Getting Eternity RightErwin W. Lutzer | August 28, 2011
Selected highlights from this sermon
Today’s society believes that greed is good—almost no one will point it out in your life.
But greed is deceptive. It leads to dishonesty and leads us into debt because we resent the fact that others are being blessed.
Going through the parable of the rich fool, Pastor Lutzer takes us behind the issue of the conflict and gets right to the heart of the matter: greed and covetousness.
“The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed (for lack of a better word) is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies. It cuts through and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed in all of its forms – greed for life, for money, for love, for knowledge – has marked the upward surge of mankind.” So said Michael Douglas in a movie.
There’s an alternate view. “Watch out. Beware! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed. A man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” So said Jesus Christ.
So who are we going to go with in life today - Michael Douglas or Jesus? There’s no doubt that our society has chosen to go with Michael Douglas. Greed is good. It’s the one sin that you can commit that you’ll never be disciplined for. Almost no one will point it out in your life. We may know when we have crossed the line in moral issues, in honest or dishonest issues, but there’s something about greed that seems so right. The problem is that Jesus made it very clear that greed leads to problems and we know the problems that greed leads to, don’t we?
For example greed leads us to debt. People go into debt because of greed. Years ago Christians used to have to pray, “Lord, I need a car. Get me one.” Maybe somebody would lend them one. Maybe they’d have enough money for one, but today you don’t. All that you need to do is to have some kind of credit and you can go there and you can buy that vehicle and you don’t even have to pray about it. And so greed leads us to debt.
There’s another problem with greed and that is it leads to dishonesty. You think, for example, of how many people have been dishonest in business and in their dealings, always wanting more, always justifying it within their mind because greed is really the thirst for more. And then if that isn’t enough, greed is also very deceptive. You’ve heard me say many times that money makes the same promises that God does. It says that I will be with you and I’ll be there for you. The problem is that money cannot buy happiness because there are many miserable people who are wealthy, and in the end, when it is time to die, all the money in the world and all the things that they accumulated will not help them.
With that introduction I want you to turn to Luke 12 where Jesus again interacts with people. The Bible says here very clearly that Jesus was interacting and teaching, and it says in Luke 12:13, “Someone in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.’ But he said to him, ‘Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?’ 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.’” Wow! Jesus was so unpredictable, wasn’t he?
You know somebody came to him, and rabbis used to always settle disputes like this, and said, “Tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” If he was an elder brother, as he probably was, according to the law - the Levitical inheritance - the elder should receive two-thirds, and the younger one-third. But you and I know all about those disputes, don’t we? In my short life I have heard so many different stories of people who have had conflict within the family. The family gets through the funeral and then afterwards the arguments begin. One child tries to chisel the other out of his inheritance, or it can go very differently. Maybe the person who was in charge of the estate, the arbiter or the person who has power of attorney, wants to hog all the money and not share it with the others for whom it was intended. Families have been divided, and sometimes permanently divided.
We expect Jesus to take a side on this issue and say, “Yes, it is only right that your brother divide the inheritance with you,” and under certain circumstances that would have been good advice. But Jesus doesn’t do that. He leaves behind the issue of the conflict and what he does is, and it’s just like Jesus, he gets to the heart of the matter, and he begins to talk about greed and covetousness.
You know greed has two different cousins. The first is covetousness, and you think of all of the problems that people have gotten into because of it. Eve sinned greatly because she coveted the idea of being like God. David got into deep water and had to pay a tremendous price for his immorality when he coveted another man’s wife. And of course, Satan himself! That was the first sin. He said, “I will be like God,” and so he coveted God’s position in the universe, and look at what happened to that.
Another cousin of greed is envy. Envy is when I am angry with somebody who has money because I don’t want them to have it. And we despise those who have been blessed more than we have. You know there’s an old story about an angel coming to man and saying, “Anything that you ask for can be yours but your ex-wife is going to get double. If you ask for a new car she is going to be getting two of them. If you ask for a million dollars she is going to get two million.” So he thought for a while and said, “What I want you to do is to make me blind in one eye.” (laughter) In another version of the same story I heard that the man said, “I want to be half dead.” (laughter) We resent the fact that other people are being blessed, and so all of these sins coil as a serpent in our heart, deeply justified. We live with denial. We have layers and layers of rationalization, so Jesus just avoids the whole issue of the conflict and he goes directly to the issue at hand and that is a covetous, greedy spirit.
So this is what he said. He told them a parable. This happens to be the last in a series of ten messages on the parables, how the parables help us get it right the first time because we can’t redo life. It’s not that we’ve covered all the parables by any means, but these are the ones that I have chosen to expound on.
So beginning in Luke 12:16 he tells them a parable. “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?’” And then Jesus adds, “So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”
Years ago, and I’m not sure exactly where, I found an outline on this text which I am going to adapt for my own purposes. As we look at it I want us to notice three huge mistakes that this man made, and then let’s ask ourselves if we might be making the very same mistakes.
The first mistake that he made is that he mistook his body for his soul. There he is saying to himself as he looks at his goods, “I will say to my soul (the Greek word is psyche), ‘Thou hast laid up much goods for many years.’” No, no, no! His body had ample goods laid up for many years, but his soul was being starved. There was no attention being paid to his soul.
Come with me to Wall Street. How much attention is being given to the people’s souls? Come with me to LaSalle Street. People pay attention to their bodies but they neglect their souls. Go to the health clubs. Yesterday at about 8:00 o’clock in the morning I was walking toward Lake Michigan and I was surprised at the hundreds of runners that I encountered on a Saturday morning at 8 o’clock. My first thought was, “Get a life. (laughter) What are you doing on a Saturday morning running like this?” Well, you know you are laughing, but have you ever seen a runner smile, for heaven’s sake? I don’t think so. (more laughter)
And so you have all of these people prepping their bodies, making sure that they are healthy. And then they add to that health foods, and they are more concerned as to whether or not potatoes have toxins than they are for their own soul, and that may be fine, and then of course they eat all kinds of vitamins to make sure that they live a little longer. It’s not wrong. A friend of mine said that he was told that if he would run everyday he would add fifteen years to his life, and so he ran for three weeks and said, “It’s absolutely right. After three weeks I feel fifteen years older already just doing that.” (laughter)
Well, I try to jog too, sometimes not very faithfully, and it’s a good idea, but what a disaster it is when people confuse their bodies with their souls. So their bodies are well cared for and their souls are starved. They never go to the word of God. They never seriously pray. They never connect with other people. There’s just no spiritual life there and this man confused his soul with his body. Wow!
What about the relative value of the soul and the body? Jesus said this. “What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?” Your body is important. Take good care of it, but it is not as important as your soul. No matter how much care you give your body you will die, but your soul is going to live on forever, and your body will be eventually raised. But “What will man give,” said Jesus, “in exchange for his soul?” And what would you give in exchange for your soul? This man confused his soul with his body.
There’s a second mistake that he made and that is he confused himself. He mistook himself for God. If you look at the text you’ll notice that six times this man used the little word “I.” And about another six times he used the words, “me, my or myself,” and so I am going to reread it again, this time emphasizing this narcissistic view of life. By the way, he spoke to himself. You know, if you are a real narcissist there’s nobody else around as bright as you are so why should you expand the conversation? Right?
So this is the way it goes. “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.”
I, I, I, I, I! How did he mistake himself for God? First of all, it was because he took ownership of that which belonged to God. What’s this business of my barns and my grain? Was he the one who created those little kernels that have programmed within them life so that they can reproduce? Is he the one who created the soil? Is he the one who gave sunshine and rain and moisture so that he would have a good crop? Is he the one who did that? What’s all this my business doing here? And what about my retirement accounts, and my bank accounts, and my inheritance, and my house? Where’s all of that coming from? We learned in the last parable I spoke about that it is God’s, but he was assuming ownership over something that actually belonged to God.
But there’s something else in the text also and that is that he thought the future was in his hands. “Soul, you have ample goods stored up for many years. I’m going to have a long life. I’m going to be around for a while and I have enough assets, and I have enough money to make sure that it’s going to happen. I can live in ease, eat, drink and be merry for as long as I can possibly be.” And so he thought that that was under his control, but of course it wasn’t.
There’s a third mistake that he made. He mistook his body for his soul. He mistook himself for God, and number three, he also (notice carefully) mistook time for eternity. Just think of it. God is speaking and God said to him (verse 20) “Fool!” Wow! You know, I was thinking about this as I prepared this message. Just imagine dying and God Almighty saying to you, “Fool!”
You know, D. L. Moody said that he was preaching one time and while he was preaching somebody actually came up and laid a piece of paper on the pulpit. And he looked at the piece of paper and it had but one word, “Fool.” D. L. Moody paused for a moment and said, “You know I have frequently received letters where people didn’t sign their name, but this is the first time I’ve had somebody sign his name and not write the letter.” (laughter) When this man heard the word “fool” from God, God said, “Fool! Signed God.”
Fool! This night! Not tomorrow night and not next week after you’ve had some time to think through what your will should say, but this night your soul is required of you. And the Greek word for required can also be translated - demanded. God says, “This night your soul is demanded of you,” a word that was sometimes used when a note became due. You borrowed money from somebody and it was to be borrowed for a certain amount of time, and now that time is up and the payment is demanded of you, and so this man finds himself confronted with the living God. And now suddenly he’s got to give an account to God and he realizes the huge mistake he made, but it was indeed too late.
Jesus says, “That’s the way it’s going to be.” Verse 21 says, “So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” You lay up treasures for yourself but you have no riches toward God.
What does this story teach us? I’d like to suggest it teaches us three lessons and for those lessons I’ll give you three words.
First of all it teaches us something about greed - greed versus generosity or greed versus trust. Here you have a man who was greedy but, you see, the reason he didn’t see it is because as far as we know every dime that he earned, every bushel that he harvested was done honestly. There’s nothing in the text here to suggest that the man was crooked in his dealings. It’s not that he was chiseling people out of what was theirs. It’s just that God happened to bless him with big crops and so he had to build bigger barns.
Let me tell you that the sin of covetousness, which the Bible says is idolatry, actually exists in all of our hearts and it is the most difficult sin for us to see. When the Apostle Paul was speaking about his own conviction of sin (I believe it’s in Romans 11), he said that he was righteous and did everything right but then there was one commandment that slew him, and that was the last of the Ten Commandments, “Thou shalt not covet.” And he realized that lust itself is coveting that which isn’t yours, and it was that that drove the Apostle Paul to his knees and the recognition that he needed a savior because he understood clearly that thou shalt not covet; covetousness is a sin. And you and I need to remember that.
Now it’s interesting that we should not divorce “Jesus - the parable” from what Jesus said afterwards because as a continuation of this discussion he says in verse 22, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing.” Let’s skip to verse 29. “And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom (and his righteousness), and these things will be added to you. Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” And then this unpredictable Jesus says, “Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”
You know verse 33 has sometimes been misinterpreted. You look at the middle ages and there were those who said, “We’re going to sell absolutely everything and we’re going to walk around naked, and we’re going to preach the Gospel.” If we as a church did that what we’d soon discover is that we ourselves would be a huge burden to society because we’d all give our way into poverty. You need to take the saying of Jesus and you need to relate it to the parable. Instead of being so covetous, that man should have been giving away most of his wealth and keeping what he needed to live on, making sure that when he died his barns weren’t full for himself but for others. And Jesus here is teaching us exactly what we need to know about money. There is a word there for it and that is the word greed.
There’s a second lesson that Jesus is teaching us and that is a lesson about life itself, isn’t he? What is life? The Bible says it’s like a vapor that is here for a moment and gone. You and I do not control the time that we die. I mean if somebody wishes to take their own life they may say, “Well, I’m controlling when I die.” By the way, that’s a bad idea. If you are hearing this message and you are tempted to do that you are putting a period where there should be a comma, and there is hope. Don’t accept darkness as an option, but the fact is that we really can’t control the time that we die.
This morning coming to the church I had the radio on and I discovered that on one of our expressways three people were killed this morning. This man thought, “Well, I have my future under control. You know I have much goods laid up for many years,” and God said to him, “Tonight (this night) your soul is going to give an account. I am demanding it from you.” Life is not under our control, and the real purpose of this life is to prepare for the next. That’s why we’re here.
I’ve gone into bookstores and I’ve looked at the travel section and there are people there who are buying books because they intend to go to France possibly, or Germany, or someplace in Europe, or someplace on the other side of the world. They are buying guidebooks as I myself have done, and they are trying to learn a few words in a foreign language. My friend, they are giving more attention to two weeks in Europe than they are giving to an eternity that is about to come because, you see, eternity is on its way, and this life is preparation for eternity. And that’s why Jesus says here that we should use our possessions. “Provide for yourself moneybags that do not grow old with a treasure in the heavens that will not fail.”
Now I’ve already emphasized that Jesus in context is not telling us to sell everything. He’s asking us to use our money wisely and that’s why here at the Moody Church we have classes on how to do that – how to budget, how to live within your means so you don’t go into debt, how to save, how to give – but the point is this. All of life is preparation for eternity. I’ve never done this, but when I am on a plane and somebody says, “What do you do for a living?” maybe what I say is, “Well, “I’m trying to prepare for eternity fulltime.” That ought to get a nice conversation going. (laughter) That’s what Jesus is teaching here, and so there’s a lesson about greed. There’s a lesson for us about life.
And then, of course, because he confused time and eternity, there’s a lesson here about eternity, isn’t there? You’ve heard me say this many times at the Moody Church and I’m sure you will hear me say it again. Life is short. Eternity is long – very long. This past week Rebecca and I were with a man who is an astronomer and with a laser beam flash light he was pointing out all of the stars that are up there, and he seemed to know all of them by name and all these constellations and all of these relationships. And I was just looking at it and thinking, “God, what a party you had when you threw all that stuff together,” and I asked him, “How many galaxies are there?” And he said two to the tenth power. Do you know how much that is? I mean that would be a number this long, and if you were to have a measuring tape from here to Mars or beyond, this life could be just a little hairline compared to eternity, and of course, if we wanted to compare it to eternity we wouldn’t stop with Mars, would we? We would go beyond that all the way to eternity. No wonder Jesus said to this man, “You fool!”
The way in which you prepare for eternity, by the way, is not to give all your money away as the first thing that you should do. You and I know that in order to really prepare to meet God we are thankful that when Jesus died on the cross and was raised again from the dead he paid for our sin so that we can be forgiven – our sin can be wiped away. And that’s the only way you’ll get into heaven, by the way. You’ll get into heaven because of the righteousness of Jesus applied to your account. And don’t tell me that you are a Christian because you were baptized. It’s possible to be baptized so often that the fish in Lake Michigan know your name and still be lost. And we saw some of them I think yesterday asking what our names were. And don’t think that because you were brought up in a Christian home and you are a good person you’ll make it to heaven. There are plenty of people who are good who will never make it to heaven. You must trust Christ as your savior to prepare for eternity. Would you remember that and get that straight? (applause) But the point is he prepared for time but not eternity.
You know, as I was preparing this message I was reminded of a very wealthy farmer who was not known to me but was known to the members of my family. His wife was a Christian. He came to church and just sat there. He had no spiritual interest at all. I marvel at that. He was miserable but totally content with his sin, and unwilling to come to Christ to receive forgiveness. He owned much land. He kept buying it up and God gave him good crops. He was still relatively young and he wasn’t sick before this time but he was driving his truck to the big city and he was found dead of a heart attack. God said, “Today your soul is demanded of you.” I wasn’t at his funeral but some of my relatives were and they said that what they did at the funeral is they had a table where they memorialized him, and on the table they had a miniature grain elevator. Some of you who weren’t brought up on a farm won’t know about grease guns, but they had a grease gun that is used to grease farm machinery, and even his overalls that he used to wear. I thought about that and wondered if it’s really true that the person with the most toys at death wins. So this is what it comes down to for a rich man who had all the money in the world, who expected to live many years, and suddenly, without notice his soul was demanded by God. And unless there is some mercy that we don’t know about in his life, since he gave no evidence of being interested in receiving the Gospel, perhaps he heard the words of Jesus, “You fool! You lived as if this was the only life there was, when this life’s only purpose is to prepare for eternity.”
One day Rebecca and I were in a funeral home and we were actually looking at caskets. I never know whether they should be caskets or whether they should be called coffins. All that I know is that no matter what you call them they look rather final when you think about the fact that someday you are going to be in one of them. But the lady who was demonstrating them to us showed us that some of them (I don’t know if all of them do) have a little drawer that you can pull out. The little drawer is maybe one foot by one foot and two inches deep in which you can put something to memorialize and encapsulate the life of the person who died. She said, for example, there are some people who will put golf balls into it because the guy really was into golf. I tried golf one time and I’m not into it. It took me six strokes to hit a hole in one, so I’ve decided that I’ve got to go with something else, but you know, you put golf balls in there. I suppose if somebody liked to go to Las Vegas you could put some dice in there when they die. If somebody were interested in politics maybe you would put a book there by their favorite author. You put in there whatever it might be that somehow symbolizes their life. So I was looking at that little drawer and I thought, “Hm, I wonder what would fit in there when I die?”
Could I ask you a question? When you die, when your soul is demanded by God, what will be in that little box? What symbolizes your life? This rich man thought he had it made. God said, “Your soul is demanded tonight.” And by the way, speaking of the sin of covetousness, the other day I heard an ad over the radio, like you’ve heard, for advertising for a casino. It gave all the details and then it said, “Have a gambling problem? Call (something unintelligible). (laughter) They don’t want anybody to get that phone number. Let me tell you something. There’s not a casino on planet earth that regrets having made somebody an addict. They are looking for addicts.
I think that what Jesus is saying here is this. “Do you have a covetous problem? Sell your possessions. Give them to the poor. Be generous and I’ll take care of your covetousness.” The bottom line is here’s a man who mistook eternity for time and in the Day of Judgment heard the awesome horrid words of God, “You fool!”
Now this message is intended for you. It’s intended for you if you are a Christian, and it’s also intended for you especially if you are an unbeliever here today, and there may be many with us today. You are pious, self-righteous, content, neglecting your soul, so I go back to the words of Jesus I quoted earlier that he said so clearly, “What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?” or what are you giving in exchange for your soul? If your soul has not been redeemed, hurry to Jesus. Ask him for cleansing, for forgiveness. Transfer your trust to him. Look upon him and be saved because someday (maybe not soon but someday) your soul will be required. Wow!
Father, the passage is sobering. Forgive all of us, myself included, for living as if this is the only world that exists, forgetting that our real purpose of life is for eternity. Help us to prepare to meet our God, for your word says it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God unprepared.
For those who are here today who have never received Christ as savior, would you cause them to believe. Maybe they are in the balcony. Maybe they are in the lower part of the sanctuary. They may be listening on the Internet or by radio. At this moment we pray help them to believe on Jesus and be saved. We call on you to do what we can’t. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.