Sermon on Luke 18:18-27
Text: A certain ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
19 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good – except God alone. 20 You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.’”
21 “All these I have kept since I was a boy,” he said.
22 When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
23 When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was a man of great wealth. 24 Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! 25 Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
26 Those who heard this asked, “Who then can be saved?”
27 Jesus replied, “What is impossible with men is possible with God.”
As you read the Bible, in particular the New Testament, you find that there is one question that comes up in one form or another time and again. This fact shows a yearning to find an answer. Today, in many cases, it comes from the natural knowledge of God. It may come from an incomplete knowledge or a complete misunderstanding of what God’s Word teaches. This morning let us consider this often repeated and essential question: “WHAT MUST I DO TO INHERIT ETERNAL LIFE?” We will begin by looking at 1. The Law’s Startling Answer. Then, we will look at 2. The Gospel’s Amazing Answer.
Our text begins with a ruler asking Jesus the question under our consideration. It was obviously something that was burning inside of him, because the parallel account in Mark tells us that he ran up to Jesus and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
In answer, Jesus pointed the man back to the commandments. “You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.’” The man had asked what he had to do to inherit eternal life. He wanted to know what he had to do to earn his place in heaven. The answer is, quite simply, obey God’s law. If you do this, you will have earned your place in heaven.
When the ruler heard this, he replied, “All these I have kept since I was a boy.” When he looked at the list that Jesus had just given him, he felt that he had done everything that God demanded of him. He knew that he had not murdered anyone. Assuming he was married, he had not been unfaithful to his wife. He had not taken anything that did not belong to him. He told the truth. He was a good and faithful son. Even if there were some small faults, he had done better than average. He certainly was better than most of the people that he knew.
Can you hear yourself thinking similar things, at times? We look at God’s laws and think that we really have not done anything that bad. We pile up the good next to the bad and point out that the good pile is certainly larger than the bad. We are willing to admit that we are not perfect, but, then, who is? The Old Man in each of us likes to pat ourselves on the back and minimize the bad that we have done.
When the ruler said, “All these I have kept since I was a boy,” he was implying something. He had kept all of the externals, but he felt that there was something lacking. He wanted something more to do that would insure him of eternal life. There had to be something more to do so that he could feel confident of his place in heaven.
Jesus, being the Son of God, could look into the heart of this man and see what was really going on. So, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” What was Jesus saying here? Was he saying to this ruler that, if he did this, if he sold all that he had and gave the money to the poor, then he would have eternal life? Could he really do something to inherit eternal life? No. Rather, Jesus said this to show the ruler that he had not even kept the First Commandment, let alone the other nine. His money and his possessions were the most important thing to him. They had taken the place that is to be reserved for God alone. Jesus was using the law to point out this man’s complete inability to do anything to save himself.
Each of us has our own list of sins. In spite of the good that we do, we still sin against God. We still need his law to point them out to us. It is so easy for us to excuse them or minimize them. God does neither. He lets us know very clearly those things that we are to do and are not to do. For example, are there times when our possessions have taken God’s place in our lives? We are willing to do whatever it takes to get something from someone else. As a result, we take things when they are not looking. We swoop in and take what we want, regardless of whether or not someone else is hurt in the process. We slight God and his work so that we can get what we want. This is just the first commandment. How would we fare as we study the other nine? As Paul reminds us in Romans 3:20, “No one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.” The law cannot save us, for we have failed to be perfect in its observation. Again, as we read in Ezekiel 18:20, “The soul who sins is the one who will die.”
The law crushes the sinner. It had that effect on this ruler. We read, “When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was a man of great wealth.” He was not willing to give this up. If Jesus had asked him to do some spectacular thing, he would have been more than willing to do it. However, selling his possessions was more than he could bear.
As this ruler walked away, Jesus remarked, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” Please note that Jesus is not making an indictment on the wealthy. This is a blessing that comes from God. However, there are special temptations that seem to come when everything is going well. We tend to forget our complete dependence on God for everything. We think we can do quite well without him. Jesus uses a very clear picture to understand the inability for this to happen. He talks about a camel going through the eye of a needle. Impossible!
It was for that reason that the disciples exclaimed, “Who then can be saved?” ‘If this man, who is such an upstanding member of the community and also well off, cannot be saved, what chance do any of us have?’ In reply, Jesus said that it “is impossible with men.” There is no chance for you to save yourself. That is the Law’s startling answer to the question that the man asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Try ever so hard as you might. Be as good as you can be. It still will never be enough.
How thankful we are that Jesus said, “What is impossible with men is possible with God.” ‘No, you cannot save yourself, but God has done what is impossible for you to do. He has done everything necessary for you to inherit eternal life.’ In his love, the Father sent his Son into our world to take our place. The Son of God took on human flesh and blood so that he could be our Substitute. He did what was impossible for us to do. He kept his Father’s law perfectly. Where the ruler boasted that he had kept all of the laws of God since he was a boy, Jesus actually did so. Not only did he not murder, but his life was always full of love and compassion. He was perfectly obedient, not only to his parents, but also to all of those who were in authority.
Furthermore, he did what would have been impossible for us to do, when he went to the cross. We never could have fully paid for our sins. We would have spent our eternity in hell. However, when Jesus was on the cross, he paid the full penalty for our sins. We have been washed clean in the blood of Jesus. The forgiveness was announced unmistakably when Jesus rose from the dead. He told the world that, what was impossible for us to do, he has done it. Also, because it is impossible for us to come to believe in Jesus as our only hope of salvation, God stepped in and did the impossible. The Holy Spirit created that faith in us. Through the working of the Holy Spirit through the Gospel as it is proclaimed in his Word and given in the Sacraments, we have been saved. Now, at the end of time, we do not have to worry about our God condemning us to an eternity of punishment in hell. Instead, we will receive the inheritance that Jesus has won for us in heaven.
This is the Gospel’s amazing answer to the question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” The answer is, “Nothing. It has all been done for you. What you could not do, no matter how hard you tried, God has done it for you.” That answer gives us so much joy, because we know that we will be in heaven some day. That answer gives us so much confidence, because we never have to wonder if we are doing it correctly or if we are still need to do something. This answer gives us so much peace, because, when our consciences act up, we can say, ‘Yes, I know that I have sinned, but Jesus paid for that sin.’ This answer gives our lives a purpose, because now we want to live a life that thanks God for all that he has done so that we could be saved. Sometimes, we use the word “amazing” for things that really are not. However, the Gospel’s answer to this most important question truly is amazing. It takes our breath away and fills us with awe.
There really are only these two answers to this most important question. There is the Law’s startling answer that says you have to be perfect in order to be saved. There are no loopholes. There are no exceptions. You have to be perfect. We have to admit that we are far from perfect. Once we have come to grips with the stark answer from the Law, then we can truly appreciate the amazing answer that the Gospel gives. “What is impossible with men is possible with God.” We thank our God for making the impossible possible. We thank him for this amazing answer to this most important question. Amen.
St. John's & Zion Lutheran Churches ©2023 All rights reserved.