Who Needs A Savior?
May 7, 2017 sermon
By John Ulrich, Senior Pastor
Through parables, Jesus teaches how one can have eternal life – and how one cannot. Ultimately, one must conclude…what is impossible with men is possible with God. We’re not perfect, but we can be forgiven – and that makes all the difference to live a grace-filled life.
- We all need a Savior.
The Rich Young Ruler asks Jesus what he needs to “do” to earn salvation. In false confidence, he’s relieved by Jesus’ response to “love his neighbor” something he’s “been doing” all along. Through more conversation Jesus reveals his true heart despite personal opinion otherwise. Like this man, if at first glance we consider ourselves basically good (i.e. loving, generous, and humble) – look again! Our “better-than-most” comparisons deceive us because they’re based on current social or cultural environments. The bottom line is: God defines good. Whether we recognize it or not, He says we are fallen and need a Savior, and He has provided a Savior.
- We all have a Savior.
Jesus is perfectly good, which is why He can save us. He led a life of perfect obedience, in perfect love of his neighbor – a life that we cannot live. If to be “good to your neighbor as yourself” is to give that which is most precious to you, God the Father gave his One and Only Son, and God the Son, gave his life. In doing this, God was showing his own goodness and why he alone is the standard of goodness in our lives. Jesus Saves! This is the good news! We’re not left here on our own to earn, to prove, or obey our way to heaven. The tax collector asked for mercy as a sinner, and was justified. Jesus said, let the children come – as one humbly and dependent – to receive the kingdom of God. The humble response of recognizing we need a Savior and that we have a Savior – is the way to eternal life.
- The more we know that…the more two things will happen: First, we will receive more of God’s grace. The more we can admit our need for grace is when more of God’s enabling grace will be found in our lives. Second, we will share more of God’s grace. The more we realize God’s love and forgiveness for us, the more compelling it becomes to love and forgive others.
- What are we doing in our lives in an attempt to be “good?”
- How does our American culture hinder our realization that we need a Savior? (i.e. wealth, medicine, status)?
- Why must we consider God’s definition of “good” over our own? What is possible in your life only through God?
- Why is pride a most dangerous sin?
- What are we afraid/unwilling to give up to follow Jesus?
- How does serving others show grace and humility? If we serve our Perry Creek Church community well, what results should we see?
There are some things that my friend Susan really likes about Jesus. Susan likes his teaching. She likes “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” She really likes “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone!” She likes Jesus teaching. She likes his parables. She doesn’t know too many of them – the story of the Good Samaritan – the story of the Prodigal Son. She’s always found those parables to be extremely compelling. They really make you stop and think, and she likes that. Susan really likes Jesus’ compassion. The way He reached out to the hurting, and healed the blind and fed the hungry. She thinks that’s cool. Susan likes the way that Jesus empowered people – the way he elevated the poor – the outcast – the way he treated women. There is a lot about Jesus that Susan really likes.
But the other day, Susan was exposed to something about Jesus that she’s just not sure about. She’s good with Jesus as a teacher – as a moral reformer – as a prophet – maybe even as a miracle worker. But the other day at work, one of her Christian friends started talking about Jesus as Savior, talking about how we all need saving from our sin – and from God’s judgment – and how that Jesus is that Savior for all of us.
Here’s the thing: Susan is a really nice person. She’s not violent. She doesn’t take things that belong to her. She tries to tell the truth. She’s nice to her family. She volunteers at the Library. She almost never raises her voice. She’s nice – nicer than some of the “Christians” she knows. And so she’s not sure she needs “a Savior.” She can appreciate that that’s meaningful for other people – addicts, and criminals and people that are preoccupied with their sin. But that’s not her.
While she likes much of what Jesus stands for, she’s not at all sure that she needs him to be her Savior. Well, maybe today you know a Susan. Maybe there’s someone like that in your family or at your workplace like Susan. Or maybe if you were being very honest, you’d have to say that’s you! You know you’re not perfect, but you’re not sure you need a Savior.
Well today we are continuing in our series called “the Real Jesus.” This is a series where we look at Jesus not as we want him to be or as society or Hollywood portrays him, but as the Bible actually describes him to be. We’ve already looked at Jesus as human and as divine. We’re going to look at him as Teacher, and Judge and King. Today we are going to look at this idea of Jesus as Savior.
Today as we talk about Jesus as Savior, we’re going to look at a group of stories from the Gospel of Luke about our need and God’s provision of salvation. As we look at these stories today, we’re going to see three things:
- Our need for a Savior (because we do all need a Savior)
- God’s provision of a Savior
- The results of having a Savior
We’re going to talk about those three things as we look at this passage today, and here’s my prayer for us: It’s that each and every one of us – from me – to you – to maybe the Susan’s in our audience today – will be reminded of our great need for a Savior. And that as we remember that, we will experience and share more and more of God’s grace with ourselves and others. That’s my prayer. So let’s read Luke 18:9-27:
To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men – robbers, evildoers, adulterers – or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
People were also bringing babies to Jesus to have him touch them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. But Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”
A certain ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good – except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.’”
“All these I have kept since I was a boy,” he said.
When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was a man of great wealth. Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
Those who heard this asked, “Who then can be saved?”
Jesus replied, “What is impossible with men is possible with God.”
– Luke 18:9-27
My first point about Jesus as Savior today is this:
We All Need a Savior
It may not seem like it – we may not feel like we need saving from our sin and from God’s judgment, but we all need a Savior. The last part of our passage – the story of this young man that is often called “the Rich Young Ruler” – shows us this. Let’s look at the story, and I’ll show you what I mean.
A man comes to Jesus with a question. We don’t know everything about the man, but we do know three things:
- He was rich. Luke tells us that he was a man of great wealth.
- He was young. Luke doesn’t tell us that, but Matthew – who includes this story in his gospel – mentions that this man was young.
- He was a ruler – probably not a synagogue ruler – he was too young for that – but he was from the ruling class – he was probably a leader in his community.
So he was a Rich Young Ruler. And he comes to Jesus with a question:
A certain ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” – Luke 18:18
His question is: “What must I do to go to heaven?” How can I earn it? Matthew’s gospel says “What good deed must I do to gain eternal life?” So the man accepts the fact that that there is such a thing as eternal life and that God will judge people and decide who gets eternal life. Now he’s asking Jesus what he needs to do to make sure he’s going to get it.
Jesus answers the man in two ways:
“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good – except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.’” – Luke 18:19-20
Now if you’ve been a Christian for a long time, I want you to notice that that is probably not the answer that many of us would give. If someone asked us what they need to do to get eternal life, we would probably say “You don’t need to do anything. You need to believe that Jesus died on the cross for your sin, and that he rose again, etc.” So when we read this, we might be like “You missed it, Jesus! You should have taken the guy down the Romans Road. You should have given him the four spiritual laws or done the napkin thing with the cross…” Isn’t it a shame that we weren’t there to help Jesus?
No Jesus actually knows all of that. At this point in his ministry, he’s already said that he would give his life as a ransom for many. He knows that. But Jesus also knows something else. He knows that this man – this Rich Young Ruler – doesn’t actually believe that he needs a Savior. A little instruction – sure – he could use that! Some affirmation and guidance from a godly teacher – absolutely! But does he think he needs a Savior? Not really! He’s religious. He’s a leader in his community. He’s one of the good guys. So he doesn’t really think he needs a Savior.
Jesus answers him in two ways:
* First, Jesus makes a curious statement. He says “Why do you call me good? No one is good, except God alone.” Now it’s interesting: the actual implication of what Jesus says here is that he is divine. Because if God is the only one that’s good – and Jesus is good – then by implication, Jesus is God. You should preach a sermon on that sometime, John! So this implies Jesus’ deity. But that’s not Jesus main point. Rather, his point is this: “It’s nice that you call me good, but good is not defined by your opinion. It’s defined by God.” Goodness is not defined by the people around us. It’s not defined by what they approve of or whether they tell us we’re good. It’s not defined by us – by our self-esteem – or whether we feel innocent. Rather, whether we are good or not is defined by God. He’s the standard. So Jesus is saying if we want to think of ourselves as good, we have to line up with what God says is good.
* Then Jesus reminds the man of what God has already said about goodness. He says you know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.’” Do those words remind you of anything? Where is that from? If you know the ten commandments, you’ll notice that Jesus lists five of them right here. If you know the ten commandments, you’ll notice that Jesus lists the easiest ones and the ones that relate to loving your neighbor as yourself. Four of the ten commandments relate to loving God:
- Have no other gods before me
- Don’t make any idols
- Don’t take the Lord’s name in vain, and
- Remember the Sabbath to keep it holy
Notice Jesus doesn’t even mention these. He leaves off the command not to covet, and honestly, these are far more difficult than the ones Jesus lists.
Basically what Jesus is saying is “Let’s start with loving your neighbor as yourself.” In fact, Matthew tells us that that is exactly what Jesus said “You know the commandments and then he lists these five and love your neighbor as yourself.”
So the man asks what good thing he should do to get eternal life, and Jesus says:
- Only God can define what’s good
- Let’s start by agreeing that you have to love your neighbor as yourself
That’s Jesus’ answer, and you can almost hear an audible sigh of relief!
“All these I have kept since I was a boy,” he said. – Luke 18:21
The guy is like “Really? That’ all I have to do? Just love my neighbor?!” The guy is like “That’s awesome! I mean – That’s my favorite! I’ve been doing that beautifully ever since my Bar-Mitzvah! Pound it Jesus! Drop the mic!” He says “Look, I’ve got that covered! I love my neighbor as myself!”
That’s what he says. And that is exactly the problem. See the man doesn’t actually love his neighbor as himself. He doesn’t fully, whole-heartedly keep the commandments that Jesus listed. You say “How do you know that?” because no one does.
He probably hasn’t murdered someone. He probably hasn’t slept with someone else’s wife. But in the sermon on the mount, Jesus showed that those commandments are about more than just the physical doing of those things. Those commands are also forbidding anger and lust – the heart conditions that are behind murder and adultery. He probably hasn’t stolen from someone in a way that is prosecutable, but has he really never withheld from one of his workers – from any of his business associates – from the poor – from God – what was rightfully theirs? Are we really supposed to believe that this guy has never stretched or distorted the truth to his advantage? Maybe not in court, but everyone does that! Let me say there is no way that this guy who is exceedingly rich – and surrounded by poverty – has loved his neighbor as himself.
He might feel like he’s a good guy. He might actually be better than those around him. He might be religious – and a community leader – and well-liked – but that’s not the standard. The standard is God. It’s what God says is good. And even though this young man doesn’t know it, he falls far short of that standard. Jesus wants him to know that, so he goes further:
When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” – Luke 18:22
Jesus responds to the man’s declaration of righteousness – of innocence – by saying “Fine, just do one more thing: Sell everything and give it all to the poor.” Now when we read Jesus’ response here, we might be tempted to think: “OK, that’s the real requirement! That’s what we’re really supposed to do to get eternal life – just sell everything we have, and give it to the poor.”
But please hear me: That’s not the point that Jesus is making here. To begin with, that’s not the only thing you would have to do if you were trying to earn eternal life. Even if the man did all the things Jesus lists here, there’s still the other four commandments about loving God – and the one about not coveting – and all the other commands in the Bible. So there’s other stuff, right?
But beyond that let me say just because you give everything away doesn’t mean you love your neighbor as yourself. In just a few verses, the disciples point out to Jesus that they have done that. They have left everything to follow him. Jesus says they will be rewarded for that – but listen – if you know the disciples, you know they still sin. They don’t love their neighbor as themselves! Even after they leave it all, they still bicker and fight. On the night of Jesus’ arrest, they are arguing over who is the greatest! They’ve done this, and they still don’t love their neighbor as themselves!
What Jesus is giving the man here is not the key to eternal life. Rather it’s a test to help the man see that he doesn’t measure up – that he doesn’t actually love his neighbor as he loves himself.
And we can see this from the man’s response:
When he heard this, he became very sad (and the clear implication is that he went away), because he was a man of great wealth. – Luke 18:23
It was easy for him to think that he was good. It was easy for him to think that he measured up when he was comparing himself to those around him or when he was focusing on the letter of the law in those five commandments. He could tell himself that he loved his neighbor as himself. But as soon as Jesus asked him to put his money where his mouth was – as soon as Jesus said “If you love your neighbor as yourself – give to your neighbor what you give to yourself” – the man balked. He didn’t measure up. He didn’t obey. He looked at his wealth – and he looked at his neighbor – and he looked at Jesus – and he went away sad, because he knew he couldn’t obey his way into heaven. What a tragedy!
Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” – Luke 18:24-25
Jesus is saying that there is a better chance that a camel can go through the eye of a sewing needle – there is a better chance that an ice cube can make it through hell – there is a better chance that the KC Chiefs are going to win the superbowl – there is a better chance that the Wolfpack – just kidding.” There’s a better chance of those things happening than there is that a rich person can do the good deeds that it would take to inherit eternal life.
It doesn’t just go for rich people. What Jesus says goes for all of us and what he’s saying is this: We all need a Savior. If we are going to stand before a holy and righteous God in the judgment who is the definition of good, we need a Savior because we are never going to make it on our own merits. If we’re honest with ourselves, we will know that we are broken and we’re never going to make it. I wish so badly that each of us could see that, because it’s so easy to convince ourselves that we’re not that bad off that we don’t really need a Savior. It’s so easy to compare ourselves to those around us – and pick our favorite commandments from the Bible – and tell ourselves that we are doing fine. But we’re not. We need a Savior.
To share with you just a piece of my own story: When I was younger, I struggled with sin like we all do but I thought: “Man, I don’t think my Pastor ever sins. If I became a Pastor, I bet I would never struggle with sin.” Then I became a Pastor and then I thought: “If I became a missionary – left it all behind and moved to some place like Africa – surely sin wouldn’t be such a struggle.”
Then I became a Missionary to Africa and what I saw about my heart shocked me: I didn’t see less sin in my heart. I saw more. I became more aware of it. It was easy for me to convince myself that I was a generous person when I was living here in America where we have welfare programs, and food stamps, and rescue missions to take care of the poor, and where we can live in the suburbs so we don’t have to interact with them. But when I lived alongside of people who had real need – who were truly hungry – and wanted everything that I had – I found out that I wasn’t so generous. Like the Rich Young Ruler, I didn’t want to give it all away.
When I switched cultures, I found out that a lot of the things I just excused about myself as an American could be really ugly. Cultures conspire together to hide certain sins. In any culture, there are some sins we make a big deal of and some sins that we basically ignore. When I lived in Africa, I found that some of the things I had just accepted as OK about myself were really ugly.
I saw that my anger and the sort of violent way I look at life was shocking, when I lived in a culture that actually saw anger as a sin. I saw the ugliness of my pride and arrogance in my heart. There were times when I was really embarrassed for my Shona friends to see the conceit and self-promotion that is accepted in our culture. When I lived with those who had almost nothing, I suddenly saw how really wasteful I was, and it was disturbing.
It was like this moment that Jesus had with the Rich Young Ruler. The veneer was stripped away, and I found out I was not as generous – not as loving – not as humble – not as good as I thought I was. It’s not that I was completely evil. It’s not that I was as bad as I could be. We’re all still made in the image of God. There is a basic goodness there. But we’re all fallen. I knew like I had never known it before that I needed a Savior. My sin still troubles me. Does your sin trouble you?
That’s point 1 – We all need a Savior. Now the good news is point 2:
We All Have A Savior
We all have a Savior – that’s the reason that Jesus came to this earth. He came to be a Savior. The name “Jesus” literally means “the Lord saves. ” When the Angel appeared to Joseph (Jesus’ earthly father) to tell him that Mary was going to have a child, he said “You shall call his name Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins.” And in his ministry – Jesus said he “came to seek and to save that which was lost.” The Bible calls Jesus the savior of the world. You need to know we have a Savior!
The problem with the Rich Young Ruler is that he thought there were only two options for him:
- Option 1: earn eternal life – obey completely – prove that you really love your neighbor as yourself and really love God with all your heart – prove that you are good, or
- Option 2: walk away sad. Because you’re on your own.
He thought those were the only two options. But those aren’t the only two options.
There’s a third option. It’s the option that’s found in the parable of the tax collector and the Pharisee. The Pharisee tried to prove that he was so much better than those around him. He tried to prove that he didn’t need a Savior. While the tax collector bowed his head and admitted – not just that nobody’s perfect – not just that he needed a little help – but that he needed a Savior. He said “God have mercy on me a sinner,” and Jesus said “God heard his prayer, and he went away justified – forgiven.” The third option is that option.
The third option is the option of the children who were being brought to Jesus. The children were coming to Jesus, and the disciples tried to stop them. But Jesus said “let the little children come to me – for to such as these belongs the Kingdom of God – unless you receive the kingdom as a little child, you will by no means enter into it.” By that, Jesus doesn’t mean that children are sinless. He doesn’t mean that children don’t ever sin. If you have any delusions about that, just baby sit a three year old for an afternoon. You’ll know that is not Jesus’ point!
That’s not what Jesus is saying. The point isn’t that they are sinless. Rather, the point is that they are dependent. A child knows that they are completely dependent on their parents for everything they need. They know that they bring nothing to the table, so they humbly ask their parents for what they need. Listen, that’s the third option. It’s the option of the Tax Collector. It’s the option of the children.
We have a Savior! That’s why Jesus says “With man, it’s impossible for the rich to enter the kingdom, but with God all things are possible.” We have a Savior!
I’ve seen Jesus save people in many ways. I’ve seen him save people physically as we pray for them. I’ve seen him save marriages. I’ve seen him save people from crushing guilt – or from a purposeless life – or from addiction.
But more than anything, Jesus came (just like the angel said) to save us from our sin. He came, and he lived the life that you and I should have lived – a life of perfect obedience to God – a life of perfect love for his neighbor. And then he died the death that you and I should have died. God poured out on his own son Jesus the punishment for my sin and for your sin.
In doing this, God was showing his own goodness and why he alone is the standard of goodness in our lives. To be good is to love your neighbor as yourself. It is to give to your neighbor that which is most precious to you. That’s what Jesus asked the man to do. That’s what the man couldn’t do. But in the gospel, God the Father gave his one and only Son, and God the Son gave his life. He gave everything he had. In essence he sold it all, and gave it to the poor.
The way for us to receive that gift is not to justify ourselves with our good works – or our innocence – or even by giving our goods away. The way to receive it is to take the route of the tax collector and confess our sin. It’s to take the route of the children and depend on God’s grace. All we have to do is realize that we bring nothing to the table and ask God’s forgiveness because of what Jesus has done, and we can go home justified.
So we all need a Savior. We all have a Savior. Now one more thing:
The More We Know That The More Two Things Will Happen
The more we know that (the more that we really know that we need a Savior – that we cannot make it on our own – and the more that we know we have a Savior in Jesus and only in him) – the more two things will happen:
1. We will receive more of God’s grace.
I don’t just mean when we get to heaven. I mean we will receive more of God’s grace in the here and now. Scripture promises us that. Did you know that? In both the Old Testament (the 1st half) and the New Testament (the 2nd half) of your Bible, it specifically says “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”
And it’s true. The more you are able to admit that you are not enough to do life on your own – the more you are able to depend on God and just hand him the keys to your life – and the more you do that – the more you are going to find God’s grace in your heart – and in your marriage – and in your friendships – and in your work.
I’m not promising that it will be easier. In fact, your circumstances may get more difficult. But you will experience the joy of not having to measure up – not having to maintain the façade – not having to go it alone. You’ll experience more of God’s enabling grace in the moments of your life.
That’s the first result: we will receive more of God’s grace. Now the second result is:
2. We will share more of God’s Grace
Not only are you going to receive more of God’s grace, but you are going to share more of it with others when that burden of trying to measure up and justify yourself is lifted off your shoulders.
When you know how much God has done for you – how much God has given for you – how much he loves you – it just makes you want to share it with other people. It makes you want to tell them about Jesus. And it makes you want to forgive them when they wrong you, because you realize how much forgiveness you have received from God. And it makes you want to show them the love of Christ.
I’ve talked to people who visit our church or who interact with us while we’re serving here in the community. Many of them ask a question. Not in so many words, but basically what they ask is: “Why are you so nice?” Why are you doing stuff for us? What are your parking guys so friendly? Why are you inviting us to dinner? Really, what they want to say is “What’s wrong with you guys?”
Here’s what’s wrong with us: We have a Savior. We realized that we couldn’t live the life that God made us to live on our own. We asked God to forgive us, and guide us, and live through us because of Jesus. And he did. We’re not perfect – far from it. But we are forgiven. We are loved. We know it because of Jesus, and we want to share that love with others.
- We all need a Savior.
- We all have a Savior available.
- And because of that – if we place our trust in him, we can experience God’s grace for ourselves and share God’s grace with others.