There is a divide between the rich and the poor. That divide can be a gated community with a large fence around or a national border keeping poorer nations out. That divide also exists in education, recreation and in business. Rather than using their wealth to bring people together, many of the wealthy support and enforce a separation. Because God respects our decisions, he may also enforce our decisions of this life in the next. One example is in the story of Lazarus and the rich man found in Luke 16:19-31. Lazarus was too poor for health care and could not tend to the sores that covered his body. He was also forced to beg for second hand food as do many street people. After he died, the gulf between them continued. But this time, the tables were turned.
Some Christians trip over themselves hysterically to avoid any trappings of pagan religions, yet in places like Luke 16:19-31, Jesus used ancient mythology to explain an aspect of the afterlife. Why? The word translated as hell is Hades, originally referred to as the house of Hades, a Greek god of the underworld, the place of the dead. Hades was also called Pluto, the giver of wealth. Greek mythology closely linked wealth and hell. In the parable of Lazarus and the rich man Jesus also linked the two. Why? Is it a sin to be rich? No, it is not. That is not the point. Wealth and luxury deceive us into thinking that we have no responsibility towards those around us who are suffering. We build walls so that we can ignore their torment. However, walls cannot remove our guilt.
For soul-sleepers, the story of Lazarus and the Rich Man in Luke 16:19-31 is difficult to explain away. It indicates a consciousness after death. So, what is the soul-sleep theory? It purports that between death and the resurrection, the soul sleeps and is not conscious. Another difficult passage for soul-sleepers to explain is Luke 23:43 where Jesus tells the thief on the cross, today you shall be with me in paradise. 2 Corinthians 5:8 speaks of being absent from the body and at home with the Lord. In Philippians 1:21-24 Paul desired to depart this flesh and be with Christ. Revelation 6:9-11 speaks of slain souls that cried with a loud voice. The theory of soul sleep is a dubious, one-sided view which takes one set of passages as literal and others as non-literal metaphors.
Some Bible passages seem to describe hell as punishment in fire. We read of maggots, a human barbecue, a rich man‘s cry of agony from the fiery pit and worshipers of human governments who will be tormented day and night (Mark 9:43-45; Luke 16:19-31; Revelation 14:10-11, 20:10-15). Are they literal or symbolic? Are the beast and false prophet people or symbols? Does this describe eternal physical and emotional suffering? Is God sadistic? Can gracious, divine love and eternal torture be reconciled? Is this traditional view of hell the result of a person’s complete and knowing choice, or have some been predestined to this without a chance? How can a just God punish for eternity sins committed in a finite lifetime? Other passages on hell offer alternative descriptions, but all are negative. Bottom line: Don’t choose hell.
Is hell a painful end or eternal suffering? Is the fire literal or symbolic of purging? If hell is annihilation, then parts of Luke 16, Revelation 14 and 20 are symbolic. If hell is eternal conscious suffering, then words like perish, destruction, ashes, and second death are symbolic. Does the phrase “eternal punishment” refer to a punishing that lasts forever or a punishment that has eternal consequences? Is there the possibility of escape from hell, or graduation from a purging place between heaven and hell? Many theologians will tell us that we must be humble and admit that many questions remain unanswered. Certainly, heaven is good and hell is bad, but we do not know God’s plans in detail. Hell is painfully bad. There will horrible suffering of some kind there. Heaven is wonderfully good. So, let's choose heaven!
Luke 16:19-31 is one of the most famous stories of a homeless man of all time. Throughout most of history it has been the brutal, the powerful and the wealthy who’s names we remember. The destitute poor are usually anonymous. Nobody seems to know their names. They come into this world in filth and squalor and depart leaving unmarked graves. Folklore names the rich man Dives. In reality he was given no name in the original story. The rich man could represent anyone who ignores the plight of the poor. The story of Lazarus and the Rich Man gives the destitute beggar a name but not the rich man. Is this how God looks at the world? Do the homeless who believe have a name in heaven, but do selfish and uncaring materialists have no name and no fame?
Life after death is sometimes called the Great Reversal. That is certainly the case in the story of Lazarus and the Rich Man found in Luke 16:19-31. Heaven’s opinion about what a person accomplishes in this life is very different than that spoken about in high society. Possessions and status symbols are less important than what they have been used for. After death, who’s out and who’s in has nothing to who’s out and who’s in by this world’s standards. What was the rich man’s problem? It was actually not his wealth, but what he had allowed his wealth to do to him. He had neglected his obligation under Moses and the Prophets to look after the less fortunate. The passage makes it clear that he knew Lazarus by name and therefore had no excuse for letting him suffer.
Luke wrote as a well-educated man to the wealthy. In Luke 16:19-31 he quoted Jesus’ reminder to the wealthy of their social responsibilities. The story of Lazarus and the Rich Man is an encouragement to the poor that those who count for nothing in this life, count for a great deal in heaven. Yet, at the same time it is a reminder to those who have the means, to make a difference in ways that count in this life. Wealth and power are not tools for self-indulgence, but obligations to be used wisely in service to others. Relief of suffering is the neglected responsibility of the rich man in the story. The rich man who humbles himself and takes his responsibility seriously and joins the street beggar to care for him and relieve his suffering, is a rare person.
With thanks to Ed Hill I also have 3 reasons that I don't want to be in hell like the rich man in the parable (Luke 16:19-31). Reason #1: I don’t like pain. The descriptions of hell in the Bible range from eternal separation from God in blackness forever to a fiery lake. No matter what pictures we read, all of them are bad and include suffering. Reason #2: I don’t like bad company. Hell is full of people you can’t trust, who will hate you and cause your existence to be miserable. Reason #3: I want to be with the one who loves me more than anyone else in the world, God. He died for me and gave up everything so that I could live with him forever. Now that’s the kind of company I want to keep forever.
The man who interviewed Saddam Hussein before his death, remarked how he insisted on still being treated like a head of state. The mad butcher of Babylon appeared deluded about his own guilt even when confronted with videos of his atrocities. We must all face humility. Life is designed to humble us. We get old. Our fortunes cannot be taken with us. We fail immensely at numerous ventures. We simply do not have the capacity to live perfect lives and solve all our problems. A parable in Luke 16:19-31 pictures a rich man who failed in one of life’s most important responsibilities, caring for the poor. Unrepentant, he still saw himself as superior to Lazarus, wanting him to serve him. Wealth and power delude us into thinking we are superior, when in fact, we must all serve one another.
In Luke 16:19-31 Jesus’ story of Lazarus and the Rich Man concludes that Moses and the Prophets taught an obligation to the poor. Perhaps we assume that such altruism is only a New Testament concept and not found under the law. It is a central issue in both Judaism and Christianity. Deuteronomy 14:28-29 records the concept of a tithe for the poor. Isaiah 3:14-15 gives dire warning to those who plunder the poor. Jeremiah 5:26-28 criticizes those who do not defend the rights of the poor. Ezekiel 18:12-18 warns that those who oppress the poor and needy with things like excessive interest rates will not live. Amos 2:6-8 declares punishment for those who deny justice to the oppressed. Zechariah 7:9-10 demands that we do not oppress the widow, fatherless, foreigner or the poor.
People often ask for proof that God exists. Are they blind to the evidence all around them or are they simply too hard hearted to be convinced? Two things limit how reliable any piece of evidence is: the extent of human knowledge and the trustworthiness of human reasoning. Even outside the religious community, faith plays a huge role in whether any piece of evidence is believed or not. One person sees a blade of grass as proof there is a God. Another views more proof and remains unconvinced. In Luke 16:19-31 a rich man suggested that if someone from the dead warned his brothers they would repent. Abraham said that if they would not believe Moses and the Prophets they would not believe someone rising from the dead. More evidence will not convince a hard-hearted person against their will.
In a world which defines success in terms of materialism and popularity, the great failure in Luke 16:19-31 rarely comes to mind. The story is of a wealthy man, who by the standards of Hollywood and Wall Street was probably a great success. However, in reality he was a great failure. He neglected one of life’s most important areas, the care of those less fortunate. He had not experienced repentance, a change of heart, and so had no compassion towards others. A life without compassion is a failure. Too many Christians seek a selfish salvation, to save themselves and not save others. Yet that is an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms. Salvation is something that a person shares, both physical salvation for this life and eternal salvation for the next. Lacking compassion, is one of life’s greatest ethical failures.
Being rich does not have to be a problem. Being hard hearted is. The problem of the rich man in Luke 16:19-31 was not his wealth, but his hard heart. How do we overcome such a hard heart? Throwing a few dollars in an offering plate for the poor is a beginning, but only a small first step. An injection of money only goes so far. Long term solutions to poverty and suffering cannot be made by throwing crumbs at the poor and beating a hasty retreat back into our luxury. The opposite example was that of the Good Samaritan, who got involved. The Christian life is easily counterfeited. Some believers chase miracles, doctrinal twigs, wealth and gurus who put on fancy shows. God is seeking compassionate people who will get involved in relieving the suffering of the poor.
When the British royal family asked for money from government poor funds to heat their palaces, it highlighted just how out of touch the rich can sometimes be. The same is true of those who blame the poor for their poverty. The fact is that many poor are unable to find work. Starting a business has so many obstacles for those of little means that enterprising poor are often forced into the black market shadows of cash under the table for unlicensed work. In the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man in Luke 16:19-31, we find a poor man who was reduced to passively accepting his plight. In the Greek it says that he was dumped at the rich man’s gate to beg indicating an inability for aggressive enterprise. His only physical salvation was in compassion from others.
Terrorists, overbearing governments, corporate cock-a-doodle-dos and union tough guys all have one thing in common. They are bullies. From the school yard to many homes, from the work place to the commute on the freeway, bullies seem to be in every walk of life. Bullies bellow demands. They don’t act with compassion and they don’t consider the effect that have on the lives of those they trample under their feet. They use others to serve them. They do not serve others. It is a completely opposite attitude to that kind of sacrificial leadership we find in Jesus. In Luke 16:19-31 we are introduced to a bully, who even after being brought down to hell, continued to bark orders. Another lesson for us is that if we do not have compassion on the weak, we are no better than bullies.
The Ballad of Lazarus
and the Rich Man
by Ian Grant Spong
INTRO: G F G F G F E A D
D C D D C D
1) There once was a man in fancy clothes, Who lived in lux-u-ry
C G C G
At his gate there lay a homeless man, Who lived in misery
C G F E
He begged for the scraps from the rich man’s table,
Had sores that all could see
D C D
CHORUS: Lazarus died and went to heaven.
D C D
The rich man died and went to _____ hell.
BRIDGE: G F G F G F E A D
D C D D C D
2) The rich man said to Father Abraham, I’m here in mis-e-ry
C G C G
But on earth you had comfort, Living selfishly
C G F E A D
Now you’re the beggar who is suffering, Tormented by the heat.
D C D
CHORUS: Lazarus died and went to heaven.
D C D
The rich man died and went to _____ hell.
BRIDGE: G F G F G F E A D
D C D D C D
3) The rich man said, Father Abraham, Send Lazarus to my family.
C G C G
But they have Moses and the Prophets, If they’ll listen carefully
C G F E A D
So, don’t just think of selfish comfort, But give to those in need
D C D
CHORUS: Lazarus died and went to heaven.
D C D
The rich man died and went to _____ hell.
OUTRO: G F G F G F E A D
Jethro advised Moses that national leaders ought to hate covetousness (Exodus 18:21). Samuel warned Israel about government excess spending and high taxes (1 Samuel 8:10-18). Modern governments have far exceeded the ten percent tax which he predicted kings would levy. Covetous people rob others of their inheritance (Micah 2:1-5). To someone defrauded of an inheritance by a greedy brother Jesus said not to covet what others have stolen from us, because they are the losers (Luke 12:13-21). The Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man (Luke 16:19-31) decries the greedy accumulation of private wealth by those who do not share with the poor. Covetous swindlers will not be in the kingdom of heaven (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). Covetousness is a major cause of war and conflict (James 4:1-4) and false religion (2 Peter 2).
If we kept the final end of all things, including the end of our personal lives, in mind during financial planning, what would that look like? The Parable of the Unjust Steward in Luke 16:1-13 gives us some clues. Financial planning takes into account potential crises. When Joseph saved Egyptian grain during boom times he was preparing for the bust that finally came. Many people plan for retirement, when our ability to work slowly peters out. We plan for buying a home, having children and their education. We make sure we are insured against sickness, accidents, fire, flood and other crises. In the parable, Jesus also encourages us to plan for our ultimate end. If we use financial planning to ensure our temporary salvation, how much more should we consider using it wisely in light of our eternal salvation.
The background to Luke 16:1-13 may have been the story of an absentee landowner who bought land from debt-burdened farmers at rock bottom prices. The poor farmers then worked their former land, not as owners but as hired hands. The main part of the story centers around his manager who seems to have had a great amount of authority, perhaps while the absentee owner partied in town. He may have been more generous towards the tenant farmers than the owner would have liked and so was falsely accused of wasting the boss’s investment. Investors are often more focused on their return on investment rather than the economically oppressed. Being crucified for the sake of others is not a great theme in a greedy world. There are those rare business people who give generous consideration of the hard-working poor before profits.
In Luke 16:1-13 we read the story of a manager who made arrangements to forgive his boss’s debtors a large portion of their liabilities. Whether or not he overstepped his authority could be argued. He is certainly called dishonest or unrighteous. However, the boss then faced a dilemma. Ought he tell the debtors that his manager did so without proper authority or ought he accept their vociferous thank yous, loud acclaims and his sudden popularity with former debtors? Whatever his motive may be the boss commends his manager for such shrewd action. The boss is perhaps a hero and the manager has secured future prospects. Maybe the manager was entirely unjust as he is often accused, or perhaps his motives are partly for the benefit of others as well. Even for purely selfish motives, forgiveness if good for all.
Parables are imprecise stories that leave room for hearty conversation and deep thought. One of the most challenging of all is the Parable of the Unjust Steward in Luke 16:1-13. Commentators are in disagreement on the meaning behind every detail. Was the steward dishonest or merely shrewd? Was he truly unrighteous or facing false accusers? A lot of people love dogmatism and certainty. We want rules and not challenges, black and white not grey areas. We don’t like free thinking. Yet, that is just how Jesus preached. He used exaggeration and teasers. He taught principles not Pharisaic rules. He challenged people to think. Like a lot of parables, this one is also about the wise use of money, not just for short-term goals. Jesus challenged hearers by the steward’s example to have a long-term, eternal perspective in financial planning.
We live in a world where greed possesses people's souls and corporations increasingly find morally questionable but legal ways to skim money from our pockets and call it customer service. So, when Jesus praised someone who was clever with money it may seem a little bit strange. Yet that is exactly what he did in the Parable of the Unjust Steward (Luke 16:1-13). Money is appropriately called filthy lucre because so many of our financial dealings are tainted with sin. Even the most honest of us have at least a little blood on our hands. Yet in the shark tank of capitalism there is a certain respect we pay to a smaller fish who wins against the merciless predators. The financial world is a dirty game. But, we can use money, which is so often abused, for good purposes.
In ancient Israel the wealth was redistributed equitably in a planned pattern to minimize poverty, using a seven year and fifty year readjustment. Yet it was not anything close to socialism. The land was still privately owned and those who were diligent could still gain wealth. What the jubilee system did was prevent some abuse of wealth. Economic sharks could not completely dominate and oppress the poor. After a maximum fifty year lease, the land went back to its original owners. In Jesus’ day, as in ours, we have economic systems that favor the rich and hurt the poor. It is up to believers to bring small jubilees to the poor as we have opportunity. In comparison to eternity, anything in this life, even a billion in wealth, is just a little (Luke 16:1-13). Can we handle it faithfully?
I once heard of a particular church which returned an offering freely given by a man who had earned it in a business that they did not approve of. They didn't want what they saw as dirty money. Perhaps they should return the money donated by any people in business, because they also make many mistakes. Or perhaps they should have taken it further and returned all donations from any source, because all money is corrupted in some way. Traces of cocaine can be found on most paper money. No one is completely perfect in ethics or obedience to the law. If the truth be known, all money is tainted, and as is very often the case, Jesus’ instructions were quite the opposite of what we may think. He said to use unrighteous mammon to make friends (Luke 16:1-13).
In a world where praise is heaped upon those who have climbed over others to gain wealth and power, it hardly seems appropriate for Jesus to join the chorus. Yet, that is precisely what he seems to have done in Luke 16:1-13. Like smug, moralistic fools have Christians been overly much righteous and illogically averse to money? Have we become so heavenly minded that we are of no earthly good? Rather than using a dirty system for good, have we avoided using it wisely at all, believing that keeps us clean? Have Christians actually shot themselves in the foot by running from the corrupt resources of this world, rather than using them for any possible good they can do? Has the church missed out by avoiding any insight from the worldly wise, that it has become unwise and unprofitable?
One man’s investment is another man’s waste of money. In the business world of time and motion efficiency, human efficiency and quality of life are often ignored. Everyone is pressured to produce more with less cost. Truck drivers are forced to drive dangerously and fiddle the books. Quarterly earnings are fudged. Family life takes a back seat to profit. Staff breaks and lunch hours are timed to the minute and biological functions must fit in or be suppressed. Benefits and bonuses are cut to meet the bottom line while pay and work conditions are minimized. Under such burdensome circumstances, any manager with half a heart could be tempted to protect his staff from corporate bullying and run the risk of being falsely accused of squandering. Perhaps the manager in Luke 16:1-13 believed that generous giving was the best investment.
Whenever we deal with money, questions remain. Have we dealt honestly and fairly? What is an appropriate markup in retail? Is a 6500% markup for mobile text messages ethical? Have we given our employers an honest day’s work, our employees an honest day’s pay or have we shortchanged them in some way? Have we given customers real service, or have we deceived and robbed them? Wealth is dangerous because we so easily use it unethically. Wealth is also deceptive. It blinds us to the suffering of others and to our own shortcomings. We deceive ourselves that it is permanent, when in reality it is a transitory power. Ownership is a fiction. We merely recycle things after having borrowed them for a time. A way to avoid the dangers of wealth is to generously share it with others (Luke 16:1-13).
The motives of those who give generously in service to others are sometimes questioned. A recent example was that of several billionaires pledging to give away half of their fortunes to charities. The move has been viewed by some with suspicion as guilt money. No doubt all of us have given at times out of guilt or obligation. In the Parable of the Unjust Steward in Luke 16:1-13 Jesus seems be saying that questioning motives is in some ways irrelevant. What is important is that something good was done for others. The bottom line does not seem to be what our motives are, but whether or not we can be trusted with very little. In comparison to God’s universe-filling true riches, our worldly wealth is nothing. God loaned to us his property temporarily. Have we been trustworthy with it?
We can all think of many examples of where people have been naive and stupid with their money, investing in promises which are all sizzle but no steak. Such charlatans exist in the religious as well as the commercial world. If we have found a good church, that is wonderful, but we also face a danger. In such loving communities where relationships of trust exist, we can sometimes be insanely idiotic when it comes to our handling of money. We assume that all this world’s teachings about money are evil and so avoid them. If Jesus’ comments in Luke 16:1-13 are any guide, that would be a huge mistake. One of the best things that a Christian can do with money is use it in the world, in a manner similar to this world, but to reap eternal dividends.
What do nails, obelisks and the Euro have to do with the parable of the lost coin in Luke 15:1-10? It was literally a silver drachma coin and once nails or metal sticks were used as coins called oboloi. Eventually 6 of these nails were worth a drachma (meaning a handful). A small obolos was called an obelisk and so the monument shaped like one was also humorously referred to as a small nail. In later history, silver coins called drachma were minted in many cities where Greek culture had some influence, and they were worth a variety of values. Eventually, a consensus emerged which gave the coin the rough equivalent value of a skilled worker’s daily pay. Modern Greece also used the word drachma for its currency before it was replaced by the Euro. And now you know.
Luke 15:1-10 contains the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin. The metaphor of lost sheep is used throughout the Bible. Psalm 119:176 describes someone who has gone astray from God like a lost sheep. Jeremiah 50:6 blames the shepherds for leading God’s people astray causing them to be lost sheep. This bad leadership took them from their resting place. Matthew 11:28 says that a Christian’s rest is in Jesus. When preacher teach vain philosophy or feel-good fluff instead of what Jesus taught, they do not allow their flocks to rest in Jesus. Ezekiel 34:8 contains a dire warning to shepherds who do not search for God’s lost sheep but only feed themselves. God gets angry at shepherds that spout empty-headed garbage, because it leads people astray like lost sheep (Zechariah 10:2-3).
In legalistic thinking, repentance is a change of actions, but that is a shallow definition, and not true to the original meaning at all. Many know that the Greek word for repentance literally means a change of heart. Granted, a change of heart will cause a change in actions, but that is a fruit of repentance and not the root meaning. Luke 15:1-10 also gives a different nuance to the concept of repentance: someone who has been found. Another question also arises, Who did the finding? The parables of the lost sheep and lost coin are in response to Jesus welcoming and eating with sinners. He is the shepherd looking for the lost. Rather than avoiding those corrupted by the evils of this world, could it be that Christians should follow Jesus’ example and get involved with the lost?
In some Christian circles we hear warnings against going to bars or having bad friends. There are also many proverbs that warn against bad company. So, why did Jesus choose to spend time with tax collectors and sinners? They were not his constant companions, but occasional company. Could a Christian choose to enter a bar, spend time with reprobates, or otherwise deliberately have friendships with people who seem to make too many bad choices in life. A major part of Jesus’ mission was to the lost, not the righteous. His reply to those who criticized his choice of company was three parables: the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son. They are found in Luke 15. Perhaps a better question might be, when so many sinners avoid the average Christian, what was it about Jesus that attracted them?
In Luke 15:1-10 we find Jesus defending his keeping company with sinners. Who were those sinners? Are we not all sinners? Do Christians no longer sin as some suppose? We need to allow Luke to write in his own language and understand his cultural context rather than assume that our definitions fit the text. In Luke’s context, sinners are those who are rejected by the majority of society as undesirables. Today, some might apply that to illegal immigrants, predatory telemarketers, hawkers of get-rich-quick infomercials, marijuana dispensers, any number of disfavored ethnic or religious groups and a whole host of other possibilities. As we think of those whose political, religious, business or other choices are out of favor with the majority, is Jesus reminding us that those are exactly the kind of people he would consider to be lost sheep?
Does Paul excommunicating a man who slept with his father’s wife shows that the Church should be strict and exclusive? Many would kick certain sinners out, but which sins and where would we draw a line? Too many Christians make Paul the last word, rather than Jesus. There may indeed be a rare time when the only choice is to sadly ask someone to leave. However, that is the exception and not the rule. The rule is the example that Jesus set, not Paul. In Luke 15:1-10 Jesus welcomed sinners and ate with them without judgment. The debate between inclusion and exclusion is 2,000 years old. Should the Church be small-minded and exclusive or welcoming and inclusive? How can we choose? Which way should a church really be? Shall we begin with Jesus’ rule rather than Paul’s exception?
There are three views of repentance and each has value, but only one is true to the original intention. In Luke 15:1-10 when Jesus spoke of repentance, he spoke of the joy that it brings in heaven. One view of repentance speaks of works, turning around and going in the opposite direction. That may be a fruit of repentance as Jesus instructed the Pharisees to bring (Matthew 3:8), but repentance comes before outward change. Others speak of penance, which is the act of making things right, paying a penalty, compensation or being penalized for sin. There is nothing wrong with doing something to make amends, but that also comes after repentance. Repentance comes from a Greek word which simply means a change of heart. Even good deeds are of less value unless they begin in a changed heart.
Will we find the lost if we don’t act? In Luke 15 Jesus spoke of three lost things, a sheep, a coin and a son. What efforts helping the lost are in the three stories? In the story of the lost sheep, the shepherd had to leave the comfort of the flock and go searching in places where sheep get lost. That meant he may have skinned his knees looking among rocky crags or gotten scratched looking in thorny bushes. In the case of the lost coin, the woman had to turn her house upside down looking in all those unlikely places. In the case of the father, he ran to his lost son when he returned and threw his arms around him in loving welcome. In the church, what can we do to search for and welcome the lost?
At 2010 Wyoming market prices of $145 per 100 pounds of weight, the average sheep might bring around $100 a head. So, in Luke 15 when Jesus spoke of a shepherd leaving the 99 behind to look for the one lost sheep, he was speaking of a bad investment idea, humanly speaking. He was not leaving the 99 in safety but in the wilderness, vulnerable to predators. The shepherd put $9900 at risk to save $100. A risk to reward ratio of 99:1 is a far higher gamble than sensible business risk takers would be willing to make. Yet, Jesus risked far more for us. The story is in the exaggerated mode of Hebrew parables, which are precisely designed to emphasize a point. Do we appreciate how much God is willing to risk to save each one of us?
Some Christians lobby against gambling, but fail to understand that God is also a gambler. He is gambling on you and me. Granted, some gambling is foolish risk taking, but getting out of bed is also a risk. Driving a car and eating at a restaurant are gambles. The difference is that some gambles are too risky. The Bible nowhere condemns gambling per se. It does condemn greed and foolishness. However, sometimes even God plays the fool (humanly speaking) for the greatest gamble in the universe. In Luke 15 we see a story of a shepherd gambling with his sheep, leaving 99 unprotected to save one. This was not a carefully calculated safe bet, but a wildly reckless gamble. It was impulsive gambling at its worst. Jesus also gambled everything. Are we willing to take risks to save the lost?
One individual who had suffered under communism said that it was just state capitalism, where the 10% in the party made capital of the 90% who were not. Communist East Berlin provided fabulous mansions and an opulent lifestyle for communist bosses, just like wealthy western capitalists. Naive Christians have tried to equate either socialism or capitalism with Christianity. Yet, both are part of Babylon, this world’s systems and miss principles of God’s economy. One example of God’s economic thinking is found in Luke 15 where the stronger power, the shepherd, put everything at risk for the weaker power, the lost sheep. In God’s economy, Jesus sacrificed everything for us. Big governments and corporations are very similar. Both are predators driven by self-interest and unable or unwilling to save the little guy. We in the Church are called to be different.
I was replacing a needle valve in the carburetter of my first car, a Mustang. We didn’t have a garage and the workplace was a front lawn, a foolish place to work with small parts. The obvious happened. I lost the needle valve in all that grass. After two hours of stubborn searching, I was besides myself with frustration and anger. My wife finally notice my fuming and came out to offer her help. She demanded that I go inside and relax while she looked. Less than five minutes later, she found the lost item. I ran out the front door, jumped for joy and promptly lost the valve again, permanently. This time I bought a replacement. Most of us understand the joy of finding something lost. The joy in heaven over any of us turning to God is great.
Are non-Christians also sheep? In the context of the parable of the lost sheep (Luke 15:1-32) those who are sinners are like lost sheep. The term sinner was derisively used by super-religious Pharisees and teachers of the law. Jesus taught that even the most pious believers have done wrong, because all human beings have sinned. How dangerous and irresponsible it seems for a sheep farmer to leave 99 alone and unprotected for the sake of one lost sheep. The math simply doesn't add up. Locally, lambs average about $350 a head. At those prices, 99 would cost almost $35,000. Putting $35,000 at risk to save $350 does not make business sense, but it does make heavenly sense. The exaggeration shows how much God cares for the lost and his heart’s desire for them to join his flock.
Some Christians have an us-and-them mentality. It is called exclusivism, the attitude of excluding people from the church because of a varying array of deficiencies. No church would willingly include those who actively threaten life and limb, so every church is to some degree exclusive. But the larger the list of excluded traits, the more exclusive the church. Some churches are excessively exclusive. What would Jesus’ attitude be towards this mentality? In Luke 15:1-32 we seem to be taught that Jesus is actively seeking ways to include rather than exclude people. In this parable, virtually all of humanity not currently in a church could be seen as lost and Jesus’ desire is to find the lost and include them in his flock. Rather than an us-and-them mentality, Jesus seems to have an us and the lost of us mentality.
Luke 15:1-32 reminds us that we have all been like the lost sheep, the lost coin or a lost child. Each week at church services is also like a celebration of the return of we who were lost in the world. As we gather together we are reminded of the price paid for us and the joy of our rescue from being lost. Jesus ate with degenerate sinners because those who have gone astray are important to him. We rejoice with him that he has found his lost sheep. In church assemblies we also rejoice with the angels of heaven who throw a great party over even just one sinner who repents. We rejoice with God our father as he celebrates the homecoming of those who were dead and are alive again, who were lost and now are found.
The world’s most valuable coin according to about.com is a 1933 gold double eagle worth in excess of $7.5 million. However, bornrich.com claims that another coin is even more valuable, a silver 1795 flowing hair dollar worth over $7.8 million. Luke 15:1-32 contains a parable of a lost coin. Imagine losing a small object worth almost $8 million. It could get easily lost. Imagine losing a winning lottery ticket worth millions. What would you do? I know what I would do. I’d be turning up everything in the house looking until I found it. Like the lady looking for her lost valuable coin, I’d sweep and scour every nook and cranny. When I found my coin worth millions, I’d be sure to throw a party. So do the angels when even just one sinner repents.
If size is more important than faithfulness to Jesus, then here are 5 ways to build a mega church. 1) Promise that obedience to Jesus will improve your worldly stature, 2) promise that people will not have to carry their own cross, because Jesus did, 3) tell them not to count the cost of building but just step out on faith, 4) tell them just to go to battle without counting the cost and rely on God for the victory, 5) tell them they do not have to give everything up to be a disciple of Jesus, but that Jesus wants them to have more not less. These rules will build a mega church with a large following. Of course there is only one thing wrong with them, they are the exact opposite of what Jesus taught (Luke 14:25-33).
The cost of salvation has already been paid. Jesus paid that on the cross. There is nothing that we can do to pay that price. No amount of good living, no amount of money, no amount of sacrifice can replace the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus our Savior (Titus 2:11-14). However, there is a cost that we must be willing to pay, the cost of discipleship. As disciples we have so much to offer the world in our way of life. Luke 14:25-33 is a difficult and demanding passage. Jesus expects us to sacrifice. That means undivided loyalty, commitment of time and money. People sacrifice for a piece of gold at the Olympics, or a Super Bowl ring or a career. Ought we to be more willing to sacrifice for the only thing in our lives that is permanent?
The smooth prosperity Gospel is popular among some Pentecostal preachers and televangelists. In Isaiah 30:10 the people asked their prophets to preach pleasant deceptions. A motivational speech is not real preaching, but it is more popular than the Gospel. Exciting music and dramatic speaking may shake our planet but cannot heal like the Gospel of Jesus Christ. How can we tell a preacher of the Gospel from a motivational speaker? Nehemiah describes the re-establishment of true religion in Israel and it began with real preaching (Nehemiah 8:8). The Bible was read and expounded. Paul encouraged Timothy to preach the Word (2 Timothy 4:2). A real preacher uses the Bible. The Gospel is not always pleasant-sounding. It demands that we put God first and that we count the cost. It demands self-sacrifice and total commitment (Luke 14:25-33).
What does it mean to ignore the message of the cross? Do we put family values ahead of Godly values? Do we put building a worldly edifice ahead of following God? Do we try fight against God or evil? In Luke 14:25-33 Jesus discussed the cost of being a non-follower of his. When Jesus literally carried his own cross, he was shouldering the instrument of his own death. Now that’s commitment! Most of us who are Christians are glad to bear his name and receive his blessings, but are we able to pay the price of discipleship? No, we are not, but somebody did. Commitment to Christ will also involve struggles, opposition and sometimes even death. But, what is the cost of ignoring Jesus’ Gospel. Can we afford the cost of not taking up our cross in total commitment?
Those words are appalling! They are all too real for many people. Many teenagers go through a stage where they hate family. In some cases it is the only course that they are able to take in order to grow up and become independent. In other cases it is the only way they can muster the strength to escape an abusive relationship. Jesus also uses similar words in Luke 14:25-33. In the exaggerated language of Hebrew teachers, he taught his disciples to hate family and even their own lives. Someone who claims to take the Bible literally finds difficulty in a passage which seemingly contradicts Jesus’ teachings on love. Some suggest that he meant love less by comparison. Hate is a strong emotion. It takes passion to succeed in life’s most important endeavors. Is discipleship impossible without passionate fervor?
Some are proud to give up alcohol, card-playing or working on the Sabbath to follow Jesus, although he demanded none of those things of the Church. It is typical of human beings to invent something easy to give up rather than what Jesus actually taught. In the exaggerated language of Hebrew teachers Jesus’ demanded that we give up family and our very lives (Luke 14:25-33). In the cultural and linguistic context, disciples were not asked to hate family in the same sense that we use that word. It simply means that Jesus and what he actually taught must be the first priority in our lives. Being a true follower of Christ means that we are willing to give up anything else being a higher priority than Jesus. Jesus taught that we love others, but less than we love God.
If Jesus were to confront materialistic health-wealth preachers today what do you think he would say? Perhaps he has already said it. First of all, what is health-wealth preaching? it is a false teaching often found among televangelists. It goes something like this: if you send the preacher a gift, it will be like a seed planted in God’s garden which will return to you as healing and wealth. Strangely, Jesus never asked for money to heal people and in Luke 14:25-33 he spoke to potential disciples about what they must give up to become his disciples. Does this mean that God will never bless us with money or health? Of course not, but it is not always promised. Often the best thing for us is not to be healed or become wealthy. God wants what’s best for us.
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What Jesus meant in Luke 14:25-33 when he said to hate family can be better understood when we consider the cultural context in which that hyperbolic statement was made. Some Bible commentators remove this from our modern sense of emotion associated with the word hate. Instead, it seems that family honor or tradition was often offended when a person became a Christian. This is certainly the case for some today, when either a family group or even a professional community is incensed when one member declares belief in the God of the Christian Bible. In this kind of scenario Jesus is not really professing a hate of individual family members per se, but the family dignity that has been idolized and stands between a believer and God. What did righteous kings of Israel do with idols? They smashed them.
People outside the church often think of Christians as either namby-pambies or idiots with half a brain. How many would think of believers as self-sacrificng people who make a difference. That’s the example and challenge set before us by Jesus. Jesus is provocative. He dares us to think differently about everyday life. In Luke 14:25-33 he challenged would-be followers to be willing to renounce family, personal life and possessions. Succeeding in politics, climbing the corporate ladder or living a military life make similar demands but nobody thinks anything of that. When a religious leader makes such a challenge, why does it seem strange? Provocation is often used to refocus people onto what is important. Rather than attending church for the music, preaching, healing or social life, do Christians today also need to refocus on the important need for self-sacrifice?
Jesus didn’t stay at home in Galilee and wait for the cross to come to him. He willingly marched towards Jerusalem and certain death. He didn’t run away or find an excuse to avoid the cross. He didn’t defend himself or try to escape. He had counted the cost and was willing to pay the price. Along the way he challenged would be followers to count the cost of discipleship (Luke 14:25-33). Are we willing to be laughed at by family or friends? Are we willing to be ignored or treated badly by others? In some countries today, Christians are murdered or ostracized by family members for their faith. Would we be willing? Are we willing to be excluded from certain social or professional circles because of our faith? Do we willingly grab hold of and carry our cross?
TV advertising often encourages us to do something useless. It may be to blindly follow a mindless fashion, put the latest overpriced thing in our mouths or waste hard-earned money on other fruitless pursuits. As we mature, we prioritize differently and many people leave such shallow and empty ideas behind, looking to invest in something more profitable and permanent. Few of us, even in the Christian community, seem to really focus on the most permanent things of all to build. In Luke 14:25-33 Jesus spoke of the planning and forethought it takes to build a tower. When building something more permanent in life it also takes a certain measure of sacrifice. A life that is only about partying and selfish pursuits is a waste. A meaningful life which builds something eternal, begins by sitting down and estimating the cost.
Christians are quite familiar with being mocked. People criticize our faith or try to deconstruct it in order to justify their own lack of belief in God. We are accused of being stupid fools and illogical thinkers if we don’t blindly follow the modern scientific religion of a Godless Genesis. In a small way, our being mocked is a taste of the cross. Jesus was ridiculed over and over again as he endured heartless beatings and brutal crucifixion. On his journey to the cross, he mentioned another kind of ridicule which he was not willing to bear. In Luke 14:25-33 he discussed the mockery of someone who began to build a tower but did not finish it. As we build something permanent in a life of faith let’s count the cost lest we receive the ridicule of not finishing.
It is well-known in military circles that morale is a very important in battle. When combat is man-to-man, often those willing to die are the ones who succeed and live. Perhaps that is what Jesus referred to when he spoke of preparing for battle in Luke 14:25-33. Christians face a battle with the odds, at least humanly speaking, stacked against them. Far superior forces both in and out of the Church, are prepared to fight against the message of Jesus. Do we have the stamina for battle or should we settle for peace? Like Martin Luther, reformers of any age, face ostracism and living under dire threats. Pastors who put Christ ahead of tradition sometimes lose their jobs. Christians who put their faith ahead of their careers sometimes lose promotions. Before battle it is wise to consider the cost.
Jesus’ challenge to give up everything we have (Luke 14:25-33) must not be taken in isolation from the entire Bible. Jerusalem went too far. They shared everything in common but failed to relieve long term poverty. They are an example of taking Jesus' hyperbolic teaching style more literally than he intended. Jerusalem’s story is of failure to alleviate poverty. When the generous sell everything only the selfish have resources left. Jerusalem church was unprepared for famine and later needed outside help. The grand experiment in sharing all things was a failure. Perhaps they misunderstood Jesus’ words. Perhaps Jesus did not mean to sell everything and so become poor ourselves. Perhaps a middle road, of giving up the use of personal possessions for selfish purposes, and investing resources in some way for sustainable giving makes much better long term sense.