I am Scrooge (Luke 12:13-21)
Topic: Luke Passage: Luke 12:13–21
The Gospel According to Scrooge
I am Scrooge
(One Lord: What is Man?)
December 6, 2015
I. Redemption at Christmas
On December 19th, 1843, Chapman & Hall publishers in London released A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. The 31-year old Dickens had already published a number of books, including Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickelby. But A Christmas Carol had uniquely consumed him during the meager six-weeks it took him to write it. Released six days before Christmas, all 6000 copies of the first printing were sold by Christmas Eve.
Since then, the book has never been out of print. It has been adapted for the stage, for film, for radio plays, operas, cartoons, and other media. In fact, eight stage adaptations were in production within two months of the book's release, and currently there are at least 28 film versions of the story.
But what explains the wild popularity of this book, of this story? I believe one answer to that question can be found in the fact that A Christmas Carol is, in many ways, the gospel according to Scrooge. Scrooge, of course, is the main character of this book. As we just heard, he is a crusty, bitter, and greedy old man who, in a way he never could have guessed, experiences redemption at Christmas.
Over the next three weeks, I'd like to use this well-known and much-loved story as a tool to drive us back to God's word; to remind each of us of Christ's power to redeem, not through the words of Dickens, but through the words of Scripture, the words of God himself .
II. The Passage: “The One Who Lays Up Treasure for Himself” (12:13-21)
Let's do that very thing and turn to Luke 12:13-21. If you know the basic story of A Christmas Carol, I think you will hear in this passage some striking similarities. Luke 12, verse 13...
Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”  But he said to him, “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?”  And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”  And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully,  and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’  And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.  And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’  But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’  So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”
I'd like to focus mainly on the parable that Jesus shares in this passage. But it is important to understand something about the circumstances that gave rise to this parable. The anonymous man we meet in verse 13 is, in one sense, not doing anything unusual here. Rabbis, teachers in Israel, were often asked to arbitrate, to act as a judge in certain disputes. In this case, a man and his brother have been left their father's estate. If this man was the younger brother, his brother would have received, according to the Law of Moses, a double portion of the estate. Clearly the man has an issue with this.
But notice that the man is not asking Jesus to arbitrate with a desire for justice. He is asking Him to legislate according to this man's desire. He is asking Jesus to command his brother to split the estate evenly. And the response of Jesus in verse 15 gets right to the heart of the man's heart. The parable Jesus gives is meant to address the nature and danger of the man's underlying motivation.
What I'd like to do is point out three lessons Jesus gives us in this powerful parable. And each of these three lessons is built on the sobering truth revealed in this verse from the book of Hebrews. Hebrews 3:13...But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.
When we sin, we are always choosing a lie over the truth, aren't we? Yes, many of our sinful decisions are flagrant and not worth even attempting to justify. But in many cases our wrong choices, our violations of God's commands, might contain some element of the truth. But even those sins are always truth-twisting transactions. And so when we sin, we deceive ourselves. We place ourselves under the power of a lie. For example, did you see how the parable teaches us that, oftentimes...
1. We deceive ourselves about the ingredients of life. (v. 15)
We actually hear Jesus make that point explicit right before the parable. Verse 15:
And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”
If the “good life” is a stew we have to prepare in this comic kitchen called existence, left to our own devices, we will ruin it every time. Why? Because we so often use the wrong ingredients. And when we do get the ingredients right, we either over-use or under-use them. For the man who came to Jesus about the family inheritance, and for the rich man in the parable, the “good life” consisted of one ingredient, used in excess: possessions. Wealth. Financial abundance. Jesus knew greed had gripped this man's heart.
But which of us is not like that? How might Jesus speak to you this morning? If he said to you, “Listen, one's life does not consist in the abundance of...”, how would He finish that statement in light of YOUR temptations? How do you think about your life, about the “good life”? Maybe this parable, as it's written, hits you right between the eyes. Maybe it's an abundance of comfort or acceptance or pleasure or control or work or knowledge that for you defines life at its best.
But it doesn't stop there, does it? When we deceive ourselves about the ingredients of life, we compound the problem because, at the same time...
2. We deceive ourselves about the permanency of life. (v. 19)
In verse 19, we are given a brutally honest snapshot of how the rich man reasoned with himself, how he spun the web of deception inside his own heart:
And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’
After building bigger barns for all his “grain and goods”, the rich man feels confident that this surplus equals security and safety from whatever comes his way. Bad weather? Dip in the stock market? Lawsuits? Unexpected capital expenses? Unexpected medical bills? No problem. His abundance gives him an abundance of assurance. And that kind of assurance leads to careless living, doesn't it? But clearly, he has deceived himself about the matter of life and death.
But which of us is not like that? Today, we might extend our lives with the best medical care money can provide. But no amount of money can pay off or bribe death. When your time is up, it's up. And that sobering reality should put things into perspective for us. You are not guaranteed a tomorrow. You will die someday. And when that happens, what will happen to your version of the “good life”? What will happen with all those worldly ingredients? As God asks the man in verse 20, '...and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ [whose will they be, now that your life is over?]
But that simply brings us to our third lesson. This parable also reminds us that...
3. We deceive ourselves about the Giver of life. (vs. 20, 21)
There are at least two ways in which this man's sin has blinded him to the reality of God. First, he has chosen to overlook the fact that God is the Lord of life and death; that God is in charge. His attitude reminds us of what we read in James 4:13-16...
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.  Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”  As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.
But we also see that the man has chosen to overlook the fact that God is Provider (capital “P”). The man's surplus inspired him to build bigger barns, when it should have inspired him to give thanks and give generously, just as God had given generously to Him. But which of us is not like that? How often do we deceive ourselves in these very same ways? How often do we deny what we know to be true of God, if not with our mouths, with our actions, attitudes, and appetites?
All sin involves choosing lies over the truth. The man in the parable was labelled a “fool” because he deceived himself about the ingredients, the essence of life, about the permanency of life, and worst of all, about the Giver of life.
III. The Miser in the Mirror
But think about how this rich man brings us back around to Scrooge. Listen to how Charles Dickens describes him in the opening section of A Christmas Carol:
“Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! A squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster. The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shrivelled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue; and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice. A frosty rime was on his head, and on his eyebrows, and his wiry chin. He carried his own low temperature always about with him; he iced his office in the dog-days; and didn’t thaw it one degree at Christmas. External heat and cold had little influence on Scrooge. No warmth could warm, no wintry weather chill him. No wind that blew was bitterer than he, no falling snow was more intent upon its purpose, no pelting rain less open to entreaty. Foul weather didn’t know where to have him. The heaviest rain, and snow, and hail, and sleet, could boast of the advantage over him in only one respect. They often “came down” handsomely, and Scrooge never did.”
I love the way that's written, don't you? I think there's only one problem with this description: the fact that Scrooge is such an extreme depiction can tempt us to miss the miser in the mirror.
We should have no problem seeing similarities between the rich fool in the parable of Jesus and the rich fool in this story by Dickens. And as we worked through the parable from Luke 12, I hope you could see that all of us stumble in these same traps of self-deception (even if the snare is not specifically materialism). So if both of those are true, if A=B, and A=C, then surely B=C, right? Surely, each of us is more like Scrooge than we'd care to admit.
There is no doubt that Dickens sketched Scrooge the way he did for dramatic effect. And long before Dickens, as we see in Luke 12, and all throughout the Gospels, Jesus was doing the same thing. But does such dramatic effect affect you? Can you see the miser in the mirror? Are you aware of your own idols and how they grip your heart? How they attempt to steal your trust? How they darken the way you see others? How they rob you of true joy?
God's word makes it clear, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that all of us are squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous,...sinner[s]! Didn't Paul remind Titus of this very thing, and remind him to remind God's people of this fact as well. Titus 3:3...
For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.
The gospel according to Scrooge begins exactly where the gospel of Jesus begins.
We start with an ugly, but honest, and necessary portrait of a sinner sick with sin. Friends, if we are to have any hope in light of the reflection in this mirror, we must be able to admit, you must be able to admit. “I am Scrooge...I am Scrooge”. However sin expresses itself in your life, all of us are equally infected and impaired and indicted by our me-centeredness in this God-centered universe. But just as is the case with Dickens, this isn't the end of the story.
Scrooge was not a lost cause. The events of his Christmas Eve remind us that someone was holding out hope to that “old sinner”. In the same way, if we go back to Paul's reminder to Titus, and we keep reading, we will find a hope like no other; hope for Scrooges like us.
For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.  But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared,  he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,  whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior,  so that being justified [declared innocent; being acquitted] by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:3-7)
Friends, the man who came to Jesus in Luke 12 was desperate for half an inheritance. But the gospel offers us a full and a far better inheritance, doesn't it? By His grace, when we trust in Christ alone, we can become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The ugliness of our sin is something we must acknowledge. Most assume ugliness ultimately means rejection. But how wonderful that the beauty of the gospel always guarantees we are accepted by God, not rejected. We are forgiven, not judged. We are set free, not imprisoned.
What if we were to adapt the words of Dickens to speak about the beauty of Christ:
“Oh! But he was an open-hand at the cross, Jesus! A giving, helping, serving, sustaining, emptying, loving Lord!
Yes, we must regularly acknowledge the miser in the mirror because of the reality of sin. But each and every time, let us acknowledge the Lord of life, who because of the reality of the cross and empty tomb, came to redeem us.