I. Better Riches (v. 1-16)
II. Better Future (v. 17-31)
III. Better Promise (v. 16-17; 29-31)
Well, today we are jumping back into our study through the book of Luke in the Bible. We’re in chapter 16 and the title of my sermon is “A Jesus Who Is Better Than Money.”
What do you think is better? In N Out or Shake Shack?
What do you think is better? Starbucks or Coffee & Tea Collective?
My wife would say the correct answer is Better Buzz.
What do you think is better? The iPhone or the Pixel?
What do you think is better? Rain or sunshine?
What do you think is better? Kansas or California? LA or San Diego?
What do you think is better? Better. Better. Have you ever stopped and thought about the concept of better? It’s actually something unique to human beings, that we contemplate and compare things.
Animals don’t do that. They don’t question their own existence, future and what is going to be best for themselves. They act according to…animal instinct right?
Better. If you stop and think about it nearly every decision we make in life is because at some level we think one think will be better for us than the other. We will either like it more in that moment or it will hopefully do something good for us in the future.
Better. My favorite argument for the existence of God is known as the ontological argument, originated by a man named Anselm in the 11th century. I have part of it tattooed on my arm, I love it so much.
The core element of the argument is based upon this concept of better, that we can compare things and that some things are truly better than others. And what he proposes is that God is the best. He defines God as that which none greater (better) can be conceived.
This is what I believe is at the heart of Jesus’ teaching in the text we are going to look at today, that believing in God and loving Him is the better thing in life. Jesus comes to teach us and to show us that He is better than money, which is usually the primary thing we tend to think will make our lives better.
So with that, why don’t you go ahead and stand with me. We’ll read chapter 16, I’ll declare it as God’s Word and then we’ll thank Him for it together and get into it.
He also said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions. 2 And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.’ 3 And the manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. 4 I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.’ 5 So, summoning his master's debtors one by one, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 He said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ 7 Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’ 8 The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. 9 And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.
10 “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. 11 If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12 And if you have not been faithful in that which is another's, who will give you that which is your own? 13 No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”
14 The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him. 15 And he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God. 16 “The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone forces his way into it. 17 But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the Law to become void 18 “Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.
19 “There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man's table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried, 23 and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. 24 And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’ 25 But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ 27 And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father's house— 28 for I have five brothers —so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ 29 But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ 30 And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’”
• Pastoral Declaration: This is the Word of the Lord.
Congregational Response: Thanks Be To God.
Alright, so honest confession, I thought about titling this sermon, “Weird Jesus.” When I first sit down with a text and start studying it I just go line by line and write down every question and comment I have that comes to mind. And I found my self repeatedly writing, “that’s weird”, “odd phrase”, “weird”, “weird”, “really weird.”
Did any of you have any of those thoughts while we were reading it? I mean like, make friends by unrighteous wealth so that you get eternal dwellings? What the heck? Force your way into the kingdom of heaven? Huh? Obviously we’ve got two stories about money but what in world is this little line about divorce doing right in the middle of them? And then there’s all this weird craziness about a guy stuck in hell, who wants someone to dip their finger in water and put a drop on his tongue. That’s weird Jesus.
Turns out, once I started reading commentaries, the scholarly experts on this chapter say this is known as the most difficult of Jesus’ parables to interpret and the hardest chapter of Luke to understand! Then I was like “Phuh!” Can I just skip this chapter? But my boss said, “no.” So true confession, I don’t want to preach this chapter today. I guess, everybody has to do things at their jobs at times that they don’t like eh?
Now that’s an honest feeling. However, the Bible tells us that all of it is God’s Word (2 Tim 3:16), that all of it is good for us (2 Pet 1:3-4). Sometimes you have to go digging for diamonds. At least so I’ve heard. I’ve never dug and found a diamond, but that would be cool.
Anyway I think this chapter is like that. As I dug into it and as we’re about to dig into it together, I think we’ll see that there’s diamonds here. Jesus says these challenging and somewhat odd things that really force us to think and that have this unique way of casting light on what is really true, what really matters and what is really good for us.
So three things I want to walk through from it, “Better Riches”, “Better Future” and “Better Promise.” And my hope is we’ll walk away thinking and believing that “Jesus is better.”
I. Better Riches (v. 1-16)
Let’s jump into this first point, “Better Riches” looking at verses 1-16 where Jesus tells this story about a business relationship gone bad where this guy does some sketchy things and then after telling the story offers pointed commentary and teaching from it.
First off, let me clue you in on an interpretive rule or guide when reading and working with the Bible. The stories Jesus told back in His day were called “parables” and parables were a special and unique kind of story. They were often made up but rooted in a very common situation of life that everyone would relate to and understand. And this is the key, parables typically have one main point. There’s a pointed kicker that’s meant to cut to the heart.
This parable is a perfect example of it. It has one main point, to not love money. And the Pharisee guys who were standing around got that one main kicker point. They knew Jesus was jabbing at them and it ticked them off. So verse 14 says, “The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him.”
Where people often go screwy and have trouble with parables is when you try to line up and interpret every little part with something significant. A parable has one main point. So with this parable what most have had trouble with is it sounds like Jesus commends this dishonest finance and property manager who embezzled money. But Jesus point has nothing to do with this guy’s dishonesty.
We can learn something from anyone whether or not they are good or bad, Christian or not a Christian. Here’s how Saint Augustine said it…but first just a brief word on Saint Augustine.
Augustine is known as one of the early church fathers. He was a primary figure who helped guide and lead the Christian Church in the 4th and 5th centuries in his pastoral efforts, writings and leadership in Christian councils. And here’s the thing that you may not know, St. Augustine was a black man born in Algeria who ended up spending the bulk of his ministerial career for Jesus in North Africa.
I bring this up because if you didn’t know it, February is Black History Month and I think it’s important to recognize the heritage of our faith. Christianity is not a white man’s religion. Jesus himself was a middle eastern dark skinned man and there have been people of all different colors of skin who have been changed by Him and His message and who have contributed to the spread of the good news.
If you want to read a good book on that check out, “How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind: Rediscovering the African Seedbed of Western Christianity” by Thomas Oden. He talks about Augustine and a bunch of other people’s influence. Anyway, back to the parable. Here’s what St. Augustine said on this parable,
“Why did the Lord Jesus Christ present this parable to us? He surely did not approve of that cheat of a servant who cheated his master, stole from him and did not make it up from his own pocket…Why did the Lord set this before us? It is not because that servant cheated but because he exercised foresight for the future…he was insuring for himself a life. Would you not insure for yourself eternal life?”
You see what Jesus says the issue is in verse 11 is, “true riches.” True riches do not consist in the accumulation of wealth. That’s what the finance manager realized, that his money was gone, so he needed to make some friends fast in order to have a life.
But sadly, back in Jesus day and still so much in our day this is the lie that we hear and end up believing, that more money would make our lives better. It comes to us constantly when we read and see and hear the successes of others and the wealth they have and we think if we had that too our lives would be better. It’s hard not to think that. I find myself thinking that, easily…that if we just had more money then we could have a bigger house and nicer things and do more things and that then my wife and kids would be happier.
The thing is it’s simply not true. Something subtly happens in our souls when we start to think that way. Money has this power to start to dominate our hearts. Every time we spend money we are pulling something out of our hearts showing what we value. So it’s not surprising Jesus says in verse 13 that what it really boils down to is either loving God or loving money.
A book I’ve been reading for my own soul this year in my personal times with the Lord is simply titled, “On Loving God” by Bernard of Clairvaux. Here’s what he says on this,
“Men are driven by an insatiable ambition to clutch at still greater prizes. And nowhere is there any final satisfaction, because nothing there can be defined as absolutely the best or highest. No matter how many such things one has, he is always lusting after what he has not; never at peace, he sighs for new possessions.
Discontented, the spends himself in fruitless toil, and finds only weariness in the evanescent and unreal pleasures of the world. In his greediness, he counts all that he has clutched as nothing in comparison to what is beyond his grasp, and loses all pleasure by longing after what he has not, yet covets.
It is so that these ones wander in a circle, longing after something to gratify their yearnings, yet madly rejecting that which alone can bring them to their desired end…the love of God. God has no gift better than Himself. He gives Himself as prize and reward. And therein the soul says God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”
Isn’t that good? This is what Jesus is talking about when he talks about true riches, an eternal dwelling and the better choice of loving God instead of money that cannot love you back.
Do you love money or do you love God? Jesus says you can’t do both at the same time.
We tend to think that what we do with our money isn’t that big of deal, Jesus says here it’s a huge deal and that the love of God is so much better that we should be willing to do anything to get it. Just like the shrewd manager who went into panic mode we’ve got to do whatever it takes to have God in our lives. I believe that’s what Jesus is talking about when he says in verse 16 to take the kingdom by force. Sometimes you’ve got to make some hard decisions about money in order to show where your allegiance and trust is.
It’s one of the reasons I love our family’s commitment to give a portion of our money to the church every month. Not only because we believe in the mission of the church and what it’s doing, but it helps to pull my heart free from my love for money saying, “Lord I trust you to provide and you and your love and spreading that love is far better than me having that little extra money.”
If this is your home church and you don’t do that already I’d highly encourage you to start. Honestly, it feels really good and freeing to give to Jesus’ Church and her mission.
But even then we’ve got to remember the bigger issue than that is where our hearts and our eyes are set. You can give money to the church but still have the hope of and desire of your life be in making more money believing that more money will make your life better. That’s what Jesus is addressing here.
So I’ll end this point with one more quote from another great black theologian, The Notorious B.I.G., “Mo money, mo problems.” Jesus and what we have in His kingdom is far better than money.
II. Better Future (v. 17-31)
Okay, now let’s look at the other parable in verses 17-31 in our next point, “Better Future.”
What we have in the second parable is a look at the alternative. Jesus’ teaching from the first parable focuses on the goodness of heaven and the downfalls of loving money. The second parable focuses on the horrors of hell and the benefits of being merciful to others with money.
In between the two parables there is this brief line about marriage and divorce, where Jesus says not to get divorced. Most think it’s there as another example of hypocrisy because the Pharisees not only loved money more than God but they were letting couples get divorced instead of encouraging them in the love of God. Interestingly, money is second most popular reasons people give for getting divorced. First is cheating and second is money.
God’s desire and design is for relationships formed, fostered and fueled by His love. God never divorces Himself and His love for His people and calls us to love our spouses with that same kind of permanent love.
Even when money is bad? Even when cheating happens? Yes. There’s a whole book in the Bible called Hosea where his wife cheats on him multiple times and God tells him to take her back every time because it’s a picture of the way God loves His people.
Now look if you’re divorced just know there is grace upon grace from Jesus for that. Stuff happens and God is a God of grace.
But what I want to say to all the married couples in the room and those pursuing marriage is that the consequences of divorce are painful. I’ve walked through it with multiple couples and it just tears lives apart. There’s a reason why the Bible calls marriage the two becoming one flesh. There’s a oneness that occurs in marriage that the chasm of divorce splits and tears apart. Marriage is meant to be a permanent covenant, no matter what.
When I take couples through pre-marital counseling one of things I have them do is write a paper for me titled, “Why This Marriage Will Not End In Divorce” so that later if they end up in my office wanting a divorce I can pull it out and read it to them. Marriage is good and God means for couples to never get divorced.
So after talking about divorce Jesus introduces this parable about another permanent chasm, where one’s life choices with money and mercy had eternal consequences. It’s a pretty graphic and picturesque story, not a delightful one but definitely one with a lot of details that paints a picture for us.
We’ve got really rich guy, all dressed up in the purple robes of a king, endless amounts of money, living it up with fancy feasts ever day but he does nothing for the guy outside his palace gate who is poor, hungry and sick with sores dogs are licking. And the rich man has no mercy toward him.
Then they both die and there’s a complete role reversal. Now the poor, hungry sick beggar named Lazarus is in heaven feasting with the great Abraham and the rich man is nameless in hell, in anguish and torment where there is fire and how he’s become the beggar. It’s so hot all he wants is just a drop of water on his tongue. But he’s told no and that once you’re in hell there no way to get out of there and make a change to go to heaven. It’s permanent.
So crazy story right? A flood of questions spring out of this one. Is it real, is this what hell is really like? Is it true you can’t get out of hell or is there this thing called purgatory the Catholics teach? Does hell really have fire? Are you just being burned up forever without ever burning up? Can people in hell really see into heaven?
Crazy stuff right? Here’s the answer to all those questions: I don’t know. I dunno. But I think this is a good guide. What is clear is that Jesus is giving a very vivid description of spiritual torment. We can agree on that. Then is He speaking literally or symbolically? Well, if he is speaking symbolically, which He may be then imagine how much worse the real thing is?
Which brings us to the heart of this difficult topic that multiple times in multiple places Jesus says there is a heaven and there is a hell and that everyone goes to one of those two places either when they die or when He returns.
On Wednesday this week, at 99 years old one of my personal heroes got to enter the eternal dwelling in heaven with God and His people in the city of joy, Billy Graham. So I wanted to quote Billy today and thought it’d be fitting to quote some of his words on heaven and hell. In his book titled, “Peace With God” he writes,
“I am conscious of the fact that the subject of hell is not a very pleasant one. It is very unpopular, controversial and misunderstood…Yet, the Bible pronounces hell for the sinner (and) heaven for the saint. A saint has been described as a sinner who has been forgiven. The subject of heaven is much easier to accept than the subject of hell. And yet the Bible teaches both.”
When we look at the parable Jesus told, what the rich man failed to see was that he was a man who needed mercy as well, so he ignored the man sleeping outside his gate. The central command of the Bible is to love God and to love one’s neighbor. Lazarus had literally become his neighbor but the rich man had no love for him, which showed he had no love for God in his heart. Even when he’s in hell, he still thinks Lazarus should do something for him and is asking Abraham to do something for his relatives.
When it comes to money what we have to see is it’s just a tool to be used for the love of God and neighbor. It doesn’t mean being foolish and not planning and not saving or any of those things. Essentially however all we ever are, like in the first parable, are stewards of God’s money. That’s what Jesus calls us in another place and the Bible teaches that ultimately none of us every really own anything, that it all belongs to God.
So the alternative to loving money is using money to love God and neighbor exercising mercy. You can love money more than God not just by wanting more of it but also by hoarding it. We’er meant to use money for the mercy and mission of God.
I’ve been thinking a lot about mercy and justice this week and this week in our community groups we’re doing our special Night of Hope discussions and exercises to help us become a church that extends mercy and justice in our city.
I think too often when we hear the word “mercy” we think of pity for the poor and when we hear the word “justice” we think of making up for some wrong doing. But I’m learning that justice and mercy instead are often more about leveling out the equity of God’s kingdom with the resources we have. I won’t spoil it but if you’ve seen Black Panther then think of the ending, that’s where things end up, sharing resources.
A bunch of you did that today, bringing blankets for our homeless community. It’s been super cold and the group that we feed on Tuesday nights asked for blankets. A bunch of you brought them. Thank you for doing that, sharing a resource you had.
Tim Keller wrote a book on mercy titled, “Ministries of Mercy”. All of those who become Deacons in our church read this book. In it he says,
“We must see that al of us are spiritually poor and bankrupt before God (Matt 5:3), and even when we put on our best moral efforts for God, we appear as beggars clothed in filthy rags (Isa 64:6). Yet in Jesus Christ, God provided a righteousness for us (Rom 3:21-22), a wealth straight from the account of the Son of God, who impoverished himself through suffering and death that we might receive it (2 Cor 8:9).”
Do you see yourself as a person in need of mercy? Mercy is better than money.
I want to end this point by briefly looking at that last Bible reference Tim Keller points to, 2 Corinthians 8:9.
2 Corinthians 8:9 says, “…know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.”
Everyone of us are poor sinners and everyone of us will die and will either go to heaven or hell. That’s the future for every one of us. What Jesus Christ came and has offered us is a way for us to experience the love and mercy of God and not end up in hell but in heaven knowing true riches that comes from Him. Jesus is better. Our future is better with Him.
Well, that brings us to our last and final point, “Better Promise.”
III. Better Promise (v. 16-17; 29-31)
In this last point I just wanted to briefly look at the two places in our passage where Jesus talked about the Bible, how it points to Him and the security that comes from knowing and believing that.
So the first place is after the first parable in verses 16-17 where He says, “The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone forces his way into it. But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the Law to become void.”
The Law and the Prophets was a way of referring to what we call the Old Testament portion of the Bible, everything that God had written before Jesus came. Once John came, he came to introduce Jesus who is the good news of the kingdom. Good news is the word Gospel, which is the title of Luke and the other books written about Jesus’ life and ministry. So very clearly what Jesus brings up here is the Bible.
Then Jesus points to the surety of trusting the Bible. One of the things the Bible talks about in numerous places is that when Jesus returns He will remake heaven and earth. So the current heaven and earth will pass away, Peter tells us it will be burned up. But even when that happens the Bible won’t pass away. It will not become void. Every word and even the dots on the words will still be true and be fulfilled. The Bible will still be read and celebrated in heaven.
What we’re supposed to walk away with from that is a sense of security, that we can trust the words of Jesus in this book. They are more sure than the earth we walk on and the heavens we look up at. The promises and truths of the Bible are better and more sure than any other thing.
After he says that Jesus tells the second parable and concludes it by coming back to the Bible again. So now let’s look at that part in verses 29-31.
Luke 16:29-31 – “But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’”
Moses and the prophets once again is a way of referring to the Old Testament part of the Bible that is filled with stuff meant to teach men and women that they fall far short of perfection, fall into sin and need a savior who God would provide. The rich man, who is in hell thinks that if someone came back from the dead to tell his brothers that then they would listen.
People say this a lot still today. It comes out in things like, “No one knows what happens when you die because no one has been to the other side and come back to tell us about it.” No one, except one. Jesus Himself.
Jesus is such a coy, clever guy. He’s said already in Luke that His plan in coming to earth was to die and then to rise on the third day, so that sinners could be forgiven and given eternal life. So with this line, Jesus is clearly alluding to His death and resurrection which tells us two things.
One, if we reject the Bible then we’re going to reject Jesus. The Bible is the most sure thing, even surer than seeing the risen Jesus ourselves. Sometimes we think if we could just see Jesus with our own eyes then we’d really believe. Jesus says “nope.”
After the disciples saw the risen Jesus he said this to them in John 20:29 “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” and then John said two verses later “These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20:31).”
That’s the first thing the ending of the parable urges us towards, to trust the words and message of the Bible. The second thing is, knowing Jesus is point to His resurrection we can look at His resurrection and see an example of one who has come from heaven, has died and come back to life to tell us what is real about heaven and hell.
So Jesus knows what He’s talking about. He’s not crazy. He lived to tell the tale and it’s the best kind of tale of all, one that’s actually true. Through the risen Jesus we see proof and evidence that we too can rise again and have new eternal life that begins now and extends into heaven with God.
The promise Jesus offers is better than any other promise and more trustworthy than the words of any other person or book, His promise is simply better.
Well, that’s it. We made it through the most difficult chapter in Luke. It wasn’t as painful as I thought it was going to be. There were some diamonds in there weren’t there?
We started out today talking about things that are better than others, we end today talking about Jesus who isn’t just better, He really is the best. He is the one of whom none greater can be conceived.
What do you think is better? Money or God? Love or hate? Life or death? Heaven or hell? God, His love and life and heaven come to us through Jesus.
In Jesus we have a savior who was rich in heaven, left all His riches to be born among a poor family, lived the life of a poor carpenter until He became a traveling homeless man until He gave up even the clothes on His back so that we might know the true riches found in the love of God.
In Jesus Christ are better riches. In Jesus Christ is a better future. In Jesus Christ there is a better promise. Jesus is truly better than money. May God help us to love Him, believe in Him and to trust Him with all of our lives.