Faithlife Sermons

2016-05-29 Luke 16:19-21 A Parable About "Me" (1): I Gotta Be Me

Luke  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  43:27
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A PARABLE ABOUT “ME” (1): I GOTTA BE ME (Luke 16:19-21) May 29, 2016 Intro – Two cows are chatting over the fence. The first said, “This mad-cow disease is pretty scary -- spreading fast. I heard it hit some cows down at the Smith’s Farm.” The other cow replies, “Hey, we got nothin’ to worry about. It don’t affect us ducks.” There’s a bad case of confused identity – but no worse than what we are all born with. That’s Jesus’ issue in this familiar and striking parable. Who am I? Who should I be? How do I get there? Now, before we jump in, is this really a parable? Some believe since Jesus uses a name here – Lazarus – (the only time He does that) it’s a real event. But everything else suggests parable. The beginning, “There was a rich man” is a formula that always introduces a parable. Parts of the story are clearly not literal. For example, nothing in the Bible suggests that people in hell can see or converse with people in heaven. It’s used here to make a point. I believe this is a parable. The name is introduced for other reasons we will see later. One fascinating thing here is to see Jesus talk about heaven and hell as naturally as He might talk about the weather or the Sea of Galilee. Why? Because He’s been there. He knows what’s there and He speaks like it. Those who love heaven but reject hell oppose Jesus Himself who said more about hell than anyone, solemnly affirming its reality and giving us a brief glimpse. But this parable is not primarily about hell. Hell is incidental to the larger message. This is a parable about identity. And it flies in the face of Sammy Davis’s song, “I Gotta Be Me.” Remember? “Whether I’m right or whether I’m wrong / Whether I find a place in this world or never belong / I gotta be me, I’ve gotta be me / What else can I be but what I am?” Jesus responds we find our true identity in Him. Eternal consequences attach to only being “Me.” Jesus is warning the Me we choose in this life is the Me we will be forever. That’s a long time. The Me we choose will land us in heaven or hell; we must get it right. Along the way, Jesus reveals some unnerving truths about hell. The outline we will use to study this passage is – I. The Eternal Me is Determined in This Life (Me Unformed) II. Death Reveals but does not Change Me (Me Unveiled) III. The True Me is Found in God’s Word (Me Unearthed). We don’t gotta be Me and it we need to consider a change. I. The Eternal Me is Determined in This Life (Me Unformed) 1 That’s sobering! The Pharisees thought prosperity was a sign of God’s blessing. Jesus says, “Not necessarily!” To illustrate, He invents a story about 2 men and 2 destinies. It is a story of absolute contrasts and absolute reversal. One man has everything in this life – comfort, clothing, parties – the works. The other is in torment having absolutely nothing and desiring only a little of what the first man has. BUT fast forward to eternity and the roles are absolutely reversed. Now the poor man is at God’s eternal banquet with every comfort at his disposal while the rich man is in torment desiring only a little of what the poor man now has. Total contrast. Total reversal. Jesus uses this parable to take us behind the veil of physical perception. He is warning that what we see is often totally misleading regarding eternal destinies. He’s been there; He knows. So He gives us 2 men. Two identities. Two destinies. And Jesus’ first point is, who we will be in eternity is decided now, in this life! Will we be like the first man and accept our birth identity -Self. Or will we be like the 2nd and accept a new identity with God in Christ. What we choose now is who we’ll be forever. So let’s see the 2 choices. A. Determined by Self (Gotta be me) The rich man’s focus is so much on SELF that he doesn’t even notice what else is going on. And – the results are spectacularly successful – from his perspective. V. 19: “There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day.” He’s rich and successful. He has the finest mansion in town, the gold Cadillac and big screen and he is set. His purple outer garments had been dyed with a substance extracted from sea snails -- very labor intensive to produce, thus extremely expensive. Purple clothes had their own section at Nordstrom’s. Lydia in Acts 16:14 is called a “seller of purple goods.” Purple clothing indicated you were at the top of the food chain in terms of wealth. And this guy didn’t just feast sumptuously on special occasions. His table was loaded – every day! His life was a neverending display of dazzling splendor. He certainly had no time for the beggar at his gate – didn’t even throw him out. Lazarus was a non-person. He focused only on SELF. He reminds me of song-writer, Pierce Pettis who said: “When I grow up I’ll look out for me. It’s a small lifeboat and baby, it’s a great big sea. And your tears are nothing, don’t put that guilt on me.” That’s the rich man in his self-centered existence. He wasn’t really vicious; he just didn’t care about anyone but “me”. 2 And from the world’s perspective, he had it made, right? The Pharisees would have said he was right with God and right with the world. He was living the Lifestyle of the Rich and Famous – the envy of everyone who knew him. He must have gotten it right – made the right choice. Look at him. He’s a success. If he’s worshipping SELF, it seems to be working! But guess what? You don’t have to be rich to living for SELF. Jesus isn’t teaching against wealth here. He’s created a wealthy man as an example of the greatest contrast. But you don’t have to rich to be creating your identity around self. You can do that from any tax bracket. You may not do as well in worldly terms as this man, but if your existence is dedicated to number 1, then the identity you are creating and will take into the next life is also Self. You are just worshipping at another side of the same altar. If the thing you simply can’t live without is aimed at your own comfort, ease, ambition or pleasure, then your identity is directed at Self just as surely as was this man. So we must ask, “Who am I?” Is my identity Self, or am I “in Christ”? You know, a producer asked Oscar Wilde to make certain changes in one of his plays. Wilde responded, “I won’t do it. Who am I to tamper with a masterpiece!” Similarly, a lot of us don’t want Jesus tampering with their selfcreated masterpiece – but, Beloved, it will not look so good when it follows us into eternity. The self the rich man surrounded by success here totally disintegrated there. So will any identity built on Self. B. Dependent on God (Gotta be His) By contrast to the rich man we have Lazarus. 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.” What a picture! Not the life anyone would choose for themselves. Lazarus is covered with open, oozing sores and laid at the rich man’s gate – the entrance to his courtyard. “Laid” is too gentle. The word is “thrown” or “cast.” It implies first that he is paralyzed and second that someone is placing him there who cares little. He is nothing but a burden. His only recourse, naturally, is to beg. He “desires” the leftovers. In those days there were no knives, forks or napkins. Food was eaten with the hands, and in wealthy houses, the hands were cleansed by wiping them to hunks of bread which were then thrown away. That is what Lazarus desired. We are not told whether or not that desire was fulfilled, but he must have been able to get just enough to stay alive or he would either have quit coming or died sooner. 3 Jesus adds one more fact: “Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores.” Commentators argue over whether this was a good or bad thing. Dogs in those days were not the pets we have made them today. They were vicious scavengers who roamed the city looking for food. They were a danger to most people. So many commentators see them as totally bad, the final humiliation. But I think Jesus introduced them for another reason. Certainly the fact that Lazarus could not ward them off shows the depth of his helplessness. But licking his sores could have had a healing effect. Dogs lick their own wounds to heal them. Their saliva contains something called “endogenous peptide antibiotics” which facilitate healing. Ancient healing cults have been found which kept dogs for just this purpose. I think Jesus is making a point. Whereas the rich man would do nothing at all to help Lazarus, even these mangy, dirty dogs did what they could to help. This gives us a first indication of how the rich man rates in God’s eyes – below the dogs of the street. See, there are no accidents in this life. None at all. The rich man didn’t know it, but Lazarus was a test. The Bible consistently indicates saving faith is shown by a heart moved with compassion for the less fortunate. The OT law provided that harvesters were to leave something in fields and vineyards for the poor to glean. Poor people could bring inexpensive birds for sacrifice instead of the normal goats or lambs. God instructed in Lev 25:35, “If your brother becomes poor and cannot maintain himself with you, you shall support him as though he were a stranger and a sojourner, and he shall live with you.” Deut 15: 7) “If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother. . . . 11) For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.” What was the great sin of Sodom? Immoral sexuality, you say. And there was certainly that. But God points out something else as at the heart of the evil of Sodom. Ezekiel 16:49, “Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.” Are you getting the point? It’s all over the OT. How people treat those in need shows the condition of their heart and their true identity – Self or God. More telling yet, Jesus makes it a test of saving faith at His second coming. Matt 25:41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry 4 and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Is Jesus teaching that we are saved by giving to the poor? Of course not. What He means is that how we treat those in need reveals our heart. A repentant heart that is saved by faith will reach out. An indifferent heart is a sure indication of an identity built on Self and no saving faith. Lazarus was a test that the rich man failed miserably. It wasn’t that he heartlessly kicked Lazarus out. He didn’t. It wasn’t that he objected to the handouts he didn’t want anyway. He didn’t. He was not overtly cruel – didn’t kick him in passing. The sin of the rich man was that he never noticed Lazarus – just accepted him as part of the landscape. His sin was indifference. As someone has said, “It was not what the rich man did that got him into hell; it was what he did not do.” He was condemned by an identity that saw only Self and was indifferent to anyone else. And indifference kills. There’s an old story about an soundrel who died leaving his farm to the devil. The probate court wasn’t quite sure what to do with that will, but after months of deliberation they issued this decision: “It is decided that the best way to carry out the wish of the deceased is to allow the farm to grow weeds, the soil to erode, and the house and barn to rot. In our opinion, the best way to leave something to the devil is to do nothing.” That’s what the rich man did – nothing. And while things looked good outwardly, inwardly, every time he passed Lazarus he disintegrated a little more. Rottenness and erosion of character continued to build and decay advanced. We weren’t made to live for self, Beloved. And when we do, we are slowly disintegrating. So what of Lazarus? Why did he find himself in heaven when he died? His name gives us a clue. I think that’s why Jesus named him. Nothing in his life would have suggested he could earn his way to heaven even if he wanted to. He was an unloved, paralyzed, sore-ridden, ugly, helpless beggar. But he had a name. Lazarus. Lazarus is the Greek translation of a common Hebrew name, “Eliezer” which means “whom God has helped.” Jesus gave him that name to emphasize that Lazarus was depending on God. That was his identity. The rich man’s identity was, “Me, myself and I.” Lazarus identity was “helped by God.” Here is a man who is trusting in God, not self. Now, let’s admit, it sure didn’t look like God was helping him. He’d have never passed the prosperity gospel test of faith. But like Job he was trusting in God so diligently that he could have said, “Though he slay me, yet will I 5 trust Him” (Job 13:5). His faith wasn’t in God’s gifts; His faith was in God’s Person, and he knew, appearances notwithstanding, He belonged to a God who had his back and a God who had his future. See, Beloved, God never promised to made all our circumstances perfect in this life. We misrepresent the gospel when we tell that to people. He promised to make circumstances perfect in the life to come. Things may look hard here, but that doesn’t tell the story. It’s not how things look outwardly but who we are inside that matters. In 1959 Gore Vidal had written a play called The Best Man and they were casting it for Broadway. An actor was invited to read for the lead role of a distinguished front running presidential candidate. He was rejected bc he lacked the “presidential look.” Apparently looks aren’t everything. Ronald Regan became president in reality! Who he was inside mattered! That’s what separated the rich man and Lazarus. Circumstances notwithstanding, one was “into Self”, the other was “in Christ” and it made an eternal difference. Conc – Let me conclude with this. You can bet that everyone in town knew that rich man. His name was everywhere. But the poor man – he had no identity. No one paid him any mind at all. But Jesus tells this parable from heaven’s perspective, and what a difference. Lazarus is well-known there because he is in Christ. His name is written in the Book of Life that is mentioned several times in the Bible. We might say he is known in all the right places. But the rich man? He is not known there at all. He has no name. He is not listed in the Book of Life, and the consequences are exactly what the Apostle John tells us in Rev 21:15: “And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” Jesus’ parable illustrates that very point. It doesn’t matter who you are here. But it matters who you are there. If you “gotta be me”, you will never be written there. But if you will trust in Christ, your name will be found in the “Lamb’s Book of Life.” Forget “Who’s Who” in this life. Go for the “Book of Life”. In the movie Bridget Jones Diary, Bridget is a rather perplexed character trying to find her way in these post-modern times. She adopts a false bravado she thinks is expected by society in describing herself as a “assured, receptive responsive woman of substance.” She falters a bit when she explains. “My sense of self comes not from other people but from . . . from . . . myself.” Then she gives herself away by continuing, “My sense of self comes from myself? That can’t be right.” She is so right. If we want to be known in eternity – where it really counts, our sense of self must come from our identity in Him. A gift received by faith. Let’s pray. 6
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