Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus

Joel May, Speaker

Luke 16:19-31 | April 30 - Sunday Evening,

Sunday Evening,
April 30
Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus | Luke 16:19-31
Joel May, Speaker

I’ll be honest. I didn’t really expect a ton of overlap from some of the themes in Leviticus 19 and Luke 16 in this parable of the rich man and Lazarus, but there were several things that Kevin said this morning in his sermon that actually tie in really well with what we’re going to see here in this parable in Luke.

This parable is about someone who has been taught the Word of God, probably their whole life, and has all the resources they could ever want, all the sort of practical, logistical resources. All of their needs would be met, and yet they still live for themselves rather than living in love of God and neighbor.

What we see is a followup from two weeks ago. Tom preached a couple weeks ago on the dangers of serving money rather than God. What it looks like to be a slave to mammon, to money, instead of a slave to God and a slave and servant of righteousness.

This is a picture of that. What we’re going to see in this parable of the rich man and Lazarus is what can that potentially look like, what can happen when that’s the case in our own lives.

Now there is a lot to take from the details in this parable, and we’ll walk through them as we go, but sort of the exclamation mark, so to speak, the summary statement of the parable, if you had to boil the entire thing maybe down into one big idea, I like to do that as often as the text sort of lends itself to coming up with one big idea, if there’s one big idea in this parable, here’s what it would be: God’s Word tells you everything you need to know in order for you to be faithful.

Again, it’s almost an exact echo of something that Kevin said this morning in his sermon. Kevin said this morning God has given you what you need to know. God has given you what you need to know to live for him, and in the same way in this parable, sort of the summary statement and probably the one that a lot of us are familiar with this passage for, is that God’s Word tells you everything you need to know in order for you to be faithful.

Now I almost titled the sermon “You Have Everything You Need” or “We Have Everything We Need.” But me being a youth pastor, all I could think of was the Kanye West song called “We Have Everything We Need.” I thought to myself that would be a little too on the nose for a youth pastor to name something that closely associated with a Kanye song. It’s on his Christian album, don’t worry. But, it’s a little nuanced there, hedging my bets.

But that’s sort of what we see in this passage. We’re going to see we have everything we need to know in order for us to be faithful to God. Or if you like, in order for us to live by faith in humble obedience to God’s Word.

Now before we read this text, I think, so if you look at, go ahead and look at Luke 16, the first parable about the dishonest manager, it said He told this to His disciples and then verse 14 kicks in and it says the Pharisees are here and they’re lovers of money and they heard these and they ridiculed Him. Then Jesus says, “Hey, you are those who try and justify yourselves before men.”

So think, in this parable, think of it, how would it resonate to the Pharisees specifically? What was Jesus trying to teach the Pharisees specifically?

Let’s go ahead and let’s pray and then we’ll jump into the text.

Father, I pray that You would be with us as we come to Your Word. We thank You so much that it is living and active and it is able to do all that You’ve sent it out to do. It is able to accomplish all that You will for it to accomplish. So would You do that in our own lives, whether that is just training us and teaching us and reminding us of these truths that you’ve already implanted on our heart, or whether that is conviction and maybe for the first time even conviction of sin and repentance and faith in You. Do whatever You need to, Lord, by the power of Your Word and Spirit. It’s in Your Son’s name we pray. Amen.

Okay. So this parable, again sort of directed to the Pharisees, is almost preemptively answering a potential question that the Pharisees might raise. So they hear this teaching about not being a servant of money but rather being a servant of God. You might sort of imagine a Pharisee asking themselves, “Okay, well, how am I supposed to know how to interact with money now? How am I supposed to know how to live in order to sort of meet the demands that you’re telling us?

Jesus is sort of preemptively answering that question before it can even be asked. Here’s what He says. This starts at verse 19. As go through this, by the way, a lot of times I’ll read the whole passage, but this one kind of lends itself to we’re going to ready verse by verse more or less and we’re going to hit some points as we go. So verse 19.

” There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day.”

It’s a great word, “sumptuously.” All right. Stop right there. What do we know about this rich man? He has excessive resources, plenty to spare. He has purple linen, which is sort of the paradigm of luxury and wealth and all these things. You can like however you want. You’re wearing the nicest clothes. It says there’s sumptuous feasting every day. He was aggressive in how much he loved food and drink, probably. Some might say he probably threw ragers. Who knows.

Now what’s interesting is that there’s nothing really that distinctive about him. Number one, we don’t even know his name. We don’t know his name, but we do know what he wore and how he ate. So we knew his eating habits and we knew his clothing habits, but not his actual identity more or less, which is just sort of a terrifying, chilling parallel with fashion influencers and fitness influencers today. We don’t even know who they are but we know everything about what they wear and everything about their eating habits. That’s all I’ll say.

I think another thing might be significant. I hope I’m not sort of reading too much into this, but he doesn’t have a name. Okay. The rich man throughout the parable is called “the rich man.” This might be, I think this has to do with the fact that his name is not written in the Book of Life. I think this has to do with the fact that sort of at the end of his life he came to Jesus theoretically and Jesus said “depart from Me, I never knew you.” This rich man was not known by Jesus.

Let’s go on at verse 20 and 21.

“And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores.”

So Lazarus, he has a name, I like to think again that’s because his name was written in the Book of Life, he was known to Jesus, and his plight is the exact opposite. So whereas the rich man was clothed, covered in extravagant, luxurious garments and had everything that he could possibly want to eat, the exact opposite is true of Lazarus. He’s clothed in sores, so to speak, and he has nothing to eat, not even the crumbs from the rich man’s table.

What’s really intriguing here, some commentators said that the little phrase there about “even the dogs came and licked his sores,” part of that might be sort of referring to how unclean, he’s sort of doubling down on how unclean this man was. But it might also be that even the dogs outdid the rich man in showing love and honor to this man Lazarus. Even the dogs knew how to care for him and how to lick his wounds, so to speak, whereas the rich man did not.

Let’s continue on. Verse 22.

“The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side.”

Here there’s a definitive break. Both of them die and everything that they thought about sort of their paradigm of life kind of gets flipped on their head. So Lazarus now receives honor and glory and eternal life and the rich man receives everlasting torments.

A lot of y’all might be in tune with, well, I’m not even in tune, this is a super-old meme, but there’s a meme that went around way back in the day that was “how it started versus how it’s going.” There’s some really funny ones, it shows, I don’t know, I can’t even give an example, but one situation how it starts really bad and you take a picture of that, but then sort of the situation is redeemed almost and you see how it’s going, oh, it turned out awesome. Then other people say, “Hey, here’s how it started, looked like it was going to be amazing, looked like we were going to have a great time, everything was going to be awesome, but then how it’s going, everything is a disaster. It all falls apart.”

This is almost like the extreme of the how it started versus how it’s going. Both sides, good to bad, bad to good.

Not only that, but look at the name. Who does the rich man cry out for? He cries out to Abraham. Now imagine again, imagine you’re a Pharisee and you hear the name Abraham brought up. You might be thinking, “Okay, finally. That’s our guy. That’s our guy. Abraham’s going to fix all this. He’s going to set everything right.” They probably had some sense of ownership, possessiveness, maybe even a challenge, maybe some sort of, “Okay, here we go, now it’s time.”

Let’s continue on. Verse 24.

“And the rich man 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.’”

“Have mercy on me.” I wonder how many times the rich man heard that same plea from Lazarus in his life?

Verse 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.’”

I don’t know exactly if this is what Abraham is doing, but he’s almost saying, “Was that not enough? Wasn’t that what you were looking for? All the good things in that life. Did that not sustain you? Did that not satisfy you?” I don’t know that that’s exactly what he’s saying, but it is a little challenge there.

Verse 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.’”

Now you might ask yourself, “Is this a problem? Were there a lot of people who were saying, ‘Hey, we’re in heaven, but we kind of want to cross into hell for a little bit just to see what it’s like and then come back.’ Did you really need to put the chasm there for the people going the other way?”

No, that’s not what it’s getting at. That’s not the point. The point here is that death marks a definitive break. Death is final. Death is something final. You can’t cross the chasm. You die, you’re in heaven, you’re in hell, and that’s it. there’s no going back. There’s no changing course.

Now I’m not even sure actually that Lazarus wants to change course. I’m not sure he’s asking this in order to say, “Hey, now I get it. I want to backtrack. I repent. Will you please forgive me?” We see that because of the way that the rest of this dialogue plays out.

Let’s go on in verse 27 through 31. Pay attention to his posture. Pay attention to what he is and isn’t actually saying.

“And then the rich man said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him [send Lazarus] to my father’s house—for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, then they will repent.’ 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.’”

Now just a couple observations about the rich man that we see in this dialogue. Number one, the rich man is merely asking for relief, not forgiveness. He’s not actually concerned with the heart issue. I don’t even know if he’s self-reflective enough to realize, “Oh, I am in Hades, I am in torment because I was not living by faith, because I did not know You.” He’s really mostly just concerned with his circumstances. He’s not repenting and he’s not saying, “Lazarus, please forgive me for how I treated you.” There’s no love, there’s no clear love there.

Second thing. He still, it seems like he still wants Lazarus to serve him. Even though he’s in Hades, he’s not dialoguing with Lazarus; he’s dialoguing with Abraham. He’s asking, “Hey, Abraham, get Lazarus to come serve me. Get Lazarus to help me.” He still seems to be kind of concerned mostly with status and honor and sort of positions in his life. He’s thinking, “Okay, well, I’m going to ask Abraham because he’s got power and I’m going to tell him, hey, get Lazarus and come and serve me.”

Next thing. He seems only to be concerned about his own people still. So his request, I mean, if you’re going to make a bold request from hell to heaven, why not go big? Why now say, “Hey, send someone back from the dead. Send Lazarus to ride on a cloud with blaring trumpets around the whole earth so that everyone in the world can know this message.” That’s not what he even asks. He says, “Send Lazarus back to my family, my father, my brothers.” That’s his primary concern. Obviously there’s something good there, we are called to focus on our actual family, but even more broadly again what he’s asking really here is, “Hey, go make sure that my people are in the clear. Go make sure that my people find a way out.”

He doesn’t like the answer that he’s given. So Abraham says, this line that most of us know this parable for, “He has Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.” He doesn’t like that response.

Again, think about what he’s arguing here. He’s saying, “I don’t like what you’re saying. I want it to be done my way.” He says, “No, father, but if…” He starts making excuses right away and he says, “No, no, no. Things still need to be done my way.” He still wants to be in control here. He expects special treatment. He says, “Make someone do something ridiculous and extravagant, something that we didn’t think is even possible. Make him go do it because I’m asking you to.”

Then he really still doesn’t understand the problem. During his lifetime he completely ignored God’s Word. He ignored the authority and the teaching of God’s Word.

Now what should we make of this? What do all these observations lead us to see? What is it teaching about?

Well, I’m going to do a little Turretin thing and I’m going to say, “We distinguish here,” you’re welcome, Kevin, we’re going to distinguish what is not necessarily teaching us. What’s not necessarily the main point of this passage.

Number one. It’s not just a moralistic tale. It’s not just a passage that says, well, help the poor and everything will be taken care of. Well, help the poor and all of a sudden all of your problems will fade away and that will merit you eternal life. It’s not a moralistic tale. It’s not a rags to riches story or the reverse. It’s not like a feel good, comeback inspirational movie where it’s like, “You can’t believe how Lazarus and now where he is.” It’s not a clickbait YouTube video.

It’s also not a systematic theology. Parables sort of inherently are not systematic theologies.

So here’s what we can’t necessarily do with this passage. It’s not a full doctrinal discourse on justification or sanctification. It’s not a full doctrinal discourse on glorification or the immediate state or Gehenna versus Hades versus sheol versus all these titles. It’s not spelling that out word for word, point by point.

It’s not a full metaphysics of the afterlife. It’s not trying necessarily to teach us something about, okay, well, the rich man was in Hades and he looked up and he cried out, so they’re talking, what should we make of that.

It’s not a systematic theology on these really, really huge concepts.

It’s also not just like an Easter egg passage. It’s not an Easter egg passage, which foreshadows Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. I think a lot of times, honestly, when I thought about this passage, I thought about the response here, maybe Abraham’s response, as like being done with like a wink and a nod to the camera and like a nudge/nudge, like “They have Moses and the prophets and even if someone were to rise from the dead, they wouldn’t get it.”

It’s not just a foreshadowing passage. There’s something more happening here. We need to see something more here.

Last, it’s not a condemnation of wealth in itself. It’s not a condemnation of being taken care of, of having adequate resources, and it’s not a commendation of poverty and asceticism.

These are all errors that we can fall into. We don’t want to swing the pendulum of errors from one thing to another.

So having said what it isn’t, then what is it? What do we need to see in this passage? What do we need to learn?

Three things. I’m going to call them a challenge, a warning, and a reminder.

So number one, the challenge.

The challenge here is also sort of a warning and a reminder. I don’t know. All three are kind of the same thing.

Number one. Looks can be deceiving. Looks can be terribly, terribly deceiving. We know that but this passage is really clear about that. The rich man is not a blessed man. The rich man is not living in luxury because he is blessed, he’s living in luxury and licentiousness because he is a slave to money. The rich man is not a blessed man. Luxury is not the same thing as blessing. Luxury cannot save or satisfy. Don’t be deceived by earthly pleasures and treasures. Looks can be deceiving.

On the flip side, Lazarus is not a cursed man.

So the rich man is not a blessed man, Lazarus is not a cursed man. He is not a picture of someone who is reaping the just desserts of his unfaithfulness. He, instead, I think, is a picture of one who is poor in spirit. One who has nothing and who has been given nothing in order that he might cling to the only thing that can satisfy. He is a picture of one who will inherit the earth no matter what his earthly circumstances seem to indicate.

Suffering is not the same thing as condemnation or curses. Don’t be deceived by our various trials in life.

Here are a couple of challenges.

We need to see through, we need to train ourselves to see through our own picture and version of the good life. We need to practice that. Your version of the good life can look like a bunch of different things, it can have a bunch of different manifestations. It can be Gucci, Golden Goose and Tory Burch. None of these names that I know myself, but I got some help from a woman in my life.

It might be a church with a real pipe organ instead of an electric organ, where we read from the King James Version and every single time a pastor preaches he wears a tie. Your version of the good life might be something, I actually assume, I bet it’s something simpler and maybe more insidious.

For most adults, it’s something a lot simpler. It’s a pretty easy thing that we think we can achieve and I think that subconsciously a lot of the times we pursue. It can be the little luxuries that we feel entitled to, like a weekend full of fun activities, a big spacious roomy house in a great location so that our commute to work and church isn’t that bad, we can see all our friends anytime we want. Or for a lot of us, it might just be plenty of rest each night. That’s the good life. Just give me some good rest every night.

Now we also have to see past our version to the bad life. Some of our versions of the bad life might actually be those things that I just mentioned. Your bad life might be Gucci, Golden Goose and Tory Burch. Your bad life might be any number of things.

Here’s what we need to know about the bad life. We are not called to be stoic and to ignore the realities of suffering. We’re not called to push all of that under the rug and sweep it away and say, well, that doesn’t exist. Abraham’s actually honest. He says, “You received your good things and Lazarus his bad things.”

But we can’t allow our circumstances to determine our view of God in the Christian life. This is really hard to do if we have no concept of eternity.

That leads us to point number two. The second thing here, a warning, and also sort of a challenge. This life is not all there is.

There is more. Someday you will either be cast out of God’s presence forever or you will receive eternal life. Whether you had a good life or a bad life here on earth almost has nothing to do with it.

This is not all there is. We have to have an eternal perspective and that eternal perspective guards against living only for the things that make us happy in this life. It guards against us being content with mere earthly pleasures and it guards us against being resentful of earthly trials. It forces us to look past our own circumstances.

Which leads to the third thing. It helps us to remember that even right now we have everything we need in order to be faithful.

We have what we need to be faithful. Look at Abraham’s dialogue again with the rich man. The rich man had everything and yet he made excuses. He made excuses for why he didn’t live by faith. He made excuses for why he wasn’t faithful. He says, “Well, you know, if me and my family, if we were to be the recipients of something extravagant, something miraculous, if you were to do just a little bit extra, something a little more concrete for us, then finally we would have everything we need to be faithful. We would have everything we need to get our act together and finally follow God.”

Verse 30 he says, “If only blank would happen, then we would finally be faithful.”

It’s a scary thing to fill in that blank in our own lives. What do we think we need that God hasn’t provided? What is that you really think, “Okay, God, You need to prove yourself to me in this way before I start to live for You.” That’s a scary blank to fill in there.

You don’t need something extravagant, external, additional, to the Word of God. What you need is to humbly submit yourself to the Word of God. We all need to be reminded that God’s Word is sufficient to save us, to guard us, and to guide us in the true way of life, here and now.

We all need to be reminded, time and time again, that the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword. It is able to pierce. It is able to shape. It is able to conform. It is able to save. It is able to guide us in the ways of life. It’s a lamp unto our feet and light unto our path.

Now here’s what I want to be really clear about. This is not a guilt trip passage. For believers, this is an encouragement passage. It’s an encouragement because it tells us as Christians, as those who are already in Christ, we don’t have to wait around to get some new revelation in order to live faithfully. It’s an encouragement; it’s not a guilt trip.

God has given us everything that we need to be faithful to Him and to live by faith. That’s good news. That is so encouraging. We’re not lacking anything. He’s not withholding.

Now it’s not every week that the morning and evening sermons can have almost the exact same concluding statements, but here it is, and I am taking Kevin’s conclusion from this morning. If you want to know how to live faithfully, if you want to know how to actually live out the Word of God, get to know what God’s Word says. Get to know what God’s Word says about life and godliness. It’s in there. It’s living and active. It’s profitable for teaching, for correction, reproof, in training in righteousness.

Even more, if you want to know how to live faithfully now, get to know the Word that became flesh and dwelt among us. Get to know Him who laid aside His status, laid aside His riches, laid aside His glory in order that He might save those who turn to Him, those who cling to Him, and those who live by faith in Him alone with the hope of eternal life and the promise of blessings forevermore.

Let’s pray. Father, we do pray that these words would not fall on deaf ears. We do pray that we would hear Your Word to us as an encouragement. We do also know that there are plenty of things that we need to be convicted of. We often fall short, we often turn away from You, we often go astray, but Lord, would You remind us that You just call us to return to You, to come to You, to cling to You, to believe, to trust, to submit to Your Word, because it is a perfect rule of righteousness. It guides us in the way of true life and ultimately provides faith for eternal life. It’s in Your Son’s name we pray. Amen.