Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
September 9, 2018
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.’”
— Luke 16:19-31, ESV
With this parable found only in Luke, the author continues to chronicle Jesus’ apparent assault on the rich, or at least upon those who value money more than God. No doubt the Pharisees were again in view, along with others of their ilk who prized their purses more than the Creator and the apex of His creation.
The parable is a classic contrast, with a rich man appearing alongside a poor man. Much is made in the short story about what each one has and what each one has not. Appearances are deceiving, life is shorter than we know, and true riches and true poverty are revealed at the gates of Heaven and Hell.
The rich man lived heavenly, but wound up in Hell.
We don’t know much about the first character in the parable. He is given no name except a description that marks him as “a rich man.” He has all the trappings of wealth. He wears expensive suits, eats gourmet food, and lives in a big house in a gated community. He looked good, he lived well, but when he died he found his tables turned upside down.
We are not told how he became rich. Being rich is not a sin, necessarily, depending upon how one earns and spends his wealth. Many Old Testament saints, including Abraham, were quite wealthy. Many New Testament Christians with great fortunes have used their money to support churches, missionaries, seminaries, hospitals, and other entities that bring God glory and do people good. This man could have been an honest businessman and a philanthropist. Even so, money used generously cannot buy a ticket to Heaven.
We are not told how he treated Lazarus. He did not let him into his house, but would you let an apparent bum with open wounds into yours? It is not a sin to be protective of your home and family. We know Lazarus lusted after the rich man’s leftover food, but we do not know if he got any or not. Perhaps the rich man was kind, perhaps he sent Lazarus a plate every evening, but we do not know. We only know that good works are, well, good, but they are not the means by which a person enters into the kingdom of God.
So do not falsely accuse the rich man of hoarding ill-gotten gains or turning his back on the poor. Jesus did not say, so we do not know. We only know he lived a heavenly life, full of blessings and benefits, but wound up in “Hades,” or Hell, a place we learn much about from this parable.
Hell is irreversible. Once you go there, there is no way out. A “chasm” that cannot be crossed separates you from God and the saints. You cannot buy your way out. You cannot work your way out. You are there, forever, for there is no purgatory, no second chances, no way out.
Hell is inconsolable. This is a parable, so the “flame” is symbolic, but the point is sharp. Hell is hotter than fire, darker than night, and more final than death. It is the most uncomfortable place ever devised and there is no relief to be found. The rich man must have done some good deed for Lazarus, because he asked for repayment from Lazarus in the form of a single drop of water. But no kindnesses are repaid, no mercy is expressed, no comfort comes, ever, in Hell.
Hell is avoidable. Fully aware of his fate, the rich man requested a warning for his remaining family members. He wanted them to be able to avoid Hell by hearing from a resurrected saint who would obviously get their attention and give them the key to get out of Hell. God said no, but in doing so revealed the secret, the entryway into the kingdom of Heaven. It is the one thing Lazarus possessed that the rich man lived, and died, without.
The poor man lived hellishly, but wound up in Heaven.
Though we know as little about the “poor man” in the parable, at least he has a name. He is one of two people mentioned in the New Testament, this one fictional and the other one historical (ref. John 11-12), with the Greek name “Lazarus.” The Hebrew “Eleazar” is more common in the Old Testament, with at least eight prominent men bearing the name. Though this Lazarus is a character in a parable, what we learn from him is all too real.
Somehow Lazarus endured a hell on earth. He reached the end of his life dirt poor, which like being rich is not necessarily a sin, no matter what Pat Robertson and other televangelists have to say. He seems to be an honest man who fell on hard times, with no family or social support to help him in the end. His only companions were dogs, and they were not exactly man’s best friends in Jesus’ day.
The only thing we know for sure about Lazarus, and it is a big thing, is that when he died he went to Heaven. No one on earth seemed to care for Lazarus, but God cared for Lazarus. No one on earth seemed to love Lazarus, but God loved Lazarus. No one on earth gave anything to Lazarus, except maybe crumbs, but God gave to Lazarus all the resources of Heaven, citizenship with great saints like Abraham, the forgiveness of sins, and a too-wonderful-for-words eternal life.
Heaven is permanent. Once you are there, that same “chasm” that keeps people in Hell will keep you in Heaven. Lazarus could pay no rent on earth, but found a home in Heaven for free, all afforded by the manifold grace of God. All of his debts were paid, in more ways than one.
Heaven is wonderful. Surely this parabolic glimpse does not scratch the surface. But it is obviously a place offering fellowship with God and the whole family of believers. It is a place where the fullness of love, joy, and peace will be felt forever. It is a place where we know and are known by name, names like Abraham and Lazarus. It is a place of no tears, for there is no more sin, no more sickness, no more sorrow, no more death.
Heaven is attainable. On earth, the rich man had everything and Lazarus had nothing. But as earth gave way to eternity, the storehouses were switched, and the rich man had nothing and Lazarus had everything. Surely back on earth, Lazarus must have had something that the rich man did not. That he did, and it is the secret, the key, the very thing God demands that sends a person to Heaven and enables them to escape Hell.
What makes the difference between Heaven and Hell?
What did the rich man live for, possess in mass quantities, love with all of his heart, that Lazarus did not? Money, fortune, and fame. How is that working out for him now? Not too good.
What did Lazarus have that the rich man did not, other than poverty, sickness, and humiliation? Why did Lazarus get to go to Heaven while the rich man went to Hell? What is it that makes the difference between an eternity in Heaven or Hell?
When the rich man asked for a miracle, Abraham pointed him to something most people deem mundane. It was something the rich man and his brothers had under their noses their entire lives. It was something they ignored, or were ignoring, to their eternal peril.
To speak of “Moses and the prophets” in Jesus’ day was a way of referring to the written word of God, the Bible. The rich man probably had thirty-nine leather bound volumes in his home, but never bothered to read them. Lazarus could not afford a paperback copy, but listened and learned and believed and obeyed. Therein lies the difference. The key to Heaven is faith in the word of God and its central message, the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The word of God is to be treasured. Most Americans are much more like the rich man than Lazarus. We are materially blessed. We wear nice clothes, eat good food, and live in better houses than most people in the world. But if you have a Bible, you are in possession of the most valuable thing on earth, for in it lies the key that escapes Hell and puts a person in Heaven forever.
The word of God is to be read and heard. Neglecting your physical health can lead you to an early grave. Neglecting the word of God will lead you to an eternal grave. The word of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ are of no use to anyone who refuses to read and hear it. If it does hold the key to eternity, and it does, should it not be our ambition to consult it every day and throng to hear it read and preached on the Lord’s Day?
The word of God is to be believed. “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (ref. Romans 10:17). I am no Unitarian nor Arminian, but I believe that anyone who opens and reads, or listens and hears, the word of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ with an open mind and heart will believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. The grace found in Scripture is irresistible and the power of God in the gospel is spiritual dynamite.
The word of God is to be obeyed. Obedience to baptism, communion, and participation in public worship do not earn salvation. Keeping the ten commandments or the many other commandments in the Bible do not tally points that will score you a victory in Heaven. But a person who does not obey the word of God and the gospel is a person who does not believe the word of God and the gospel. Lip servers will not be found in Heaven, only life servers.
The fate of the rich man was sealed by his neglect and disbelief in the truths of God revealed in Holy Scripture. The future of Lazarus was secured by the promises he believed in word of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ. Scripture enshrines this story as that of a rich man and poor Lazarus. But in reality, and in eternity, who is the true rich man and poor man?