Don't Make Money Your God!
O LORD God, You are the Creator and Preserver of all things. You have given us life and every blessing. Move us by Your grace to love You above all things. May we never place our trust in the things of this world, but rather ever look to the power, mercy, and guidance of Your dear Son, Jesus Christ. Bless us as we worship this day. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
The unbelieving members of the northern kingdom of Israel are here condemned by God for their idolatry and ungodliness. Money and all that it could buy had become their god. They were ruthless and uncaring in their pursuit of luxury. God here announces that He would cause them to be taken into captivity in judgment of their sin.
Paul encourages us to strive after “godliness and contentment” which are “great gain,” while avoiding “greediness” which only and ultimately leads to “many sorrows.” He urges us “to fight the good fight of faith” until that time that Jesus returns as the “King of kings, and Lord of lords!”
Text: Luke 16:19-31
There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day. But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate, desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. Then he cried and said, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.” But Abraham said, “Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.” Then he said, “I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.” Abraham said to him, “They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.” And he said, “No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.” But he said to him, “If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.”
In Christ Jesus, who warns us against the love of money and informs us of the truth that we cannot serve both God and money, dear fellow redeemed:
Imagine yourself to be one of Jesus’ disciples along with Peter, James, and John. It is late in Jesus’ ministry and you are accompanying Him on the way to Jerusalem. You sleep out in the open under the stars. Crowds of people gather around you at each little village to hear Jesus speak. You feel a little sense of pride and privilege being one of those chosen to be Jesus’ inner circle. On one particular day as Jesus is ministering to and eating with a sizeable group of repentant tax collectors and sinners, you see a small gathering of scribes and Pharisees approach. Soon you hear them, talking softly to begin with but then voicing their criticisms a bit louder: “This man receives sinners and eats with them” (Luke 15:2). You hear Jesus respond by telling these religious leaders the parables of the Lost Coin, the Lost Sheep, and the Lost Sons. Jesus wants them to know that God values each and every sinner and rejoices when they are led by the Spirit to repentance. After telling those parables, Jesus turns to you and the others disciples around you and tells you the parable of the Unjust Steward—a story the scribes and Pharisees also hear, but do not understand. They again begin to deride Jesus, but Jesus, knowing that in their hearts these religious leaders were “lovers of money” (Luke 16:14), turns once again to them and tells them another parable—the parable of The Rich Man and Poor Lazarus. Jesus intends this parable to be a stiff warning against their greed, which in fact had become idolatry, for these men loved their wealth much more than they loved God. You listen carefully and ask yourself what lesson you might learn from these words of Jesus to His enemies. What is Jesus trying to us through this parable? He is telling us: DON’T MAKE MONEY YOUR GOD! It is, after all, such a poor god!
It cannot save you from death! Jesus said to the scribes and Pharisees, “There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day. But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate, desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried.”
Rich men die just like poor men. Money does not change that fact. Oh, yes, rich men may die in different places, under different circumstance, and surrounded by different people, but money cannot save a rich man from death. In Jesus’ parable a certain unnamed rich man is described as not only being wealthy but enjoying his wealth immensely on a regular basis, while demonstrating no pity whatsoever for the poor beggar, Lazarus, who was laid at his gate.
It should be noted immediately that Jesus has no problem with wealth or with rich people. The Bible clearly tells us that all wealth belongs to God (cf. Psalm 24:1), and that He distributes it to whom He wills (cf. Proverbs 22:2). The problem Jesus had with this man was that he was living in unbelief and his wealth had become his god. He lived for his wealth and what his wealth would provide him. He loved it and trusted in it, and that idolatrous love and trust blinded his eyes both to God and his fellow men. God had entrusted his wealth to him—he was a steward of God, but he wrest control of his wealth and spent it not in service to God and others, but only on himself.
Lazarus, on the other hand, whose name means “God helps,” lived a life of poverty and shame, his only comfort being the dogs on the street, which licked his sores. It was not his poverty that endeared Lazarus to God, however, but rather his simple faith in God in spite of his poverty.
Both men died—Lazarus unnoticed, but “carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom.” What a blessed description of the perfect peace and happiness that the Scriptures describe of the saints in heaven! When the rich man died, he was no doubt surrounded by servants and sycophants and buried in great splendor within a large tomb, but his soul was taken to hell! Both men died—the rich man and poor Lazarus! Dear friends, DON’T MAKE MONEY YOUR GOD! Is it, after all, such a poor god, for it cannot save you from death, even as it could not save the rich man from death!
Beyond that, it cannot spare you the pangs of hell! Jesus went on, “Being in torments in Hades, he (the rich man) lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. Then he cried and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.’”
The unbelief—the monetary idolatry of the rich man led him into the torments of hell. His money could not spare him that agony. There was no judge to bribe or jury to buy. As the rich man came to understand, he could not even have someone “dip the tip of his finger in water and cool (his) tongue.” For the rich man there was only one prospect—unending torment throughout eternity! All those who reject God and His Savior, Jesus Christ, will experience the same thing. This is not because God is unloving or uncaring—far from it! “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). God in His great love has reconciled the world to Himself (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:18-21), and Jesus has paid the price to remove the sins of the world (cf. 1 John 2:2). The blessings of that redemption, however, are received in our individual hearts, when the Spirit of God leads us to repent of our sins and believe this precious news! This is accomplished by God’s grace alone and certainly does not establish any reason for us to boast (cf. Ephesians 2:8-9). Yet, man can and does often reject this precious truth, as did the rich man—as do so many in our world. These are individuals who walk not by faith, but rather by sight—individuals who are choked by the cares and the pleasures of this life, and who ultimately turn the created things of this world into their very gods—the things they love, and trust, and fear even above the almighty God Himself!
Money, however, makes a very poor god, for it cannot spare you the pangs of hell. Our responsive Psalm reading this morning made that very clear, did it not? “Those who trust in their wealth and boast in the multitude of their riches, none of them can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him—for the redemption of their souls is costly,” the Psalmist writes. People believe that in life “money talks,” and at times it does when people are corrupt, but God is incorruptible. Consequently, it is imperative that we share the faith of poor Lazarus, trusting in our Savior and knowing that those who die in the faith will inherit the blessings of heaven. Yes, DON’T MAKE MONEY YOUR GOD! It is, after all, such a poor god, for it will not spare you the pangs of hell!
What it will do is lull you into a spiritual sleep from which only the Word of God can wake you!Jesus completes His parable with these words, “Then he (the rich man) said, ‘I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.’ Abraham said to him, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ But he said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.’”
The consequences of material idolatry were now very real to the rich man. He, whose thoughts had always centered on himself while in the world, now thought of his brothers. Would not Abraham send Lazarus back from the grave to warn his brothers? They had been lulled into a spiritual sleep, just as he had been throughout his life. Oh, he had appeared to be enjoying himself so much during that short time on earth, but really Satan had deceived him into sleep. Surely, Abraham would agree to this request, but Abraham would not and could not. They had “Moses and the prophets”—the Bible. “Let them hear them,” Moses responded. But the rich man was absolutely certain that his brothers would not listen, even as he had not listened. He objected—he wanted a greater, a more spectacular miracle. He was not satisfied with the mere inspiration of the Scriptures. No, he wanted it his way—God’s way was not good enough. Yet, the way to heaven is not through insistence on our desires and plans, but rather through submission in faith to the desire and plans of God. “If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.”
Is that true? We might be tempted to agree with the rich man. After all, the Bible does not seem quite as exciting as someone coming back from the dead. Yet, Abraham’s observation remains true. Did Jesus’ resurrection from the dead change the minds of the Jewish religious leaders of the day? It certainly did not. Those who would suppress the truth, whose gods are the things of this world, will not be swayed by the mere presence of more miracles.
No, God has a good and gracious plan, revealed in His word for all to hear—for all to believe. Dear friends, it was a good thing for Jesus’ disciples to listen in as He told this parable with all of its warnings to the scribes and Pharisees. It is a good thing, for money and all that it can buy still lulls many in our world into a spiritual sleep. They do not see the danger of sin. They do not believe in the existence of Satan. They try not to think about the approaching inevitability of death. But money makes a poor god. Death will come. Those who die without faith in Christ will suffer the agonies of hell. The solution—thank God there is a solution—lies in the simple truths expressed in God’s word, which assure us that as we are led by the Spirit to repent of our sins and to turn in faith to Jesus, God promises to wash those sins away. We experience the love and acceptance of our God with the sure and certain hope of eternal salvation. May God preserve our souls and one day send His angels to carry our souls to Abraham’s bosom. Amen.
—Pastor Paul D. Nolting