Often times, people tend to look at a Scriptural text without having any interest in the context of the passage. Instead, the passage is used to reflect one’s own view or to teach something that is not the intended meaning for the text. I call these specific texts that are associated with improper exegesis “misread texts”, for most of the time they are indeed misread. This will be a recurring series on the blog as there are far too many verses to deal with in one post.
Just when you probably thought that there couldn’t possibly be any more misread texts to analyze, there is another. This verse, like Jeremiah 29:11 and Philippians 4:13, is one that is very often quoted.
It always fascinates me that the most famous verses are typically the ones that are not only taken out of context, but also the ones that make people feel good about themselves. Ironically, the Bible does not direct our focus to ourselves, but rather Jesus Christ. That is why I am always cautious when I see a verse that is quoted for the use of self-empowerment. When someone does that, they already do more than miss the point of the passage. They miss the entirety of Scripture.
If I was to describe the context of the entire Bible or give a brief summary of what the message of the Holy Scriptures are, it would be this: God made man, man rebelled against Him, God sent His Son to save His people, and His people are saved from mankind by adoption into His family. One could basically say that the point of the entirety of Scripture is to declare that Jesus Christ is the Savior and Lord to those who have been called. He is the Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last, which means that Christ is of infinite importance regarding intellectuality, philosophy, livelihood, and especially Scriptural interpretation.
With this premise in mind, knowing what the Bible testifies to, we must examine the misread text to praise and glorify our great God, Jesus Christ. Luke 18:27 (NIV) says, “Jesus replied, ‘What is impossible with man is possible with God.'” As one can see from the verse, it is vague when taken by itself. Like Philippians 4:13, Luke 18:27 is something I could imagine being tattooed unto a football player’s arm or a soccer-mom’s ankle. The verse is also posted frequently on several social media pages, and sometimes the verse is put on pictures with beautiful backgrounds. I have heard this verse being misquoted, for the purposes of humanistic motivation from all types of groups. From the shallow, Charismatic speaker to the few Reformed preachers, Luke 18:27 has been taken out of its original context and has been purposefully misread. This means that there is false teaching present, and we must bring light to the text.
The only way to understand what this infamous verse is actually referring to, is to take a look at the context. It all begins with Luke 18:18 (ESV), “And a ruler asked Him, ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?'” From the very beginning of the story, we see a man of high status coming to Jesus to know how to be saved. This man’s conscious is obviously convicting him. He knows he can’t be saved unless a rabbi can direct him in the right direction. Now, what is interesting is what Jesus says next in Luke 18:19 (ESV), “‘Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.'” Jesus is basically telling the ruler that He is more than just a man. Jesus is not just a teacher, but He is God. The ruler was being reminded that the only One who can show him how to be saved in such a time is the God Himself.
Jesus then further establishes this point by asking the ruler if he was able to keep the Law in Luke 18:20. What has always interested me though is why Jesus left out some commandments. He mentions commandment seven first (because it was considered to be the worst sin), commandment six next, commandment eight third, commandment nine afterwards, and lastly commandment five. What happened to commandments one, two, three, four, and ten? I think it was because Jesus knew that a rich ruler like that man would have to cheat in some area to get there. It seems pretty obvious that Jesus knew that the ruler didn’t honor God, idolized riches, blasphemed God by loving money more, and was motivated by covetous greed. How do I know this?
The next verse, the rich ruler was ecstatic because the man had kept those commandments since he was a child. Of course he didn’t sleep with another woman, murder, steal, bear false witness, or dishonor his family. Those were some of the most basic ideals of Solomon’s proverbs, commended by all rich rulers, and even today revered by many millionaires and billionaires. Yet Jesus was not finished. Luke 18:22 says, “When Jesus heard this, He said to him, ‘One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.'” Sounds like a good deal. The rich ruler must’ve surely taken it, right? As I stated earlier, Jesus not mentioning certain commandments were a foreshadowing of his love for money. It becomes apparent when it says in Luke 18:23 (ESV), “But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich.”
The sad thing about all this, is that the Hebrews believed that if anyone had a real chance to get into Heaven, it would be the Pharisees and the rich rulers. The Pharisees were seen as God’s keepers of the Law, and rich rulers were seen as people whom God favored. However, Jesus makes it clear that is not the case. He goes on to say in Luke 18:24-25 (ESV), “‘How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the Kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God.'” Jesus couldn’t have been more clear than that. Have you tried putting a camel through a sewing needle? That’s how easy it is for a rich person to get into Heaven (by the way, if you have ever tried or succeeded to get a camel through, please contact us… we’d love to get your story).
Remember, Hebrews believed that rich people were guaranteed entry into Heaven. They were definitely startled when Jesus, the person they believe to be the greatest teacher of the Law, said to them that rich people had little to no chance of entering the Kingdom of Heaven. Luke 18:26 (ESV) then says, “Those who heard it said, ‘Then who can be saved?'” People were thinking that if rich people couldn’t get into Heaven, then no one could be saved. They were truly puzzled to that point as to whether or not someone had the slightest chance.
Then, Jesus utters the words from Luke 18:27 (ESV), “‘What is impossible with man is possible with God.'” People thought it was impossible for anyone to be saved unless they were of high stature, a great member of society, or a possessor of great wealth. In essence, a person couldn’t come to Heaven with rags. Jesus made it abundantly clear that people from every nation, every tongue, and every walk of life would have the chance to embrace God’s message. A path to Heaven seemed impossible to man, but God made sure that it would be possible through the Way, that is Jesus Christ. That is why Jesus showed the folly of man, and His divinity in the first two verses of the story to show that through Him man would be able to find salvation.
Why many quote Luke 18:27 as if it is to do with some kind of vague motivation, I have no idea. When taking a closer read of the text, one can see that it had nothing to do with someone’s dreams or wishes, but that it was about an inability to be saved. God Himself made a way for people to escape their sin, and also the punishment that comes with it. Death is not the end for a believer, whether rich or poor, but it is only the beginning of a Kingdom not likened to any other.
How grateful we should be! Jesus saved the least of the world, and many who thought they were unworthy. He came for the sick, He came for the poor, and He came for the helpless. Through Jesus Christ, my God, I was led to the impossible: salvation from my sin and from the gates of Hell.
Soli Deo Gloria.