.” They understood none of these things. The meaning of the saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said (CSB).

Next, let’s consider Jesus’ message and its significance. Here was God’s Prophet prophesying. I hope no one is thinking, “Oh, that’s nice. So what’s the big deal?” This is very significant! Christ is fulfilling part of his mission. He came as the Prophet that everyone must listen to. He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him” (Matthew 17:5). And what did Jesus say? He told us how God can do the impossible and save people who cannot save or help save themselves. He told us God’s plan for salvation, and this plan is based on what Jesus, the Son of Man, would do. Here Jesus said nothing about being rich or keeping the commands. Instead, he turned the attention of the Twelve from themselves to Him (Luke 18:23-27).

The essence of true Christian preaching and teaching is to take your attention off yourself and to put it on God through Jesus his Son.  As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 2:2: For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified (NIV). To live godly in this age, we must have a Christ-focused mindset. Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things (Colossians 3:1-2 NIV).

This was at least the third time that Jesus had told them these things. He had previously told them after Peter’s confession of Christ and after the healing of the boy with the evil spirit. Our Lord provided a pattern of gentle and patient instruction (cf. 2 Timothy 2:25; 4:2).

Today’s Christians are infected with the impatient attitude of our culture. We think that we should see instant results. Long term ministry is a recipe for disaster in such minds. “Why take the time to win friends? If they’re going to get saved, they’ll be saved in one week’s time.” Christians seem to be on an endless quest for some method that will produce instant revival. If someone won’t listen the first time, then we hear, “Well that didn’t work. What else can we try?” However, shouldn’t we imitate the Lord’s patience?

What was the content of his message (cf. 1 Peter 1:10-11)?

The sufferings of Christ – Jesus went into detail about these matters.

  • He talked about being handed over to the Gentiles (non-Jewish people). Notice that the New Testament does not blame the Jewish people for the death of Jesus. Sadly, even thinking twenty-first century Christians must bear the appalling failures of Christians over the previous seventeen hundred years or so.
  • He told them some of the sufferings he would endure before his death: mockery, insults, being spat on, and being flogged. Jesus is bracing his followers against the storm that would soon break. He pointed out the first rumbles of thunder.
  • He would be killed. In this instance, he did not mention crucifixion, but since the Gentiles, meaning especially the Romans, would be in charge of such matters, it was easy to understand what was meant. There were too many crosses with Jewish victims on them around Palestine.

We should not lose the horror of these words. The sacrifice of Jesus, our Great High Priest, was not pretty. It was not an art form to be admired. Sin brought death to the human race, and the bloody death of Christ satisfied God’s wrath against human sin. We do very well when we bow and worship the Lord. “Why should you love me so?” Worship is not about what you like; it is about what Christ did and your humble, believing response to redeeming love and mercy. “Amazing love, how can it be, that you, my God, should die for me?” Yes Lord, especially that cruel, accursed death on the cross!

The glory that would follow – In the midst of the deepest gloom, Jesus told the brightest hope—his resurrection on the third day. You cannot stop the Christian message at the cross and the tomb. The good news is not Mary mourning over her dead Son. It is not Christ’s followers wandering around saying, “We had hoped…” (Luke 24:21 NIV). No, no, instead it is the all-powerful Lord, ripping death apart in becoming Son of God with power. The earth is shaking, heaven is opened, and the Son of God brings many sons and daughters to glory! Amen!

Grace and peace, David

Jesus Explains God’s Plan (Part One)

Luke 18:31-34

Then he took the Twelve aside and told them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem. Everything that is written through the prophets about the Son of Man will be accomplished. For he will be handed over to the Gentiles, and he will be mocked, insulted, spit on; and after they flog him, they will kill him, and he will rise on the third day.” They understood none of these things. The meaning of the saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said (CSB).

Have you ever tried to explain something difficult to a three-year-old? “Today daddy wants to tell you how to write a macro in Microsoft Word. Now do you understand what a macro is?” You immediately hear a small giggle and a happy voice saying, “Macaroni!” You know you have a long road ahead of you.

Now consider the situation that Jesus the Son of God was in. He had just said to those who had heard his interview with the rich young ruler that salvation is impossible for humans, but very possible for God. Jesus wants to explain this to his twelve closest followers, so he takes them aside from the crowd to talk with them. Will they understand? Let’s think of Jesus’ method of explanation.

First, Jesus took the Twelve aside. He gave the secrets of the kingdom of God to them (Luke 8:10). The Lord makes the truth known to his people. He trained the Twelve to be his witnesses (cf. Acts 1:8). They needed to know what would happen, so when it happened, the Holy Spirit would be able to bring this to their memory. You’ve surely had the experience of someone explaining something to you. At first you couldn’t follow what was going on during the explanation, but when you begin to do what was explained, you suddenly realize, “I’ve got it!”

Jesus told his friends what would happen to him. Jesus knows what his friends need to know, as well as what we don’t need to know, in order to live by faith. But we should realize that he reveals things to us as his friends, so that we might know that the living God is our friend. What he doesn’t tell us is for our benefit. There is such a problem as information overload. We need to learn certain matters well, because they are crucial to the Christian way of life. Other things can wait, if we need to learn them at all.  For example, it is far more important for us to know how to please God now and how to tell others the good news than to know any of the intricacies of future events (cf. Matthew 6:34). They needed to know exactly what would happen to him. He prepared them to face very difficult events.

The Lord Jesus pointed the Twelve to the Scriptures (everything that is written through the prophets).

  • He had confidence in written revelation. He used it in his teaching. Jesus constantly modeled to people that we can build our lives on the written word of God. “Look at your life and the world from God the Father’s viewpoint.” I must speak bluntly. We live in an age when much “information” is simply human opinion without any regard for accuracy. People say and write things to manipulate, not to communicate what was formerly called “truth”. (Listen to how people talk; for example, “all things are relative.” We need the Scriptures to interpret life correctly (John 17:17).
  • He had a “Christ-structured” view of the Scriptures. He saw them as communicating a message about God’s plan in him. We do not understand the Bible properly unless we know and act on the fact that it tells about how God accomplishes his purposes of salvation and judgment for his glory in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Do you share Christ’s view of the Scriptures? When you encounter challenging situations in your life, do you choose to frame the solution in terms of the Scriptures or human opinion?

Grace and peace, David

Profiting from Teachers (Part Two)

Ephesians 4:11-12

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up… (NIV).

The Lord Jesus uses God’s word to equip the church for her spiritual progress. Along with the word, he has given us the Spirit of God, whom he poured out on his people. The work of the Spirit is essential for anyone truly to profit spiritually. And along with the Spirit and the word, the Lord has given us gifted men. How can you profit from these gifted men?

Hopefully, you have a pastor-teacher that preaches and teaches regularly through entire books of the Bible. I will offer no objection to the occasional stand-alone message or even to occasional textual and topical messages. Sometimes there are glaring needs to be addressed in a local congregation. Sometimes a pastor and the congregation need a break from a long teaching series, like one through the book of Genesis or Acts. The people should not need to ask for a break. A pastor should be sensitive enough to lead his flock into other pastures for a short time. For example, I used to break from a regular teaching series in the summer, especially during July and August when people went on vacation. In the Bible studies I lead, we usually study an entire book of the Bible. For example, on Thursday mornings, we are going through the Gospel of John. But currently, we are looking at some of the Psalms during the summer months.

However, you may not have access to a sound teacher that leads you through whole books of the Book of books. And even if you do, you need to supplement such teaching with study on your own. To do that requires two actions that we might be reluctant to do: work and invest our time in the Scriptures. People use up too much time in “binge watching” TV shows and movies. I can understand the perceived need to escape from pressure by chilling in recreational activities. What would you do if you didn’t have such things and still had the pressure? Consider David’s thoughts in Psalm 19:7-11, in particular 19:8. The precepts of the Lord are right, making the heart glad; the command of the Lord is radiant, making the eyes light up (CSB).

So then, how can you profit? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Read the text of a Bible book at least five times. Always begin with your personal reading and read slowly, attentively, and carefully. Look for words or ideas that are repeated, like in Christ in Ephesians.  Pay attention to connecting words, such as but, for, therefore, if… then, if, so then. Read by paragraphs to gain entire thoughts. What is the main point the writer is making? Read like this with a friend to gain their insights.
  • Have a good study Bible, like the NIV Zondervan Study Bible. As a pastor, I accumulated many study Bibles, and the notes in most of them are not worthwhile or are theologically biased. Doctrinal bias affects everyone, but unless you are well-versed in where the editors are coming from, you can easily be misled. You need a worthwhile study Bible for its introductory material about the particular book you plan to study, and for a good outline of the book. A worthwhile Study Bible will not only have an outline, but will point you to the book’s purpose and to its major themes.
  • Read a worthwhile book on Biblical Theology. This will help you grasp the overall message of the Bible while you focus on a certain book. I will suggest three: According to Plan by Graeme Goldsworthy, Christ from Beginning to End by Trent Hunter and Stephen Wellum, and for the ambitious, God’s Glory in Salvation Through Judgment by James Hamilton.

This is a starting place to give you access to teachers of the Bible. But you must invest time and work into reading them. I try to walk outside a lot, when the weather permits. (My doctors tell me to avoid extreme heat and cold.) After years of experience in walking, I will testify that the hardest steps to take are those first steps to get up and begin walking. I have climbed mountains, and the sight of the elevation of the peaks seemed too difficult to make the attempt. But for the good of your soul, I plead with you to invest the time and the work to study God’s word and to learn from the wisdom of teachers that the Lord Jesus has provided for you.

Grace and peace, David

Profiting from Teachers (Part One)

Ephesians 4:11-12

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up… (NIV).

The Lord Jesus cares for his people, the church. The letter to the Ephesians displays the Lord’s love for us in numerous ways; one of these is the giving of gifted people in the church to help them serve. As all the people serve, the spiritual body of Christ, his gathering of people saved by his grace, is built up. Today, we want to focus on benefiting from teachers that Christ has given to us all, including teachers profiting from teachers.

The NIV translation follows the structure of the Greek text, which speaks of four types of gifted men, the last mentioned being “pastor-teachers”. It is too easy for us to want to read this fourth type through the grid of 2,000 years of church history and our denominational views that rigidly control our thinking. I also know that some want to divide the last mentioned into two kinds, pastors and teachers. Without getting hopelessly tied up in such disputes, I want us to recognize that the Lord Christ has given us teachers for our benefit.

During much of church history, Christ’s people could be helped by teachers in one of two ways, which are still available to us. They could listen to the teacher in person or they could read what the teacher had written or spoken. Hearing skilled and Biblically faithful teachers was limited by transportation issues. Even by the time of Whitefield (1730- 1760), people had to walk or slowly ride distances of five to ten miles to hear the famous preacher. That required a tremendous investment of time and energy for hardworking subsistence farmers and shopkeepers. By the mid-1800s, it was much easier for preachers like Spurgeon to travel around Great Britain for people to hear him personally. Before the printing press, access to the written word was limited because books were expensive to produce in time and money. The invention of the printing press dramatically increased the spread of Biblical teaching. God also used the skill of notetakers to record the spoken words of men like Luther and Calvin in those days, so that their sermons, lectures, and “table talk” were spread across Europe and eventually North America.

We ought not to underestimate how all this contributed to healthy, critical thinking about our faith. People could read many teachers that they never had an opportunity to hear personally. Coupled with the regular teaching by pastors through books of the Bible, a store of knowledge gradually accumulated on many books of the Bible. This was, and remains, uneven in accuracy and usefulness, but it still has aided the church’s overall knowledge of God’s Word.

Another help has been the study of the three Biblical languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek) since the time of the Reformation, coupled with the discovery of many more ancient manuscripts than were available for about 1,400 years. This has enabled teachers to better understand what God the Spirit actually says in his word. Historical and archaeological research have also aided teachers in learning the Biblical message. In addition, the rise of Biblical theology (knowing the storyline of God’s revelation of his glory in Christ) has helped the overall interpretation of the Biblical text.

In this digital age of information, we have enormous and fast access to Biblical teaching from the early church to the present day. This is a great help, if we are wise and discerning. We must know the faith once delivered to the faith to be able to process this information accurately. The question is, “How is the typical Christian able to profit from all this information?” To provide a starting point, we will provide some suggestions in the next post.

Grace and peace, David

The Rich Young Ruler (Part Four)

Luke 18:18-30

Seeing that he became sad, Jesus said, “How hard it is for those who have wealth 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 person to enter the kingdom of God.” Those who heard this asked, “Then who can be saved?” He replied, “What is impossible with man is possible with God (18:24-27 CSB).

Jesus presented to all the necessity of God’s grace.

He illustrated how hard it is let go of an idol of the heart. The camel was the largest land animal of the area. The eye of a needle is a tiny opening. It is totally impossible for a large camel to pass through such a small opening! Jesus wanted everyone to understand that salvation is totally impossible through human effort, works, or merit. Since we are all so filled with pride in ourselves, we need to hear this over and over and over again. We cannot save ourselves!

Observe how Christ enlarged everyone’s understanding. To inherit eternal life or to have treasure in heaven is equivalent to entering the kingdom of God. The people of his time thought that riches were a sign of God’s favor. “If God loves anyone, he must love the rich! Look at all the wealth he gives them!” Jesus shocked everyone by declaring that riches are far from a sign of God’s favor and acceptance. In fact, it is impossible for the rich man idolizing and trusting in his riches to be saved. Certainly, people of God’s Word ought to know this. Psalm 73 wrestles through the problem of why the righteous suffer, while the wicked live affluently. King Ahab (among many others) had wealth, but he was far from God and an oppressor.

Those listening were stunned, and they ask, “Who then can be saved?” Notice that they understood that being saved was equivalent to entering the kingdom of God or having treasure in heaven or inheriting eternal life. They all mean the same thing. Consider what Jesus said to Nicodemus. Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again” (John 3:3 NIV). As Jesus went on to teach, this is the action of the Holy Spirit, far beyond human power.

Jesus taught the total necessity of God’s saving grace. It is impossible for a rich ruler or any other person to do anything to earn eternal life. No one can save himself or herself! Is there any hope for anyone? The good news is that what is impossible for all people everywhere is very possible for God. At this point Jesus does not explain to the crowd how God saves people. He merely points them to God. People must become God-focused in their thoughts and ideas. Jesus decided to drive this one point home with great emphasis. In the next section, we see that he took the Twelve aside to explain God’s way of salvation in more detail. That way is through the cross of Jesus Christ.

Do you realize your complete need of God, if you are to have any hope at all of salvation? Christ’s offer of eternal life is clear. “Come, follow me.” Why not change your mind about whatever has a hold on you and cry out to God through Christ, relying totally on him to give you eternal life and treasure in heaven? Your hope is not found in you at all. It is found in Christ alone.

Grace and peace, David

The Rich Young Ruler (Part Three)

Luke 18:18-30

When Jesus heard this, he told him, “You still lack one thing: Sell all you have and distribute it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” After he heard this, he became extremely sad, because he was very rich (18:22-23 CSB).

Jesus exposed the young man’s need in the above verses. Plainly the ruler didn’t think of himself as a needy person. He was rich and a leader of the people. What did he need?

  • The young man needed to recognize the hold that worldly riches had on him. But first we must clarify. Giving all you possess to the poor is not the way to eternal life. God gave wealth to many people recorded into the Bible, like Abraham, David, and he never required them to give it all away. As Romans 4:6-8 clearly states people like Abraham and David, whether rich or poor, are not made right with God by good works but by grace. Listen to the remarkable statement of Romans 4:5. However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness (NIV). Notice that God graciously justifies the ungodly, not the religious who try to be godly by their good works.
  • The rich ruler needed to understand that his riches could not buy eternal life. He could give them all away and have treasure in heaven. But is the rich man really interested in eternal life or heaven, as Jesus enlarges the topic? Does he feel the need to “hedge his bets”, keeping his wealth just in case? Or does he really desire heavenly pleasures above earthly ones? Jesus is opening up to the rich ruler that he really has an idol in his heart, and that idol is his wealth. He cannot worship his idol and love it, while claiming that he wants eternal life in heaven with God.

Don’t get too hard on the rich ruler! What idol has such a hold on you that you prefer the temporary pleasures it can provide above eternal treasure in heaven? Don’t settle for too little, like most people do.

The young man needed to recognize his need of the Lord Jesus Christ.

  • Christ was the man’s greatest need. If he would follow Christ, changing his mind about the value of his possessions and his religious works, and instead trust everything to Christ, the rich ruler would receive eternal life! What he said he wanted was right in front of him! The “Good Teacher” was fully able to give him eternal life! The rich young ruler needed to change his mind and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ and so receive the free gift of eternal life?

Christ’s offer stands good today. Trust everything you have and hope to be to Jesus Christ and follow him. The rich young ruler was about to play “Final Jeopardy” with Jesus. The answer is “Come, follow me.” Will the ruler understand that Christ is the answer to the question, “How can I have eternal life?”

  • But the rich ruler would not accept Christ’s offer. Luke tells us that he became very sad (18:23). Matthew and Mark tell us that he went away sad. Sadness filled everyone’s eyes at that moment, including the eyes of the Savior, who loved the rich young man (Mark 10:21). There is always sadness when people prefer earthly riches above eternal treasure.

Are you walking sadly away from the Savior right now? Do you prefer the mud pies of earthly wealth above eternal treasures? Find the true riches by personal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Grace and peace, David

The Rich Young Ruler (Part Two)

Luke 18:18-30

A ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “Why do you call me good?” Jesus asked him. “No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: Do not commit adultery; do not murder; do not steal; do not bear false witness; honor your father and mother.” “I have kept all these from my youth,” he said (18:18-21 CSB).

Jesus challenged the ruler’s understanding of the law covenant (18:20). We must see that Jesus answered the rich man’s question. He had asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” In answer, Jesus directed him to the law covenant, which promised life to those who obeyed the commands of the law. You shall therefore keep my statutes and my rules; if a person does them, he shall live by them: I am the Lord (Leviticus 18:5 ESV).

There is only one person who ever fully kept the law covenant given at Sinai, and he is Jesus, who was talking to the rich man. Since he kept the law covenant, it could not condemn him. That is why Jesus was able to give his life as an atoning sacrifice for those who could not keep the law covenant. He was the pure and spotless Lamb of God. We were redeemed with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect (1 Peter 1:19 NIV). Let us understand clearly that the problem was not with the law. It had a good promise, a promise of life. But the problem is with all people everywhere. We are all sinners, and no sinner keeps God’s law perfectly.  We do not obey God and his laws. For example, do we love our neighbors as ourselves? Think of how evasive we all get on that one, as seen in the question of the law expert to Jesus (Luke 10:25-29). There is no law that can give a right standing before God to those who break it. Therefore, we need another way to be saved, and that way is through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:21-22). So then, Jesus answer was intended to bring the young man to the end of his self effort.

The Lord Jesus selected a short list of commands to present to the rich man. Why Jesus chose these and not others is a matter of speculation. The Bible simply does not say. Moreover, to speculate is to miss the point. If the rich young ruler had seriously examined himself in the light of God’s holy commandments to which Jesus referred him as well as to others in the Scriptures, he would not have given his answer. “I have kept all these from my youth” (18:21 CSB). The rich ruler was being superficial or perhaps evasive, like the woman at the well (John 4:16-17). The point that Jesus wanted him to grasp is that he could not save himself. He could not do what the law covenant demanded. Therefore, he needed another way to eternal life.

What is your opinion of your own religious efforts? Do you really think that you have kept all God’s commands since your childhood? The answer is not “mostly” or “I’ve tried in God’s viewpoint”. God doesn’t say that 99% obedience to the law is an excellent way to earn righteousness. It is all or nothing. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it (James 2:10 NIV). Have you seen your desperate need to have the Savior, Jesus Christ, save you?

Grace and peace, David

The Rich Young Ruler (Part One)

Luke 18:18-30

A ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “Why do you call me good?” Jesus asked him. “No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: Do not commit adultery; do not murder; do not steal; do not bear false witness; honor your father and mother.” “I have kept all these from my youth,” he said (18:18-21 CSB).

People tend to evaluate other people on the basis of worldly success: wealth, education, popularity, physical attractiveness, social standing, and likeability. The higher someone “scores” in these areas, the better person he or she must be! If we are honest, we will admit that we all do this to some degree. People judge by outward appearance (1 Samuel 16:7 NLT). On one level we must do this, since only God can see the inner person of the heart. We humans have to gather the best information we can, weigh everything by the Scriptures, and then make a right judgment (cf. John 7:24). However, people seldom bring the Scriptures into this process and evaluate each other my worldly methods. And people assume that God does the same thing. He looks at what we do, and if “the good outweighs the bad”, then we suppose he accepts us. This is a root of people trusting in works to save or to do religious things “to get God to like me”.

In this event from the life of Jesus, we read of a rich, young leader approaching Jesus with an important question. It is a question that people who believe in God or some kind of god and who understand somewhat of humanity’s problems ask. “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” God has placed a sense of eternity in human hearts (Ecclesiastes 3:11), but we see ruin and death around us, and we want to escape from it. We want eternal life—life that is really life without end and without suffering.

So we read that this very rich man, someone who had it all from a human standpoint, decided to go to Jesus with this very important question. Surely Jesus would know. Isn’t he a good man? He was constantly helping people wherever he went. And think of the wisdom that he spoke with! No one else had ever spoken so wisely. Yes, he had to know how to gain eternal life. So let us follow this rich young man, a leader among his people, to Jesus and learn along with him.

First we see that Jesus challenged the young man’s understanding (18:19-21). Jesus did not give quick, shallow answers to crucial questions. This is especially hard for people in our culture who expect instant gratification to accept. Jesus invested time in leading people to an accurate understanding of God and the way to eternal life. Sound answers require comprehension of the issue, and this requires time.

Jesus challenged his understanding of who Jesus is (18:19). The rich man called Jesus “Good teacher”. What did he mean by that? Was he just politely flattering? Or had he come to know who Jesus is? Compare his approach with the woman at the well (John 4:10).

Christ did not just jump on a trivial statement. The rich ruler lived in a religious subculture influenced by the Scriptures that held that only God is good, and no one called any rabbi or teacher “good”. That was an honor reserved for God. So Jesus is saying: You have called me “good”. Are you just flattering? Or do you really understand that I am the Son of God and can therefore be called “good”, because only God is good.

But there is something else here. By reminding the rich ruler that only God is good, he prepared the young man to evaluate himself in the light of God’s holiness. God is holy and his law is holy and the commandment is holy, righteous and good (Romans 7:12 NIV). Did he have an accurate understanding of the law covenant?

When someone claims to “be a good person” or to “keep the commandments” in a religious discussion, don’t be afraid to examine their understanding in a kind and wise way. Let us show discernment. A few religious sentiments and phrases do not mean that a person has a correct idea of God and the gospel.

Grace and peace, David