Friday, September 23, 2016

The Rich Man and Lazarus

Luke 16:19-31 I want to begin with the five brothers who were still living—who very much needed to hear what God had to say about the place of money in their lives.  Their rich brother had died and was in hell—Lazarus had died and was in heaven—and both of them would remain there forever.        But the brothers were still living.  There was still time for them to turn aside from the idolatry of greed and to faith in God.  And the question was:  would they listen to what Jesus had to say about money—or would they turn a deaf ear and end up in hell like their brother?
I begin there because that’s where we are and the same question asked of us.  When it comes to money, will we listen to Jesus or the world? 
Is it really true that we can’t serve God and money?  It seems like we do a pretty good job of trying.  Is the love of money really the root of all evil-- or is it possible to love money the right way?  Should we really be content with just the basics of life-- or should we strive for luxury like the world around us?  Does the desire for riches really plunge us into ruin and destruction-- or does it encourage us to be successful in life?
Just like the five brothers of the rich man in Jesus’ day, we are the ones who need to hear this story that Jesus tells about Lazarus and the rich man because the consequences of living a life devoted to wealth rather than to God are eternal and terrible.
Jesus said:  “There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and feasted sumptuously every day.”  We hear the question often: What would you do if you won the lottery?  And the fantasy begins.  Having the best of everything.  Living a life of ease.  That's the kind of life the rich man was living–and there is no indication that it was ill-gotten gains that he was living on.  He apparently worked hard, invested well, and was enjoying life. 
There's much in this picture that appeals to us.  After all, he's living the American dream!  And if he forgot the God who blessed him–if he neglected those in need around him--well after all, he was busy with life and concerned for himself.
That’s not hard for us to imagine, is it?  Often times we grow complacent (rather than thankful) during times of prosperity, forgetting the God who blessed us and the poor who need our help.  But putting ourselves in Lazarus’ place--now there's a difficulty.  Jesus said:
“[At the rich man’s 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.” 
Imagine this with me: You have no place to live.  You have no money.  You have no food.  You have no family to help you out.  And on top of all that, you have a horrible disease that disfigures you to the point where you can't even stand up.
The best, most compassionate thing that anyone can think to do for you is take you and lay you at the entrance of a mansion, hoping that someone will come out of those doors, find you, and have mercy on you.  That's the most you have to hope for, but what you receive instead, is a visit from scavenging dogs.
But rather than cursing your situation--rather than being angry at your desperate lot in life--you simply say "God is my help".  And most remarkably of all, it’s not just a slogan--you actually believe it—that is your confession of faith!  In the midst of this horrible situation, when you seem abandoned by God and there is no visible sign of his mercy or provision--you say, "God is my help."  That's what the name “Lazarus” means: “God is my help”. 
It’s difficult to imagine having such faith.  Especially because we know how just a few setbacks in life can make us begin to question God--to demand his help as we see fit, when we see fit--to forget everything that our Savior has so generously given in the past. 
Though they were completely different in life, both Lazarus and the rich man shared this one thing in common:  they were both mortal.  Their physical life came to an end.  Jesus said:  “The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side.  The rich man also died and was buried.”  No matter what their financial picture, they could not escape death—and neither can we.  Whether we are rich or poor, we will leave our possessions behind and they will not matter to us anymore because we are either in the joys of heaven like Lazarus or the unquenchable fires of hell like the rich man!
Just as they were different in life, so they were different in death and eternity.  When Lazarus lived, he was carried to the entrance of a rich man's house, only to be ignored.  When he died, his poor body was carried to a pauper's grave with no one to mourn his passing–forgotten by the world.
But God hadn’t forgotten him.  The holy angels carried him to his eternal home in heaven--a mansion far grander than the richest man in the world could ever imagine.  The pain of his life passed away never to be experienced again-- or even remembered --and Lazarus’ faith was rewarded with the riches of his heavenly Father.
But when the rich man died, how different was the scene in time and eternity!  His funeral must have been extravagant!  There were family and friends to mourn his passing.  There were people from the community to eulogize his life.

An ornate cloth covered his body and a large, beautiful stone monument marked his grave.  I'm sure he would have appreciated all the care and concern…if he hadn't been burning in the fires of hell.  But that was exactly his situation and it would remain so for eternity.  Jesus said that:  “In Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side.” Please understand….
Lazarus didn't go to heaven because he was poor–there is no moral value in poverty.  The rich man did not go to hell because he was rich–there is nothing immoral in wealth.  There are many rich people like Abraham in heaven and there are many poor people in hell.  People don’t go to heaven or hell because of their wealth or lack thereof.  Where we spend eternity is determined by what we have lived for and where we have placed our hope and trust and faith in this life:  in Jesus or in the things of this world.
Lazarus knew that God was his help and lived his life, as difficult as it was, with his eyes of faith fixed on that promise-- and when he entered into eternal glory his faith was proved true.
The rich man lived his life-- as if this world was all there was.  How very wrong he was!  God's Word plainly teaches that eternal torment in hell is the punishment for those who turn their backs on Jesus and serve instead some false god such as money or pleasure or success. 

Now you would think that in hell people would come to the terrible realization that all they had believed and lived for was wrong --and repent of it in tears.  But they don’t.  They exist in hell as they existed in life–separated from God–turned in on themselves–unconcerned for others.  The rich man said: 
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 fire.”
Even in hell the rich man still saw Lazarus as some one who exists to serve his needs, demanding that he leave the peace and joy of heaven to come to the agony of hell to bring a drop of water for his burning tongue—still concerned only for his physical needs, with absolutely no thought of the pain he caused others.  As he lived on earth–so he would remain in eternal death and damnation.  There would be no relief from the fires of hell for him–then or ever.
“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.  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.” 
It’s a frightening picture isn’t it?  It’s meant to be!  Jesus tells us this story because he wants us to be reflective about the direction of our life before it is too late.
Have we lived our lives like the rich man?  Have we put our desires, our wants, our needs before those around us?  Has our selfishness caused pain for others?  Have we lived our lives on this earth, as if this life is all that matters?
Through the voice of the rich man crying out in hell’s torments, Jesus speaks a stern warning to us this morning.  He says:  Turn away from selfishness!  Turn away from greed!  Keep your lives free from the love of money!  Open your eyes to the needs of others!  Live with eternity in view!  Look to me alone for help!

Just like with the rich man’s brothers there remains for us a gracious, God-given opportunity to hear and heed the words of Jesus and change the direction of our lives.  Today is the day to remember and take to heart that, just like with Lazarus, God is our help.
Despite the scarcity of our loving concern for others, our Father has given of the riches of his Son’s holy life in place of our self-serving life.  Despite our desire to selfishly hold onto our blessings, God has poured out upon us the blessings of his grace and mercy by forgiving our sins on account of his Son’s bloody death on the cross.  And despite our unwillingness to see the needs of others, he has not only seen our need for salvation and forgiveness and new life, but has met that need through his Son’s resurrection from the dead-- so that life-- not death-- is our eternal future.
God gives us the riches of his grace as a free gift through his Son Jesus Christ and it is this risen Savior, witnessed to by Moses and the prophets, who calls us today to live a new life like his, concerned for others.
And so, we go forth into this new week as disciples of Jesus Christ with our eyes fixed on heavenly, not earthly values---looking for opportunities to show our faith in Jesus through loving and generous service to others.  May God grant this each of us for Jesus’ sake! Amen.

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