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April 12 - Luke 16:19-31 - "Would We Listen to the Dead?"

MPC 12th April 2009.

Derek Hanna


I realised recently that I'm not particularly good at Easter. There were two things that tipped me off.

The first was that I received an SMS from my sister-in-law reminding me to get an Easter egg for my wife. Now it's obviously gotten pretty bad when my family thinks that I forget every year to get an Easter egg for my wife.

I had. So I was determined the next day to get one.

But the second thing that tipped me off was a few days later when I was helping my wife unpack some shopping she'd done. I saw some Easter eggs in a bag, and I pulled one out.

"Do you know what that is?", she said to me.

"An Easter egg", I replied.

"Yes. In fact, that's the Easter egg you are going to be giving me tomorrow morning," she said.

It's never good when your wife realises that she has to buy her own Easter eggs because I forget every year.

Not it's not that I didn't have enough warning. I know when Easter is. It's in my diary. I have two services in three days. I know when Easter is.

The problem is not advance warning. The problem is me.

Sometimes, advance warning, evidence that something is coming up, is not enough to actually change behaviour.

Let me tell you the story about a man who ignored the warning signs, because they would have disturbed his peace.

He was a rich man. He dressed in purple - the colour of royalty. Also a good colour that complements most skin tones.

But it's not all about what's on the outside for this man, because he also wore fine linen, by which Jesus probably meant something like Egyptian Cotton. And I can personally attest to the fact after I was given some Egyptian Cotton boxer shorts last year, that these can single handedly turn an ordinary day into a great day.

And he had enough wealth, so that every single day was like a feast. One day it was lamb, the next beef, the next pork... he never had to want for anything.

But it wasn't that he was merely comfortable - he was also incredibly self-absorbed.

Because just outside the gate on his mansion sat a man name Lazarus, who was clothed not in purple and fine linen... but sores. He used to sit at the gate and his greatest dream was that when the rich man finished his feast each day... he would have cooked too much, or dropped a little on the floor, so that when the garbage came out, there was some in there for Lazarus.

Lazarus' situation was so pitiful, that the only thing that took notice of Lazarus were the dogs. And the attention they paid was to lick his sores.

In contrast, the man who could have helped him, did nothing. Each day when he went out, he'd have to step over, or step by Lazarus, and purposefully ignore him.

Now we don't have people sitting outside out doors like Lazarus, but we know what this is like.

We are bombarded on television, and by celebrities about the needs around the world, about children dying of starvation, about people being unable to access clean water, of mothers being unable to get even basic medical help for their babies. And after a while we become immune to it. We can shut it off, because it's not right in front of us, and because it doesn't directly affect us.

But sometimes it does directly affect us. It's those awkward moments you have where see someone that's homeless asking for money, and you avoid eye contact, because eye-contact is a commitment to do something... and you'd really prefer not to.

And the rich man's response in that situation is to ignore Lazarus. Pretend he's not there.

The rich man's greatest motivating factor was his comfort. That's what drove his actions.

But everything changed when the inevitable happened. Because comfort can't be prolonged forever.

The rich man dies, and Lazarus dies as well. But just as they lived very different lives, they also lived very different after-lives. Verses 22-23.

The thing that he valued so much in life, was taken away from him in death. And the thing that eluded Lazarus so much in life was given to him in death.

And the most shocking news of all for the rich man, is that it was forever. He'll never experience comfort ever again. Verses 24-26.

I remember speaking to a guy who was a missionary for over 10 years, and he told me once that every few years he would go out and by chemistry text-books, because that's what he initially trained for. And he'd go out and buy them, because there'd be waves in his life when he would think that he'd just spent 10 years of his life and he could see little or no results.

So he'd buy these textbooks and return to his first-love... the thing that he perceived could have made him wealthy and comfortable. But he knew it was too late. He knew that ship had sailed, and he wouldn't get another crack at it. And it hurt.

We call this kind of thing a mid-life crisis. But it can come at any point really. It's that time in your life where you realise a part of your life is gone... and you don't get another go at it. You look back at decisions you've made, things that have happened, things that you wished would have happened... and realise that there's no changing it, it's too late to do it differently, and we're never going to get another shot at it.

It's a painful realisation. Because you only get one shot at life. And it hurts when you realise that you might have failed. Or you didn't make the impact you wanted to. Or you failed in relationships that could have been so good. Or whatever it is that you desired.

And that's where the rich man is right now. But it's worse than a mid-life crisis.

Because it's slowly dawning on him that the situation he's in now is the situation he's going to be in for eternity.

Not just a few years... eternity.

And he's in it because his sole desire in life was to be comfortable.

But I don't want to make him out to be a monster. Because I suspect that the rich man is not too different from your average Australian. Listen to his response when he realises that his situation is forever. Verses 27-28.

See, he does care for his family. He may step over the poor on his way to the restaurant... but that doesn't mean he wants his family to suffer. He cares about them.

So he asks Abraham, the great patriarch of the Jewish faith, to send Lazarus back down like some messenger boy to warn them about what's going to happen if they continue the way they're going.

But there is something that Abraham knows about human nature that the rich man is over-looking.

That evidence doesn't always change behaviour.

Now those who would argue for Global Warming in the world say this exact same thing. That the problem is not that there's not enough evidence. It's that we can't be bothered taking note of the evidence, as it would require us to change our lifestyle.

It would require us to drive smaller cars, use public transport more, actually separate plastics from the other garbage, have shorter showers, walk more places. Now no-one really wants to do any of those things.

And that is the point of those who argue for Global Warming. It's those comforts, those lifestyles, those entrenched behaviours that are the biggest threat... because they're what stop us acting on the truth.

And even if you don't agree with Global Warming... you can't deny that humans work that way. Verses 29-31

Abraham points out to the rich man that it's been made pretty clear in the Old Testament through Moses and the Prophets what God requires... and people haven't listened to that.

But he pleads... if a dead man came back from the dead... that would make all the difference.

Would it? Abraham doesn't think so. Look at his final response in verse 31.

Do you think it would make a difference? If a dead man came back to life and told you what God required of you? Would it make a difference to your life?

I had a friend I used to work with who used to say something like this.

We'd talk for hours. One minute he'd be telling me that alien life-forms are a certainty... and the next he'd be telling me that we can't be sure there's a God.

And he always finished with this - if God actually came down and spoke to me personally, I'd believe.

And my answer to that is the same as Abraham's. No you wouldn't.

Because the problem isn't evidence. The problem is comfort. He wasn't even aware, or really willing to look at the evidence for God, or what Jesus said and did, because it would disturb his comfort.

Just like the rich man.

He refused in life to what God had to say, because comfort was more important to him than truth.

What about you? If God came and spoke to you, would you listen? If a dead man came back and told you what God thought, would you listen?

Well, here's what a dead man has to say. Luke 24:46-47.

But most will hear these words and say, "They're just words. He's not here in front of me. I'd believe it if he was."

No you wouldn't. No you wouldn't.

The religious leaders who were around in Jesus day, who spend time with him, who questioned him, who saw the miracles he did, who saw him raise people from the dead and heal with a word, and who organised his death knew that he rose from the dead. But they didn't believe.

Why? Because to believe would have altered the status quo. They were more concerned with their comfort than they were with God.

As are most people.

You see, comfort allows us to be deaf. Because we can pretend that God is past his use by date, and we can get by without Him.

And so when we do hurt and when we realise we're not in control, we been so used to ignoring what God has to say, that it's actually hard to know where to start to find him.

It's like trying to relearn something you've been doing or thinking your entire life.

You don't wake up one morning and decide that you're going to write with your left hand and not your right, and after a few minutes have your signature down pat.

You do not wake up one morning, decide not to be racist, and your prejudices just disappear.

It take time and effort. And it's the same when it comes to God. We need to unlearn what we think we know... and start listening to what God actually says.

And the point to start, the challenge today, is to see if you can and you will listen to the man who was dead.

To ask yourself honestly what it is that is stopping you from taking his claim seriously - that he and he alone has taken away the sin of the world. That he along can show you God.

But most will listen to the story about Jesus rising from the dead, just as the rich man listened to Moses and the Prophets.

Hearing what they want to hear, and ignoring things that might alter the course of their life, and disturb their present comfort.

That's what the religious leaders of Jesus day did. It's why they had him crucified.

It's what most of Australia do. And they can prolong the illusion that what Jesus has to say does not matter... because we are so comfortable.

But that sort of comfort doesn't last forever. Because whether we want to think about it or not, we will die.

So today and over the coming days, no matter who you are, I want you to consider this one question.

What is keeping you from taking Jesus seriously?

It will be something different for each person.

For some it will be personal. That to go down this track of actually considering that Jesus might be who he says he is, and that he may actually have risen from the dead - may be so life-altering that they don't want to start down that path. What would their family think of them? What would their friends think of them? What would it mean for their job, their lifestyle...

My answer to those people would be that it's better to make hard decisions while you have the chance, than leave it until you have none. It's better to sort out your relationship with God while he is offering you the chance, than when he makes his final decision and you have none.

Now for some it will intellectual. They don't feel there's enough evidence for the resurrection. Can I say that on the whole, the people I speak to that have this issue have rarely actually looked into the evidence for the resurrection. It is simply a matter of assuming that people don't rise from the dead, and therefore that it's a fabrication.

But if you investigate, I think you'll find that the evidence will actually lead you towards the conclusion that Jesus' resurrection is the most likely and believable scenario on that day. Which makes everything he'd said about himself take on a whole new light. Don't write him off, before you've taken him seriously.

Now most in this room will have come here today because they already believe that Jesus rose from the dead. Well, let me ask you, is it shaping your life?

People always talk about how they know where they were when significant events happen. I can - September 11, the Port Arthur Massacre. And for some, these events shape the rest of their lives because they had such an impact. And for some, these events have an impact for a while, and then fade into memory.

Has the truth that Jesus rose from the dead worn thin with you? Have you forgotten what it means for him to have suffered and died so that you can have life? Has the fact that God died for you, poured out his anger on his Son for you, and then raised him as King... has it faded in your memory, no longer shaping your life?

Today is the day to remember. Today is the day to get back on track. Today is the day to remember the passion you first had when you came to understand that Jesus died for you, that he was raised as King... and that you and I need to serve him with passion and direction. On this day of all days, we need to remember who we are, and how we got there.

We only have a few years, so make them count.