Grace For The Journey
We are looking this morning at the last part of chapter 16. We are reading another of our Lord’s parables. Parables are short stories that Jesus told that conveyed one main spiritual truth. We have said before that we are not to press the details of parables, but rather simply see that “the main things are the plain things, and the plain things are the main things.” Something that will be a helpful is to remember – the one main point is seen more clearly when you take into consideration the entirety of chapter 16. Context is king!
I heard about a man who was really struggling with some life issues and had been referred to a person for helpful counsel. And after calling and making an appointment with the counselor, the counselor told the man just before hanging up to be sure to bring his checkbook when he came to the office. When the man said that he thought the counselor did not charge for his help, the counselor replied, “Oh, that’s right. I do not charge, but if you will bring your checkbook it will help us see what’s going on in your life.”
Most of us will agree that if others were to take a close look at our checkbooks, our bank statements, and receipts, together they would be a pretty accurate indicator of what is been going on in our lives, what we value, how we spend our time, and what is important to us. In this sense, our money “talks.” It tells a lot about us.
This passage we will look at this morning has so much for us to learn. When I initially read this passage, I thought it was a message primarily about hell. One guy dies and goes to heaven and the other dies and goes to hell. Of course the parable does teach us a few things about the afterlife as we shall see. But . . .
The parable is not so
Much about the afterlife
As it is about decisions
Made BEFORE the afterlife.
The key to interpreting this parable correctly is to look at the greater context of chapter 16. Last time we were together we studied verses 14-18 and read about the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. This exposure of their hypocrisy follows Jesus’ telling about the rich man with the unjust steward (verses 1-13). Jesus tells us about this dishonest manager who prepared for his coming judgment. Jesus taught us about how we are to prepare for our judgment, living with an eye to eternity, using our worldly wealth wisely to build the kingdom of God. And Jesus concludes the parable by saying in verse 13, “No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon,” or “God and money.” Verse 14 tells us the hypocritical Pharisees did not care for that conclusion. It says that they “derided” Jesus. Why? Because of verse 14, where it says, “they were lovers of money.” Jesus has this brief exchange with them, exposing their hypocrisy, and pointing out their playing fast and loose with the Law, the Word of God.
This is the point where it is particularly helpful to us to note the context. If you will read the next parable as that which follows immediately on the heals of the previous parable, then you will see that this parable of the rich guy and Lazarus is an expression of what Jesus concluded in the preceding parable: “You cannot serve God and money.” Let me say that again – Today’s parable in verses 19-31 is but an expression or extension of what Jesus concluded in the preceding parable when He said. Put another way . . .
This parable shows us what happens when you make money your god. This parable shows what happens to you when you die if money was your god. So . . . Like the preceding parable . . .
The decisions we make here
In time affect eternity.
This is a helpful thing to get at the outset of our study. It will be helpful in that it keeps us from reading into the parable things our Lord did not intend. It will also protect us from wrong conclusions such as the conclusion that poor people go to heaven and rich people go to hell.
The rich man did not go to hell because he was rich.
The rich man went to hell because he was ONLY rich.
He went to hell because money was his god.
Let’s walk through these verses together and see what our Lord teaches us.
Verse 19 says, “There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day.” Here is a very rich man, clothed in the finest clothing of the Ancient Near East and “faring sumptuously every day.” That phrase in Greek connotes more literally that the man was “enjoying himself by eating sumptuously every day.” In other words, every day was a feast. He was very rich, had the finest clothes and enjoyed the finest foods. I picture him strolling in and out of the gate of his home singing like Frank Sinatra’s, “It’s the good life, full of fun seems to be the ideal, ah the good life.”
But there is a problem here as he strolls in and out of his gate. Verse 20 tells us, “But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate.” Here is this poor guy sitting at the rich man’s gate. He is a beggar. In fact the phrase he “was laid at his gate” is literally, “he was cast at his gate” – he was thrown down there, dropped off there to beg for money and food, cast down there almost like someone were driving by in a car and slowed down just enough to boot the guy out so that he might tumble out of the car and rest up against the gate in order to find some food to survive. This is a pitiful picture.
The beggar is described as a person “full of sores.” These sores are ulcers that added to the man’s misery. He is poor. He is sick. He is hungry. Interestingly, his name is given to us – the only time Jesus actually names a person in a parable and perhaps to highlight the irony here. The name Lazarus is the Greek form of the name Eleazar, which means, “The one whom God has helped.”
That does not seem quite right, does it? I believe Jesus does this to draws attention to the contrast between the world’s values and eternity’s values. The people of the world look at a poor beggar like Lazarus and say, “Where is your god?! Why doesn’t he help you?” And the same is true today. The skeptic asks, “How can you say there is a God with all this suffering going on? The one whom God has helped? Ha! Something seems wrong with this picture.”
We read more about Lazarus’ pitiful condition in verse 21, “Desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.” Dogs in those days were not the cute, healthy, and domesticated animals some have in our homes. If you have the opportunity to travel overseas, especially in impoverished areas, you will see dogs like dogs in Bible days that are scrawny, ugly creatures that seldom make eye contact and wag their tails, but rather slink from one place to another searching for food. This is to show us just how bad off Lazarus is – even these the dogs were coming by making things worse by licking his ulcerated sores.
Verse 21 also says Lazarus “desired to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table.” He did not want much, just the stuff the rich guy would throw away. It is amazing how much food we throw away? Think of how much food you will threw away this past Christmas season. This poor beggar Lazarus, were he able, would gladly have gone through the rich man’s gate, bothered no one as he walked to the back yard and over to the side and would have been delighted just to open the rich man’s trash cans and eaten the leftovers that had been pitched.
Verse 22 says, “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.” The phrase “Abraham’s bosom” is a term for heaven, the place of the righteous dead. Abraham was the father of the Jews (Genesis 12:1-3; Luke 3:8; Luke 13:16). He had long since gone on to be with God in heaven. Lazarus died and went to be with all the other righteous dead. Verse 22 adds that “the rich man also died and was buried.” And where did he go? Verse 2 tells us, “And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.” The word “Hades” in this context is clearly understood as hell, the place of the unrighteous dead – in contrast to Abraham’s bosom; heaven, the place of the righteous dead.
From hell the rich man sees Lazarus in heaven and he cries out in verse 24, “Then 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.’” In a moment I want to share with you some general truths about eternity, but before I do I want to remind you that Jesus is telling a parable, in order to stress one main point. In this instance the point concerns what happens to us in the next life if money is our god in this life. That is the main point. It is wrong for us to press the details from this parable such that we build an entire doctrine on the afterlife from this short story. What is important for us to see right now is that the rich man is in hell and he is in torments. He is in pain, and he cries out for relief. And he says, “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.”
Before we do anything else, let us note that the rich man knew Lazarus by name. I find that striking. In other words, when the rich man was alive, he walked by this poor guy every single day at the gate and knew enough about him that he knew his name, but did nothing to help him. He was a rich man who lived for himself. He was a rich man who apparently had not heard Jesus’ teaching about using your worldly wealth to make an eternal impact on family, friends, and neighbors. He had apparently not heard Jesus’ teaching about when you throw a party, do not invite other rich folks, but rather invite the “poor, the lame, and the blind.” How many poor, lame, and blind folks do we ignore every day?
Verse 25 says, “But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented.’” A popular theme in Luke’s Gospel is the theme of reversal. We see that here. The poor beggar and the rich man have exchanged places. It calls to mind Jesus’ teaching back in Luke 3 verses 20 and 24 to 25, “Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God” . . . “But woe to you who are rich, woe to you who are full, for you shall hunger. Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.”
Remember . . .
The rich man did not go to hell because he was rich.
Abraham mentioned here as Father of the Jews; Father Abraham. Abraham was one of the wealthiest men in Jewish history and he is in heaven. No, the rich man did not go to hell because he was rich.
The rich man went to hell because he was ONLY rich.
Abraham reminds the rich man about how he had lived his life. Money was his god so he is now where that kind of life has taken him. He adds in verse 26, “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.” Eternity is fixed. The righteous dead go to heaven. The unrighteous dead go to hell. And the two are separated forever.
In verses 27 and 28, the rich man begs, “Then he said, ‘I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.’” The rich man wants to warn his family not to make money their god. He wants his five brothers to prepare for eternity with the same shrewdness of the unjust steward in the previous parable. He wants Lazarus to return to them from the dead and warn his brothers. But what does Abraham say in verse 29, “Abraham said to him, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them?’” This another way of saying they have the Law and the prophets, or in sum – they have the Bible. They have God’s Word. Let them hear the Word of God. The Word of God tells them what to do. The Word of God tells them to live with an eye to eternity. It is all there in the Word!
The rich man says in verse 30, “And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’” This verse demonstrates again that . . .
The rich man’s fate was not due to his being rich,
But due to his being ONLY rich;
Due to his failure to repent and
Turn from money as his god
To God as His God.
He failed to repent.
He believed that if someone from the dead appeared to his family they would really believe. In sum, the rich guy was saying forget about the Bible – give my family some tangible evidence, an experience, a warning they will see with their eyes and then they will repent.
Abraham responds in verse 31 by saying, “But he said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.’” Verse 31 is a sermon all by itself. We could come back to this verse at a future time and talk about the supremacy and the sufficiency of Scripture.
God has given us His Word,
A Word that is sufficient to teach us
ALL we need to learn about God
And the things of God.
His Word is sufficient for
ALL our spiritual needs.
Many people today are like the rich man. They want “God, He is real to just give them a sign, or do a miracle and they will believe. There are several things wrong with this thinking . . .
1) Who are WE to make demands of God?
2) What more can He say than to you than He has already said? He has spoken in His Word. If you do not hear “Moses and the prophets, neither will you be persuaded though one rise from the dead.”
These verses demonstrate that the refusal to repent does not arise from lack of evidence, but from having a stubborn and rebellious heart. We do not need more information to believe. We do not need some supernatural experience to believe. We need the Word of God to believe. We need a heart to believe it. We need a new heart. We need regeneration. As the prophet Ezekiel taught, we need God to come to us and remove our heart of stone and replace it with a heart of flesh, a soft heart, open and responsive to the truth of His Word (Ezekiel 36:26).
The lost person today says the same thing the rich man says, “Forget about the Bible. Give me an experience!” I find it remarkable at the end of Matthew’s Gospel that the resurrected Jesus Christ appears to a number of people, just before His ascension into heaven. The Bible says that while a number of these people are looking at Jesus that “some doubted” (Matthew 28:17). A supernatural experience does not guarantee one will believe.
In Luke 24 when Jesus is walking with the two men on the road to Emmaus do you remember what He did with these men who were “slow of heart to believe?” The Bible doesn’t say Jesus performed some sort of miracle or do trickery and so forth to convince them that He was the risen Christ, but rather it says, “Beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself (Luke 24:27).” Then what happened? Their hearts were opened and they believed.
The supremacy and sufficiency of Scripture means God has given us ALL we NEED to know about Him and to live for Him. We might expect lost people like the rich man to ask for something other than the Word. What troubles me as a pastor is how quickly professing Christians turn to popular books other than the Bible for conclusive evidence about something the Bible addresses. These books become popular about someone’s supposed experience about the afterlife. Christians flock to the bookstores to read the latest story about some guy or some kid who supposedly died and went to heaven and came back. What are we to make of these experiences? I don’t know. But that’s just it: I don’t know. On the other hand, I turn to the Bible and I DO know. Whatever it teaches about heaven and hell is true. Whatever experience someone claims to have had, what the Bible teaches is absolutely certain. I think will just stick with the Word of God.
Now, I have two sets of points for you to learn in this passage.
First, I want to share three general truths we can learn about eternity. I will not dwell on these, I just want to share them with you. We said earlier that we are not to press the details of a parable and build a doctrine around a story Jesus tells. On the other hand, if we allow the plain things to be the main things and know that the main things are the plain things, then we can walk away with some general truths from the parable. So first here are . . .
General Truths We Can Learn About Eternity . . .
1) There Is Eternal Consciousness After Death.
There is an eternal awareness for both believer and unbeliever. When the unrighteous person dies, when the lost person dies, they go on into eternity aware of their surroundings, aware of their plight. This is demonstrated in the parable of the rich man here. It is not as though the lost person’s soul is destroyed along with his body at death. The parable would make little sense if that were the case. No, the lost man’s soul goes on into eternity.
2) Our Eternal Destiny Is Irreversible.
The parable illustrates the separation between heaven and hell and the fact that once we enter one or the other, our destiny is fixed and irreversible. There is no mention anywhere in Scripture about a so-called “second chance” to trust Christ and be saved after we die.:
3) The Pictures Of Hell Illustrate The Horror Of The Reality.
Sometimes people want to know whether hell is a place of literal fire and flames. I think that is missing the point. The fire and flames mentioned by Jesus, while picturing hell, are pictures of reality. That is to say, if speaking of flames and fire are merely pictures our Lord uses to symbolize the reality of hell, then hell must be even worse than we can possibly imagine. In other words, the pictures of hell illustrate the horror of the reality of hell.
Now let me leave you with two main points that we can live by from this parable . . .
1) Our Decisions Here During Our Life Affect Our Destiny In The Hereafter.
Remember the rich man did not go to hell because he was rich. He went to hell because he was ONLY rich. Jesus says, “You cannot serve God and money” and the rich man decided his master was money. Money was his god. The Bible says in Proverbs 11:16, “A kindhearted woman gains respect, but ruthless men gain only wealth.”
Our decisions in time affect eternity. Our decisions here affect hereafter. We must repent and accept Christ alone. He alone is our Savior and Master. If we trust in Christ alone as our Savior, then we will be “rich toward God” (Luke 12:21) and we will have “treasure in heaven” (Luke 12:23).”
2) True Riches Are Found In Using Worldly Wealth To Serve God And Others.
The parable is an extension of Jesus’ teaching from the previous parable of the unjust steward. We are to live with an eye to eternity, using worldly wealth to serve God and serve others; using worldly wealth to build the Kingdom of God; using worldly wealth to bless others by sharing the practical expressions of the Gospel.
How do you use your money?
Let me share these two Scriptures and then we will end our study today . . .
James 2:15-16, “If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,’ but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?”
1 John 3:17, “Whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?”
Money talks, what does yours say?
This is God’s Word …
This is Grace for your Journey …
Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!
Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”
Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”