Bible Study from Calvary Chapel Newberg

with Tom Fuller

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Three Ingredients for Approaching God

Luke 18:1-17

Have you ever found a really great recipe? Now, I’m a guy, and I know expertise in the kitchen isn’t necessarily expected to be my strong suit – and it’s not. But I’ve spent years trying to find the best way to fix corn on the cob. I used to shuck it, boil it in water, and drown it in butter and that special salt. Then I learned how to wrap it in wet paper towels, and microwave it. Then you can actually shoot the corn out of the silks. But finally, finally—I’ve found the best way to prepare it. You shuck it, coat it with butter, and then put in on a medium heat on the barbeque. You turn it every couple of minutes and it’s done in 10-12 minutes. Boy is it good and confirms what I’ve known all along: everything tastes better barbequed.

So when it comes to salvation, there is a good recipe as well—three ingredients that are essential for your eternal well-being. We find the recipe in Luke 18, verses 1 through 17 in two parables and an encounter Jesus has with a vulnerable population.

The recipe has three parts: start with a generous portion of humility, add in a measure of trust, and then place in a baking dish of persistence. Let’s start with persistence.

1 – 8 Persistence

We’re following an account of Jesus telling how at some point He is going to return physically to the earth to make everything right—He will reward those who trust in Him and punish those that hate Him. He told His disciples that when they suffered in this age they would “long to see one of the days of the Son of Man. 

When we see unrighteousness celebrated and righteousness made fun of and even persecuted, we too long for Jesus to come and set up His kingdom of goodness. But as we wait for Him to come, we cry out to God for justice. It can be very discouraging when it seems He does not answer in the way or timing that we want. 

So Jesus tells this story of a judge who is not religious and so powerful that he is not under the sway of any man. A widow comes to him—powerless against someone who wants to do her harm. Her only recourse is to ask for justice from this judge. He’s not interested in helping her and basically tries to ignore her, perhaps waiting for her to offer him a bribe. But she probably had no means to offer that bribe. All she had was her voice, which she used over and over to appeal to this guy. For no other reason than he was sick of seeing her in his courtroom, he grants her request.

So then we have Jesus’ application. There are two things that involve us, and two that involve God in this transaction. First, God grants justice—He makes things right according to His values, and secondly He does it “swiftly”. This isn’t a timing issue, but a process issue. When God answers, it is fast and complete. Revelation 8:5 gives us a picture of the prayers of the saints as incense rising from a bowl. In Revelation 6:10 the saints who had been martyred cried out for justice. They were given white robes (righteousness from Jesus) and told to wait until, basically, everyone who was going to receive Jesus had, then judgment and justice would come. Hebrews 11 tells that even the giants of the faith “did not receive what was promised”. Petition God and know that He will answer and provide justice but also know it is His timing that is perfect, not ours.

So back in Luke, notice who gets God to listen and respond: it is “His elect”. What does that mean? Well, theologians have argued about this for hundreds of years. “Elected” means you get to have a relationship with God. Some argue it is all about human decision, some that it is entirely God’s decision. I would argue that both are right. God makes decisions (and His are more important) but we also have free will and God is a Gentleman and does not like robots so He will not force anyone into heaven against their will. For the sake of this story, I think God’s elect simply means those that are in relationship with Him. But you don’t get it automatically just by being born a human:

Isaiah 59:1-2 (KJV) 1 Behold, the LORD'S hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear: 2 But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear.

Wipe away sin and you open up God’s ears. That happens through a relationship with Jesus Christ.

Secondly Jesus says that His people “cry out to Him day and night.” Paul said “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess 5:17). Persistence in prayer is important. Just because you don’t get an answer the first time, don’t stop praying! 

But I want to introduce another thought here too from back in Hebrews 11.

Hebrews 11:6 (KJV) 6 But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him. 

So part of coming to God is that we press into Him. Our salvation doesn’t depend on achieving some measure of faith—remember from 17:5 and following—it is the presence of faith and trust, not the amount. We must, like the widow, believe that the answer lies only with God and that He will reward us with justice and salvation if we seek Him with all of our hearts.

So why does Jesus say “when the Son of Man comes, will He find that faith on earth?” Because the kind of faith this woman had was that she was all in. She had nowhere else to turn. No one else could do what she needed. That’s how we should be when we approach God. Sadly, our world is becoming more self-sufficient every day. People think they have many other options for security, intimacy and purpose than finding it in a relationship with God. They have everything they need in themselves. At least they think they do. And that’s the focus of the next parable. 

9 – 14 Humility 

This is really the perfect picture of the two types of people. One says “I can come boldly before God. I’m good because I’m not like that other guy and I’m deserve blessing from God because of my obedience.” The other guy says: “I have nothing good in me that allows me to draw close to God, but in fact deserve His wrath. Yet I come seeking His mercy.”

Now when the Pharisees heard this situation before the application they would said “yes and amen. That’s the way it is.” But Jesus turns the tables on them saying it was the “evil” tax collector who was justified before God because he 1) acknowledged his sin, 2) knew the penalty for it but 3) came to God for His mercy anyway. That’s the very definition of humility and the heart of the gospel: 

Romans 3:23-24 (HCSB) 23 For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. 24 They are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.

Add to that: Romans 6:23 (HCSB) 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

And you have the gospel. Humility is knowing ourselves, how we compare with God, and placing ourselves under His authority. And that idea of trusting God instead of ourselves leads us to the third ingredient.

15 – 17 Trust

It wasn’t too uncommon for babies to be brought to a rabbi for blessing but apparently Jesus’ disciples thought He had more important things to do. Kids were thought of as property in those days, and not given much importance. Jesus uses the opportunity to make a very important point: childlike trust is a key ingredient for obtaining entrance into the Kingdom of God. 

Kids depend on their caregivers for security and nurturing. And they do so without ulterior motives. There is an openness and a trust that we need to emulate as we approach God as well.

Notice something else here as well. Jesus said: “whoever does not welcome the kingdom of God like a little child…” The word “welcome” can also be translated “receive” or “accept”. Jesus had just said to the Pharisees “the kingdom of God is among you” meaning that Jesus is the kingdom of God. In a sense Jesus here could be saying “you need to trust in Me, welcome Me, accept Me as the Messiah or you’re never going to be able to enter into God’s kingdom because you have to come through Me.” They, of course, did not welcome Him like a little child but were skeptical and angry, arrogant and jealous.

Conclusions

So in conclusion let’s look back at the three statements Jesus makes at the end of each section:

Luke 18:8 “…when the Son of Man comes, will He find that faith on earth?”

Luke 18:14 “…the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” And

Luke 18:17 “Whoever does not welcome the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”

These seem to be the key phrases: persistent faith, true humility, and complete trust. These are what is needed to enter into eternal life through Jesus Christ.

I want you to also notice something important. The focus in all three of these stories and accounts is on their society’s weakest, least respected or valued: a widow, a tax collector, and a child. One of the great truths here is that we need to realize our real weakness and inability to approach God on our own merit. Our society might see that as weakness, but that’s just the point. Where we are weak, God is strong (2 Cor 12:10). It’s about what He’s done, not what we have done or earned. 

If you want to be a part of God’s kingdom, then you need to have: 

  • Faith that so depends on God that if He fails, we will fail. We have no Plan B,
  • Humility that acknowledges our lack but His provision and
  • Trust that places ourselves completely and securely in God’s hands to provide justification, forgiveness, security and provision.

What about us who already know Him? I think this is a good opportunity for us to think about the state of our faith. Do we have so much trust in God that if He fails us we will fail? Many times we slowly but surely take over and have many Plan B’s. 

Do we start thinking of ourselves as pretty holy and just a little better than our brother or sister or that “heathen”? Romans 12:3 (HCSB) 3 For by the grace given to me, I tell everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he should think. Instead, think sensibly, as God has distributed a measure of faith to each one.

Have an accurate self-reflection and realize your goodness and ability to act like God comes from Him, not you!

 And finally, how secure are you in His hands? Do you rely on Him for security and provision or do you slowly take back control? These are good reminders that faith is not once attained and then forgotten but refreshed each and every day! 

Next time we’ll see the opposite—a man who felt God should lay down the red carpet for him—as a way of contrasting how we should approach God. 

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