Too Late! Luke 16.19-31

I don’t think I’m alone in this, but I have a reoccurring dream. In my dream, I’m taking a class, but I’ve neglected to attend … for about ten weeks! Is it too late? I hold out hope, but I know in my dream-heart that it’s too late. Then, at that point, I usually wake up.

That’s a dream, but its warnings are real. I’m capable of missing the obvious, and being too late!

Luke 16.19-31, about the Rich Man and Lazarus, is among Jesus’ quirkiest parables, and among my favorites. Its landscape is the imaginative world of parable, but like other parabolic teachings of Jesus (think of The Good Samaritan), it’s points are hard and real and true.

The Parable of The Rich Man and Lazarus (:19-31). In the parable there is a Rich Man. His garments are purple, made from expensive dye. His underwear is fine linen. He’s rich all the way down! And, he spends his days feasting in his sumptuous palace.

There’s also a poor man named Lazarus. He’s commendable, not because he’s poor, but because he trusts in God. Crippled, Lazarus has been laid at the gates of the Rich Man’s house. Dogs lick his sores. He longs for food thrown from the Rich Man’s table. Following the popular religion of the day, those passing by would have passed judgment on Lazarus. Surely, he’s done something wrong, they would have thought. The Rich Man pays Lazarus no attention.

Then, both die. There’s a reversal. Lazarus goes to Abraham to await Messiah—the hope of every Jew in that day. This is the place of the righteous dead, associated with feasting and rest. The Rich Man dies too. Only, he find himself in Hades, the place of the unrighteous dead before Christ’s coming. (This is where the parable is so interesting, and where we have to be careful. Yes, the story is parable and imaginative, so we don’t want to press every detail to learn things about, say, the afterlife. But, we don’t want to dismiss its truths either. Jesus’ truths are hard and real and arresting.)

Now, in the parable, everything is changed. The Rich Man begs Abraham, three times: Send Lazarus to give me relief! … Send Lazarus to warn my family! … Send Lazarus to give my family a miracle! the doomed Rich Man pleads.

But, each time Abraham responds … It’s too late!

Lessons from The Rich Man and Lazarus. 

  1. Like Lazarus those who trust Christ will be with Jesus at death. This is where the parable is realistic, and a point made elsewhere in the Bible: Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise, Jesus told the thief on the cross (23.24). My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better, Paul concludes (Phil 1.23). This is true for those who depend on Jesus and His finished work. It’s true despite our earthly circumstances, whether we’re rich or poor. That I will be with Jesus instantly at death is true, no matter what I might lose in this life. That I will be with Jesus is true, no matter what I might give up to follow Jesus in this life. In a somber story, this is hopeful.
  2. Like the Rich Man those who die without trusting Christ will experience irreversible separation from God. Notice, there’s no cleansing of purgatory here. (That’s a medieval development.) There’s no hope, no more chances for the Rich Man who had every opportunity to respond.
  3. God reveals Himself in His Word, so that nobody can say they didn’t know. Therein is the “dig” the Rich Man is taking at God. He’s saying, I didn’t know! Ah, but he did. He had God’s Word with its strong commandments to care for the poor (Is 58.6-7, for example). Paying attention to brother Israelites would have demonstrated a heart yielded to God. Abraham’s final explanation hints at Christ’s future work: If they [the five brothers] do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead (:31).

Those who “get” Jesus recognize their accountability to God from His Word and depend on Jesus … before it’s too late

That’s Jesus’ big point in telling the parable to those who thought they were right with God. And, like the points of a star shooting out from the center, there’s a number of applications coming off this main point. They deal with accountability to God, God’s Word, and our response in faith to Jesus:

Applications from The Rich Man and Lazarus. 

  • We need to recognize our accountability to God, especially regarding the poor. In doing this, we need to understand where we are in relation to Jesus and His cross. Before Jesus God’s people lived in the Nation of Israel. Responsibility to care for the the poor meant caring for brother-Israelites. But at the finished work of Jesus and the coming of the Spirit (Acts 2), God’s people became the international, multi-cultural gathering of those who follow Jesus.

So, we have verses like Acts 4.34: There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet.

And we have Paul in Romans 15.25-26: At present, however, I am going to Jerusalem bringing aid to the saints. For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem. 

In other words, we need to concern ourselves for the plight of fellow Christians persecuted and impoverished because of their fellowship with Jesus. While this doesn’t save us, we’re accountable to care for these brothers and sisters, and that’s in part what faith in Jesus will look like.

  • Also, we need to take God’s Word seriously. The Spirit works in conjunction with the Word. That’s how God communicates with us today. So, we need to be all about God’s Word—alone, and together in groups. God’s Word is enough. We don’t need extra signs and miracles to testify. We have the testimony of those who knew Jesus. And the Spirit works in our hearts to tell us, It’s true! … It’s all true!
  • Finally, we need to respond to Jesus by faith. The prayer that the Rich Man in the parable didn’t pray is that great prayer God always answers: “Lord, show me my heart. And, show me Yourself. I want to know you.”

If the Rich Man had prayed such a prayer, he would have seen and cared for Lazarus. And, if we depend on Jesus by faith, we’ll recognize our accountability to God, value His Word, and respond to Jesus by faith.

And, we’ll do this … before it’s too late.

Here’s a few questions to get us talking with others:

  1. Like last week this is a difficult parable. What about it still seems perplexing or unclear?
  2. What excuses did the Rich Man make for not caring about Lazarus? How did this reveal His heart? How might such excuses reveal the condition of our hearts as well?
  3. What’s the connection to faith in Jesus and our response to the poor? Yes, we aren’t saved by caring for the poor, but there is a connection. What is it?
  4. What should we do as a result of this teaching by Jesus?

I hope this parable and these questions help you in considering the urgency of Jesus’ teaching. There’s lots of things worth pondering here. And, I hope you have a great week in the Lord as you do.

Who’s with Jesus? The Dishonest Manager: Luke 16.1-13

This week we come to one of Jesus’ most difficult parables, The Dishonest Manager, Luke 16.1-13. Since the world of the story strikes us as both arcane and culturally distant, here’s a modern parody on the parable. I call it “Mr. Thump and the CBO”.

There was once a man named Mr. Thump. Now, with a name like Thump you can’t run for public office. But, you can be a businessman …

Mr. Thump was a big businessman. He ran an international imports-exports business that imported and exported every conceivable product anywhere on the globe. 

But, Mr. Thump wasn’t only a businessman. He was philanthropist. With every profit he gave over-and-abundantly toward a myriad charitable causes that people really cared about: needy children, to be sure, but also endangered snails, rainforests, baby cheetahs, little bugs that people cared about … Mr. Thump knew that both his business and his charitable causes depended on his reputation. 

Now, Mr. Thump had a CBO. CBO stands for Chief Brand Officer. The CBO was responsible for the public image of the business and Mr. Thump. 

This CBO was dishonest, but also very shrewd. Over time, he figured out a way to build hidden fees into the import-export business, which he then harvested for his own purposes. 

Mr. Thump wasn’t fooled. He called his CBO into the board room and said, “Today is the day of reckoning! I’ve hired an independent auditor to examine your work, and you have until the auditor finishes his work to set your accounts in order. 

The CBO knew his professional reputation would be ruined. But, he had a plan. He instructed his accountant to pull up the names of every donor to Mr. Thump’s charity and make an additional donation to that donor’s favorite cause—all in the name of Mr. Thump.

The next day every headline on social media touted the generosity of Mr. Thump. Stock in the company went through the roof as global investors poured in. Mr. Thump’s business and reputation was bigger than ever … 

Later that day Mr. Thump sent out a tweet on his personal Twitter account. “My CBO is a scoundrel,” Mr. Thump said. “But, he’s my kind of scoundrel. He recognizes a crisis when he sees one, and he does something about it. But, more than that, he understands that I am generous, and he enhances my reputation. 

“You’re fired! Mr. CBO. But, you’re shrewd, and you have a future.”


The Parable of the Dishonest Manager (:1-8a). Back in Luke 16, the subtlety of the teaching comes from Jesus’ presentation of the central character who is both commendable and unsavory. On the surface, it appears Jesus is talking about money and possessions. But, to think only about Jesus’ own application of His teaching to money and possessions is to miss His more central point—about the character of God, my condition, and the crisis brought about by the gospel.

Read carefully through Luke 16.1-8. Note the pattern of the story in seven points. Verse 1 is about the improper use of resources. That opening verse is paired, logically and structurally, with verse 8a, about the proper use of resources, where the master commends the manager for his schrewdness. Then note that verse 2, about the justice of the master, is paired with verses 6-7, about the (apparent, in the parable) mercy and generosity of the master. Note also that verse 3, about the manager’s recognition of his crisis, is paired with verse 5, about the manager’s response to the crisis. We have a pattern, don’t we? Finally, notice that the one verse left over, verse 4, about the manager’s present resources being used for his future benefit, is left in the center of the pattern, and without a matching verse.

This structure is called a chiasm, because it forms half of an “x” that looks like the Greek letter “chi”. Such structures are frequent in Semitic literature, and they tip us off to what the speaker or writer want to tell us. The meaning of a writing laid out as a chaism is often found right in the center—in this case, verse 4, about the proper use of resources in light of eternity.

Pointing to this main idea, you have the character of the Master, the rich man. He’s both just and merciful. And, while he stands in for God in the parable, he doesn’t represent God in every respect. Still, he does require a reckoning for injustice (like God will). And, his mercy (squeezed out by trickery in the parable) is true to who God is.

Likewise, the manager is commended, because he knows a crisis when he sees one and doesn’t just sit there but responds to the crisis. And, he does so using possessions at his disposal in the present to prepare for the future.

The Point of the Dishonest Manager (:8b). The main idea, hinted at in verse 4,  is stated clearly in verse 8b: The sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. 

What Jesus is saying is that even godless scoundrels know a crisis when they see one. Even people who are only interested in advancing their own interests know the time to act.

Do you know what time it is? Jesus is subtly asking His followers. Do you know that the crisis is upon you? Do you know what to do in crisis? Jesus is asking us.

The crisis Jesus is speaking of is the crisis of His own coming and the arrival of the Kingdom of God. I am bringing both God’s justice and mercy, Jesus is saying. Turn from your old ways of doing things. Respond to me and be changed! Jesus implores …

Those who “get” Jesus are those who recognize the crisis and fall on the mercy of God in Jesus. 

That’s the point of this interesting and subtle parable—just as true for us at the brink of Jesus’ second coming as it was for those at the verge of His first.

Practical applications by Jesus from The Dishonest Manager (:9-13). Now, we who live after Jesus’ work on the cross respond to Jesus by responding in faith to the gospel—the good news of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection. Responding to the gospel reorients every part of our lives. And those who respond to Jesus also, like the screwd manager in the parable, use their earthly possessions to prepare for a future with Jesus.

So, while the parable is really about our response to Jesus, it has implications for our use of money and possessions. This is Jesus’ point in verses 9-13. “Unrighteous wealth” is “unrighteous,” not because money in itself is evil, but because it will fail.

So, what are we to do with money? Jesus says, in so many words …

  1. Be Generous … while you prepare for a future with me (:9)And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth … So, for example, there’s nothing inherently wrong with having a boat, or a big house, or investing for the future. But, all this will fail. You can’t hang on to them. So, be generous with them. Share. Send the benefits on ahead, where you will meet those with whom you’ve shared—as well as Jesus Himself.
  2. Be Trustworthy … while you prepare for a future with me (:10-12)One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much … The “little things” here are those things that will fail. My handling of these things says much about my response to Jesus. I should be able to look through my bank account register and see where my heart is. Do I care only about stuff that will melt away? Or, am I living for Jesus and His people and things that transcend this life?
  3. Finally, be Single-Minded …. while you prepare for a future with me. This passage, among Jesus’ most practical teachings on money, isn’t really about money. It’s about whether or not we take Jesus seriously and respond to God’s mercy in the gospel. As it turns out, our hearts don’t actually multi-task. We can only serve one master. And Jesus calls us to Himself.

There IS a crisis. And, we CAN fall on the mercy of God who has provided us with Christ. And if we really “get” Jesus we won’t just pray a prayer and remain unchanged. We’ll live for Him. And all of our resources will be handled in the light of eternity.


Here’s a few questions to consider with others:

  1. What about this parable still seems mirky, obscure, or hard to understand?
  2. Why don’t people you know respond to Jesus? Do you think people really believe there is a crisis?
  3. What should be our response to the crisis Jesus brings?
  4. In thinking about Jesus’ own application of this parable (about money and possessions), which of the three points hits you the hardest?
  5. Which of Jesus’ three applications is the most difficult for you?
  6. What do you believe the Spirit of God would have you do about this?



Counting the Cost: Luke 14.25-35

There’s a few things I really don’t want to spend money on. My cats, for one. My phone, for another.

The cats are a story for another time. It’s my phone plan that has me cringing this week. My basic, slider-phone still works, sort of. And, it’s not the up-front cost of replacing that old bomber in my pocket that bothers me. It’s the back-costs, the monthly bump in hard-saved bucks that has me pausing at the trigger.

According to today’s passage, I’m wise to count the cost. Jesus says so. But long before phones, Jesus talked about the cost of following Him, the cost of being a true subscriber to Him, His lifestyle, and His ways.

In Luke 14.25-35, Jesus has just finished a disastrous meal with the Pharisees. He’ll never eat with them again. They’ll never pretend to like Him again. Now, he’s journeying toward Jerusalem. Fickle crowds surround Him, and in the midst of it all, Jesus turns to His disciples. The Pharisees won’t follow Jesus; the crowds will melt away too. What are YOU going to do? Jesus asks His followers, in so many words.

What follows is a short, cryptic passage made up of one point, three examples, and three illustrations. First, the examples …

Counting the cost means a new relationship, Jesus says (:26)If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sister, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. 

This is strange to us. In so many other places Jesus has commanded love for others, even enemies. And, He’s demonstrated that love Himself. What’s going on here? Well, Jesus is operating from the discipleship model of the time. In that day, young methetaes (“disciples,” or learners) would pledge allegiance to a teacher, adopt that teacher’s lifestyle, and count on the teacher to provide what they needed. This was the model of a young Jew following a rabbi to learn Torah, or a young Greek learning the ways of Stoicism, Epicurianism, or another school of Greek thought. To do this, of course, the student would have to forsake his former way of life, including his family.

That’s the point Jesus is making. We can’t choose Him, but still belong to someone else. This leads to the second example.

Counting the cost means enduring suffering (:27). The disciples’ new allegiance to Jesus will mean that she will suffer the same rejection Jesus did. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. 

Important to recognize is that Jesus is emphasizing the process of following Him, not the act of entering. We aren’t saved by taking up our crosses. Jesus saved us by taking up His. But, in coming to Him, we ought to expect the same reception He received. If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you (Jn 15.18).

Finally, counting the cost means releasing hold of possessions (:33)So therefore, if any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple. The word “renounce” here means “take leave of” (read, “say bye-bye”). It’s a travel word. Paul is seen in Acts saying “bye-bye” to companions (i.e. Acts 18.18). And, we’re to say “bye-bye” to possessions we once considered our own.

Note the logic of the passage so far. Counting the cost means pledging allegiance to Jesus, suffering in the manner He did, and giving up your possessions with the confidence that what He gives you will be enough.

Woven into passage are three illustrations. The tower (:28-30) teaches us recognition. The king teaches self-awareness (:31-32). And, salt teaches perseverance (:34-35). Of the three, salt rounds out Jesus’ meaning most fully. Salt had numbers of purposes in the ancient world. Making food taste good, of course. Retarding and managing the decomposition of manure in producing compost, for another. And, most importantly, preserving food. But, when salt became corrupted by getting wet or being mixed with impurities, it had to be discarded. So it will be with those who don’t properly reckon what allegiance to Jesus actually means. They take off, leaving Jesus, and become useless.

This is a hard teaching from Jesus. He’s saying that, unlike the fickle crowds, His followers need to recognize what it will cost to enter into relationship with Him. Then, they need to persist in following Him.

Count the cost … Keep on with Jesus.

Read in isolation, there’s not a lot of comic relief or comfort in this passage. In fact, my unstudied reaction is to withdraw, so I don’t mess up. But, that’s not to be how we apply this Scripture to our lives. Here’s a couple of critical thoughts to help us:

  1. In this passage, Jesus hasn’t been to the cross yet! That’s critically important for us on this side of the cross, because it means that we’re further along in God’s plan of redemption than those disciples who walked with Jesus in His earthly ministry. At that time, Jesus’ hadn’t yet paid the penalty for our sin. And, in a very real sense, the gospel hadn’t happened yet. We know now that since Jesus has been to the cross He has secured redemption for all who depend on Him by faith. His Spirit has activated the saving power of the preached gospel, so that those called to faith understand and believe (i.e. Acts 16.14). Just as wondrous, God guards those  who have believed, so that we will come into our inheritance at the return of Christ. (See 1 Pet 1.3-9). Taken in light of the overall plan of redemption, there’s certainty here!
  2. In calling us to Himself, Jesus invites us on a journey with Him through the Spirit. Importantly, none of Jesus’ early followers counted the cost. They all fled. But, when the risen Jesus appeared to them and then sent His Spirit, they flourished. And, Jesus sustained them.

When we come to Jesus we enter relationship by faith as an event. Then, we go on with Jesus in the process of sanctification. This passage is about what we learn along the way. We don’t renounce our families, cars, bank accounts and houses at the moment of salvation. But, we continually ask God to show us what it means that all these things belong to Him.

And, as we travel with Jesus, He sustains us and gives us what we truly need in Him.

Count the cost … Keep on with Jesus

Here’s a few questions to consider with others along the way:

  1. What about this passage is most cryptic or hard to understand?
  2. How does the picture of the teacher providing everything the student needs help you make sense of what Jesus is telling us to do in this passage?
  3. What things are most difficult for you to “renounce”?
  4. What does it look like for you when Jesus “calls in” something that you know already belongs to Him?
  5. How does the overall plan of redemption we read about in other places in the New Testament, like 1 Peter 1.3-8, provide you with security and make you thankful?


Celebrating with Jesus: Luke 14.15-24

Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God, the invited guest shouted.

This interjection must have seemed strange and misplaced, uttered suddenly by the man lying at table with Jesus, His Pharisee host, and the others who had shouldered their way to places of importance.

But Jesus thought the interjection important, so important He told a parable, recorded for us in Luke 14.15-24.

A certain man prepared a really lavish feast. Ahead of time, he sent servants to invite guests of his choosing. All were impressed. But, months later, when all was ready, these same invited guests didn’t want to come. The same servants went. But, the invited guests begged off. One had purchased land, another some oxen, a third had just married. Basically, they had other things to do. 

The master of the house grew angry. Refusing to postpone or cancel his feast, he sent those same servants to collect others who couldn’t even pretend to match him in wealth and grandeur—the crippled, blind, and lame. 

When the new guests had arrived, there was a new problem. There was still room in the host’s house! His glory exceeded the number of guests! So, he told his servants, “Go get some more.” So, these same servants left the city and went to the highways leading away from the city and to the hedges where foreigners lounged. 

At first, this final group of guests couldn’t believe they were invited! But, the host had instructed his servants to “compel” (:23) them to come. And so, finally, the banquet hall was filled, but not by those who had been originally invited. 

Jesus ends his instruction with the telling words, For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet (:24).

Jesus’ purpose in speaking this parable in the midst of His enemies isn’t hard to recognize. The Nation of Israel, represented by its teachers, was in the act of rejecting Him as Messiah. Though they’d been called to God for ages, they would find other things to do, rather than trust Messiah. Meanwhile, others (Gentiles, pictured by the guests who came to fill the hall) would accept Jesus, and enter into Kingdom celebration with their Lord.

Taken in the midst of Jesus’ teaching in this section of Luke, this passage isn’t hard to figure out. But, there’s more than we realize here. One of the fascinating things about parables is that, unlike teaching in the epistles, for example, they can teach multiple points. Like a diamond that reflects light through multiple facets, parables reflect truth through their different characters. So, consider the following:

  1. The Master of the Feast. This figure clearly stands in for God, the Father (or, perhaps, Jesus Himself). Important is that He doesn’t NEED any of the guests. He doesn’t need His first invitees, who blew Him off; and, He clearly doesn’t have to have the crippled, blind and lame who come to fill His hall. But, He WANTS to include them. He WANTS to display His glory and grandeur and generosity. In fact, it’s fitting and proper that He do so.
  2. The Original Guests. These guys miss out, because they THINK they have the right to blow off the host, and because they WON’T make the host a priority. So, they just miss out. The host doesn’t postpone for them. He goes on without them. Fully invited, they exclude themselves.
  3. The Servants. These figures, representing the prophets in the Old Testament and the apostles (and us!) after the cross of Jesus, have the responsibility of bringing the message. (It’s Interesting that their work spans the whole program of redemption.) And, in the second and third invitations, they go to those who have to be FOUND. Did you get that? Those foreigners lounging under hedges and alongside the road leading away from the city probably couldn’t even imagine that they would ever be invited to share in the glory of the master host. How like our work today, in telling others about Jesus? How like our task in “compelling” and convincing those who don’t know Jesus that our great, glorious God wishes to include them in His banquet.
  4. Finally, there’s the New Guests. These are those who, doubtless, felt unworthy to share in the glory of the master. They didn’t know how to dress, how to act, or what they were supposed to do in the master’s presence. But, He wanted them, so that He could fill His house. Why? Because that’s the kind of kind, generous, glorious master that He is!

It’s hard to put a main idea to this parable, at least without going on at length. It teaches us so much about God, about ourselves, and about our task in following and serving Jesus. Here’s my attempt at this teaching’s main idea:

Those who come to celebrate with Jesus are those who put Jesus first and accept His invitation.

Or, better yet:

Drop everything … Come to JESUS!

What do you think? Do you agree?

What facet of God’s plan of redemption do you see in this teaching that you’ve never seen before?

And have a great week, in the LORD.