Today, we get to read about a tragedy. Strictly speaking (in, the classical Greek drama sense), a tragedy involves a fall from glory, because of a fatal flaw.
When Jesus is approached by the Ruler in Luke 18.18-30, the man (Matthew’s gospel says he’s young) is about to crash and burn. Only, the Ruler doesn’t know it.
Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life? The Ruler asks (:18, ESV). Right away, we note some problems: the Ruler thinks that salvation results from something he will DO. The Ruler assumes that salvation is his entitlement. The Ruler presumes that he knows what GOOD is.
Jesus’ answer deflects the question: Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone (:19). Jesus isn’t denying His own goodness. He just wants the Ruler to think about what He is saying. And, Jesus wants the Ruler to think about knowing God’s goodness. Knowing God’s goodness will recognize that God Himself is the final standard of good, and that all God is and does is worthy of approval. (See Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology, 197-199, for a good summary here.) More, doing good will be the desire for everyone who knows God.
Jesus continues: You know the commandments … And then Jesus lists commandments 7,6,8,9 and 5, from the 10 Commandments of Exodus 20. Why? These are commandments dealing with human relations. If the Ruler understands God’s goodness, he will especially want to keep these!
All these I have kept from my youth! the Ruler declares with enthusiasm (:21).
One thing you still lack, Jesus responds, Sell all that yo have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me (:22). In other words, give up every claim you have to righteousness. Let me be enough for you, and you will know God’s goodness. Then, I will teach you to obey the commandments from the heart. Then, I will teach you to love people.
At this, … the Ruler becomes sad, for he was extremely rich (:23). Jesus has found the Ruler’s fatal flaw. Jesus has found something the Ruler wants more than God’s goodness. Jesus has learned that He is not enough for the Ruler. Jesus has learned that the Ruler doesn’t really love people after all, but only himself …
At this point, I must ask myself, What is it the I wouldn’t give up for Jesus? Tough one, isn’t it? Maybe, it’s a thing, a person, a lifestyle, an experience, an entitlement, a possibility.
Is Jesus enough for me, so that I know the goodness of God?
The account could end here, but Jesus, as He so often does, turns to the disciples and won’t let the thing drop, until they’ve learned. How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! (:24). He then gives a visual picture of a camel trying to go through the eye of a needle. It’s not a hard image, but a slapstick one. The biggest thing can’t go through the smallest thing. Doesn’t work materially, and it won’t work spiritually. The disciples are perplexed, probably because they assume the wealthy were blessed by God; and, if not them, who will be blessed?
What is impossible with man is possible with God, Jesus concludes (:27). And, once again, the account could end here. In fact, I have to believe there was an awkward silence at this point. Then, dear old Peter asks what everyone else is thinking.
See, we have left our homes and followed you (:28).
This is one of those amazing places where Jesus takes my life situation and His plan for the ages, and then He draws them all together in one statement:
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 eternal life (:30).
Some things to notice here:
- Jesus is not talking about leaving things, but people. “House” here doesn’t mean four walls and a chimney, it means “household”—wife, brothers, parents, and children. And, for His immediate followers, as well as us, following Jesus COULD mean you lose your people. Maybe, they don’t think you’re cool anymore. Or, they turn on you and kick you out.
- Second, Jesus’ promise of blessing follows the NOW, but NOT YET scheme of the Kingdom. It includes eternal life, that we associate with Jesus’ second coming and the resurrection. But, His blessing also includes knowing God’s goodness IN THIS LIFE, … in this time.
I believe this is an oblique (not straightforward) reference to the church. Jesus has always been about gathering up people for Himself. He’d told Peter, Don’t be afraid; from now on you will be catching men (5.10). He’d told His disciples, My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God an do it (8.21). And, we’ll see early believers in Acts 5 who do just what the Ruler won’t. They’ll sell their possessions and distribute their goods among poor, but joyous, followers of Jesus.
When Jesus is enough for you, God puts you together with others in the church, so that you have a new family. That’s the goodness of God that we see today in places like Woodland when, together, we recognize that Jesus is enough.
- Jesus promises to MULTIPLY what we’ve given up for Him in this life. That’s the many times more language. The rest of the New Testament talks about how this works. And, I think it works this way: when I understand that God’s goodness is found in Jesus, my attitudes toward everything else that ISN’T Jesus is transformed.
BEFORE I trust in Jesus, my bank account (to use the example of this passage) could be my fatal flaw. But, when Jesus is enough, my money becomes a means for caring for my new family in Jesus. BEFORE I trust in Jesus, my set of friends could be my fatal flaw. But, when Jesus is enough, I find out I have family everywhere.
In In His Image Jen Wilken writes: “Possessing the good and perfect gift of Christ, we can count all generosity as affordable loss. God gives good things to us generously, risking no loss in doing so. We, too, should give good things to others generously, recognizing that we, too, risk no loss in doing so. We can be generous with our possessions, our talents, and our time on behalf of others because we see these good gifts as a means to bring glory to their Giver instead of to us” (51).
We know God’s goodness, when Jesus is enough.
Here’s some questions to consider with others:
- What are some “fatal flaws” that keep people from following Jesus and knowing God’s goodness?
- If you’re following Jesus, what fatal flaw did God touch in your life to get you there? (What desires of your heart did you have to repent of?)
- How have you seen God restore “in this time” what you gave up to follow Him?
- How has God transformed (or, how is He transforming) the desires of your heart as you learn that Jesus is enough.
- Is Jesus always enough for you? How do you feel about this statement?