The Rich Man and Lazarus
This morning I want us to look at the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. You find it in Luke chapter 16. It is a parable that has a lot of information in it, but one that has one central truth. It is that truth that I want us to focus on as we consider what Jesus had to say…what He was confronting. Really, to get the temper or the tempo of the parable we would back up to Luke 16 in verse 14. So I want to invite you there just to look at that one verse because it introduces really the whole series of what Jesus was focusing on here.
In verse 14 is says, "Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, also heard all these things and they derided Him." In other words, we're introduced with the reminder that the Pharisees were lovers of money. Therefore, they viewed everything that Jesus was teaching…the difficult things that He was having to say…through the eyes of their own selfish lust for money. So when they would hear Jesus give a parable that really attacked their selfishness and their covetousness, then they derided Him.
The Greek word for deride means to turn your nose up. They basically were saying, "Jesus, you're nothing. We're higher class. You're a lower class of person than we are." Now that's hard for us to imagine, isn't it? But it shouldn't be because there are always in the Pharisees' mind a clear distinction between those who are like them and those who are lower class. It's common for people to look at those who don't have as of nice clothes or who don't have the same accent to their voice as being of a lower class. This was Jesus in the eyes of the Pharisees.
So Jesus begins to speak to them and when we come to verse 19 of Luke 14, we come to the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. Just so you'll know right up front, the rich man here is the Pharisee. He stands in the place of the Pharisee. Jesus is trying to show what the love of money does to you…what covetousness does to your heart as we look at this seemingly extreme example (but really not so extreme) in the story of the rich man and Lazarus.
Verse 19 tells us, "There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day." Now here's a man who dresses in royal garments, in purple, in fine linens. The linens mentioned here are the undergarments that he wore. And he fared sumptuously. Literally he ate a feast every day. So this man is not only very successful and wealthy, but he's just enjoying life to the hilt.
He's contrasted then in verse 20, "But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate…" It seems that every day people would come and they would put Lazarus at the gate of this rich man. Now 'laid at the gate,' again in the language means 'to dump.' He was sort of dumped at the gate every day.
Lazarus is also an interesting name. We're not going to do a big Greek study here, but it's the Greek version of the Hebrew name Eleazar. Eleazar means 'God is my helper.' Names are always very important in Scripture. It would almost seem like they tagged the wrong name on this guy, because he's a beggar. He's full of ulcerous, running sores, and he's thrown every day at the gate. Verse 21 says, "…desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores."
His request, his begging, was just for the leftovers, just for the crumbs of the leftovers. And the only ones at the rich man's house that cared anything for him were the dogs. They came and they licked his sores. They came and they applied the only medicine that he was to receive. It doesn't sound like 'God is my helper', but that's often because we view the external circumstances just like the Jews of that day.
You remember, there was a time when a rich man came to Jesus and he wanted to know, "Which of these laws do I have to keep in order to obtain eternal life?" And Jesus talks to him and then Jesus tells him, "There is one more thing you need to do. You need to sell everything you have and come and follow Me." It says the man went away sorrowful. Well the disciples turned to Jesus. And Jesus responds and He says, "It's easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven." Then the disciples said, "Well, then who can be saved?"
Because, you see, the disciples had been raised in that culture that wealth was a sign of blessing…that it was a sign that God had His hands on your life. No different than today. But that if you were suffering, if you were poor, if you were of a lower class, then God had nothing to do with you. You were just suffering your just rewards.
Now that's how people view things. That's how they view society. They want to divide it into the ones that God must be blessing because they "got stuff" and the ones that God must be punishing because they don't "got stuff". Yet God…listen…He doesn't mess around with these names in the Bible. Eleazar or Lazarus in the Greek means what it says.
We come to find out a little bit about that when we see that life is more than food, the body more than clothing. That life does not consist in the abundance of the things which one possesses. That there's more to this life than the few short decades that we so selfishly apply ourselves.
Verse 22, "So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham's bosom. The rich man also died and was buried." Now Abraham's bosom…when I hear that, I'm thinking, "Okay, here's Lazarus and he's being cradled with Abraham, kind of like you would a baby." But that's not what that phrase means. We see this elsewhere. We see where the Apostle John said that he leans into Jesus' bosom. That he's the one who is right there by Jesus. To be in someone's bosom in this context means, first of all, that there's a feast going on…that you are at a table. The head of the table here is going to be Abraham because he's the most notable figure in the story. To be in his bosom means that you're the special guest.
So what we see in heaven…and that takes a little bit of putting together…but what the Jews heard when they heard this story was that this beggar, this bleeding sore, crumb beggar is the guest of honor at a feast that is taking place in the present time of the story where Abraham is hosting.
Now, no matter what this world has to offer you, and no matter what depravation that life has left you with, don't think that God somehow is uninvolved in your life. Lazarus lived a life in order to show us the decadence of covetousness, and his reward was to be the guest of honor in heaven. When you die, when you die, it may be that the world has passed you by, but if you've asked Jesus into your heart, if you've asked Him to save you, you'll be a guest of honor at a great feast hosted by some notable Old Testament guy, okay?
It's not going to be slipping off to some cloud, grabbing a harp, and floating around. It looks like a party. It looks like joy. It looks like a feast. Then He sort of says, "And oh, by the way, the rich man died and was buried." Which is interesting…a word of a funeral. We would expect that. The rich man had the paid mourners that they had in that day and time, people that they would take some of the inheritance money and they would pay people to cry for you, to wail for you. The more wailing, the more crying, the louder it was, the better the funeral was. So he probably had a first class funeral and deposition right into his grave. But from the grave a different destination.
Verse 23, "And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom." So here's this man who has been rich all of his life. He sees this beggar that's at the gate. He's in torments in Hades. Torments in Hades. Hades is simply the word for the old Hebrew word 'Sheol,' the grave. It's not the word for hell. It's not the nice version of that word.
You see, my friends, none of you are bad people. The people that you are just convinced went there…the people that you think split it wide open…none of them are in hell today. They are in Hades. Hell is reserved. It has not yet been opened. The only folks in hell are a certain group of demons. The day will come when people will be resurrected out of Hades, judged, and cast into the lake of fire for all eternity. But now, where they are is no purgatory. It is torment. It is suffering judgment from the moment that you die without Christ in your life.
Now don't think here that the problem is God sends all the rich people to Hades and all the poor people to Abraham. It may seem like that, but that's not true. The catch of that is, look where Lazarus went. He went to Abraham's bosom. And Abraham was a wealthy man. So it's not that bring rich is the problem here. The Bible says nothing about the possessions in and of themselves. It is the attitude of the heart.
We see it with this man. He does not even feed Lazarus. He does not show any compassion toward Lazarus. You know, it's amazing that he even let Lazarus sit at his gate to beg. It may be that he thought that was good enough. People think that today. They think, "Well you know, it's enough that I let them come to church. It's enough that I put my spare Wal-Mart change in the red bucket. It's enough what I do."
But you see, it wasn't enough because his heart was wrong. I tell you, get your heart right and the beggar doesn't stay at the gate. You get your heart right…you're no longer thinking about the things of this world. You're thinking, "What can I do with the things that God has made me a steward of in order to grow the kingdom?" You're reaching out as Jesus did to the sinners that provoked the Pharisee's statement back in verse 14 to begin with.
These Pharisees who were lovers of money justified their own selfishness by simply saying that those who don't have what I have are sinful people. I'm not sure if they sin or if their parents sinned, but it must be sin if they're not living like I am. They don't see like that man that we looked at last week. They don't see that God has blessed them in order that they might help other people.
Now listen, God is very much interested in helping the poor. God is very much interested. He says in Proverbs 14:21, "He who despises his neighbor sins; but he who has mercy on the poor, happy is he." See you may think, "Boy, if I go helping people, I'm going to be sad because I'm not going to have enough stuff left for me." But the Bible is quite the opposite about that. The sin is despising the need of a neighbor, despising what your neighbor is in need of. But the ones who have mercy on the poor are the ones who find joy in life.
I like what Proverbs 19:17 says, "He who has pity on the poor lends to the Lord…" 'Well if I give them $50, I may never see that again.' Yes you will, because notice what it says, "…and He [the Lord] will pay back what he has given." You see Jesus returns every investment made into the kingdom of God. Jesus returns back the investments made to help people.
Remember, that was the comment Jesus made to the feast He went to over in Peoria. There were all these people jockeying to be at the head of the table and Jesus first says, "Don't do that because somebody better than you is going to come, and the host will make you move back. You sit at the back and wait until they tell you to come forward…"
He also said, "While I'm at it let me tell you this. Why are you inviting your neighbors? Why are you inviting people to these meals who are going to turn right around and pay you back by inviting you back?" He said, "Why don't you invite people who can't pay you back? Invite those who have no means to repay what you have done because I'll tell you, the Lord is the one who is going to pay you back." That's what Proverbs 19:17 is telling us. When we give money to people we are lending to the Lord.
You know what? It doesn't matter the credit risk. You see that kind of determines it for us. "Well I know that person. They're just going from church to church. They're just for a handout. They're just giving that story." You know, that is not my judgment. When I came here to this church, I was told by a deacon, "If anybody comes and asks for money, call the sheriff and send them to the sheriff's department because they know how to take care of those people."
But see my father-in-law had already told me, because they had confronted him at one time when he lived in a parsonage on Highway 70 about helping the people who tended to stop right there by the highway, he said, "You know Bob, I can't help everybody, but I can help the ones who come to my door." So that's what we need to do. Not judge, but help.
Help takes on different forms. That doesn't mean all you kids need to go home and hold your hand out to your parents. It's not always money. It's not always the measurement of that need. Now sometimes money can be the wrong thing to give a child. It can be the wrong thing to give someone, but love has to be the motivator of every act of mercy that we have and never, never covetousness. Never, ever selfishness.
The Proverbs also tell us in 21:13, and I think this is one that the rich man should have read, "Whoever shuts his ears to the cry of the poor will also cry himself and not be heard." So the rich man is in torments in Hades in verse 23. He lifts up his eyes, and he saw Abraham afar off and Lazarus in his bosom, "…he cried and said, 'Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.'" Yes, there is a flame.
But notice he starts out 'Father Abraham.' Now he wants to remind Abraham, he wants to remind him that he is a child of Abraham. "You know, I'm not supposed to be here, okay? I'm a Jew by birth and from what I'm told I'm automatically in when it comes to heaven." You notice that the request that he makes is not really an arrogant request. In fact, it is the least thing that you could ever have asked someone. He says, "Would you send Lazarus that he could dip the tip of his finger in some water and come over there and let that little drop of water drip out onto my tongue?"
In other words, he knows enough at least not to ask for an air conditioner. He's not asking for a water fountain. He's not asking for relocation to a more tropical location. Instead, he's asking for the very least. I think that's included here because Abraham says 'no' to the very least request from Hades.
Listen to Abraham's answer. But Abraham said in verse 25, "Son [he acknowledges that] remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented." Now don't read over that 'evil things' too quickly. We might call the things that happened to Lazarus a coincidence, bad health, etcetera, but the fact that it's denoted as evil lets us know the hand of the rich man in Lazarus' life.
You see it is evil not to help. It is evil to ignore. So he said you got your good things. In other words, you got your reward, but you also perpetrated evil on this man, and now he is comforted and you're simply getting what you deserved to get.
Now listen, understand this and this is outside the scope of this lesson, but I think that it's a statement that needs to be said: God did not send the rich man to Hades. God does not send anyone to Hell. Ezekiel tells us that God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked. It is God's desire, it is His great patience that everyone come to salvation. The reason the rich man is in Hades is because he lived a selfish, covetous, sinful life and did not choose the things of God.
If you say, "Well you know, I chose Jesus, but I'm still selfish and covetous." You need to examine your heart because a heart sold to Christ is changed. It is a new man. Old things are passed away. All things become new. You cannot become a Christian and walk by the same people that you selfishly walked by before. It changes you, and if it hasn't changed you then you've gotten wet and signed onto a church role, but your heart has never been converted. That's the reason the rich man is where he is, because his heart was never converted.
If that's not enough, verse 26 says, "And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us." You know in the reading of this, it would almost seem as though Hades and Abraham's bosom are really not that far apart. He can look afar off and see him. Many commentators feel as though that was the condition of Hades and paradise…that they…they're both Sheol by the way. David goes to Sheol. The saved men of the Old Testament go to the grave, but that going to the grave then depending on whether you had trusted God as your Savior or not determined whether you were in the Hades end of it or you were in the paradise end of it. It seems though they are able to see one another.
More importantly than that, let me back up one more thing. He says in verse 24, "Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus…" Now how does he know his name? Because when you die your mind doesn't get erased. You take with you into eternity, into the next life, all of the memories and actions and knowledge that you are now. You know the people…if you're waiting to see a parent in heaven, when you go to heaven not only will you recognize the parent but you will have all of those memories with you. If it's an evil memory, if it's hell-bound activity, that goes with you too.
You're able to be conscious. There's no such thing as soul-sleep. At death your consciousness (if I can call it consciousness) goes with you right into the next life. I think you see things completely differently. I think your perception and your judgment is quite a bit different. I think that even the saved, when they go to Abraham's bosom, when they go to heaven to be with God, they're the ones who cry out for God to execute his justice on the world because they see for the first time the holiness and the justness of God.
Whereas on this side of the earth, we tend to be timid about asking for God to bring about justice on all of our friends and relatives. We see better and more clearly in heaven or in Hades…either one. But our consciousness goes with us. And my friends, there's a great gulf…a bottomless pit, and there is no going from one to the other. There is no ignoring God here and refusing to accept Jesus and then expecting to talk God out of it in the next life. This is the only opportunity that you have.
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