In a sense, we get quite the contrast here. On the one hand, we see the dismissiveness of the disciples toward children. Where Jesus sees real value, they see inconvenience and worthlessness. Jesus confronts that earthly mindset by telling us that not only do children have a place in the Kingdom of God, but that they in some sense, set the culture for the Kingdom of God. They are trusting, dependent, hopeful, non-jaded, open to possibility, wide-eyed with wonder, light hearted, non-anxious, and on and on. These are normative characteristics of the Kingdom.
Contrast that with the Rich Young Ruler, who is proud, self-sufficient, consumed with stuff, narrow in his perspective. There is something old about the man. He has no doubt labored hard to earn great wealth, but he has fallen into the trap of valuing earthly possessions of eternal purpose. He has given himself to success, affluence, and status, and he has no imgagination for value outside of those things. Jesus loves him enough to invite him out of the small existence centered stuff. If the Kingdom of God is received in a childlike fashion - empty hands, open heart, grateful, excited, nothing to offer - than it means we have to lay down our grown up aversions to childlikeness.
We have to renounce our notions of earning, deserving, entitlement, ownership and bringing something to the table. These are grown up mindsets and ideals which oppose the Kingdom. Jesus isn't interested in his poverty, he's interested in his surrender. The man is attached to and takes pride in earthly responsibilities, earthly values, earthly wealth, and earthly status.
Little children don't see the world through those lenses of self-importance. They don't need to be impressive. I wonder in what ways I've grown old... and in what ways you've grown old... Where we've lost our sense of enchantment with the world, and our wide eyed wonder at the simplicity of the gospel. I wonder what we're clinging so tightly to from an earthly standpoint, that Jesus makes us sad. What's better than Jesus? What are you trying to retain so intensely that it's robbing you of Jesus?
It's probably time you give that up. It's probably time we renounce and relinquish those things that grip our hearts so much that we would actually stare Jesus in the face and declare our sadness at the possibility of life with him but without what we truly treasure. It's probably time we recognize the grown up stupidity we've developed that desperately gropes for what cannot give any real life, while robbing us of childlike faith and enjoyment of the One who offers us the fullness of life.
A Prayer for Childlikeness:
Father, I am your child. Cause me to live like that. Take away my grown up need to impress you and prove myself, and to happily embrace that childlike dependence upon your provision for my need, and the childlike excitement to just receive the love you offer freely. Keep me from childishness, but grant to me childlikeness. Keep me from growing old as I am growing in maturity. Keep me from cherishing what is earthly and of no real value, as I nurture a desire for what is real and of eternal value. Cause me to even aggressively distance myself from that which robs me of nearness to Jesus and affection for Jesus. Help me to treasure what is most valuable in the world... my union with Christ. Amen.
v. 31-34 just land today. It's Easter week, Good Friday just around the corner, and here Jesus is, talking about what's coming, anticipating his own suffering. That the cross happened is unimaginable. But that Jesus knew the cross was coming before it happened and willingly stepped into it is impossible. That's mind boggling.
It's worth meditating on today as we turn our hearts toward Jesus' Passion. Here are a couple things to consider on this side of the cross according to what Jesus said before the cross.
1) The cross is the subject of the OT.
According to Jesus, his suffering was not happening in a vacuum or disonnected from history. Jesus says that his suffering and death has been planned, anticipated and foreshadowed throughout history. What is coming is not the undermining of God's plan but the fulfillment of God's plan. The suffering of Christ is not dusk... it's high noon.
2) The cross represents a holistic suffering.
What Jesus endured went far beyond the physical pain of crucifixion. He endured an incomprehensible degree of internal, emotional, social, psychological and spiritual anguish and torment as well. It could be argued that the physical suffering of Jesus' arrest, torture and execution was possibly the least of the pain Jesus endured. His Jesus' suffering in this particular way identifies him with any kind of suffering we ourselves endure.
3) The cross and resurrection is no human invention.
Even when told explicitly about what was coming, the disciples, as we tend to even today, are confounded by the gospel. It's contrary in every way to how we would design redemption and salvation. We would triumph by avoiding pain and death and defeat. Jesus chooses victory through pain and death and defeat. He overthrows evil, not by staying away from it, but by taking it's most violent blow and then getting up off the mat. No person designs things this way. It is the foolishness of man but the wisdom of God.
What's interesting about this text, sequentially, is that the next story Luke records is Jesus giving a blind man sight. Even when Jesus tells the disciples exactly what he is doing, they can't see it. But then Jesus performs the miracle of giving sight to the blind, and it's as if we see the disciples spiritual condition, and our own, represented in the physical blindness of the man. And just as he can't restore sight for himself, neither can we make ourselves see. Only Jesus can give sight to the blind. That's what they needed. And it's what we need... for God to heal us of our blindness, and open our eyes to see him crucified and risen so that we could live.
A Prayer for Sight:
Father, I am naturally and hopelessly blind unless you make me see. Darkness surrounds me and envelopes me unless you bring light. Please give me eyes to see Jesus... and by him, to see everything else. Amen.
Jesus came to seek and save the lost (v. 10). We tend to emphasize the lostness and responsivenes of the poor, the vulnerable, the marginalized, the despised, when it come to the gospel. We tend to define the rich outside of the category of those in need. Heck, Jesus himself said that it was more difficult for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven. So, there you go... Jesus isn't really on the side of the rich, right?
But then what to we do with Zacchaeus? Because he is wealthy. He is rich. And based on the position of tax collector, he's rich by means of corruption. He's an extortionist. And Jesus sought him out. Jesus identified himself with Zacchaeus, even publicly, which brought more ridicule and resentment his way.
It's important to realize that what keeps the rich distant from Jesus in a general sense, is their own self-sufficiency not Jesus' distaste for wealth. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with being rich, as we might have concluded from the story of the rich young ruler. We can't ascribe a moral value to income levels or socio-economic standing. Jesus came for Zacchaeus as much as he came for the poor widow who gave her only two coins to the temple in Luke 21 (aka the widow's mites).
Jesus came for the corrupt, dishonest, exploitative rich guy as much as he came for the crippled, oppressed, suffering poor guy. He came for the lost. And the lost are everywhere. The lost are us. The only question is whether we are blind to our lostness, or do we acknowledge our lostness. Riches often decieve us about our true state, but sometimes they land us in the category of the despised, for one reason or another, and it's an opportunity to feel our lostness to be found by Jesus.
The funny thing is that when Jesus saves the rich, as in this case, we see the poor respond with a similar resentment that the religious exhibit when the immoral are saved. It reminds us that we all have an inner Pharisee that tends to think of ourselves as better than another category of person, and we get tweaked when his grace reaches those we despise.
This was the Ninevites for Jonah. It was the prostitutes and tax collectors for the Pharisees. It was the Gentiles for the Jews and the rich for the poor. I wonder who it is for you. Who do you categorize in your own heart and mind as beyond the reaches of grace? Who do you consider to far afield to fall within the scope of Christ's redemption? Who do you not want to be saved?
There is something very dark about that impulse in every one of us... don't ignore it. Don't pretend it isn't there. Look it in the eye. See it for the lostness in you that it represents. After all, it's your lostness that sets you in the crosshairs of Jesus' salvation... so don't deny it. Don't justify it. Own it. And then repent for it. And sit around the table with Jesus and the rest of us who don't deserve to be with him.
A Prayer for Charity:
Father, I see people who aren't like me through such a jaded lens. It's so easy and natural for me to dislike and despise people who are different from me... culturally, socio-economically, educationally, generationally, etc. I can see those more successful than me and above me on the social strata as less than me just as I can see those beneath me on the social strata as less than me. I have a really dark streak in me that diminishes the value of others based on external factors, disregarding the image of God in them, and elevating something of myself above them. And my impulse is also to defend that posture of heart or at least to understate it. Help me see my own lostness in this particular way, that I might repent of it and root it out, so I can love those who you love and extend grace to those you've extended grace. And help me to see my own desperate need for grace continually, that I might stay grounded in the gospel. In Jesus' name... Amen.
Eschatology is a pretty fancy theological word that's really just about the future that God is bringing to the universe. This parable is eschatalogical in nature because it's really about Jesus' return and what happens to us depending on our response to him, prior to his return. Here a couple of insights from the parable...
1) The Kingdom of God is present now
Jesus' first coming inaugurated the Kingdom. His rule and reign is a present reality which we will either live in submission to our rebellion against. Whatever geo-political nation or state we live in, Christ has asserted his ultimate authority, over our earthly kingdoms, and we will either resent and reject his claim on the throne of our lives, or we will gladly accept and submit to his authority.
2) The Kingdom of God will reward God's servants proportionately
Jesus is clear that he honors and rewards those who humbly live in glad obedience to him now. Those who are faithful with what they are given, and who invest their lives for Kingdom advancement and leverage their influence for eternal impact, will be received into the Kingdom of God and entrusted with greater things in the Kingdom of God. Jesus honors faithfulness. And his people are co-heirs with him in the coming Kingdom, the future kings and queens of the universe... so all that gives us now is training ground for our future roles in his future kingdom and they do impact our future rewards. Even in eternity, it would seem that while we are equal in value, we will not be equal in responsibility or reward.
3) The Kingdom of God will punish God's enemies
Once Jesus returns, the time to repent and trust in Christ is over. There is no turning to Jesus at that point. Those who reject Jesus as Lord in this life will be given over to death... To reject Jesus' Lordship now, is to reject Jesus' Lordship forever. If you want nothing to with Christ's authority now, you will have nothing to with Christ for eternity. Hell is a real place and an eternal reality.
It's Easter week so it's worth pointing toward the resurrection of Jesus. He said in John 5 that at his return resurrection would be a reality for everybody... for those who believed in him it would be a resurrection unto life, and for those who rejected him it would be a resurrection unto death.
When pinched together, there seems to be a future for God's enemies, where they are given over to death, but a death without finality... they are dying but never dead. This is a dark reality coming. And while it is the glory and grace of Jesus that should draw us to him and motivate our lives, the reality of hell as an eternal destiny for anybody should jolt us out of our complacency toward those who have no embraced God's Kingdom now through faith in Jesus.
I don't think much about hell... but this is where those I love will spend their eternal days if they do not come to repentance. If I took that seriously, and if you do too, there will be a sense of urgency in our evangelistic fervor even as the promise of greater reward in God's kingdom ought to motivate great Christian faithfulness.
A Prayer for Fruitful Engagement with the Lost:
Father, expand my small and short view of things. Let me see now and live now in light of eternity. Let the terrible, unthinkable future of those who hate you motivate my love for them, my prayer for them, my personal engagement with them. Help me love people enough to wisely but urgently and boldly represent Christ and present the gospel. Use me and my life and my witness to make the Kingdom somehow visible to those in my life who are spiritually blind at this moment. Let the risen Jesus raise my level of awareness of ultimate things so that my life currently is leveraged for your Kingdom coming. Amen.
Here we are on Palm Sunday, Jesus' entrance into Jerusalem, and the cross looming ever larger and drawing ever nearer. What strikes me in this passage is that the warm reception and applause Jesus receives, is from the same crow that 5 days later will be violently rejecting and jeering at him. Their cries of "Hosanna" are going to change to cries of "Crucify him".
It reminds me of the fickle nature of our hearts, and how quickly we can change in our affections. Here they embrace Jesus, seemingly wholeheartedly. But later, they will utterly turn on him and violently oppose him. What causes such a radical shift?
It seems simple really... things can go very dark for us when don't get what we want. Jesus' coming, all the signs and wonders that they rejoiced in, indicated the Kingdom they were waiting for was at hand... but they wanted that Kingdom to flex it's muscle on Rome and restore Israel to a privileged, peaceful and prosperous status in the world. And they wanted it yesterday. When it becomes clear that the Kingdom Jesus is bringing does not accommodate their desires and expectations, they are enraged. And the crucifixion follows.
But what a window into the very heart of Jesus in v. 42-44. Jesus grieves their resistance to him and God's Kingdom. He knows they're deepest desires would indeed be fulfilled by what only he can bring and what he is bringing... he can give them the peace they long for... but they don't recognize it. They've wrongly diagnosed their need and, consequently, wrongly prescribed it's remedy.
But Jesus isn't angry at them. He isn't happy to give them what they deserve. He isn't relishing the chance to give to them what they have coming. Jesus isn't irritated and agitated, wanting nothing to do with them. His heart is breaking over their lostness. They are rejecting him and rebelling against him and they will violently crush him, yet he is, in these verses, not plotting his revenge, but grieving his sense of loss over their lostness.
Here it is, Good Friday, in 2018... and reading Luke 19 about Jesus, and what going on in him as he moved toward the cross, I'm struck by the paradoxical gentleness and resiliency he exhibits. There's a tenderness toward people, that in no way diminishes the toughness within him. This is such a perfect picture of love. I am seeing it even today through the lens of masculinity... this is what it looks like to be a man... to have the rugged determination and resiliency of enduring the worst of what humanity and life can throw at you, grounded in a sacrificial love for people and a deep resolve to do for the weak and vulnerable what they cannot do for themselves.
A Prayer for Courage and Compassion:
Lord God, my heart inclines me toward a selfish use of force in pursuit of justice for myself. But the courage and compassion you call us to, and which Christ exhibits, is the use of influence to pursue justice for others. I need that kind of heart... Jesus is so mighty. I need that... I need so much more of what he has and what he is... I want to be a warrior, able to wield my sword, but controlled and loving enough to keep it sheathed. Jesus has ultimate power, and yet he uses it sacrificailly, not selfishly. He uses on behalf of others, not for the protection of self. That's not me at all... but, Holy Spirit, you can produce this in me... would you give me something of the very heart of Jesus, where I can courageously but compassionately serve others and live for him. Amen.