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20180107 Learn Now Psalm 68:4-6 (Opening) 4  Sing to God, sing praises to his name; lift up a song to him who rides through the deserts; his name is the Lord; exult before him! 5  Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation. 6  God settles the solitary in a home; he leads out the prisoners to prosperity, but the rebellious dwell in a parched land. Introduction When I started teaching college, one of the big problems I had was grading student’s work in an unbiased way. If I knew the student, I would sometimes give them the benefit of the doubt. I would say to myself, “They really knew the answer, they just didn’t say it quite the way I wanted”; or, “They just marked the wrong answer. The right answer was the next one down, so they just marked the wrong circle.” It took me a while, but I finally realized that I was not helping my students by doing that. I had to learn that I wasn’t the one giving them their grades. They were earning their grades. The grades on their papers and tests were not my doing. If their final average was below a specific number, they wouldn’t be able to continue in the program. It wasn’t my fault, it was the result of their level of work, and their ability to learn the material. I wasn’t being heartless. In fact, I was required to meet with every student in my classes individually every semester and let them know what their standing was in my class; what their grades would be if they continued in the way they were going, and what they could do to improve. Some of my students listened, and some didn’t. The Story We’ve been studying the parables of Jesus over the past several weeks. This week we’re going to look at a parable that I have questioned as to whether it is a parable or a description of real events. After reading and studying the past few weeks, I’m leaning more and more toward the parable side. I’ll try to explain why as we’re going through the story. But let me set the stage. Jesus just finished the story of the dishonest manager, and he was overheard by the Pharisees while He was telling this story to the disciples. Jesus explained that the Law and the Prophets, the entirety of scripture the Jews had in their hands, and what the Pharisees had spent their lives studying and memorizing, was what they needed to fully understand to be in the Kingdom of God. As an example, Jesus talked about their understanding of divorce, and how wrong they were, because the Pharisees taught a man could divorce his wife for any reason, even it was only because she ruined his dinner, what we would probably call “irreconcilable differences” today. Then Jesus tells another parable, this time to the Pharisees, to make His point. Luke 16:19 19 “There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. This was a very rich man. Jesus doesn’t say what sect of Judaism the rich man is from; it’s not important to the story. He is simply one of the mega-wealthy of his day. Purple was the most expensive dye to make, because it required thousands of tiny snails to make a small amount of the dye, and the snails were not easy to find. Also, linen was the softest fabric you could make. This rich man today would be wearing the best Armani suits, the finest silk and alpaca wool socks, and only the best leather shoes you can find; or ostrich and alligator cowboy boots with eel trim. And he’d have a different suit to wear every day. Not only did he dress well, but he lived well. Jesus says he “feasted sumptuously”. He only ate the best, and he ate a lot of it, and every day. Not only is this man rich, he’s the definition of “well off”. If you were to look up extravagant in the dictionary, you’d find his picture there. But Jesus’ parables always include extremes. Luke 16:20-21 20 And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. Lazarus was the exact opposite of the rich man. The Greek word translated as poor is the word used to describe the poorest of the poor, the totally destitute. Not only did he have no money, he couldn’t get around by himself, he was laid at the rich man’s gate. The word translated as “laid” has more of a feeling of being discarded or thrown out. He was unceremoniously deposited there; dumped. On top of being destitute, he was diseased; his body was covered with sores, possibly because he was unable to get around by himself; something like bedsores. Unable to move on his own, he was constantly laying in the same position on the hard ground, causing wounds and infections. Because he was poor, Lazarus was hungry. He couldn’t work to earn money and relied on the kindness of people passing by throwing him bits of food or on a good day maybe a few coins. He was at the rich man’s gate hoping for the benevolence of the rich man. The wild dogs that wandered the streets were attracted to Lazarus because of his infected sores. They would come and lick his sores, not to care for him, but in anticipation of his final breath, so maybe they wouldn’t be hungry. The irony of the story begins to show itself early on here. Jesus gives the destitute beggar a name: Lazarus. Lazarus is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Eliezer, which was the name of Abraham’s chief servant from Damascus, and also the name of one of Moses’ sons. Eliezer means “God is my help”, or “the one whom God helps”. The fact that Jesus gives this poor beggar a name is the main reason I believed this wasn’t a parable. No other parable has a person with a name. Lazarus didn’t live a good life; he was as far removed from the good life of the rich man as you can get. But there’s one thing that all people have in common; we all die. Luke 16:22-23 22 The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, 23 and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. Both the rich man and Lazarus died, but notice the difference between the two. The rich man died and was buried. I’m sure he had a huge funeral, with professional mourners wailing as the procession passed by. I imagine the most influential people of the city were there to mourn him and wax eloquent about his sumptuous dinner parties and how well he dressed. There’s no mention of Lazarus being buried. It’s like no one was there who cared about him when he died. His body was probably dumped in an unmarked tomb, just like he was dumped at the gate of the rich man during his life. Another big difference, and the first twist in Jesus’ parable, is that Lazarus was carried to be with Abraham by the angels. Lazarus was in Paradise. He was like a child sitting on Abraham’s lap, enjoying the peace God promised Abraham. People who were diseased or disabled like Lazarus was were thought to be receiving some sort of punishment for sin in their lives. Like the man who was born blind. John 9:2 2 And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Because of his abject poverty, his inability to get around on his own, and his disease, people probably thought Lazarus or his parents had sinned and this was the punishment. The rich man, however, ended up being tormented in Hades, which is totally unexpected. Everyone probably thought that all the blessings he had were given to him by God because he was such a good person, and because, of course, he was a child of Abraham. Here’s one of the points that many commentators use to say this is in fact a parable; the rich man could see Lazarus and Abraham in heaven. All the other descriptions of hell or hades are more isolated; things like “utter darkness” and “eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord.” Jesus allows the rich man to do things in this parable that can’t be done in Hades. Luke 16:24 24 And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’ Tormented by the flames in hades, the rich man now becomes the beggar. He begs Abraham to send Lazarus to bring him one tiny drop of water to cool his tongue. Even in death, the rich man imagines himself to be above Lazarus in status, asking for Abraham to send Lazarus to serve his needs. But Abraham explains the rich man’s situation to him. The rich man didn’t argue about his situation, he just asked for mercy and relief, even for just a short moment. Luke 16:25-26 25 But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ Abraham explains to the rich man that it’s not possible for anyone from either place Jesus is talking about there to go from one place to another. It’s not a single place where they are, the two places are divided by a huge chasm. The separation is so wide that there is no possible way to travel from one place to the other. Not that anyone would want to go from Paradise to Hades, although I’m sure anyone in Hades would want to escape in any way possible. Jesus points out that once a soul is where it ends up, it’s there for eternity; there’s no escape, no way of earning your way out. It’s the final destination. Once the rich man realizes that fact, he tries a different tack with Abraham. If there’s nothing that can be done for him, maybe he can make a difference for others. Luke 16:27-28 27 And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house— 28 for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ The rich man still hasn’t figured out that he’s not better than Lazarus. He still is asking Abraham to use Lazarus as a servant, and send him to warn his brothers in his father’s house. Even in torment in Hades, he hasn’t repented of his attitude toward Lazarus. He’s worried about his blood family, possibly because he knew that his brothers were just like he was when he was alive. He wanted to make sure that something was done about them and their attitude, so they would have a better eternity than he would. But Abraham’s response was basically that there would be no special favors. Luke 16:29 29 But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ That’s a strong rebuke from Abraham. Abraham only had his faith and experiences, and he became the example of faithful living. But Abraham says, “Look, you had all the writings everyone else had, and you still blew it. They will rise or fall on their own merit.” We have access to the same information Abraham told the rich man his brothers had. We’re no better off, information wise, than they were. If we don’t study and learn from the Bible how we’re supposed to live, we will end up just like the rich man. We will face the same judgement. But the rich man wasn’t going to give up on his brothers. Luke 16:30 30 And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ “They really need to know how bad it is here and where they’re headed! Someone needs to warn them!” As if the prophets didn’t write about Hades. Luke 16:31 31 He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’” I would have been a little more sarcastic than Abraham was. I probably would have said something like, “Well, Moses and the Prophets are dead. They can listen to them.” The Message What point is Jesus trying to get across to His audience with this story? What is He telling these Pharisees who were listening to Him? Well, I think if we go back a few chapters here in Luke, we can see some of the point He was making. Back in chapter 6, we have Luke’s version of the Beatitudes that Matthew has during the Sermon on the Mount. It’s likely these are from a different circumstance, because of what follows after Jesus’ description of those who are blessed. Luke 6:20-23 20 And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 21 “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied. “Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh. 22 “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! 23 Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets. I think Lazarus fell into most of these groups. He was poor, hungry, weeping, hated, excluded, and reviled. Lazarus was relegated to his position in society because of his disability and his illness. He wasn’t able to work on his own, so he was treated as someone lower than a slave. He wasn’t able to take care of himself, so every day someone would bring him and dump him in some place where he had the possibility of getting a few coins or a few pieces of food from the hands of a benevolent stranger. Most people ignored people like Lazarus, but he was in the group of people that God said to take care of; Lazarus would have been lumped in with the poor widows and the fatherless that people were to have compassion on. Exodus 22:22-24 22 You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child. 23 If you do mistreat them, and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry, 24 and my wrath will burn, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless. It’s a matter of attitude. God wants us to have an attitude of benevolence toward people. But that’s not what the stereotypical rich person does. Jesus ripped into them in the verses following His description of those who were blessed. Luke 6:24-26 24 “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. 25 “Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry. “Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep. 26 “Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets. This sounds like the nameless rich man in the parable. He didn’t have any needs, and was reclining in the lap of luxury. He had everything going for him, from the earthly point of view. But he hadn’t prepared for eternity. He spent his time worrying about all his stuff here on earth, and didn’t spend time storing up treasures in heaven. When John was at the height of his mission, immersing people in the Jordan river, he had people coming to him from every walk of life. Many of them asked him questions about what to do and how to live. Luke 3:10-11 10 And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?” 11 And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.” It’s just like what we were taught as kids; share your toys. This time of year there are coat drives, hat drives, mitten drives, you name it, if it keeps you warm, we could be sharing it. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be homeless during a Maine winter. And there are lots of people who aren’t homeless, but don’t have enough money to keep their furnace running to keep warm. We need to be aware of these things going on around us and do everything we can to help them out. And it’s not just keeping warm. According to the Department of Agriculture, over 2 hundred thousand people in Maine are what they call “food insecure”, that is, they don’t know if they will have access to enough food from day to day. There are many food banks scattered around the state, but they don’t always provide enough food for the people who use them, and there are people who need food who won’t use the food bank, for whatever reason. This is precisely what James wrote about. James 2:14-17 14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? 17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. Our actions, our behaviors don’t make us righteous in God’s sight. Only the blood of Jesus can do that. But God expects us to do good things for other people, selflessly. The rich man in Jesus’ parable knew who Lazarus was. He recognized him, and used his name. He knew that Lazarus was in need, but did nothing for him, and after they both died, the rich man expected Abraham to send Lazarus on errands for him. Not only did he display amazing selfishness, he was completely unrepentant for his actions in life, even though he knew and was experiencing the punishment for what he had done. Conclusion People have a hard time with the concept of Hell. How can a loving God ever be the cause of so much pain and anguish for eternity? But just like when I was teaching college, God’s not the one responsible for where people end up for eternity. He has set the standard, and made the rules, but the final decision belongs to each individual person. We all have the choice. Do we follow Jesus, or do we follow ourselves? Do we commit to being a slave to Jesus, to making Him our Lord and Master in our lives, or do we allow other people or things to be in that position? Ultimately, the choice is up to each individual. You choose. As Moses said in the end of Deuteronomy Deuteronomy 30:19-20 19 I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, 20 loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.” 2 Timothy 3:16-17 (Closing) 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. Bible Study Matthew 15:21-28 21 And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22 And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” 23 But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” 24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25 But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26 And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” 27 She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” 28 Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly. James 5:1-6 1 Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. 2 Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. 3 Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days. 4 Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. 5 You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. 6 You have condemned and murdered the righteous person. He does not resist you. 1 John 3:16-18 16 By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 17 But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. Luke 9:25 25 For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? 16
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