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Weekly Word

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Saturday
May232015

For Want Of A Better Life

May 17, 2015- Luke 16:19-31

Today we will be looking at the parable of the rich man and Lazarus.  This parable is meant to be the “other side” of the parable of the shrewd manager at the beginning of the chapter.  That is, the first parable emphasizes that believers should be shrewd in how they manage their wealth and possessions.  However, this parable emphasizes the dire consequences of not listening to the wisdom of Jesus.  Thus, as Jesus warned in the earlier parable that the “sons of light” were not very wise, here we see a “son of light” living out that very foolishness.  It is also important to recognize that Lazarus is himself an Israelite.  Thus there is not a racial element to this parable. 

A Great Contrast In This Life

The story opens up by giving us the extreme contrast in these two men’s lives.  They are the extremes of their society:  one very rich and the other very poor.  The rich man is full of abundance in every way.  He knows no need nor lives in want of anything.   He also wears the finest of clothing.  Now there were several words for a poor person in those days.  One emphasized a person who lived from paycheck to paycheck and from day to day.  They had some means of income but were hard pressed in keeping the essentials of their lives covered.  The word for this poor man is used of a person who has no ability to make an income.  This person has been reduced to begging for the kindness of others in order to live.  Thus this person is not just poor.  He has had something happen in his life to where he cannot care for himself and lives completely at the mercy of others.  The rich man is full of abundance, but Lazarus is full of sores.  Whatever these sores were they had incapacitated him.  This contrast of being full can be extended to their life as a whole.  The rich man is full of all that is good in life and Lazarus seems to have all that is bad and difficult.

Lastly we can look at the statement in verse 19 that the rich man “lived sumptuously” everyday (or lived in luxury).  The phrase is literally “was made glad splendidly every day.”  Yet, the poor man longed for just the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table.  It doesn’t seem likely that Lazarus was given any crumbs since this detail is not mentioned.  Someone had put Lazarus at his gate because they knew he could afford to help Lazarus out.  But the story Jesus tells clearly paints a picture of the rich man ignoring Lazarus.  In fact the lack of compassion and help from the rich man is contrasted with the dogs that would come and lick his sores.  Lazarus could not afford medical attention, but it is only dogs who “treat” his sores.

A Great Contrast In The Afterlife

It matters not how soon it was between their deaths.  But in the story we quickly transition from this life to the afterlife.  We have seen how things were in this life.  But how will things be when their soul goes into the hereafter?  Many reject the idea of an afterlife.  But the Bible is clear that after this life we will have to give an account for how we have lived.  Those who have honored God in their life will fare well, but those who have not honored God in their life will fare poorly.

There are two very different destinations involved.  Now some Bible scholars tell us to not take the details given as truth about the afterlife.  Their logic goes something like this.  A parable is only intended to express a simple spiritual truth.  Thus to pour more meaning into the smaller elements of the story is to force it to teach more than Jesus intended.  I can appreciate that and believe that it is true.  However, what they neglect to recognize is this; parables are always true to life stories.  They may not be about a specific situation but they are in general true to life pictures of a spiritual truth.  Take this further as we think about the parable of the soils.  No one tries to argue that it is going too far when someone speculates that first century Israelites must have been involved in and knew much about agriculture.  Even though agriculture is not the spiritual message of the parable, Jesus uses a true to life picture about agriculture in order to hammer home a spiritual message.  The parable here today happens to be about the afterlife.  Of course no one can go check it out and come back to verify this.  Yet, Jesus tells a story that is true to life regarding the afterlife, and we have no reason to doubt this.  This is not an Aesop’s fable that is never meant to be taken as real.  It is a warning of very real things.

One destination is that of Abraham’s bosom and the other is the flames of Hades.  Let’s first deal with the term Hades.  Hades was the underworld where the dead went when they died.  The Hebrews adopted it as roughly synonymous with their word “Sheol,” which simply meant the grave (not so much the hole the body was placed in, but rather the holding place of the spirit).  Now using the word Hades does not mean that every Greek idea about Hades was correct.  Technically Abraham’s bosom would be a part of Sheol or Hades.  The story clearly represents two experiences in the afterlife that are as different as the two lives the rich man and Lazarus had in this life.  Abraham’s bosom was the place where those approved of God went.   Abraham is named not because he created it, but rather he represents those who respond in faith to God.  There is no real mention of what the conditions are except by contrast of what the rich man is experiencing.  The rich man ends up in the flames of Hades because he live was not approved by God.  Regardless of what you think about this parable one thing is clear, there is a good to gain and a bad to avoid in the afterlife and you would do well to heed this truth.

Lazarus is in a place of comfort that he was denied throughout his earthly life, whereas the rich man is tormented.  There are flames and he thirsts terribly.  It is interesting that this torment parallels the torment that Lazarus endured in his earthly life.  We should be careful of pushing the description of the flames of Hades too far.  This is a spiritual place and the rich man is only a spirit.  He suffers something that is like what a flame is to the earthly person.  He also suffers what is like thirst to an earthly person.  Whatever this torment is exactly, it is clear that we are shown comfort and torment as two very different destinations. 

The rich man has now become a poor man in the afterlife and is found begging for merely a drop of water.  Yet, Lazarus is in no such need and we do not see him asking for anything.  We can see the desperation in the ex-rich man as he reduces himself to asking for Lazarus to touch his finger to his tongue with a drop of water.  This is something he would never have conceived of asking for in his previous life and corresponds with the “crumbs from the table” that Lazarus longed for.  Thus we see the two destinations are one of no need and the other of great need.

Lastly we are told that there is no possibility of help from the righteous.  One of the sad things in this story is that Lazarus would have no doubt helped the man if he could.  The righteous are of the type that they will help others even when they have been evil to them.  But by God’s decree a separation has been put in place so that the wicked souls of men may receive no comfort from the righteous.  Notice that this life is the time for helping others and changing our condition and fate.  But in the afterlife we are receiving justice from god and thus may not be helped.  You can say that this is unfair and you couldn’t serve a God who would do such a thing.  Yet, ask yourself, what am I doing about my condition in eternity now?  Jesus is warning his listeners to take this life seriously.  How you life in this life will determine your destination in the life to come.

How Can People’s Minds Be Changed?

At this point the discussion changes because the rich man realizes the finality of his situation.  And yet, there are others who are still living on earth.  They don’t realize how serious their life is in light of the afterlife.  The rich man realizes that they need to be warned or they will end up where he is.  But how can that be done?  Particularly he has 5 brothers whom he knows are living much like he did.  They are not living for God and by His commands.  Most likely they are just as rich as he and just as stingy toward the hurting.  He comes up with a plan to send Lazarus back from the dead in order to warn them.  Now an interesting point to note here is that Jesus actually did resurrect a man named Lazarus from the dead.  We do not know for sure if this parable was told before or after the resurrection event.  Either way, Jesus is either hinting towards what he was going to do, or pointing out that what had been done was not going to change people’s minds.

Abraham is not really in a position to send Lazarus back.  Only God has the power of resurrection.  However, he does tell the rich man that “Moses and the prophets” are enough.  If they won’t believe that then they won’t believe a man coming back from the dead.  Now the Old Testament has all the required warnings of what is to come and the justice of God that looms over those who do not take Him seriously.  It even has the shock value of amazing signs and wonders accompanying it to get people’s attention.  Even today, we can say that God’s Word has been made even more powerful with the perfect testimony of Jesus and his own death and resurrection.  Those who want an amazing miracle today in order to believe do not recognize the fickle nature of the hearts of men.  The declarations of the prophets are enough.  Those who reject that will not change their minds by any great miracles.

Now the rich man envisions that if someone came back to life and told the story of what they saw there, it would be enough to convince people.  However, it can be difficult to take a person’s word as absolutely true.  Perhaps your dying mind only conjured up those images and somehow you survived thinking they were real.  Perhaps you are a charlatan who is only trying to get attention and sell books.  We have seen recently that some accounts of experiencing the afterlife were later confessed to being completely made up.  Thus the situation itself is unverifiable.  If we don’t want to believe something we will always find a way to dismiss evidence to the contrary.  Abraham says that if they won’t accept Moses and the prophets they won’t accept the testimony of someone who came back from the dead.  What are the excuses we often lay before God today?  We often say that God should do something more spectacular or clearer to prove Himself.  Always, we place ourselves in command and tell God to jump through our hoops and then we will believe.  Yet, have you ever considered that you are not being completely honest?  It is easy to say, yet God says back that you have received all you need in order to believe.  Anything more will not make a difference to your heart.

The wonderful thing to note in this parable is that God in His grace has given us the best of both.  He has given us His Word along with spectacular signs and wonders.  In it we can hear the truth and be drawn to honor God with our lives.  Yet, His Son Jesus has come back from the dead.  Notice, though, that Jesus does not come back from the dead and testify what He saw there.  Jesus actually does the opposite.  Throughout his life he taught the truths of heaven and then predicted that he would be killed and come back to life.  Thus with Jesus the resurrection becomes proof that he knew what he was talking about.  No one today who verifiably “dies on the table” and then comes back can claim this.  Thus God has given us more than what we need in order to believe.  So do you?  If you want a better destination than the rich man in this parable, then you had better learn to use the blessings in your life in order to help the hurting.  God is merciful to those who are merciful and merciless to those who are merciless.

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