Updated: May 7
As someone with a love for understanding the human body and a love for crafting words together, I have a genuine kinship with the biblical author, Luke. I like to imagine that after a long day of caring for peoples’ physical ailments—using his knowledge to offer hope to the hopeless—he sat down to write to care for peoples’ spiritual ailments. Much like a physician using physical symptoms to rule out certain diagnoses and hone in on a specific one, such does an author. They view the landscape of humanity and attempt to offer their voice to the brokenness, thinking, “maybe this will be the enlightening sentence that sparks life into the lifeless.” It’s beautiful work. It’s costly work. But for Luke, his words have quickened the hearts of thousands, if not millions, of people spanning two thousand years.
So I have the privilege to sit and read his words today. A NICU nurse in the year 2021. I see his attention to peoples’ humanity. I see how he crafts his vignettes of Jesus’ earthly life in such a way that truth pops into sharp focus. This happened for me this week as we started Luke 19.
There’s a famous story in Luke 18 about a “rich young ruler.” He comes to Jesus touting his adherence to the Law from his youth. Jesus sees through this interaction and cuts to the heart of this man’s problem: he loves his money more than God. Jesus then tells this young man to sell all his possessions and give them to the poor, and come follow Him. Bold and pointed were Jesus’ words, and the man went away in sorrow; the price was too high. Jesus goes on to say that it is impossible for the wealthy to enter the kingdom of God, saying:
“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.” -Luke 18:25
We know this was an inflammatory statement because His disciples shout out the question, “then who can be saved?” And that is a fantastic question. This rich, young man was a religious ruler. He had studied the Scriptures his whole life and kept the commandments. We could also ask, “If he isn’t in, then will I be welcomed into the kingdom of God?” This man wanted affirmation from a famous teacher that his faithfulness was enough. He walked away from his conversation full of sorrow and confusion.
I think we do the same. Comparison is a deadly game. When we size up our neighbor’s faith and find that our own is lacking, dread fills our hearts. Am I enough? What do I need to do differently to be right? This was the heart of this man’s initial question. Jesus’ answer wasn’t satisfactory though. It cut to the heart of this man’s idolatry. He had more faith in his wealth than he did in the Maker of his very being.
Then, in Luke 19, comes a comparison vignette for our feasting hearts and minds. Jesus meets another rich man, under vastly different circumstances. Zacchaeus was a despised man. He lived in Jericho and was the epitome of a thief and political thug. Though he was Jewish, he turned his back on his brethren to pursue fortune instead. Hearing that Jesus was coming to town, he was genuinely curious. The narrative describes him as a very short man. Short enough that he needed to climb into a tree to catch a glimpse of Jesus as He walked by. Much to Zacchaeus’ surprise, however, Jesus stops and talks to him—an enemy of Israel and described by the people around him as sinner. Jesus wants to have lunch with Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus.
Zacchaeus’ response is everything though. He jumps down the tree with great joy. He exclaims that he will sell half of his possessions to give to the poor and pay fourfold restitutions to those from whom he swindled. His genuine curiosity in who Jesus was, and Jesus’ simple invitation for a meal, was enough to produce radical faith and life change in Zacchaeus.
Instead of proclamations about faith being more difficult to find among the rich than a camel making its way through a needle, Jesus says instead
“Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” -Luke 19:9
Instead of sorrow, Zacchaeus has great joy. He has gained entry to the Kingdom of God. So what gives? Why is the response so different between the rich, young, religious man and this tax collector?
Heart. When we come to Jesus proudly offering our good deeds and asking for His stamp of approval for our great awesomeness while still functionally worshiping the things around us, we woefully miss the heart of the gospel. Jesus came to seek and to save the lost. Not the found. Humility is necessary. Pride is blinding. It sends us careening down paths of self-made worth that ultimately lead nowhere but in sorrow.
Our key is found in Luke 18 in the power of God.
“What is impossible with man is possible with God.” -Luke 18:27
The point of these stories really isn’t wealth—whether the giving away of your wealth or the keeping of it. The point is about worship. What captures our first waking thoughts? Is it the to-do list? Frustration over the kids arguing in the next room? Excitement to dive into God’s Word and see His mercies anew this morning? How about your last thoughts before sleep overtakes you? Do you mentally attack your day... how you failed, how they failed, how it failed? Do you soak your pillow in tears fearing the new day as much as you hated the present? Do you thank your Maker for the opportunity to draw precious breath and sleep in faith knowing He holds tomorrow too?
We are all worshipping something. And the quiet moments before and after sleep are telling about where our heart’s allegiance truly lies. Does that seem impossible to you? Impossible to have your last waking thought be of Jesus and Him fill your vision first thing in the morning? What is impossible with man is possible with God. It is possible for the very worst person you can imagine right now to reach out to Jesus in genuine faith and receive Jesus’ help before the wool is pulled from your own eyes. Ask yourself: do you come to Jesus to have Him affirm your faithfulness? Or do you come to Jesus to know Him? What is impossible with man is possible with God. It is possible for our hearts to align with His. Our priorities to shift from selfish, self-serving ones to Christ-honoring, God-glorifying ones. What is impossible with man is possible with God. So in your wealth or your poverty, come to God to receive the richness of His Spirit, and allow Him to define the usefulness of what you have. What is impossible with man is possible with God!