Luke 18:18-30, the story of this rich young ruler who has done everything good but was still not willing to give up his wealth to follow Jesus, has been taught again and again at FOCUS and various evangelistic talks that I have been to. The good old illustration of Joshua was to take out his stuffed animal giraffe, pretending to be the camel, to show how impossible it is to get through the eye of a needle. Today, at Tuesday City Bible Forum, Warwick de Jersey from St. Matthias preached on the same passage to challenge all the dressed-up city workers to serve God instead of our wealth. I love it when he tried to illustrate the "impossibility" -
How hard it is to get this large fat camel through this tiny eye of needle?! You need a very fine mincer.
Everyone laughed, and immediately he pointed out that Jesus was basically saying that the task is impossible. "Not 'Mission Impossible' kind of 'impossible' where it is still somehow 'possible' for Tim Cruise to do. But Jesus is saying that for the rich to enter the kingdom of God, it is IMPOSSIBLE. Period."
I've never listened to his sermons before, but it turns out that Warwick de Jeresy is a very good speaker. He has interesting facial expression, slow down and speed up depending on the context, great illustrations, humorous - quite an Aussie kind of humour, etc. He made an illustration at the very beginning of the talk to challenge the audiences about the two questions that will be answered today, and he made the punch at the right spot. I was certainly challenged.
That is one thing that drew me back to City Bible Forum again and again. Initially I was a bit hesitated to go as the talks were usually short, discontinued from week to week, and not really "theologically challenged" like what we usually have on Sundays. However, later I realised that all these short talks were evangelistic in nature, which the speakers spent hours preparing for them, and are really useful as templates for my future evangelistic talks. They are around 20 minutes, have one central Bible passage and always have a challenge at the end. I should have jogged down all the notes...
Anyway. Now back to the passage. I guess many people who have read this passage for the first time would ask - "did Jesus really ask me to sell everything I've got in order to get into the kingdom of God?" One interesting point Warwick made about the problem of that rich young ruler, was that he did not obey what Jesus has commanded. Jesus gave two commandments, as we see in Mark 12.
Mark 12:29-31 (ESV)
29Jesus answered, "The most important is, 'Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' 31The second is this: 'You shall love your neighbour as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these."
The rich young ruler has certainly obeyed the second commandment. In Luke 18:20-21 he has kept all the "doing-good" commandments, and his neighbour would definitely pull their thumbs up - he is just that nice bloke everyone loves. He has, however, also obeyed the first commandment - he loves his "god" so much to the point that he would not depart from his "god". Except that his "god" is his money, his wealth, and something he deeply depends on. Thus he cannot love that one true God with all his soul, all his mind and all his strength.
That is an interesting way to understand this passage - as suggested in D.B. Knox's book that the best commentary to the scripture is the scripture itself. The same 2-commandments were quoted in Luke 10:25-37 by an expert of the law who cannot even grasp what it means to "love thy neighbour", which makes a nice comparison here.
But nevertheless, what Jesus has demanded is more than just giving all our money to the poor, but one hundred percent dedication to God. What challenges us should be more than our generosity (which is not what the passage is talking about), but whether we love God whole heartily. If he is all we have depended upon, then the rest of that passage is comforting and assuring. "What is impossible with men is possible with God." It is not how much we have done to give up the luxury in life to follow Jesus, but how much Jesus has done so that even sinners would have eternal life.