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Parable of the Rich Fool

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I want to draw your attention this morning to the parable of the rich fool. A parable, that as I said earlier, I think is very contemporary to many of the problems and things that people may be experiencing today in the downturn, (or at least the perceived downturn) in the economy that has occurred over the last several months. It's really an opportunity for us to examine our own lives, our own hearts, to see how the events of the world, of the American economy…how we measure to that, how we've been effected by that, if at all, and how it has changed the way that we view things.

I believe, as we look at this text today in Luke, chapter 12, that we'll see not only an event and a parable dealing with the crowd that Jesus encountered at that time in Luke, but also one that examines our own hearts and really the crowd that is the American society as well. Jesus is speaking and one in the crowd comes to Him and asks Him to settle an issue. It was common for rabbis to be arbitrators, to be judges, on certain issues, and so this man comes to Jesus and sees Jesus as a rabbi and wants Him to settle an issue that he has. Really, Jesus is able to look beyond the immediate question and to see the heart of the individual asking that question, and really our hearts as well.

In Luke, chapter 12, and in the thirteenth verse, "Then one from 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 an arbitrator over you?'" Now a couple of things to just notice immediately: First of all, the man does call Jesus 'teacher,' but look at Jesus' response. He said, "Who made Me a judge or an arbitrator over you?"

Now it's kind of hard to tell in the English because you is both singular and plural in the English, but in the original language the 'you' here is plural. He is speaking to both of the brothers. He is speaking to their situation together, and He is saying, "Who made me a judge over both of you?"

What Jesus is saying is that He is not going to answer. He is not going to help them out because any answer that He gave in the dividing of their inheritance would not solve the real problem. As we discover, the real problem that both of these brothers had was covetousness of their heart. No matter how you divide the spoils of the inheritance, it would never be enough for a covetous heart because a covetous heart always covets more.

You know the old story of J.D. Rockefeller when he was just a multi-millionaire, and they asked him, "How much money do you need?" And he would always answer, "One more million." "One more million." And that is true in all of our hearts, no matter what we think. We might think, "If I won the lottery…" We might think, "If I just had so much…" But I can already assure you that it would never be enough. That these who have a covetous heart, when you have a covetous heart you always covet, and you always want more.

So Jesus doesn't answer. He doesn't divide that because dividing the inheritance 5050, 6040, whatever it would be, would never solve the problem that they had. So He addresses the real problem that they were both greedy and that their greatest need was to have their hearts changed. So Jesus goes on to give a principle in verse 15. "He said to them, 'Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.'"

Now right here, right in the midst of the flow of all of this, is a powerful, life-changing principle. What Jesus says here is a statement that everyone in here will 'amen' and no one in here will fully follow…that everyone in here will on Sunday agree, but it will be the rare person on Monday who lives this way. What Jesus is telling us is not an idealism. It's not an impossibility. He is giving us a clue to life. In all that we work for, and all that we accumulate, and all that we struggle is to have life. Jesus said (remember), "I came that they might have abundant life." He is telling us here where abundant life is not found.

Listen to the principle: Abundance is not found in the accumulation of possessions. He says it does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses. My friends, that goes against everything that our society has devolved to. It goes against everything that our work ethic has turned into. We measure happiness by possessions. We measure more happiness by more possessions. We think that the accumulation of things is what it's all about, even though knowing that it never brings happiness.

What will bring happiness is…a little bit more. One more million. One more car. One more bigger house. The American dream has changed today from everyone owning a home to everyone owning a home big enough to keep all of my stuff in. When we get more stuff, we suddenly deserve a bigger home. We get more vehicles, we need a bigger garage. We are always after bigger. We are always after more because the covetousness of our heart is far more powerful than the fifteenth verse of this chapter in Luke…than the words of Jesus who is speaking to you this morning in 2009.

He's not telling you to be a monk. He's not telling you to be impoverished. But He's telling us something…if only our hearts would hear it…that happiness and abundant living is not found in possessions. It's not found in owning things. So Jesus speaks a parable to these two who are so covetous of wanting to make sure they had their fair share and knowing all the while that they deserved more than the other brother…in thinking that they have every right to a larger claim that has created whatever the conflict is that brings this one to Him.

Jesus speaks a parable. He speaks a parable really to every one of us. He spoke a parable to them in verse 16, saying, "The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully..." Now, right here there is a lot to look at. In order, in fact, to understand at all what Jesus is saying, I think we have to understand this little introductory sentence. Notice, if you will, He says, "…the ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully."

Before we go any further, we need to realize that the man in this parable is already rich. He is a great land owner. By the course of the parable, we understand his wealth comes from his crops. That's where he gets his money…very common thing to do. His ground must be good productive ground to begin with because it has made him rich. He is a rich farmer. He is a wealthy farmer. And this year, this harvest season, in the introductory sentence here, he has an abundant harvest. It yields plentifully.

You go down to verse 17, "And he thought within himself, saying, 'What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?'" Now first of all, he was a rich man. That means he already had good storage facilities. He had storage facilities that far exceeded what the poor farmer would have. A poor farmer might be able to store his grain in the little shed that he shared with his animals. But now here's a man who is rich, so he already has good storage facilities. This is what he does for a living. Now he's asking himself a question, "What shall I do since I have no room to store my crops?" That indicates to me that he has filled up every storage bin that he has, and he built enough now, to supply him at least for a whole season. He built enough so that in a good year, even in a semi-good year he would have enough to survive.

Do you understand this…what's going on? Here is a man who has had more than abundance. He doesn't even have to completely fill his bins up. Any good business man would have built a little bit more to handle a little bit extra. Now this man has had such a bountiful crop that every storage facility he has is filled and he still has more…more that won't fit into that storage facility. His yield is enough to fill up everything he has and he is yielding more than he needed…really more than he anticipated.

Now is the guy who has gotten a bonus for this year. This is the one who has gotten a windfall in his harvest this year. What we see with this man is really what happens to everyone of us if we're not thinking godly thoughts, if we're not following the principle that Jesus just laid out in verse 15, and that is this fear that, "I have to hang on to this abundance." This fear that, "I have to build a bigger barn." This fear that, "It may not repeat itself."

So in verse 18, He says, "I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods." Now listen, this man is instantly afraid that he will never have more crops. Now that happens to everyone. You get a windfall, you might get an inheritance, you might get an extra bonus, you might make an extra-good sale and the fear that grips you is, "This may never happen again. This has come to me and I have to put it up. I've got to put it in a sock. I have to put it in a bank account. I have to store it somewhere. I better go out, and now while I have this extra money I better buy that boat because I may not have that money anymore." We suddenly get into a panic mode like this farmer who says, "Man, I have to accommodate all of this."

Now friends I'm going to go ahead and tell you…I'm going to tell you what he's missing out on. And that is…here is a man who has had a full, normal harvest. God has blessed him with the extra, but not to build a bigger barn…to help others, to extend out. And though you're not ready on the front end of this sermon to accept this yet, and though you've been taught by society far more powerfully than any Bible would ever teach you that when you get extra money that you hang onto it, could it possibly be that the God who takes care of you will also take care of you next year?

You see that's the big challenge to us. We trust God up to this point. But now we have this extra money and suddenly we have no confidence that God will ever provide us another harvest. We better store what we have. We better put away what we have. "Oh, I'd love to help people, but what happens if I don't do this again?" And we accumulate. What happens if J.D. doesn't make another million? He better hang onto everything that he had. What happens if Bill Gates didn't write another piece of software? He better accumulate everything that he had.

That's what we think. That's what we…even Christians…think. We better hang onto everything we get because we may not make it next week. We trust God up to this point, but I don't know if I can trust Him in the future. So I better build a bigger barn. That's what this man said. "I'll pull down my barns. I'll build greater, and there I will store all my crops and goods." This is the answer of every American. We live in a land of plenty and we want more. We don't realize how incredibly wealthy we are.

We don't understand it because we compare ourselves to Rockefeller and to Bill Gates. We compare ourselves to a house with one more floor on it than we have. We compare ourselves to that parking lot at the office with the new car in it and ours is not. We don't understand how incredibly wealthy we are, that even the poorest among us is wealthier than most of the entire world. We don't understand that. We're greedy, selfish people…even as Christians.

So we want more. We're afraid. It's a perversion of the American dream. Now we want a home big enough to hold all of our stuff. He wants to expand his business so he'll be richer. We want to expand our business so we can be wealthier. We want to expand our career so we'll have more. It might not be money. It might be more power. We're always wanting more power. We're never satisfied with the influence and the power that we have.

Or we want more prestige, we want more recognition. We are never quite content with what the world has given us, so if I expand, if I enhance my career, if I get a better title, if I expand my business, open more locations, whatever it is that's going to make me more prestigious…America says that's good. That's good. That's a good motivator. So it drives us to pursue…to pursue this new perverted American dream.

But you see what Paul said in 1 Timothy, chapter 6. This man who had studied in the desert with Jesus for three years…we've been in Sunday school for 40…but Paul picked this up pretty quickly. He said in 1 Timothy 6:7, "For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition."

Oh, we've all looked at Bernie Madoff this week as he came, and you know, he is just the personification of evil…this man who lead this Ponzi scheme for so many years. But do you know who I look at? I look at all of those greedy people who bought into it. You see, I learned as I've studied it this week, you couldn't just give him your money. You had to be so wealthy to even be invited into it. It was a special group of people that got to give their money to him. And they did so because they anticipated a much, much larger than normal return. He was promising huge returns, greedy returns to already greedy people.

And my friend, when you desire to be rich you fall into temptations and a snare. That's exactly what has happened to these people. They want to string him up. What happens to all of us when we pursue this perverted American dream, and we think the accumulation of more is our entitlement, is why we are here. So Paul goes on in the tenth verse of that 1 Timothy and says a principle…another principle for you today, and that is, "For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows."

My friend, the pursuit of wealth, the pursuit of this farmer, the pursuit that is born of greed, if that's the motivator for your life today, is that why you need a little bit more money, a little bit more prestige, a little bit more recognition, a little bit higher place in the social clubs of Saline County, or whatever it is? That you need more recognition, you need more power, you need more prestige…my friends, I tell you today that you're setting yourself up for a trap. You're setting yourself up for a snare that you will be pierced through with many sorrows because the Bible says that it's true and you know that it's true.

You smile on the surface. You're depressed on the inside. Why? Because you find yourself in that endless cycle of pursuing more and more and more, thinking just a little bit more, and I'll be able to settle down. A little bit more, and I'll be able to retire. A little bit more, and I'll be able to enjoy. And it never happens. It never happens.

Through my years in the computer business I had the opportunity to know and in some cases work for some very wealthy people by Little Rock standards. None of them happy. None of them happy. Miserable families, miserable relationships with their children. They just simply fulfilled the very Bible they denied to follow. They fulfilled Scripture and so to this man in this parable. He comes along and says I'm going to build this and store all my crops and goods. In verse 19 he said, "And I will say to my soul, 'Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.'"

Oh, this is a wise man. He took all his extra money, he took all…every little bit he had and he put it into his retirement account. He put it into his 401k. He put it into his stocks and he put it into his bonds. Oh, he could have helped people. He could have taken that bonus, and he could have done something, but you know what? Better build up for the future, right? Because there is nothing more solid than my retirement account.

Yet today, there are people all in our country depressed…suffering depression. Psychologists are booked to the hilt with people trying to deal with the effects of the recession psychologically. People that are suicidal now…Christians who don't know what they are going to do next. Why? They are worried. They are upset. Why? Because their barns have suddenly become worth a lot less than they had been counting on. They were going to take it easy…eat, drink, and be merry.

Now they're having to sell those RVs. Now they're having to cut back on those vacations. Why? Because they put all of their eggs into the basket of retirement, and future, and taking it easy. Because that's the American way.

But God had a different plan. He had a different plan for this farmer, and He has a different plan for us.

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