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Entries in Rich (2)


An Impossible Salvation

July 19, 2015—Luke 19:1-10, Pastor Marty Bonner


Today we are going to look at a “wee, little” man named Zacchaeus.  In Luke 18 we saw a rich ruler of Israel who left Jesus saddened at what was required to follow him.  It was then Jesus told his disciples that it was impossible for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.  This caught the disciples by surprise.  They thought that riches were proof of God’s blessing.  Yet money, wealth, and riches are very powerful motivators.  Once we obtain them it is impossible not to become ruled by them.  However, Jesus did also say that what is impossible with man is possible with God.  Thus rich men can get saved, but it will only be by the grace of God.  Thus Zacchaeus becomes the proof of this.  In him we witness such an impossible salvation.

Another Rich Man Checks Out Jesus

Now that we have in mind the parallels between Zacchaeus and the previous, unnamed ruler, we can look at some other similarities between them.  Both of these stories start with an interest in Jesus.  Something in them both drew them to Jesus in order to find out more about him, and this is where any salvation starts.

Both of these men had a ruling position.  The first rich man is a member of the Sanhedrin, which was a group of 71 priests, scribes, and “ancients” who served as an official “Supreme Court” of Israel.  Zacchaeus is a ruling or chief tax collector- not nearly as prestigious as the other man, but it was a powerful position.  Both of the men have become rich.  In fact Zacchaeus is rich precisely because of his position.  Many people desire positions in the Church and in the world because they know it will make them rich.  This always leads to a destruction of the individual’s soul.  However, both of these men were still aware of their need for “something more.”  They knew they were lacking spiritually.

It is here that the stories diverge.  There are no difficulties or negatives listed about the rich ruler.  He knows the law and has “done it all his life.”  He is the type of guy who has the golden touch.  He is the golden child who seems to always end up on top and has everything going his way, and yet, he knows he is missing something spiritually.  Zacchaeus, on the other hand, has several negatives that stick out about him; things that made his life much more difficult than the rich ruler.  No one likes negative things in their life, but it is generally the negative things in life that teach us that we can live without many of the things we desire.  Negative things tend to teach us what really matters. But, when we have everything we want and have the “Midas touch,” we generally lose sight of God and His salvation.

Let’s look at several negatives that Zacchaeus had.  First, he was a short man.  He lacked in the area of physique.  It is very difficult to grow up with a physical deficiency of any kind.  Other kids look down on you and ridicule you.  Even in the best of environments you are continually made to know that you do not measure up.  Thus we   speak of a “little man” syndrome that can drive such a person with anger and even rage.  Perhaps this is the reason why a person would chose to take up a profession that would make you an outcast (tax collector).  He already felt like an outcast who never really fit in to his own country.  This leads us to the second negative.  He was a collector of taxes for the Romans.  The Romans were an occupying force in Israel, which was much resented.  A fellow Israelite who was collecting taxes for the enemy would be bad enough.  But it was also common for tax collectors to abuse their position to get more money then was right from people.  Thus Zacchaeus bore the mark of a traitor who betrayed his people for the ability to steal from them and enrich himself.  However, in his mind, he may just see this as embracing the outcast status that had already been forced upon him.  I realize there is some speculation in this, but I doubt it is far from the bulls-eye.  Zacchaeus would never fit in, but he could rise above most in Israel through the riches amassed.  Yet, Zacchaeus was still empty.  Thus he is drawn to Jesus.

This is an important point: An outcast can more easily identify with Jesus.  You see, Jesus was an outcast too.  He was rejected by his own nation, but also the Romans.  He told his disciples in John 15:18-19, “If the world hates you, know that it hated me before it hated you.  If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.”  People who have suffered as outcasts know what it is like to be rejected.  A part of them longs for acceptance and yet has had any hope of such crushed.  Now being an outcast cannot save a person in and of itself.  But it can help you to appreciate and embrace the love and wisdom of Jesus.  Historically it was the poor and downtrodden that were drawn to Jesus, but not many great and mighty.  Typically the great and mighty only give lip service to God in the midst of nations where there is a strong belief in God.  But once this is stripped away, the great and mighty will show their true colors.  They have always served themselves out of selfish ambition and have never feared God.

This brings me to a point I must make about our own nation.  Up to now Christians have enjoyed a status of acceptance.  Now let me compare this to a group, such as those who embrace homosexuality.  They have been social outcasts in this society for a long time.  How have these things affected both groups?  The acceptance that Christians have enjoyed for so long has caused them to lose sight of God and His salvation.  In fact many have joined the ranks of Christians out of reasons other than true repentance and belief in God.  Many who call themselves Christians are empty and don’t know what they are missing.  But what they miss is a true saving faith in Jesus.  What about homosexuals?  On one hand the outcast status has bonded them together and made them committed to the cause of being accepted.  Yet, we might miss that it also enables them “to get” the message of Jesus.  Though it is a negative, it can have a positive effect.  Jesus does not tell us to make others accept us, he tells us to pick up our cross and follow him on in to further rejection.  As homosexuals win the fight of social acceptance, we see Christians becoming less and less acceptable (at least a certain kind of Christian).  It is here that we should be broken hearted for the homosexuals.  They are in danger of losing the one thing that keeps the door open for their salvation.  It is hard to follow Jesus when you have all you ever wanted.  Yet even then, we serve a God who can save the impossible!

Jesus Invites Himself Into His House

Because Zacchaeus is short, he climbs up into a Sycamore tree in order to see and hear Jesus when he passes by.  Yet, when Jesus comes to the tree he initiates a discussion by inviting himself to the house of Zacchaeus.  On one hand this might seem arrogant and rude.  But when you look at it from the mind of an outcast, Jesus is telling Zacchaeus that he accepts him and wants to have relationship with him.  This must have sent his heart flying.  Everyone there would despise him and tell him to leave, but Jesus honors him by wanting to come to his house.

This brings up the issue of guilt by association.  The crowd is surprised with this.  A righteous man should not associate with sinners and let us not fool ourselves, Zacchaeus is a sinner.  How should we interact with sinners and those who do not believe in Jesus?  In 1 Corinthians 5:9-13 Paul teaches the believers that we should not associate with Christians who are living in sexual immorality.  Why?  When sin is condoned and treated as acceptable, we are not displaying the heart of God, but rather the heart of the devil.  Of course, Matthew 18 describes a process whereby Christians are not on a witch hunt.  But rather we confront each other in love and forgive each other.  But if a person refuses to quit sinning and refuses to repent, we cannot pretend that they are following Jesus.  This is not being judgmental, but rather being honest.  On the other hand Paul tells the believers that he does not mean they should separate themselves from the sexually immoral people of the world who are not believers in Jesus.  Christians are not called to wall themselves off from sinners.  No, we are called to interact with them and share the gospel of Jesus.  We are called to be a channel of the love of God reaching out to them.  Yet, we are not called to participate in sin.  This is where the phrase comes from, “love the sinner but hate the sin.”  Sure, those who are sinners are not going to like this phrase.  But it is the truth.  You can love people and yet not agree with what they call “good.”  Any parent who has tried to raise a child can attest to this.  Even Paul’s principle of not associating with a Christian who persists in sexual immorality (or any open sin for that matter) is not meant to be treated legalistically.  The sin of a sinner cannot contaminate the believer, unless he opens himself up to sin.  Thus we are free to plead with and correct another Christian in the hope of drawing them back to Jesus.  However, we can never pretend that calling yourself a Christian and refusing to repent can coexist for long.

Zacchaeus is a sinner, but he is also repentant.  It is not clear if this happens on the street in front of the crowd or if it happens back at the house.  Regardless, the simple kindness of Jesus softens Zacchaeus to the point that he lets go of the justifications he had created for his lifestyle.  His mind had changed about things and that lead to a change of actions in his life.  He would no longer cheat people in the taxes.  Also, he would repay those whom he did cheat four times more than he stole.  On top of this he was going to give half of his legitimate holding to the poor.  That is not how the old Zacchaeus thought.  Something drastic has changed in him.  He has believed in Jesus.  John the Baptist called this “fruit worthy of repentance” in Luke 3.  If our mind has really changed then “fruit” will grow out of that real change.  The fruit of his repentance grew out the real actions of compassion and restitution towards his fellow Israelites.

Thus Jesus confirms the impossible salvation of this sinner.  He publically declares him as a righteous man.  The gospel’s depiction of instantaneous righteousness because of faith can rub some people the wrong way.  How can such a horrible sinner be considered acceptable in just a moment?  This truth is not meant to undermine a life of faithfulness.  If Zacchaeus only repents for a day and then goes back to those old sins then that is a new sin, a worse sin.  Rather, this instantaneous change of acceptance is meant to open the door of hope to those who have so much guilt and shame hanging over their head that they will never approach for forgiveness.  We see here a picture of salvation.  Jesus comes into our lives and in the relationship of love and truth that follows we are changed.  Faith comes alive, repentance is born, and righteousness is embraced.  Jesus even calls him a son of Abraham.  When we remember the discussion in John 8, we can see that Jesus is saying that he is a true son of Abraham.  Abraham was a man who heard God calling to him and he trusted God enough to follow Him.  Jesus is calling to you today.  Will you trust him and follow Him or will you continue to follow the sinful path of the self-life?

Jesus ends this section by telling us that his mission is to seek and save that which is lost.  We must never forget this.  Jesus is not physically on this earth right now.  But his mission has not changed.  He tells his believers to go into all the world and tell people the good news of how they can have the salvation of God and be set free from their sins.  May God help us to overlook the “impossibility” of a person and see the true, inner longing for the love and acceptance of God. God does not accept our sin, but He does accept us as sinners who are sorry for their sins and look to Him for salvation.  In this way many we think deserve salvation miss it and many we think can never be saved find it.

Impossible audio


For Want Of A Better Life

May 17, 2015- Luke 16:19-31

Today we will be looking at the parable of the rich man and Lazarus.  This parable is meant to be the “other side” of the parable of the shrewd manager at the beginning of the chapter.  That is, the first parable emphasizes that believers should be shrewd in how they manage their wealth and possessions.  However, this parable emphasizes the dire consequences of not listening to the wisdom of Jesus.  Thus, as Jesus warned in the earlier parable that the “sons of light” were not very wise, here we see a “son of light” living out that very foolishness.  It is also important to recognize that Lazarus is himself an Israelite.  Thus there is not a racial element to this parable. 

A Great Contrast In This Life

The story opens up by giving us the extreme contrast in these two men’s lives.  They are the extremes of their society:  one very rich and the other very poor.  The rich man is full of abundance in every way.  He knows no need nor lives in want of anything.   He also wears the finest of clothing.  Now there were several words for a poor person in those days.  One emphasized a person who lived from paycheck to paycheck and from day to day.  They had some means of income but were hard pressed in keeping the essentials of their lives covered.  The word for this poor man is used of a person who has no ability to make an income.  This person has been reduced to begging for the kindness of others in order to live.  Thus this person is not just poor.  He has had something happen in his life to where he cannot care for himself and lives completely at the mercy of others.  The rich man is full of abundance, but Lazarus is full of sores.  Whatever these sores were they had incapacitated him.  This contrast of being full can be extended to their life as a whole.  The rich man is full of all that is good in life and Lazarus seems to have all that is bad and difficult.

Lastly we can look at the statement in verse 19 that the rich man “lived sumptuously” everyday (or lived in luxury).  The phrase is literally “was made glad splendidly every day.”  Yet, the poor man longed for just the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table.  It doesn’t seem likely that Lazarus was given any crumbs since this detail is not mentioned.  Someone had put Lazarus at his gate because they knew he could afford to help Lazarus out.  But the story Jesus tells clearly paints a picture of the rich man ignoring Lazarus.  In fact the lack of compassion and help from the rich man is contrasted with the dogs that would come and lick his sores.  Lazarus could not afford medical attention, but it is only dogs who “treat” his sores.

A Great Contrast In The Afterlife

It matters not how soon it was between their deaths.  But in the story we quickly transition from this life to the afterlife.  We have seen how things were in this life.  But how will things be when their soul goes into the hereafter?  Many reject the idea of an afterlife.  But the Bible is clear that after this life we will have to give an account for how we have lived.  Those who have honored God in their life will fare well, but those who have not honored God in their life will fare poorly.

There are two very different destinations involved.  Now some Bible scholars tell us to not take the details given as truth about the afterlife.  Their logic goes something like this.  A parable is only intended to express a simple spiritual truth.  Thus to pour more meaning into the smaller elements of the story is to force it to teach more than Jesus intended.  I can appreciate that and believe that it is true.  However, what they neglect to recognize is this; parables are always true to life stories.  They may not be about a specific situation but they are in general true to life pictures of a spiritual truth.  Take this further as we think about the parable of the soils.  No one tries to argue that it is going too far when someone speculates that first century Israelites must have been involved in and knew much about agriculture.  Even though agriculture is not the spiritual message of the parable, Jesus uses a true to life picture about agriculture in order to hammer home a spiritual message.  The parable here today happens to be about the afterlife.  Of course no one can go check it out and come back to verify this.  Yet, Jesus tells a story that is true to life regarding the afterlife, and we have no reason to doubt this.  This is not an Aesop’s fable that is never meant to be taken as real.  It is a warning of very real things.

One destination is that of Abraham’s bosom and the other is the flames of Hades.  Let’s first deal with the term Hades.  Hades was the underworld where the dead went when they died.  The Hebrews adopted it as roughly synonymous with their word “Sheol,” which simply meant the grave (not so much the hole the body was placed in, but rather the holding place of the spirit).  Now using the word Hades does not mean that every Greek idea about Hades was correct.  Technically Abraham’s bosom would be a part of Sheol or Hades.  The story clearly represents two experiences in the afterlife that are as different as the two lives the rich man and Lazarus had in this life.  Abraham’s bosom was the place where those approved of God went.   Abraham is named not because he created it, but rather he represents those who respond in faith to God.  There is no real mention of what the conditions are except by contrast of what the rich man is experiencing.  The rich man ends up in the flames of Hades because he live was not approved by God.  Regardless of what you think about this parable one thing is clear, there is a good to gain and a bad to avoid in the afterlife and you would do well to heed this truth.

Lazarus is in a place of comfort that he was denied throughout his earthly life, whereas the rich man is tormented.  There are flames and he thirsts terribly.  It is interesting that this torment parallels the torment that Lazarus endured in his earthly life.  We should be careful of pushing the description of the flames of Hades too far.  This is a spiritual place and the rich man is only a spirit.  He suffers something that is like what a flame is to the earthly person.  He also suffers what is like thirst to an earthly person.  Whatever this torment is exactly, it is clear that we are shown comfort and torment as two very different destinations. 

The rich man has now become a poor man in the afterlife and is found begging for merely a drop of water.  Yet, Lazarus is in no such need and we do not see him asking for anything.  We can see the desperation in the ex-rich man as he reduces himself to asking for Lazarus to touch his finger to his tongue with a drop of water.  This is something he would never have conceived of asking for in his previous life and corresponds with the “crumbs from the table” that Lazarus longed for.  Thus we see the two destinations are one of no need and the other of great need.

Lastly we are told that there is no possibility of help from the righteous.  One of the sad things in this story is that Lazarus would have no doubt helped the man if he could.  The righteous are of the type that they will help others even when they have been evil to them.  But by God’s decree a separation has been put in place so that the wicked souls of men may receive no comfort from the righteous.  Notice that this life is the time for helping others and changing our condition and fate.  But in the afterlife we are receiving justice from god and thus may not be helped.  You can say that this is unfair and you couldn’t serve a God who would do such a thing.  Yet, ask yourself, what am I doing about my condition in eternity now?  Jesus is warning his listeners to take this life seriously.  How you life in this life will determine your destination in the life to come.

How Can People’s Minds Be Changed?

At this point the discussion changes because the rich man realizes the finality of his situation.  And yet, there are others who are still living on earth.  They don’t realize how serious their life is in light of the afterlife.  The rich man realizes that they need to be warned or they will end up where he is.  But how can that be done?  Particularly he has 5 brothers whom he knows are living much like he did.  They are not living for God and by His commands.  Most likely they are just as rich as he and just as stingy toward the hurting.  He comes up with a plan to send Lazarus back from the dead in order to warn them.  Now an interesting point to note here is that Jesus actually did resurrect a man named Lazarus from the dead.  We do not know for sure if this parable was told before or after the resurrection event.  Either way, Jesus is either hinting towards what he was going to do, or pointing out that what had been done was not going to change people’s minds.

Abraham is not really in a position to send Lazarus back.  Only God has the power of resurrection.  However, he does tell the rich man that “Moses and the prophets” are enough.  If they won’t believe that then they won’t believe a man coming back from the dead.  Now the Old Testament has all the required warnings of what is to come and the justice of God that looms over those who do not take Him seriously.  It even has the shock value of amazing signs and wonders accompanying it to get people’s attention.  Even today, we can say that God’s Word has been made even more powerful with the perfect testimony of Jesus and his own death and resurrection.  Those who want an amazing miracle today in order to believe do not recognize the fickle nature of the hearts of men.  The declarations of the prophets are enough.  Those who reject that will not change their minds by any great miracles.

Now the rich man envisions that if someone came back to life and told the story of what they saw there, it would be enough to convince people.  However, it can be difficult to take a person’s word as absolutely true.  Perhaps your dying mind only conjured up those images and somehow you survived thinking they were real.  Perhaps you are a charlatan who is only trying to get attention and sell books.  We have seen recently that some accounts of experiencing the afterlife were later confessed to being completely made up.  Thus the situation itself is unverifiable.  If we don’t want to believe something we will always find a way to dismiss evidence to the contrary.  Abraham says that if they won’t accept Moses and the prophets they won’t accept the testimony of someone who came back from the dead.  What are the excuses we often lay before God today?  We often say that God should do something more spectacular or clearer to prove Himself.  Always, we place ourselves in command and tell God to jump through our hoops and then we will believe.  Yet, have you ever considered that you are not being completely honest?  It is easy to say, yet God says back that you have received all you need in order to believe.  Anything more will not make a difference to your heart.

The wonderful thing to note in this parable is that God in His grace has given us the best of both.  He has given us His Word along with spectacular signs and wonders.  In it we can hear the truth and be drawn to honor God with our lives.  Yet, His Son Jesus has come back from the dead.  Notice, though, that Jesus does not come back from the dead and testify what He saw there.  Jesus actually does the opposite.  Throughout his life he taught the truths of heaven and then predicted that he would be killed and come back to life.  Thus with Jesus the resurrection becomes proof that he knew what he was talking about.  No one today who verifiably “dies on the table” and then comes back can claim this.  Thus God has given us more than what we need in order to believe.  So do you?  If you want a better destination than the rich man in this parable, then you had better learn to use the blessings in your life in order to help the hurting.  God is merciful to those who are merciful and merciless to those who are merciless.

Better Life audio