A Disciple's Identity: Simple Faith
Everyone here has had a job description at some point. Even two-year old children are asked to pick up the blocks and put them in the storage container. Tweens are shown how to mow the yard and empty the bag and then expected to do it. Whether it is washing windows or making windows or designing a buildings that have windows, we have all been given a good job description to help us know what we are doing. A good boss–or a good parent–first helps train you well in what to do and then expects it becomes part of who you are. This is discipleship! And someone who does it well usually follows a process similar to this:
I do, you watch
I do, you help
You do, I help
You do, I watch
I have done this process wrong many times, both as a boss, a parent, and an employee. Thankfully, we have a good Lord and Savior who does this perfectly! That is one of the things we have been seeing over these last few months as we have been preaching through Luke’s gospel. Jesus is living out a life of ministry with his disciples, and they are seeing him “do” ministry again and again. He heals, he casts out demons, and he proclaims the good news of the gospel. And, he asks them to help by taking their role in ministering as well. The twelve have been sent out to the villages (Luke 9:1-10) as have the seventy-two (Luke 10). They also are to heal, cast out demons, and spread the good news of the gospel of Jesus.
In Jesus’s discipleship of his followers, he doesn’t just stop at this practical level, but he presses into their hearts as well. Over these last two weeks that is what we have seen. Jesus is showing his disciples and us the attitudes that are pleasing to God. Don preached on Luke 17 ,and we saw Jesus calling his disciples to:
Take sin seriously in Luke 17:1–4.
Be willing to serve God in Luke 17:7–10.
Be those who praise God in Luke 17:11–19.
And to be ready and aware of what God is doing because he will return in Luke 17:20–37.
These attitudes that are pleasing to God are much harder to simply “do.” Rather, they have to be the fruits of who you are. You can try to fake that you take sin seriously, but you know in your heart if you aren’t. You can try to have an attitude of praise outwardly, but if your heart truly isn’t enamored with Jesus Christ, he knows. We see this in many other parables and stories that we haven’t looked at as we have gone through Luke. Just before our passage this morning Jesus talks about the Pharisee and the tax collector giving their offerings and the humility of the tax collector. How do you fake or do humility? That is especially true of our passages this morning—they are all about faith! How do you “do” faith? This morning we are going to see that Jesus calls us to:
Have simple faith in Luke 18:15–17.
Have faith that looks beyond worldly riches in Luke 18:18–30.
Have faith that brings sight in Luke 18:35–43.
We are going to see this faith is exemplified in a place you might not have expected—Zacchaeus in Luke 19:1–10, and we are reminded that it is only because of the mission Jesus is on that any of this will be and now is possible in Luke 18:31–34. Let’s look at this together.
Simple Faith (Luke 18:15–17)
Faith like a child. You’ve undoubtedly heard the phrase, but have you actually thought about it. As chapter 18 begins we see people bringing their children to Jesus. They seem to be looking for Jesus to impart a blessing on the children, but the disciples believe that the children will be a waste of Jesus time. The question is why—why would they think the children would be a waste of his time? I believe Jesus’s response helps us (Luke 18:16–17):
“Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”
The disciples seem to have believed that the simple understanding of a child means they couldn’t receive or grasp who and what Jesus was doing. But Jesus says this isn’t so. In fact, to a group of men who are struggling to see who Jesus is this may have been a bit of a rebuke. He tells them that it is only the simple faith of a child that can receive the kingdom of God. The kind of faith that trusts parents when they tell them the world is round but they can’t see it yet, the faith that trusts the stars are still up in heaven even when the daylight obscures them behind the blue mask of our atmosphere. That type of faith should make us careful with what we tell our children is true.
Have you made your receiving of the kingdom of God too complicated? Do you think there are countless books to read, confessions to memorize, nuanced theological points that you need to have settled before you can have faith in Jesus? Or, before you can walk in simple faith with Jesus? Jesus has answers for every question you may have and there are amazing aspects of his kingdom to examine, but have you made those hurdles to the simple process of trusting him?
Faith That Looks Beyond Worldly Riches (Luke 18:18–30)
What happens next is almost the dichotomy to this example. From children who are simple and trusting in their faith, we turn to a man who is rich, religiously learned, and theologically nuanced. He asks Jesus a question: What must I do to inherit eternal life (Luke 18:18)?
Sidebar: This ruler also tries to butter up Jesus. Jesus catches this in his phrase “good teacher” and calls him to account. I love how throughout scripture Jesus isn’t afraid to point out how the cultural niceties of a day are in contrast to what people actually think. I once asked a young man how he was doing and he replied, “Do you really care about me or are you just following a social convention?” Besides being a little taken aback, I realized he was right to ask that question. So, too, Jesus questions up-front if this man really believes he is good…because it will determine how he should respond to what Jesus is about to say.
Jesus focuses on several of the commandments: Don’t commit adultery, don’t murder, do not steal, do not bear false witness, honor your father and your mother. These are all the outwardly focused commandments of the law. They are easily measurable. And the man replies:
All these I have kept from my youth.
Now, if you or I said that to one of our friends, especially a family member, they would undoubtedly reply, “Liar.” Interestingly, Jesus doesn’t. He continues on:
“One thing you lack. Sell all that you have and distribute it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come and follow me.”
Jesus points this ruler to two things. First, he points him further down the road of thinking outside himself and shows where that road ends for this man—at his possessions. Throughout Luke Jesus shows the trap for rich people. In Luke 12:13–21 Jesus confronts the covetousness of a man looking for his inheritance and points him instead to loving God. Similarly, in Luke 16:19–31 in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus we see how the rich man could not see beyond himself, and definitely did not see to serve God. This concern is summed up in Jesus’ phrase:
“How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter into the kingdom of God.” Luke 18:24
Now, before you think to yourself, “Yeah, that Donald Trump should use the wealth he has better. Or that Bill Gates. Or Clintons. Or Jeff Bezos. Or, or, or.” Let me refocus us for a minute on our reality.
An average yearly income of $32,000 puts you in the top 1% of wage earners in the entire world.  15% of the world’s population lives on $2 or less daily, another 56% live on $2-$10/day, and an additional 13% live on $10-$20/day. That means 84% of all people in our world live on less than $20/day or $7300/year, and many on much less.
This is your concern. Living here, in America, in 2019, this is your concern.
Jesus isn’t only trying to make a point about wealth. When the disciples remind him they have left all they have to follow him, he doesn’t just respond with, “Yes, well done” but he reminds them that you shouldn’t look to anything—wealth, friends, and family—to help you inherit eternal life. This is where the second part of his comment to the ruler comes in. He says to him:
Come and follow me.
Wealth, possessions, people won’t change your core problem—you are a sinner. In fact, access to more money and more things and activities likely only brings you more opportunities to sin. It can also bring you the ability to use that money for the kingdom of God. Jesus’s comment isn’t singling out rich people, simply reminding them that they don’t have any advantage. They must come to him like anyone else, and may even be inhibited by their possessions.
Are you looking anywhere other than God to save you? It is through a relationship that you are saved, not through your own actions. It doesn’t matter how much you have, how many experiences you have, how many people you know and have surrounding your—you are saved through your relationship with Jesus Christ alone. Do you believe this, and does your life demonstrate this through your priorities? As I mentioned, for many of us it will be wealth, and the opportunities that wealth brings, that will trap us. We forget our primary focus of spreading the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ and find ourselves trapped by the very things we thought would deliver us.
Jesus goes up and beyond in this passage and offers consolation to his disciples and to you and me. Even if they lose everything—possessions or people—they will find they have gained much more in God in the new heavens and the new earth. What a sweet reminder as we battle against our own desires and sinful tendencies!
Faith That Brings Sight (Luke 18:35–43)
In this string of stories we are looking at today, we find another healing. It seems like many we have seen before, but its inclusion here is very telling. It is all about a man requesting to have sight. This blind man begs Jesus in Luke 18:38:
Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!
He views his condition—blindness—as having only one solution. He needs the mercy of God. So, he cries out. Even when those around him try to silence him, he cries out. And amazingly, when he asks, Jesus says:
“Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him, glorifying God.
Why is this story here? Why in the midst of all that we have been seeing about characteristics that please God do we have a blind man calling out? I would suggest that it rounds out the picture of characteristics in a poignant way. You and I are blind—on our own we cannot see. And a characteristic, an attitude that pleases God, is to realize this and cry out to him for mercy! We can see what this looks like for a man who is literally blind, but what would it look like for those of us who aren’t literally blind, but like the disciples are blind to who Jesus is?
Zacchaeus—attitudes that please God. (Luke 19:1-10)
This is the challenge before us with all these attitudes. How do they actually play out in my life? That is often the role I and anyone else who preaches has to play…how do I help you make the transition from encouragements of how to think and act to your day-to-day life. And sometimes, the writer of scriptures does exactly that for you. I think God worked in Zachaeus’s heart at this moment to show us exactly how it might look in our life.
If you grew up in church, this is likely the Zacchaeus you remember [image]. A felt-board Zacchaeus, in a tree, because he was a wee little man and wee little man was he. Yet, lets read this entire account of Zacchaeus and remind ourselves what it really says about him:
He entered Jericho and was passing through. And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “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 19:1–10)
Here is a man who is aware of the day and time, like we were exhorted to be in Luke 17:20–37. He knows Jesus is coming and he wants to take advantage of the moment. In fact, he knows one of his main goals—he wants to see Jesus. Just like the blind man we just read about in Luke 18:35–43, Zacchaeus is willing to do what is needed, even look silly, to see and know Jesus. He demonstrates very simple faith, quite childlike, and climbs a tree—an act no adult would have done in his day—to make sure he can finally see Jesus. A simple faith like Luke 18:15–17. And when Jesus calls him, he is willing to serve like Luke 17:7–10. He is willing to take Jesus to his house and serve him through a meal. And he received Jesus joyfully, and in doing so gives praise to God through his actions as we are asked to do in Luke 17:11–19. In fact, Zacchaeus doesn’t just bring Jesus in, but he responds. He sees how great his sin has been, like we were encouraged in Luke 17:1–4, and he gives much of his possessions away. He looks beyond worldly riches in a way the young ruler couldn’t in Luke 18:18–30, and finds his joy in Jesus!
Zacchaeus is not just a child’s story—he is a great example of what these attitudes would look like for us in real life. Don’t miss what Jesus says about him: “He also is a son of Abraham.” This is not speaking to a Jewish heritage, but rather to a heart that has accepted God by faith and is responding out of that faith—not to earn Gods favor but in joyful response to the mercy he feels he has received by God. This is one of the few people whom Jesus says during his earthly ministry is saved because of his response.
Jesus as the Son of Man and Son of God
Zacchaeus sees what we all need to see—who Jesus really is. Previously, Jesus has been trying to keep people from propagating his messianic role. But here he begins to allow the tension to rise, as his ministry on earth is about to come to an end. The rich young ruler calls him “good,” a title Jesus reminds him should only be used of God. The blind man calls him the “Son of David” and he and Zacchaeus call him “Lord,” messianic titles that he allows to stand. And Jesus himself reminds his disciples that he is heading toward his death:
And taking the twelve, he said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.” But they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said. (Luke 18:31–34)
This is where we are going to go over the next three weeks, culminating in Jesus’s death and resurrection.
But don’t miss what we are seeing this morning. Whether you are here and are not yet a believer or you are a believer, don’t get the process backward. I think we often start at the end of the discipleship process and imagine Jesus is standing before us saying,
“You do, I watch.”
As though how we perform at these attitudes that please God will determine if we are worthy to be saved. When we do that, when we turn these attitudes into a check list, we end up failing and have to say along what the disciples in Luke 18:26:
“Then who can be saved?”
Rather, when we realize we are meeting a person—Jesus: The Son of God come in power and authority to save and empower his people through the cross—we turn that attitude on its head. We come to a person, a friend, our Lord, our God, and find that by looking to him we are changed. “I do, you watch” is what he is saying to us in coming to earth. When we start by watching him, knowing him, engaging in a relationship with him, we are changed. This is why parents want their kids to hang out with good friends—they know their relationships will change them. This is true for you too. You are changed not by your own checklist of items that you work through but through your relationship with Jesus Christ. And he does what you and I could never do for ourselves—live a righteous life that pleases God and take on the penalty of your sins at the cross and die for you.
It is a life in relationship with a person that creates the fruit in your life that Jesus is asking for. We you live in relationship with Jesus your actions become the response of a child and not the work of a servant wishing he had his masters title position. The “I do, you help” aspects where Jesus leads you along gently into new areas of life are never meant to end with “You do, I watch.” As Jesus says,
“And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matt 28:20)
He promises he will always be there: “You do, I help.”