Sometimes when we read the Bible, especially the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) we read the stories as being somewhat randomly put together. We must remember that the books of the Bible were put together in an order for a reason. Each author had a point they were trying to get across to an audience; the Gospels are not like the diary of an eight year old.
So, today I read Luke 18 and wondered why Dr. Luke arranged the chapter the way he did. It looked rather random at first, but I can see now his purpose in these stories.
The stories in Luke chapter 18 are the following: Jesus tells the parable of the persistent widow, Jesus tells the parable of the two men who prayed, Jesus blesses the children, Jesus speaks to the rich young man, Jesus predicts His death a third time and Jesus heals a blind beggar. Please take time to read Luke 18 so you can see to what I'm referring.
In this chapter Luke pairs stories to make his points. The pairings work inside out and then back to the centerpiece to finish Luke's point, I believe.
First pair: The two men who prayed and the rich young man.
This pair combines a parable and an actual event. In this pairing we are shown two people who think they can earn eternal life. The first is the Pharisee in the parable of the two men who prayed. The Pharisee says, "God, I thank you that I am not like other men... robbers, evildoers, adulterers... or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get." Meanwhile, the tax collector begs God for mercy because he recognizes his need for mercy. Jesus pronounces at the end of the parable: "... everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."
In the second half of this pair a rich young man comes to Jesus and asks, "Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus then has a give and take with the man before telling him to sell all he has and give it to the poor. At that point the rich young man sadly went away from Jesus. See, this man wanted to know what he could do to earn eternal life. Riches were seen as a blessing from God, he had been faithful to the commands of God yet he did not want to recognize he had a need he couldn't meet on his own through a little hard work. Receiving eternal life requires us to recognize our need to be saved, not to wonder what we can do to earn eternal life.
Second pair: The persistent widow and the healing of the blind beggar.
Again Luke pairs a parable with an actual event. In the parable the persistent widow makes a request over and over to a judge until he wears down and gives her what she requests. Jesus was teaching that our prayer life should mirror that of the widow; we are to ask and ask and ask God persistently in faith. Like the widow we must recognize that we need God to do for us what we cannot.
In the story of the blind beggar we see a man disregarded by society. Like the widow before, he is a man that people would rather have, no pun intended, out of sight. When the man shouts for Jesus to have mercy on him people try to shut him up, but he would not. He continued to shout for mercy because he recognized that he had a need that only Jesus could fulfill. Receiving eternal life requires that we ask God for what only He can do; we humble ourselves to ask Him to do what we never could.
Third pair: The center stories I believe are the lynchpins of the chapter. One story regards how we receive eternal life and the other points to how the possibility of us getting eternal life is achieved by Jesus.
People were bringing little children/babies to Jesus to be blessed, but His disciples shooed them away because they thought it was a waste of Jesus' time. "But Jesus called the children to Him and said, 'Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it."
Jesus is saying that the kingdom of God belongs to those who recognize their helplessness and simply receive to gift of the kingdom. Unlike the men in the first pair of stories, babies don't think they need to work for life. No baby does a trick or a chore before being fed or changed or held. Like the second pair of stories, babies are keenly aware of their helplessness. An infant will cry and cry until their need is met, they are persistent in their begging for life and mercy because their existence depends upon it. Jesus is saying that the kingdom belongs to ones like this. The kingdom of God does not belong to the self-righteous or the self-reliant. Rather, the kingdom of God is for those who are in great need of being saved and those who trust in Jesus to do for them what no one else can.
Finally, Jesus wins eternal life for His people through humility. In Luke 18:31-34 Jesus explains to His disciples that He has to die and then be raised again but they didn't get it. The disciples didn't understand, and I wouldn't have either, that the greatest victory in history had to be won in humility. Jesus' victory over sin and death came on a cross. Just one chapter later, chapter 19, Jesus has His triumphant procession and everyone misses that Jesus riding on a donkey wasn't the high point of the week, but His glorious moment would instead come on a cross like a common thief.
So, as we can see in Luke chapter 18 the stories aren't random. There is a lot of great truths to mine from each individual story but as we zoom out we can see that the structure of the chapter teaches us truth as well. The Gospel is for the humble; it is for those who realize their need. And the Gospel's immensity began in humility; Jesus humbling Himself to death on a cross ushered in the greatest news of all time.
Remember that the Gospel was achieved in humility for the lowly. "Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up" today.