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Luke 16:19-31

“19 There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day.  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.  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.  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.’  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.’  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.’  29 But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’  30 And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’  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.'”

Several of the parables in Luke are about money and caring for the poor.  This story one is about money and hell and much more.  You may imagine that you want a preacher who preaches like Jesus.  Well, Jesus preached and taught about money and hell a good bit.

This story seems to be more than a normal parable.  Some church Fathers wondered if this was in fact a true story.  Several commentators consider it an “example story” rather than a traditional parable, because it seems real and makes several points rather than one.

The story begins with contrasting characters.  The rich man is offensively rich and self-indulgent.  He reminds me of King Ahasureus who reigned over Persia and Media during the time of the book of Esther.  He indulged himself and his nobles for 180 days of feasting and splendor.  This rich man seems to live like a king continuously in a gated estate.  The purple garments and linen underwear were signs of his luxurious living.  His offensive wealth and self-indulgence contrasts with the offensive poverty of the poor man Lazarus—a Hebrew name that means “God helps.”  Lazarus is grossly steeped in ill health and want.  He hungers desperately for the crumbs that the rich man sweeps to the floor.  He is sickly and afflicted not unlike Job.  The image of dog’s licking Lazarus’ sores isn’t meant to indicate affection by the dogs.  These are not the little dog’s that “eat crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” (Matthew 15:27)  These are big dogs that scour the countryside devouring carcasses and scraping up food where they may.  They lick Lazarus’ sores perhaps wondering if he is yet dead.

To the rich man and the religious leaders of the day, a poor man like Lazarus was indeed dead to them and considered a corpse or blight upon the people of God.  To them, he was an impediment to the restoration of the glory of Israel.

The scene changes to two widely contrasting eternal scenes.  The rich man dies, and you can imagine with what great ceremony he was laid to “rest.”  I imagine his five brothers spared no expense to feast in his remembrance and regale each other with stories of his hospitality and parties.  His body would have been placed in a rich man’s tomb and mourners would have been hired to accompany his body and wail over his tomb.  However, his soul and spirit are exiled to torment in Hades.    This torment describes the kind of torture applied to a prisoner in order to force confession or information.  It is a severe torment.

On the other hand, Lazarus’ dead body probably laid where it was for days until someone noticed he was dead and demanded that servants depose of him in the place of the dead where dogs and worms would gorge on his flesh.  Or, perhaps the dogs themselves carried him away as they did the wicked Jezebel. (2 Kings 9:33-37)  Lazarus’ spirit and soul receive the treatment of a prince, as angels carry him to Abraham’s bosom where he will spend eternity in the paradise of God.

The Rich man does not repent even in torment.  He continues in his pride to see himself as entitled and on par with Abraham.  He is like those people of the world described in Revelation who despite their torment refused to repent and give God glory. (Rev. 16:8-9)  He speaks to Abraham to send Lazarus to him to quench his thirst and then to his brothers to warn them.  He demonstrates no humility or love for God.

Abraham explains that there is an eternal chasm between torment and paradise that cannot be crossed.  He asserts to the rich man that his brothers have “Moses and the Prophets” that are sufficient to lead them to paradise rather than torment.  If they will not adhere to the Scriptures of God’s word, they will pay no attention the amazing wonder of a man returning from the dead.

I believe this story conveys eternal truths for all people.  The following four are those that stand out to me.

Compassion for the Poor.

Jesus said that the poor would always be with us (Matt 26:11). He echoes Deuteronomy 15:11:  For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’  We always have an obligation to help the poor…the financially poor, emotionally and mentally poor, physically poor and those in temporary need of some kind.  The presence of the poor does not excuse us from reaching out to them and helping them.  Lazarus was literally as close a neighbor to the rich man as possible.  He was outside the rich man’s gate.  We are commanded to love such people as we love ourselves.

We may help someone in a temporary need, or we may enter into an ongoing helping relationship with someone or an organization.  For example, we might buy a meal for a stranger one time and never see them again, or we may commit to child sponsorship through Compassion Intl for the duration of a child’s participation in the ministry.  We may even be led to initiate an ongoing ministry.  Methodist pastor and seminary professor Randy Jesson and his wife founded Global Hope that operates three orphanages overseas to help children in poverty.  This is an ongoing expression of compassion and help for the poor.

Several obstacles to helping the poor can creep into our lives.  These include busyness, apathy, cynicism or selfishness.  I encourage to ask God to lead you to the poor outside your gate and how to help them.

Finality and Eternity of Death or Life. 

This story shows us the finality of our eternal destination.  The rich man has no second chance or avenue to leave his place of torment.  Jesus encourages us to focus on the eternal and to pursue treasure in heaven.  Paul also teaches about the value of the eternal: “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Cor 4:18)  Invest in eternity today.

It is good to meditate upon the cross of Jesus and the suffering that he endured for us.  The severity of his suffering and humiliation indicate the severity and the finality of the death and torment from which he died to save us.  It is because eternity is forever, and his love compelled him to save us from eternal torment.

We have the opportunity to store up for ourselves treasure in heaven. (Mark 10:21).  How do we live for eternity? We can pursue relationships that will endure for eternal life.  Let Scripture inspire you to see beyond appearances and to imagine eternity.  Our works of faith that we do through and by Jesus endure for eternity.  Take steps of faith in good works through Jesus.  Ask yourself “what am I doing for eternity today.”  Likewise, ask the Lord, “What can I do for eternity today?”

Obstacles exist to keep our focus on worldly pursuits and love of money.  We need to be intentional about keeping an eternal perspective.  Our eternity will rest in our own hands or in God’s hands.  Only one of us has the power of eternal life in our hands.  On our own, we will end up in torment outside of God’s paradise just like the rich man.

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Urgency of Evangelism Now

This story shows us the urgent need to share the good news of Jesus Christ with people today.  The rich man wants to warn his brothers of what they will encounter unless they repent.  This is his desperate plea; however, there is no going back.  We know this truth today while we are yet living.  We have the capability to warn our loved ones and to urge them to be reconciled to God through Jesus. (2 Cor 5:20).  We must adopt the urgency of the Apostle Paul who writes, “Necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Cor 9:16)

The final words of Matthew’s gospel indicate the urgency of evangelizing others.  Jesus gives his disciples the “Great Commission” prior to his departure from them.  He commands them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:18-20)

How can we approach this?  We can begin in prayer by praying for a few who need salvation and praying earnestly and generally for all people in the world who need God’s salvation in Jesus Christ.  It is necessary that we tell people about Jesus—his salvation and how he has blessed us in our lives.  We don’t have to share the entire Bible or our entire history of faith, but we can share substantially as God leads and inspires us.

Obstacles to evangelism include all those above plus apathy, unbelief and shyness.  We need the heart and love of Jesus for the lost.  We also need to reaffirm to ourselves the Scriptural message that it is only through Jesus Christ that anyone is saved.  Apart from being born again through Jesus, there is no salvation. (John 3:3)  Those who die outside of Christ will be exiled from God forever.  We have to overcome our own unbelief to gird up our courage and faith to speak out for Jesus.  Likewise, we must fight through our shyness and unwillingness to offend others.  These are not excuses to keep our mouths shut from proclaiming the gospel.

Word of God

Abraham’s response in the story regarding the significance of “Moses and the Prophets” shows that that Scripture bears the burden of the message of salvation for all people.  “Moses and the Prophets” point to the Old Testament that was the Jewish Scripture of Jesus’ day.  This is the same Scripture that Jesus unfolds to show all that he fulfilled in this death and resurrection. (Luke 24:44).  Paul writes that All Scripture is breathed out by God. (2 Timothy 3:16)  And Jesus says of his word: “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples,  32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  (John 8:31-32)

The gospel or word of God is the power of salvation for all who believe. (Romans 1:16)  The word presents Jesus and salvation and revelation for each day.  If we are honest, I think we have to say that there is little excuse for Christians not to be in Scripture everyday as it is possible.  We need this word.  God tells us that it is our life. (Deut 32:47)  None of the excuses we use hold water.  In order to be disciples or to fulfill Jesus’ command to make disciples, we need to read, study and meditate upon the Bible.

The Compassionate and Generous Rich Man

Any command of God or any act or thought of obedience to God has been fulfilled on our behalf by Jesus.  Jesus Christ is the true Rich Man.  Jesus lived in the paradise of heaven.  In all glory and splendor and riches that are beyond imagination.  We, humans, dwelled in exile in the fallen world of pain and suffering outside the gates of paradise.  We were impoverished in sin, death, sickness and despair beyond imagination.

Rather than ignore us or despise us, Jesus left the riches of heaven to come to us and save us.  He has become for us the gate into the riches of his glory.  God has not neglected us but has come to save us.  Through Jesus Christ we are comforted and may enter into his paradise.  He did more than throw us some crumbs or help us out a little bit to get on our way.  He became sin and death for us.  He took on our hideous state of being in sin and death.  (2 Cor 5:21)  Paul writes, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9)

 While we were in our worst condition—dead in sin and enemies of God, Jesus loved us and saved us.  Now the riches and glories of heaven can become our eternal home through him.

And it is through him and only through him that we can fulfill each of the four elements highlighted above.  Through Jesus, we are more than conquerors who can bear much fruit.  So let us walk in the way of love.

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