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God of the Impossible

February 5, 2023

God of the Impossible

Passage: Luke 18:18-33
Service Type:


LUKE 18:15-30


Good morning, River City! It’s again my privilege to preach the word of God today. We once again return to the book of Luke, as we follow the life and ministry of Jesus. As Jesus gets closer and closer to Jerusalem, closer to his crucifixion, he has started really laying down some difficult teaching. The past couple of weeks, we’ve heard him saying some really tough things to the Pharisees, to his disciples, and to anyone who will listen. And today is no exception. 


So buckle up, and let’s dive on in. I’m going to start with a few verses we looked at last week, where people were bringing their little children to Jesus so he might touch them. “But when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them.” 


This just shows that the disciples still don’t understand exactly who Jesus is and what he’s about. In their minds, the Messiah is looking to build an army, not a day care. 


[16] Jesus, however, invited them: "Let the little children come to me, and don't stop them, because the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.


And here’s the verse that anchors where we’re headed today, so underline this in your Bible: [17] Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it." 


We talked briefly about this last week – Jesus is not saying childlike faith is one way to enter the kingdom – he’s saying it’s the only way. Obedient trust is how you enter the kingdom. Humility. Laying down the grab for power and control. The CSB uses the word infant, but in Greek that word refers to kids up to 2-3 years old – kind of like our nursery.  Kids are completely 100% dependent on their parents for safety, for knowledge, for food. They don’t apply for jobs. They don’t worry about tomorrow. They live in the present and depend on their parents. 


I was thinking about how best to illustrate this, and I found a video from when our kids were little. 


We have a short stairway in our home that’s fairly steep. When all the kids were 2-3-4 yrs old, I loved to have them stand as far up as they were comfortable, and jump down the stairs where I would catch them. Our son was pretty adventurous, so he loved to stand as high up on the stairs as possible. 


This is actually my brother catching the kids in this video, but we did this pretty often. Jackson would leap with a huge smile on his face knowing my promise to catch him was something he could count on. That’s a little bit what childlike faith looks like, right? That’s the kind of faith required to enter the kingdom of heaven. Not that you have to have an adventurous personality to follow Jesus, but the kind that is willing to let go of the familiar, and wholeheartedly trust him. 


In the middle of this scene as Jesus is talking about children, blessing them, probably healing some of them, someone walks up to ask a question:


[18] A ruler asked him, "Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?


Jesus wouldn’t have had to make a big deal out of being called a good teacher, but he did. He slides in a little remark here – [19] "Why do you call me good?" Jesus asked him. "No one is good except God alone


What is Jesus after with this response? Well, for one, it seems he is after this man’s definition of what is good. We live in a world where the ticket to heaven is just to be a good person. “Sure, I’m not perfect, but I try to be a good person.” 


Jesus knows where this conversation is headed, so right away he defines what being good is. When it comes to being good, God himself is the standard. So to say I’m a good person is to put yourself on level with God. Goodness isn’t about how you do compared to other people – God alone is good. That’s what the tax collector in verse 13 realized, and so he begged for mercy.


But the question is about inheriting eternal life. So Jesus continues: [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." 


I think it’s interesting that Jesus gives the ruler a few of the 10 commandments instead of John 3:16 “God loved the world in this way that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life”? I mean, isn’t that how a person is saved? Believing? Isn’t that what we have to do to receive Christ?


Just because grace comes through faith in Jesus doesn’t mean that God’s law is off the table. You can’t earn your way to heaven, but if your belief in Jesus never leads you to do righteous things because of him, well, even Satan believes Jesus is the Son of God who died for sinners. Faith is confirmed by action. 


Jesus gives this man 5 of the 10 commandments, all of which are about how we treat other people. Don’t take advantage of others for your own benefit is the basic gist of these 5. 


The man is like, yeah, yeah, yeah, I’ve done all those since I was a kid. So I should be good to go, then, right? Is that it? Am I good? 


Again, I think all the disciples and others around would be expecting Jesus to say, “You got it! Look how God has blessed you with your incredible wealth. You’re already in, my man. I mean, first of all you are a morally upstanding citizen. Secondly, you’re religious and concerned about eternal life and doing whatever it takes to get there. You’ve kept the law since you were a kid – Yeah of course you’re in! 


One author pointed out that this guy would easily be chosen for church leadership pretty much anywhere (Wiersbe, 249). But Jesus has a way of not being fazed by just what is on the outside. He can see things underneath the surface at a heart level that we have trouble seeing:


[22] When Jesus heard this, he told him, "You still lack one thing: Sell all you have and distribute it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."


When I was part of the hurricane relief team to Florida a few weeks ago, we were working with three families who did this. They sold everything – house, furniture, kids toys, everything. But instead of giving the money to the poor, they bought RVs and said, God point us to where you want us to go. For one of those families, they put it all on the line, got their camper, got their truck, and 3 days later, Hurricane Ian blew up Ft Myers Florida, and they said, that’s where we’re going first. 


Upon first glance here at Jesus' words, it looks like that's the ticket into heaven, right? If you have a boat, sell it. Give the money away. If you have three cars and only two drivers, get rid of one. If you have a house, sell it. Give the money away. Being rich is a bad thing – get rid of your wealth, and THEN you are in. Right? Isn’t that what it looks like? 


But Go back to our key verse 17. What is the only way to enter the kingdom of God? Like a little child. With childlike faith, right? 


Jesus is exposing this man’s heart: You’re lacking the one thing you really need to enter the kingdom. You have no childlike faith. That’s the very thing you need to get into the kingdom, and you have tried entering the kingdom another way. You’ve become fully dependent on your own righteousness, on your own provision, on your own wealth, and in the process you have skipped over the first commandment - to have no other gods besides Yahweh; no other allegiances that keep you from following him wholeheartedly. You’ve allowed other things to creep into first place in your life. 


All of that blessing God has given you isn’t just for you to stockpile. You’re a steward of it. If you’ve really been loving people since you were a kid, then what I’m asking shouldn’t be too difficult. Sell it all, hand it out to people who need it, and trust God to meet your needs. Commit to me. Join our crew. Follow me. Learn from me. Trust me. And with childlike faith, rely on me. 


[23] After he heard this, he became extremely sad, because he was very rich. 


Isn’t that crazy? Jesus tells the rich guy, give all your money away and rely on me, the poor traveling rabbi? I’ve got you, I’ll take care of you. Give up your home, your stuff, your 401k and trust me to provide for you. yeah, with what???


I mean, it would have made at least some sense if Jesus would have said, sell everything and bring the money to our mission. But this is Jesus’ invitation to you and me and everyone he calls to himself, including this ruler: 


“Abandon your life to me and my mission. I dare you to jump and trust me to catch you.” 


And at that, the man's heart sank. Sadness overcame him, because he had a lot to lose. Sell everything? No. Give it all away and get nothing in return? I don’t think so. Leave my home? My job? My family to follow you? No thanks.


Jumping off the stairs isn’t easy. Jumping means you have to let go of what is secure; let go of what is familiar; let go of what comes naturally, which is to rely on yourself, to rely on your own understanding of how things work. Relying on what feels safe and what you can control. It’s hard to do. And money is one of those things that gives us a feeling of security and safety, to the point where…


[24] Seeing that he became sad, Jesus said, "How hard 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." 


And I think sometimes we’ve heard this preached or talked about that you should be ashamed of your wealth because rich people have trouble getting into heaven. Don’t try to be wealthy, you’re just making things more difficult for yourself. You should be poor or just barely getting by if you want to follow Jesus. But I don’t think that’s Jesus’ mindset here. 


What makes it hard for wealthy people to enter the kingdom is that people who are rich often don’t even look for the kingdom. Those who have a lot of money are tempted to rely on themselves and their wealth, and they do not find it easy to throw themselves on the mercy of God. They can often meet their own needs quickly and affordably. There’s really no reason to call out to God for mercy – just write a check for whatever you need. That’s the deception of wealth, and Jesus’ point is that it’s so hard for someone who has wealth to see the narrow road that leads to eternal life. As tough as threading a camel through the eye of a needle.


The people near Jesus at the time would probably have been totally upended by his statement here, because they assumed wealth was God’s reward to those who were doing a great job of being righteous. Now here Jesus is saying it’s virtually impossible. They are like, wait, if rich people don’t get in, who does? 


[27] He replied, "What is impossible with man is possible with God."


In other words, it’s impossible to get into the kingdom unless God opens the door. It's pretty amazing when someone gives up their home, their furniture, their cars, their life, their money to move overseas, or move around the country in a motorhome helping people. It’s amazing when someone gives up the American dream retirement to lead a community group and stack chairs or pray with people. That’s pretty amazing, and I’m so thankful for those here in this church who have done some of those things. But those actions by themselves cannot punch your ticket into the kingdom. 


A person only enters the kingdom when God acts on our behalf. A person only enters the kingdom when God does what is impossible for any one of us to do on our own, which is to awaken a spiritually dead heart to see the beauty of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. You are no more able to do that for yourself than you are able to thread a camel through the eye of a needle. A person only enters the kingdom of heaven when the Holy Spirit convicts a person of their greed, convicts a person of their spiritual pride, convicts a person of their need for mercy, and opens their eyes to see and receive Jesus by faith!


The real miracle here is not that someone would give up their home to follow Jesus – the real miracle is when God breaks the grip that materialism has had on a person, breaks the grip that comfort has had on a person, breaks the grip that control has had on a person (Bock, 1487), and calls that same person into a life of childlike faith, believing that God will supply all my needs according to his riches in glory (Phil 4:19). 


The disciples are listening to all of this, and Peter wants to know in verse 28 – wait a second – we have done that. We did what you told that guy to do. We’ve left our homes, our jobs, our families to follow you… So, are we in the kingdom? Are we close to eternal life? 


[29] So he said to them, "Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left a house, wife or brothers or sisters, parents or children because of the kingdom of God, [30] who will not receive many times more at this time, and eternal life in the age to come."


Let verses 29 and 30 sink in for a second. This is Jesus’ promise to catch you when you jump. This is Jesus’ promise that if you trust him wholeheartedly, that he will not let you hit the floor. This is Jesus’ promise that if you abandon life on your terms in order to gain life on God’s terms, you will not be humiliated, you will not be hung out to dry, and you will never be ashamed of your decision. This is his promise to you. 


Those people we met in Florida were living out this promise in real time. One of the incredible things we got to see in Florida on the work trip was something called the rainbow board. The rainbow board was a white board in the staff office, where every morning the team would gather up to pray about their day, their needs, and make a plan for the workers. If they needed something, from tools to appliances to beds to whatever – if they needed anything, they would put it on the rainbow board and pray for it. They didn’t post fliers around town, they just sought the Lord for the things they needed. And when he answered the prayer, they crossed it off. 


One of the things they prayed for was mattresses. They were getting ready to host a group of 60 workers, so they made a bunch of bunk bed frames the week before we showed up, but didn’t have money to buy mattresses. So they put it on the board and prayed about it. Within a few hours they got a phone call, and it was a local person saying, “this is really random, but would your mission group have any use for 60 brand new mattresses?” Cross it off! 


When we were there, we were getting ready to do drywall, but didn’t have a lift to help do the ceilings. They had been praying about it for a while. It had been on the board for a long time. But they had never hung drywall on a ceiling yet. So it was okay, they didn’t really need one. Until we showed up. We had one house where we needed to work on the ceiling. 


That morning, we were standing by the trailer, drywall loaded, tools loaded, and no lift. The project manager said, well, God will provide the lift when we are ready for it. And off to the job we went. We started drywalling at 9:30, and around 11:00 a local connection showed up with a brand new drywall lift just in time for our team to use it on the ceilings. 


In a totally different arena, to ask someone for forgiveness is to trust the Lord will catch you. It’s much easier to hold onto sin and say, “well, this is between me and the Lord.” But when we’ve sinned against someone else, looking them up, seeking them out, and saying “I’ve sinned against you – Please forgive me…” They may not respond in grace or kindness to you, but Jesus’ promise to you is good here too. If you step out in faith, I will never leave you hanging. I will never humiliate you


I think this is what Jesus means when he says you are going to receive many times more than you left behind. It’s not just about gaining eternal life… It's about living a full and fulfilling life here and now, participating in the mission of Jesus, seeing prayers be answered, seeing the Holy Spirit move in power, and watching God do incredible things through you and in you and for you. 


But we’re not going to see them if we are relying on ourselves for everything. And I feel like I have to say this again: It’s not that being wealthy is evil. It’s that wealth isn’t meant to be hoarded… it’s meant to be used for the benefit of others. 


I think that’s why the apostle Paul writing in 1 Timothy 6 writes this: 17 Instruct those who are rich in the present age not to be arrogant or to set their hope on the uncertainty of wealth, but on God, who richly provides us with all things to enjoy. 18 Instruct them to do what is good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and willing to share, 19 storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of what is truly life. 


We’ll look a little more closely at this next week, but the reason disciples live lives of giving is because our leader, our teacher, our shepherd lived a life of giving. That’s the next set of verses: 31-33… Jesus himself is going to give everything. He’s going to give all he has for the sake of the kingdom, be handed over, mocked, insulted, spit on, flogged and killed. He’s going to have his physical body tortured for sins he never committed, and drink the wrath of God so that we wouldn’t have to. He would rise again on the third day, proving that the cross worked, our sins (past, present and future) are forgiven, including the sin of greed, the sin of materialism, the sin of self-reliance, the sin of loving our money too much… His blood covers even those. 


So if you are a disciple of Jesus, and the Holy Spirit is convicting you of any of those things right now, let me encourage you with the good news today – You can call out to your heavenly Father for mercy, but you don’t need to hang your head in shame about your past. Your sins have been drowned in the blood of Jesus, and they have been removed from you as far as the East is from the West. The charges against you and the shame those charges bring have been nailed to the cross, Colossians 2:14 says, and you are free to go. 


If you are here today and you have never put your faith in Jesus, I ask you to consider doing that today. Right now would be a good time. But don’t do it without considering what it means. Jesus doesn’t call his disciples to a life of safety and comfort. He calls us to abandon life on our terms for life on his terms. 


So, River City. Let me leave you again with Paul's words to Timothy: Do not let your wealth make you arrogant and self-reliant. Set your hope on God who richly provides all things. Be rich in good works. Be generous and willing to share. Store up treasure in heaven so that when your life is over or the Lord returns, you can take hold of what is truly life. 


Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996)


Darrell L. Bock, Luke: 9:51–24:53, vol. 2, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1996)


Leon Morris, Luke: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 3, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988)