I know I sound like a broken record when you hear me say over and over again, “God’s Word has the power to transform your life.” I know those words to be true. I know it to be true personally, but I also know it to be true because of the countless stories of transformation I’ve read about men and women throughout history. Let me just briefly share one story with you. The story I want to share is closely tied to our parable for today found in Luke 16:19-31.
Albert Schweitzer was born in Germany on January 14, 1875. By the age of 29, he had already earned two doctoral degrees, one in theology and the other in philosophy. He had written three books, was an acclaimed organist who toured and performed concerts, he was recognized as an international authority on Bach, was pastor of a church, and was President of a theological seminary.
At the age of 30, Dr. Schweitzer decided that he could no longer live the life he had been living. There was a parable of Jesus that had stuck in his head and stirred his heart, it was the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. Dr. Schweitzer said, “It struck me as impossible that I should be allowed to lead a happy life, while I saw so many people around me wrestling with care and suffering.” He was a pastor, philosopher, and musician, but he felt God was calling him to be a medical missionary. He decided he would enter medical school and become a doctor.
In 1905, at the age of 30, he began the study of medicine at the University of Strasbourg. In 1913, he earned his M.D. degree and headed out to Lambarene, located in the French Equatorial region of Africa, modern-day Gabon, where he founded a hospital that is still helping the people of the region today.
What was it about the parable of the rich man and Lazarus that left such a lasting impression on Albert. How could it have had such an impact that he was willing to give up the life he had known, go through eight years of medical training, and then head out to Lambarene where he would spend the rest of his life serving those in need? Dr. Schweitzer saw himself as the rich man and the people of Lambarene as Lazarus sitting at his gate, in great need. I told you the Word of God has the power to radically transform our lives. Let’s take a look at our parable for this morning found in Luke 16:19-31.
19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20 At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21 and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24 So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’ 25 “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’ 27 “He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father’s house, 28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ 29 “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’ 30 ” ‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ 31 “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'” (Luke 16:19-31 NIVO)
We need to set the scene for our parable for this morning or we might think that Jesus just pulled this parable about a rich man and a poor man out of thin air. If you go back to the opening verses of Luke 16, in verses 1-13, you will find another parable that begins like this: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions.” Then, immediately following the parable of the shrewd manager, we read,
14 The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. 15 He said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight. (Luke 16:14-15 NIVO)
All of this is so important for us to understand if we are going to understand our parable for today. The parable of the rich man and Lazarus contains some very important lessons for us that have great implications for our everyday life in this modern-age. First, let me say this, not all us who are rich are evil and headed to hell and the poor are not always righteous and headed to heaven. I say all of “us” who are rich because if you have a roof over your head and never miss a meal then you are rich from a global perspective. There is a trend in our society today that is dangerous and devilish and that is the idea that all people who are wealthy are evil and care only about themselves. Nothing could be further from the truth. At the same time, those who tend to preach the message of the evil schemes of the wealthy tend to hold up the poor as pillars of faith and nobility. Again, nothing could be further from the truth. Sin does not have a stranglehold on one socio-economic category–sin is pervasive, effecting rich and poor alike. Righteousness is not the possession of a group of people, be it rich or poor, but is available to all of those who will surrender their hearts to Jesus and follow in His righteous steps.
Another lesson to be learned is this: Jesus is not giving us a detailed description of heaven or hell. This is a parable, not a textbook definition of the afterlife. Now, we know from studying God’s Word, and primarily from listening to Jesus who spoke more about hell than any other person in the Bible, that hell is a real place, that hell is eternal separation from God. I do not care how firey the fires of hell may be, that pales in comparison to the fact that hell is a place of eternal separation from God. I’m not concerned with the misery beyond description–there would be no misery like the misery of knowing you were eternally separated from God. Jesus’ words that in hell “the worm does not die and the fire is not quenched” does not affect me nearly as much as knowing that hell is a place of eternal separation from God. There is no darkness as dark as knowing that God is absent. There is no pain as painful as knowing that God is nowhere to be found. How could I exist, how could I maintain one more moment if I didn’t know the love, grace, mercy, and immovable abiding presence of our great God?
Those are two important lessons we need to learn immediately as we read this great parable, but there are more. Take a look at the Scripture with me. You can see the parable is a parable of contrasts. John MacArthur writes,
There’s a poor man and a rich man. The poor man becomes rich; the rich man becomes horribly poor. There is a poor man on the outside; there is a rich man on the inside. Then there’s a poor man on the inside and a rich man on the outside. There’s a poor man with no food, a rich man with food, and then there is a poor man at a feast and a rich man who can’t even find a drop of water. There’s a poor man who has immense needs; there’s a rich man who has no needs. And then there is a poor man who has no needs and a rich man who has great needs… There’s a poor man who suffers and a rich man who is satisfied. And then there’s a rich man who suffers and a poor man who is satisfied. There’s a poor man humiliated, a rich man honored, and then a poor man honored and a rich man humiliated. There’s a poor man who seeks help; a rich man who gives none. Then there’s a rich man who seeks help, and a poor man who can’t give any. There’s a poor man who is a nobody; a rich man who is a somebody. And then there’s a poor man who’s a somebody and a rich man who is a nobody. So it goes. A poor man with no dignity in life becomes dignified in death. A rich man with no indignity in life becomes an absolute no one in death. There’s a poor man with no hope, a rich man with hope, and then a poor man whose hope is realized though he had none, and a rich man who had all kinds of hope who then has none. (MacArthur, John. The Rich Man and Lazarus. 2008 Resolved Conference.)
The contrasts are eye-opening. Jesus intended to grab our attention and He has done so hasn’t He? The rich man had it all. The man dressed in purple, a sign of royalty in the Roman Empire and a symbol of wealth the world over. The dye that was used to make purple clothing came from harvesting sea snails. The snails secreted mucus that was used in making the purple dye. The process required a massive amount of sea snails and was a very, very expensive process. The rich man not only had it going on, on the outside, Jesus said he even wore designer underwear made of “fine linen,” Egyptian cotton no doubt! Jesus wasn’t done describing the man. He says the man “lived in luxury every day.” The man had it all and he loved to let everyone know! He put on a show! Whatever he wanted he had the means to get it, to make it happen, to fulfill his every desire.
Right outside his gate was another man, a man named Lazarus. Now, this isn’t the Lazarus that Jesus raised from the dead. That was a real person, this Lazarus is a fictional character made up by Jesus to teach an invaluable lesson. It is interesting that this is the only parable told by Jesus where we find a person with a name. Everybody in town would have known the rich man’s name, but to Jesus he was nameless. On the other hand, the poor beggar is given a name by Jesus. What’s his name? Lazarus. Why would Jesus choose this name out of all of the names He could have chosen? That’s a great question! Lazarus. The name comes from the Hebrew name “Eleazer,” which means, “the one whom God helps.” Oh, I could spend the rest of our time sharing with you the truth of this name. We are all Lazarus are we not? The rich man felt he needed no help, he had everything and could provide everything for himself, but when he died nothing he had was of any value whatsoever. On the other hand, poor Lazarus, the man who no one would help, the man who was destitute, dumped at the rich man’s gate, was helped by God with the greatest gift of all–the gift of salvation.
Lazarus was dumped just outside of the rich man’s gate. The NIV says Lazarus “was laid,” but the Greek word gives us the idea that he was dumped there. Lazarus was covered with sores, ulcer-like sores. Dogs, not the pets we know today, but mongrels who roamed the streets looking for garbage, came and licked at his sores. Lazarus longed for, he dreamed about the possibility of eating anything that would fall from the rich man’s table. That day never came, but the day of death did come for the rich man and Lazarus alike.
Speaking of death, let’s turn our attention to that portion of Jesus’ parable. Jesus said that when poor Lazarus died “the angels carried him to Abraham’s side.” The Pharisees who were listening in could have never seen this coming. In their minds the rich man was blessed beyond measure and his material blessings were a sign of his righteousness. He was so good that God had lavished him with such wealth. They would have had no doubt that the poor beggar Lazarus was a man cursed by God. Look at him. Look at him! Diseased, disabled, destitute, disinherited, and disenfranchised. It was a common belief in Jesus’ day that those who had great material wealth were blessed by God and those who were sick and poor had been abandoned by God, even cursed by God. The Pharisees and all of those listening in had to have been shocked. The poor beggar Lazarus was carried to Abraham’s side and the rich man found himself in hell.
There is a dialogue that takes place in verses 24-31. Lazarus is silent, he never speaks, but the rich man is constantly talking. His first request went like this:
24 So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’ (Luke 16:24 NIVO)
The rich man has lost it all, yet he still sees himself as superior to Lazarus. “Have Lazarus dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue…” The rich man wants Lazarus to show him mercy. What a thought! All the while Lazarus laid just outside the gate of his opulent home, Lazarus never even received a crust of bread, but now the rich man wants Abraham to order Lazarus to show him mercy. Lazarus is silent, but Abraham answers the rich man.
25 “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. (Luke 16:25 NIVO)
Someone once said, “For lost people, for those who do not know Jesus as Lord and Savior, all of the good things they will ever have are in this life. For Jesus’ people, all of the bad things they will ever have are in this life.” I love that don’t you? What a great reminder when we are going through the trials and tribulations of this life that can be be so discouraging. The worst will be behind us one day. The rich man asked another favor of Abraham. Look at verses 27-28 with me.
27 “He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father’s house, 28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ (Luke 16:27-28 NIVO)
Isn’t it interesting? The rich man never gave a thought to anything other than himself while he was alive. Now, he recognizes that his way was the wrong way, his path, his choices led him right where he found himself. He also recognized that his five brothers were on the same path and if they didn’t change their ways they would end up in the same place, they would end up in hell. Once again, the rich man wanted Lazarus to go and warn his brothers, but Abraham had something else in mind. He said,
29 “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’ (Luke 16:29 NIVO)
The rich man’s five brothers have everything they need to get them on the right path. The Hebrew Bible is all they need, it was all the rich man ever needed, and God’s Word is still, in this day, all we need to know what desires from us. The trend that has taken place among the followers of Jesus today to turn our faith into a “me-and-Jesus” equation is an affront to God. To recognize that we are sinners in need of God’s forgiveness, to turn to Jesus in confession of our sins and acceptance of His grace, and then walk away as if everything is now right in the world is an affront to God. Jesus said,
16 In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:16 NIVO)
Jesus was at home among the broken, the lost, the lonely, the sick, and disenfranchised and His people should follow in His steps. After Jesus’ death and resurrection His disciples remembered not only what Jesus had said, but also what He had done while they were with Him. That’s why they would care for the poor, lonely, the sin-burdened, and the sick wherever they went. Jesus’ disciple John wrote,
17 If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. (1 John 3:17-18 NIVO)
Jesus’ own brother, James, who was never a follower of Jesus while Jesus was alive, was radically transformed after His brother’s resurrection. James led the believers in Jerusalem and he wrote the letter of James. In it he writes,
15 Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. (James 2:15-17 NIVO)
Jesus nor His followers were the originators of concern for the poor and broken. Remember Jesus’ parable? Abraham said all the brothers needed was what Moses and the prophets had written. What did they write? Moses wrote, in Deuteronomy 15:11,
11 There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land. (Deuteronomy 15:11 NIVO)
How many years ago was that written? That can be debated, but what cannot be debated is the truth of what Moses said, “There will always be poor people in the land.” And they are still with us today. Will we be like the rich man who turned a blind eye and enjoyed the good life? What did God say to His people through the prophets? We don’t have time to read all of the Scripture that contains God’s instructions on how His people were to see and relate to the poor and marginalized among them, but we have time to take a look at a couple of Scriptures. Turn with me to Isaiah 58:9-10 and let’s read together.
9 …”If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, 10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. (Isaiah 58:9-10 NIVO)
God says, “If you take care of them, then I will take care of you.” And what if we don’t? What if, like the rich man, we allow Lazarus to sit right outside our door and never give him a thought, never give him a hand, never help him find a meal, never help him find a doctor, never help him in the ways he needs help? God says, “I’ll defend Lazarus. I’ll take care of him and I will judge you.” In the very last book of the Hebrew Bible, through the prophet Malachi, God says,
5 “So I will come near to you for judgment. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive aliens of justice, but do not fear me,” says the LORD Almighty. (Malachi 3:5 NIVO)
Lazarus is right outside the door. After hearing what we’ve heard this morning what will we do? Now, I know already that someone here is thinking, “Mike is trying to guilt me because I’ve got a good life, because I’ve got a comfortable life.” That’s not what has been taking place at all my friend. First of all, I’ve not been doing anything other than sharing God’s Word with all of us, me included. Secondly, what God has been doing is to open our eyes to the reality of Lazarus in our midst, Lazarus is among us. Last of all, for us to be moved like Dr. Schweitzer was moved, not moved for the moment, but radically transformed for the rest of our lives, we must recognize that we are Lazarus and God has rescued us, He has redeemed us, He has, and continues to help us throughout each and every day. He’s not only helped us by opening the way for us to be forgiven and redeemed, but He is our Strength when we are weak, He is our Comforter when we are undone, and He is our Hope in the most hopeless times of life. If He is willing to help me, Lazarus, then why on earth would I not help the Lazarus He leads my way?
Britton Christian Church
May 19, 2019
The Rich Man and Lazarus