August 22, 1995
When the tomb of Charlemagne, Frankish king and conqueror, was opened about 200 years ago, the workers saw a startling sight. His body was in a sitting position, clothed in elaborate royal garments, with a scepter in his bony hand and an open Bible lying on his knee. His lifeless finger pointed to Mark 8:36: “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”
Charlemagne inherited great wealth and doubled the territory under his control. For three decades, he ruthlessly attempted to subjugate Saxons and was merciless in “converting” them to Roman Christianity. In only one day alone, more than 4,500 Saxons were executed.
Some reports say this man had great political and humanitarian vision combined with a devout religious bent but most historical records paint him as a gluttonous, superstitious illiterate with a tremendous capacity for brutality.
How ironic that he was buried in such a manner. Did he realize this biblical truth before he died? Did he request burial with a Bible verse to warn others against his lifestyle? Or did someone who knew him make this final caustic comment on his life?
No matter how Charlemagne came to this end, the verse he pointed to in death was as true for everyone as it was for him. No matter what anyone gains for themselves, everyone dies, is buried — and is unable to enjoy any of it beyond that day.
One day, Charlemagne will stand before God. How sad that his Creator is not interested in the size of his fortune, his notoriety or how much land he conquered if he did not listen to Jesus’ warning: “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”
Jesus illustrated with a parable about a rich man who produced a good crop and decided the only thing to do was tear down his barns and build bigger ones to store it in. The man said to himself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”
But God said to that man, “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” Jesus added, “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.”
Being rich toward God means loosening our grasp on whatever else we depend and putting Him first. For the rich man in Jesus’ parable, it was material abundance. Jesus added it is an issue of the heart: “Do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them.”
Jesus promised that whenever anyone seeks God’s Kingdom, God will make sure their needs are met. When it comes to caring for His people, He is generous, but we have to let go of whatever we cling to before He will give it to us!
Even more startling is Jesus’ explanation of how someone can become one of God’s people. He said, “Your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.”
The kingdom of God is a gift! By its very nature, no one can buy a gift nor can all the money in the world influence the Giver. Gifts are gifts and they are free, no strings attached.
If anything can touch God’s heart, it is an attitude of contrition and trust. Since this is an absolutely frightening state for most of us, money, fame, power, even the whole world seems like an easy alternative. However, as Charlemagne knows by now, putting anything ahead of God means trading that thing for eternal life.