Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Real Problem, Real Solution

Jesus' account of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-35) is rather well-known among church attenders, but how often have we stopped to analyze what it was that condemned the rich man to Hades?  Of course there was sin, but what in the account points at the real issue?  What can be pointed to as the key factor?

One possibility is that the man's riches may have been accumulated through ill-gotten means as Zacchaeus freely admitted (Luke 19:8).  This is a possibility, but we no nothing of the man's occupation or his ancestry, since it could have been largely inherited.  And any act of outright theft would have been brought to justice.

Some would say the sin was the very accumulation of wealth.  This view says that everyone should share alike regardless of who produces or accumulates wealth, and doing so hurts the poor—the very thing God-fearing people are not to do.  Yet the Bible does not say that wealth is a sin, but the love of it (1 Tim 6:10).  We are not told in the text that he loved his money, only that he lived in luxury.

Others will say he was living too well and was probably displaying his wealth for prestige in the community or to influence others.  And yet the account says nothing of intent, only that he spent money on himself, which could be a sign of coveting, but we know he allowed Lazarus to beg at his gate, showing a measure of compassion.

While any of these are possibilities for the rich man's condemnation, the truth does not manifest itself until almost the end.  Both men find themselves beyond the grave, now experiencing the fruit of their lives on earth.  The rich man cries out for relief and is guaranteed by Abraham none is forthcoming.  Changing tactics, he pleads for his brothers so they do not meet the same fate and is rebuffed: "They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them."

And now we come to the rich man's core problem.  What does he say?  "No!  Your word is not good enough."  Imagine that.  The word that called into being all things (Rom 4:17), the word that will not return void but will accomplish all that is purposed (Isa 55:11), the word that is living and abiding (1 Pet 1:23); the word that is living and active (Heb 4:12), that word is deemed incapable of turning a man to repentance.

What does the rich man ask for instead?  What is his solution?  It is a familiar one commonly used today—a gimmick and testimony.  The thought is that if something impacts the senses and sensibilities of an audience, then they will be moved to turn from their ways, but this tactic relies on man's manipulation of another man to be effective and cannot last being based on temporal, subjective experiences.  American Evangelicals have a propensity for this tactic.  Not trusting God to do what he promised, men and women dress up or disguise the gospel with features so that the substance is never considered, only the externals.

The true and correct means to bring men to repentance remains the word of God.  That word that is living and active came into this world and put on flesh and blood (John 1:1-14).  It is that word who was put to death and was raised and now is the sole power of God unto salvation (Rom 1:16).

My thanks to Brian Wolfmueller whose sermon of 6 Jun 2010 gave me the idea for this post.

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