The Pharisees thought this teaching was stupid. They ridiculed Jesus for it. (14) Luke wrote that they reason they ridiculed Jesus’ teaching as that they were lovers of money. They proved Jesus’ point. You cannot both serve money and serve God.
They saw wealth as God’s recognition of their righteousness. Yet, they often pursued wealth at the expense of others. On another occasion, Jesus said they devoured widow’s houses. (Mark 12:40)
Jesus said they justified themselves before men. At the heart of this struggle is a rejection of God’s plan of salvation.They sought to justify themselves by their works rather than accept grace through faith. And, if men justified them, they were reassured that God did also.
We do the same thing, also. We justify ourselves before other people. We justify luxuries, self indulgence and wealth by saying we earned it or deserve it or even God wants us to have it because we are special. If we, at the same time, refuse to give meaningfully to the work of the kingdom and to help the poor, we are just like the Pharisees.
Jesus said that what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of the Lord. Abomination is a strong word. It means something God hates or loathes. The world exalts wealth and luxury. But, just because the world values wealth above almost anything does not mean we can adopt that standard in violation of God’s will.
The Bible says “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.” (1 Timothy 6:10)
We cannot expect unregenerate people to understand God’s thinking in these matters. Remember, Paul wrote “the natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned”. (1 Corinthians 2:14)
God himself said “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are you ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)
Paul also cautioned us against adopting the standards of the world. He wrote Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by sting you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect”. (Romans 12:2) If you refuse to conform to the world’s thinking, and allow the Holy Spirit to renew your mind, you will be able to know and understand God’s thinking on these matters.
The thinking of sinful men and women does not align with the will of God. Therefore, we must be careful to find God’s thoughts on this matter and not the thoughts of men who live in rebellion against God.
Getting Right With God (or, being justified)
Sadly, for the Pharisees, no one is justified by their works. “For by works of the law, no human being will be justified in his sight”. (Romans 3:20) Jesus did not confront the Pharisees just to make enemies of them. He really wanted them to see the truth.
Jesus said the law and the prophets were until John. (16) The Old Covenant was in force and operative until John came, followed by Jesus, proclaiming the arrival of Christ’s kingdom that we enter through grace by faith. That is the good news of the kingdom that was, and is preached.
Paul said it succinctly: for by grace you have been saved through faith. (Ephesians 2:8) If the Pharisees had stopped attempting justification by works and believed in Jesus, who stood right in front of them, they could have been saved, justified by God, and come into the kingdom. Then they would have begun to understand the mind of God and live to please him.
But the law still existed. It did not become void, as Jesus said. That is because it remains as the expression of God’s will for his people. His moral and ethical standards are captured there. One who lives to glorify God will be holy as God defined it. God does not change.
Jesus gave an example of the moral standards of God embodied in the law, one the Pharisees did not observe. He called divorce a sin that leads to adultery. (18) God’s desire is that married people remain married to each other.
In contrast, the Pharisees created many grounds for divorce for husbands. One rabbi wrote that a man could divorce his wife is she ruined his dinner. Jesus was showing the Pharisees that their claims to justification were invalid, because they did not obey God’s law where it was inconvenient. They could not be saved by works because their works fell short of God’s standards.
A problem with legalism is that we make up rules that make us look righteous. Then you obey the rules to impress others, to justify yourselves before men. But your heart is not given to Jesus. The rules become a burden that steal your joy and drive you away from Jesus, not to him.
But those who come to Jesus in faith realize their inability to keep the law. They rejoice in the grace of God that brought them into the kingdom. Jesus said the good news is preached and everyone forces his way into the kingdom. (16) Those who understand the good news of salvation by faith will do whatever they can to come to Jesus and stay there. They will deny themselves, they will follow Jesus to any end and they will rejoice all the way.
One example is Zacchaeus. This short tax collector would climb a tree to see Jesus. He would bring Jesus to his house and invite all his tax collector friends to meet him. He would give away his money to make things right according to God’s standards.
The Great Divide
To drive home his point, Jesus told a story, as he often did. The main characters are a rich man and a poor man.
The rich man had it all: beautiful clothes, expensive food and an expensive home protected by gates. He was self indulgent. The rich man did not use his money to help the poor man, he kept it all for himself.
In contrast, the poor man had nothing. He laid at the gate of the rich man to beg, he likely was crippled, and he was sick, having sores all over his body. He was hungry. He wished the rich man would let him eat the scraps that fell from his table, but he did not.
The rich man represents the rich Pharisee that Jesus criticized, shrewd in the ways of the world, but not using his money to make friends in eternal places (9), building the kingdom and helping those in need. The poor man represents those in need and one who would be a friend in eternity.
Then came the event that changed everything: they both died. The poor man, named Lazarus, was carried to heaven. Jesus emphasized his blessing by calling it the side of Abraham, the father of the Jewish people. Now the poor man has everything. Abraham said he was comforted. His suffering is over.
The rich man, in contrast, went to Hades, the place of torment. Now he has nothing. He suffered anguish in the flames.
The rich man was still arrogant. He asked Abraham to send Lazarus to cool his tongue with water. Abraham said that could not be done. So, he asked that Lazarus be sent to his brothers to warn them so they would repent. Again, Abraham refused, because they already had the law and the prophets to warn them. In fact, he said, they would not repent even if someone came back from the dead to warn them.
Again, Jesus was calling out the Pharisees. They had the Law and Prophets, what we call the Old Testament, and they studied it. But they failed to see Jesus as the fulfillment of its promises. And when Jesus returned from the dead in resurrection, they still refused to believe.
Death is the great divider. The poor man was a believer. His name was written in the book of life. Notice that his name is given to us in the story. He is Lazarus. But the rich man is not named.
Lazarus, who had nothing on earth, was carried by angels into heaven. Isn’t that a great picture. Death makes us all nervous, doesn’t it? But this is a wonderful picture of one whom God loves carried by glorious angels into the glory of heaven. All pain is gone, there is no sorrow or crying, just joy in the fellowship of the Lord and all who believe. As Paul said, being away from the body is to be at home in the Lord. (2 Corinthians 5:8)
The rich man, undoubtably one who justified himself before men, died and went immediately into torment. He suffered the torments of hell.
The tables had turned. The fortunes of the two men were reversed. It illustrated what Jesus said earlier, that what is exalted among men is an abomination to the Lord.
Jesus also showed that death is the end of opportunity to repent and believe. The rich man wanted mercy in Hades, but could not get it. And there was a chasm fixed between Heaven and Hades; no one could cross from one to the other. People on earth cannot be baptized for you to get you out of suffering and into heaven. People on earth cannot pray you out of hell. Death makes your choices final.
The point of this story is not that rich people go to hell and poor people go to heaven. The point is that we get to heaven through God’s grace, accessed by our faith. We do not get there by works. If we are rich, it is not because God said we were worth it. It is because of his grace. He graced us with money and we should act accordingly. We should use our money as God wants. When we do, it is the sign that we are saved and are citizens of his kingdom bound for eternal life with Jesus. At our death, angels will carry us to Jesus and the fellowship of all who have believed over the centuries, including those whom we helped with our money on earth.