2016-10-02 Luke 18:15-17 Getting "In" (5): What's Wrong With Good Intentions?
GETTING “IN” (5): WHAT’S WRONG WITH GOOD INTENTIONS? (Luke 18:18-23) October 2, 2016 Read Lu 18:18-23 – A man was pulling a small boy out of a hole in a frozen river. He asked, “How did you come to fall in?” The boy replied, “I didn’t come to fall in. I came to skate.” Illustrating that good intentions do not keep disaster from striking. Supposedly it was St. Bernard of Clairvaux who said, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” That’s our theme for today. Jesus just said, “17 Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” Luke follows with a man who looked like a cinch to get in. But he did not. Luke calls him a rich ruler. Matt 19:20 adds that he was young (24-40). He asks, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” A lawyer had the same question in Luke 10:25. That man was trying to trap Jesus. Not this one. He is absolutely genuine in his request. No tricks. He is well-intentioned in his desire to know how to get “in.” And he does a lot of things right. First, he sees his need. He’s good, but is he good enough? Second, he seeks help. Urgently. Heedless of reputation or dignity, Mark 10:17 tells us he “ran up and knelt before him.” He won’t miss this opportunity. And third, he’s come to the right place -- to Jesus. Further, Jesus loved him (Mrk 10:21). Now, Jesus loved everyone including enemies. But Mark indicates Jesus had a particular fondness for this man. No one ever had a better opportunity than him. He’s sincere; he’s well-intentioned and he is right where he needs to be. Yet in one of the saddest conclusions in the Bible, he goes away empty -- as lost in leaving as he was when he came. How could that happen? With all of his good intentions, how could he still be on the road to hell? Luke shows 3 things good intentions couldn’t overcome. I. He Got Jesus Wrong (Thought he was good, not God) This is the most tragic mistake of all. You see, Folks, you can’t get Jesus wrong and still get to heaven. You just can’t. If he had gotten Jesus right, he never would have walked away, but he got it wrong. He didn’t miss by much. He was oh, so close. V. 18: “And a ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “Good teacher” - just a complimentary greeting to us. But not then. In all of Jewish religious literature there is no record of any rabbi being called “Good teacher” It just wasn’t done. Why? The rabbis often said, “There is nothing good but the law.” That 1 doesn’t mean there weren’t people who thought they were good enough. All the Pharisees did. But to outright call someone “good” was to give reverence that was extraordinary. This man had Jesus on a very high pedestal. He was good himself, but thought Jesus better yet and he wanted what Jesus had. He no doubt thought Jesus was the best and greatest man he had ever known. But he was thinking only in moral terms, so Jesus tries to bring him that last step. 19 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” Fascinating statement. Many have misunderstood Jesus’, thinking He is declaring His own sinfulness. But that cannot be. II Cor 5:21 assures us that Jesus “knew no sin.” And Heb 4:15 declares He “in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” To be the lamb of God demanded perfection. Jesus isn’t declaring himself sinful. Just the opposite. In declaring, “No one is good except God alone,” he is trying to get his man to consider the ramifications of what he has said when he called Jesus “good.” If Jesus is good in the ultimate sense, then Jesus is God. That’s where Jesus wants this man to go. It is where he must go if he is to inherit eternal life. Tragically he never quite gets there. He doesn’t see the implications of his own statement. Jesus is also inviting Him to consider the fact that He has much too low a view of goodness. We use the term “good” in a relative way. Some people are relatively better than others. But it’s a fatal mistake not to realize our “goodness” will ultimately be judged not by run-of-the-mill human morality. The ultimate standard is God’s goodness, and that is a fearsome prospect. Heb 12:29 informs us “our God is a consuming fire.” This man is about to declare himself good. But compared to the consuming goodness of God, he, like all of us, is condemned without hope. That’s what Jesus is trying to get him to see. But the main issue here is who is Jesus? By his question Jesus is urging him: “Think, man! If I am good, and if only God is good, then who am I, and what am I doing? Think!” But in the end, it is to no avail. He continues to see Jesus as good, but not as God. Seeing Jesus as the best man who ever lived isn’t good enough. Failure to bow to Jesus as God is fatal. If you don’t know who Jesus is, you’ll never understand why He came. This man saw Jesus at the top of the morality ladder. He thought Jesus was there to teach him to be good. He was wrong. Jesus was there to save him because he wasn’t good. He’d have known that if he had seen Him for who He was – God in the flesh. In President Reagan’s farewell address to the nation as he left office in 1989, he told the true story from the early 1980’s at the height of the boat people – people fleeing for their lives from Indochina in any little water craft they 2 could find. The carrier Midway was patrolling the South China Sea when an observant sailor spotted a leaky, little boat on the horizon crammed with refugees hoping to get to America somehow. The Midway sent a launch to bring them to the safety of the ship. As the refugees made their way through the choppy ocean, one spied the sailor standing on deck. He stood up and called out to him, “Hello, American sailor. Hello, freedom man!” That’s Jesus to every sinner. He’s the freedom God/man. He did not come to burden us with further rules; He came to free us from the sin that separates us from God. He’s not a moralist; He’s a Savior. This young man never got that and it made all the difference. You can’t tell me if understood he was face-toface with God in the flesh that he wouldn’t have done anything to obey. He’d have sold it all in a flash. But he got Jesus wrong, and walked away. II. He Got the Question Wrong (Asked what he could do, not what Christ could do) “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” It’s the wrong question. It assumes eternal life is a matter of doing something. It’s the wrong question! Better he had asked, “How can I get eternal life?” But he asked, “What must I do?” So Jesus, like usual, went along with his assumption. “You want to do? Okay. 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.’ How’s that going for you? Are you keeping the law?” And the guy was ready for that question! Probably hoped for it. 21 And he said, “All these I have kept from my youth. I have my act together, Jesus. I have never violated even one of those.” Impressive! Some fault him as a hypocrite, saying no one is that perfect. But I think he really meant it. He had done all of these – outwardly! But he had a tolerant view of sin. He was looking outside, forgetting “God looks on the heart.” Jesus could have argued that point! But He doesn’t go there. He just says, “Okay. Let’s assume you really have kept all of these commandments. But you still feel lost. You’ve asked what further you must do to be saved by doing. So let me tell you. “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. See, there’s one last commandment relating to people. Thou shalt not covet. Here’s your test on that one. Sell all you have and give it to the poor. If you want to be saved by doing, that’s next on the list.” Dead silence! There was no argument. No disagreement. No theological discussion. Just dead silence. “23 But when he heard these things, he became 3 very sad, for he was extremely rich.” You want to be saved by doing – then do. Jesus knew he couldn’t do it. He knew he couldn’t do it – and that’s exactly where Jesus wanted him to be. “You want to be saved by doing something. So do this. I know you can’t and you know you can’t. So confess it. Throw yourself on God’s mercy. It’s not what you can do for God; it’s what He is going to do for you thru Me. You’ve asked the wrong question. It’s not what you can do for Me. It’s what I can do for you.” That’s what Jesus was trying to get him to see. But He never got that. He still wanted to do something. And when he couldn’t do what was required, he went away heartbroken – but not repentant. So close – yet so far. Philip DeCourcy told of his pastor in NI who knew a young sailor who had been at sea for the first time for many months. He missed family desperately. So on the day they arrived he couldn’t wait for the ship to dock. When it got close enough, he jumped toward the dock. But just as he leaped an outgoing wave moved the ship and his jump was short. He grabbed the dock, but just then an incoming wave pushed the huge ship against him and he was crushed between ship and dock. When they told his mother she began to weep softly: “So near, and yet so far.” That’s the rich young ruler. So near yet so far. Right place, right person, right message – yet he turned away from grace. This is where moralism always leads. Anyone trying to be good enough for God is doomed. It can’t be done. The gospel is good news, not good works. Someone asked Martin Luther what we contribute to our salvation. Luther replied, “Sin and resistance! Sin and resistance!” All the goodness we could ever muster amounts in the end to nothing but sin and resistance. This man was so close, but in the end, he resisted the grace of God in favor of what he could do and went away more lost than when he came. III. He Got the Answer Wrong (Followed his idol, not Christ) 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.” Before we look at this, let me ask you, what would you do if Jesus asked you to do this? Your answer is a gigantic clue to whether you are really a Christian or not. A professor or a true possessor of eternal life. What is Jesus doing here? Is poverty the one thing this man lacks? Is that what would give him eternal life? Don’t think so. Money, in and of itself does not keep people from Christ. Abraham was rich but saved. David was rich, but a man after God’s own heart. Joseph of Arimathea was wealthy, but a disciple. 4 Ananias was free to do what he wanted with his money; problem was, he lied. Zacchaeus voluntarily gave half of his goods to the poor, and Jesus said, “Today salvation has come to this house” (Lu 19:9). Jesus does not routinely tell people “Get rid of all your money.” So why with this young man? It was a test -- a hard test, but a revealing test. This man’s problem is not his money; it was his love of money. Jesus knew that. And he desperately wanted this young man to see that. It wasn’t his money, it was his love of money that was the problem. Money was what he lived for. It was what made life worthwhile. It was what gave him value. It’s what he worshipped. All of what means – money was his idol. He was trying to have Jesus and money, too. Two gods for the price of one, and it won’t do. It never has and never will. Remember how the Israelites used to hang onto Jehovah, but they also worshipped Baal? Elijah forced a great contest – see which God can bring fire down from heaven. Which God can really save. It’s all there in I Kings 18. The prophets of Baal tried everything– prayed, cried, cut themselves but no fire! Elijah mocked from the sideline. “Louder, guys! Maybe he’s sleeping, or maybe he’s watching television. Maybe he’s gone to the bathroom. Louder.” But there was no fire until Elijah prayed a simple 2-verse prayer and fire fell on a water-soaked altar and consumed it. And Elijah said, “How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” “You gotta choose, Folks. You can’t have it both ways. Is it Baal or is it God?” Jesus said the same thing in Mt 6:24 “No one 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.” “There can only be one Top Dog in your life. Is it God, or is it Baal? Is it money, or is it Me? You can’t have it both ways. You can’t hang on to Me with one hand and money, with the other. I won’t go there. No idols!” Jesus is bringing this man face-toface with reality we must all face sooner or later. Is it Baal or is it God? Is it your idol, or is it Jesus? Look how Jesus urges him, “Give up your idol ‘and come, follow me.’” Please – choose me. But faced with this eternity-altering decision, Mark 10:22 gives the tragic outcome: “22 Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.” He went away. Of course everyone always wants to know, would Jesus have really made him sell everything? You know what? It doesn’t matter. He had to be willing and he was not. Jesus’ test showed his real heart, and he had an idol. He wasn’t as good as he thought. In fact he wasn’t good at all. Claiming he kept the law 5 perfectly he was not only in violation of the last commandment, “You shall not covet,” he was in violation of the very first commandment: “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exod 20:3). He loved money more than God. Thus he got the answer wrong. He followed his idol instead of Jesus. And, as always, his idol destroyed him. Idols look so good – whether it’s a relationship, money, ambition, achievement, miracles – if it comes before God it always destroys. This guy completely short-changed himself. You say, “Well, he did get to enjoy his money for a few years.” Right. Far as we know, he did. But is that what you want? Look what he missed. Jesus never asks us to follow Him for nothing. Look what’s hidden right in the middle of v. 22: “Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.” This guy would have had to give up a fortune here – but in return he’d have gotten treasure in heaven forever. Remember – this was a real person. Perhaps he enjoyed his wealth for the next 40 years. But think on this – he’s now been 2,000 years and counting outside the presence of God, with nothing. He gave up forever to get now. He got the answer wrong, Beloved. Conc – So, do you have good intentions this morning? Great. But the road to hell is paved with good intentions. The question is, do you have Jesus? Let me close with a modern version of his story. Derek Thomas is a pastor who met a girl while they were going to a university together. She became attracted to the lives and witness of some Christians on campus, began to investigate the claims of Christ and eventually made a profession of faith. Good intentions abounded. She saw her need, sought help, came to Christ, accepted Him as God and prayed to accept Him. Then she went home for break. Her family was appalled by her decision. They argued most of the time she was home. As a last resort, her father pulled her aside and said, “Honey, you’re about to graduate. You put aside all this fanatic religious stuff and I’ll buy you a house.” Wow! What would you do? She took the house. She traded treasure in heaven for a house. Did she lose her salvation? No – she never had it. So close, yet so far. All her father’s offer did was reveal the idol that had always been there. And Jesus doesn’t do double occupancy, Beloved. Let me urge you, forget good intentions – get Jesus. Let’s pray. 6