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The Parable of the Rich Fool

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When Alexander The Great, after conquering kingdoms and returning to his country, fell ill which led him to his deathbed. He gathered his generals and told them, “I will depart from this world soon, I have three wishes, please carry them out without fail.” The king asked his general to abide by these last wishes:
1) The Macedonian King said, “My physicians alone must only carry my coffin.”
2) “I desire that when my coffin is being carried to the grave, the path leading to the graveyard be filled with the wealth that I collected,” the king said.
3) “My third and last wish is that both my hands be kept hanging out of my coffin,” Alexander said.
The generals agreed to abide by their king’s last wishes and asked him the reason for doing so. Alexander said, “I want the world to know the three lessons I have just learnt.” The king interpreted his wishes and continued,
a) “I want my physicians to carry my coffin because people should realize that no doctor on this earth can really cure anybody. They are helpless in front of death.”
b) “I spent all my life earning riches but cannot take anything with me. Let people know that wealth is nothing but dust.”
c) “I wish people to know that I came empty-handed into this world, and I will go empty-handed.”
What wonderful words of wisdom coming out of the mouth of the dying hopeless king.
To a dying man that has no hope means that once he reaches the end, life is like an on/off switch, the lights go off and that’s it – health is meaningless. Wealth is meaningless. The presence of the physical body is meaningless. Just like when King Solomon writes in the book of Ecclesiastes 1:2
Ecclesiastes 1:2 NIV
2 “Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.”
Alexander The Great wanted the world to see that out of the womb of his mother, he had nothing in his hands so likewise, he will leave this world with nothing in his hands.
Yet again, to a hopeless person, death is just the last chapter of life. But not so for a true Christian who believes that each human being is a masterpiece of God because. It is God who knit you together in your mother’s womb and each one of us is fearfully and wonderfully made. Marvellous are His works! Who also believes in hope everlasting.
1 Peter 2:9–10 NIV
9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
The Bible gives all Christians a true definition of our belonging and what we must do, by faith, to achieve a life of sanctification. Then comes the very important question which is the choice of how you utilize this marvellous creation is entirely up to you. Do you choose to live and be filled materialistically, and at the last breath, all that you have done and gained is meaningless?
You see, the materialistic world that we live in today screams louder than the conviction from the Holy Spirit. Why do I say that?
Because conviction forces us to change on a dime, but materialism causes us to crave without delay.
So, if you choose a life of conviction, you are constantly changing and transforming (metamorphoō) by the power of the scripture. That is true Christianity. Unfortunately, Jesus tells of a young rich guy who rather cared more for earthly wealth than his heavenly treasures.
Let’s find out.

The Context

The context of Luke 12:13-21 is important for us to understand before we dive into the parable. On the surface, the parable may seem like it is talking about the greediness of the rich especially when you read when Jesus warns the rich man to “Watch out. Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” But in fact, it goes much deeper than that.
If we need to understand this parable, we must begin all the way back to Luke 12:1. Look at what’s going on,
Luke 12:1 NIV
1 Meanwhile, when a crowd of many thousands had gathered, so that they were trampling on one another, Jesus began to speak first to his disciples, saying: “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.
Let’s stop there for a second.
Do you see what’s happening? Thousands and thousands and thousands of people were coming to listen to Jesus speak, but are they really here to listen? The “many thousands” comes from the Greek word “myrias” which gives us the word “myriad” which means “by the thousands” in English. So, myriads of people are rushing in, why do we know that they are rushing? because the Bible tells us that “they were trampling on one another.”
If you remember and have seen the news about Travis Scott’s concert, you’ll know what I mean. His fans broke through the gates and the security while stepping over and onto people who got pushed to the ground. They were like wild bulls being let loose. It was a horrific scene!
And that’s exactly what is happening in Luke 12. The myriads of people that are rushing in were rushing in not for the sake of the gospel (I am sure of this and will tell you why in a second) but was there to find out who Jesus is and see what kinds of magic he’ll perform!
Now, why do I know that? because the Bible tells us that Jesus began to speak first to his disciples[2] Jesus was having a fellowship time (small group) time with His disciples. And further down in verse 41, Peter asked, “Lord, are you telling this parable to us, or to everyone?” [3]
So, what we have here are a bunch of people riding on the Jesus “bandwagon” hoping to see something out of this world. Then Jesus begins teaching to those who chose to listen, you get these golden verses such as 12:5, 6-7
And now, here’s the rich guy probably twirling his thumb thinking, “when is this guy going to stop speaking and start doing something! Arrrgh….I’m so bored!” So out of his impatience, stood up and started to scream. Remember, it’s not just him that’s standing there.

The Story

So he says,
Luke 12:13 NIV
13 Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”
Now, it is very common for someone to find a rabbi and have them be the arbitrator over family inheritances. But it looks like the rich man found the wrong arbitrator. Listen to Jesus’ response,
Luke 12:14 NIV
14 Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?”
Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?”[5]
The usage of the word “Man” gives us the frustration of Jesus. Man, the species, the Homosapien, is an “unsympathetic response” by Jesus to this Rich man. Does Jesus not care about this man, of course not but what is Jesus so unsympathetic about then?
Jesus does not give sympathy for this rich man’s wealth. At this very moment, Jesus was sympathetic to those that are listening to his words. Jesus was teaching them what to expect when He sends them out to preach the gospel, that they will face hypocrites, dark times, and death.
Luke 12:11–12 NIV
11 “When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, 12 for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.”
Jesus wasn’t there to arbitrate and talk about the law of primogeniture. But this rich man chose not to listen, so he chose to worry about his fortune more than the word of God. This rich man chose to worry about himself more than others. A complete contradiction to what Jesus was teaching!
So now, comes the parable in verses 16-20
In this parable, Jesus cleverly and brilliantly unearths the character of this rich man. He is ungodly. He is selfish. He is a party animal.

The Rich Man’s Character

He is ungodly. He is selfish. He is self-centered.
Nowhere in Jesus' parable, which was spoken directly to this rich man, mentions the interaction with God. The rich man in the parable takes everything for granted even the land that had yielded an abundant harvest (v.16). He doesn’t thank Yahweh for His providence and gives all the credit to himself. The land is what God provides for humans which is also a curse,
Genesis 3:17–18 NIV
17 To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’ “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. 18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field.
The point is simple, what we have today is a direct supply from God who knows your needs. All the materialistic things aside, your wealth, your health, and your salvation are gifts that are from God to you. We owe Him and He owes us nothing.
This rich man in the parable is ungodly and selfish. Let’s look at verses 17 to 19.
Luke 12:17–19 NIV
17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ 18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” ’
17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall Ido? I have no place to store my crops.’
18 “Then hesaid, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down mybarns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” ’ [8]
Did you pick up all the “I’s” and “me’s” in these verses? He’s not only ungodly, and selfish, but he’s also self-centred like the whole universe centers around him (v.19). He’s probably one of those people that care so much about his wealth that he has no circle of friends which leads to his final character, a party animal. He’s probably got no friends to party with but all that is in his mind is “have a good life, have a good time, I have all the wealth that I need, why take life so seriously? Just party!”
In this whole monologue with himself, the rich man makes no intention to thank God. There’s no humility or reverence for God at all. Everything is “I, I, I, and me, me, me.”

God Rebukes

Now, God speaks.
Luke 12:20 NIV
20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’
What is a fool? It’s very simple, unwise. Or you could say that the person is trying to trick another but instead, the joke is on themselves. In other words, God was saying,
“are you kidding me? Do you think by choosing to have all that wealth will save you from death? Stop tricking yourself. Stop buying into the culture’s standards.”
Isn’t it though? Doesn’t the culture judge you by how you look, what you have, or even how many zeros you have in your bank account? My brother-in-law was jokingly saying to me that he sometimes feels pressured walking into a room full of MBA’s because he felt cheap.
Let’s turn to something less tangible. What about knowledge? Don’t we all want to gain all the wisdom and knowledge of the world? Here, let me pick on the church at Corinth. Paul eloquently mocks them because they think that they know everything and all the knowledge of the world.
1 Corinthians 1:20–25 NIV
20 Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22 Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.
Choosing the culture will lead to death, just like how Jesus warns his disciples in Luke 12:5. And choosing the culture only proves that you are weak in the eyes of God. Every time you choose the culture will only make you emptier inside and bring you the fear of losing it all. The fear that you get from losing everything will not miraculously bring you a treasure box at the end of the rainbow.

Jesus Teaches

True story. 2015-2017 was the toughest part of my life. Just had a kid and business was doing pretty well. Church life was keeping busy as well. So at that time, we decided to expand our business to our second location. There was a lot of work, thank God that He provided a wonderful location and construction work began. I still remember that the initial project started in October of 2015 when I met with the architects who they would assure me that they’ll look after the entire construction. Well, that didn’t happen. I ended up doing most of the coordinating work; from hiring contractors to submitting permits at the City of Vancouver. So, I feel the pain when WBC ran into red tape when we tried rezoning.
The most painful part was not the work but seeing our bank account drained on a monthly basis was the biggest worry. $10,000 a month was going towards empty rent with no revenue and there were other expenses to be paid as well. At one point, we were ready to fold and declare bankruptcy because all our hopes were gone.
We know that God was not going to forsake us – He gave us this perfect location, and He’ll bring us through. So we chose to pray. Cindy and I got down on our knees and prayed. And the prayer was thankfulness and with a grateful heart but more importantly, we cast all our cares upon Him. All our worries and burdens were laid at His feet.
Although it took 2 years to complete this project; to most experienced contractors, high-rises could’ve been built in 2 years, but it was a lesson that God took 2 years to teach us which was to choose Him which took all the fear and worries away but will still give us enough. So, in July 2017, we finally opened. We had $2,000 left in our bank account, just enough and not too much.
I will never forget that. While money was running out, we tried so many ways to bring in more revenue but each time, God would shut the door on us. He closed all other ways but left only one open, which was through Jesus that led directly to our Heavenly Father. What a wonderful lesson of finding joy in suffering and trusting in God’s way that He will provide more than what was expected. God also strengthened our prayer life which did not just stop after when the project was done, we passed the tradition of prayers to the next generation. We made sure that my kids would know how to talk to God.
If “…life will be demanded from me today…” the lessons that God had taught us would bless those around me because I am able to stand here to testify what our Lord Jesus has done in my life so that you may imply choosing what benefits you more.
Some might say, “Pastor Mark, you can’t tell me what to do or what to choose.” You are certainly right that I can’t. I don’t have the authority; I just plant the seed and water it and I leave the growing to God. Notice that Jesus didn’t give the rich fool an ultimatum.
Luke 12:20 NIV
20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’
“…Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” [11]
Will you leave this world with your stuff? We don’t believe in myths where we burn away paper cars, loved ones, money, and whatnot at the graveside so that the afterlife can enjoy it. We believe that when a Christian dies, they immediately go to heaven – we don’t turn into a butterfly or a moth or a frog.

Choose to Live Differently

You see, in verse 21,
Luke 12:21 NIV
21 “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”
Jesus is speaking in context according to what he was teaching his disciples. Jesus clearly warns his disciples, a true Christian, that…
Luke 12:5 NIV
5 But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.
Michael Wilcock, a Bible commentator explains that,
“Be prepared, not for the judgment of any earthly tribunal, but for the judgment of the One who ‘has power to cast into hell’, Almighty God.”[13]
But Jesus doesn’t just stop there because he knows that we will mess up and chose the wrong path in life, so He comforts us with these words.
Luke 12:6–7 NIV
6 Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. 7 Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.
See, God chooses to not leave us behind, but it is us that chose to leave God behind. That is the point of today’s parable.
It is not only to teach us about possessions and hoarding them but living a selfish and self-centered life doesn’t meet the Christian lifestyle.
Do you want to be rich in greed or rich towards God?
The bible tells us to,
Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”[15]
A life that is built on greed is a life that leads to eternal destruction, but a life built on the richness of God will begin with the encompassing love from God and will be acknowledged by God.
The result of that is not to be misconstrued to mean that there is an inherent moral good in being poor. 1 Timothy 6:9 tells us that it is only when we desire wealth that leads us to destruction and draws us away from the presence of the LORD.
Living in the richness of God is not to be defined by money or wealth or by possession because all of that is just an infinite loop – you just want more and more and will never get out of it. Being materially rich can become puffed-up because of what they have.
The Christian that understands Jesus’ words – “…life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” (v.15) will chose to live differently.
God allows us to choose. But he also allows us to understand his love for us.
Psalm 73:23–26 NIV
23 Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. 24 You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory. 25 Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. 26 My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
This we can say with unshakeable confidence because by God’s grace alone we have been made coheirs with the one to whom the Father has given and is giving the nations as his heritage, the ends of the earth as his possession.
Revelation 2:26–28 The Message
26 “Here’s the reward I have for every conqueror, everyone who keeps at it, refusing to give up: You’ll rule the nations, 27 your Shepherd-King rule as firm as an iron staff, their resistance fragile as clay pots. This was the gift my Father gave me; I pass it along to you— 28 and with it, the Morning Star!
[13] Michael Wilcock, The Savior of the World: The Message of Luke’s Gospel, The Bible Speaks Today (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1979), 131.
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