Being rich for life

Luke 12:13-21 Someone in the crowd said to him, "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me." 14 Jesus replied, "Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?" 15 Then he said to them, "Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions." 16 And he told them this parable: "The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. 17 He thought to himself, 'What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.' 18 "Then he said, 'This is what I'll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I'll say to myself, "You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry."' 20 "But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?' 21 "This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God."
 
Years ago, in the time between the World Wars, there was a very special Christian school in England. Staffed by teachers from around the world, the students were blessed to find out how others lived. One year an instructor shared his experiences when he worked in India as a private tutor. The children were especially moved when they heard about the children who were part of India's "untouchable" caste. The children quickly decided to reach out to those untouchables at Christmastime.
This they did through an annual giving of Christmas toys to a village, which had many untouchable children. The girls of the village always received a doll, and the boys received an appropriate toy made for boys. The generous gesture greatly pleased both groups of children.
Then one year a medical missionary helped distribute those gifts. During the course of his visit he told the children about another place where the boys and girls had never heard about Jesus or the salvation He won for the world. The doctor suggested that maybe the untouchable children would like to give them some of their old toys. That would give him, he explained, the opportunity to talk about God's great gift -- Jesus.
The children liked the idea. A week later the doctor returned to collect the gifts. He was shocked by what happened. One by one the children filed by and gave the doctor a doll or toy. Amazingly, the children gave their new toys, not the old ones. When the doctor asked, "Why?" a little girl spoke for the rest when she said, "Doctor, think what Jesus did for us. He gave us His best, can we do anything less?"
The girl had it right. Jesus always gave His best. He made Himself poor, so we might be made rich (2 Corinthians 8:9). He left His throne so we might sit at His side on His throne. He may allow us to be poor in this world because we are already rich toward God for the world to come.
Jesus was teaching His disciples as a crowd of “many thousands” (Luke 12:1) gathered to listen. He spoke of the vital importance of believing in Him for eternal life with God. Just then a man in the crowd asked the Lord to be an arbiter between him and his brother over the matter of their father’s inheritance. According to Jewish law, the older son received two-thirds of the inheritance and the younger son the remaining one-third. Evidently, there was a problem in settling the inheritance matter between the two brothers.
But Jesus refused to judge the case. He had not come to judge in earthly matters, but to bear witness to the spiritual truths which save people from eternal death. Did the man, however, entertain covetous thoughts regarding the inheritance? It seems that way since what follows is a warning from the Lord about greed: “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed.”
Whether we have little or we have much, we are all prone to greed. Both rich and poor alike can be fools about money. The rich can be slaves to the money and other possessions they already have. The poor can be slaves to the money and other possessions they want. People in all social and economic classes can see money and possessions as the salvation from their problems and woes.
In our Old Testament lesson and throughout the book of Ecclesiastes, King Solomon carefully documents his own personal experiments with every lifestyle possible. He tried wine, women and song. He tried hard work. He tried hard play. He tried travel. He tried education. If you can think of a lifestyle, he tried it. In the end he concluded that if this life is all there is, then everything is meaningless, utterly meaningless. Everything is vanity and a chasing after the wind. Without God, there is no meaning to life.
How often don’t we find ourselves as fools without meaning in life? We chase after money and make it the idol to which we bow down. We covet possessions so we place overtime ahead of time with God. We desire more so we worship God less. We want to have it made – no worries, no problems, no bothers – forgetting that we already have it made in Jesus.
Someone asked John D. Rockefeller: “How much wealth does it take to satisfy a person?” He replied, “Just a little bit more.” The Romans had a proverb: “Money is like sea water; the more you drink, the thirstier you become.”
Coveting doesn’t get a lot of airtime when talking about the commandments – like murder or adultery – but maybe it should. We covet attention and then we get angry when we don’t get the special treatment we feel we deserve. We covet admiration and we become indignant when we feel slighted by those who don’t notice us. We covet possessions and then we are stingy when it comes to supporting God’s ministry work with offerings. When we don’t get the things we desire, then an ugliness arises within our hearts. There is a fire behind our eyes and anger pressing at our foreheads and sharp words at the tip of our tongues.
Jesus knows what a danger the sin of coveting is. That’s why He told the parable of the rich fool. A rich man harvested a bumper crop from his fields. He was honest, wise and prudent. But behind the respectable exterior of the rich man lurked the heart of an idolater. His life was centered upon his earthly wealth – of which he had much – but inwardly he was very poor. Though his physical body had much, his spiritual soul was starving to death.


The problem was not that the man was rich, but that the man was a rich fool. Jesus had disciples who were wealthy. The Magi from the east who worshiped the toddler Jesus had the means to offer Him gold, frankincense and gold. Joseph of Arimethea was wealthy enough to lend his tomb to Jesus for three days.  Lydia, the first convert in Philippi and Mary, the mother of Mark the Gospel writer, were wealthy patrons of the church. Wealth is not the problem. The problem is letting wealth become a substitute for God. It is making wealth the source of our security and comfort. It is forgetting that wealth, like everything else, is a gift from God and not a god in its own right. The sin is not money … or having money … or working hard for more money. The sin is in the attitude toward money.
The rich man had a sinful attitude toward his money. He wanted to “eat, drink and be merry.” Take life easy. Live a life devoted to indulging all his physical appetites and sinful desires. Though the man thought himself to be rich and wise, God called him a fool – one who is ignorant of what the real situation is. He thought that his wealth would assure him a life of ease for years to come. However, that was not to be. “This very night,” on which he had laid all his plans for the future, God declared his life would end. All the preparations he had made for his life were useless. All his wealth and crops and barns were now meaningless. Even worse, now he would be standing before God as a beggar. He faced the final judgment with no spiritual resources. Indeed he was a fool!
And so is everyone who sets their hearts upon earthly riches and wealth more than the treasures of God which He gives us in Jesus Christ. Our Lord knows how attracted we are to the circumstance of the rich man in this parable. He knows how easy it is for us to fall into the trap of greed, pursuing with much desire and great effort the kind of earthly wealth that can make our life easy and our days pleasurable. Heed the Savior’s warning that our life does not consist in the abundance of our earthly possessions and wealth, that the meaningfulness of life is not found in what we own, but in who owns us.
True wealth and riches are not something you have to pursue or chase after or even work towards. The riches of God are something you already have. You are wildly wealthy. For Jesus Christ “became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” You see, Jesus has an economy all His own. Although He is the Creator and Owner of all things, He lived among us as a poor person. Although He has all authority in heaven and on earth, He lived under the authority of Roman and Jewish law. Although He has all power and glory, He made Himself helpless and submitted to the punishment we deserved. Although forgiveness, life and salvation are worth more than we could ever pay, Jesus offers them to us as a free gift. Although Jesus deserves our unending service, it is His desire that He serve us. It is Jesus who makes us rich toward God.
The biblical meaning of the word “rich” is the wealth a person has in such abundance that he does not have to work for a living. That’s the kind of riches we have connected with our faith in God. We are so wealthy that we do not need to work to live with God. That’s because Jesus did all the work for us, and we benefit from the rich inheritance we are given by faith in Him. These riches will never be taken away. We will never outlive them. They last forever!
The apostle Paul speaks of these riches in Christ in his epistle to the Colossians: “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things” (3:1-2). Paul says that since you have been raised with Christ in your baptism, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated on His throne at His heavenly Father’s right hand.
You see, by struggling and fighting to put yourself on a throne here on earth makes you a fool! It’s not a step up, but a step down. That’s because the throne you belong on … that you have been given … and that you are already on, is with Christ in heaven. For in your baptism, your heart with all its sin and coveting and ugliness was washed clean in forgiveness. You were joined with Christ and made a child of God. You were seated with Christ on His heavenly throne. The second son in the Gospel wanted his portion of the inheritance, but Jesus has already given you an inheritance in heaven. And not just a portion of it, but all of it. He has made you royalty, sons and daughters of the King. To covet anything else is not a step up, as Satan wants you to think. He just wants to drag you down off Christ’s throne, to a counterfeit throne, one that cannot last.
My royal brothers and sisters, use and enjoy the things of this world that you have been given. But do not put your trust in them or covet them. Rather, like the children in the Christian school in England, use them to share the riches of Christ that are already in you. You don’t have to eat, drink and be merry now, for in Christ you will be eating, drinking and joyful for an eternity.
As Christians we remember that life does not consist in the material, but the spiritual; not in the temporal, but in the eternal; not in the worldly goods, but in heavenly blessings; not in what we can do for ourselves, but what God gives us in Christ. In Christ Jesus, we are rich in this life and rich for the life to come. Only a fool thinks otherwise. Amen.

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