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Life of Christ (2007-2009)

Lazarus and the Rich Man

Luke 16:19-31

Lesson audio

It is a famous passage of Scripture, and therefore worthy of our attention for that alone. It is also a passage of Scripture which is seldom the subject of a sermon, at least today.

Luk 16:19-31 NIV "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,[3] 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.' "

“If riches are a curse, smite me!” (Tevye, in Fiddler on the Roof). That might just be the attitude of most American Christians. In this lesson, however, we shall see

  • The perils of wealth
  • How suffering perfects the saint
  • That stewardship is the key concept in handling wealth.


We know little about Lazarus except that after his death he went to heaven. But we can infer something of his character from that.

Sins defeated in poverty

There are two sins which come to mind as afflicting this poor beggar. We can sympathize with them, but we must recognize them for what they are: sin.

  • The first is envy. Why should the rich man have so much, be so flourishingly abundant, while I sit here begging at his gate? It sounds like asking for justice. It’s really whining about what I don’t have rather than what he (the rich man) does have.
  • Blasphemy is the second. It is a sore temptation to blame God for your troubles, and accuse him of being unjust to you.
Affliction – a source of strength

Exercise has two characteristics: it’s painful, and it gets you into better shape. Affliction has the same effect spiritually. What kind of affliction, other than medical, did our Lazarus endure?

  • He had to deal with Judgmentalism. “Everybody knows” that he must have done something to deserve this; the question is simply, what?
  • He had to deal with slander. He is in no position to defend himself in social circles – but slander he must have had. How else do you think that all the people going to all those parties must have justified ignoring Lazarus?[1]
Accepting chastisement

It is a common thought in ancient Christianity that Lazarus was being chastised by God. Sounds like punishment, right? They didn’t see it that way.

  • They saw chastisement as evidence that God loves you. Lazarus was being chastised so that he might become a stronger saint.
  • One way this works: this is an opportunity for self-examination. Something which is commanded at communion, in such a hurry.
  • It obliges the Christian to seek consolation from God, to hide in the shadow of his wings.

Thomas à Kempis put it this way:

IT IS good for us to have trials and troubles at times, for they often remind us that we are on probation and ought not to hope in any worldly thing. It is good for us sometimes to suffer contradiction, to be misjudged by men even though we do well and mean well. These things help us to be humble and shield us from vainglory. When to all outward appearances men give us no credit, when they do not think well of us, then we are more inclined to seek God Who sees our hearts. Therefore, a man ought to root himself so firmly in God that he will not need the consolations of men.

When a man of good will is afflicted, tempted, and tormented by evil thoughts, he realizes clearly that his greatest need is God, without Whom he can do no good. Saddened by his miseries and sufferings, he laments and prays. He wearies of living longer and wishes for death that he might be dissolved and be with Christ. Then he understands fully that perfect security and complete peace cannot be found on earth.

The Rich Man

The rich man and Lazarus

We may observe three important questions here:

  • Why did the rich man see Lazarus at all? First, because the story is for our benefit, and we need to understand hell as torment, not just a “Christless eternity,” as the modern phrase has it. Next, it is a form of punishment for the rich man to see Lazarus in heaven, knowing who made it to Abraham’s bosom – and who didn’t.
  • Why did the rich man call out to Abraham? After all, he knew Lazarus, somewhat. For Abraham he might need a name tag. Perhaps it was because he considered himself a child of Abraham. But I think it more likely was this: he was ashamed to talk to Lazarus directly. Projecting his own motives into Lazarus, talking to him would bring a sneering rebuke. He may have felt that Abraham would have persuaded Lazarus to do as he asked.
  • Why did he see Abraham? Why not Moses, or other figure? Perhaps it was simply that God wanted to see before him a man whose hospitality was well known through the Scriptures – and that even one so exalted as Abraham could do nothing to ease his suffering.
What did he do to deserve this?

We take it for granted that the rich man got what he deserved. But it is useful to us to expand upon that question and ask, how did this happen?

  • There was an unfortunate lack of misery and suffering in the rich man’s life. He lived in luxury, and luxury breeds forgetfulness.
  • His sins were those of omission. He might try to justify himself by his contributions to charity, perhaps – but he’s in hell for what he didn’t do.
  • One key characteristic that is likely enough: he had no sense of thankfulness in his life.

That last is important. If you ask those who tithe why they do so, you usually get an answer that starts with shuffling a foot and ends with, “well, God has been so good to us…” The thankful heart opens the eyes.

Concept of stewardship

OK, just what should this guy have done?

To begin with, we need to understand what we mean by “wealth.” There are two common definitions:

  • One is “richer than …” Wealth is a competitive sport. I must keep up; I need a new boat. In this definition, no one is ever wealthy. But just a little bit more…
  • The other results from comparison – my needs vs. my resources. If my resources exceed my needs, I am rich.

Taking the second one as a Christian should, most of us are rich. That is to say, we have been accorded by God a surplus of material things – and as you would expect, if he gives you the tools, he gives you the job. Stewardship – the rich man’s true answer to wealth – means accepting responsibility of using all your wealth in God’s way.

So it is then that we get commands like this:

1Ti 6:17-19 NIV Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. (18) Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. (19) In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.

(Note the last word in verse 17).

Rich man’s requests

The rich man is not in a particularly good negotiating position. In fact, it sounds like he’s begging. But we may see within some other facts.

Tip of my tongue

Please note again that he petitions Abraham. His life has been one of wheeling and dealing, and he doesn’t want to ask the underling – especially one as low as a beggar.

Abraham simply tells him that he has received “your good things.” That has a couple of meanings:

  • “Your” means here that these are things you have earned (clear in the Greek.) You earned them, you could use them how you please.
  • We should also note that they are “good things.” It is not a case of the rich man’s desire for evil, but his placing his desire for good things first.

The request is impossible to fill, for there is a “great gulf fixed” (KJV) over which no man can pass. This then provokes the second request.

Send Lazarus

The rich man first asks on behalf of number one, himself. That failing, he turns to his family. Surely his brothers would repent if Lazarus walked in the door, right? So he asks Abraham (again) to send Lazarus back to the world of the living, with the message.

Abraham tells him that this is not necessary; they have the Scriptures. What more evidence do they need? He puts the matter to the extreme: even if someone came back from the dead, they would still not believe. This point is about to be proven in a most practical manner.

If you were…

We need to ask the hard questions:

Suppose you were Lazarus. Could you

  • Put aside envy and blasphemy and accept your lot in life?
  • Would you accept this affliction as being from God, and thus for your benefit?

Suppose you were the rich man. Could you

  • See past your own wealth and use it to be generous?
  • Could you accept the roadside beggar as your brother; then be generous to him, expecting nothing in return except the favor of God?

[1] A parallel today is the conviction that all those guys with roadside signs are frauds. To whom can they go to obtain justice?

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