Sunday, February 03, 2013

Luke 18:18-43 - Rich Ruler, Blind Beggar: What faith looks like

Frank came from a very well-to-do family. His father was a very successful businessman in the textile industry. Frank himself  loved the good life as a teenager. He wore the latest clothes. He had rich friends. He spent a lot of time partying and doing things he didn’t have any business doing. But hey, you only live one, right? 

But all that was about to change. 

Frank’s father had him out as a salesman on the textile market when he met a panhandler asking for small change. Frank told him to move on, and he finished his transaction with a customer. But he could not get that panhandler off his mind. He walked away from his booth in the marketplace and ran after the panhandler.
When he found him, Frank gave the man everything he had in his pockets. His friends thought he was crazy, and they told him. When Frank got home that day, his father had already heard about it, and he scolded him in rage.

Frank decided to get some relief from his father and joined the military for a short stint, but after two years in, he came back home and returned to his carefree life. But the next year Frank got seriously ill, and he thought for the first time perhaps about dying, his own mortality, his life, and where he was headed in it. He gave up the partying and drinking and carousing again. Frank’s friends didn’t think much of his crisis. They asked him laughingly whether he was thinking of marrying, to which he answered, "yes, a fairer bride than any of you have ever seen." They thought he was losing it, but he didn’t. He spent a lot of time by himself, asking God for enlightenment. Though they disgusted him, by degrees Frank began volunteering at a home for terminally ill patients. They had a disgusting and communicable skin disease. 

One day in a little country church near the treatment center, he had a strange and powerful experience with the Lord. He felt God spoke to him, “Frank, Frank, go and repair My house which, as you can see, is falling into ruins." He took this to mean the little country church in which he was presently praying which was in disrepair, so he sold some cloth from his father's store to pay for some repairs.

His father was highly indignant with the direction his son was taking, throwing away a golden opportunity to take the hard work he had invested in building the family textile business and throwing it way on people who were terminally ill, who got into their position by questionable living, and who were going to die anyway. His father tried his best to change Frank’s mind, first with threats and then with beatings. Finally, his father took Frank to court, charging him with stealing from the business by giving away company proceeds.

In the midst of legal proceedings, Frank openly answered the charges by renouncing his father and his inheritance of the family textile business in a dramatic way. Before the court judge, Frank said that if his father wanted back everything he had stolen and given to the poor, if his textiles were so precious to him, then he could have everything back, and Frank disrobed in front of the court and walked out, leaving his father the textiles he treasured. 

The beggars on the street welcomed him, clothed him, and within a few years, Frank would form one of the greatest mission organizations to the poor the world has known, the Franciscan Order.

Today the passage before us is about making a decision. Francis of Assisi made the right decision. The rich young ruler did not. 

Key Truth: Luke wrote Luke 18:18-43 to teach people that true faith is complete reliance on Jesus’ provision, His power, and His person to obtain His Mercy.
Key Application: Today I want to show you what God’s Word says about what true faith looks like.
Key Verse: Luke 18:27
Pray and Read:  Luke 18:18-43

Contextual Notes:
Throughout his Gospel, Luke emphasizes the importance of walking in faith and avoiding unbelief. He has made it clear that every individual who meets Jesus Christ must make a decision about Him. Christ must be received or rejected. His claims must be believed or denied. When the Gospel shifts gears at Luke 9:51, Luke urges us to prioritize faith over unbelief (Luke 9:57-11:36) and warning us to trust the Lord rather than ourselves (Luke 11:37-12:59).
Christ then calls us to a Kingdom marked by grace (Luke 13:1-21), repentance (Luke 13:22-35), provision (Luke 14), and redemption of the lost (Luke 15). Luke warns us to prepare for His Return by responding to God’s Word in repentance (Luke 16), guarding against sin with obedience and thankfulness (Luke 17:1-19), waiting with faithful service (Luke 17:20-37), and persevering prayer (Luke 18:1-8). God always responds with mercy to a humble and simple reliance on Him (Luke 18:9-17).
In chapter 18, Luke, who has been talking about the importance of walking in faith and not in unbelief, shows us what true faith actually looks like. The necessity of complete reliance on God is emphasized in Jesus’ response to the little children (Luke 18:15-17), the response of the rich young ruler to Jesus (Luke 18:18-30), and most powerfully by Jesus Himself when He shares with His disciples His coming death and resurrection (Luke 18:31-34). Then in an example of His free mercies, Jesus turns aside to free a beggar from blindness (Luke 18:35-43).
Sermon Points:
1.   True faith is complete reliance on His Provision (Luke 18:18-23)
2.   True faith is complete reliance on His Power (Luke 18:24-30)
3.   True faith is complete reliance on His Person (Luke 18:31-34)
4.   True faith is complete reliance on His Mercy (Luke 18:35-43)

Exposition:   Note well,
Luke 18:18-43 happened in Jericho
a.   || Matt. 19:16-30; Mark 10:17-31. 
b.   As Jesus leaves the crowds that thronged Him, He is confronted near Jericho by a man of some material significance. The rich young ruler seeks salvation. First he is confused – How can he inherit eternal life (Luke 18:18), then Jesus clarifies – Keep the commandments (Luke 18:19-20). Then the ruler confirms he has fulfilled those since boyhood (Luke 18:21). Jesus concludes the man should sell all he has, give to the poor, and follow Him (Luke 18:22). 

After seeking salvation, the ruler turns away in sorrow, not willing to give up his wealth (Luke 18:23). Here we see an illustration of the need for absolute commitment to Christ and reliance upon Him because of the impossibility of earning salvation through human achievement. Human effort is about as effective as it would be to try to send a camel through the eye of a needle. Faith in Christ alone saves.
c.   Luke 18:18 – A certain ruler: Matthew, Mark, and Luke all say he was rich, but only Luke calls him a ruler. Only Matthew says he was young. Luke does not specify what kind of ruler he is He may have been a synagogue leader or a city official or even a member of the powerful Sanhedrin.[1] As the ruler came to Jesus, Mark says he fell on his knees before him (Mark 10:17). Mark adds that Jesus looked at him and loved him.
d.   Luke 18:18 – What must I do to inherit eternal life? The ruler must have recognized in Jesus some authority in regard to eternal life, perhaps even the power of admittance. This is not the first time this question has been asked in Luke. A teacher of the law asked in Luke 10:27. The ruler wants to know how to live forever in God’s presence beginning with the final resurrection.
e.   Luke 18:18-19 – No one is good except God alone: Instead of immediately answering, Jesus probes the man’s understanding of His person, asking, “Why do you call me good?” There are two words in Greek for good. One, kalos, is externally pleasing. The ruler uses the other word for Jesus, agathos, referring to the quality of being intrinsically good. Jesus reminds the ruler that only One is intrinsically good. Jesus asks if the ruler is calling Him intrinsically good, thereby recognizing His identity as more than just a Good Teacher, that He was the Son of God whom Jesus claimed to be. If the ruler had made such a confession, then Jesus was prepared to declare that the ruler’s faith had brought him eternal life. But the man did not respond. The ruler’s silence indicated that he had called Jesus a Good Teacher to be externally pleasing, not to point out Jesus’ intrinsic good, not because he recognized Jesus as the Son of God. The ruler’s “Good Teacher” turned out to be merely polite talk.
f.    Luke 18:20 – You know the commandments: Jesus now points the ruler to the Commandments. Jesus’ answer indicates the question is superfluous, since the rules are there to read in the Ten Commandments. Jesus cites the fifth through the ninth of the Ten Commandments, though out of order. These commands all relate to relationships with other people. If the man would be righteous to enter the kingdom, then he must demonstrate that righteousness by the way he treated other people. 
g.   Luke 18:21 – All these I have kept: The ruler’s claim was not uncommon. Luke says in Luke 1:6 that the priest Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth were upright, “observing all the Lord’s commandments and regulations blamelessly.” Paul claimed to be “faultless” before his conversion (Phil 3:6). But notice that he senses he needs something more. Jesus could have listed examples for the man to prove him unrighteous before the law, but instead he chose to give the man something to do to reveal his unrighteousness before the commandments so he could see it himself. 
h.   Luke 18:22 – One thing you lack: The Messianic Jewish scholar and Oxford professor of the 1800s, Alfred Edersheim says, “What he lacked was earth’s poverty and heaven’s riches; a heart fully set on following Christ: and this could only come to him through willing surrender of all. And so this was to him alike the means, the test, and the need. To him it was this; to us it may be something quite other. Yet each of us has a lack – something quiet deep down in our hearts, which we may never yet have known, and which we must know and give up, if we would follow Christ. And without forsaking, there can be no following. This is the law of the Kingdom – and it is such, because we are sinners, because sin is not only the loss of the good, but the possession of something else in its place.”[2]
i.    Luke 18:22 – Sell all you have: Jesus tells him that his wealth is the barrier in his case. His wealth was not evil in itself, but in his case it kept him from spiritual blessing. Jesus had asked him about the second table of the Commandments, those dealing with man’s relationships with others, but the ruler’s problem was the first table of the Ten Commandments, those dealing with man’s relationship with God. Obedience would demonstrate his faith in the person of Christ, and that faith alone could bring the man the righteousness that would admit him to eternal life.
j.    ILLUSTRATION: Our oldest son Luke is beginning to study Latin this year, and one of the words we looked at together was audi. It is not just the model of an automobile. It means, “to listen.” From that root we have inherited in our language words like audible, auditorium, auditory, audition. The reason I bring that up is that another of our English words from audi (to listen) is obey. Obedience means you have listened to instruction. Obeying means you have listened. 
k.   APPLICATION: There is no clearer evidence of reliance on God than to obey the commands of Jesus, and no clearer evidence that we do not rely on the Lord than to disobey. 
l.    Luke 18:23 – Very sad: Mark says that “at these words his face fell” (Mark 10:22). The word Luke used for the emotion of the ruler (perilypos), tells us that the rich ruler really did want to follow Jesus. This was not an easy choice for him. He was not like Esau, who without thought, easily traded his birthright for a bowl of stew (Gen 25:29-34). Still, the accuracy of Jesus’ diagnosis is proved by the ruler’s attitude. The rich young ruler relied on the good his wealth enabled him to do, not on God. Thus he was unwilling to be stripped of his wealth, despite Jesus’ command. Jesus showed him that he had violated the first table of the Ten Commandments. The rich young ruler was an idolator, and his wealth was his idol.
m. APPLICATION: Never mistake your spiritual yearnings for true spirituality. Our spirituality is not found in what we want to do, but in what we choose to do!
a.   As the Savior watches the man depart, He applies the lesson to His disciples (Luke 18:24-27). He speaks in allegory (Luke 18:24-25), telling them that it is impossible for one who trusts in riches to enter the kingdom of God. The disciples are amazed (Luke 18:26), and they receive Jesus assurance (Luke 18:27) that with God all things are possible. Jesus then acknowledges what the disciples have renounced for Him (Luke 18:28) and promises what they will receive from Him (Luke 18:29-30).
b.   Luke 18:24 – How hard it is . . . Wealth was viewed in Judaism as evidence of God’s blessing, even though the OT repeatedly warns against trusting in riches instead of God. It was commonly believed that the rich were favored by God. The focus here again is on dependence.
c.   APPLICATION: When we have nothing, it is much easier to rely on God. When we have all, we may not sense our need for God. Even more difficult is the thought of giving up everything we rely on to rely completely on the Lord. Yet this is what Jesus calls for. He wants complete surrender of all to Him. It may help us to surrender if we remember that, whatever we give, we cannot outgive God.
d.   Luke 18:25-27 – A camel through the eye of a needle: One of Jesus’ frequently used figures of speech is hyperbole (cf. Luke 6:41; 17:6; Matt 23:24). Christ’s use of the word for a surgeon’s suturing needle indicates not only that his references to a needle were to be taken literally, but also that the authorship by Luke the doctor is further attested. By trying to soften Jesus’ hyperbole by creating the myth of a small gate in a city for a camel to squeeze through,[3] scholars and commentators miss Jesus’ very strong point. He was not saying that it was difficult for one who trusts in riches to enter the kingdom. He was saying quite clearly that it is utterly impossible for a one who puts their trust in riches to be saved. Salvation only comes through faith in Jesus Christ. The disciples, who had been brought up on the philosophy that riches were a sure sign of God’s pleasure and evidence of God’s blessing, were blown away. What chance, then, did the rest of the common folk have to be saved? Christ was ready with an answer, “What is impossible with men is possible with God” (Luke 18:27)! Zaccheus will prove it is so (Luke 19:1-10).
e.   APPLICATION: Salvation IS NOT something we earn or work hard to achieve for God’s approval. Salvation IS God’s work that comes to us in response to faith in Christ alone. 
f.    Luke 18:28-29 – Peter: We have left all and followed: Peter is quick to note that he and the other apostles have done what Christ had demanded of this rich ruler. They had left all and followed Him. Most of Jesus’ disciples had not been poor. They were successful businessmen. They had given up a good living owning and operating fishing businesses and a lucrative government position as a tax collector. However, Jesus had not told them to sell their boats and their nets. Why? Because their hearts were not tied to them in idolatry. Their trust was not in them as was true of the ruler and his riches. Jesus promises that all who have sacrificed for His sake[4]  will inherit eternal life, will have his part in the Millennial Kingdom, and will receive a reward both in this and the next life. In Matthew, Jesus adds that many who expect to be admitted will be rejected and others who felt unworthy would be accepted.

a.   The most powerful message of reliance in faith is when the Savior predicts (Luke 18:31-33) his soon coming rejection, trials, scourging, and resurrection, but the disciples are perplexed (Luke 18:34), not understanding what he is saying.
b.   It is understandable why Jesus’ predictions do not make sense to the disciples. It is apparent to the Twelve as they are traveling through the border between Galilee and Samaria that Jesus is intent on going to Jerusalem (Luke 9:51; Matt. 16:21; 17:22-23). The disciples were amazed and a little scared (Mark 10:32). They could not be under any illusions of at least opposition in Jerusalem. Why would Jesus go to Jerusalem when it is well known the leaders are plotting His death? And what about their own association with Him? Might they themselves be in jeopardy? The raising of Lazarus had probably taken place about this time, and the Sanhedrin’s decree of death had probably been passed by that time (John 11:8, 16).
c.   Jesus has already explicitly predicted his death three times in Luke’s Gospel (Luke 9:22, 44-45; 17:25). He has alluded to it at least three other times (Luke 5:35; 12:49-50; 13:32-33). Now, as the Journey to Jerusalem comes to a close, Jesus again predicts clearly the suffering, death, and resurrection that await him in Jerusalem, connecting his Passion for the first time with Jerusalem. Luke also mentions that these sufferings will fulfill OT prophecy. The disciples again fail to grasp the significance of Jesus’ words (cf. Luke 9:45). The disciples’ dullness of understanding is a security to the Church of the truth of the Resurrection. They didn’t expect it. It was a surprise to them, and therefore, a move evident truth for us.
d.   Luke 18:31 – Everything written by the prophets: Isaiah is the Messianic prophet. He writes most explicitly on the suffering of the Messiah (Isaiah 52:13-53:12) where the Suffering Servant offers up his life for the sins of his people. But there are many others: Psalm 16 (Acts 2:25-28); Psalm 2 (Acts 4:25-26); Psalm 118:22 (Luke 20:17), and Isaiah 50:4-9 (Luke 18:32).
e.   Luke 18:32 – Mock, spit, flog: Jesus’ violent imagery (cf. Matt. 20:19) is likely referring to Isaiah 50:4-9, the third Servant Song: “I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard. I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting (Isaiah 50:6; John 19:1).
f.    APPLICATION: We can trust His Person. It was His Person that suffered that violent trial and death. It was His Person which rose from the dead and still live. We can trust in the Sacrifice and the salvation offered because it was His Work specifically done by His Person.
a.   || Matt. 20:29-34; Mark 10:46-52. At last the long journey is almost over and they come to Jericho, a mere six hour walk to Jerusalem, though rigorously uphill. Plummer says it is the week before Jesus’ Passion Week.[5] At the gates of the city, the Son of David hears a cry for mercy. Here the sightless one (Luke 18:35-39) sees the Sovereign One (Luke 18:40-43). The blind beggar cries out for mercy. When the crowd criticized and tries to silence him, he only shouts the louder. Jesus opens the conversation (Luke 18:40-41), provides the restoration (Luke 18:42), and then there is great celebration (Luke 18:43). Mark names the beggar as Bartimaeus; Matthew says there are two of them. These differences can be easily handled if we see the beggars on one side of town following until Jesus is about to leave the other side. This story does more to move the Gospel along than simply show how Jesus responds in mercy when we call. It also sets the stage for Messiah’s entrance into Jerusalem.
b.   Luke 18:35 – Those who were disabled and could not work could only secure a living by begging, usually on a busy roadside. Jewish people considered helping them a righteous deed. Jericho was a prosperous town with a good climate, and this blind man (Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus, Mark 10:46), no doubt made a living on the main road where priests lived and pilgrims passed en route to Jerusalem. At first he calls out, but when they try to silence him, Luke uses a different Greek word, and he cries out. William Barclay says it is “the instinctive shout of ungovernable emotion, a scream, an almost animal cry.”[6] A lifetime of heartache. A lifetime of groping in the darkness. A lifetime of grubbing for food. A lifetime of being told to shut up and move aside. This is his chance of a lifetime, and the Giver of Life hears his pain, halts his gait, and turns to the blind man.
c.   Luke 18:36-38 – Son of David: That the blind man shouts “Son of David” means he recognizes Jesus as the Messiah. It’s background is found in the Davidic covenant of 2 Samuel 7:12-16, but its use is widespread in the prophets (Isaiah 9:6-7; 11:1-12:6; Jer. 23:5-6; 33:14-18; Amos 9:11; Zech 12:8). One of Messiah’s abilities is healing the blind (Isaiah 35:5; 61:1), something none of the supposed wonder workers could do. Luke is making a definite connection to Isaiah’s promise of the signs of the new age. Remember that Jesus introduced his ministry with the recovery of sight to the blind from Isaiah 61:1. In Jesus, the age of salvation is dawning. The blind man’s calling Jesus the “Son of David” recalls Gabriel’s announcement to Mary that Jesus is the promised Messiah from David’s line, who will reign forever on His throne (Luke 1:32-33; 2:11). Israel’s Savior and King is about to enter Jerusalem. The blind man’s example of humble, persistent prayer in simple reliance is the antithesis of the rich young ruler and the reminder that the Messiah has come to the outcasts. They above all and finally will be the honored recipients of God’s mercy and salvation.
d.   Luke 18:39 – Blind people were socially powerless, and Jesus’ followers saw his pleas as an intrusion, the way they had seen the children (Luke 18:15).
e.   Luke 18:41 – What do you want me to do for you? Like the rich young ruler, this man knew he had a need, that he lacked vision. But unlike the rich young ruler, he had already expressed his faith in the person and work of Christ. Now he acknowledges his need and turns to the Lord for help. The blind man’s request is an invitation to Jesus to validate his credentials as Messiah and fulfill the prophecies of Scripture. In respond, Christ heals him and follows Him. This incident was designed to be a lesson to the Twelve to rely fully on His mercies is walking in faith.
f.    Luke 18:42 – Jesus calls the blind man’s insistent, obstinate (Luke 18:39), pleas for mercy “faith.” The blind man has something to teach us all. He was in despair and heard a commotion. He asked what was happening and was told that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by (Luke 18:37). He began to shout. It may have been bad manners to shout in public, but despite the criticism he refused to let this opportunity pass. As in the case of the Samaritan leper (Luke 17:19), Jesus declares his faith has saved him.
g.   Luke 18:43 – The crowds respond with praise and awe at the miracle Jesus performed just as in other places (Luke 5:26; 9:43; 13:17

Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1993), 708-714.
S. MacLean Gilmour, “Luke.” George Arthur Buttrick, gen. ed., The Interpreter’s Bible. Vol. 8 (Nashville: Abingdon, 1952), 8:314-319.
Paul John Isaak, “Luke,” Africa Bible Commentary, Tokunboh Adeyemo, gen. ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006), 1240-1241.
Craig Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Downers Grove: Intervarsity, 1993), 239-240.
David W. Pao and Eckhard J. Schnabel, “Luke,” G.K. Beale and D.A. Carson, gen. eds., Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007), 350-353.
Dwight J. Pentecost, The Words and Works of Jesus Christ (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), 359-364.
Alfred Plummer, International Critical Commentary on Luke, 5th ed. (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1902), 28:422-432.
Laurence E. Porter, “Luke,” The International Bible Commentary, F. F. Bruce, gen. ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1986), 1218-1219.
Lawrence O. Richards, The Bible Reader’s Companion (Wheaton: Victor, 1991), 669.
David H. Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary (Clarksville, MD: Jewish New Testament Publications, 1996), 137.
Mark Strauss. “Luke,” Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary, Clinton E. Arnold, gen. ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002), 1:459-461.
Charles R. Swindoll and Bryce Klabunde, The Consummation of Something Miraculous: Jesus’ Trial and Triumph of Redemption. A Study of Luke 16:19-24:53 (Anaheim, CA: Insight for Living, 1995), 37-44.
J. Willcock, The Preacher’s Complete Homiletic Commentary on the Gospel according to St. Luke (New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1896), 24:481-483, 496-500.
Harold L. Wilmington, The Outline Bible (Nashville: Tyndale House, 1999), 548.

[1] Plumptre and Pentecost suppose him to be a member of the Sanhedrin. Plumptre even suggests he is Lazarus of Bethany.

[2] Edersheim, 710.

[3] Some teachers have tried to soften Jesus’ hyperbole by claiming that there was a small gate in Jerusalem called the Needle’s Eye that a camel had to stoop down to pass through, but there is no historical evidence at all of such a gate ever in Jerusalem or in any other city for that matter. There was, moreover, a proverb current in the Talmud (Ber. 55b, last line; cf. Babha Metx 35b) about the impossibility of an elephant passing through the eye of a needle and of a camel dancing in a corn measure, so the concept was not a new thought. Jesus may have even been mixing metaphors of a sort. More concerning, some (including Gilmour, Interpreter’s Bible, 8:314-315) have tried to soften Jesus’ teaching by changing the text from kamelos (camel) to read kamilos (ship rope) to the idea that it would be difficult to pass a ship’s rope through the eye of a surgical needle, but it is mere speculative tampering with the inerrant text. There is no manuscript evidence for such a reading.

[4] In Jesus’ reply to Peter’s comment about what the disciples have given up, Luke omits sisters and lands and adds wife to Matthew/Mark’s account. In Matthew’s account, Peter wanted to know, then, what reward they would have (Matt 19:27-28). Jesus promised them that when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, that they would sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

[5] Plummer, 429.

[6] William Barclay, The Gospel of Luke, rev. ed., The Daily Study Bible Series (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1975), 232, found in Charles Swindoll, 41.