The Lord’s Day Morning
April 10, 2011
“The Poor Man (Who Thought He Was
The Reverend Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to turn with me to Luke chapter 18 as we
continue to make our way through the gospel of Luke together.
And as you’re turning there, I want you to see a couple of things that
will help you understand the context of this passage.
First, there is a question that is asked at the outset of this passage by
a man who is called a ruler. That
ruler does not refer to a civil ruler.
This is not a civil judge or a governor of some sorts; this is a
religious ruler. It means he’s
either a member of the Sanhedrin or perhaps he is the leader of a local
synagogue, but he is someone that his contemporaries, and perhaps even the
fathers in the faith that he is around, have a great deal of confidence in.
They view him as an upright, moral person, as a person who is spiritually
minded, a worshiper of God, someone who is an example to others of piety.
And that is the person who approaches Jesus and asks a question.
The second thing I want you to notice is the question that he asks.
In Luke 18 verse 18, the question that is asked is, “What must I do to
inherit eternal life?” Now that is
not the first time that question has been asked in the gospel of Luke.
If you have your Bibles, turn back with me to Luke chapter 10 because in
Luke 10 verse 25, we are told that a certain lawyer — and that doesn’t refer
there to someone who is a practicing attorney, but someone who is an expert in
the Law of Moses. It’s very
important for the instruction of the people of God to have those who are experts
in what Moses taught about certain things.
And this is a person who is an expert in the Law.
And he comes to Jesus, and you’ll notice in Luke 10:25, he asks, “What
shall I do to inherit eternal life?”
So the question has been asked before in Luke and it’s actually a very good
question. But notice, and here’s
what I want you to see, that Jesus answers the lawyer in Luke 10 in a very
similar way to the way He answers the ruler in Luke 18.
He begins to tick off the commandments and ask if the lawyer has kept the
commandments. The lawyer says he has
kept the commandments and then Jesus tells him a story to illustrate a potential
area of blindness, a blind-spot in the lawyer’s understanding of himself.
He tells the story in Luke 10 of what?
The Good Samaritan. If you
flip back to Luke 18, in the wake of the lawyer’s answer to Jesus listing of the
commandments, Jesus has to explain something additionally to him about the
keeping of the commandments to raise to his awareness a blind-spot.
The third and last thing that I’d like you to see before we read the passage,
back in Luke 18, is to look back at the two stories we’ve just seen immediately
prior to this story so that you’ll understand that the question, “What must I do
to inherit eternal life?” is not a question that just comes out of the blue in a
vacuum. It is a part of a series of
things that have happened in Luke 18. First, look at the story of the Pharisee
and the publican or the Pharisee and the tax collector back up in verse 9.
Remember, they go into the temple, both of them pray, and Luke tells us
that after the tax collector prays, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner,” that
“that man,” verse 14, “went down to his house justified” — that is declared
right with God — and Luke has already used that word.
And it means, in Luke, a declaration of something about someone.
One time it’s used for God in Luke and here it’s used for this sinner.
So the question of justification is also linked, if you look down a few
verses, to the story that we looked at in verses 15 to 17.
Jesus is speaking of the question of who may receive or enter into the
kingdom of God. You see this in
verses 16 and 17. And there, we’re
told that only those who are like a child may enter into or receive the kingdom
of God, or come into Jesus’ kingdom.
So the question of justification is linked to the question of who may be in
Jesus’ kingdom, which is linked to this question in verse 18, “What shall I do
to inherit eternal life?” Those
three statements are tied together.
They elaborate one another; they tell you something about the meaning, the
significance of that question. The
question is about, “How does a person stand accepted before God?”
“How can I be declared right with God?” is
the way the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector puts it.
“Who is able to enter into the kingdom?”
Those who are like a child, is the way it is described in the story of
Jesus’ encounter with the little children and infants.
And here, in terms of “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?
Who can receive the privilege of dwelling with God in the age to come and
receiving His blessings and being one of those who receives the inheritance that
He has promised to Abraham?” They’re
stated different ways but they’re getting at the same reality — how a person
stands accepted with God. If you’ll
bear those in mind, it will help you as we read this passage together.
But the most important thing we need is God the Holy Spirit to open our eyes.
So let’s pray and ask His help and blessing and then we’ll read the
Lord, this is Your Word and we know that our own blindness can keep us from
seeing things that are as plain as the noses on our faces.
By the grace of Your Holy Spirit, Lord, don’t let that happen as we read
this passage today. Open our eyes,
not only that we would see wonderful things in Your Word, but that we would see
ourselves and our sin, and most important of all that we would see our Savior.
We ask this is Jesus’ name.
This is the Word of God. Hear it:
“And a ruler asked
Him, ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’
And Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call Me good?
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.’’ And
he said, ‘All these I have kept from my youth.’
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.’ But when he heard these things, he
became very sad, for he was extremely rich.
Jesus, looking at him with sadness, said, ‘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.’
Those who heard it said, ‘Then who can be saved?’
But He said, ‘What is impossible with men is possible with God.’
And Peter said, ‘See, we have left our homes and followed You.’
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, who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come
Amen, and thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired, and inerrant Word.
May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
What do you think could keep you from God?
What do you think could keep you from eternal life?
What love, what preoccupation could possibly cause you to forfeit that
most precious of possessions? Jesus
is talking about that issue here today.
He is talking about idolatry because idolatry can keep you from eternal
life. Treasuring something more than
God in this world, more than Christ in this world, more than the Gospel, more
than grace — loving something more than God can lead your soul to shipwreck.
And Jesus, in His wisdom and in His kindness, confronts a young man, a
man who was reckoned to be morally upright and very godly, unusually pious by
his contemporaries, was adjudged by Jesus in this passage to be idolatrous.
His idolatry was wealth, money, property.
Ahh, we’re safe. This passage
doesn’t have anything to say to us, does it?
You know, there are probably not many people in this room, if any at all,
who don’t have more than this rich young man had, even though he’s reckoned
extremely rich here. No, this word
isn’t just a rebuke to hypocritical Jews in the first century.
It’s a word for us and it’s a Gospel word and it’s a word that diagnoses
our hearts and tells us very important things that we need to know about
fellowshipping with God forever. And
so I want to draw your attention to a few things that Jesus says in this
And the first that I want you to see is that Jesus is, in this passage, zeroing
in on this man’s own self-evaluation.
This man considers himself to be a good person, a godly person, a pious
man. And Jesus wants this man to be
aware of his own self-evaluation and what is says about his relationship to God.
And notice how this happened from the very beginning.
In verse 18, this young ruler says to Jesus, “Good Teacher, I have an
important question that I want to ask You.”
Now his address to Jesus, his salutation to Jesus as “Good Teacher” is a
kind, respectful thing for him to do.
It’s his way of saying, “Jesus, I respect You.
I think You’re the kind of person who deserves to be asked a serious
question like this. You’re the kind
of person I trust to ask a serious question like this, and more than that,
You’re the kind of person who I really care what Your answer is to this
question.” Apparently, the spirit of
this man asking this question is different from the spirit of the lawyer who
asked this question in Luke 10.
We’re told in Luke 10:29, you remember, that the lawyer went on to ask another
question in order to test Jesus.
Clearly, he saw himself as superior to Jesus and therefore his question was
something of a test, whereas this man seems to be genuinely respectful towards
Jesus. He calls Him, “Good Teacher.”
But notice what Jesus immediately says to him.
“Why do you call Me, good? No
one is good except God.” Now why
would Jesus respond to a respectful greeting with such a blunt, confrontational
kind of response? Why would He say
that back to the young man? Well
it’s going to be very clear because after He says “no one is good except God,”
the next thing that Jesus does is He says, “You know the commandments.
Have you kept them?” And He
picks off several of the commandments. And the man’s immediate response is, “Oh,
yes. I’ve kept all the
commandments.” Now play the
conversation back. He’s come to
Jesus and he’s said, “Good Teacher, I want to ask You a question.
How do I inherit eternal life?”
And Jesus has then said, “There is no one good.
Have you kept the commandments?”
And in response to the inquiry as to his keeping of the commandments, his
response has been, “I’m good.” Did
you follow it? “Good Teacher, no one
is good except God.” “Have you kept
the commandments?” “Yes, I have.
I’m good!” What has Jesus
just drawn up out of the man? He’s shown
us and him his evaluation of himself.
He’s a good person; he’s a commandment keeper; he’s the kind of person
who’s worthy to inherit eternal life.
This is a man who is confident in his own moral character to cause him to
stand before God in the last day and to inherit the promises given to Abraham in
the age to come.
Immediately — and this is the second thing I want you to see — immediately Jesus
begins to explode that self-evaluation and He does it with a simple test.
It’s a hard test. It’s a very
hard test. It’s a hard test
especially for this man but it’s a hard test for many.
In fact, that’s why Paul spent so much of his time in 1 Timothy 6, the
passage that you heard Derek read today, speaking about how dangerous wealth can
be. It can be something that we
love, inordinate. It can be
something that we find our satisfaction in. It can be something that tempts us
to trust in ourselves and in something other than God and to love something else
more than or other than God. Paul
goes on and on in 1 Timothy 6 about these warnings, but Jesus now begins to
explode this man’s self-evaluation and He does it with a simple test.
Notice what He says — verse 22.
“One thing you still lack.
Sell everything that you have and give it to the poor.
Then, you will have treasure in heaven
and come, follow Me.”
Now is Jesus saying, “Yes, you’ve kept the commandments but if you want to
inherit eternal life, what you have to do in this life is keep all the
commandments and then give away everything that you have to the poor and become
My disciple”? Is Jesus saying that
the way to inherit eternal life is keeping all of the commandments and then in
addition to that, giving away everything that you have?
If He is, there have not been many, if any, Christians in the last two
thousand years. That’s not what
Jesus is saying. What is Jesus doing
here? Jesus does not accept this
man’s assertion that he has kept the commandments.
What He does is, He asks him to do something.
He asks him to do something very hard.
He asks him to do something that God has asked Christians to do from time
to time over the last two thousand years.
But He asks him to do it not because doing that thing is the way that you
inherit eternal life; He asks him to do it because the thing that He is going to
ask him to do reveals something about his heart.
You see, this young man has just said, “I’m good.
I’m a commandment keeper.
I’ve kept the commandments.” And
then Jesus says, “Okay, let’s try out the first couple of three commandments
then: You shall have no other gods
before Me. You shall not worship
them or serve them. You shall not
make an idol.” And He says, “You
worship God? You love Him more than
anything? Okay, give away everything
that you have and worship God. Give
away all your money, all your property; give it to the poor and worship God.”
What is Jesus’ point?
He is showing this young man that he is not a commandment keeper.
He is showing this young man that in his heart he is an idolater.
He worships his money. He
worships his property. He worships
his stuff. And he cannot inherit
eternal life when he’s worshiping something else other than God.
And so He has just exploded His self-evaluation with a simple test.
Now when He does this, this absolutely baffles His disciples who cry out, “Oh
Jesus, if this man can’t be saved, who can be saved?”
And it’s very interesting.
Jesus’ response is, “Oh it’s simple.
It’s simple. Anybody can be saved.”
But Jesus’ response is, “It’s impossible.
It’s impossible for us to do enough to inherit eternal life.
It’s impossible for us to be good enough to inherit eternal life.”
Jesus says, “Only God can make that possible.”
You know how this conversation should have gone?
It should have gone:
“Good Teacher, I have
a very important question I want to ask You.
It’s a question I think about all the time.
It’s question I’m burdened to have answered.
How may I inherit eternal life?
What must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“Why do you call Me
good? Only God is good.”
Teacher. You’re right.
Only God is good.”
“Well, have you kept
the commandments? You know, don’t
murder, don’t steal, don’t commit adultery, don’t bear false witness, honor your
father and mother.”
“Oh Teacher, no, I
haven’t kept those commandments.
I’ve tried. There have been many
people around me who say that I’m an upstanding man and I’ve tried to be a godly
man but I know that I’ve broken every one of those commandments.
If that’s the way that I’m to be saved, if that’s the way that I’m to
inherit eternal life, I’m lost! Help
me, please! What can I do?”
That’s how that conversation should have gone, but this man, he worships money.
He looked like the most godly guy around, but in his heart, he worships
money. Do you notice how Jesus
diagnoses his heart just like He diagnosed the lawyer’s heart in Luke 10?
Interestingly there, the last commandment that Jesus lists is, “Love your
neighbor as yourself.” Immediately,
the lawyer in Luke 10 says, “Yeah, but who is your neighbor?”
What has Jesus done? He has
diagnosed that man with a shriveled heart. That man is trying to figure out who
he doesn’t have to treat like his neighbor.
He’s diagnosed a shriveled heart.
He’s done the same thing here.
This man, on the outside, looks godly and pious and upstanding and moral
— the real deal. The kind of guy
that you would want to be an elder.
The kind of guy that you would want to be leading in your synagogue or in your
church. But Jesus said, “You’re an
idolater.” But the man doesn’t
respond by saying, “Okay, I see it.
I see it. You’re right.”
He’s saddened because he loves his money.
And what has Paul just said to us in 1 Timothy 6? “The love of money is
the root of all kinds of evil.” And
in this case, it’s the root of something that’s going to plunge a man’s soul
And the response is remarkable because Jesus says, in verse 24 in Luke 18 — and
this is a unique statement. Jesus
looks right back and him and we’re told that “with sadness” He says to him, “How
difficult it is for those with wealth to enter the kingdom of God.”
Why? Because when you have a
lot it is easy to trust what you have more than you trust God and to love what
you have more than what God can give you.
It tricks you into the incorrect evaluation of things.
And Jesus says how difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter
into the kingdom of God. It’s easier
for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter
the kingdom of God. And He’s not
talking about a small gate in the city of Jerusalem; He’s talking about the eye
of a needle. He saying it’s
impossible, it’s impossible apart from God’s grace.
Why? Because that person is
holding onto an idol and that person wants the kingdom of God, but as Jesus has
already said — Matthew, remember?
Sermon the Mount — “You cannot serve God and mammon.”
You can’t do it. It’s not
possible. You can’t do it.
This young man is worshiping stuff; he’s worshiping money; he’s
worshiping property. He can’t
inherit eternal life that way. How
can you? It’s impossible with man.
It’s impossible. It’s only
possible by God.
You see, this passage is all about the Gospel.
It’s impossible for anyone to be good enough, to do enough, to inherit
eternal life. It’s impossible for us
to free ourselves from our idolatry.
Only God can make that possible.
Only He can set our hearts free.
Only He can show us our idolatry.
Only He can wake us up to them. Only
He can change us so that our desires are for Him rather than for our idol.
And He saves us not through what we do, not through our being good
enough, but through the gift of His Son, Jesus, the Messiah.
If you trust Him, if you receive Him, His promise, eternal life, you will
also receive as God’s gift.
But here’s another thing I want you to see in this passage.
Jesus declares that He is worth any sacrifice.
And this is an amazing thing because here you see how skillful of a
surgeon of the soul Jesus was.
Here’s a man in the grip of idolatry, he loves his stuff and he can’t let go of
that, and not being able to let go of that is going to plunge his soul into
destruction. And so Jesus,
responding to a statement from Peter — and can’t you see Peter in this setting?
He cannot wait to say something.
And so he blurts out, “Well, Lord, we left our homes and our jobs and
followed You! We’re not like that
rich young ruler! We left our homes,
we left our jobs, we followed You!”
And Peter — Jesus is so kind to Peter.
He says, “Peter, I know that.
I know that. I know you did that.
But I want you to know this Peter.
You have not given up the equal of what I am giving to you.
You cannot give up the equal of what I am and what I will give you.
You will not be able to out give up what I am going to give to you.
You won’t be able to do it.”
He declares here, you see, that nothing can be given up for Him that is equal to
what He gives to us.
Listen to His words. “There is no one who has left house or wife or brother or
parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God who will not receive many
times more in this time and in the age to come, eternal life.”
Do you see what this surgeon of souls is doing?
He’s saying, “Here’s this young man and he’s holding onto stuff and that
stuff is going to plunge him into destruction. Why is he holding onto that
stuff? Because he thinks that giving
up that will end up leaving him unfulfilled, unsatisfied.
He thinks that giving that up will leave him with less than he will have
when he’s given eternal life.” And
here’s what Jesus says right into that situation. “It is impossible for you to
give up more than I am going to give you.
It’s impossible. You can’t do
it. So that thing that you’re
hanging onto that’s going to plunge you into destruction…I can give you more!”
I’ve told you the story of my friend, Douglas McMillan, who is a great pastor
and preacher and evangelist and professor in Scotland for many years at the end
of the 1900’s — 1980’s, 1990’s.
Before Douglas became a Christian – even though he grew up in a Christian home
he was not a Christian. He had
fallen under the influence of communism in the days of his high school and he
was an agnostic and he was living the good life — wine, women, and song.
And a pastor confronted him with the Gospel and he wrestled with that
pastor’s presentation of the Gospel for a long time.
And one day the pastor sat down with him and he said, “Douglas, I know
what you’re struggling with. You’re
afraid of what you’re going to have to give up in order to become a Christian.”
And he was right. Douglas
liked going to the bars. He liked
being with women. He liked hanging
out with his pagan buddies. He liked living the good life and he did not want to
give that up. And his pastor said to
him, “Douglas, in this hand I’ll give you everything that you think you’re going
to have to give up to come to Jesus Christ.
And in this hand I’ll give you Christ.
Which is it going to be?” It
was a brilliant pastoral thing to do.
It was making him count the cost.
But the struggle is, you see, we think that when we give up whatever is
in that hand that Jesus is not going to be enough to fill up the other.
And Jesus is saying to Peter, “You’ve got to be kidding!”
I don’t know what it is that you’re struggling to give up today.
It may be money; it may be money.
Some of us are captured by money and we don’t even know we’re captured by
it. It may be money today.
But it may be a woman or a man or it may be a pill or a drug or alcohol
or it may be any of a million other things because there are as many idols in
this room as there are people sitting in it.
But this I can promise you on the authority if the Lord Jesus
Christ — there is nothing that you can give up for Him that He will not
replace a hundred fold with something better,
in this life and in the age to come.
That’s what Jesus is saying to Peter.
So if you’re standing there with the rich young man and you think, “I
just can’t let it go because this is where happiness is, this is where
satisfaction is, this is where joy is, this is where fulfillment is,” Jesus is
saying, “You let it go and I’ll fill you up with so much that you’ll overflow,
not just in the age to come, but starting right now.”
Douglas McMillan would give that testimony to you if he could today – that the
Lord gave him more joy, more grace than he could have possibly imagined, and
that’s the testimony of every believer.
That’s what’s before us today, my friends.
Are we going to worship our idol and never be fulfilled and destroy our
own souls, or are we going to receive the overflowing bounty of the Lord Jesus
Christ that we reject our own attempts to earn the kingdom and we trust in Him
who is the only one good enough to save us from our sin?
Our Lord and our God, we thank You for Your Word.
What better way to prepare us to come to the table of grace, the table of
mercy, the Father’s table, the table of the Son’s redemption.
Help us to do so, not clinging to the idols that will fail us and leave
us and disappoint us, but clinging to the only One who can really feed our
souls. We ask our prayers in Jesus’
The Lord bless you and keep you,
the Lord make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you, the Lord lift
up His countenance upon you and give you peace.
© 2019 First Presbyterian Church.
This transcribed message has been lightly edited and formatted for the Web site. No attempt has been made, however, to alter the basic extemporaneous delivery style, or to produce a grammatically accurate, publication-ready manuscript conforming to an established style template.
Should there be questions regarding grammar or theological content, the reader should presume any website error to be with the webmaster/transcriber/editor rather than with the original speaker. For full copyright, reproduction and permission information, please visit the First Presbyterian Church Copyright, Reproduction & Permission statement.