Camel through the eye of a needleEveryone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted (Luke 18:14). It’s a basic principle of the kingdom. The kingdom has subjects because the King, the Lord of Glory himself, humbled himself, laying aside His kingly dignity and took the form of a servant (Phil. 2:5-11). When you couple this with the fact that none of us deserves admittance to the kingdom, but instead deserve death as rebels and traitors, it makes sense that humility would be the path to citizenship and exaltation.

“Like a Child”

As the king approaches the capital, Luke continues to give us particulars of the kingdom. He relays the fact that parents were bringing children to be blessed by the king, but that the disciples rebuked them for it. Again, Jesus reminds them that everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted. Unless we receive the kingdom like children, we won’t receive it at all.

Children are not contributors. They contribute to our joy, but they really do not bring anything to the table for the family or for society, at least while they are young. And each of the terms Jesus uses to refer to children in this passage speaks of little kids. Unlike the Pharisee whose prayer was essentially a resume for a cabinet position in the kingdom, the child must receive the kingdom like the tax collector, as something wholly gracious, wholly given.

Like Camels through a Needle’s Eye

That’s why it is so hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom. Not only will he feel entitled to it, or at least able to contribute to it, not only will he not sense his true spiritual poverty, because his worldly wealth conceals his need, but he will have become attached to that wealth. You cannot serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money (Luke 16:13). You will serve one master. And for the rich, their master will tend to be money.

Abraham and Lot were rich and were saved without selling all that they had. So was Job. So was Joseph of Arimathea. But, if we are relieved by that fact, we ought to think hard about our priorities.
That’s what Jesus pointed out to the rich young ruler. Having been determined to “do” something to inherit life (Luke 18:18), he was instructed that he should keep the commandments. Jesus reveals the naiveté in the man’s claim of fidelity to them. He commands but one act of obedience to demonstrate his unwillingness to keep even the first commandment, not to have any other gods before the Lord. His attachment to his wealth demonstrates an unwillingness to deny himself, an unwillingness to take up his cross and follow (Luke 9:23-25), an unwillingness to renounce all that he has (Luke 14:33), and a greater love for the things of this world than for eternal life.

So hard is it for a rich man to enter the kingdom, that Jesus uses an absurd image to capture the difficulty. A camel, the largest animal in the region is pictured as more easily passing through the eye of a needle than a rich man passing through the narrow door or taking the narrow path. The crowd captured the impossibility in the image. They as, “Who then can be saved?” For once, they ask the right question. And Jesus points out that the humanly impossible is met by divine power. God can save even the rich man.

Jesus requires that the rich young ruler divest himself of his worldly wealth. Are all Jesus’ disciples required to do the same? Do only the poor gain entry to the kingdom? No. Abraham and Lot were rich. So was Job. So was Joseph of Arimathea. But, if we are relieved by that fact, we ought to think hard about our priorities. God will have no rivals. If your money is taking your devotion and service, rather than God, then you ought, indeed, to divest yourself of it. If it is better to enter life maimed than to go to hell whole, surely it is better to enter life poor, than to go to hell rich.

An Alien Righteousness

The law does lead to life. It is only a path of destruction for us because that road has no shoulder. There is no margin for error…. But Jesus traveled that road to the end — for us.
The rich young ruler, like the Pharisee earlier in the chapter, wanted to rely on his obedience to enter the kingdom. Jesus did not lead him astray when he pointed him to the law. The law does lead to life (Lev 18:5; Ezek 20:11; Rom 10:5). It is only a path of destruction for us because that road has no shoulder. There is no margin for error. “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.” (James 2:10 ESV) But Jesus traveled that road. And he took it all the way to its destination, never wavering to the right or to the left. He lived a life of perfect obedience. That is why we do not stand before God as innocent, but as righteous. His obedience is applied to our account, even as his death is applied to satisfy the penalty we deserve.

Once we grasp that fact, and marvel at the grace of our salvation, no command the King might give is burdensome. Even selling all we have and giving to the poor would be a trivial thing, in light of the grand inheritance that awaits us in heaven. And once we grasp the grace of our salvation, we are humbled. And when we are humbled, we are sure to be exalted (Luke 18:14).