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Luke Parables of Jesus: The Rich Man and Lazarus
“Now there was a rich man, and he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, joyously living in splendor every day. And a poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores, and longing to be fed with the crumbs which were falling from the rich man’s table; besides, even the dogs were coming and licking his sores. Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried. In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and *saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried out and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great chasm fixed, so that those who wish to come over from here to you will not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us.’ And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, that you send him to my father’s house— for I have five brothers—in order that he may warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ But Abraham *said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ But he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!’ But he said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.’ ”
Luke 16:19-31 NASB1995
I have found these deep dives into Scripture to be so revealing in doing these devotionals. What a way to learn about God’s word! It is changing my perspective every single day and serving to deepen my faith as I ponder words from the Bible that I have seen so many times, yet didn’t really understand before now. I hope that the readers of “Heaven on Wheels” are also finding these devotionals to be thought-provoking and take to heart the lessons that are revealed. I feel compelled that we should learn together and not fear anything but God (more on that a little later)!
Having said that, we have reached a story in Luke 17 told by Jesus to the scoffing Pharisees that addresses the most important question you can ask in your temporary Earthly life: Where will I spend eternity? Biblical scholars debate whether or not this passage is truly a parable, as Jesus mentions one of the persons in it by name, so it may have been based on a real story that only the Son of God would know. This story or parable or lesson is one of the most difficult ones in the Gospels because it sets before us the ultimate truth of our lives: we have souls and are going to live eternally, but the location of that eternal life can be a indescribable paradise in the loving presence of our God (Heaven and the New Earth) or we can be consigned to the outer darkness and eternal tormenting fires of Hell, always separated from God and KNOWING it.
The parable is pointedly targeted at the Pharisees, who considered their riches and outward pieties to be evidence of their favor in God’s eyes and their ticket to heaven. Just like the Levite and the priest who walk right by the suffering man in the “Good Samaritan, the rich man in this story ignores the wretched and sore-covered Lazarus who begs for the filthy crumbs that go to the dogs from the rich man’s table. This is not the same Lazarus who was raised from the dead by Jesus in John 11:1-44, but it is interesting to note that the Pharisees who saw that miracle happen in person wanted only death for Jesus and for the resurrected Lazarus; they were not one bit curious about what Lazarus saw while he was dead, nor were they persuaded by this supernatural event to turn to Jesus as their Messiah (echoing the end of this passage).
So in the story told by Jesus, the rich man and Lazarus both die. Lazarus is transported to Heaven by angels and to the arms of Abraham; the rich man suffers a complete reversal and is now in Hades (Hell), suffering torment and looking up at the scene of Lazarus and Abraham. Obviously, the rich man is fully aware of where he is and also knows that he did not repent and believe the prophets and the word of God and is now concerned for his brothers who are still living. The rich man wants Lazarus to cross the boundary and bring him a drop of water for his burning lips (he still can’t believe that this miserable person is saved rather than himself). But the gap is insurmountable and can’t be crossed. Abraham addresses the concern for repentance by saying that those who don’t believe won’t suddenly come to belief if a dead man came to warn them (again, see the Gospel of John Lazarus story). Many also didn’t believe when Jesus rose from the dead; our modern skeptics and atheists try like the “devil” to disprove that Jesus was resurrected or that He even existed. By the way, the rich man did not go to Hell because he was rich (recall that Abraham was described as being very wealthy), any more than the path to heaven for this particular Lazarus was due to his suffering and poverty.
What in the world am I doing, bringing up the word “Hell” in this modern age of reason and science? How passé! What kind of God would create a place of eternal torment? That certainly isn’t very “loving” of Him, is it? Well, we sinful humans may find the idea of Hell to be shocking and disturbing, but Jesus, who should know, talked about Hell (in various terms and warnings) more than anyone else in the Bible. Ponder this: Hell is our default destination, not just a place for really bad people and Satan and his minions. It is our choice, to ignore the Word of God or to allow it to be twisted so badly that people no longer understand what God really said or have a healthy fear of God. Some mainstream churches these days never talk about Hell, except to speculate that it doesn’t exist or that it is empty. Or they invent a concept like annihilationism, which speculates that unsaved souls are permanently destroyed rather than suffer (found nowhere in the Bible). Jesus in these types of churches is often pictured as a benign, socialist hippie who loves everyone and would not exclude a single soul, regardless of whether they believe in Him or not. I have to admit that I don’t think I have ever heard a sermon centered on this parable in the many years I went to a denominational church, even during my childhood. It’s too “Hell and Brimstone” and quite distasteful and certainly would not make people “comfortable” for a fifteen-minute homily on Sunday. Well, Christianity is not comfortable.
It’s interesting that I am writing this the day after we had a guest pastor at our church talking about Fear of God. His sermon (not a short 15 minutes) was very thought provoking. The fear of the Lord is a wonderful thing and crucial to our faith. It is the beginning of wisdom. The fear of the Lord is the key to His treasure. We come to our faith in Jesus, repent our sins and believe in His resurrection because we realize that we were destined for Hell. This knowledge should make our efforts to evangelize to our friends, family and neighbors an imperative that we can’t ignore. Rather than have a commentary excerpt added to this devotional, I am providing a link to John MacArthur’s site (Grace to You) for the section in his archives on Luke 16 sermons (there are five excellent sermons on the Testimony of One Surprised to be in Hell). These are worth reading or listening to to help with the understanding of the Rich Man and Lazarus.
This is a lot to absorb and I have spent hours awake thinking about how to write this devotional and I pray that readers don’t run away from the hard truths. All I know at this point is that there is a crossroads to take before we die and it goes through the Cross to get to the narrow path. Oh, and to add to this story, after I wrote this and before it was published, the Gospel Coalition had a great article about how “hell” and “damnation” have become mild epithets, rather than being reserved to describe the worst fate for a soul. Here’s a link to that story: Am I Going Through Hell?
My next devotional examines the Luke 17 parable “The Master and His Servant” (Luke 17:7-10).