LET THEM LISTEN TO MOSES AND THE PROPHETS
Key Verse: 16:29
“Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’
Jesus has been sharing many lessons about practical matters with his disciples, the crowds and his critics. He wants everyone to carefully consider their lifestyle, religious law keeping and how they care for their fellow man. Last week, a story about a shrewd manager challenged his disciples overcome innate human selfishness to use their money for making friends who will welcome them into eternal dwellings. Money is always a touchy subject. We never have enough and we always want more. Sharing our money with the ones who will welcome us in eternity always seems like a losing business, so it requires faith. There are several principles to consider in today’s lesson. What is noble and valuable in God's opinion; the law and the prophets as they relate to the gospel; a teaching about divorce and the consequences of ignoring the Bible while living selfishly. I pray we may keep Jesus' words in the heart so we end up on the good side of eternity.
1. God knows your hearts
In verse 14 The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all that he said and they were sneering at Jesus. They were very upset several verses ago when they noticed Jesus welcomed sinners and saw he was eating with them. Now they were looking at Jesus like angry dogs waiting to attack a stray cat. Loving money caused a deep spiritual problem in their lives. Jesus described their trouble in verse 15. Let's read that together. "15 He said to them, "You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable in God's sight."
Something wrong in their hearts led them to live with a corrupted value system. Outwardly, to the eyes of the villagers and among their peers, even to the "sinners" those Pharisees seemed to be very good. They were respected scholars and trusted in everyone's eyes for meticulously obeying the commands that everyone knew since childhood. Nevertheless, Jesus accused them of justifying themselves in the eyes of men. It means, they believed they were OK with God, because their fellow Pharisees congratulated them on their nice robes. They felt sure of their place at the heavenly banquets because they were invited by their good friends to the best banquets here on earth. They welcomed widows to their Bible study and talked very nicely to them. But secretly, they only wanted the widows to donate property and money to the Pharisee projects. Jesus said they justified themselves needing the money by saying long prayers for the widow to hear. God saw their hearts were only set on things of the world. Godly things, like serving others, welcoming lost children of god and helping Jesus share the kingdom of God were not on the Pharisee's "to do" list.
Jesus told them, "What is highly valued among men is detestable in God's sight." This is a very tough thing for Jesus to tell them. Were all the things Pharisees stood for and strove to attain detestable in God's sight? High status in the synagogue was the goal of many young “go-getters” like Saul of Tarsus. But it was detestable in God's eyes when they exalted themselves above God and his Son Jesus. Invitations to expensive dinners with the political bigwigs were something every Pharisee looked forward too, but they were detestable in God's sight as they jockeyed for the best seats and left the poor hungry people out in the cold. There are many things like this which the world values highly, but God does not like. So we can use Jesus' words to examine things we do and determine if it is pleasing to God or not. All we need to know is how the worldly people think of this or that. If they highly praise and desire what we are examining, then we know it is detestable to God. One year some students used Spring Break to take a vacation where they enjoyed drinking and dancing and sitting all day long on the beach. The worldly people were so glad for them. “Good for you! You deserve a long rest and massage. Go enjoy some fun while you are young.” Meanwhile, some other students spend their own money and used their spring break to pickup garbage and share medicine in a town that was devastated by a natural disaster. They slogged all day long through mud and slime with fear of getting diarrhea from drinking the contaminated water. The worldly people thought they were stupid for wasting their time in a garbage pile without getting paid a dime. Which activity is more likely detestable to God? In most cases, what the world desires is pretty obvious, but in the case of those Pharisees, their worldliness was carefully concealed behind a very good looking religious facade, so it was hard for ordinary people to recognize and very difficult for them to repent. Jesus took the chance to evangelize them and confront another sin they often justified themselves committing in the next part.
2. The kingdom of God is being preached
Knowing the Pharisees were very strict regarding the laws Moses wrote, and how deceptively they found ways to justify disregarding the laws, Jesus brought them up to speed on what God was doing in verse 16&17. Let's read them together. "16 "The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing his way into it. 17 It is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the least stroke of a pen to drop out of the Law." Pharisees and teachers of the law would agree with most of what Jesus said. They agreed that the Law and Prophets were God's words. We call it the Old Testament and we agree too, that it is God's words to us. They would agree that the Bible they preserved for many centuries was absolutely true and no one can take away even one little tiny letter. But the Pharisees were unable to grasp the good news of the kingdom of God being preached because Jesus' ministry seemed to conflict with how the Pharisees understood the law and the prophets.
Elsewhere, Jesus said, He said he did not come to destroy the law, but to fulfill the law by laying down his life for his sheep. From Jesus' point of view, the Law and Prophets were there to lead people to himself. The law described God's best hope for all the Jews to live according to his words and honor him in all their ways, proving they believed God like Abraham, and so be justified as he was, through his faith. However, we seem to read the opposite as the nation fell into sins and idolatry again and again. Then the law only exposed their corruption. This is why Paul said the law was added, so that sin might increase making us well aware of our need for a solution. Christians still respect the law absolutely, because it exposes our sin, and makes us look to God for salvation by faith. The big problem happens when we think obeying the law and customs we invent around the law is the source of our righteousness. Soon after that, we become self-righteous and burden everyone who is not in our little club. That is when law keeping becomes bad news for everyone. The Pharisees fell into this trap. They could only point out every sin people committed and complain. To Jesus they complained, "How can you be a prophet? Who can forgive sins but God? Don't help anyone on the Sabbath!" It is not just Pharisees either. Over the years, countless “overzealous” Christians accused, tried and executed their fellow believers for not keeping the established rules and traditions that were in effect that year.
We might wonder what the law has to do with the gospel if it only seems to condemn people and cause groups to become so hypocritical cynics. If so, why would Jesus respect it and uphold it? One day Jesus told the skeptics that the scripture testified about himself. He also told some believers after his resurrection they were slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!" And then, beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself." It turns out that the Law and the Prophets are integrated with the good news more than they ever imagined and more than we can fully understand. Jesus said they testify that Christ must suffer and rise from the dead on the third day. Apostle Paul agreed with Moses and the prophets, that if a man did all the things written in the law he would live. Yet he confessed that no one seemed able to do them all. Then he noticed that God's grace had to abound even more. Great sinners, need a greater savior. And that is the good news being proclaimed since John. Do you remember how John proclaimed the good news to the Pharisees at first? “Look, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” It is really good news for the people who realized they broke the law! Thank God for the laws that show us our sinfulness and for the prophets who lead us to Jesus for salvation. Actually, quite a few people were coming to Jesus. Jesus saw them as a forceful movement. Many sick people did whatever it took meet Jesus for help. One sick lady forced here way through a large crowd, only to touch his cloak. Some other tough guys left their fishing boats back in Galilee to grab any blessing they could get by following Jesus. These were all eager for some benefits in the world at first, but along the way they took Jesus' words very personally and found themselves transformed in to witnesses of God's saving grace that helped them by faith.
Jesus said, "It is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the least stroke of a pen to drop out of the Law." It means he respects the law as the word of God. What he shares next about adultery however, shows that Jesus strictness and meticulous interpretations of the law are even tougher than the Pharisees. Many Jews of the time could justify their desires for divorce based on a few laws in Moses' books about dealing with divorced ladies. One law in Deuteronomy mentions divorcing your wife for "something indecent." It seems like Jews of Jesus day took advantage of this unclear definition of “something indecent” to justify divorcing for any reason and re-marrying whoever they wanted whenever they desired. To Jesus, this was sinful. See what he said in verse 18. Let's read it all together. "Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery." This lesson was a shocker. Even Jesus disciples were stunned to hear Jesus' strict interpretation of the law that everyone was taking for granted. In Matthew's gospel, Jesus narrowed the meaning to cases of adultery, but even then, the disciples said to him, "If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry." Jewish guys of the times could not imagine being unable to divorce their wives to get a new and improved wife whenever they wanted. We can’t believe it was like this, but the guys Jesus preached too seem very hard hearted, even brutal toward their wives. With his strict interpretation, Jesus broadly condemned many Pharisees who contemplated divorces and wrongly justified many divorces in their communities. It is a stinging accusation of sin against the leaders who should know better since they were the Bible scholars and rule makers for their times. When the leaders continually justified their numerous adulteries, society only drifted farther and farther away from God. Nobody could say anything in defense of the poor ladies who were accused of arbitrary indecencies and ostracized by the male dominated society. Nobody could say anything against the leaders who justified themselves by agreeing with each other all the time because of their political muscle. Do you want a divorce? Just find two or three Pharisees to agree that your wife seems indecent that day and you are good to go. Is it scandalous? Not anymore. Divorce and remarrying are rampant all over the world again. Like Jesus’ previous saying about what is detestable to God, how believers regard the sanctity of marriage and their opinion of divorce and remarriage in light of Jesus teaching can also be a good indicator of the spiritual condition of our hearts.
3 Listen to Moses and the Prophets
To further impress the need for humility and a godly value system, Jesus shared a story about the dreadful, eternal consequences of a selfish lifestyle. Luke shares this story in the context of several teachings about welcoming sinners and managing money. Therefore it seems like a good story for all people to consider because it presents such extreme cases to highlight the seriousness of our sinful, selfish ways of thinking. Look at verse 19-21. 19 "There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20 At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21 and longing to eat what fell from the rich man's table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores." Here is a chance to consider God's value system. Which situation among the two, do we highly value? We like the rich man's lifestyle. He highly valued luxurious food and fancy clothes. We can't even imagine approaching the beggar because he is so smelly and contagious. The rich man seems very selfish with his blessings when we notice the beggar wishing he could just taste a crumb from the mans table.
Conventional wisdom assumes the rich man got rich by managing things well. Everyone assumed God blessed him with talent and he worked hard to achieve his goal. He paid his tithes and went to worship service on time every week. He expected God's blessings to continue forever, because God should see his faithfulness, respect his profit making skills and honor him. At the same time, people were very superstitious in those days so they might assume Lazarus, or maybe his parents, sinned greatly at some point which landed him in this cursed looking condition. Rather than have pity on him, people made an example of him, saying don't end up like that guy or you will be cursed and cut off from God's people forever. What happened to them? 22 "The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side." The rich man was horrified by his destiny. He never expected to end up in hell. His purple clothes were gone, and he was experiencing torments that no one ever wants to believe could be true. The rich man called out, "Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire." Now the rich man is desperately hoping for a miracle, just a tiny drop of water to cool his tongue. It is unimaginable suffering. Unfortunately, the rich man came to grips with eternal realities when it was too late. 25 "But Abraham replied, 'Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony." Remembering Jesus lesson for his disciples about the shrewd manager, I can see how this story might be useful to them as well as the super rich Pharisees. The rich man did not think ahead correctly. He did not use his money on earth to make friends who would welcome him into eternal dwellings. He only used all his money for his own benefits. Now his worldly wealth was gone and he had no chance for comfort.
It might even be bearable if we could endure the torment for a while and then move on. But the reality seems to get worse in verse 26. Abraham said "besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us." This pretty much makes the reality of hell seem like it will never end. There will be no second chance to make good. Facing reality that he must be forever cut off from God the rich man tried to do something to warn his brothers, in hope they may avoid his fate. 27 "He answered, 'Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father's house, 28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.' 29 "Abraham replied, 'They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.' 30 " 'No, father Abraham,' he said, 'but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.' 31 "He said to him, 'If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.' " This part of the story reveals a very difficult truth. Jesus put the burden of avoiding hell on us individuals, and points out that we must listen to the word of God in order to come to our senses. This is really heavy stuff.
Seeing the rich man suffering in a place of torment forever brings up some logical questions about our life on earth. Do I have to live like Lazarus the beggar in order to make it into heaven? I don’t think so. But we do have to be mindful of those who are suffering. We do have to use our worldly wealth to help them, hoping they will meet Jesus and welcome us into eternal dwellings. I think it is possible to find many selfish Lazarus’ too. I’m not rich like the man in the story, but I can greedy with what little I have for the same reason the rich man was greedy with many goods. Another question we might ask is might be: “Do all the rich people automatically end up in torment?” I hope not. I hope many rich people respect Jesus’ lesson and put their vast wealth to work helping Lazarus’ around the world find comfort. We might even wonder, “What does this have to do with me, especially if I don’t believe the Bible?” Such indifference leads many to a state of deliberate ignorance, where we ignore the facts and try to convince ourselves there is nothing to worry about. I read in Hebrews that God spoke to us in these last days through his own Son, to tell us the way of salvation. What a very good time to be alive! Moses, the Old Testament Prophets, the New Testament Prophets and the Son of the Living God warned us about the consequences of sin in this world and eternity many times. Abraham said if we only listen to the Bible, we can avoid eternal torment. It is really good news! Nevertheless, Abraham does not hide the reality either, that many will refuse to listen, trusting their own ideas rather than what they read in the Bible.
What do you think about sending someone back from the dead to warn our family? Can such a great miracle convince someone about the reality of heaven and hell? In fact, there was a man named Lazarus who came back from the dead around the same time during Jesus ministry; maybe within a few months of this meeting. Did his resurrection convince the Jews to repent of their sins and enter the kingdom of God? Not really. Not long after that even Jesus rose from the dead as well, but the stubborn leaders in Israel covered it up, bribing the guards and reporting that Jesus disciples stole his body. Jesus was right. Even though many people rise from the dead, it will not convince people to repent. They need to listen to the word of God. Let’s read the Bible every day and pray for ears to hear Moses and the Prophets speaking to us so we may repent. How is it going with your one year Bible reading plan? How about your daily bread reading time?
Today Jesus gave us some precious words to help us examine ourselves. Are we seeking detestable things in this world? Repent and seek first the kingdom of God. Are we justifying ourselves while sinning greatly against God and others? Let’s repent and humble ourselves to serve each other. Do we agree with Jesus regarding the law, especially in matters of divorce? Husbands! Decide to love your wife again today and propose to you wife again right after the message then make a wedding plan this this evening and share a cake together. God help us love one another and never even think of getting a divorce. Are we in danger of eternal torment because of being greedy with our worldly wealth? Listen to our Prophet, High Priest and King Jesus Christ and use your worldly wealth to gain friends that will last forever. Let’s read the key verse one more time. Let’s go. “Abraham replied, 'They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.” Let us pray for ears to hear the words of God that we read in the Bible and for hearts willing to put God’s words into practice so we may be found at the table with Abraham when we die.
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