Money Matters (1): Now -- Or Eternity?
June 14, 2015
Intro – Col 3:1, “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.” Jack Benny was an old comedian who represented himself as a tightwad. One famous skit had Jack accosted by an armed robber who orders, “Okay, Mister, your money or your life.” There is a long pause during which Jack says nothing, until the robber waves his gun and says, “Well?” Jack replies, “Don’t rush me. I’m thinking. I’m thinking!” It’s funny only because it illustrates the truth that it’s easy for money to get a strangle hold on people.
Give you an example. Boston U sociologist, Juliet Schor, reports that 13 of households with over $100,000 income agree with the statement: “I can afford to buy everything I really need.” That means 23 of all houses making over $100,000 say they do NOT make enough money to buy all they need. So the wealthiest people in the wealthiest country in world history think they can’t afford what they need. In other words, covetousness and greed drives our existence and we don’t even know it.
Given that tendency, it’s not surprising that Jesus had something to say about money. In fact, He had a lot to say about it – more than any other single subject. He taught that it is an index of a person’s character – even an evidence of salvation. It was when Zaccheus was ready to open his tainted pocket book to reimburse those he had cheated that Jesus affirms, “Today salvation has come to this house” (Lu 19:9). His attitude toward money was evidence of a transformed heart.
Money is a concrete substitute for God. It is tangible. Money talks – and we listen, often to our own destruction. The Bible does not forbid the possession of money. Deut 8:18 teaches God “gives you power to get wealth.” I Tim 6:17: It’s God “who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.” The Bible presents many wealthy believers. I think God loves to find people He can trust with money. But the Bible does warn against loving money – making it a focus. I Tim 6:10, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.” When we cross the line from money as useful to money as focus of our existence then we fall. And few of us can keep from crossing that line if we have more than we need. The Bible makes a promise in the regard: “He who loves money will not be satisfied with money” (Ecc 5:10). The best way not to enjoy money is to want to – make it a priority. When asked how much is enough, filthy rich John D. Rockefeller replied, “Just a little bit more.” It’s the easiest trap in the world to fall into because we all think we can manage it; and before you know it, it manages us. We fool ourselves – like the judge who said to the thief: “I note that in addition to stealing money, you took watches, rings and pearls.” “Yes, your honor,” he replied. “I was taught money alone doesn’t bring happiness.” That guy was self-packaged for destruction.
So this brief two—part series – “Money Matters” from Lu 12:13-21. Five points: Inquiry, Indictment, Instruction, Illustration and Insight.
I. The Inquiry (13)
A. He’s prioritizing “now” instead of “eternity”
Now, get the picture. Jesus has been preaching about profound spiritual realities – the absolute necessity to confess Jesus publically; the possibility of an unpardonable sin; the need to fear God as the One who can destroy both body and soul in hell. I mean Heavy truth! Groundbreaking reality, right? And suddenly he’s interrupted with “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” Are you kidding me? Jesus is addressing major eternal life and death issues and this guy wants his money. He can’t have been listening and come up with this. He’s like someone sitting thru church and all they’re thinking about is the ballgame afterward, right? Or dinner, or work or whatever. He’s oblivious to reality.
Did he have a valid claim to the money? We don’t know. But it’s clear there is a family squabble going on. Occasionally rabbis would adjudicate such matters. So, he’s looking for help. You can almost sense his impatience. Drumming his fingers! “How long is this guy going to go on!?” At his earliest opportunity, without prelude or explanation he interjects, “Teacher [to get his attention], tell my brother to divine the inheritance.” It’s not even a request; it’s a command. He is driven by crass materialism; completely indifferent to weighty spiritual realities. His only reality is the inheritance.
Now, is God interested in his inheritance? Yes, Beloved, He is. If He takes note of every sparrow that falls, He is certainly interested in this man’s inheritance. But this man has made inheritance his ultimate reality. He is making the monumental mistake of prioritizing “now” over “eternity.” Know anyone like that? Such a common mistake. So easy to fall into. We forget how short “now” is and how long “eternity” is.
John Wayne was 71 when he appeared with Barbara Walters. She asked how he liked watching his old movies. He replied, “It’s kind of irritating to see I was a good-looking 40-year-old then look in the mirror and see this 71-year-old. I’m not squawking. I just want to be around for a long time.” He barely made it to 72. “Now” is short; eternity is long. AND you can’t take it with you. In England they have a quaint little custom. When someone dies, the probate court sends details to the local paper which publishes how much is left and to whom. One day, Stuart Briscoe, a British pastor living in Milwaukee, was back home. His father was reading the Westmoreland Gazette one morning when he called to his wife, “Mrs. Jones has died.” Stuart’s mom replied, “Oh, really, how much did she leave?” His father quickly replied, “Everything. She left everything.” And so will we all. That’s why it’s a fool’s errand to prioritize “now” over “eternity”. If you are going to exist there that long, it only makes sense to make preparation, right? “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.”
B. He’s using Jesus instead of worshiping Jesus
Another sign of the fool. He was hiding from himself – listening for others rather than himself. See, I don’t think he came primarily to command Jesus to divide the inheritance because Jesus was a rabbi. I think he came because he knows something that jumps out at you if you read the gospels or even Luke in one sitting. You’d be amazed at how Jesus talks about money more than any other single subject except Himself. He talks about money relentlessly. Most of Luke 12 is about money. It’s there in Lu 3:14 when Jn Baptist advises, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.” It’s there in Lu 9 and 10 when Jesus sends His followers out with no money. It’s in the parable in Lu 8, all thru Lu 16, 19. Eleven of 39 parables of Jesus are about money – 28%. Someone has estimated that 20-25% of the time Jesus opened His mouth He was talking about money, riches, possessions and the right use of them. That’s why this man commanded Jesus, “You need to help my brother with this!”
Ever hear a sermon and think, “Boy, I wish so and so could hear this?” That thought ever cross your mind? Well, that’s what this man did. He’d heard Jesus say, “Be generous,” and he thinks, “Man, my brother needs to hear this,” so he interrupts Jesus’ teaching on paramount issues to demand, “Tell my brother to divide the inheritance. Your teaching on generosity is fabulous. So tell my brother; he’s holding out on me.” He didn’t even realize how he was revealing his own earthbound heart. He doesn’t love Jesus; He wants to use Him. To him Jesus just a cash machine – his meal ticket. He doesn’t want Jesus; he wants his money.
A family was visiting St. Patrick’s Cathedral in NYC when they came to the candle section. Mom explained that these were not birthday candles but that it was customary to say a prayer of thanks or petition when lighting one. All the kids lit one and Mom asked, “Do you have any questions.” Five-year-old Amy replied, “No – but if there’s a pony on the steps outside, it’s mine.” How often does Jesus get treated that way – often by us. People come to Christ only as the answer to their money problems, or the solution to a failing marriage or the provider of a job. He’s just a fixer-upper, not a Lord. The see Jesus as the means to a greater end! That’s a problem. See – Jesus is the end. There is no greater! How do you see Him – as the end or just as the means to an end – an idolatrous end?!
Such people don’t love Jesus; they love His blessings. As long as He antes up with what we want, we’re in. Otherwise, count us out. We’re like the young lady who sent out invitations to her birthday party: “The honor of your p-r-e-s-e-n-t-s is requested.” That’s how many see Jesus – the great Santa in the sky. They don’t want the Lord of the Bible who promised persecution and hardship rather than presents. Jesus doesn’t do presents – not under those circumstances. His gifts are reserved for those who come for His sake alone -- those who can say like Paul, “that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings” (Phil 3:10). That’s who Jesus comes to – those who want Him more than any gift. Anything less is idol worship. Jesus is looking for Jesus-worshippers.
II. The Indictment (14)
Now Jesus refuses this man in no uncertain terms. His comment is strong – a rebuke; “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?” So why the refusal? Throughout the gospels, Jesus claims to be the judge. He says the judgment won’t happen until he comes back, and then he will be the Judge, and he will sit on the throne of the universe, and the nations will be gathered at his feet, and he will divide the sheep from the goats, and all that. But more importantly, right here in chapter 12 He says He is a divider. See the word “arbitrator”? It’s μεριστης – literally divider. “I’m not your divider.” But now look at vv. 49-53 and Jesus says, “I did come to divide.” He says, “I came to cast fire on the earth.” And as a result it will be father divided (same word) against son and mother against daughter. Jesus came to divide people. How do you explain that contradiction? Great question. So first, how does He divide?
The reason He divides people is because He is always talking about Himself. How would you like someone who is constantly interrupting you and saying, “Well, enough about you. Let’s talk about me?” Jesus was always doing that. It would be insufferable in a normal person, but Jesus had to do so. He came to open up heaven to earth; He’s the lynchpin to the whole thing. All of life comes down to one question: “What have you done with Christ?” With Him we have redemption, forgiveness, cleansing, heaven; we’ll outshine the stars; we have everything. Without Him we have nothing – nothing at all of eternal value. So He had to talk about Himself, but, man, that is a divisive subject. We all know that. It divides families right down the middle because someone who made the claims that Christ made is a natural divider. He was saying “Choose me and live or reject me and die.” We have to bow in worship and say, “Command me,” or we reject Him. That’s divisive!
So how can He say one moment, “I’m not a divider,” and the next moment, “I am a divider?” Here’s what He means. He means, “I did not come for this kind of division or this kind of judgment. If you’re asking me to divide your inheritance BEFORE you ask me to divide your life, you don’t understand me. You don’t get my mission.” Then He says in v. 15, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Literally, “You do not exist in your possessions. Your life is not those things. My mission is to tell you what life is – what it really consists of. I’m here to point you to reality. Your reality – possessions -- will disappear almost before you get it. Mine will last forever.” Say it another way: “I’m not here to get you things you think will make your life. I’m here to BE your life!”
We come to Jesus like this: “I’m thinking of becoming a Christian. I have a lot of investments. Lord, tell the stock market to stop fluctuating. I’m thinking of becoming a Christian. Lord, tell him or her to marry me. I’m thinking of becoming a Christian. Lord, stop the hail and give me a great crop this year. I’m thinking of becoming a Xn. Lord, tell the critics I’m a great artist, great singer, great businessman, great student, great teacher – Lord, fix my problem!” In essence we’re saying, “Lord, I see you’re a great person and I want to know you, so get me the thing that I know is my life.”
Meanwhile Jesus is saying, “No, no, no. You’re on the wrong level. That’s not why I came. I didn’t come to give you the things that you think make up your life. I have come to be your life. I have come to set your life on fire – to revolutionize you from the inside out. I have not come to help you get your agenda; I’ve come to be your agenda. You’re into “now”. I’m all about eternity. I didn’t come to divide up your toys. I’ve come to divide you from your toys – anything that would keep you from me. I came to be your life.”
Now understand. Jesus isn’t saying, “Give me your money; give me your things.” If you give Him your money before you give Him your life, it’s death. A lot of people do. They give their money to build orphanages and hospitals and shelters and money to build churches. Then they say, “Maybe now God will accept me.” But that’s death, Beloved. You can’t buy God. He doesn’t want your money; He wants you – and then He’ll have your money, too. That’s how it works. That’s the only way it works. When Jesus said, “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you [for “now” issues]?” that’s what He was saying. He was indicting him: “You have your priorities all backwards. I can’t help you with “now” until you come to me for “forever.”
Conc – When someone sticks a gun in your face and says, “Your money or your life,” don’t be caught saying, “I’m thinking, I’m thinking.” Get the issue settled now. Learn to think of the long term. Learn to think in eternal terms. Offer a child some candy or a banknote – he’ll choose the candy every time, right? No perspective. Thinking only in terms of “now.” But that’s a child. Don’t be a child in eternal issues.
John Newton illustrated this way in the 18th century. He said, “Suppose a man was going to New York to take possession of a large estate. He’s inherited millions. Suppose his carriage should break down one mile before he got to the city. So he has to walk the one remaining mile to claim the inheritance. What a fool we would think him if we saw him wringing his hands and blubbering out all the remaining mile, ‘My carriage is broken. My carriage is broken.’” What a fool, but no more so than the man who wanted to use Jesus to get his inheritance instead of bowing at his feet and claiming him as Lord and Savior. Don’t use Him, Beloved; Treasure Him! “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.” Let’s pray.