Preparing to Receive Christ: Hearing Moses and the Prophets

"There was a rich man, who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, full of sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man's table; moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham's bosom. The rich man also died and was buried; and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes, and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus in his bosom. And he called out, 'Father Abraham, have mercy upon me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in anguish in this flame.' But Abraham said, 'Son, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.' And he said, 'Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father's house, for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.' But Abraham said, 'They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.' And he said, 'No, father Abraham; but if some one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.' He said to him, 'If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if some one should rise from the dead.'"

We continue with our advent question: What must happen for our hearts to be prepared to receive Christ for who he really is? We have given two parts to the answer so far.

Something More Than Flesh and Blood

From Matthew 16:17 we saw that something more than flesh and blood is required in order for us to recognize and receive Christ for who he really is. When Peter broke through to the insight that Jesus was the Messiah and the Son of the living God, Jesus said, "Blessed are you Simon Barjona, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven." In order to receive Christ for who he really is, God the Father must reveal to us the truth and beauty of the Son.

Something Must Happen to Our Wills

From John 7:17 we saw that in order to know the truth of Christ's teaching so that we can receive him for who he really is, something has to happen to our wills so that we will the will of God: "If anyone's will is to do God's will he shall know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking from myself."

Specifically, our will has to be freed from its passion to seek the praise and approval of men. Instead we have to have a will that delights in the glory of God. This is implied in John 5:44, "How can you believe, who receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?" To recognize and receive Jesus for who he really is, we have to will to do the will of God, namely, pursue the glory of God above all other pleasures in our life.

Using Earthly Money Shrewdly

Now today's text gives us another part of the answer to the question, How is the heart prepared to receive Christ for who he really is?

Possessing Money in This World as a Test Run

In Luke 16 Jesus is talking to Pharisees who were lovers of money. Notice verse 14: "The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all this, and they scoffed at him." He had just told them the parable of the unrighteous steward in verses 1–13. The point of that parable is that the way you use your money (he calls it "unrighteous mammon") can make or break your eternal destiny. Verse 9 says, "I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous mammon, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal habitations."

In other words, money is going to fail. It will do you no good at all on your death-bed. And whether you have an eternal habitation will depend, at least in part, on whether you used your money to advance the cause of Christ in the lives of others, or whether you used it to advance your comforts and your status symbols. That is the point of verse 11: "If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will entrust to you the true riches?"

In other words, the possession of money in this world is a test run for eternity. Can you pass the test of faithfulness with your money? Do you you use it as a means of proving the worth of God and the joy you have in supporting his cause? Or does the way you use it prove that what you really enjoy is things, not God?

The Scoffing of the Pharisees

Verse 14 says the Pharisees hear all this and scoff at Jesus because they are lovers of money. Christ has touched a raw nerve of their lives. Beneath all their religious veneer, they love money. Jesus saw it and nailed it. So what is the real meaning of their scoffing? Verse 15 gives us the real meaning: they are trying to justify themselves. Instead of repentance, which would have opened the way to receive Jesus for who he really is—the radical teacher of righteousness—the Pharisees try to justify themselves by making Jesus look foolish with their scoffing.

So now we are onto something in this chapter of Luke's gospel. We need to test it further. So far it looks like the love of money is a great obstacle to receiving Christ for who he really is. And so the preparation we need in order to receive Christ for who he really is, is something that frees us from the love of money.

The Rich Man and Lazarus

In verses 19–31 Jesus tells another story about money. Verse 19 presents us with a rich man who used his money to put the finest clothes on his back and the finest foods on his table every day—"clothed in purple and fine linen and feasting sumptuously every day."

In verses 20–21 we meet a poor man with a disease of sores. He lay at the gate of the rich man where he would be seen each day as the rich man went in and out. All he wanted was to eat what was left over from the rich man's table. He was so destitute that dogs licked his sores.

Then (in v. 22) the inexorable end comes to both, as it will to every one of us: they die. The poor man goes to paradise where Abraham is. The rich man goes to Hades where there is fire and torment.

Jewishness Does Not Save

Then the rich man calls out in verse 24, "Father Abraham!" In other words, this man is a Jew. And his Jewishness has not saved him. Do you remember what John the Baptist preached in Luke 3:8–11?

Bear fruits that befit repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, "We have Abraham as our father," for I tell you, God is able from these stone to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire . . . He who has two coats, let him share with him who has none.

So the rich man in the parable is one of those who presumed to say, "I am secure as a child of Abraham." But he bore no fruit that befits repentance, he shared no food, no clothes, and the axe fell and now he's in hell. And this is no doubt the very mockery that that the Pharisees threw back at Jesus in verse 14: "We are the children of Abraham! Don't threaten us that the use of our money might change our eternal destiny."

The Counterpart in the Contemporary Church

What would be the counterpart to this attitude in the church today? It would be professing Christians who read these parables and say, "I am an eternally secure child of God. I am justified by faith alone. Don't tell me that the way I use my money could jeopardize my eternal destiny."

The answer to this contemporary form of cheap grace is this: the faith which justifies PURIFIES—it purifies from the love of money. Or as Galatians 5:6 says, when it comes to justification before God, "neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is of any avail but faith working through love." The point of this parable is that the rich man is in hell because he delighted more in luxuries for himself than in love for Lazarus. It didn't make any difference that he thought he had a secure standing as a son of Abraham.

Why the Rich Man Is in Eternal Hell

And so in hell he looks up and pleads for some mercy from Abraham. Abraham responds in verse 25 by telling him why he is in hell and in verse 26 by telling him that there is absolutely no way out.

In verse 25 Abraham says, "Son, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish." In other words if during our time on earth we pursue after "things" instead of God—after luxury for ourselves instead of love for others—then earth will be the extent of our heaven and eternity will be our hell. But if during our time on the earth God is our treasure no matter how many bad things happen, then earth will be the extent of our hell and eternity will be our heaven.

Then verse 26 adds, "Besides all this [i.e., besides the fact that your own love for money and lovelessness toward Lazarus consigns you to hell], between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us." In other words any thought of a temporary purgatory is out of the question. Death is utterly final. The bed we make in this life we sleep in forever.

This does not mean that, by using your money for the good of others in the cause of Christ, you buy a spot in heaven or earn your way to paradise. Not at all! What it means is that the way you use your money shows whether your heart has been changed so that love for others and not luxury for yourselves is what you long for and delight in. And this is no more legalism or salvation by works than it is to say that to go to heaven you have to be the kind of person who prefers what is there—or better, who prefers Who is there.

Having Moses and the Prophets

Then the rich man asks if Abraham will send Lazarus to warn his five brothers about the danger of hell. Evidently the rich man knew that they were pursuing the same kind of life he was and were doomed.

Abraham answers in verse 29, "They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them." In other words, God has already provided ample information and evidence about the necessity of love and the danger of judgment. He is not obliged to give any more than what he has given in the scriptures of the Old Testament.

But the rich man knows that his brothers do not listen to the Scriptures. They may have devotions in the morning for a few minutes and they attend church once a week, but he knows that their whole mindset about money is shaped by the world not God. And so the rich man knows it is not going to do any good for Abraham just to say to them: read your Bible—read Moses, read the prophets!

So in verse 30 he advises Abraham (from hell!) about how to get his brothers to repent: "No, father Abraham; but if some one goes to them from the dead, they will repent." If there could just be a resurrection from the dead—something really startling, some miracle—then they would wake up and repent. They would forsake their selfish luxury and start to live for others to the glory of God.

Abraham's Stunning Response

Then comes Abraham's final, utterly stunning statement (v. 31): "If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if some one should rise from the dead." Isn't that incredible! If a person is so in love with money that he is deaf to the commands and warnings and promises of Moses and the prophets, then even a resurrection from the dead will not bring about repentance.

So here we have the same point that we saw earlier in verse 14, only here it's intensified because of the resurrection. Suppose Jesus should rise from the dead—this is what Luke wants his readers to think about—and suppose he should reveal himself to five brothers like these. Will they receive him for who he is?

O, they might be utterly knocked out of their senses by the miracle of an irrefutable resurrection. But the question is, Will they be knocked out of their sins? Will they repent? Abraham says no. They will not repent. Why not? What will keep them from receiving Jesus for the financial radical that he really is? Answer: the love of money, the love of things.

Summary of the Two Parables

Let's sum up, then, the two parables of the chapter. In verses 1–13 Jesus told a parable to make the point that we should use our money shrewdly—not as the world counts shrewdness, but shrewdly for the advancement of the gospel in the lives of more and more people so that they will receive us into eternal habitations (v. 9). Money is a test of our faithfulness to God: if we don't use it in a way that shows God is more precious than things, then verse 11 says there is no reason to think that we will ever be entrusted with the true riches of heaven. The use of money can make or break your eternal destiny.

To this kind of teaching the Pharisees respond with scoffing in verse 14. Why? Because they are lovers of money and they see in Jesus a threat to the way they live. So in this text the love of money is the root cause of why they will not receive Jesus for who he really is.

Then Jesus tells another parable in verses 19–31 with basically the same point. If we use our money to fatten our cushions instead of seeking every way possible to invest in the hope of others, then we will go to the place of torment. And if our love for money and things is so deep that the writings of Moses and the prophets of God do not change our values, then we will not be changed even if Jesus Christ should rise from the dead. We will not receive him for who he really is.

How Must the Heart Be Prepared to Receive Jesus?

So now we go back to our advent question: How must the heart be prepared to receive Christ for who he really is? The answer from today's text is that the heart must be freed from the love of things—the love of money.

As long as Jesus Christ embodies a radical freedom from the love of things and a deep delight in the service of others, then those who get their joy in life from luxury rather than love will not be able to receive Jesus for who he really is. "How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!" (18:24).

What then shall we do to prepare our hearts to receive Christ for who he really is? Perhaps we should take our clue from Abraham in verse 29 of our text: "They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them." I think that is what we should do—go back to the Scripture and read again:

The Words of Moses . . .

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might . . . And your neighbor as yourself. (Deuteronomy 6:5; Leviticus 19:18)

And the Words of the Prophets . . .

Thus says the Lord: Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, let not the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches; but let him who glories glory in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practice steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth; for in these things I delight, says the Lord. (Jeremiah 9:23–24)

And the Words of the Apostles . . .

We brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world; but if we have food and clothing, with these we shall be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and hurtful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all evils; it is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced their hearts with many pangs. (1 Timothy 6:7–10)

Turn back from the broken cisterns of materialism and drink freely this morning at the fountain of living water. May God use the words of Moses and the prophets and the apostles to free us from the love of money so that we might receive Christ for who he really is.