Text: 20But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”—Luke 12: 20-21
Let’s cut to the chase. Let’s put a finer point on this parable so that it can more clearly point us to God. What, specifically, made the farmer foolish? What was his specific sin?
It wasn’t stealing. He didn’t secretly harvest from his neighbor’s field. There’s no suggestion that this enormous harvest was because he had swindled his neighbor out of his land, for example. The harvest was, rightfully, all his.
It wasn’t sloth. He doesn’t leave the excess rotting in the fields since it would be of no use to him.
It certainly wasn’t coveting or false witness or despising regular worship.
I would suggest to you that his sin wasn’t even a lack of thankfulness. He is, in fact, thankful for this great windfall.
So what was his specific sin? His sin—what made him foolish—is thinking that he no longer needed to rely upon God. The sin came because of where his thankfulness was directed. He was thankful, after a fashion, but it was not directed toward God. It was directed toward himself: “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” That was his prayer of thanksgiving—a prayer directed to himself.
Today we’re dealing very directly with the first commandment: you shall have no other gods. And our Lord is warning us about one false god in particular. He is warning us about what is, perhaps, the most dangerous, the most insidious, and the most common false god: ourselves.
What makes this god so dangerous and so insidious is that it is far easier to worship and to rely upon this god than it is to rely upon the One True God. We know—or, at least we think we know—what we want and what we need and we can be confident that, if possible, we will make it happen.
God, on the other hand, appears distant. He appears to be invisible. He may not agree on what we need. And, so often, He seems to hold back what we need. From our perspective, we are far more reliable gods for ourselves than He is. There’s no worry about whether what we want is in accord with His will or not. There’s no concern about whether or not He will answer our prayer and seek to give us those things.
The point of this parable is this false god that this wicked farmer has. The picture that it paints for us is the image of our purest form of worship, if you will. Our liturgy of self-congratulation, of self-satisfaction.
Today is a national holiday, not a church holiday. It was established by presidential decree, not by divine command—or even churchly agreement. But it is a holy day, isn’t it? Unlike the farmer, we may not have everything we could ever need, but the picture of worship that the parable paints is the same liturgy that is being performed across our country today. It looks very pious and faithful, but we’re worshipping that most insidious false god.
Now, that sounds extreme. Perhaps you think I’m overstating things. But are you sure? Look at the list of things that we are thankful for. We are thankful for friends and family. The One True God declares, “26 If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26 ESV).
We are thankful for the many comforts we enjoy. The One True God declares, “7 It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons” (Hebrews 12:7-8 ESV). He says, “3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:3-5 ESV).
We give thanks for our freedoms. He declares, “20 Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20 ESV). He promises, “11 Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:11-12 ESV).
Still not convinced? Genuine thankfulness turns our eyes outward. President Lincoln even wrote that into the proclamation that established Thanksgiving as a national holiday. He declared that it should be a day of thanksgiving and praise to “our beneficent Father who dwells in the heavens.” But it doesn’t stop there. He goes on: “And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation….” I know, we give. We give—from our bounty. We give, but never enough to notice it, and as soon as the sales begin we move on. We bring in canned goods—starting with the cans from the back of the pantry with stuff we really don’t like as much. How many of the comforts you and I enjoy are purchased with the wealth God has provided us with to care for the hungry, the homeless, the hurting?
Yes, even these lists of things that we’re thankful for can be a form of idolatry. In fact, it would seem that the god we are giving thanks to today is far more accommodating than the God of Scripture.
We are fools.
A man named Chad Bird has written about Thanksgiving: “God doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving. He has no one to thank for the earth is the Lord’s and all it contains. He receives nothing as gift. Rather, He is gift. He is Giver. God gives, we receive, and that is the sum of all reality.
“Without being asked, certainly without being pressured, He floods every individual, every city, every nation of this world with gifts beyond telling. “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all this is within me, bless His holy Name,” for all that is within me is a gift. My body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses. Food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, home, land, animals, money, goods, family, and on and on it goes, every millionth of a second a million gifts received.
“Do you doubt it? [Does it ever seem like God is holding back something you need? Like He is slow to answer your prayer?] Do you think that He who has given you His own Son will now withhold anything from you that you need, that is good for you? He who delivered up His own Son to pay for your unbelief, will He do bad things to you now that He has made you a believer? He who found you when you sought Him not, who saved you when you wanted Him not, who embraced you when you fled from His arms, will He now roll you up in a ball and cast you away as unwanted garbage? No, a thousand times no, for He rejoices over you as a groom over His bride, He loves you as a father loves His child, He tenderly cares for you as a mother does her nursing infant.”1
“Believe [it. Believe] that the mercies of almighty God, [your] heavenly Father, are new unto [you] every morning; believe that though we have in no wise deserved His goodness, He abundantly provides for all our wants of body and soul. For He does, and He has, and He will.”2
By all means, give thanks for our freedoms today. Give thanks for those who sacrifice so much to win and to keep those freedoms. Give thanks that, because of them, the gospel has had free course to be preached in every neighborhood across our nation and to go out from here to every corner of the world. And also give thanks, as well, that, soon, you and I may be counted worthy to suffer persecution in the name of Christ.
Give thanks for the many comforts we enjoy. And also give thanks that nothing, not even tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword can separate us from the love of Christ. (Romans 8:35)
And, yes, give thanks for friends and family. But especially rejoice that you and all of those who believe have been adopted into God’s family and are sons and daughters of God. In fact, some of you won’t feel quite so thankful this year because there are dear friends and family who are no longer with us. Give thanks that, although husbands and wives, parents and children, brothers and sisters may be separated by death, nothing can separate us from a brother or sister in Christ because not even death can separate us from Him.
That is a thankfulness that can not help but overflow into care—no, a burning heart—for those who are hungry, who are lonely, who are hurting, who are in need. You have been blessed to be a blessing to them.
We are fools. And, thankfully, the foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of man. Whether we had to build bigger barns this past year or our barns were empty, and for whatever the future may hold, “it is truly [good], right, and salutary that we should at all times and in all places gives thanks to the Father, but today we do so quite intentionally and nationally. We give thanks to the Father that He cares enough … to call us to repentance, to teach us faith, and to say once again, “Lo, I am with you always, and I love you always, and always and forever you are my beloved, my own, mine, all mine.””3
Yes, thanks be to God!