These are notes I wrote today for the passage Luke 18:15-30. I hope you profit by them!
There are two sections here that I’m going to examine, and even though they hold much of the same teaching from the last section, I’m going to look at them together on their own for the time being.
The first section we see Jesus responding to the disciples reaction of these parents who are bringing their little children to be blessed by Him. His reaction is what we’ll look closely at in a moment.
The second section has to do with a wealthy young man who presents himself before Jesus, and has a question concerning eternal life.
In both instances, we’ll examine Jesus’ reaction to them, what he says specifically, of course, as well as the mindset of how each type of person (the children and the rich man) presents themselves before Jesus.
I believe that from these passages we’re going to learn the following:
- Who, or more appropriately, how, can a person enter the kingdom of God. There will be two component parts to this – what God does on our behalf, and what our response to His doing looks like in our lives.
- In light of this, what ought our attitudes and mindset about life be? And I mean this for both for Christians and those seeking the kingdom still.
18:15-17 Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them.  But Jesus called them to him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.  Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”
It wasn’t an uncommon practice for local Rabbis to lay their hands upon children and bless them. There’s nothing magical about the laying on of hands, rather it is a way to show love for the child, and bring them before God in humility and gratitude.
During my trip to Israel last summer, we spent our Friday evening enjoying Shabbat with a Jewish family. Eventually we came to a place in the evening when the father was supposed to bless their child. It was really neat to see the father’s hold their children close – even the teens – and speak a blessing over them. It was done with hugs and kisses and much love.
This is the scene here – it is very intimate, and very special.
Therefore when the disciples callously attempted to shoo away these parents, Jesus reacted with a rebuke. No doubt the disciples were thinking of their master, and his own well being. They didn’t want him crowded every moment of every day. But Jesus loved his children – especially the youngest of them, and he used this as a teaching moment, as he had so many other times previously.
The principle here that Jesus wants to get through is that the kingdom of heaven is populated by children. There are two parts of this. First, there is the literal part – where he says, “to such belongs the kingdom of God.” Heaven, God’s kingdom, will be populated with MANY an infant, many a child who never reached an older age in this life.
For parents who have lost children through miscarriage or abortion, or even through tragedy that comes later, this truth is extremely reassuring.
But as reassuring as this is, this is not the primary theological point that Jesus wants to make. For he continues on saying, “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”
You can tell he’s about to teach an important principle when he interjects the word “truly.”
Note two things. First He says, “receiving” the kingdom. The kingdom isn’t something you can earn on your own merit. It is not something that enter by your own merit, as we’ll examine here shortly.
Now secondly, what he says about receiving the kingdom is that one must be “like” a child.
What are some of the ways in which a child approaches the topic God that might differ from an adult?
Mainly, a child comes to God with very little in the way of presuppositions or assumptions. They come with the expectation of acceptance, and they come in humility. They aren’t thinking, “I deserve to be here” or “I’m going to be an extra good so I can come to God” – in fact, just saying those things aloud as if they come from a child’s mouth sounds preposterous!
They come in response to a prompting of love – with hearts that are humble and not haughty. Their faith is simple in that there are minimal outside influences vying for their affections.
They don’t overcomplicate things by adding their own ideas of the terms of this relationship into the mix, nor do they cloud their minds with priorities that would inhibit their faith.
This issue of priorities, of affections, is what gets addressed next…
18:18-19 And a ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”  And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.
This account is also in Mark and Matthew, so from their accounts we divine that this is a man with wealth, and that he is young. So when we put all that together, we tend to call him, “the rich young ruler.”
Some have speculated that he is the ruler of a synagogue. But whatever his specific status, he is the exact opposite of the children that were previously the subject of our reading.
His question is tending toward eternal life, but he begins by calling Jesus “good”, and it is that adjective that Jesus latches onto as a way of answering His question.
Jesus’ reaction is that no one is good except for God. Some have stated that Jesus is either implying that he is a sinner, and therefore doesn’t deserve the title of “good.” Others say that Jesus is implying here that he is God because only God is good, and he’s using this as a way of drawing out that truth. Others still say that Jesus is just rebuffing the young man’s flattery.
But I agree with Bock that what Jesus is doing here has to be kept in context of everything else he’s stating. He’s basically pointing the man to God, and God’s incomparable character. God is holy – He alone is perfect, He alone is truly “good.” All other men have variable or subjective definitions of what exactly “good” is, but God is the ultimate definite standard for what good really is.
We see this as Jesus continues on…
18:20-22 You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.’”  And he said, “All these I have kept from my youth.”  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.”
When the young man says, “all these I have kept from my youth” he is basically saying that HE is “good”! He is stating that he’s perfectly kept the law.
Have you ever run into someone who believes they are basically a good person, and that they really haven’t sinned recently – some say they have NEVER sinned!
This is the attitude and the mindset of this young man. And Jesus blows it up. He hits him in the heart. When he tells him to sell all that he has, what he’s doing is exposing the man as an idolater – as someone whose priorities aren’t right.
At face value this guy seemed pretty holy – he seemed like a “good” guy, right? I mean, here he is seeking out a local rabbi asking about eternal life. His head is in the game, he’s asking the right questions, he’s crossing the right boxes off, right?
No – wrong answer! What was the problem here? Let’s see…
18:23-25 But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich.  Jesus, seeing that he had become sad, said, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!  For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”
Now here we see what’s going on, if we didn’t already pick up on it.
What is the difference between this man, and the children who were coming to Jesus?
The main difference was faith and priorities. Put another way, it can all be boiled down to affections.
As I mentioned before, a young child has no affections for this world that inhibit them from hmbly coming before God and asking for eternal life. They represent one end of the life-experience scale.
On the other end of the scale is this rich man – not just rich though, he’s also a “ruler” – heck, he even had youth going for him! He had it all – he was young, and he had both power and wealth. And that’s really it, right? I mean that’s what we want out of life. Sure some might have a difference ratio on the affections meter. They might want 80% wealth and only a little power, or they might be satisfied if they could just control their circumstances and live a moderately good life, so long as they were in control and had the freedom they longed for and the power to make it happen.
Most of us probably fall somewhere in between the children and this rich ruler, with finances and freedom or power (I regard the American middle class idea of Freedom sometimes as equivalent to that of power when it comes to affections).
With that in mind, look at how the man reacts. He has so much to loose, so he walks away. The kids have nothing to loose, so they have no problem coming to God.
Right about now the dilemma might be hitting you just as it hit the disciples: anyone who has lived in this life for a decent number of years will have affections that crowd out eternal truth.
Jesus acknowledges this issue – he says its super difficult to get into heaven if you have riches – hence the saying about shoving a camel through the eye of a needle. There are some who’ve said that this is talking about how camels had to stoop to crawl on their belly to get into the “needle” entranceway of a city. But that’s erroneous. It’s not that Jesus just wants humility, when we approach God, he wants an open hand of faith – as goes the old hymn:
“Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to thy cross I cling” (Rock of Ages)
This prompts the disciples to say the following…
18:26-27 Those who heard it said, “Then who can be saved?”  But he said, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.”
In other words, no merit of your own, no fake humility, no false courage, no amount of good works is going to get you into heaven. What has to happen is a change in your affections. And this only happens by the grace of God. In other words, this kind of faith is the gift of God.
Look at what Paul says in Ephesians 2:
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins  in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.  But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us,  even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,  so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.  For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,  not a result of works, so that no one may boast.  For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:1-10 ESV)
Therefore salvation – entry into the kingdom – is made possible by the power of God. And this is really evident in that most of us prize things that are not heavenly things until God brings us to Himself. Our lives are characterized by a love of anything and everything but God. We love football, golf, cars, shopping, and even our iPhones more than we love God!
But all of that changed for those who have been saved.
What happens next in this passage is that Peter realizes, “hey, this is me! This is our group! We have done this!”
And again, Jesus uses this as a teaching moment.
 And Peter said, “See, we have left our homes and followed you.”  And he said to them, “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.”
The natural man’s objection to all of this is, “hey, I like my life! Don’t take my fun away from me. I may not have much, but I have XYZ. So things are pretty good. What’s so great about God that I need to reorient all my priorities and affections anyway?”
This is the difference between the children and the rich man – it’s all about affections. What we care most about. And we make the (wrongful) assumption that the stuff we are aiming for, or have obtained here in our lives isn’t worth giving up.
Jesus blows this out of the water as well.
He says that when you leave all the world behind – even the things that are worthwhile like family – when you put me first in your heart, you will “receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.”
He is saying that not only is this a matter of eternal life, it’s a matter of living a great live NOW.
Having the right affections will bring about a life that is so much more fulfilling, so much richer, so much better. In other words – you are clinging onto a miserable existence compared to what I am prepared to give you.
For the Christian these words ought to just remind us to re-orient our minds around the truth of the Gospel. It’s so easy in the rush of life to let other priorities crowd into our heart. The way I think of this is that what your mind is occupied with, will eventually occupy your heart. Obviously from here there are physical, day-to-day implications. What you love most you’ll do most.
Jesus redeems the activities of our lives and gives them both a purpose and a perspective.
He helps us see here that by prioritizing Him first in your mind and heart, you can keep perspective over both the good and the bad in life. That’s how Paul was able to say:
Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.  I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.  I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:11-13 ESV)
Note who is supplying the power here – it is God. Today, be reminded and refreshed in these truths and don’t let other priorities crowd out the eternal promise that Jesus has for us here.
For those of you who are not Christians, perhaps the message of these passages has really set in sharp relief the contrast between your life and what you value most, and how Jesus has taught us to approach God.
At issue here are your priorities, and what you value most in this life. What do you think most about? What do you spend most of your time on? Do not fool yourself into thinking that you can live your life by your own dictums, your own measure of what “good” is, and then show that measuring rod to God when you die.
What will He say? What will He do? He will respond that only HE is good, and that your works are nothing comparatively. Your priorities were not His. Your heart was not His. He’ll tell you to get lost – and you’ll walk away like this young man did – only you will be walking away for eternity. Thus, you will have squandered a life of joy now, and an eternity of happiness hereafter.
What is required is a heart that recognizes your sinfulness and your low stature before God, and desires (I use that word purposefully) to be made right with Him. The way this can be done is by believing in the Gospel of His Son, Jesus Christ.
By calling upon Jesus, by believing that He is who He says He is, and by repenting of your sins, you will receive this gift of eternal life that alluded the rich young ruler. It’s really simple, but its really hard, nigh on impossible to do without the help of God. Ask Him for that help.