8-6-23 Trinity 9

Bible Text: Luke 16:1-13 | Preacher: Pastor Christian Preus | Series: Trinity 2023 | The Holy Spirit gives us a lot to think about in this short parable. The overall theme is very obvious – if men work so hard and exert such energy to reach an earthly goal, then how much more should we seek our eternal goal with all the zeal and ambition of the children of God. Our goal is to stand before God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, pure, sinless, redeemed and washed by the blood of the Lamb, surrounded by all the saints. All our energy, all our ambition, all our wisdom, all our life should be directed to this goal. Every other goal you might have is secondary to this and depends on this. You’ll have other goals – a happy marriage, a family, house, good job, healthy body, education, enjoyment of life and of God’s creation, expanding the church building, establishing a college, all sorts of other goals, but they remain secondary to the great goal, and so every single one of them is to serve the great goal, the summum bonum, that we stand before our God and Lord with a pure conscience and hear Him say, Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Master.

One of these secondary goals you see in the rich man, the master of the house. His goal is to provide for himself and his family. That’s a good goal, as long as it serves the great goal. But he does the wrong thing in trying to reach the goal. He delegates all the responsibility to a manager and so doesn’t even know what’s going on in his own business and in his own house. This is all too common today, especially when it comes to moms and dads and raising their children. Parents think they can delegate it to others and then just leave it be. Delegate teaching to teachers. Religious instruction to pastors. “I sent them to school. I sent them to catechism. I brought them to church. I did my duty.” No. It’s your job to educate your child. You can have others do it for you, but not with you simply sitting on the sidelines not paying attention. The Covid crisis revealed that many parents were sending their children to public schools without any idea what their kids were being taught. Now you can blame that on the schools, but really the blame falls on the parents. Parents need to know what their children are learning. That’s why you should send your children to a school that teaches that God exists and created the world and instituted marriage and sent His Son to live and die for sinners. And even then you make sure you don’t end up like the rich man in the parable, finding out too late that shenanigans are taking place. Every day talk with your children, ask what they are learning, help them with homework, read them the Bible, pray with them. There are some things you simply can’t give up and delegate. God tells parents to raise their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Parents, make that your goal. Make it your goal to see your children in heaven.

Second, the unrighteous manager also has a good goal. He wants to take care of himself. That’s a good goal. God gave you your body. He wants you to take care of it. The manager sees he’s losing his job. He needs a job, he needs money, he needs a house – these are all good goals to have. But he’s got a problem. He’s too weak to dig. He can’t do hard labor. And he’s too proud to beg. He’s got his dignity. But he has to reach his goal. So to reach it, he acts dishonestly. He cuts the amount people owe his master. He makes them into his friends by saving them lots of money at the expense of his master. He commits legal theft. And in the end, he reaches his goal, he takes care of his body.

The unrighteous steward stole from his master. It was legal. It was still wrong. God sees these as the same, outright theft or legal scheming to get what isn’t yours. If you get rich by charging an outrageous rate of interest, it may be legal, but it’s stealing. If you get money by selling a car you know has problems for more than it’s worth, it’s legal, but it’s still stealing. In the Old Testament, if you stole, the law was that you had to give back four times what you stole. When Zacchaeus becomes a Christian in the New Testament, he promises to restore fourfold to anyone he’s cheated. He does that because he’s acknowledging that even though it was legal – tax collectors were agents of the state, it was legal – it was still stealing. He cheated them legally. But he promises to restore it fourfold because he knows it was still cheating, still theft.

The ends do not justify the means. It could be that your situation looks desperate. It could be that the only solution seems to be to do something wrong – “I have to make more money, I simply have to, so I’ll skip church, or I’ll skimp on my offering;” “I have to make more money on the sale of my house, so I won’t say anything about the damaged chimney or the leaks from the attic.”

But it’s always a lie. Keep the primary goal in mind and that will be crystal clear every single time. It’s true – he was too weak to dig, too proud to beg. But sin is never the only option. He could have gone to his master and pled for forgiveness. If he was unwilling to beg for money, he could have at least begged for mercy. He could have given it all over to God, in fervent prayer and in trust that God will take care of the righteous, because God has promised again and again to do exactly that. He could have prayed and believed the psalm, “I have been young and now am old; yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his descendants begging bread.” This is where reason and all feelings have to submit to God’s Word. He said He will take care of you. Do what is right according to His Word, and see Him work. Wait for it. He will do it.

It seems that the wicked prosper. This man did wrong. He stole. And in the end, his master commends him for his craftiness, he gets away with the theft, and he’s made himself friends for life. Again, God’s Word sees it differently. The wicked never prosper. It doesn’t matter what your eyes see. There is no true enjoyment of God’s creation without God’s blessing. It is objectively true that the Christian living the Christian life, no matter how little he has, is happier and better off than the ungodly who has everything. You know this for two reasons. First, because it should be your experience. What would you take in exchange for Christ, in exchange for being a Christian, in exchange for knowing the true God, and having eternal life with Him? What amount of riches, what fame, what power, what man, what woman, could be worth it, could be worth that trade? Nothing. Christ is happiness. He is peace with God. He is the end goal and He is the Way to it. He is everything, the Giver of all heavenly riches and power and fame far above anything this earth can give. So you can know that you are happier as a Christian, even if you have nothing else, happier than the richest, most beautiful, most famous, most powerful heathen in the world.

Second, you can know it because God tells you in no uncertain terms. This is Psalm 37, “A little the righteous man has is better than the riches of many wicked.” “For evildoers shall be cut off; but those who wait on the Lord, they shall inherit the earth. For yet a little while and the wicked shall be no more; indeed, you will look carefully for his place, but it shall be no more. But the meek shall inherit the earth, and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace.” So you do good, even when doing wrong seems like the only way to get what you need. It isn’t. Your God is far more powerful than that. He will fulfil His Word. He will help you and deliver you because you trust in Him.

The unrighteous manager acted with a zeal and determination and forethought that is simply admirable. It’s wonderful to see these attributes. This is why we enjoy watching shows or reading books about a very clever thief. His goal is bad, but his determination, his cleverness, these are beautiful to see. I remember in grade school engaging in a snowball fight at recess, which was strictly forbidden. I was sneaky and took a long roundabout to get behind my classmates without them knowing, and then I pelted them. It was glorious, except the principal saw the whole thing from his window. He called me into his office and the first thing he did was commend me for my sneakiness. “But, you can’t do that, you know better, I don’t want to catch you doing this ever again.” We should learn to be clever, should be wise, should have a plan and a zeal for the future, but we have to have the right goal.

Our goal is to see our Savior face to face. If the children of this age use such cleverness and determination and zeal to reach earthly goals, how much more should we use all our talents, all our zeal, all our wealth in the pursuit of the eternal goal. The farmer will go sleepless nights, work 20-hour days, during harvest, to reach the goal of bringing it all in, and that’s a beautiful thing. We have an eternal harvest to reap, where is our zeal? Where is our energy? Where is our determination to reap it?

We see determination and zeal for earthly glory everywhere. You can read Caesar for example and see how his soldiers would do anything to show him and to show Rome their bravery. Caesar talks about soldiers who met a phalanx of Germans, which means the Germans formed a solid wall next to each other, with shield touching shield, basically impenetrable. And Caesar’s soldiers jumped, leapt on top of them, over their shields, to break the phalanx. Outrageously dangerous. They risked death gladly, because their goal to have honor and fame and respect in Rome was greater than their desire for life.

Our goal is so much higher. Our zeal, our determination to meet it, has to be higher. This is what Jesus is teaching us. Make for yourself friends by means of unrighteous money, so that when it fails, they welcome you into the everlasting homes. That’s your goal, to reach the everlasting homes. And all your zeal, all your money, all your wisdom, influence, speech, your life, should be directed to that goal.

Jesus specifically deals with money here, obviously. He is not saying that you should sell your house and give all of it to the church – though if you have a couple houses and could spare one, that’ll be great. He is saying first, give generously to the church. Do it if you care about the Gospel, if your goal is to promote it and hear it. People who love the Gospel give for the Gospel. It’s that simple. He is saying second, whatever else you spend your money on, do it with the end goal in mind of seeing your Lord face to face in innocence and righteousness forever. If you spend money on a house, make sure it’s a Christian house where God’s Word sounds and prayer rises to your Father and where you entertain other Christians and care for them. If you spend money on a car, make sure that car drives you to church on Sunday mornings [Monday evenings]. If you spend money on books or streaming or internet, make sure the content you read and see and look up is wholesome and good and godly and worthy of Christ’s Kingdom. The list goes on. When Jesus said we are to give up everything to Him, He meant it. Everything. And then He gives it all back to us and more, so that we can use it for His Kingdom.

And in the end we will receive an everlasting home. We do not earn it. There is no hint of that here. You cannot earn the heavenly home. Jesus has earned it by his perfect life and bitter anguish and death on the cross. He gave fully of Himself. He was outrageously generous. He said, “I go to prepare a place for you,” and He prepared that home by facing the wrath of God and offering His perfect obedience to His Father. He has given you this, full and free. He has covered all of your sins. He has in fact given you your goal already, it is safe with Him in heaven, and you are His, His body, and where the Head is, there the body will be. You have already died with Him and risen with Him in Baptism, the Father already calls you His child, the Spirit already convinces you of your inheritance as sons of light. You don’t earn a thing. The body and blood with which your Lord purchased your everlasting home, He gives these to you now, it is full and complete. When you pray “Thy Kingdom come” it comes here, heaven descends and because heaven descends, you will ascend to heaven. You don’t earn it. You live it. You put the goal in front of you every single day. You take every other goal you have, every one, and you make them serve this goal, and you do it with a zeal and a determination that is worthy of the goal. Jesus says “when it fails.” He doesn’t say, “if it fails.” Your body will fail you, your money will be no help at your death – the rich and the poor die alike – your earthly fame and power will be vanity and vapor when you reach your last day. But when it all fails, Jesus will not fail you. He will welcome you into an everlasting home. Think on that. Dream of it. And you will receive a hundredfold in this life and at the last you will meet the beautiful and great goal, Who is God forever, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.

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