And a ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.’” And he said, “All these I have kept from my youth.” 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.” But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich. Jesus, seeing that he had become sad, said, “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.” Those who heard it said, “Then who can be saved?” But he said, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.”–Luke 18:22-27
He entered Jericho and was passing through. And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” –Luke 19:1-10
One day, a rich young ruler came up to Jesus with a really good question. In fact, this is probably the most important question you could ever ask. And he had come to the right person. He asked Jesus, “What must I do to go to heaven?” This man was pretty proud of all the good things he did, but wanted to make sure there weren’t any extra-super-holy things he was missing.
The problem was, he didn’t like Jesus’ answer. Jesus was able to look into this man’s heart. And Jesus saw that even though this guy did lots of good, religious things, deep down he didn’t really love God; what the man really loved was his money. So Jesus put his finger right on idol in this man’s heart. “Give away everything you have and come follow me. Then you’ll have real treasure, real wealth, in heaven.”
Well, that was not the answer that the rich man wanted to hear. He had to make a choice: what would he love more—God or money? And he just couldn’t bring himself to love God more. He decided he would rather have a couple years of rich living than to have Jesus and heaven forever and ever. And so he made a terrible decision: he walked away. When push came to shove, he chose his money over Jesus.
Jesus sadly watched him go. He knew that most people, if they had to choose between loving money and loving God, would rather have their money. So Jesus said, “It’s hard for rich people to get to heaven,” Jesus said. “In fact, it would be easier to squeeze a camel through the eye of a needle.”
Jesus’ friends were shocked. “Then who in the world can be saved?” they asked.
Jesus gave an amazing answer: “Nobody,” he said. “It’s impossible for people to save themselves. But even what’s impossible is possible for God.”
Now, most people think the story ends there, on a sad note. But it actually doesn’t. The story keeps going, because the next day, Jesus met another rich man. And this time, the conversation went very differently.
The next day, as Jesus was coming into the city, he met a wee little man named Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus was a rich man just like the rich young ruler before, but unlike the first man (who thought he was already a pretty good guy), Zacchaeus knew he was bad. He was a tax collector, a traitor, and a total creep. He had spent his whole career stealing money and ripping people off. Everyone who knew him hated him.
So when Jesus walked right up to him, Zacchaeus probably cringed. He probably thought Jesus was going to yell at him, or kick him, like everyone else did. So when, instead, Jesus said, “Zacchaeus, I’d like to have dinner at your house today,” Zacchaeus’s mouth probably dropped open. Why in the world would someone like Jesus want to hang out with someone like him? It was too good to be true.
But as the day went on, and Zacchaeus watched Jesus, he realized that it wasn’t too good to be true. He saw Jesus heal people, and touch the untouchable, and love the unlovable… people just like Zacchaeus. Like the sun coming up in the morning, a thought started dawning in Zacchaeus’s heart: “Jesus loves… me! Even me!”
And that simple, powerful truth changed everything. His whole life, Zacchaeus had loved money more than anything. He hadn’t cared how many people he hurt, he just wanted to be rich. But all of a sudden he saw how much better Jesus was. And just like that, something in his heart changed. He didn’t want his money anymore; he just wanted to be with Jesus. Wherever Jesus went, that’s where Zacchaeus wanted to go. Whatever Jesus did, that’s what Zacchaeus wanted to do to.
At dinner with Jesus that evening, he stood up and announced, “I’m done with chasing after money. I’m going to give away half of everything I own to the poor, and on top of that, I want to pay back everything I’ve ever stolen from anybody, and give them back four times more than I took.”
Jesus smiled. “Today, salvation has come to this house, because I came here to seek and save the lost.” God had done the impossible; the camel had gone through the eye of the needle; a rich person had found heaven.