Recently, one of my children was commenting about the nature of our language and how odd it seemed to him that certain words are considered "bad" while other words are considered "good." We discussed that concept for a few minutes, but the truth is, there are certain words that seem to illicit a stronger response from us than others.
When speaking about spiritual issues, one word that tends to get a reaction is the word "repent." I don't have any hard evidence to back this up, but my gut feeling is that when most people hear that word, they tend to feel somewhat negative toward it. It's a word that demands that a change be made. To repent may involve regret and remorse, and if it's genuine, will also involve a change of direction.
The Lord invites us to be people who repent. We're encouraged to be people who practice repentance as a regular feature of our growing faith in Jesus Christ. When we first became aware of our need for His gift of salvation, we repented of our unbelief, stopped embracing the sin we once idolized, and began trusting in Him. As our relationship with Him continues, we're invited to continue to practice repentance every time we become conscious of sin or unbelief in our lives. It isn't dreadful to repent, it's joyful because we know our Lord loves us and is eager to welcome us into His presence. He doesn't hate us when we make mistakes. He loves us and invites us to return to Him so we can experience His cleansing.
Luke 16:19-31 illustrates our need to repent of our unbelief, and I'd like to point out four specific reasons why we should do so.
I. So you don't idolize your earthly experience
People throughout this world may all be living on the same planet, but the nature of our day-to-day experiences are often quite different from each other. There are some people who live with extreme wealth and others who live on the brink of starvation. There are some people who dine in exclusive establishments and others who will find their next meal in a dumpster.
At the time Jesus spoke the words of this passage, the Roman Empire was the world's superpower, and economically speaking, they really didn't have a middle class. In many contexts, you were either very rich or very poor. If you had wealth, you could enjoy many of the finer things in life and live a very comfortable existence. And while you were doing that, it could become quite easy to forget about the suffering of others.
As Jesus told this particular story, some of the people who were listening to Him were Pharisees. They were part of a strict religious sect that hated Jesus and usually tried to find ways to accuse Him by twisting what He said, or trying to catch Him saying something that could be used against Him. We also know that they loved money. They loved money more than most things on this earth, and it could certainly be argued that they loved money more than they loved God, even though they gave the outward appearance of being highly devoted to Him.
In the story Jesus told, He spoke of a rich man who lived in luxury. He enjoyed fine clothing, fine food, and a home that was nice enough to have a gate. He couldn't have been more different from Lazarus, the poor man Jesus also referenced in this story. Lazarus was starving, covered in sores, and swarmed by dogs that would lick the salty puss off his sores like scavengers.
The rich man had plenty of faith, but his faith was misplaced. He trusted in himself and his wealth, but when it came to the the Lord, he didn't believe. He idolized his comfortable earthly experience to the point that it didn't seem to trouble him that Lazarus, a man sitting right outside his gate, was suffering and in great need - willing to eat the scraps that fell from the rich man's table.
The opening verses of this story are attempting to show us right away that it's better to repent of our unbelief toward the Lord than it is to idolize our earthly riches and experiences.
II. So you don't forget that your future is at stake
Have you ever wondered how long you'll live? It probably sounds a little morbid to bring that up, but I think about that subject regularly. From the time I was young, I have always assumed that I wouldn't be one of those people who lived a long time. I might be totally wrong, but that thought has been reinforced by the passing of several of my family members. My mother passed away just shy of her 61st birthday. Many of our relatives on her side of the family have passed away in that age range. My father's side of the family, however, tends to live a little longer. So, maybe I'll be somewhere in-between, or maybe I won't.
But even though it can be a little morbid to let myself think about things like that, I can think of at least one benefit to allowing that thought to cross my mind. It's a reminder to me that time passes quickly and the vast majority of my existence is going to occur after my earthly life is complete. I have a future beyond the daily experience that I'm used to and I would be foolish not to prepare for it.
In this passage, Jesus told us about what happened to the rich man and what happened to Lazarus after their earthly lives concluded. Lazarus was carried by the angels to Paradise, which is referred to here as "Abraham's side." The rich man who spent his life worshipping himself and his wealth, went to the place of eternal torment that's referenced in this passage as Hades. He was in anguish there and sought even a drop of water from Lazarus as relief (which is rather ironic considering that he didn't bother to share a crumb of food with Lazarus when he was in need).
Why do you suppose Jesus gave us this vivid picture of what comes next? I believe He did so, in part, so we don't forget that our future is at stake. If we spend this life ignorant of Christ, unreceptive to His offer of salvation, and disinterested in what comes next, we can be certain that we will experience the outcome Christ warns us about. But if we welcome Christ into our lives, if we receive the gift of His salvation and the forgiveness He offers, if we repent of our unbelief, we can be certain that our future will be one of delight in His kingdom.
Romans 6:23 - For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
III. So "good" things don't keep you from experiencing "great" things
Have you ever considered how blessed we are to live where we live and when we live? Living in the southeast corner of Pennsylvania, I'm mindful of the fact that we live in a very nice area. I think it's beautiful here and I'm trying not to take it for granted. And if the the Lord has blessed you with a nice area to live in and other comforts, how should you feel about those blessings? Guilty? Grateful? Something else?
When we come to know Christ and He becomes Lord of our lives, He changes how we see things. He grants us a new perspective and a new worldview. The Holy Spirt transforms and renews our thinking so that we can begin seeing things like God sees things. He helps us to recognize that as good as some of the Lord's earthly blessings may be, there are greater things in store for those who believe.
When we repent of our unbelief, this becomes clearer to us. We start seeing the good things of this world for what they really are.... temporary blessings that should be utilized to glorify God, help others, and enjoyed without being worshipped because there are much greater things ahead for those who know Jesus.
1 Corinthians 2:9, NLT - “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.”
IV. So you don't tune out what you need to hear most
When I was growing up, I listened to a lot of sermons. The men who pastored my home church did a good job sharing the Scriptures and pointing us to Jesus. Admittedly, some sermons were better than others, and I'd be lying if I didn't confess that at times, I glanced at my watch to see how much longer the pastor was going to speak. (By the way, one of the things I didn't realize back then, but I know now is that the pastor definitely sees you when you do that). I'm grateful that I was part of a church that faithfully taught God's word.
The rich man in this portion of Scripture, clearly didn't heed the counsel of God's word. If Christ was referring to an actual person in this passage, and not a hypothetical example, (and I think there's good reason to believe that He was), it seems likely that this man lived in a context where hearing the teaching of the Scriptures and learning what they meant was an option for him. We're told that he asked that someone go back to his father's house to warn his brothers of what comes next for those who don't believe, but Abraham reminded him that they had access to God's word and could read the books of Moses and the Prophets and heed their teaching.
But the man protested and he feared that his family would continue tuning out the teaching of God's word just like he had. So he requested that someone return from the dead to tell them. But as we know, if someone won't heed the teaching of Scripture, they also won't be convinced by someone rising from the dead. This became particularly clear after Christ's resurrection when He proved that He was God in the flesh by defeating the power of sin, Satan, and death. Yet there were those who knew for a fact that He rose from death and still rejected Him.
All that to say, when we look at a Scripture like this, there are quite a few lessons we should glean from it. We live in the midst of that brief window of time when the Lord is giving us the opportunity to repent of our unbelief. We're given the alternative to worshiping ourselves and what we've been given. Jesus offers us the forgiveness of sin and life everlasting in His kingdom if we'll trust in Him. Likewise, He grants us divine understanding to identify areas of unbelief in our lives even after we've trusted in Him.
Where have you placed your faith? What are you trusting to comfort your heart when you're grieving? What do you believe will give meaning to your life and satisfy your soul? Christ has offered Himself to us and has invited us to walk daily by faith in Him so we won't make the mistakes of idolizing our earthly experiences, forgetting our future is at stake, letting good things take the place of great things, and tuning out what He's been prodding our hearts to hear.
© John Stange, 2018