130804 Luke 12:13-21

Last Updated on Monday, 05 August 2013 Written by Pastor Pagels

Text: Luke 12:13-21
Theme: God Wants You To Be Rich...Toward Him

"God Wants You To Be Rich." Those words are printed in big, bold letters on the front cover of the New York Times best-seller by author Paul Zane Pilzer. And the words printed on the back cover provide some insight as to what the title means.

"Even successful people sometimes view the desire to get rich as something shameful. Having been taught that we live in a world of finite resources they never achieve the complete success they deserve because they believe it comes at the expense of someone else. But now Paul Zane Pilzer...explains how and why God wants each of us to be rich, in every possible way–in health, love and peace of mind, as well as material possessions. An individual's success is good for all of society, argues Pilzer, because wealth begets wealth for everyone....Provocative as well as practical, God Wants You to Be Rich offers a cornucopian view of our society–a new theological and economic understanding of why and how to accumulate wealth."

Actually Pilzer's views aren't all that new. They are a part of a growing movement in the Christian church that goes by various names: Health and Wealth, Name It and Claim It and Prosperity Theology. Championed by televangelists in the 1980s and refined by 21st century mega church preachers like Joel Osteen, prosperity theology teaches that a God who loves you doesn't want you to be broke. To support their contention prosperity preachers invoke the words of Jesus in John 10:10: "I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full."

The question we need to consider is: Do those words really support that claim? Would Jesus commend Pilzer and others like him for raising people's sights to see what is possible, or would the Lord condemn them for leading people down a dark and dangerous path? And what would Jesus think of that book title? Would he endorse it, or would he reject it? Does God want you to be rich?

We don't have to speculate about what Jesus would or would not say. We don't have to wonder how Jesus would answer the question because he tackles the issue head on in the gospel lesson for today. And the Lord's answer is a clear and emphatic "Yes." Yes, God wants you to be rich...

GOD WANTS YOU TO BE RICH...TOWARD HIM

Jesus wasn't the kind of preacher who wore thousand dollar suits and stood on stages in front of tens of thousands of people. But there were some occasions when Jesus spoke to large crowds, and this was one of them (Luke 12:1). And as he was speaking one of the people in the crowd raised his voice above the rest and demanded: "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me" (13).

Who was this man? Did he consider himself to be a disciple of Jesus? Had he ever heard Jesus speak before? Was his request legitimate, or was he being selfish and materialistic? We don't know. Luke doesn't tell us who this man was or why he had come to Jesus.

Apparently Jesus didn't know him either because he responded: "Man (he didn't call him by his name or call him "brother" or "friend"), who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you" (14)? Jesus was essentially saying: "It's not my place to tell your brother what he should do. I don't have the authority to rule on your case. If you are looking for justice you need to go and see a judge."

Jesus didn't come down to earth to handle earthly disputes, but on the Last Day he will come to judge the living and the dead. Technically Jesus didn't have jurisdiction to rule in this case, but he did and he does rule over heaven and earth. And even though the Lord chose not to take up the issue of dividing up the family inheritance, he proceeded to identify the deeper issue.

Speaking to the thousands of people who were gathered there, speaking to the dozens of disciples who are gathered here, Jesus gives all of us a stern warning: "Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions" (15).

The Greek word for "greed" is interesting. It literally means "to have more." That doesn't mean that it's wrong for a person to have money or homes or cars or toys. The sin isn't being wealthy. The sin is not being content with what I already have, equating the quality of my life with the quantity of my possessions, swallowing the devil's lie that I will be happy if I only have more.

To drive home the point that the sin of greed is serious, to expose the folly of being greedy Jesus told the people a parable: "The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. He thought to himself: 'What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops'" (16,17). The rich farmer had a problem. He had too much. You could say that it was a good problem to have, but it was still a problem. And on his own the rich man came up with a solution.

"He said, 'This is what I'll do. I will tear down my barns and builder bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.' 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'" (18, 19).

Did you notice anything when I repeated the rich man's words? Did you happen to notice that he repeated the word "my" four times and the word "I" six times? Do you think that the words that came from his mouth betrayed the sinful attitude in his heart?

And after you carefully examine what the rich man said, consider all the things that he could have said but didn't. He didn't consult his friends or family members as he thought about what he should do. He didn't ask God for guidance or acknowledge that God was the source of all his blessings. He never considered giving thanks by sharing his wealth with people in need.

The rich man was so wrapped up in himself, he was so obsessed by his own accomplishments, his head was so full of thoughts about his future life of ease that there was no room for him to think about anyone or anything else.

There was one more problem with the rich man's plan. There was one important detail he didn't take into account, and that was his own mortality. Everything looked good on paper. It looked like he would be set for the rest of his life, except for the fact that he had made no plans for the next life. And so he wasn't so wise. He hadn't acted shrewdly. God used a much less flattering term to describe him. He said: "You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself" (20)?

It was foolish for the rich man to be so short-sighted. It was foolish for him to devote all of his time and energy to earthly things when those things have no enduring value. It was foolish for him to focus so much on his life that he made no plans for life after death.

I wonder if some of the people in the crowd were nodding smugly when Jesus put the hammer down on the rich man. I wonder if some of them were thinking to themselves: "It serves that fool right for being so selfish and self-centered." I wonder how they reacted when Jesus turned to them and said: "This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God" (21).

There is a reason why the medieval church identified greed as one of the seven deadly sins. It isn't a sin that affects only rich people. It entices everyone, even Christians, even us. If you have ever worried about not having enough money, if you have ever cut corners or fudged numbers to make money, if you have ever put your trust in anything besides God, then you are just as foolish as the rich man and you deserve the rich man's fate.

No amount of money can make up for that. No matter how hard we work, no matter how much we have, we will never be able to pay that debt. When we put riches before God, when we put anything before God, we will end up with nothing, nothing but the unrelenting pain of eternal punishment.

The man they called Teacher concluded the parable of the rich fool with a strong warning, but his story didn't end there. Jesus didn't come down to earth to tell stories. He came to seek and to save what was lost (Luke 19:10). He came to save sinners. He came to save you. Jesus was born to die for your sins, to pay for all your sins of selfishness and greed with his holy, precious blood. The Lord of all things gave up everything to become one of us, to become poor like us, so that we through his poverty might become rich (II Corinthians 8:9).

And that is what you are. Even if your credit score isn't all that great, even if your financial statements show more red than black you are rich. To get an appreciation for how rich you are sometime today I want you to take two pieces of paper and sit down and write two lists, one with all of your physical blessings and the other with all of your spiritual blessings. If you take your time, if you do it right, my guess is that you are going to need more than two pieces of paper.

Give thanks for those blessings. Rejoice in those blessings. And to express your gratitude for the priceless gift of salvation, to thank the Lord for the riches of his grace, make it your goal to put the words of Jesus into practice in your life. Think about what it means to be rich toward God. Think about what you can do to be rich toward God.

If that concept seems a bit too abstract, if you think some tangible examples might help, here are a few ideas. Being rich toward God means putting your trust in Him. You are being rich toward God when you meditate on his Word and when you talk to him in prayer. You are rich toward God when your words and your thoughts are not dominated by "I" and "me" and "mine." You are rich toward God when you acknowledge that everything you produce is a by-product of God's grace in your life. You are rich toward God when you extend to others the same kind of generosity your Savior has shown to you.

Does God want you to be rich? It's an interesting question, but for Christians it misses the point. It makes the false assumption that we are somehow lacking, that if we don't achieve a certain status or amass a certain amount of wealth something in our lives is missing.

Because our heavenly Father has given us his most precious possession, because Jesus gave up his life for us on the cross, because Jesus gives us peace in this life and the sure and certain hope of eternal life, we don't have to wonder if God wants us to be rich. We already are. Amen.

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