Many people do not believe we should still have missionaries. Listen to this:
"In the past we had the so-called motive of saving souls. We were convinced that if not baptized, people in the masses would go to hell. Now, thanks be to God, we believe that all people and all religions are already living in the grace and love of God and will be saved by God's mercy" (Time magazine, 27 Dec 1982, p52).
That was spoken by Walbert Buhlmann - a Catholic missions secretary! In other words, he's saying: we don't need missionaries sharing the message of a saviour because no one is really lost. And sadly, he's not alone. But that is not the message of the Bible.
The truth is that all humans are lost and can do nothing to save themselves. Their only hope is Jesus. Acts 4:12 - "And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.". Jesus was born as a baby, lived a perfect life and then died on the cross for me and for you to make it possible for everyone who trusts in him to receive forgiveness and eternal life. There is no other way for those who are lost to be saved apart from by trusting in Jesus.
And the way God makes available that offer of eternal life is by the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ. And one name to describe those who preach that gospel message is missionaries. You may prefer a different name. But what you call them is not what matters. What they do is what matters. Men. Women. Young and old. Who deliberately cross barriers to proclaim the gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit so that every group of people in the world can hear the good news of Jesus. It may mean moving to a new country, to a people who speak a different language. Or it may mean crossing the road to talk to your neighbour, or speaking at the school gate with that parent who's from a very different background to you.
We absolutely need missionaries - those who can say, with the apostle Paul: "I am eager to preach the gospel… for I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek." (Romans 1:15-16)
It is therefore right that there should be those specially identified and set aside by the church to give their full attention doing that. That is one of the things we've been thinking about today. They're in this booklet – and they need to be prayed for and looked after and supported financially.
But it is also true that every one of us who believes in Jesus has our own part to play in that task. The whole world needs to hear the good news - or else they remain lost. We are all missionaries – in the place God has put us, using the gifts and opportunities we each have. We all have a part to play.
And the incredible passage we're looking at this morning from Luke's gospel contains at least four amazing truths that should motivate, excite and help us in that task. We've come, in our series in Luke's gospel - to the incredible account of Jesus and his conversation with the 'Rich Ruler' in Luke 18.18-30.
The first truth is found in verses 18 to 19 and is to do with who Jesus is. Have a look at verse 18:
"And a ruler asked him, 'Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?'"
Imagine the scene. Enter 'the ruler'. Definitely a VIP. We don't know what he ruled, but he's clearly the other end of the scale from the kids who've just been blocked from coming to brought to Jesus in the verses just before this. The ruler doesn't have any problem getting through the disciples to talk to Jesus - he's important, he's well known and he has a question for Jesus. "Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" Great question! And he's asking the right person!
Interestingly, Jesus has been asked this exact question before – back in Luke 10.25. But that time we are told it was a lawyer who was out to test Jesus. That time Jesus responded with the parable of the good Samaritan. But this man seems genuine. He gets a different response. Look at how Jesus answers him.
"And Jesus said to him, 'Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.'"
It's crucial we understand who Jesus is. Only those convinced of the uniqueness of Jesus will give their lives to speaking of him to others. He is nothing less than God himself. That is the first truth in this passage. The uniqueness of Jesus.
The man has done something unusual - he's given to Jesus a name that belonged to God. He's right, but does he realise what he's just said? Or was he just being polite? Jesus zooms in on that word 'good'. 'You say I'm good. But we know that only God is good.' Jesus doesn't deny he's good. He doesn't correct him. Perhaps the man has heard what Jesus said and seen what Jesus has done and reached the conclusion that he is good. Jesus is helping the man join up the dots about who Jesus is. Here is the logic: Jesus is good. Only God is good. Therefore…. Jesus is God.
Have you made that discovery yet? Jesus is not just a nice man. Not just a good teacher. Not just a spiritual guru who said some cool stuff. He is God, come down to earth on a mission. Take and read a free copy of Mark's gospel and as you read it, ask yourself – who else but God can speak and act like this. It's not too late to join a Life Explored group to ask any questions you may have about this – come and see me if you'd like more details.
We're jumping ahead but it's good to see where Luke is heading. Just a few verses later, Jesus tells us who he is and why he comes. Luke 19.10 Jesus tells us, speaking about himself, that "the Son of Man (that's an OT way of saying God) came to seek and save the lost".
Unless we are absolutely convinced that is who Jesus is, we will not see the need to speak of him to every person, in every language, in every place, in every culture through all of time. He isn't just one way to be saved. He is the only way. Because of who Jesus is, the news about him is for everyone.
The second truth is in the answer Jesus gives to the man's question: "What must I do to inherit eternal life". Have a look at verse 20:
"You know the commandments: 'Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honour your father and mother.' And he said, 'All these I have kept from my youth.'"
Jesus quotes five of the ten commandments. What is missing? The first four about loving God above all things and the final command about wealth: do not covet. Interesting! We'll come back to that.
But why does Jesus remind him of God's commandments? Is it because the way to inherit eternal life is to 'earn it' by being good enough? Jesus has already given us the answer to that! "No one is good except God alone." NO ONE. That includes this ruler. No one is good. It is impossible for anyone to keep the commandments. So why is Jesus asking this question?
The man's answer shows us why. The ruler thought that he had obeyed the commands of God. Or at least he was nearly good enough. But he was wrong. Nobody can inherit eternal life because nobody is good enough. That is what Jesus is helping him to see.
From the very first humans – Adam and Eve – onwards we have all been the same. We refuse to trust that the God who created us knows what is best. We reject him as the rightful ruler over us and think we can do what we want. The Bible describes that as lost. That doesn't mean we've slightly messed up, or that we've made one or two bad decisions. It means we are morally evil, spiritually sick. We are – at the very core of our being – sinfully lost, cut off from God, condemned by God and facing a horrifying judgement.
Does the ruler see that? Listen again to his response to Jesus. "All these I have kept from my youth". Does he feel lost? Does he feel in need of a saviour? Jesus has just been speaking of how you enter the Kingdom of God – like a child, ready to receive what you need from God, humbly coming with open hands, knowing you have nothing to bring, knowing that without him you are absolutely and completely lost. Does he see himself in that way?
No. He doesn't. "All these I have kept from my youth". If he had thought more about it, he would not have been so sure. He would have realised that he had neglected to obey even these five commands. Jesus helps him see what he couldn't see for himself. Verse 22:
"When Jesus heard this, he said to him, 'One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.'"
Remember those commands Jesus didn't mention? About loving God and not loving things? Listen to how Moses put it in Deuteronomy 6.5: "You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might." That is what he lacks.
This ruler was extremely rich. And his wealth had become his god, he trusted and loved his wealth more than the trusted and loved God. He was lost. And Jesus is helping him to see that. So, Jesus told him to sell all that he had and give the money to the poor. Then he should follow Jesus. How will he respond? He won't do it, because money has his heart. But you cannot be in the Kingdom of God if you won't listen to the king. Verse 23:
"But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich."
Looking back on it, can you see that the question he asked right at the start was all wrong? Does someone who realises they're lost ask "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" No – they realise they are so lost they cannot save themselves.
The truth is we cannot earn eternal life – it is a gift given to us. Will he realise he's lost and ask Jesus to help him?
It would appear not. He heard what Jesus said, and turned away in sadness. Later in the chapter, we hear about a blind beggar crying out to Jesus for help. What the blind man could see about Jesus so clearly, this ruler could not see. He was lost. In need of a saviour. In his hands, he had great wealth. If only he would put that down, he'd have given his hands to one who could have given him so much more. But he walked away.
What about you? Do you accept that you are not good? Do you see that you are lost and cannot help yourself? Will you come to Jesus with open hands and ask him for the gift of eternal life? Do it today. Before it is too late. Turn to him and receive eternal life.
Unless we are absolutely convinced that everyone is lost and without Jesus will – as someone once put it – pass into a night on which no morning dawns, we will not see the need to speak of him to every person, in every language, in every place, in every culture through all of time. Because everyone is lost, the news about Jesus is for everyone.
But next in our text, we see the third truth: that All things are possible with God. Look at verse 24:
"Jesus, seeing that he had become sad, said, 'How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.'"
This man was a ruler and he was exceedingly rich. His wealth made him feel self-sufficient. He felt no need for God's help. And he would not give it up. Jesus uses a powerful picture to drive home how hard it is for those who are rich to follow Jesus. Take a camel – a huge beast! Can that go through a tiny opening in a needle? It's a ridiculous image. But the point is clear and memorable. It's just not going to happen.
The reality is that to have Jesus as our king means to give up serving everything else. Luke 16.13: "No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money."
So don't miss the sober warning in these verses. As William Wilberforce once said: "prosperity hardens the heart". Our wealth can be dangerous – life-threatening. It might keep us from inheriting eternal life. We face the temptation to trust in that, instead of in God. Jesus couldn't be clearer. So watch out.
Moses warned of the same thing in Deuteronomy 6.10-15:
"And when the LORD your God brings you into the land that he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you—with great and good cities that you did not build, and houses full of all good things that you did not fill, and cisterns that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant—and when you eat and are full, then take care lest you forget the LORD, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. It is the LORD your God you shall fear. Him you shall serve and by his name you shall swear. You shall not go after other gods, the gods of the peoples who are around you — for the LORD your God in your midst is a jealous God—lest the anger of the LORD your God be kindled against you, and he destroy you from off the face of the earth.
Those of us who have an abundance of possessions in this life need to be on our guard.
Then comes the most incredible encouragement to get out and keep speaking about Jesus. Look at verse 26:
"Those who heard it said, 'Then who can be saved?' But he said, 'What is impossible with man is possible with God.'"
Who hasn't looked around – at friends, family, maybe even a homeless man begging outside your church - and said, "It's impossible"? To which Jesus agrees, "Yes, with man it is impossible."
Can I free someone from the enslaving power of the love of money? The rich young ruler went away sad because the bondage to 'things' cannot be broken by any man. With man it is impossible. We need to remember that.
But here is a wonderful, precious truth to hold onto "what is impossible with man is possible with God."
That's why I find it so encouraging to hear the stories – such as those from our recent Real Lives, Real Hope events – of those who now follow Jesus. Take for example Michael who went from knowing nothing of Jesus, homeless and begging outside our church to now trusting in Jesus and organising the Big Sleep Out in order to tell others the good news of Jesus reminds me that nothing is impossible with God.
If you missed watching those stories, then you'll find them, including Michael's, on clayton.tv and they're well worth a listen! Some stories are, perhaps, more dramatic than others. But in every case, it's a reminder that God can do the impossible – and that the gospel is powerful to save and rescue lost people. We need not fear or worry about our weakness. This is the Lord's work – he came to seek and save the lost.
That should fill us with confidence to speak about Jesus to every person, in every language, in every place, in every culture through all of time. God is in charge – our task is not hopeless – he can do the impossible even in the hardest, most difficult places and people on the planet. He can save both rich and poor. When we send people from our church – when we go ourselves - we are sending them out with the conviction that this gospel has the power to save.
That doesn't mean it will be easy. Which takes us to our fourth and final truth, which is that Jesus makes up for every loss. verse 28:
"And Peter said, 'See, we have left our homes and followed you.' And he said to them, 'Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers and sister or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, 30who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.'"
Peter points out that in following Jesus they have given up everything. Again, we are reminded of what is involved in following Jesus. To have Jesus as our king means to give up serving everything else. But don't lose sight of the promise that goes with it. Whatever you may give up to follow Jesus, God will give you more. That includes eternal life itself. But it's also a promise for now, and not just beyond the grave.
If you are deprived of your earthly family because you are a Christian – and as some know only too well that can part of the cost of following Jesus – you will receive back many times over in your spiritual family, the church. Jesus himself will make up for every loss. He is our brother, we are adopted into his family and in him know God as our loving father. We have a new home – an eternal home.
So don't hold back. Make Jesus known to as many others as possible. Whatever it may cost. Trust him with every need you have. Be like the merchant who sold all he had in order to buy the pearl of great value. Be like the apostle Paul who counted everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus his Lord. For his sake, he suffered the loss of all things and counted them as rubbish, in order that he may gain Christ.
To be in the service of the King of Kings is worth it whatever the short-term costs might be. Unless we are absolutely convinced of that, we will not have the courage to speak of him to every person, in every language, in every place, in every culture through all of time.
So, we have seen this morning that Jesus is unique – he is God who came to seek and save the lost. We have seen how lost we all are. We've been reminded that God can make the impossible, possible. We have been reminded that following him costs everything, but also that what we receive from him far outweighs any loss we may face.
So full of the Holy Spirit and strengthened by these truths, lets each of us play our part in telling all the world about Jesus. And let's support those who have gone from this church to do just that.