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God’s Word for You

Luke 18:26-27 possible for God

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Monday, December 17, 2018

26 Those who heard this said, “Then who can be saved?” 27 Jesus replied, “What is impossible for people is possible for God.”

The disciples are responding to what they’ve seen. A rich and powerful young man, a ruler among the Jews, thought that he was close to the kingdom of God and yet turned away because he loved his wealth too much. Jesus illustrated the difficulty by comparing the rich to a camel attempting to go through the eye of a needle. Astonished, the disciples have not missed the point: They, too, relied on earthly things. Jesus wasn’t only talking about money, but about anything we treasure: family, heritage, our own abilities, or even what we imagine to be our own righteousness.

The phrase, “can be saved” is stated in a way as to be understood as always being the case: “Who could ever be saved?” We could also translate: “Then, what person is able to be saved?” By asking this, the disciples and the others who heard what Jesus said were admitting that they couldn’t see any way for anyone to be saved. The wealthy man went away, but they regarded wealth as a mark of divine favor. If this wasn’t the case, then what could be done to be saved? And that question opens the wound in mankind’s flesh.

There is nothing man can do toward being saved.

Our Confession states, with many preliminary remarks and explanatory passages: “We believe that in spiritual and divine things the intellect, heart, and will of unregenerated man cannot by any native or natural powers in any way understand, believe, accept, imagine, will, begin, accomplish, do, effect, or cooperate, but that man is entirely and completely dead and corrupted as far as anything good is concerned… Not a spark of spiritual powers has remained in man by which he could make himself ready for the grace of God or to accept the proffered grace, nor that he has any capacity for grace” (Formula of Concord, Art. II, 7).

To restate: Man doesn’t even have the capacity to receive God’s grace. This is how far fallen mankind is. This is what Jesus means by “impossible for people.” He leaves no crack, no hole, no window, no ledge for us to find a foothold. Left to ourselves, man has no ability at all toward salvation. Man is dead, and this is what Paul said: “You were dead in your transgressions and sins” (Ephesians 2:1).

Permit me to step outside the verse for a moment to consider the Third Gospel as a whole. Luke’s theme for his associate Theophilus is “that you may know the certainty” (Luke 1:4). Here, just before the account of Jesus’ Passion begins to gather momentum, he incorporates this account of the rich young ruler to illustrate just how vital it was that Jesus should undergo all of the things he suffered. Without Jesus, salvation would be impossible for anyone. Moses, Abraham, Adam and Eve—anyone. No human being is capable of achieving righteousness, and by ourselves we are not even capable of receiving God’s righteousness. We are spiritual corpses in our fallen state.

Yet Jesus spoke the miraculous words: “What is impossible for people is possible for God.” This is what the Psalms say: “Our God is in heaven, he does whatever pleases him” (Psalm 115:3), and “Let them praise the name of the LORD, for he commanded and they were created” (Psalm 148:5). We call God’s almighty power his omnipotence, and this means that, remembering that God is also perfect, God is able to do anything that he wills. In fact, as soon as God wills a thing, it is done, for his will is one with his power. In man, this is not the case. Man’s will is flawed by his sinful nature, and man’s power is flawed by weakness brought about by sin and all its consequences (age, disease, death, etc.). But with God, he simply speaks his will and the things comes to be—and sometimes Jesus even shows that the spoken word does not need to be explicit, but merely implied, such as when he commanded his disciples, “You give them something to eat” after which more than five thousand were fed (Luke 9:13-14). Some rationalists bring their pathetic schoolboy arguments against this doctrine, claiming that since God cannot die, he cannot ‘do everything,’ but to die for God would violate his perfection (Christ died only after he emptied himself of some of his divine power in his state of humiliation). So, all evil, wickedness, etc., is also not in mind when we acknowledge that God can do everything. In fact, God’s omnipotence is so unlimited and vast, that there is never anything God does that he could not follow with something even more spectacular. As Gerhard put it: “God never does something so intensely and efficaciously that he could not do it more intensely and efficaciously” (Loci, Book III, II § CXCVII; CPH p. 192).

This means that God can save us even though there is no way for us to save ourselves. God can give us his grace even though, in our sins, we are incapable of receiving it. A child numbed with Novocain at the dentist cannot drink or eat anything without spilling and making a dreadful mess, but his parents can gently spoon soup or pudding into his mouth so that he won’t spill a drop. So it is with our heavenly Father. We, dead in our sins and numb to anything God would give, can still receive what he gives because he is gracious, and not because we have any ability. God’s grace overcomes our deadness, and so we can be saved, and we are saved, through Jesus’ blood and righteousness.

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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