Luke 18:18-30 is Luke’s account of Jesus’ encounter with the rich young ruler. While reading it this morning, I observed a few things that I think are worth sharing:
This passage comes on the heels of Jesus explaining that “whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” (v.17) Then, in the very next verse, the rich ruler asks, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life? (v.18)” This is odd to me. It sounds almost as though the rich ruler completely ignored what Jesus said as though it doesn’t apply to him. Jesus says, “if you want to enter the Kingdom (receive eternal life), then receive it like a child.” and the ruler says, “what must I do?” Jesus just answered his question: receive the Kingdom like a child (with absolute dependency). But as we’ll see, this man is dependent on something other than God.
Jesus plays along with the man’s question and tells him that he must obey the commandments “Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.(v.20)” Notice that Jesus leaves out the commandments about honoring God above all, as well as the commandment to not covet. This is not an accident. This man honors something more that God, and it is connected to his covetous ways.
This is evident in the following verses:
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.
Jesus points out the man’s idol: his money. And the young ruler is unable to part with it. Luke 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.
“How difficult 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.”
We should tremble at this sentence because we are rich. Very, very rich. There’s been all this stuff on the news about Occupy Wall Street and their “we are the 99” campaign. The 99 being the bottom 99% percent of the money holders while the top one percent is running the show. But they are not seeing the bigger picture.
We are not the 99. We are the 5, as in, “if you make 25,000 dollars, you are in the top 5% of wage earners in the world.” Or we are the 1, as in, the top 1% of the world, if you make more than 50,000 dollars.
We are richer than any society in history. And we should tremble at Jesus’ words.
Do you know how hard it is for a camel to go through the eye of a needle?
We know it’s impossible because Jesus says so in verse 27. But He also says that God can do even the things that are impossible. Which means that He can and does save even the rich. But they do not enter heaven because of their wealth. They do not receive preferential treatment. They do not get the head seat at the banquet table or the throne to the right of Jesus. They enter heaven the same way everyone else does, by receiving the Kingdom of God with absolute dependency. By renouncing their worship of the idol of money and stuff and fame and power and turning in faith to receive the gift of salvation that God offers to all who believe in Jesus.
Rich people go to heaven, but only when they realize that no matter how much money they have, they are spiritually bankrupt and in need of God’s great and impossibly good mercy.