Cornerstone EPC Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734 March 29, 2020
There is some good material news this week—for a change. The stock market—near Friday’s closing bell—stood last week to have its best week in almost ninety years. Though this is occasion enough to praise the Lord, let us not forget, despite this good week, that the market remains about twenty-five percent below its mid-February record high. This state has many people—some heavily invested in the market and some with no material stake in the market—nervous. Granted, some of this nervousness could be an adrenaline response to proper caution, prudence, and so forth—but such nervousness also could reveal an improper trust in material resources, rather than in the Lord, the Giver of every good and perfect gift (cf. James 1:17).
We see in today’s text, which includes Jesus’ Parable of the Rich Fool, a man whose financial issues dominated his life to the exclusion of all else. Let us see, from God’s Word in these tumultuous times, how now we shall live. May the Lord again bless the reading and preaching of His Word in this place.
(HERE READ THE TEXT)
The passage opens with a man in the crowd revealing to Jesus, and to us, his presenting problem—a problem, apparently, of probate. He says unto Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” The Law of Moses declares that the firstborn son gets a double share of his father’s estate above other heirs (Deuteronomy 21:17). Hence, with two sons (as in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, Luke 15:11-32) the elder gets two-thirds of the estate, with three sons the eldest gets two-fourths, or one-half, and so forth. Perhaps this brother, perceiving himself disadvantaged, comes to Jesus in hope of having his disadvantage rectified. Perhaps this man wants either his fair share, if his brother gave nothing to him, or an equal share, if his brother gave him the rightful portion. In any case, the man recognizes Jesus as One of some authority, and, therefore, he lodges his case with him.
Jesus, perhaps surprisingly to our sense and definitely surprisingly to the man that day, refuses to intervene. Many rabbis of Jesus’ day would adjudicate the matter; in fact, such adjudication was normal in that time. Yet Jesus would refrain, ostensibly to show that His kingdom is not of this world. The nature of Jesus’ kingdom fundamentally, is spiritual, not earthly—and Jesus, demurring to rule, displays this obliquely. Yet the man’s request affords Jesus the opportunity to teach—to teach the man himself, the assembled throng that day, and us as well.
Jesus’ teaching begins with a command, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness.” Jesus, when He says take care, literally says, “See ye,” or, idiomatically, “Pay ye attention.” Jesus’ hearers, by the Spirit’s power, must pay attention and be on guard—and closely guarded at that—against all covetousness (literally greed: Greek pleonexia [pleonexia]). Jesus follows this command with a precept that frames all that follows: “…for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Many then, and now, think contrary to Jesus on this point—and Jesus’ story illustrates Jesus’ precept vividly and drives it home forcefully.
Jesus, at his parable’s outset, introduces an already-rich man who prospers further. His land produces plentifully, and he wonders what to do with his bumper crop. The man, after he questions himself, resolves to build bigger barns to hold his crop—tearing down the old ones perhaps to make room for the new and using the old material in the new structure—and, upon completion of the task, he resolves to take his ease. Notice, in the man’s ruminations, how many times the first-person personal pronoun (I, me, my, mine, etc.) occurs. I counted eleven explicit first-person personal pronouns and two implicit references to self (“Soul, you…”). This man refers to himself, when plotting his future, thirteen times. How many times does he refer to God? Zero. Obviously, the man trusts in his riches and thinks not of God at all.
Notice also, as the man contemplates his building project and subsequent ease, those things for what the rich man did not account. He did not account for potential loss of these riches. He expects to be wealthy for a long time, but we see easily that theft, famine, decay, and fire (either by lighting or by arson), to name but four, can reduce or destroy entirely his accumulated wealth. The man also does not account for early loss of life. He expects to live a long time yet to enjoy his wealth—both in itself and in what it can accomplish for him. Yet, in the Lord’s speech unto him, we see the man’s expectation of long life utterly demolished.
The Lord, speaking to the rich, calls him, literally from the Greek, “Foolish one.” Then He informs the man of His sovereign decree: He tells the rich man he will die tonight. Then He asks this rich fool, “And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” Whoever may obtain this aggregated wealth, one man will not enjoy it—the rich fool, because he will no longer be alive come sun-up. Jesus, his story now complete, states its moral, “So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”
I have noted over the years of an increasingly long discipleship and ministry that so much of what passes for American Christianity is not rooted in a true worship of our triune God. Rather, the goal of many, as they relate to God, is self-actualization. They want God to give them the most and make them the best (as the culture defines best) that they possibly can be. This is a great temptation just now in our culture, because our material security is threatened by reduced employment, decreased value of assets, and supply chain issues—all of which we noted last week.
Certainly wealth—one form of self-actualization—can flee quickly, as we’ve seen this month and now recall all too well. The rich fool never gave this truth a thought. Nor did he think he would have anything but a long time to enjoy it. Let us, by God’s grace, do better. God would have us rich toward Him, and the way to wealth in Him (as He defines it) is much in His things and much with His people. Therefore, let us be much in His Word, the Bible. Let us read or hear it directly, and let us apply it aright as God enables. Let us be much in prayer, in order that we may draw close to God Himself and in order that we may have our desire concerning our requests conformed to His. Let us be much in His house for public worship or its current substitutes in a season of necessary social distancing. It is good for our souls, and, above this, it glorifies God not to forsake the assembling of ourselves, as some are in the habit of doing (cf. Hebrews 10:25). Let us, then, as Jesus encourages us in His Sermon on the Mount, lay up treasure in Heaven (Matthew vi.20)—and He will see to our provision elsewhere.