One thing you lack – Luke 18:15-34

If I were to ask you what is the one thing you lack you might think I was ridiculous. We all feel like we lack many things!

But what if you were wealthy enough to buy whatever you wanted, and yet Jesus Christ himself told you that there’s one thing you lack? Something money can’t buy.

If something comes to mind for you, the message that Jesus has for you in these verses is this: There is nothing more precious, more worth having, that Christ himself.

These notes accompany a sermon on YouTube delivered at Bromborough Evangelical Church in August 2023. You can find more in the series in our Sermon Index.

Christ is welcoming (15-17)

We’re going to come to a man who was self-sufficient and used to getting what he wanted – but could he get eternal life? But first, we get a glimpse of how you do come to the kingdom of God, and it’s quite different from what the ruler thought.

Read Luke 18:15.

  • Notice, “infants”. Babies. Rather like people bring babies to see important or famous people, for photos or blessing.
  • The disciples rebuked the parents: “Shoo! Jesus is far too busy to be bothered with you and your kids! He’s an important man!” (Which makes us important side-kicks…)

But Christ is welcoming. Read Luke 18:16-17.

He’s not saying that all babies are automatically part of the kingdom of God (some people have used these verses to promote infant baptism). But to enter the kingdom of God you must become like a baby.

In what way?

  • Remember that these were infants / babies.
  • Totally without their own means, utterly helpless.
  • They are completely dependent, necessarily trusting.

And that is how you come to Jesus, to the kingdom of God. You have no righteousness of your own, you are utterly helpless before a holy God. Which makes you completely dependent on his grace, his work, his forgiveness.  You can only come necessarily trusting – you come by faith.

And Christ is welcoming. And you must come to him, because only Christ is eternal life. That’s what the ruler is about to learn:

Christ is eternal life (18-23)

Read Luke 18:18.

  • That man was a ruler. He lived a good, clean life (v21) and he was very rich (v23).
  • And yet, he knew something was missing.
  • It’s not that he was dissatisfied with life – life was good.
  • Rather, he was unsatisfied. He lacked something.

He knew that Jesus had transformed the lives of many people and was a profound teacher and prophet of God. So he asks him: “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Jesus’ answer would have surprised him: Read Luke 18:19.

  • God is good. He is even goodness, because he is all he is.
  • When he created, he communicated his goodness into his creation, saying that it was “good”.
  • You might say a song is good, or a TV programme is good, usually in comparison with other songs or programmes.
  • But when you say a man is good you mean something quite different. It’s an inherent quality of goodness.
  • Jesus is saying, in effect, “Since God alone is good, be very careful who you call ‘good’.”

As it happens, Jesus is good – because he is God! But there’s a warning sign for the ruler: Does he really think he can be – or become – ‘good’? At least, good enough for eternal life?

Jesus is indeed “Good teacher” which means he will help the man learn a lesson he won’t forget.

A sincere (but wrong) self-belief

Read Luke 18:20-21.

  • The ruler was probably sincere.
  • By most people’s standards, he probably was very good.
  • In Psalm 18, David claimed to be “blameless” though it’s obvious he wasn’t.
  • But the sentiment stands: He might not be perfect, but he is God’s man and aims to live a life worthy of God.
    • Occasional sin is not the same as a sinful life of deliberate disregard for God.
  • Certainly Jesus didn’t rebuke him. Mark’s gospel actually tells us that Jesus loved him.
  • The man was sincere, but badly lacking something.

Read Luke 18:22-23.

What was the one thing he lacked?

  • Was there a command he’d been missing?
  • There’s no Bible command or expectation that you have to sell everything and give to the poor.
    • The chapter ends with Zacchaeus, another wealthy man who only gave some money away – which was fine and good.
  • Is Jesus inviting the ruler to ‘do’ something to earn his eternal life?
  • Is following Jesus the ‘work’ that the man has to do? 
  • And is giving all your stuff away an entry requirement for following Jesus?

Put yourself in the scene, right in the rich man’s shoes.

In his shoes

Jesus has told you there’s one thing you lack. “Sell all you have and distribute it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

Are you prepared to give up all your wealth to follow Jesus? Is he worth it? That’s what you’re grappling with.

If the answer is ‘no’ (Christ isn’t worth it), then you’ve discovered the one thing you lack: The knowledge that Christ is worth forsaking everything this world has to offer to follow.

The ruler was sad because he didn’t value Jesus high enough, higher than his ‘stuff’.

Why should he? Because of who Jesus is, and what he has done:

  • God exists in mysterious, unfathomable trinity. He is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – one God in three persons.
  • He exists outside of time, glorious in and of himself in his nature. He is goodness, wisdom, love, and so much more.
  • When God created the universe around us it became a theatre of his glory!
    • His creative power and sense of beauty and awe are on display for us to marvel at – so that we might worship our creator.
  • You, me, everyone – we rebel against this God over and over. 
  • He is justice, and will call our rebellion to punishment. He must, or else not be justice.

Yet he is also grace, and love, and patience, and kindness.

So the Son, the second person of the Trinity, entered his creation as a human being: Jesus, born of Mary, conceived in her by the Holy Spirit.

  • Jesus, Son of God, Son of Man, grew up.
  • He went through infancy, childhood, teenage years, and working man adulthood – all in perfect goodness, completely without sin, in thought, word, and action.
  • He did that with one purpose: To die.

Jesus, Son of God, saviour

Because Jesus is human, he can take the punishment your sins deserve: Death.

Because Jesus is divine, his sacrifice was deliberate and planned and is God’s own plan for you to be forgiven while still having justice against your sins. Jesus died, rose from the dead, and is now ascended far above all rulers and authorities in the world you can see, and those you can’t. 

  • He is the visible image of the invisible God.
  • Jesus is the exact representation of the Father to you, and the radiance of the Father’s glory to bless you.
  • He reigns in heaven in unimaginable glory, worshipped and magnified in the sight of holy, heavenly beings as well as believers who have gone before us into his presence.

When you meditate on Christ it’s like gazing at the sun – you can’t stare too long. His glory is an ocean whose depths you can’t look into. To pause and meditate on Christ is to join in with all the heavenly host who meditate on his glory day and night.

That ruler, that day, lacked on thing: The knowledge that Christ is worth forsaking everything this world has to offer to follow.

How can anything in this world begin to compare with the rich welcome that Christ can bring?

He calls you to come, as a helpless, dependent infant, trusting him for forgiveness. You go to Jesus.

God is gracious (24-27)

You are more tied to your possessions and things in this world than you realise. Our society has to be: They have no future hope, so this life is the best they will ever have. Attachment to this world will keep you from glory, as it keeps you from feeling the need to come to Christ. And the more you have, the stronger your attachment to the world. No wonder Jesus promised good news for the poor: You’re to come to Jesus with no claim, no demand, only a baby’s plea for help.

But God is gracious: Read Luke 18:24-27.

He really did mean the actual eye of a tiny needle! Impossible!

But God is gracious.

Without him you would have no hope, but since Jesus is the Son of God come into the world to save you, you have hope in him! The rich man had at least three things he could have done:

  1. If he truly grasped who Jesus is, he’d have fallen at Jesus’ feet in worship and gladly distributed everything.
  2. But he was so tied to his wealth, he just went away sad.
  3. More helpfully, he could have turned to Jesus in confession of his material heart: “Lord, you know me. Forgive me! Help my unbelief. Help me to know you better!”

He would have discovered that Christ is welcoming, Christ is eternal life, and that God is gracious.

You are more tied to this world than you realise; you need Christ.

Christ is the prize (28-30)

Next, Peter points out that he and the other disciples have actually done what Jesus commanded that ruler to do. Read Luke 18:28-30.

Does this mean that God ‘owes’ them something now? Have they earned special treatment?

No, everything you receive from Christ is by grace.  You deserve no good thing from him. But God is gracious! What Jesus promises there is more than what has been given up.

Certainly that will include the blessings of being part of a church.

  • The Bible has no notion of a Christian who doesn’t go to church.
  • It’s not that you have to; it’s more that you get to.
  • Jesus loves his church gathered together, and blesses us.
  • He puts you into his family, to be loved as an integrated family member.
  • We’re not perfect, and we’ll fall out, but we’ll always be family. 

But the blessing is even more than that: Christ is the prize.

He is the blessing “at this time, and eternal life in the age to come.”

John Owen: “To whom he is the hope of future glory, to them he is the life of present grace.”

And all this welcome, eternal life, grace and having a knowledge of Christ himself as a prize comes to you freely, of grace. Because:

Christ is the price (31-34)

Read Luke 18:31-34. Luke’s gospel follows Jesus’ early ministry up north near Galilee, then his journey south to Jerusalem, and then completes with the events in and around Jerusalem at the crucifixion.

Structurally, Luke has placed this just here as a marker – we’re virtually at Jerusalem, near Jericho, a day’s walk away. But more, you’re being given a picture of the riches Christ gave up to save you, and what depths he went to for you.

The fact that the prophets spoke about it reminds you that this was always God’s plan. Christ is welcoming and is eternal life. God is gracious, and Christ is the prize. Eternal life is offered to you by God himself.

Christ is of infinitely greater worth than anything in this world: Let nothing hold you back from turning to him.

He loves you, and gave his life to save you. Turn to him and be saved: If you have never done so, he is the one thing you lack. If you have, don’t turn back. Don’t get entangled in sin and worldly values: Treasure Christ, the prize. Meditate on him and make him your treasure. 

That is help at this time, and eternal life in the age to come.