Obviously the rich man was blessed of God and would certainly be in heaven. Lazarus must be cursed of God and would be in hell. I mean, people like Lazarus don’t go to heaven do they? A point Jesus is obviously painting is appearances are deceiving.
THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO LUKE CHAPTER 16
Rich man and Lazarus, Appearances Are Deceiving (Luke 16:19-31)
By Pastor Delbert Young
Rich man and Lazarus, Appearances Are Deceiving – Luke 16:19-31
Scriptures: Luke 16:13, Luke 16:14-15, Luke 16:19-31
We have a very interesting study today. The reason I say “interesting” is because the way we, well I, interpret our passage today isn’t the way most people interpret our passage. My personal goal is to be as accurate as I can using what I know and the resources I find. With this said, you will not get an argument from me if you don’t agree. My goal is not to get you to agree.
As you’re aware, the Pharisees and experts of the law muttered about Jesus. Why? He welcomed tax collectors and sinners (15:1-2). To address this, Jesus told a series of stories about a lost sheep, lost coin, lost child everyone knew was lost, and another lost child no one knew was lost (important). Though the chapter ended, the stories didn’t. As we’ve seen, Jesus continued telling stories. He next told the story of the dishonest manager. This dealt with our using available resources to insure our being welcomed into eternity (16:1-13). Jesus ended the story with this statement:
Luke 16:13 “No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.”
At this point they began to sneer at Jesus. I hope you didn’t. Let’s read.
Luke 16:14-15 The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. 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.
Their muttering became sneering. Jesus said what is very valued by people gags God – detestable. Is he talking about me? You? Do you think we may highly value things detestable to God? We justify ourselves. DANGER! DANGER!
Contextually (important), Jesus said you justify yourselves. Jesus addressed how we justify ourselves with a flippant attitudes toward the lost. He addressed how we justify ourselves with our anger at the lost. He addressed how we justify ourselves with the misuse of our resources to insure our eternity. He addressed how we justify ourselves for our love of money. He addressed how we justify ourselves with a flippant attitude toward divorce and remarriage. Jesus set up the story we study today. It’s a very poignant indictment of a man dying and surprisingly waking in hell. Justifying ourselves is a serious issue. Here it is.
Luke 16:19-31 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores. “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. IN HELL, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 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.’ “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. 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.’ “He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father’s house, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’ “‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ “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.'”
What a vivid and troubling story. To this day Bible scholars ask if Jesus was telling a parabolic story, or was this a real event Jesus was aware of supernaturally. The reason for believing it was an actual event is Jesus used names – Lazarus and Abraham. He’d never done this before in a parabolic story. Also, this was a departure for Jesus’ normal story telling. He is very secular in his stories meaning he usually doesn’t mention spiritual issues in his stories. He talks about seed, soil, fish nets, sheep, coins, sons, yeast, fig trees, and vineyards, etc. Here he delves deeply into the supernatural – hell and heaven.
At this time, there were popular folk tales told and used by rabbis in Palestine to make points. It’s similar to my using a clip from a popular movie to make my point. Is this what Jesus did? The reason I bring this up is what Jesus describes here as heaven and hell is confirmed no place in scripture. It’s difficult to take this as a literal theological teaching about heaven and hell. It has serious issues. (1) The criteria to get into heaven is to be poor and you’d likely go to hell if rich. There is no other reasons given by Jesus as to why Lazarus the beggar went to heaven and the rich man went to hell. (2) If this is a picture of heaven, then “heaven” is sitting next to Abraham watching people burn in hell while listening to their pleads for mercy. No place else in scriptures do we find anything even hinting to this. Seeing and hearing hell would defile heaven and remove darkness from hell. (3) For us, “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord” (2Co 5:8), not next to Abraham. To deal with this, some theologians mix the literal with the figurative saying the flames and agony are literal, but sitting next to Abraham watching and listening is figurative. If Jesus is mixing the figurative with the literal then which parts are figurative and which are literal and who makes the call which is which?
There is a literal hell. Sin requires payment – death (Rom 6:23). We will pay it ourselves in hell, or trust Jesus Christ paid for those who believe in him. My job is to teach and preach the truth best I can. A “breakaway” teaching of heaven and hell doesn’t fit in the context of what Jesus was addressing. It would be snatching it out of context and you know how I feel about context. I feel by making this a teaching on heaven and hell, we end up with a polluted out of context understanding.
So, is this a story primarily given to teach us about the afterlife? I don’t think so. What then is it about? Let’s go back and get back in context.
Luke 16:14-15 The Pharisees, who loved money, heard ALL THIS and were sneering at Jesus. 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.
It’s when we justify ourselves, but gag God. The life of the rich man would be highly valued to most. Most love money and justify our treatment of the “Lazarus'” of the world. We justify ourselves about all this.
Certainly, we can draw some truth from it concerning the afterlife, but the contextual point of Jesus is the danger of justifying ourselves and realize what is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight. Social status and heritage are not indicators of who enters eternity. Outward appearances are not a picture of hearts.
Luke 16:19-21 “There was a rich man who was DRESSED in purple and fine linen and lived inLUXURY EVERY DAY. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.
The rich man externally was looking great. Purple would be his expensive Brioni tailor made outer clothing. Fine linen would be his expensive Frigo underwear. Lazarus’ clothing were opensores for dogs to snack on and lick. Jesus painted a vivid picture of contrast. Anyone comparing these two would say, or be inclined to say, the rich man was blessed of God and would certainly be in heaven. Lazarus must be cursed of God and would be in hell. I mean, people with good hearts and who love God don’t end up like Lazarus, do they? We don’t know by appearance. The common spoken assumption then and an unspoken assumption today is the rich man was heaven bound and Lazarus was hell bound. A point Jesus is obviously painting is APPEARANCES ARE DECEIVING.
Everyone looked to the Pharisees. Certainly their dress and wealth were examples of God’s favor. They taught righteousness was all external by works. If anyone would inherit the seat next to Abraham, it would be the Pharisees. The tax collectors, prostitutes, and other sinners, would certainly go to hell and beg for mercy. The Pharisees didn’t give them a crumb of hope. They were depicted as rotten covered with sores and only fit for dogs to lick. Jesus painted a great reversal.What’s highly valued among men is detestable to God.
Jesus did something unique in this story and we read over if not cautious. The rich man said,
Luke 16:28 for I have FIVE BROTHERS. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’
Why did he use five brothers? Jacob had twelve sons who became the twelve tribes of Israel. Interestingly, one of his sons, Judah, had five brothers – Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Issachar, and Zebulun. After a revolt against Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, the land was knows as Judah. The land of Judea. This is the area Jesus was in. The listeners would catch this quickly. Jesus let them know their outward appearance of being descendents of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Judah was no guarantee of heaven.
Interestingly, the rich man became an evangelist in hell wanting to evangelize his brothers through Lazarus.
Luke 16:29-31 “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’ “‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘BUT IF SOMEONE FROM THE DEAD GOES TO THEM, THEY WILL REPENT.’ “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.'”
The rich man thought a miracle would change his brothers. The miraculous does not change people. Jesus rose from the dead with adequate proof. People continue to not believe. Proper response to the word of God – Moses and the Prophets pointing to Jesus, is the only way to get it right. Proof of this is only days prior to his crucifixion, Jesus raised a man from the dead. Interestingly, his name was Lazarus. Did the Pharisees believe? Did the people believe. No… “Crucify him! Crucify him!” was their cry. Moses and the Prophets all pointed to Jesus. They didn’t listen.
Though Lazarus laid daily at the rich man’s gate, Lazarus was invisible to the rich man. How many “Lazarus'” are invisible to us? Lazarus actually became a test for the rich man. The rich man failed. I was wondering. Do we see the “Lazarus'” we pass by daily. Maybe, but do we see them as tests for us? I fear I may have some “rich man” in me I justify. Likely many of us are more concerned about our underwear than Lazarus. Actually, I’m not sure most “Christians” do well on the test and sadly, this test can determine eternity.
Jesus wants us to see the needs around us. It’s searching for the lost because they are valuable to us. We search until we find them. It’s not becoming angry because Father cares for the lost and blesses them when found. It’s using the resources available to us to do things for people. This will bring a welcoming committee to meet us in heaven. It’s loving God by loving what’s important to God more than we love money. It’s recognizing the things so highly valuable to us are detestable to God. It’s our hearts.
I heard a preacher say we attempt to deodorize our responsibility to Lazarus. “We put our sick into the hospital. We put our elderly into the nursing home, our poor into the housing projects, our garbage on the landfills, deodorant on our armpits, and by all means don’t make eye contact with Lazarus. Keep moving.”
How do you do? How much “rich man” is in you? Do we justify ourselves? Are the things we highly value detestable to God? WARNING! WARNING! DANGER! DANGER! I don’t want to surprisingly awake in the fire of hell in agony trying then to search for the lost.
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