“And while all the people were listening, He said to His disciples, Beware of the scribes…(Luke 20:45-46a).
Of the ten occasions recorded in the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke), where Jesus warned his disciples to “beware,” six were regarding the ruling classes of Judaism—the Pharisees, Sadducees, and the scribes. The Pharisees were the most legalistic; Sadducees the most aristocratic and political; the scribes, most scholarly. Even while all the crowd is listening, Jesus admonished his disciples directly because it is they, not the religious establishment, that has the responsibility of translating the life of faith, and what it means to be a follower of Christ for a world that is watching and listening.
“When I pondered to understand this, it was troublesome in my sight until I came into the sanctuary of God; then I perceived their end” (Psalm 73:16-17).
A sanctuary offers what a theater, coliseum, auditorium, or civic center cannot. Living as salt and light isn’t all spice and bright lights. Seeking to glorify the Father in a world hostile to the things of God is spiritually, emotionally, and physically draining; creating confusion and conflict. In order to recover, recharge, regroup, and refocus, what we need isn’t another event to be attended, in the hope that we might be entertained, but a sanctuary where common minds worshipping a common Savior find refuge, rest, and renewal.
“One who is gracious to a poor man lends to the Lord” (Proverbs 19:17).
When considering the poor, our minds are conditioned to think in terms of financial hardship and economic challenge. Sometimes, however, the greater need of the poor is to be graciously acknowledged with warm courtesy, kindness, and politeness. In fact, is this not a universal need. Therefore, “to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even to the least of them you did it to Me.”
“But the disciples understood none of these things, and the meaning of this was hidden from them, and they did not comprehend the things that were said” (Luke 18:34).
While the indwelling of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost would reveal to them what they could not understand regarding the suffering and death of Christ (v.32-33), there is a tension in this text between what was hidden from them, and what they did not comprehend. It’s akin to the, seemingly, conflicting Exodus accounts of God hardening Pharaoh’s heart (7:3), and Pharaoh hardening his own heart (8:32). There are mysteries of the faith that defy logic and explanation. Even so, we must remain nonetheless curious; filled with intellectual inquisitiveness; avoiding theologies that seek to conceptualize God into forms that are small, provincial, explainable and, thus, controllable. Beyond the crucified, resurrected, and exalted Christ, who will return again, the arrogance of theological triumphalism is to be shunned. A god scaled down to the measure of one’s own mind is but the idolatrous worship of self.
“Then He took the twelve aside and said to them, ‘Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and all things which are written about the Son of Man will be accomplished’” (Luke 18:31).
In the verses that follow (32-33), we find six statements describing his suffering and only one regarding the resurrection. This highlights the central “sticking point” in the faith of the disciples but, also, the theological challenge in proclaiming Jesus of Nazareth as God’s Messiah. While many are shocked into a state of denial upon the death of a loved one, even the death of Jesus would bring arguments that it didn’t really happen—someone else was mistakenly crucified; a drug added to the vinegar gave only the appearance of death. That even the modern church, subconsciously, denies or ignores his death becomes glaringly evident in all of the elaborate Easter pageantry, with no acknowledgement of what happened on Good Friday. While the cross is foolishness to the perishing, for those being saved it is the power of God (1 Cor.1:18).
“And Jesus looked at him and said, ‘How hard it is for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God’” (Luke 18:24)!
The only way to benefit from the teachings of Jesus is to assume he is speaking directly to you, not someone else. To read these words to the rich ruler, and how difficult it is for the wealthy to enter the kingdom of God; that it is actually easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle (v.25), the tendency is to think only of high-profile billionaires like Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg, but never ourselves. When it comes to measuring financial capacity, however, anyone reading these words would be considered rich by the majority of people within the global economy. Idolatry knows no dollar amount; it is determined by what you hold in your heart, not what you have in the bank.
“Peter said, ‘Behold, we have left our own homes and followed You’” (Luke 18:28).
The statement of Peter isn’t to imply that because they have made such a sacrifice, they should receive something in return. In its context, the inheritance of eternal life that is to be found in following Jesus (v.22), it is his observation that they have done the very things expected by a disciple as outlined by Jesus in 14:25-33. Jesus then reassures them that there are none of his followers, who have left behind all former allegiances for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive a far greater reward, both in this life and the life to come (v.29-30).
“When Jesus heard this, he said, ‘One thing you still lack: sell all that you possess and distribute it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come follow Me’” (Luke 18:22).
The rich young ruler is representative of a common belief that there is a compatibility between maintaining moral goodness (v.20) and seeking the treasures of this world (v.23). The command of Jesus, however, exposes the rich young ruler’s first love and greatest allegiance; thus, negating the fallacy that serving both God and man can co-exist. To receive the treasure he wants, he must give up that which he treasures most. Only by following Jesus can one escape the shackles of wealth and the poor choices of a an idolatrous existence.
“Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed” (1 Timothy 6:17-19).
In our affluent, consumer, me-first culture, the idea of giving one’s life and resources to the building of an eternal portfolio presents a unique challenge. How we give is a reflection of what we love; of that to which we are committed; it aligns with our life mission; it is the evidence of where we want to make an impact, and what we desire to see accomplished. Giving is the action that springs forth from the divine quality of generosity dwelling within every believer.
“Those twelve stones which they had taken from the Jordan, Joshua set up at Gilgal. He said to the sons of Israel, ‘When your children ask their fathers in time to come, saying ‘What are these stones?’ then you shall inform your children, saying, ‘Israel crossed this Jordan on dry ground’” (Joshua 4:20-22).
On their way to Jericho, God performed a great miracle enabling the nation of Israel to cross an overflowing Jordan river on dry ground. Yet, no memorial was established at the river site. That the memorial stones were placed at Gilgal, between the Jordan river and Jericho, is significant. It served as a reminder not only of where they had been but where they were going. God’s time is linear. The One who is making all things new has no interesest in preserving the past but leads his faithful to the discovery of their future.