We enter God’s Kingdom with Empty Hands & Surrendering All
Intro: Morning South Sydney Anglican Church. My name is Matt Johnson and today we are continuing to think about God’s Kingdom. As I previously explained Luke 17-21 has a lot to say about the now and the not yet of God’s Kingdom. And at the end of today’s reading (verse 30) Jesus explicitly refers to A) the present age and B) the age to come…
PRAYER: Well in todays two stories the CHILDREN come to Jesus with empty hands and are blessed. The RICH MAN comes to Jesus with full hands and goes away sad. This made me think about a famous Christian hymn; “ROCK OF AGES” because it talks about coming to Jesus with empty hands. I’ll show you in a minute…
The hymn “Rock of Ages” was written by an Anglican Minister named AUGUSTUS TOPLADY in 1775. At the time Toplady (Anglican) was in an argument with John Wesley (Methodist) – over issues related to Calvinism, Arminianism and how people enter (and grow) in the Kingdom of God. CALVINISM tends to stress God’s Sovereignty and man’s passivity in salvation – ie Toplady. But ARMINIANISM tends to stress mans responsibility and mans choices in salvation – ie Wesley. Now mature Christians on both sides of this debate usually show one another grace. But some aspects of this debate between Toplady and Wesley is evident in the song – “Rock of Ages.” So let me show you a few verses from Rock of Ages…
Show: (Slide 2; Verse 1). Well this famous verse – harks back to Moses being hidden in the cleft of the Rock as God’s glory passed him by on Mt Sinai. Just as God’s hand covered and protected Moses in the cleft of the rock, so Jesus’ blood now covers and saves us from sin. Now Toplady was a Calvinist but the language of “DOUBLE CURE” came from John Wesley who was more Arminian. At this point in history the Calvinists generally spoke of Jesus’ blood as a single cure. Jesus’ blood was all about justification (being saved from guilt) and they almost ignored sanctification (being made holy)
Wesley was saying, no both are happening in the now of God’s kingdom – we are justified, but we are also being sanctified – as we surrender more and more to Jesus as King. And interestingly Toplady uses Wesley’s “DOUBLE CURE” – language.
Lets look at verse 2 (Slide 3 – Verse 2). Notice – not the labour of my hands. The rich ruler in today’s passage claims that through the labour of his hands he has fulfilled all God’s commands. But that is salvation by good works, not grace. Rock of Ages says that to enter Gods Kingdom (last line) God must save and save by grace…
This brings us to verse 3 (Slide 4 – Verse 3). The idea of – “nothing in my hand I bring”, (and references to being naked and helpless) is a reminder that we enter the Kingdom of God like little children – contributing nothing to our salvation. Sometimes it sounded like Wesley was saying our faith is what merits salvation. So Toplady says “nothing in my hand I bring – implying not even faith”. Despite the debate – Rock of Ages became a favourite hymn in both the Anglican Church and the Methodist Church. So how are people saved?
Point 1: Little Children enter the Kingdom with Absolute Dependent Faith
Show: Luke 18:15-17 (READ)
Explain: Well Jesus is clear that if 1) we want to enter God’s kingdom, then 2) we need to become like babies. The word “BABIES” can mean “babies”, but it also means little children. So, what attribute of little children are we meant to emulate to enter the Kingdom of God? Sometimes people claim that little children are innocent and sinless. Interestingly, this is usually claimed by people who have never had children. Every parent knows it’s not true. Children may not have the power or resources to commit great sin. But children are still sinful. In Psalm 51 – King David talks about being sinful from birth. So Jesus isn’t telling us to be sinless or innocent. That’s not possible.
Others think that what Jesus is talking about is FAITH or TRUST. Young children are usually very trusting. You say to a young child; “Jump to daddy and I’ll catch you” and a young child usually jumps. Say it to a teenager or young adult AND they look at you – like “yeh, sure. How stupid do you think I am?” So many conclude that it’s the TRUSTING NATURE of a little child that Jesus is encouraging us to emulate. This is at least partially true. The way we enter the Kingdom of God is by faith or trust in Jesus. Jesus basically says; “trust me and I will catch you.” So there is an aspect of children’s trusting, (non-cynical) nature that Jesus perhaps wants us to emulate.
Apply: But there is A COMPARISON in Luke 18 between the little children and the rich man. Both stories are about entering the Kingdom of God. The children come with empty hands. The rich man comes with full hands. For this reason – most Christians believe that THE ATTRIBUTE of little children that Jesus wants us to have is absolute dependence on him. Just as little children are ABSOLUTELY DEPENDENT on their parents for everything (even to bring them to Jesus), so Christians need to learn they are ABSOLUTELY DEPENDENT on Jesus in every aspect of salvation. Now this is hard to accept and even harder to comprehend.
But next week, Jesus will talk about being rejected, suffering, dying on a cross and then after three days rising from the dead. As Jesus approaches Jerusalem he begins to explain that his death and resurrection is what we MUST absolutely depend upon for salvation and blessing. (GOSPEL) THE PENALTY for sin is death and hell. So everyone who has sinned is going to die and go to hell. And just like little children we are powerless to change this reality. Like a little kid – we’ve pooped our pants in a horrendous way. It stinks. It’s a nappy blow-out and we can’t change our own nappy.
But Jesus says come to me and I will clean you up. I will do for you what you can’t do for yourselves. Now the debate between Calvinism and Arminianism is really whether we come to Jesus because God draws us to come OR do we come to Jesus because we choose to come. However we come, we come as absolutely dependent little children. (GOSPEL) When Jesus died on the cross – he took the penalty for all our sins. Like little children we don’t have the resources or ability to pay for our own sins – without it destroying us. So like a good parent – God came to earth in Jesus to take the punishment for your sins. God did this because HE STILL LOVES YOU as a child – even though you’ve been a wayward child. Then Jesus also showed us how powerful God is by rising from the dead.
So what we absolutely depend upon as Christians (as we enter God’s Kingdom by faith) is that Jesus has done everything necessary for our salvation. 1) Jesus has shown us God loves us. 2) Jesus has shown us our sins are all paid for at the cross. AND 3) Jesus has shown us that God has resurrection power to get us through all difficulties – even through the great tribulation. Salvation doesn’t depend on what we do. Salvation depends absolutely on Jesus and what Jesus has done and Jesus is doing. So like little children – Christians absolutely depend on Jesus’ death for our sins and resurrection to new life – and as we depend on Jesus and believe in Jesus we enter God’s Kingdom. But the rich man is not depending…
Point 2: The Rich Man is called to enter Gods Kingdom with Repentance*
Show: Lk.18:18-20 (READ)
Explain: Well, we now meet someone who is almost the exact opposite of a young dependent child. Where the children have nothing, this man appears to have everything. And like the Pharisee (last week) this man is depending on himself to get himself into God’s Kingdom. Matthew, Mark and Luke all record this same story with slight variations. So putting the different gospels together we see the rich man is kind of saying – A) I recognize you Jesus as a good man worthy of God’s Kingdom and B) I want you to recognize I am also a good man worthy of God’s Kingdom. But how good is good enough?
Theoretically, (and only theoretically) to be good enough for God’s kingdom – you need to perfectly obey all God’s commands from the cradle to the grave. So, Jesus begins by quoting 5 of THE TEN COMMANDMENTS. The five commandments Jesus quotes are all about love of neighbour – 1) no adultery, 2) no murder, 3) no stealing, 4) no false testimony and 5) honour your father and mother. This man then claims he has kept them all since he was a boy. Now interestingly the Greek word “boy” is often used to describe children who were coming of age. We might translate it adolescent or pre-teen. It’s the age where you are no longer ABSOLUTELY DEPENDENT on your parents. If you are a parent – you know the age I’m talking about. It’s a painful age where your kids think they no-longer need you. But this man is adamant that even as a young teen he honoured his mother and father properly. SO EITHER he is the first boy in history to honour his mother and father as a pre-teen OR he is completely delusional.
Jesus already knows the answer and the fact that Jesus doesn’t quote the tenth commandment is perhaps telling. The tenth commandment is of course about coveting your neighbour’s possessions. Its about material stuff and always coveting more – which is often a problem rich people have. Enough is never enough. And in a moment we’ll see the rich man has a problem with coveting wealth.
Let’s have a look at what Jesus says (Slide 9; Lk.18:22-23). Well, Jesus kind of says – hang on didn’t we just miss one of the 10 Commandments – about loving your neighbour? If you are as good as you claim – stop coveting material possessions AND give your wealth to the poor. Jesus just called his bluff. But this now highlights an even bigger problem with the first and second commandments.
The man goes away sad because he has great wealth. Again, there is an irony here because his money is now making him sad. But this – also shows he has a problem with the first and second command. THE VERY FIRST COMMAND is “I am the Lord your God, you shall have no other God’s before me.” But this man does not want to give up the god of money or the idol of greed, either for Jesus or a place in God’s kingdom. So this reveals the true state of his heart.
Apply: INCREDIBLY, despite his greed, idolatry and self-delusion Jesus still invites the rich man into God’s Kingdom. Jesus simply calls the man to repent and shoot his SACRED COW as he comes. Humble dependent child-like faith and repentance from sin are both necessary as we enter the Kingdom of God. Now this man’s sacred cow is money and greed. But we all have sacred cows we have to shoot as we enter God’s Kingdom. You can’t be in God’s Kingdom and still worship sacred cows. So you need to repent. There are some things in our sinful life that are just inconsistent with being in God’s Kingdom. So as we enter into God’s Kingdom we have to give certain things up. This is repentance.
Or you might call it surrender. What Jesus is now calling the rich man to do is ABSOLUTELY SURRENDER to him as King. The little children come with absolute dependence on Jesus as a good King who will bless them and this rich man needs to come absolutely surrendering to Jesus as the good King who wants to bless him. But how will giving up his wealth be a blessing? He can’t see it. He wants Jesus and he wants to remain rich and greedy.
The problem is – as you enter God’s Kingdom – you can’t sort of make Jesus your King. HE EITHER is your King or he isn’t your King. Coming into Gods Kingdom means accepting Jesus as King and absolutely surrendering to him (at least in principle). You repent. You take yourself off the throne and you put Jesus on the throne of your life. But have you really done that? Do you remember the old hymn “I surrender all.” The chorus says “I surrender all, I surrender all. All to Thee, my blessed Saviour, I surrender all.” As we enter God’s Kingdom we must surrender the rule of our life to Jesus. We must absolutely depend on Jesus like a little child – because he is Saviour. But we must also absolutely surrender everything to him because he is the King of everything and everyone in God’s Kingdom. But the man doesn’t want to repent or surrender – because he only sees negative.
So Jesus explains that it is harder for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God than it is for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle. Luke’s gospel (more than any other gospel) speaks about the dangers of money. Wealth tends to create self-dependence, rather than child-like dependence on Jesus. Wealth also creates the delusion of being ruler of our own destiny, instead of Jesus. So, in the Beatitudes of Luke’s gospel Jesus says; blessed are the poor for theirs is the Kingdom of God, but woe to the rich for you have already received your comfort. In Lukes gospel – we also get the parable of the rich fool who built bigger and bigger barns. This is only in Luke. In one barn he had his SUPERANNUATION, in another barn his HEALTH INSURANCE and in another barn his REAL ESTATE AND ASSETS. Now I’m sure no Christian would be so foolish as to build such bigger and bigger barns. But what then are we doing? Of course, we all respond – being good and wise stewards. But Jesus’ then tells another parable in Luke that says if you are not seriously investing in Gods Kingdom you are NOT being a good steward. Jesus also rebukes the Pharisees who Jesus says love money. AND HE MAKES THE FAMOUS STATEMENT – you cannot serve both God and money. So are we willing to repent and shoot this sacred cow if its necessary to save our soul.
I THINK – Jesus’ warning about it being hard for rich people to enter the Kingdom of God should give every Christian in the west – pause. By the worlds standards – most of us are rich AND in my opinion we all tend to depend on our money a bit too much. SO IF (and I say if) Jesus asked you to give up ALL your wealth for Gods Kingdom – could you shoot this sacred cow? I hope the answer is yes, because…
Point 3: Absolute Dependence & Absolute Surrender to Jesus is GAIN*
Show: Lk.18:26- 30 (READ)
Explain: Well Jesus is saying that to enter the Kingdom of God you have to ABSOLUTELY DEPEND on him in faith and ABSOLUTELY SURRENDER everything to him in repentance. The response of those listening is “what the…Are you serious? Who then can be saved?” Is it actually possible for a sinner to absolutely depend on Jesus like a child AND absolutely surrender everything they have to Jesus as King? We know this is not just talking about money – because Jesus goes on to talk about houses and marriages, family and children. Jesus expect us to absolutely surrender everything and give up what he says. Is that even possible for a sinner?
Well Jesus says although this is IMPOSSIBLE for sinful man to do on his own, it is POSSIBLE with God. Now at one level Jesus does this ABSOLUTE DEPENDENCE and ABSOLUTE SURRENDER FOR US – as he goes to the cross. He absolutely depends on God to save him and he absolutely surrenders everything (even his life) to God’s will. So, Jesus meets the Kingdom requirement of absolute dependence and absolute surrender FOR US. And what Jesus has done for us – becomes ours by faith. But then at another level (and this is John Wesley’s point) Jesus also works IN US (by the Holy Spirit) to create Christians who absolutely depend on him and absolutely surrender to him in everything. Now some of Wesley’s followers pushed this too far – and suggested that if Christians ABSOLUTELY SURRENDERED everything to Jesus NOW in this world, then they could kind of reach a state of sinless perfection and absolute blessing NOW in this world.
But the Bible is clear – that absolute dependence on Jesus, absolute surrender to Jesus and absolute blessing from Jesus will only happen when Jesus returns. Only when the mortal is clothed with immortality will we be completely liberated from the power of sin. But this remains the trajectory now. Look again; (Slide 12). Yes, Jesus’ death saves us from the guilt of sin – by the work he does for us. But Jesus’ death also saves us from the power of sin – by the work he does in us.
Now the power of sin has to do with self dependence and self autonomy. The lie of Satan is that you CAN’T absolutely depend on God and you CAN’T absolutely surrender everything to God – because he will let you down. You will lose. But the cross and resurrection of Jesus screams you can trust Jesus absolutely because he loves you and he is powerful to help you. So the more you comprehend the death and resurrection of Jesus (which Jesus will speak about next week) the more you begin to see that Jesus is ABSOLUTELY TRUSTWORTHY. The more you see that Jesus is absolutely trustworthy – the easier it becomes to ABSOLUTELY DEPEND on him and ABSOLUTELY SURRENDER to him. And here’s the kicker – the more you absolutely depend on Jesus and the more you absolutely surrender to Jesus – the more blessed you become NOW!
Jesus says (slide 13) no one who has left (ie given up) home or wife or brothers or sisters or parents or children for the Kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age – NOW. (Now this is not the prosperity gospel. So don’t hear it that way). But Jesus is saying the more you absolutely surrender to him NOW – the more blessings you will have in the Kingdom NOW.
Fact is – everyone who becomes a Christian will be called to surrender some things to Jesus. We all have sin in our life. We all have sacred cows we need to shoot. For some of us – it may be our home and material possessions (like the rich man). But this is not loss, it will be gain. You will get something better.
For some – it may be giving up the ideal of a WIFE OR A HUSBAND. If Jesus says – you can only marry a Christian and someone of the opposite sex – what will you do? Will you surrender to Jesus’ words or will you hold on to the sacred cow? If you do – you may find yourself married to a cow or a bull that will make you sad. That will not be gain, that will be loss. Perhaps you will be called to surrender the ideal of having children. In a world where INFERTILITY is rising many people are longing for children. Then science holds out ways to do that that are increasingly unethical. And while few ministers have the courage to shoot the sacred cow of IVF and “my right to have children” – the way modern IVF is now conducted is profoundly unethical. So will you surrender every aspect of your life to King Jesus, follow his instructions and trust he will bless you?
Of course, we all think THE MORE we surrender to Jesus – the more we lose. But Jesus says the MORE you surrender – the more blessings you will gain now, PLUS BONUS – eternal life later. John Wesley’s point was that while justification by faith – may be all of God’s grace, sanctification is not just a passive, sit back and wait process. As Jesus calls us into his Kingdom and speaks to us through His word – we need to exercise our new liberated will – in intentional choices to repent and surrender more and more of our life to Jesus. Shooting sacred cows and repenting of certain sins is never easy and sometimes we put it off indefinitely. But what blessings are we forfeiting by not giving up the things Jesus is calling us to give up? Sometimes no MONEY or less money is better than dirty money and a guilty conscience. And sometimes no marriage and simple service in God’s church is better than divorce and domestic violence. And I can assure you – no children is better than having blood on your hands from the destruction of unwanted IVF embryos. Jesus says come to him – absolutely depending on him and absolutely surrendering to him in everything – and then you will have gain now in Gods Kingdom and eternal life later in God’s Kingdom.