Preached by Jason Abbott
Last week Benjamin opened-up the passage just before this one and showed how natural it is for us to fear how those around us will judge the things that we do while not thinking at all about how the Lord will judge the things we do. In that text, Jesus encourages his disciples to fear God—meaning we must not forget he’s God, we must not forget to revere him as the Creator of the universe. We must trust him above all things. And, when we do, Benjamin explained that there’s really nothing in the least to fear, because the Lord is loving and merciful and kind, and he cares for us tremendously. 1
Well, this week we’ll see that one knucklehead apparently missed this lesson. He’s not ready to trust the Lord above all. This man has big money on his mind. And, he’s concerned that he’s going to lose it. He consequently blurts out a request to Jesus for help. And, Jesus uses his plea as an opportunity to warn his disciples about the dangers of trusting in material possessions.
Let’s look at this passage together, for it certainly has a ton to teach us today in our wealth-worshiping culture.
13 Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” 14 But he said to him, “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?” 15 And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” 16 And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, 17 and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ 18 And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’ 20 But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21 So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”
Basically, this passage has two parts: (1st) a command, which this man gives to Jesus—“…tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” and (2nd) a story, which Jesus tells the crowd as a response to this man’s command and as a warning to all who will listen. So, let’s look at this interaction together.
1. A command (v. 13)
Now, if you’ve been here over the last few weeks then you know that Jesus is teaching the crowds. He’s in the middle of a sermon at this point in Luke’s account, and, as Jesus pauses for a moment, maybe to take a sip of water, perhaps to cough, a man in the crowd interrupts to tell Jesus to tell his brother to split an inheritance with him. And, we think—What a strange thing to say! Why would he demand this from Jesus? But, actually, it wasn’t strange at all for those who lived in Jesus’ day. Rabbis were experts in God’s law and were often summoned to settle legal questions like this one. 2 So, this interruption wasn’t terribly unusual.
What was unusual was the response of Jesus, because he doesn’t take kindly to this man’s situation. He won’t play the part of a typical rabbi. He won’t take sides. He won’t weigh in. The people there would have been surprised by this response from Jesus. They would have said—This is a totally different kind of rabbi. He plays by different rules. He has a different focus.
And, if that’s what’s going on here, if that’s how this crowd would’ve reacted, then we need to ask ourselves why Jesus didn’t simply play by normal rabbi rules and ask what his focus was. And, friends, the answer we find over and over again, throughout the gospel accounts, is that Jesus didn’t merely come to teach the laws of God’s kingdom on earth—but, to bring God’s kingdom and rule of law to earth. I like how Leon Morris put it:
[Jesus] came to bring men to God, not to bring property to men. 3
Friends, this poor man is only concerned with receiving an earthly inheritance, that will not last, when Christ Jesus has come to offer him a heavenly inheritance, that will not fade away. Without question, Jesus has a different focus and mission than other rabbis, and this crowd is just starting to grasp how unique he truly is.
In our day, people like to talk about Jesus as long as he’s one religious teacher among other equally acceptable religious teachers. In short, they are fond of Jesus until he’s unique—unique in his claims to authority, unique in his claims on truth, unique in his claims of salvation. When such claims come up, people aren’t so keen on Jesus anymore. You see, we all want Jesus to look like we imagine he should. The problem is that Jesus doesn’t give us that option. Rather than telling the Christ what he should look like—rather than crafting him into our own image—he tells us what we should look like—Jesus crafts us into his own image.
Friends, when you come to Christ, you give up any unique claims of authority over your life. That’s not, however, how most of us go about following Jesus…is it! Instead, we think that we can give Jesus a little of our time and a little of our energy and a little of our character; but, that’s not following Jesus. Jesus says: It’s all mine because I’m God. So, we don’t just give him a little. We give him every square inch of our existence. And, it’s the best thing we could possible do since Jesus created us and knows precisely what’s best for us. But, will you trust him with your everything? Will you trust him with your life?
Well, this bring us to the second part of the passage where Jesus tells:
2. A story (vv. 14-21)
Let’s take a moment to read this tale again. Once upon a time, Jesus says:
“The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God” (vv. 16-21).
One pastor, who preached this parable, pointed out how strange it seems (when you stop to think about it) that Jesus tells this story at this time to this man. Here we have a man who’s not receiving anything, and, when he tells Jesus to help, the Lord replies by telling him a story about a rich man who’s received everything. What’s up with this? What’s Jesus doing? The pastor went on to explain:
“Why would Jesus tell a story about one who has too much in order to answer a man who doesn’t have enough? Because although outwardly they are opposite, inwardly they are twins. The rich and the poor both think, If I have the right possessions, my life will be good.” 4
I wonder if you’ve ever thought about winning the lottery—what you’d buy, where you’d live, how you’d vacation. Have you ever done this? I did it recently, while we were in the middle of raising money for all the renovations to this building. I imagined how nice it would be to win millions of dollars and simply cut a check—and boom it’s done! No more worries. No more cutting corners. Brand new building. Of course, I’d cut that check after paying off my own house and financing college for my own kids and buying a new car or two for me and my wife and…so it goes: God can have his after I’ve had mine…right?
This is where the man in Jesus’ story finds himself. He’s won the crop-lottery. So, the man begins to plan how he will enjoy his newly found prosperity. And, notice where these plans immediately go. Note the possessive pronouns. He thinks:
– I have nowhere to store my crops (v. 17).
– I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods (v. 18).
– And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry” (v. 19).
For those counting, three verses with six references to how all the stuff is his. This man in Jesus’ little story is self-focused and self-interested; and, consequently, he’s in real self-danger. He believes it’s all his, but he’s about to find it’s all God’s, even his soul is God’s.
The word translated “required” in verse twenty was a Greek word often used when someone was recalling or collecting on a loan. 5 God is saying to this rich man: Don’t you remember that everything you have was given to you by me and for me. It’s all mine. How have you used all that I’ve given you for my glory?
Friends, we often think as the rich-man thinks or the interrupting-man thinks: that if we had more we’d be happy—more places to store the abundance of our stuff or more of the family inheritance. But, this passage indicates that Jesus disagrees with that line of thinking. In fact, this text suggests that Jesus believes such a mindset is a sign of our sinful idolatry—highlighting that we trust more in our possessions and our wealth than we trust in God, showing that we look to things for our happiness rather than looking to the Lord for it.
And, when is enough, enough? How much money do we need in our account? How many dresses in our wardrobe? How many updates do we need to our homes, or our vacation homes? There’s always something more to want.
There is a sad history that has developed around those who’ve won millions. I mentioned fantasizing about winning the lottery earlier, but what does it look like for those who really do win? Does it guarantee happiness? Does it make life better? Does it bring them peace?
– William Post won $16.2 million right here in Pennsylvania. Following this, his ex-girlfriend sued him for half; his brother hired a hit man to kill him; and, Post went into debt. Later he’d go to jail for firing a gun over the head of a man who’d come to collect on an outstanding bill.
– Willie Hurt won $3.1 million in Michigan. Before winning all the money, Hurt was happily married and had an active social life. Yet, in two years, Willie was divorced without custody rights; he was addicted to cocaine; and, he’d been charged with murder.
– Jack Whittaker won $314 million in Powerball. He then had $500k stolen; he had two DUIs; and, he was charged with the assault of a bar manager. Yet, worst of all, Whittaker’s sixteen-year-old granddaughter overdosed. After all this, his wife said: “I wish all of this never would have happened. I wish I would have torn the ticket up.” 6
Where’s the soul with ample goods laid up that can relax and eat and drink and be merry? Where’s the joy that wealth promises?
Jim Carrey is an actor who has done exceedingly well. Carrey is a superstar. He’s made millions of dollars. In the eyes of the world, it’s safe to say he’s a success. Yet, this is what he says about having fame and money:
I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of, so they can see that it’s not the answer. 7
About this, Jim Carrey and Jesus agree. But, after listening to around an hour of interviews with Carrey, what was clear to me is that even though he knows wealth and fame won’t bring anyone peace and happiness, he still doesn’t know what will. He’s still searching for the answer.
Jesus, however, provides an answer at the end of this passage. In opposition to the rich man in his story, who managed the abundance of his possessions selfishly, Jesus provides a counter point. Namely, those who’d use whatever they have richly toward God (v. 21). But, what does that mean? What is Jesus encouraging us to do with our possessions? How can we be rich toward God?
Friends, being rich toward God with our things simply means to utilize them “…where God is concerned.” 8 It means, rather than using things primarily for us—our desires, our goals, our pleasures—we use them for God—his desires, his goals, and his pleasure. And, though it seems counterintuitive to find our desires satisfied, our goals met, and our pleasures increased by serving the desires, goals, and pleasure of another, it actually makes perfect sense because we were made for it.
It’s funny when you think about it. We live in a world that praises individuals who sacrifice for a greater cause. We live in a society that makes stories and movies about those who do so, and we love reading those stories and watching those movies. Just think about our heroes. How many of them are selfish with their possessions and their time and their lives? Yet, even though these are the characters we celebrate, when it comes to our own possessions and time and lives, we guard them constantly. We don’t actually trust that we’ll find real happiness by serving others sacrificially with them…do we?!
Yet, the way of sacrifice is the way of God’s power (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:18).
Friends, if you’re a believer, you’re saved by the One who sacrificed wealth and power and fame to do so. Jesus didn’t primarily think about his will and desires but, rather, of his heavenly Father’s will and desires. He didn’t hold anything back. He even shed his blood so as to be rich toward God. And his example is the standard of greatness in the kingdom of heaven. There’s no other standard. If you want peace, then you’ll only find it by trusting in Jesus and, in practice, following his example. If you want happiness, then you’ll only find it by trusting in Christ and sacrificing, as he did, your will and your desires to God.
Trusting and following Jesus is the only way to a wealth that will never fade or fail you. Not primarily an earthly prosperity! (That’s too small a thing for Christ!) Rather, an eternal, heavenly prosperity that is even now being prepared for all those who believe in Jesus Christ and embrace his ways.
Amen! Let’s pray.