Success - Luke 12:13-21

This is a sermon by Nathan Buttery from the evening service on 3rd June 2001.

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How do you define success? The actor Robert Redford once said: "I’ve learnt that life isn’t about how you play the game, it’s about winning the game- winning is what we celebrate." Certainly when you consider the people we idolise in our society, it appears that winners are everything. I came across an interesting story in the paper recently which was about a man who had gone for a meal in a New York restaurant. But this wasn’t any ordinary meal. This meal cost the man $8,899.78. He was a stock broker from England who had just secured a big deal, and he wanted to celebrate in style. As soon as he entered the restaurant, the man bought drinks for everyone, including the actress Jamie Lee Curtis, who just happened to pop in. He bought a $1,200 round for the house, and drank a $1,200 bottle of 1995 Chateaux Margaux, though I am informed that is overrated and overpriced. But he didn’t stop there, as well as a $750 bottle of Chateaux Lafite Rothschild, there were four bottles of champagne at $250 a bottle. But to cap it all, the dealer did something which defies belief. This broker didn’t simply give the required 10% tip. Instead, he left a $16,000 tip which rounded the night’s spending to a massive $25,000. Nello Balan, the gentleman who owns the restaurant, said: "He’s a cool kind of guy."

Well to many people that stock broker is the icon of success. The sort of person who swans into a restaurant and buys drinks for everyone spending $25,000 in the process. You’d be lucky to get a coke out of me! For many, money is the measure of success. We idolise our young sportsmen and they get paid vast sums for running around a football pitch for ninety minutes a week. Michael Owen is reported to be being offered 60,000 a week to stay at Liverpool. Though that is nothing compared to the Formula 1 driver Michael Schumacher who is said to be worth about 25 million a year! These people are real successes.

But all these people are out of our league. How do we term success for ourselves? Maybe it is financial security. Our big hope maybe to have that nice house in the country with a beautiful wife and perfect kids and a chocolate coloured Labrador. Or maybe success is determined by how we succeed academically. Get the A Levels, get the degree, finish the PhD, get the job. It may be sporting achievements. The closest I ever got to sporting glory was the school Under 14’s rugby team. The only problem was it was the fourth team and I was substitute. We played once and we lost 66-0. Or maybe you define success in terms of your family. We may have more modest aims for success. Simply to have a happy stable family life. Or it may be simply satisfaction in life. You have everything you want and you are satisfied. That is success you might say.

Well this evening, I want us to see not what we think about success, but what God thinks of success. Because the interesting thing is that God’s criteria are often very different from ours. We’re going to look at this story from Luke’s gospel. And here Jesus is telling a story to a large crowd of people, the story of a man who to our eyes was a success. He had everything life could give him. And yet God turns to him and says: "You’re a fool!" And we’ll find that this story actually has a sting in the tail. Because we’ll see by the end that Jesus is actually talking to you and me. And he is warning us of the danger of being fools. So let’s see what Jesus says to us. And we’ll find that the man in the story made two serious mistakes.


1) He Lived as if God wasn’t there

2) He Lived as if Judgement wasn’t real

1) He Lived as if God wasn’t there

Now in many ways this man was a success. Let me read to you the story again from verse 16: "And Jesus told them this parable: ‘The ground of a certain rich man produced a crop. He thought to himself, "What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops." Then he said: "This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I’ll say to myself, "You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry." Let’s see how this man would like in the 21st century. He’d probably have had a modest education, and always worked hard. He’d done his O Levels or GCSE’s and then done his degree. He’d got his first job as a junior clerk in a big company, and then gradually worked his way up the corporate ladder. Oh, it had taken time, and it had taken it’s toll. More than one broken relationship on the way. But now at the age of 53, he was on top of the world. He’d bought a lovely house in one of the Wolds villages which had 2 acres of land. He had bought a small yacht recently which he sailed from time to time off the South coast. His two children were loving their schools. His daughter in particular was getting used to her new horse, and the son was mastering the ins and outs of expensive and dangerous new sports. And his wife loved the Country Club. His new gleaming Jaguar was sitting in the drive. Everything was going well, even his wise investments in that new internet bank. In fact so well, he would soon be investing some more money in more shares. And to cap it all he has decided to retire early. Everyone thought it was a great idea, except his wife of course. "Oh, you’re so wise," they said. "Get out of the rat race, put your feet up. Live off the fat of the land," they said. And now as he lies back in the pool, the sun setting behind the imported Japanese pagoda, the man sips champagne, and thinks to himself: "You are very lucky. You have everything you have ever dreamed of. And now all I need to do is take life easy, eat, drink and….." Suddenly there is a searing pain in his chest. And he’s dead before the ambulance could get to the house.

Now to us, this man looks like the complete self made man. He is a success in every sense of the word. OK, he’s had a few blips on the way, but by and large, he’s a success. But what does God say? You fool. He’s not wise at all. He’s a fool. Why? Because he hasn’t given God a second look. Just notice how self centred this man was. Did you notice how many times the word ‘I’ or ‘me’ or ‘mine’ comes in the passage? Ten times, and he spends all his time talking to himself. In fact, he’s even looking forward to the time when he’ll be able to talk to himself. His world revolved around him. Now, we don’t know what he was like. He may have been a nice person, he could even have been an Anglican who believed in God. But his life told a different story. He lived as if God wasn’t there. Notice what Jesus says in verse 21: "This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God." This man is a fool. He’s missed out on the most important part of life. Our relationship with God.

Now, we need to clear up a little misunderstanding that many people have about God and the Bible. You see the Bible is not against wealth or possessions on their own. The problem comes when they get in the way of the most important thing. God and where we stand with him. That’s why Jesus tells this story in the first place. You’ll see at the start of the passage that it all begins when two brothers come to Jesus and ask him to resolve a dispute. They are arguing about some inheritance. It was common for people to ask rabbis, Jewish teachers like Jesus to sort out family problems. Jesus says that it is not his job to do that. But notice what Jesus goes on to say. Verse 15: "Watch out, be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions." Life is not about feathering your nest so well that you smother yourself. Life is more than food and clothing and ambition. And if your life is dominated by those things and you give no thought to God, or you live as if God didn’t exist, then you are a fool. You may be a wonderful success in the world’s eyes. People may look up to you, your friends may admire you, your family may love you, you may be in Mensa with an IQ of 150+, but if you live without reference to God, then Jesus says you’re a fool.

Now how do we know God exists? I mean you might well be pretty offended having come to church tonight to be told you’re a fool. I admit it’s not flattering. But the Bible makes it clear that God does exist and he has made himself known. I often have to go and talk in schools, and sometimes the question is asked: "Have you ever seen God?" And I say "Well I could have seen him had I been around at the time." Which always foxes them! You see the staggering claim of the New Testament, and Luke’s gospel is part of this witness, is that Jesus Christ is God in the flesh. The biggest chunk of evidence for God is Jesus himself. The gospels record the stories of Jesus which point to who he claimed to be. He made the claims and had the credentials to match. He claimed he could forgive sins, a job only God could do, and then he proved it by healing a paralysed man. He claimed to be Lord over creation and then he proved it by calming a storm as you might clam a naughty puppy. He claimed he could defeat death itself and he proved it by raising a young man from the dead. They are staggering claims. But they are claims that are fully met in Jesus Christ. Here is God in person. He’s come in time and history to meet with human beings and to bring them back into friendship with him. He’s come to get his hands dirty. In fact more than that, to have his hands nailed to a cross, to die in place of you and me, where we ought to be.

You see the trouble with ignoring God is that inevitably there are consequences to be borne. When I was a student, I used to work in a psychiatric hospital which cared for mentally ill patients. And my job was to clean the wards. Now as you can imagine it wasn’t a great job and there was much cleaning to be done. And often I’d go in at 8am on Monday morning and the ward would be a tip. There would be rubbish everywhere, ashtrays piled high with cigarette buts, dirty cups littering the tables, and that was just the staff room! And so I’d get to work cleaning floors, emptying rubbish and doing everything that needed to be done, until the whole ward was sparkling clean. And off I’d go for my lunch break satisfied I’d done a good morning’s work. Until that is I returned half an hour later. And more often than not it would be a heartbreaking scene. The dirty cups were back, the rubbish was beginning to pile up, and the kitchen would look as if I had never been near it. And then I’d see some patient drop tea all over the nice clean floor and then walk all through it trailing footprints down the ward. It was infuriating. And most annoying of all is that no-one ever thanked me for clearing up and no-one ever said sorry for making a mess. I was taken for granted!

Well if you can imagine my anger at being ignored and mistreated and my work mucked up constantly, then can you imagine how God feels when we ignore him? We live in his world, people made in his image, living every day through his generosity without a flicker of gratitude or a thought that he may want us to enjoy him as well. The Bible’s verdict is that we are out of kilter with our creator. We have willingly turned away from him and gone our own way. This man was a classic example of that. And all of us, to a greater or lesser extent, have done the same. But God won’t stand for it. His perfect standards of justice demand that we pay up for that rebellion. If we didn’t then God wouldn’t be just and the moral world as we know it would collapse. But God is not simply a cool judge who demands a repayment. He is also our loving creator who longs to have us back in friendship with him. That is why he sent Jesus to die on a cross for us. To pay the penalty we deserve himself, dying in our place, where we should rightly be. And when he provides his own Son to die on a cross in our place to offer us forgiveness for that behaviour, forgiveness at huge personal cost to himself, what do we do with it? Do we ignore it, throw it back in his face? That’s how this man lived. Without a care in the world except for himself and his own. And it may be that you are making that same mistake today. Living in God’s world but by your ways and ignoring his offer of rescue. You might believe in him, but you’re living as if God wasn’t there. Well, God’s verdict is that you are a fool. He is there and one day you’ll have to meet him, like it or not.


2) He Lived as if Judgement wasn’t real

Which brings us on to the second mistake that this man made. He lived as if judgement was not real. A teenager was about to leave school having just completed his A Levels and he was invited into the Headmaster’s study for a chat. And so the Headmaster asked him: "Well young man, you’ve got through school and you are about to leave. What are you going to do next?" "Well sir, he said, I’m off to college to study English." "Oh, very good, replied the Headmaster. And what then?" "Well after that I hope to move to a big city and get a job." "OK, and then what?" "Well after I’ve had my first promotion I hope to buy a house." And then? "I’ll be looking to get married." And then? "I’ll want to have a better job." And then? "I guess we’ll want to have children." And then? "A better job, a bigger house and a larger car." And then? "I’ll reach the top of the company and run it." And then? "I’ll retire and enjoy life." And then? "Well I suppose I’ll die." And then?

And the mistake this man in Jesus’ story made was that he thought this world was it! And if everything simply stopped at death, then this man would be a winner. He’d have enjoyed his life to the full, died quickly and that would have been that. But Jesus makes it clear that death is not the end. See what Jesus says in verse 20: "You fool! This night your life will be demanded from you and then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?" His problem was that he had done everything to prepare himself for this life, but he had completely failed to prepare himself for the next. And God calls him a fool. And so Jesus says: "This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God." This man had laid up things for himself for plenty of years, but the problem was he only had a few hours left. He was completely unprepared for eternity. He lived as if judgement wasn’t real. He had no thought as to whether he must give an account to the God who made him. And that is the irony of the opening question in the passage. This brother who wanted Jesus to judge on the petty squabble about money didn’t realise that he would one day stand before that same Jesus as judge. He shouldn’t be worrying about money, he should be worrying about his eternal destiny. Get that sorted first. That’s the implication of the story. So are you ready? If you died tonight, would you be in a position to meet your maker with a clear conscience? Or will God say to you, you fool.

Sometimes I meet people who say, "Oh, I’ve got loads of time. I’ve got the rest of life ahead of me to sort this Christianity business out." But that’s the mistake this man made. He thought he had all the time in the world. But he didn’t. That very night the life that God had given him on loan would be demanded back. Do you notice the way Jesus phrases it. Your life will be demanded from you. Our lives are not our own. We are given life as a gift by God to use for his glory. And one day, sooner or later, he’ll ask for it back. And we’ll be asked to give an account to him. And to think we have all the time in the world is a serious mistake.

For there are only two certainties in life. One is that we will all die. And the second is that none of knows when. And the point of this story is that you need to be prepared. When I was at university, there were two tragedies which affected students in a huge way. The first was the death of a friend of mine. She was just eighteen and was killed over the Easter holidays in a freak accident. No-one could have predicted what had happened. She was a First year student with much to offer and full life ahead of her. The second tragedy was a young man who was part of the rowing squad in the Oxford and Cambridge boat crew. He was fit, popular and again had a great future. One day as he was getting out of the boat with his fellow crewmen, he had a heart attack and died on the riverside. Again completely unexpected. Both events sent shock waves through the university. But let me tell you the greater tragedy. Only one of those young people was ready to face their maker. Both were before God that day, and only one was prepared. One was a fool, the other wise.

Do you see know how urgent this is? These are very serious issues indeed. The sorts decisions we make about Jesus Christ in this life, have big repercussions in eternity. So how do we prepare? Well first you must admit that you have been running your life without any thought for God. You’ve lived in his world but on your terms. Secondly you must believe that God has himself offered you the hand of rescue and friendship again. He’s done through Jesus’ death on the cross. Forgiveness and a fresh start is possible. We can stand before him on judgment day ready to meet him, forgiven and cleaned up. And then third, you must decide to follow him, to live life in this world longing to follow him and do what pleases him, living the life that is right, being rich towards God.

There may be some who realise they are in that position tonight and who want to turn back to God and receive forgiveness and a fresh start. If that’s you, then I’m going to pray a prayer which you can pray with me. But it may be, for others, that you are not ready. You need to do some more investigation. That’s absolutely right. It would be wrong to take a step you’re not ready to take. But for those who want to be get their life right tonight, then here’s the prayer I’m going to pray.


Dear heavenly Father, I admit that I have lived my life as if you were not there. I have not had you at the centre of my life. Thankyou for sending your Son Jesus to die on the cross for me. Please forgive me and help me to change. Please help me to begin living life your way, and to become rich towards you. Amen.

Well If you have prayed that prayer, then tonight is a great night for you. We’d love to give you some help in beginning the Christian life, so do chat with one of us afterwards and there are booklets which explain the Christian faith at the back.


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