“Those who heard this asked, ‘Who then can be saved?’ Jesus replied, ‘What is impossible with men is possible with God.’” (Luke 18:26-27)
When we look around us at the state of our world, and even of our own lives, we often find ourselves wondering whether there is any hope for us. Why is it that there is so little evidence of righteousness in our lives or in our world? Is our situation really as hopeless as it seems? I have been helped recently as I have been wrestling with this question as I have been studying Luke 18:18-30 in preparation for our Evening Service this coming Sunday. This is Luke’s account of the ruler who comes to Jesus with a question about entering the Kingdom of God. Jesus’ answer exposes the fact that this ruler was trapped in the worship of his many possessions. In many ways each of us is trapped in the worship of wrong things. Jesus’ tough answer is to call the ruler to a radical repentance. He must sell his possessions, give the proceeds to the poor and then to follow Jesus. It is a hard calling that Jesus gives to this man, and to us in relation to those things that we worship. This is where our text comes in. We cannot save ourselves, but God can.
In my devotional reading each morning I am reflection on a little book by Michael Haykin entitled A Consuming Fire: The Piety of Alexander Whyte (Reformation Heritage Books, 2006,p29-31). Here I came across this powerful quotation from the pen of Whyte.
“During a solitary walk along the hillside above the village of Duirinish one day last September, all the way I was thinking about my own unceasing and ever-increasing temptations. Now as God would have it there had been a whole night of the densest sea-fog from the Atlantic, and the wet spray stood in millions of shining gems all over the spiders’ webs that were woven all over the broom, and the bracken, and the bushes within, and the bushes of heather. Had I not seen the scene with my own eyes I could not have believed it. The whole hillside was absolutely covered from top to bottom with spiders’ webs past all counting up. All the spiders in Scotland seemed to have conspired together to weave their webs and to spread their snares all over that Duirinish hillside that day.
To the casual and innocent-minded passerby the whole hillside would have seemed simply splendid with its brilliant network of sparkling silver. But the very brilliancy of the scene only made the hillside all the more horrible and diabolical to me, as I thought of the bloodthirsty devil that lay watching for the silly flies at the hidden heart of every silvery web. It was a Saturday forenoon, and it would have been well worth a weekend ticket to some of you just to have stood beside me for a few moments, and to have seen with your own eyes that satanic hillside that September forenoon. For myself, I shall never forget the sight. I see it at this moment as I stand here. A thousand times that sight has risen up before my eyes since I came home. If our Lord had been passing that hillside that forenoon he would have stopped his walk, and looking at the spiders’ webs he would have said to his disciples: “Such is the kingdom of Satan!” Which when the twelve had seen and had laid to heart they would have been exceedingly amazed, and would have said: “Who then could be saved?” Then he would have answered them: “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
It was the rising of the sun that morning that revealed to me those thousands on thousands of glistening snares. But for the sunlight falling on the hillside, and but for the subject of my morning meditation, I would wholly missed seeing that never-to-be-forgotten spectacle, and I would never have read to myself or to you that so impressive parable. If I had not been musing all the morning on matters of eternally vital importance to you and to me, and if I had not by that time high in the heavens, I would have stumbled on like any idle-minded holiday maker, and would never have seen so much as a single one of those thousands of death-spreading spiders’ snares. And so it is, I said to myself, with the thousands of Satan’s death-spreading snares in the case of every human soul. Satan’s accursed snares are woven and woven over every inch of every human soul. But those snares of Satan are wholly invisible till the sun rises and till the soul awakens to a life of watching and praying and believing. But when, by the special grace of God to any of us, we are so awakened, then this whole city in which we dwell becomes to us a second Duirinish hillside, and you and I become those dismembered flies whose blood-sucked wings and legs I saw dangling in the wind all up and down among those glistering spiders’ webs. The streets and squares of Edinburgh, our own houses, and our own churches even, all are that doleful hillside over again to every man who is not a stark Philistine. Nay to every man who is not a stark Philistine his own soul is that doleful hillside. For the very body which his soul inhabits is all set over with snares for his soul.”
Given what Whyte tells us in this illustration what hope is there for us? The LORD Jesus Christ answers this question in His response to the wealthy ruler. He must repent and believe. Earlier in Luke’s Gospel Jesus puts it this way. “If anyone is to come after Me he must deny himself, pick up his cross, and follow Me.” (Luke 9:23) This is our LORD’s invitation. It sounds impossible for us. However with the Holy Spirit at work in us it is possible because God is at work in us. Will you trust Him?