Sinners, Riches, and the Kingdom of God

Sermon preached on Luke 18:18-19:10 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 09/18/2022 in Novato, CA.

Sermon Manuscript

Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.

Today, I’ve chosen again to preach through a larger section here so we can appreciate the bigger theological theme that Luke is developing. Since chapter 15, Luke has been working on this theme, and it really comes to a climax today. What theme do I refer to? Well, back in chapter 15 Jesus had been criticized by the Pharisees for his ministry to tax collectors and sinners. Jesus defended that ministry in teaching God’s heart to seek and save the lost such as with the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Jesus then turned things back around in chapter 16 admonishing the Pharisees for their love of money such as with the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. Jesus went on to criticize their self-righteous attitude such as with the Parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector in 18:9-14. All this comes to a vivid climax in our passage for today when we read it all together. That is why I am preaching from this whole text instead of what might be a more common approach to break it into separate sermons on the multiple scenes that are here. So then, our outline for today’s message will generally follow the text. I’ll have us start with considering the rich ruler, then the blind beggar, and then Zacchaeus.

We begin then with the rich ruler of verses 18-30. He comes to Jesus in presumably genuine interest in a central question for life. He wants to know how he can inherit eternal life. This question could also be asked “How to enter the kingdom of God” as Jesus effectively equates down in verse 25. It’s a question of salvation. It’s a question Jesus so often addressed in his teaching ministry. It’s the question we all should be asking. We know we will die. Our life here is limited. God has revealed that after this life comes the judgment. From there we will ultimately end up in the hell of eternal punishment and damnation, or in the heaven of eternal life and glory. This rich ruler wants to know how we can enjoy such a blessed life in the resurrection. It’s the right question. It’s the question every human needs to know the answer to.

But we see the failings of this rich ruler to here come to truly understand how to receive eternal life. Notice how his question, good as it was, actually was a little off. He asked what he had to do in order to inherit this eternal life. See this in context. The very last verse from last week’s passage said that the kingdom of God must be received like a child. Children don’t do things to earn what they have. They are freely given it and receive it. This man begins the conversation with the wrong approach, by asking what he must “do” to be saved.

Jesus then begins to try to help him course correct by how he responds to the man’s kind words that called Jesus “Good Teacher.” Jesus is truly a Good Teacher and worthy of that title. But Jesus challenges the man’s usage of it by saying “No one is good except God alone.” Jesus then asks the rich ruler to evaluate his deeds against God’s commandments. The man does so and says in verse 21 that he has kept them all since his youth. Do you see what happened there? Jesus told him that no one is good but God, but the man then concludes that he himself is good, that what he has being doing is worthy.

So then, Jesus challenges him with a test. He calls him to sell all he has and give it to the poor, so he can know treasure in heaven, and to begin to follow him. At that, this man could not at this time accomplish that. We are told it is because he was extremely rich. Not just a little rich. Extremely rich. That results in Jesus’ to exclaim how difficult it is for such rich people to enter the kingdom. He compares it to a camel going through an eye of the needle, which I think means it is ordinarily impossible. Some have thought this referred to some physical gate in Jerusalem that was hard but not impossible for camels to enter. Yet, as common as that explanation is, there is no widely accepted evidence for such a gate having existed. Indeed Jesus explains his statement in verse 27 explicitly saying that it is impossible for men to be saved, and you will notice that he doesn’t say rich men there, he says men in general. But God can do the impossible and save the unsavable – even rich men.

So stepping back, realize what this rich ruler represented. This conversation was recorded in three gospels, but only Luke tells us he was a ruler, and it’s the first thing he tells us about the man. The word ruler was a broad enough term that it could have meant several things. People like Nicodemus on the Jewish ruling council of the Sanhedrin were called rulers. Local leaders at Jewish synagogues would also be called rulers. Whatever kind of ruler this man was, everything about him would say he was a man of influence and respect among God’s people. Jesus was looked down upon for spending time with tax collectors, but surely no one would have looked down upon Jesus for his time with this rich ruler. So then, this rich ruler really embodies the concerns Jesus has been raising against the Pharisees. We aren’t told if the rich ruler was a Pharisee, and he doesn’t seem hostile to Jesus, but he does fit the mold of the concerns Jesus has been bringing against the Pharisees. He is not only rich and influential, but he apparently is a lover of such earthly treasure, because he couldn’t let it go. It was indeed an idol of his heart. He apparently hadn’t kept those commandments perfectly since he couldn’t even get past the first commandment since he had set money as a god before the one true God. And as we saw last week, in the Parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector, it was the Pharisee that prayed self-righteously before God that he had kept the commandments so well. But that was just a parable, just a made-up story. Sure, that man in the story prayed like that, but no one would actually do that in real life, would they? Yet, here is the real-life example. This rich ruler literally illustrates the faulty self-righteous attitude Jesus had just critiqued in that parable. So then, Luke illustrates the concerns Jesus’ has been teaching about, these concerns that love of money and self-righteousness can keep you from receiving the free gift of salvation that Jesus holds out to all who would repent of their sins and come to him in faith for mercy and grace. Again, it’s not that having riches or being important was his problem. But when you are rich and important, it all the more can tempt you to love money and think too highly of yourself. It can cause you to try to protect the things you have in this life too much. These things make it especially challenging to see how much you need God’s mercy and how much better the treasure of eternal life is than this world’s treasures.

This leads us then to our second point to consider this blind beggar in verses 35-43. That’s Luke’s description of him in verse 35. He is physically blind. And he is a beggar, so therefore he must be poor. Surely, those two things are related. As a blind man he probably didn’t have a lot of ability to make money, and so he was just a sick poor beggar. So then, notice what the man does when he learns Jesus is coming. He cried out to Jesus for mercy. And when they try to stop him, he is persistent and doesn’t give up. Again, remember last week’s Parable of the Persistent Widow. This blind beggar is persistent in praying to Jesus for help.

So then, Jesus hears his cries, stops, and calls the man to be brought to him. See again, last week’s teaching about receiving the kingdom like a child. Remember, we saw that those young children and infants had to be brought to Jesus so Jesus could bless them. They were too young to come themselves, so they had to be brought. So then, similarly, this blind beggar is blind and unable to come to Jesus. So they had to lead him to Jesus, verse 40. Jesus then grants him his request to have his eyesight healed. Notice what the healed man then does, he begins to follow Jesus, verse 43.

And again, remember that Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. We said the rich ruler looked like that self-righteous Pharisee who prayed justifying himself. But notice that this blind beggar looks like the Tax Collector in that parable who Jesus described as praying, “God be merciful to me, a sinner!” That Tax Collector prayed for mercy in the parable. Here we see this poor blind man praying for mercy to Jesus and he receives it. So, again, we see that parable illustrated with this real-life person, who elsewhere we learn is named Bartimaeus. When someone is poor and down and out like this Bartimaeus, we can understand why he might be more inclined to see his need for God’s mercy. He probably had so little hope and so little pride compared to that rich ruler. Bartimaeus’ circumstances certainly should have left him seeing his need for Jesus. Many such poor people through the centuries have realized their need like this and found mercy in Jesus.

So then, is there no hope for rich people to be saved? Remember, what is impossible with man is possible with God. For we come now to our third point to consider Zacchaeus. And he is a rich man. He is also one of those proverbial tax collectors looked down upon by God’s people. Actually, he is described as a chief tax collector” which seems to heighten his crimes. If the Apostle Paul described himself as a chief of sinners, this Zacchaeus was a chief among tax collectors. What we saw in Luke 15, we see again here in verse 7, that people grumbled against Jesus because he visits this tax collector. We are also told Zacchaeus’ small stature, which surely was meant to further show his denigrated status in the eyes of the Jewish people. Jesus said how hard it was for rich people to be saved. The Pharisees surely didn’t think tax collectors could be saved. Yet, here we have Zacchaeus being saved, praise be to God!

Notice the response of Zacchaeus to Jesus’ visit with him. It’s there in verse 8. He promised to give up half of his goods to give to the poor. And he promises to restore fourfold anything he has stolen. This is what we call fruit of repentance. It’s what Luke’s gospel called for all the way back in Luke 3:8. That’s when John the Baptist was baptizing people, which was a baptism of repentance. But John told the people it wasn’t enough to just outwardly get baptized. They needed to be genuinely repentant in their hearts. Remember, John told them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits in keeping with repentance.” If you are truly a changed person on the inside, then there should be fruit that comes from it. The gospel of Jesus Christ is that we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus. It says that we don’t earn our way into heaven. There is nothing we do to merit it. It is a gift. But he does call us to have a heart that recognizes our need for mercy. Jesus does call us to be people that come to acknowledge sin as sin. We are called to have hearts that now turn away from sin. That doesn’t mean we will be able in this life to perfectly keep from any future sin. But there should be a heart change that now has begun to endeavor to live a new life of following Christ. So that is why while we don’t earn our way into heaven, what Zacchaeus does here is so appropriate. He is bearing fruit in keeping with his repentance. He isn’t earning his way into heaven. No, he has received salvation as a gift as he turned to Jesus for mercy. But now he’s looking to live out the logical ramifications of his repentance. True repentance will look to make things right as much as you are able.

In this case, notice how his repentance addresses two different things. We might think of how his repentance is addressing his previous sin of commission and his previous sin of omission. His sin of omission has included not being generous in helping the poor and needy as he had God-given opportunity. When he promises to give half of his wealth to the poor, he is addressing that sin of omission. His sin of commission surely includes that stereotypical sin of tax collectors at that time, that they were defrauding people by charging more taxes than were owed and the pocketing the rest. That’s theft. He addresses that sin of commission by saying he’ll pay back fourfold anyone he has stolen from. I would note that the law has different case law circumstances that required thieves to pay back more than what they stole as a way of restitution. In some situations the law required a fourfold repayment, though given his circumstances a fourfold repayment was arguably even more strict than his circumstances warranted, but it’s like he was erring on the side of paying back too much instead of too little. The point in all this is that Zacchaeus was truly taking to heart what it meant to bear fruit in keeping with repentance. These actions didn’t save him, but they show that he come to know salvation, received as a gift by Jesus.

So then, Jesus’ words so wonderfully confirm that truth in verse 9. Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham.” Some understand Jesus’ reference to him also being a son of Abraham as to mean that his fruit of repentance has shown himself to truly be a saved son of Abraham. While that is a possible interpretation, I am inclined to connect it with what Jesus says next in verse 10, “For the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost.” In other words, Zacchaeus, in his sinful living as a thieving tax collector, had been despised and rejected by the Pharisees, but Jesus, remembering God’s promises to Abraham, saw Zacchaeus as a soul to seek to save. It would have been impossible for Zacchaeus to have saved himself, sinner and rich man that he was. But Jesus sought him out and invited himself to Zacchaeus’ house. I would have loved to know the conversation they had that day, but I can imagine. Jesus turned this son of Abraham back to God and saved him from destruction. I look forward to seeing Zacchaeus in glory!

So, I hope you see that today’s passage stands at the end of this long section in Luke’s gospel starting at chapter 15. The Pharisees had ridiculed Jesus for spending time with tax collectors and sinners. Jesus pointed out the Pharisees’ faulty love of riches. Today’s passage shows a rich person who looked like an upstanding godly person who so loved his riches that he here missed out of God’s salvation. But our passage also shows a rich person who was one of these sinful tax collectors. Jesus ministered to both, but it was the tax collector that knew his salvation. The Pharisees would have thought it impossible for a tax collector like this to be saved, but God did the impossible through Jesus.

In conclusion, we’ve not even mentioned today the most wonderful part of the passage. I refer to verses 31-34 where Jesus again predicts his impending death. He’s been on his way from Galilee to Jerusalem. Jerusalem is when his death will come. Here, he has now crossed into Jericho and he’s near his final ascent into Jerusalem. Later this chapter will be the Triumphal Entry on Palm Sunday. Ahead of that, he tells his disciples again about how he will soon have to suffer and die. But he also tells them of the resurrection. This was such important prophecy he was giving them. At the time, they didn’t understand it. But after the resurrection, they would remember how he foretold these things and then they would understand. But this prediction of his death and resurrection is central to Jesus’ gospel. How could God show such mercy to blind beggars and repentant tax collectors? It is founded on Jesus and what he did in our place there on the cross. Let me dare say it this way. Our passage said it is impossible for men to save themselves. If Jesus had not died on the cross and rose again, it would be impossible for God to save men. That is why God decreed this plan of redemption that required the Eternal Son of God to live and die and rise again for us.

If you are here today and have not been saved, I urge you today to cry out to Jesus in faith for mercy. Repent of your sin, of any and all idolatry whether it be love of self or money or anything else. Look to Christ and find salvation, and then go and become a disciple of Jesus.

And if you are a disciple of Jesus, be reminded to think what should fruit of repentance look in your life. Look to live a life the puts off those sins of commission and omission and looks to put on godliness. If God has blessed you with earthly wealth, be generous and look to help others. I think of this blind beggar. None of us have the ability to miraculously heal someone’s blindness, but many of us do have the means to help them in their poverty.

Jesus has reminded us in verses 28-30 that there is great reward in following him, and even in making sacrifices in this life for him. There are ways that even in this life we will begin to experience such reward. And our ultimate reward is eternal life. All this reward should be understood in the context of God’s grace and mercy to us. But let us be delighted to apply this passage and look to live in godliness and stewardship of what he’s given to us, even in light of the reward he has held out. That’s why he held out such reward. And that will be a topic he goes into further in next week’s passage.


Copyright © 2022 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.