Bible Study from Calvary Chapel Newberg
with Tom Fuller
There are three things our culture admires more than anything else; three things that if we possess them, we have it made. What are those three elements to a happy and fulfilled life as envisioned by this culture? They are wealth, power, and physical well-being. Imagine those things as no longer essential and you see how vital they have become. No worry about wealth and many of our financial institutions would crumble along with a host of authors, TV and radio shows. It would also put out of business financial gurus who want you to pay them so you can get rich. If power was no longer a concern many of our political institutions would cease to exist along with laws and courts and many lawyers and judges would be out of a job. If physical appearance and prowess was no longer a goal we would not have much of the entertainment and physical fitness industry, putting out of business many highly paid Hollywood actors and actresses.
But the sad truth is that we humans pine after those things because we think that through them we will gain security, intimacy (or acceptance) and purpose.
Last time we saw the three ingredients to approaching God for eternal life: humility (knowing our sinful condition, the penalty for sin, and the mercy available if we approach God through the sacrifice of Jesus); trust in the security and provision of God with no holds barred; and the persistence to put all our hopes and dreams on God and not on this age.
Today we meet the opposite of that—a man so self-assured and exuding the three characteristics of success in this age that he cannot see reality for what it is. Then we hear Jesus speak about the penalty He must pay for our lack, and then finally we meet someone who, though physically blind, sees reality and comes to the Messiah.
18 – 23
First off, why do we call this man “the rich young ruler”? Here it just says “a ruler”. But at the end of this account we find out he was rich, and in Matthew’s gospel (Matthew 19:22) we find out that he is young.
So he’s got it all—wealth, youth, and power. But there appeared to be something missing in this young man’s life. Often times we think that the rich powerful and young feel completely fulfilled. In fact, that is not true. I remember reading the story of a young female movie star who was at the pinnacle of her career. She had it all, but was miserable. So this man realizes he needs something more. He wants affirmation of his righteous life and that this life will continue into eternity. At least he had eternity in view. Mortality is really our greatest fear and our greatest enemy. But many in this age just want to pretend death doesn’t exist.
This guy wanted a guarantee from Jesus—wanted his ticket stamped by a respected rabbi. So he asks Jesus what must he “do” to attain eternal life. But before Jesus even answers, He brings him around to the truth that it is not what you “do” to get eternal life, but if you are “good.” It’s interesting that Jesus asks the man “why do you call Me good … no one is good but One, God.” Jesus is exposing the truth contained in Psalm 14:
Psalm 14:1 (HCSB) There is no one who does good. All have turned away; all alike have become corrupt. There is no one who does good, not even one.
So here in Luke 18, Jesus is forcing this man to have a different outlook. Instead of getting his goodness from his deeds, Jesus wants him to recognize that there is a higher standard of goodness we must attain to, and that is God’s goodness. We are much more sinful than we would admit and God is much purer than we can imagine.
Isaiah 64:6 (HCSB) 6 All of us have become like something unclean, and all our righteous acts are like a polluted garment; all of us wither like a leaf, and our iniquities carry us away like the wind.
To make His point, Jesus then turns him to the Scriptures. He recites from the Ten Commandments (God’s standard of behavior designed to show how we fail His standard)—specifically the last five of them regarding our relationships with others. I find that interesting because He skips the first five Commandments regarding our relationship with God. When asked which commandment was the greatest, Jesus said it was Deuteronomy 6:5: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.” As it turns out, this man loved not God, but himself with everything he had. The man replied that he had the second set of commandments down, but without the first, you aren’t anywhere in terms of your ability to have eternal life. But Jesus is compassionate, and rather than blast this guy, He tries to gently bring him to a realization of his lack, starting with this strength. Jesus’ goal is not to shame, but to enlighten him to the fact that unless you are as good as God, you can’t have eternal life.
The man doesn’t see yet that he’s in love with himself and enslaved to his power, youth, and riches. Outwardly he appeared righteous so Jesus, as He often does, pinpoints that one thing that has kept him from eternal life: that is for God to be more important than his stuff.
So he asks the man to sell all his possessions, give to the poor, and follow Me. It wasn’t that by giving to the poor he would earn a place in heaven, but it would be a sign that he was giving up on the values of this age and clinging to the only One who is good. Another thing to point out is that just because you appear good, doesn’t mean you are good. This man had violated the first commandment, and that is enough. James 2:10 (HCSB) 10 For whoever keeps the entire law, yet fails in one point, is guilty of breaking it all.
The man, when he hears this became “extremely sad.” Matthew’s account tells us that he “went away grieving.” His possessions possessed him and were more important than a relationship with the Messiah. So how is it with you? Is there something in your life that is more important than your relationship with Jesus? One way to find out is to picture that thing being taken away suddenly. Would you despair of life? Nothing, and I mean nothing, should be more important than Jesus.
So Jesus now adds some commentary to what just happened.
24 – 30
Why is it hard for the rich to enter the kingdom of God? Because wealth gives us a false sense of security (fulfilling every physical need can inoculate us against feeling a more important need in our souls). It also gives us a false sense that we are blessed (God must be behind my success). Jesus uses the analogy of a camel going through the eye of a needle. Apparently that was a common euphemism in that day for something that was impossible.
Peter pipes up and says “if the rich can’t get in, who can?” Jesus replies that God can do it—but it comes only if the person is willing to put the Lord first. God must draw him and let him see his true lack.
So the boys reply to Jesus that they’ve essentially done what He asked of the rich young ruler. Jesus says that all they have given up will be more than returned to them here, ad in heaven. Leaving house, wives and families – by the way – means entering itinerant ministry, not abandoning your responsibilities. Notice that Jesus does not affirm the rich young ruler, but He does affirm the disciple’s decision to leave it all and follow Him. And He affirms us when we abandon that which holds onto us in this age and cling to Him.
Matthew 6:33 (HCSB) But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you.
31 – 34
This is the third time Jesus predicted His death. All through this section Jesus continues to set His sights on Jerusalem. He tells His disciples that what is going to happen is all lined out in the Scriptures. The idea of the “Son of Man” comes from Daniel 7:13. It was a name Jesus used of Himself. It is definitely a Messianic reference:
Daniel 7:13-14 (HCSB) I continued watching in the night visions, and I saw One like a son of man coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was escorted before Him. 14 He was given authority to rule, and glory, and a kingdom; so that those of every people, nation, and language should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and His kingdom is one that will not be destroyed.
But where in the Scriptures does it talk about the things Jesus says will happen to Him? Mainly in Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53. It is the part of the Messianic prophecies everyone missed. All they saw were things like Daniel 7: the ruling, glory and dominion parts. But first must come the humiliation, torture, suffering and death parts.
As with many things Jesus said, the boys just didn’t get it, until the resurrection. But next we see a man who really does get it, at least enough to know he’s found the answer.
39 – 43
Apparently Jesus crossed over the Jordan between Galilee and Samaria and now crosses back on His way to Jerusalem. He nears Jericho, an ancient city which we’ll talk about more next time.
As He draws near there is a blind man sitting by the road begging. There was no social safety net like today so the disabled could only beg to survive. He hears the crowd and asks what it’s about. They only tell him that Jesus the Nazarene is passing by. That in and of itself would be meaningless. Nazareth was an obscure village of no importance. But my guess is that his guy has heard about Jesus before and cries out not “Jesus of Nazareth have mercy” but “Jesus, Son of David have mercy.”
The man is calling out for mercy from the Messiah. How do we know that? The idea of the Messiah being the Son of David comes from a promise the Lord made to David:
2 Samuel 7:11-13 (HCSB) “‘The LORD declares to you: The LORD Himself will make a house for you. 12 When your time comes and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up after you your descendant, who will come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He will build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.
Upon hearing this, Jesus stops and asks that the man be escorted to His side. He asks him what he wants. The man could have answered that he wanted money, but admits his true need: sight. Jesus grants it and mentions his “faith” as being the reason.
I think that the faith here is that this man was putting his whole trust in Jesus. He had insight into Jesus that the disciples lacked, and I think there are important lessons for us to learn from this as well.
In conclusion I want to take us to the account of the blind man in Mark’s gospel, chapter 10, starting in verse 46. Now Matthew’s gospel says there were two men, Luke and Mark only one. I think the reason Luke says one is because of what we find in Mark’s gospel.
The man’s name was Bartimaeus. What I want to point out is the contrast between the rich young ruler and Bartimaeus because I don’t think it’s coincidence.
The rich young ruler had it all, but was missing a key ingredient—letting go of what held him in this age in favor of casting everything aside and clinging to Jesus. He thought he saw so clearly but was blind to the realities of his soul. Bartimaeus, on the other hand, had nothing in this age, no money, and not even physical sight. But he heard that Jesus was near, recognized who He was, cried out to Him for mercy, then when it came time for a decision, Mark’s gospel tells us that he “threw off his coat, jumped up, and came to Jesus” (Mark 10:50). Jesus not only healed him, but it says the man then followed Him down the road. So Bartimaeus cast aside his only possession and his only means of protection, in favor of going all in with Jesus. The rich young ruler held on to all that he felt brought him security and walked away from Jesus, his only means of a real security and eternal life.