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God’s Word for You

Luke 18:24-25 the eye of a needle

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Friday, December 14, 2018

24 Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God! 25 For 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.”

A wealthy man carries a burden that other men don’t bear, and seldom understand. The moment that massive wealth comes, a man is caught in a trap. He will do everything in his power to keep the wealth, but he knows that suddenly he has become a target for thieves, swindlers, grafters, and even brute robbers. He loses sleep wondering whether his money is safe, and agonizing over what he would do if he lost it all. Poorer men have no sympathy at all for him, and if he was unfortunate enough to inherit the wealth rather than earn it himself, then he has the added burden of not knowing what other people go through, and is far more likely to lack a moral compass of any kind to help him.

What a wealthy man must do is first of all to plead with God every morning and every evening that he will not be led into the temptations of greed and idolatry. He must not rely on his wealth for his security, because there is no security at all in wealth. Second, and only second after he has placed his faith in Christ and relies on the providence of God the Father for all he has, he must plead with God every morning and every evening that God would bless his efforts to use the wealth he has been entrusted with to the service of God and his kingdom. This, after all, is why God gives wealth in the first place.

Wealth can be a test to one who has it: “Whoever trusts in riches will fall, but the righteous will thrive like a green leaf” (Proverbs 11:28). Wealth can even be a test before it comes, at the mere offer: “Be careful that no one entices you by riches; do not let a large bribe turn you aside. Would all your wealth or even all your mighty efforts sustain you so you would not be in distress?” (Job 36:18-19). Remember how the wicked and foolish Haman boasted about his status and his “vast wealth” (Esther 5:11) and how far he fell because of his gloating.

Jesus illustrated the difficulty and the trap of a wealthy man with a brilliant illustration: “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.”  Notice that Jesus doesn’t say that it is impossible for a rich man to be saved; he just illustrates how difficult it is. Over the centuries, the devil has seized the opportunity to throw sand in our eyes like a cowardly fighter, and he has led men to question the meaning of what Jesus said.

In the decades or early centuries following Jesus’ ministry, the Jews adapted what he said using elephants in the Talmud. Elephants were seldom seen in Israel except in attacking armies such as the eighty elephants brought by Lysias in the days of the Maccabees (2 Macc. 11:4). In the fifth century a Greek copyist made a spelling error noted by Cyril of Alexandria (died 444 A.D.), changing κάμηλον “camel” to κάμιλον “cable,” the heavy rope used with a ship’s anchor. The image was not changed much by this, since an anchor cable can’t go through the eye of a sewing needle any more than a camel or an elephant. But then sometime before the Reformation, it became popular in sermons to claim that there was a small gate in Jerusalem meant for human traffic known as “the eye of the needle,” that a camel could only pass through with great difficulty, such as if it were unloaded of all its burdens and made to crawl on its knees. As a boy, I heard a version of this involving a tight rock formation rather than a gate, quoted from a classmate who attended another church in my hometown. This might have been a wonderful picture of penitence and humility, but it wasn’t based on any factual gate or rock formation in Jerusalem or Judea.

There is no reason to take Jesus’ words at anything other than face value. He means that it is difficult—very difficult—for a rich man to put his faith in God rather than in his wealth. We pray for many people, but we should remember also to pray for the wealthy, especially those wealthy people we know, or know about, that they be guided by the word of God to trust in the Father for their earthly needs, to trust in the Lord Jesus for their forgiveness, and to trust in the Holy Spirit to sustain their faith, and to use their wealth in God’s service according to the needs of the kingdom of God.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim SmithAbout Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. His wife, Kathryn, attended the Chapel from 1987-1990 while studying Secondary Education (Theater and Math) at UW-Madison. Kathryn’s father, John Meyer, was also the first man to serve as a Vicar at Chapel.

To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.

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