LUKE 16 – Bridging the Gap
I have a close friend who somehow sensed that something may happen to him. When he died from septicaemia due to a hospital mistake after a routing biopsy, his wife found a funeral service written out on a piece of paper tucked away in his bible. She didn’t have to do anything for his funeral – all the planning was done for her, even down to who was going to speak, what bible passages to read, and what songs to sing!
In a completely opposite approach, another friend knew he was going to die. He had been diagnosed with a degenerative illness. However, even up to his last days, he wouldn’t discuss anything with his wife at all. He left her with nothing planned or arranged. She had to work out everything on her own because nothing had been discussed or planned for.
My two friends had two different approaches to their future and, stories like today’s story (that Jesus told), are there to help us bridge the gap. So this chapter is in three parts: two stories and a bridge between the two.
At first glance, it seems difficult to imagine where Jesus is going with His story about the dishonest steward. [v1-15] It seems that he’s encouraging the use of treachery to “feather our own nest”. Making provision for our future through dishonest gains is, of course, not what we do.[v9] Jesus is simply highlighting the fact that the steward saw ahead, understood his future then, without delay, made provision ahead of time. Worldly tricksters are sharp thinkers who do anything to ensure a good future.
How many of us understand what’s ahead of us, between life and death, and how easy it is to plan ahead because the gap has already been bridged for us. How many of us will have people crying at our funerals because of all the good things we’ve done with our time, energy and gifting.[a]
Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if we’ve not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who in heaven will trust us with true riches? [v10-11]
The two stories are bridged with information that helps us understand what God is like. How can we live successfully as an “image-bearer” – thinking, speaking and behaving in His likeness – unless we know what He’s like? For one thing, our Maker knows are heart [v15] and because of that, He knows that we can’t serve both God and money. [v13]
In addition to knowing what’s going on inside us, our future is absolutely sure. There is no doubt in the script that the Creator God is planning a future for His image-bearers – those who bear His image well and live their lives in His likeness. The Law (how He would live if He was us) has been made known since ancient times and… “Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing their way into it.” [v16]
Within the context of using our wealth, good fortune, or blessings here to have good relationships and help others, Jesus tells another story. It’s about someone who deliberately ignored one of God’s image-bearers who was in great need, right under his nose. It would be difficult not to notice someone laying at your gate covered in sores. [v20] Even the dogs seemed to know how to sooth this man’s sores! [v21]
Now I expect that few of us would be so insensitive or uncompassionate. But what are we doing for those in need in our own city? Am I going out of my way to find out what needs are out there for me to help with?
Whatever we do here on earth, whether it’s seen in our use of money or in our relationships [v18], Jesus continually takes a holistic approach as He points us to an eternal picture. He teaches that life doesn’t stop with physical death. Our life here is only a chapter and the continuing story is yet to come. Oddly enough, most people who have lost someone close to them, are hoping to see them again. We want a future with those we love but we’re not discussing how to plan for that to happen.
From as far back as the days of Abraham we’ve known that there’s two dimensions to life. Abraham, for example, entertained three “men”. They were clearly solid physical people who could eat food. However, they later turned out to be “the Lord” and two angels.[b] That story, in the first book of the Bible, has been recorded and made known for close on four millenniums. It was always common knowledge. But Jesus teaching, in today’s chapter, tells us there’s two places where a human soul will go.
After our human body ceases to function, the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it[c], the Creator God will make a decision on what to do with us. The spirit He gave belongs to Him and it will return to Him whether we believe in Him or not. All of us will stand before Him after this life. But because His word in cast iron (and He never back-tracks on what he’s previously agreed to), it’s not a “recycled spirit”. It belongs uniquely to the one He gave it to. It’s a “life agreement” from our Maker that will not be revoked.
But now the Creator of the story has a problem.
Today’s chapter shows that the good place that He has planned for us, is very good. [v22] But the bad place – often described as a lake of fire – is very bad. [v23-24] So, in a very unique way and for the first time in history, Jesus spoke about both heaven and hell. The Book of Matthew chapter 13 is a good example of Jesus explaining six times what heaven is like. No-one has ventured to explain heaven as Jesus did, and no-one has spoken openly about hell except Jesus.
For our sake and for the sake of the victims in this life, He’s already made an iron-clad agreement that nothing impure will ever enter into our Eternal experience. Nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful.[d] So if He can’t allow the evil things to come into His perfect Kingdom to re-infect and corrupt Eternity, what can He do about the eternal side of our human being – that spirit He gave us? While the Creator God bridges the gap between heaven and earth in a unique way that no other world religion has managed to duplicate, He also sets a chasm in Eternity between heaven and hell.
Throughout His epic storyline, our Maker shows what we can plan for and expect. What’s important, is what we do here on earth. The display of “my natural instincts” – the real me – through my everyday choices, attitudes and behaviour, will direct effect my continuing story of ME. [v25] If I live my life according to what Jesus taught, and the whole thing’s a myth, what have I lost? I’ve not lost anything. I will have lived a good life, had people at my funeral saying wonderful things about me, and will leave this life in the best way possible.
If Jesus IS right, however, and I’ve NOT believed Him – I was neither wise nor shrewd in planning for my future – I’ll have Eternity to lose. And that, unfortunately, is a gap set in time and space that’ll never be bridged.
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[a] Acts 9:36-39
[b] Genesis c18
[c] Ecclesiastes 12:7
[d] Revelation 21:27