THE GOSPEL OF LUKE

THE JOURNEY TO JERUSALEM
Luke 9:51-19:48

Teachings on Wealth
Luke 16:1-31

. INTRODUCTION

If you were to earn a Ph.D. in NT studies, you would most likely focus on one of three areas: the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke with Acts thrown in), the writings of John (the Fourth Gospel; 1, 2, 3 John; and Revelation), or the writings of Paul (his 13 letters). If you were to focus on the Synoptic Gospels, you would most likely focus on either Matthew or Mark because the other 2 seem to be based to a large degree on one of these, which one is open to debate. To be sure Luke is there. We speak about the contribution that Luke makes to the area of NT studies--emphasis on the poor and the down and out. It's just that Luke does not receive the emphasis that either Mark or Matthew receive.

What a pity. In my 27 years of teaching SS this is the first time I have ever taught Luke. In my Ph.D. studies Luke was discussed but never really addressed. Through my 16 weeks of study on Luke this time around I have discovered that the Gospel of Luke is huge. To say that Luke contributes to the Gospels by focusing on the poor is a major understatement. Luke is like a grenade that God has launched into our midst. Of the 4 Gospels Luke makes the most radical claims upon the followers of Jesus, the chapter before us being such an example.

Christ wants us to take very seriously His challenges to us to reach out to the poor, to the down and out. How many times in Luke has Jesus emphasized that God exalts the poor and debases the rich? How many times does Jesus warn us about the improper use of wealth? The story of the rich man who reaped so much that he decided to build a bigger barn to hold all the harvest was not primarily about anxiety; it was about the improper use of wealth. According to Jesus, God did not give this man this harvest in order to lavish it upon himself. He gave it to him so that he could first take care of his own needs and then give it to the poor.

We need to address the issue of just how much is enough? Yes, I need clothes, transportation, and shelter. But do I need a palace? Do I need a top-of-the-line car? Nancy and I try to find really good used cars (1) because they are cheaper and (2) because it is not necessary to spend all that extra money on a new car when a slightly used one will do just as well. Drive a new car off the parking lot and it has automatically dropped thousands of dollars in value. Is it going to hurt our status? If I care about my status, then I am in bad shape.

In the mid 80's I was working in a church which cared about status. I got me a used BMW at a good price that was also in good condition. Whereas it was a good quality car, which is important, I don't think I necessarily bought it because of its quality. When I approached my dad about buying a quality German car, he told me that his Ford fit the bill. In fact when one of his relatives complained to him about the condition of their car, he told them that they shouldn't be complaining since the car operated and got them where they needed to go.

Just how big does your house have to be? You can only sleep in one bedroom at a time. Just how fast does your car have to go? The speed limit is still only 70 mph. How many shoes do you need when you can only wear one at a time?

In these teachings Jesus is not demanding that we impoverish ourselves in order to feed or clothe others. According to Paul, Jesus is seeking for equality (2 Cor. 8:13, 14). This is not to be a forced equality in which we vote that riches be taken from the rich and given to ourselves; He is asking for voluntary equality, in which those who have give abundantly to those who do not have.

"But I want to leave all this money to my children!" Go ahead and ruin them. Name me one Vanderbilt who has turned out halfway decent since the Great Commodore Vanderbilt of the 1800's. The Kennedy's are a flaming wreck. They are not Camelot. Yes, I want to leave something to my children; yet they too need to discover the joy and the assurance that God is going to take provide for them. Don't rob them of that.


TAKING ADVANTAGE OF THE OPPORTUNITY GIVEN YOU (16:1-9)

In this first parable Jesus speaks of a situation in which a manager has been taking advantage of his position. In first century Israel many times a wealthy landowner would live in a luxurious house in the city and allow a manager to govern his estates. Occasionally the landowner would call in his manager to give an account of his financial dealings.

This particular landowner discovers to his dismay that his manager has been either embezzling money from the estate or has been selling the crops above market value and has been skimming off the profits for himself. In either case the landowner informs the manager that he is fired. He has time to make some final arrangements, and then it is "Off you go."

The manager begins to panic. It is quite comic what he says to himself. There appear to him to be only 2 options. Either he performs manual labor to provide for himself or else he begs. First, he says that he is physically unable to perform manual. Second, he is emotionally unable to beg. Whatever is he to do?

He comes to realize two things about the situation he is in. First, he is not fired YET. He still has an opportunity to make arrangements for his future before he is fired. The window is closing on him, but it has not closed yet. He still has time. He doesn't have eternity, but he does have time. Second, he knows about the way the system works. Up to this point he has only been concerned about skimming off profits without any thought of the people he was dealing with. Now though he realizes that if he is going to be able to get a job with another estate, he needs to treat these other estate managers better. So he settles some old accounts with other estate managers in such a way that they benefit greatly from these dealings. He treats them so well that they are going to feel indebted to him, a feeling he very much wants them to feel.

He approaches the first estate manager and discovers that the first estate manager owes him 100 measures of oil. The false manager makes a deal with him that if he gives him just 50 measures of oil, he will close the account. Naturally the first estate manager jumps at the deal. Instead of charging the second estate manager 100 measures of wheat which he owed, he billed him for only 80 measures of wheat. In both instances the estate managers were greatly indebted to the false manager.

The landowner discovers what is going on. He does not call in the false manager and rake him over the coals. Instead he is impressed with how "street smart" this manager is. In fact Jesus says that this false manager has acted more shrewdly than His own followers have.

It is easy to misunderstand the parable before us if we take it out of context. Jesus is not commending dishonesty. He is not wanting us to become "street smart." Rather, He is saying that the dishonest servant knew how the system worked and took advantage of the opportunity given to him to make the system work for him. In the same way the Christian is to understand the way God's system works and take advantage of that system while we still have that window of opportunity, either before Christ returns or before we die.

What system is Jesus referring to? His system. The system that says in order to be exalted, we must humble ourselves. The system that says we are to care for the poor as the rich Man Jesus cared for us who were poor spiritually (2 Cor. 8:9). Moreover, the opportunity given to us to operate in this manner is not eternal. We have been given a specific amount of time to make this system work for us. Only God knows that exact length of that time given to us. We need to use it to the best of our ability.


SPECIFIC APPLICATIONS OF JESUS' TEACHING (16:10-18)

How does this divine system work? First, we are to use unrighteous mammon to get friends for ourselves so that when we run out of unrighteous mammon, we will inherit eternal dwellings. Jesus is referring to wealth, money as unrighteous mammon. It is unrighteous in the sense that it normally leads us to unrighteous behavior. It doesn't have to; it's just that it normally does. As will be seen later in the parable of the poor man Lazarus, Jesus is saying that we are to gain the poor as our friends so that we can inherit eternal life. Once more this is not a salvation based on works. Rather if we truly believe that the rich Man Jesus has reached out to us who are spiritually poor, then we in turn will extend a helping hand to those in need.

The second way in which the divine system works is that the person who is faithful with little will be faithful with much, and vice versa. It is so funny to hear people say that once their ship comes in, they will do such and such. For example, "Once I get more money, I will start tithing." Forget it. If you don't tithe when you don't have much money, you won't tithe when you do have a lot of money. Why? First, because tithing is not a matter of finances; it is a matter of trust, a matter of the heart. Second, once you get more money, the check you write gets a whole lot bigger. If you think it is hard turning loose of a couple hundred dollars, wait till you have to turn loose of thousands of dollars. If you don't care about the poor when you are poor, then you are not going to care about them when you get rich. It's never a matter of finances; it's only a matter of the heart.

Jesus warns us that if we have not been faithful in the use of other people's possessions, we can forget getting our own possessions (16:12). What is He referring to? In the here and now, we own NOTHING. The parable in verses 1-9 illustrated this. None of us are landowners; we are just managers. Everything I have and possess belongs to God because He is the Creator of the universe. Moreover, I don't even belong to me. God created me, and Jesus purchased me on the cross with His blood. I am doubly His. One day everything God has will be ours. Why? Because we are His sons and daughters. He has left us everything in His will as an inheritance. "But doesn't a person have to die though before that will goes into effect?" He does have to die. God did die--on the cross (Heb. 9:16, 17). The cross triggered the will. If I am truly His son as seen in the way I handle the things that belong to Him, then I will inherit and possess all that He has for me.

"But," you might say, "I love God; it's just that I have a little trouble with my money." Jesus says that we have a choice. We can either serve God by using His money the way He wants us to use it, or else we can serve wealth by using our wealth the way we want to use it. It's not both/and. It's either/or. You can serve only one master, not two.

At this point Jesus noticed that the Pharisees were scoffing at Him because of these teachings. He responded that they felt threatened by this teachings because they loved wealth, not simply for the things it could buy but also for the status their wealth accorded them. They were considered high society because of their wealth. Jesus reminded them though that the status they were seeking before men was endangering their status before God. They could not have it both ways, a sinful status before men based on wealth and a healthy status before God.

Jesus urges them to take these teachings very seriously. His words are not only scripture themselves, they harmonize with the OT scriptures themselves. Throughout the OT itself God numerous times instructs the Israelites to care for the down and out: the orphans, the widows, and the aliens in their midst. He lamblasts the wealthy who refuse to care for the needs of the down and out. We ignore Jesus' teachings and the OT to our own peril. These teachings are eternal.


THE PARABLE OF LAZARUS AND THE RICH MAN (16:19-31)

To underscore that giving to the poor is part of God's system, Jesus concludes this chapter with the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. There were 2 men, a rich man and a poor man Lazarus who had been thrown down at the gateway of the rich man in order to beg for food. The rich man was extremely wealthy, dressed in the finest of clothes of purple and linen, gaily living in splendor each day. Lazarus, on the other hand, was so poorly clothed that his sores were exposed. Even the dogs licked at his sores. He was so hungry that he hoped for just the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table.

First Lazarus dies, and then the rich man follows him in death. Lazarus lands in paradise, here called the bosom of Abraham. The picture is that of a little child sitting in his father's lap, resting his head upon his father's shoulder. The rich man wakes up to find himself in hell. Not only is he in torment, his torment is exacerbated by the fact that he sees Lazarus and others in great comfort.

The rich man calls out to Abraham, requesting him to send Lazarus to comfort him in his great pain. He just wants Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off his flaming tongue. Abraham responds first that just as Lazarus' pain and the rich man's comfort were uninterrupted while they were on earth, so Lazarus' comfort and the rich man's pain are now going to be uninterrupted throughout eternity. The window of opportunity has been shut. Second, Abraham replies that an uncrossable gulf passes between the place of torment and paradise. While there is visual commerce going on between the 2, there is no physical commerce.

The rich man then asks Abraham to send Lazarus to his five brothers to warn them because they are destined to meet him in Hades if things don't change. (Look at the rich man's attitude towards Lazarus. He is treating Lazarus like a servant. He hasn't changed.) Abraham reminds the rich man though that Moses and the prophets through their writings are sufficient. The rich man protests--probably from experience. He had Moses and the prophets, and yet he had ended up in the place of torment. He argues that they will listen if someone rises from the dead and warns them of their impending doom. Abraham persists. If the brothers did not believe Moses and the prophets, they would not believe someone who rose from the dead.

This is a direct swipe at those of us who claim that people reject God because they don't have enough knowledge. Maybe from your and my perspective they don't have enough information, but from God's perspective they do. In fact the real man Lazarus will rise from the dead (John 11). What will be the response of the Jewish leaders to his rising from the dead? They will want to kill him (John 12:10, 11). Most people want God to affirm them in their sin, not convict them.

What was the sin of the rich man? He was not necessarily a cruel man. Rather he was like the rich man who gathered far more than he needed during his harvest. He was just callous to the needs and hurts of those near him; instead he lavished his riches upon himself. Riches are not evil; my response to riches though can be evil. I can't take care of the whole world; however, God expects me to help take care of those around me who are hurting. We have only a slight window of opportunity to carry out this mission. Once it has been shut though, it remains shut.

Did the rich man's neglect of Lazarus keep him out of heaven? Not if we believe a person is saved by grace. Yet we need to remember that the grace of the NT is a transforming grace. Someone who has met Jesus is going to be transformed and will care for the needs of others. Why? Because if we are truly saved, then the rich Man Jesus has reached out to us who are poor spiritually. If we truly believe this, then we will be transformed and we too will care for the needs of others. It is the only way to demonstrate that we too have been helped by the Rich Man Jesus.