Sermon: The Call for Idolaters to Release Their Idols (Luke 18:18-30)

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The Call For Idolaters to Release Their Idols

Luke 18:18-30

Introduction

Luke has last week’s passage and today’s in close connection.  Both are concerned with the Kingdom of God.  On one hand we saw an infant used as an example of one who would enter the Kingdom of God.  To enter, according to Jesus, means one comes to Him in complete dependence and trust like an infant trusts.

Three passages make up this discipleship section. In each case, figures provide examples. The Pharisee and tax collector contrast pride and humility. The blessing of the little children shows God’s openness to all. The rich man shows how difficult it is for the rich to turn to God, while the disciples are the positive example of giving everything over to service for God. In each case, what is commended is putting everything into the Father’s care. Such simple, humble faith is what God desires.[1]

What changes must we make in our lives in order to entrust everything to the Father’s care?  What are the things we must remove from our midst that we trust in instead of Christ?

I wanted to start this week’s sermon by thinking through those things because Jesus shows us in our text today what one man needed to give up in order to enter the Kingdom of God.  We’ll see he had rival affections.  He desired eternal life but his grip on this life was too great and he could not let go.  He wanted the riches of this world and eternal life in the world to come.  He wanted fame and fortune now and eternal life later.

Mankind’s biggest battle is the battle against the sin of self-exaltation.   When left to ourselves we struggle to be like God.  Satan knew this was the deepest desire as He approached Adam and Eve.  You will be like God, was his words of enticement.

We seek to be like God as we seek to manipulate circumstances to our advantage.  Only God can control the future but we try so very hard to do it ourselves.  Rather than trusting God with child like faith, we store up idols.  We can make those idols do what we want them to do when we want them to do it.  Our biggest idol is money.  We acquire it and pat our selves on the back for a job well done.  We choose to either spend it on things that we think will bring us happiness and fulfillment but they never do.  Or we save it and our bank accounts become what we trust rather than God.  The more we have, the better we feel and the more we want.  Money becomes like a drug that requires a bigger dosage each time to get the same high.

While we seek to exalt ourselves Jesus commands us to loose ourselves.  Over and over in Luke’s Gospel He has told us that, Whoever exalts himself will be humbled but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

What is it in your life that gives you comfort?  What is it that tempts you to find security in it rather than in God alone?  What is the idol of your heart?  Perhaps it’s money?  Perhaps it’s a person?  But whatever it is, allow this passage of the Rich Young Ruler to be God’s wake up call to you that if there is anything that is keeping you from complete trust and devotion to Christ, it must be removed from your life.  As Jesus said last week, without child like trust in God alone, no one will enter the Kingdom of God.

Luke 18:18-30

18 And a ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

19 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.

20 You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.'”

21 And he said, “All these I have kept from my youth.”

22 When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”

23 But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich.

24 Jesus, seeing that he had become sad, said, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!

25 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.”

26 Those who heard it said, “Then who can be saved?”

27 But he said, “What is impossible with men is possible with God.”

28 And Peter said, “See, we have left our homes and followed you.”

29 And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God,

30 who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.”

1. Two Important Questions (Luke 18:18-19)

            A. Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?

With this question, it is clear that this man has been trusting not in God but in himself and his works in order to inherit eternal life.  What must I do, he asks.  It’s also evident that he has been doing a lot.  He’s been living by most of the Ten Commandments, at least the five of the six dealing with one’s responsibilities concerning others.  When it came to the horizontal commands he was doing pretty well.  This was a man whom everyone liked and saw morality within him.  He didn’t cheat others, he didn’t murder, he didn’t cheat on his wife, etc.

I want us to understand that in this man’s concern for eternal life, he knew that no matter how much he worked in maintaining the commands, he still came up short when it comes to eternal life.  There was a nagging truth in his heart that he still lacked something.  That’s why he came to Jesus to enquire about this very thing.  What must I do, in addition to all I’ve already done, to inherit eternal life?

B. Why do you call Me good?

19 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.

In ancient days, only God was called good.  No rabbi, Pharisee or any other man was ever called good.  This rich young ruler is connecting Jesus with deity, at least in word and address.

Notice Jesus’ response.  His response has baffled some commentators but I don’t think it’s as difficult as many seem to think.  Some say that here is an example of Jesus denying His deity.  But if that were the case then it would go against the rest of the Bible.

He’s not denying His deity. He’s not saying…Don’t call Me good because it belongs only to God and I’m not God. That’s not what He’s saying. What He’s saying is very clear. He affirmed His deity particularly, of course, all through His life and ministry, especially as unfolded by the gospel of John. He affirmed His deity again and again. What He is saying is, “Why do you call Me good when you know that no one is good except God alone, unless you intend by calling Me good to connect Me with God?” That’s what He’s saying. I’m going to have to force you to the implications of your address, is what He’s saying. You call Me good? Rabbis aren’t called good, yet you call Me good. Are you saying I’m from God? Are you prepared to say that I am from God? This is the implication of what you have just said. And if you come acknowledging that I am from God and you truly believe that, then you will be, I’m sure won’t you, very eager to do whatever I tell you? Fair enough? Is the…is not that a reasonable implication if I’m God? Why are you asking Me this information about eternal life and calling Me God…or calling Me good if you don’t see that I’m connected to God?[2]

But we will soon see that his address was in word only.  If he truly believed Jesus was God, or at least came from God then he would do what Jesus tells him.  So, is he really looking for the answers concerning eternal life?  It seems that he is looking for answers that sound good to him.  He’s looking for agreeable answers.

We must be careful that we don’t filter the Bible through our lens of what we think is acceptable.  There are many things in God’s Word that are difficult to apply to our lives.  We must never require the Scriptures to meet with our approval.  God’s Word is the authority not our perceptions.

If you call Me good then you are saying I’m God and why would you call Me good and not do what I say?

We would affirm all day long the fact of Jesus’ deity.  But do we affirm the fact of Jesus’ deity by doing what He tells us to do?

2. One Important Fact (Luke 18:20-22)

20 You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.'”

21 And he said, “All these I have kept from my youth.”

22 When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”

I want to compare the Rich Young Ruler’s perception of himself with the reality of who he really was.  His perception was that he should be in good shape when it comes to a right standing with God.  He has, as far as he’s concerned, done everything God required.  However, the problem is this rich ruler is placing his confidence in himself rather than in Christ.  He was self-exalting in that he trusted in himself that he was righteous.

This should remind us of a recent passage we’ve read…

Luke 18:11-12

11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.

12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’

This Pharisee was also trusting in himself that all the things he had done would secure God’s favor.  Both these men made a very crucial mistake.  They thought righteousness was something they earned by doing good things and that based on their good works God would save them.

Jesus mentions five of the commands that have to do with our responsibilities concerning others.

5- Honor your father and mother

6- Do not murder

7- Do not commit Adultery

8- Do not steal

9- Do not lie

This man felt as if he had kept these since he was a child.  He felt pretty good about things.  Notice, though, which commands Jesus left out…

1- You shall have no other gods before Me

2- You shall not make a carved image

3- You shall not take the Lord’s name in vain

4- Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy

10- You shall not covet

Off these second five, he could not say,  “All these I have kept from my youth.”  He did have another god…he did worship idols…he was making vain claims concerning God…and he was coveting his money.

Jesus’ remedy to this man’s false god of money was to get rid of it and follow Him.

But to stop here is to miss the point. Jesus goes on to promise the man treasure in heaven if he will follow Jesus.  Notice that Jesus appeals to his desire to possess riches.  Our Lord understands all of us desire to possess riches.  However, we must not be tricked into thinking that earthly riches are the most valuable assets one can possess.  His words to this man are give away tin and pot metal in order to possess pure gold and silver.

The need to come to Jesus, to trust him, is not absent from the passage. It is merely defined by reference to the obstacle that stands between the man and God: his security in his wealth.

The man’s response says it all. He is very sad. The choice is a painful one, and he refuses to consider it. Grieved at the options, he chooses his wealth.

Security in current wealth or security in God with eternal wealth in the life to come…Luke explains that this man chose earthly wealth as his god.

3. Two Responses (Luke 18:23-25)

A. I Cannot Stop Worshipping My Wealth

23 But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich.

24 Jesus, seeing that he had become sad, said, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!

25 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.”

It is impossible for people to enter the Kingdom of God who love other things more.

Please don’t miss this point in verse 23…

He was very sad because he was extremely rich.  This is not what we hear today is it.  To be extremely rich is to be extremely happy.  To have it all is to be extremely joyful.  Big houses and fancy cars and designer clothes and dining at nice restaurants are what make people happy.  It makes no sense here that Luke would report that he was very sad because he was extremely rich.   Please see this, it was his wealth that made him sad.  He knew what he was doing.  He understood very clearly the choice he was making.  Rather than following Christ and having treasure in heaven, he chose earthly wealth as his god.

What is it about money (tin and pot metal) that captures our affections over pure gold God has for us?  We can say we’ve done something that gave us earthly wealth, heavenly wealth is given by God.  One, we get glory and the other God gets glory.

Lk 16:13 No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”       

It has always been understood that material wealth is a result of God’s blessing and poverty as a result of God’s disapproval or curse.  Beloved, this is not the case.

Wealth will ensnare our hearts every time.  It makes us prideful in acquiring it.  It gives us false assurance when we amass a large amount of it.  Or it causes us to trade God for stuff when we spend it.  Every part of being rich grabs hold of our heart and pulls us away from God.

You cannot be rich and be devoted completely to God.  It’s not just highly unlikely…it is impossible.  25 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.”

Jesus, here, makes the comparison.  The impossibility of a camel going through the eye of a needle shows the impossibility of a rich man entering into God’s Kingdom.  It’s not that it’s a struggle but it is impossible.  No one who finds security in wealth will enter God’s Kingdom.

B. Salvation is Impossible

26 Those who heard it said, “Then who can be saved?”

27 But he said, “What is impossible with men is possible with God.”

Those who were standing there listening, were shocked.  They quickly concluded that if this very moral and upright ruler lacked qualifications to enter the Kingdom of God, then who can enter?  Please understand that entering into the Kingdom of God is synonymous with being saved.  Who can be saved then?

There question goes past the Rich Young Ruler and asks can anyone, then be saved?  They know that all people have some level of idolatry.  All humans fail to only worship God.  Among all humanity, who could possibly be saved?

This true assessment of mankind by those listening moves us to the reality that there are none who can enter God’s Kingdom based on merits of some kind.

Many truly understood what He was getting at.  They saw the shortcomings of the Rich Young Ruler.  They agreed with Jesus that if that man could not be justified by works then who can possibly be saved?

Now Jesus lovingly explains the truth of salvation… What is impossible with men is possible with God.

It is not possible for a human to access salvation on his own.  Salvation is of the Lord.  Salvation comes only when God works to enable a godless proud self-exalting idolater to let go of his idol and grasp Christ.  This vital task is impossible with man.  However, with God all things are possible.

John 3:3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

We must understand salvation from the Bible.

All those who seek salvation on their own stand condemned.

Man wants to earn it himself.  He wants the credit and the glory.  This Rich Young Ruler and all his morality stood condemned by God.

With man salvation is impossible.  Man cannot to anything to acquire salvation.

Eph. 2:8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,

9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

4. Look What We’ve Done (Luke 18:28-29)

28 And Peter said, “See, we have left our homes and followed you.”

29 And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God,

30 who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.”

Peter says basically, Jesus, the very things you told this man to do, we’ve already done.   Jesus, we’ve sold all our possessions and gave to the poor and we are following You…

Understand another facet of the Kingdom of God.  Our eternal inheritance will be infinitely more valuable than anything we’ve sacrificed while on earth.

Jesus is reminding His followers that they will be reimbursed many times over for anything they’ve sacrificed while on earth and given eternal life.

The same is true for us.  Jesus will se to it that everything you sacrifice for Him will be given back many times over.  The difference here between the Bible and the health/wealth preachers of today is that they lie by saying it will be given in this life.  The problem is that they don’t get the reality here.  Jesus wants us to release our idols and cling to Him alone for salvation.

Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”

My question for us today is, how much do we resemble the Rich Young Ruler?  That is a question we must ask ourselves.  Do we rely on our efforts to gain a good standing with God?  Do we find the least little bit of security in our wealth?  If Jesus asked us to sell all we have, give it to the poor and follow Him, what would our answer be?  Would we leave sad because of our wealth?  I pray our answer is like the answer of a man we’ll look at in a few weeks…

Luke 19:1 He entered Jericho and was passing through.

2 And there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich.


[1] IVP Commentary on Luke by Darrell L. Bock

 

[2] Sermon on Luke by John MacArthur

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