Responding to the Challenges of Outward Blessing
The presence of God in the life of the believer is meant to be a blessing to His people. We are often found seeking the warmth and goodness of our Lord due to the darkness of the world in which we live. The difficulties that are present even in a day and age where we do not have to struggle for the daily necessities is something that we do not always know how to deal with as we should. It is the case that we can find ourselves looking at the past and giving thanks to God that we need not face the realities of warming the house with cow patties because there is no wood to burn, or that chewing leather is not our only hope for nourishment in the deadness of winter. As we take in the blessings the devil is keen on causing us despair by wondering why we struggle so much to be content in light of all the creature comforts of our century.
We’ve spoken before about the strange truth that it is easier to call out to Jehovah in days of trouble than it is in times of plenty. Part of this comes from the fact that we actually live, move, and have our being not with the God of the Bible, but the god of the gaps. In other words we cry out to Him to help us navigate the chasms between the solid ground. Yet, it is this type of attitude which points to why it is necessary for us to consider the nature of our Heavenly Divine Creator. It is why we spend time on the doctrine of God, and why it is good for our worship and prayer life to better comprehend His true nature, so that we can better see our need of Him in all things.
To do that this morning I want to take us to the twin stories of the rich young ruler and Zacchaeus. It is sometimes forgotten that these two descriptions of events in the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ fall almost back-to-back in Luke 18 and 19. The two men our Lord speaks to have a lot in common. First of all they are both rich, second they have a love for their position on the planet and the privileges of the life they now possess. Each in their own way are outwardly satisfied in their relationship with their work and their god. The difference of course is that when confronted with the gospel of grace their heart reaction is wildly out of step with one another in the love shown to them by the Messiah.
Luke as he presents the rich young ruler describes him as coming to Jesus with a direct question whereas Zacchaeus does not quite have the boldness the former has. That’s not to say Zacchaeus wouldn’t have if given the opportunity, but even the way they are introduced points us to something of the way the Holy Spirit was already working in the soul of the latter to prepare him for the meeting he would have in Jericho. It is the case in the Christian life that we often do not and cannot see the manner of the Lord’s providential labors before certain events overtake us. It is part of our living thanksgiving that moves the apostle Paul to remind us in Romans 8:26-27 of God’s intercession for His covenant people. He writes:
“. . . the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God.”
This is why we see the disparate reactions to the challenges of the teaching of Jesus. It’s not merely that the rich young ruler goes away sad due to his many riches, it’s because the rich young ruler refuses in his sin to see the richness available in Christ. It is why Zacchaeus in his wealth, hearing the same call to “. . . Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me” responds with faith and obedience worthy of repentance as he goes and does likewise in repairing the damage done in his tax collecting. (Luke 19:8). The seeds previously planted by the word have sprouted with a pouring out of the water of the Spirit upon the ground plowed and nurtured for growth at the time of the Lord’s choosing. (1 Cor. 3:5-8, John 6:65). The biblical doctrines of election and predestination are eminently practical as we struggle to see the world and life for what it is. Knowing that all things are in the hands of our God, even and especially even our own salvation is what allows us to properly compartmentalize our outward and inward blessings as wholly being under the control of the one who has ordered all things to His own glory.
So what then is our response in light of the message of the rich young ruler and Zacchaeus to the question posed in the opening paragraph? There is a simplicity to the Christian life that we often miss because we want to cooperate in some way with the work of God. The rich young ruler thought he was saved by his many works, and that the Lord had provided his wealth as a reward for that keeping of the commandments, and Christ’s challenge destroyed the conception he had of his own condition, and he fought against it with all his might, and went to Hell because of it.
Whereas with Zacchaeus what we see is that he had heard of what the Savior of man had come to do and he understood, even if he didn’t know it, that there was no hope or peace in the bounty he had gathered up unto himself. When Jesus called him to give up his earthly wealth he gladly did so because in his sin he saw the grace of the shed blood of the Lamb for him. He left all and went and followed the only source of truth he had found, precisely because Zacchaeus had seen in the face of Christ the future, eternal goodness only available in Him. He lived out Paul’s word of testimony in Philippians 4 that to be content in riches, poverty, freedom, slavery, whatever outward circumstance is to remember the source of all things is God almighty. No matter what the world looks like in 2024 or 2124 or 4 the peace of the believer is the same, no matter how the evil one would desire that we be discontent with our abundance and relative blessing. The call of Christ for us is the same. Leave off those idols and things preventing us from seeing the richness of our Savior, and remember that all has come from Him, for us, that we might dwell in Him, both in this life and the life to come.
A last word:
Blessings in Christ,
Rev. Benjamin Glaser
Bethany ARP Church