Changed for Eternity
This story takes us into the final year of Jesus’ life and ministry on earth. Two and a half years of preaching, teaching, and training the disciples are behind him, and now fewer than 12 months remain before the cross. Since our last message on the Transfiguration, Jesus has given more parables, healed more people and tussled with the Pharisees several more times. In fact, the opposition from the Pharisees had grown so intense, that Jesus had to resign himself to the northern Galilean province to escape their threats of death. Jesus would not return to Jerusalem until his Triumphal Entry just a week before His death and it’s no wonder we find Jesus is weeping over that city when he does return. So here is Jesus in Galilee and He’s just finished teaching a lesson on eternity, or rather the dangers of living for the moment and giving no though to what awaits after we die. Jesus had just taught on pouring yourself into things that matter for eternity – that you cannot cling to the earthly and yet still hold onto that which is godly. “Ye cannot serve God and mammon,” Jesus said in verse 13. And then in verse 14 we’re told that the Pharisees were covetous, meaning they did in fact cling very much to worldly things. And it angered them that Jesus would assert that they could not be both consumed with the things of the world and the things of God at the same time – that they in fact clung to things that were an abomination to God and twisted the Bible to make it seem OK.
So in response to their anger and attempts to justify themselves, Jesus tells them a story. Now I’m convinced that this was a true story not a parable. This story differs from the parables of Jesus in that He states so definitively that “there was a certain rich man.” And if this was a parable, then it would be the only one containing a character with a name – Lazarus. No, there’s something too real about this particular story that leaves us with the impression that it was in fact a true story.
Notice it says here “a certain rich man.” I believe that as Jesus described this man and his lifestyle, as well as naming the beggar that lay at his gate, everyone knew exactly which rich man Jesus was talking about; there was no need to call him by name.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with being a rich man. Many people throughout the Bible were rich such as Solomon and Abraham. The reason that Jesus makes mention of this man being rich is because of how he handled his wealth. We’re told that he was clothed in purple. In ancient times, it was considered an extravagant thing to wear colored clothing because of the high cost associated with creating dyes and pigments. If you remember when Joseph was given a coat of many colors by his father, it angered Joseph’s brothers because they knew the costliness that went into making such a colorful coat. And purple was considered the color of nobility. We’re also told he wore fine linen. Again linen was a nicety that most could not afford. It was very unlike the drab coarse clothing worn by most other people.
Thirdly we’re told that the rich man faired sumptuously every day. This spoke of his food. No doubt he had a personal live-in chef who cooked up the finest and most exotic dishes. And we’re told that he ate like that daily, no doubt three or more times per day; complete self-indulgence. Indeed the rich man lived like a king.
But not everyone who could afford such a lifestyle went around in purple and linen garments and ate the finest dishes day in and day out. But those who could afford to do so and did, did so because they wanted others to take notice of them; to brag to others of their wealth.
It’s like the $500 jeans worn by celebrities and the $1000 purses they carry. Or the $250,000 Ferraris or Bentley’s they drive. Why do they do that? I’m not going to judge the motives of every single one of them, but most do so because they want normal folks like us to know that they are really rich. But not every rich person is that extravagant. Warren Buffett who is worth $46 billion drives a 7 year old Cadillac and has lived in the same modest home for the last 55 years. Instead of accumulating possessions to boast of his wealth, he gives most of what he earns away to charities.
Now I’m not saying you can definitively tell whether a person is saved or lost by what they spend their money on, but Jesus did say, “Where your treasure is there will your heart be also.” And the rich man here in Luke 16 demonstrated that his heart was in his wealth and accumulating the most luxurious possessions he could. He was a lover of money and in love with himself.
Next we’re introduced to a poor beggar named Lazarus. We’re told far less about Lazarus; in fact the main reason for his inclusion in this story is to give further insight into what kind of man the rich man was. Lazarus we’re told was a beggar which immediately tells us that he was the complete opposite of the rich man; he was quite poor. In those days men only begged if they had some kind of physical ailment or deformity that prevented them from working. We’re told that Lazarus had some kind of dreadful disease that caused sores to appear all over his body. No one would hire a person like that and no doubt the pain of his sores would have made it impossible to hold a steady job.
All that was left for Lazarus was to lay on the ground and beg in the neighborhoods of the rich. Indeed his condition so weakened him that he couldn’t even fend off the dogs that pestered him.
We’re told that at some point Lazarus made the gate to the house of our rich man his regular place to beg. But a lot of good that did him. Lazarus and his plight were largely ignored by the rich man. I don’t know if there was any kind of medical treatment that could have helped Lazarus, but the rich man certainly didn’t care enough to send out his personal physician. At least some kind of balm might have been used to soothe the sores and alleviate Lazarus’ pain, but this too was withheld.
And remember the exquisite meals the rich man ate? Well, he shared none of that with Lazarus either. In Bible days, there were no forks or knives, so people ate with their fingers. Also there were no napkins, and so rich people would use slices of bread to wipe their hands and then toss it on the ground. It was these “crumbs” mentioned in verse 21 that Lazarus hoped might be given to him – pieces of filthy bread that the rich man had wiped his hands on and thrown to the ground. And I can just picture the cruelty of the rich man. Instead of handing these crumbs to Lazarus, he probably threw them out of arms reach and laughed as Lazarus fought over them with the dogs as best he could. It became a game to the rich man, a cruel sport if you will.
So in these verses, Jesus paints for us a rather sordid, degenerate picture of the rich man. He was self-loving and loathing of others. He heaped upon himself every fair and decadent thing that money could buy yet withheld the bare necessities from those around him who were in the greatest need. The only person that mattered in the least bit to the rich man was “me, myself, and I.” So that together with how he treated other people is a great indicator of the condition of his heart.
Verses 22-23 tell us that both the rich man and Lazarus died. The mortality rate for the human race is 100%. Rich or poor, we all eventually die. We’re told that Lazarus went to “Abraham’s bosom,” a poet term for Paradise. On the other hand, the rich man died and went to hell.
Hell is a grim reality found throughout the Bible. The Bible uses a number of words to describe hell and even different Greek and Hebrew words that are translated hell. We’re familiar with the word Hades, but probably not as familiar with the terms Gehenna and Tartaros that both speak of hell. Jesus also used terms such as “outer darkness” and “everlasting punishment” to speak of hell – the place where those who die without Christ will spend all eternity. I’d much rather talk about Heaven, but hell is a reality in this story and throughout the Bible that cannot be overlooked.
Jesus describes hell here in verse 23 as a place of torment totally separated from that Paradise that Lazarus went to when he died. Verse 24 describes hell even further: it a place of burning without relief where even such tiny mercies as a drop of water are withheld. Verse 26 tells us perhaps the scariest of truths about hell: once a person goes there, there is no coming out. For the person who dies in their sins, hell will be their eternal destination, without mercy, without relief, and without escape.
The rich man went to hell not for any one of his specific grievances but for being a lost man. The rich man’s life’s works were the fruit or the outpouring of his lost condition. You and I cannot look at person’s life and definitively say whether they are lost or saved; only God can see the heart. But at the same time, when a person demonstrates self-absorption and scorn for others and when a person lives wholly for themselves and completely disregards the principles of God’s Word, what else are we to assume than that they are without Christ?
And to do so is not being judgmental but rather observing the kind of fruit in their lives. Galatians 5:19-23 lists 17 different “works” or fruits of the flesh and then 9 fruits of the Spirit or of righteousness. And Jesus said in Matthew 7:16 that “ye shall know them by their fruits.” So by the evidence before us that the rich man was selfish, unconcerned with the sufferings of others, contemptable towards the poor, and that he lived for just one person – himself, Jesus expects us to reach the conclusion that he was lost. And the final proof of him being unsaved was that he went to hell when he died.
We find in this story that hell changed the rich man.
He became a poor man. He lost everything he had cherished in during his life. Not one of his earthly treasures followed him to the afterlife – not his purple, linen clothes and not his feasts and banquet tables. I have yet to see a hearse pulling a trailer full of a dead person’ possessions. The rich man is the fulfillment of that great question Jesus had asked his disciples some months prior: “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” The rich man had sought every comfort in this life only to lose all comfort in the next life. When our lives here on earth are consumed with possessions, we’ll spend the next life mourning their loss. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a house or a car or even that these things shouldn’t be nice, but a big house and an expensive car should not be the goal of our lives or death will be a painful separation.
Not only did hell make the rich man a poor man, but He also became a beggar. You find in verse 24 quite the reversal of circumstances. Lazarus had been the beggar crying for the mercies of the rich man, and now just the opposite. Suddenly the rich man is the one in torment and dire need and he supposes that Lazarus in Paradise has the answer.
So we find the rich man begging for Lazarus to bring him a single drop of water to cool his tongue. He had disregarded the neediest people of society only now to become a beggar himself. Now he was that woeful, pain-stricken beggar that he had once ignored and even taunted. In his life he had no time for anyone but himself to the disregard of not only Lazarus but of God. The person who cannot pause to look down to those in need, certainly will not pause to look up to the God of heaven. He overlooked the need of Lazarus and by doing so demonstrated that neither could he see his own spiritual need. Like many people in this world, he thought he was just fine and had all he needed, but hell made him a beggar.
“Even the best life on earth that ends without Christ leads to the worst eternity.” – Paul Chappell
Hell produced a third change in the rich man: He became concerned for others. This too is a stark difference from what the rich man was before. During the rich man’s life, he cared only for himself, but hell changed all of that. The mind of the rich man, now penniless, beggarly and tormented turned to his family back home. We’re told in Verse 28 that the rich man had 5 brothers who were still living. After being confronted with the reality that hell is a place of eternal, merciless torment for those without Christ, the rich man’s thoughts once consumed only with self were now only on his lost family.
I believe that the rich man here was the oldest of the brothers. As the oldest, his 5 younger brothers would have looked up to him and even perhaps followed in his footsteps. How else could it be that the rich man was so convinced that his brothers were on their way to hell? I believe the rich man’s 5 brothers saw the wealth and “success” of their older brother fashioned their lives after his.
The brothers probably thought something like this: “Yeah, our older brother can be kind of a jerk, but would you look at that house he lives in? And I know getting money out of him is like pulling teeth, but man, those Italian suits and designer shoes. And our brother’s not much of a family man and he’s a slave to his work, but it seems to have paid off in the end. He’s doing something right; he lives, dresses, and eats like a king. Maybe we should take notes.” And so they too became heartless Scrooges to those in need around them.
And the conversations around the dinner table after Sabbath dinner perhaps went something like this: “Bro, why do you let that grimy beggar Lazarus hang out at your gate like that? He’s such an eyesore.” “Oh you know, he’s not hurting anything. I kinda like him actually. He reminds me every day that, thank God, I got my health and my wealth. And every now and then I throw him a chunk of bread to get in good with the Man Upstairs. And, I know this is terrible, but you ought to see that beggar and the dogs fight over the bread. It’s better than a Roman gladiator match.” And the brothers laughed until their sides hurt.
And now as the rich man considering where his life’s choices had gotten him, he knew that his brothers were in just as much trouble with God as he was. And we find him begging Abraham to send someone to them. And notice who the rich man specifically wanted Abraham to send. It wasn’t an angel or a famous prophet; he requested Lazarus be sent back from the dead. Again, I believe the brothers knew who Lazarus was from conversations with the rich man, but this also tells us something about Lazarus. This story isn’t teaching that rich men go to hell and beggars go to heaven. There’s no specific virtue in being penniless, disease, or beggarly. But the fact that Lazarus was in Paradise and that the rich man specifically wanted Lazarus to go back to his brothers tells us the kind of testimony that Lazarus had.
Evidently despite being flat broke, living on the streets and covered with sores, Lazarus still demonstrated Christian character. How can we be so sure of that? Because out of all the people that the rich man could have asked to go to his brothers, he asked for Lazarus. He didn’t ask for a temple priest, scribe, or a Pharisee. Even a man to whom religion mattered little like the rich man could see that the works-based religion of the Pharisees could not make a person right with God. But there was something different about the “religion” of Lazarus. I believe he saw in Lazarus a joy that by the world’s standards he should not possess and a joy that despite having everything the rich man had envied. The world says that a penniless, diseased beggar cannot have joy, and yet Lazarus did. Yes, he was a beggar, but he didn’t moan and complain about his plight every time the rich man walked by. No, just the opposite. I believe Lazarus was polite and friendly, perhaps even bowing in respect to man who scorned him. And as the rich man tossed him a few filthy scraps of bread, Lazarus responded with sincere and heartfelt gratitude.
And I also believe Lazarus witnessed to him. Day in and day out, morning and evening as the rich man left for work and returned home, Lazarus showed concern for the rich man’s soul. “Sir, I know you have everything, but do you have Jesus?” And as the rich man’s younger brothers came over to visit and passed by Lazarus at the gate, he would say, “Gentlemen, I know you have everything in this life, but do you have a home in heaven in the life hereafter?” You see, neither disease nor destitution could keep Lazarus from being a soulwinner. Clearly Lazarus had left such an impression of sincere faith that even this lost man could tell that he was a Christian.
I have to admit this morning that I was convicted as I read this passage in preparation for today’s message. Do I leave such an impression on the lost people around me by my words and my attitude that even those who don’t believe in God are convinced that at least I do? Can my neighbors tell by my actions and my demeanor that I have a real kind of faith that makes me different from most others who would call themselves “Christians?” Do I have the kind of Christian testimony that out of everyone in the world, a lost person in hell would request me to be the one to go witness to their family? Are you the kind of Christian that if a friend of yours had a lost family member move to Tucson, they would call you and beg you to go tell them about Jesus? That’s the kind of man that Lazarus was. He had real faith that he lived out during his time on earth and that took him to heaven when he died.
Hell changed the rich man. It stripped him of his riches and his comfort and left him tormented and begging. It also changed him into what someone has called “A Missionary Minded Man in Hell.” I believe hell is full tormented lost people thinking only of family, friends, and acquaintances wishing a Christian like you or me tell them about Jesus.
Paradise changed Lazarus too. He traded his life of discomfort, destitution, and disease for eternal peace, rest, and the riches of Christ. And the lost people around us need to know the difference. They need to know of the eternal torment in hell that awaits them without Jesus, but they also need to know about the “the land that is fairer than day” that awaits them by faith in Christ.
I told you a few weeks ago that we’d have more messages in this series on the Life of Christ about soulwinning because the entire life and ministry of Jesus was consumed with saving lost sinners and instructing us, His disciples, to be soulwinners. And so today again we have a challenge from Christ to be the kind of Christian like Lazarus who cares for the lost around us despite the various struggles and difficulties we face on a daily basis.
If Lazarus could have joy and a concern for souls despite his physical condition, I submit to you that everyone of us can as well.
Maybe there’s a lost person here today and you’ve never accepted Christ as your Savior. Being religious won’t take you to heaven. As a Jew, this rich man would have certainly kept the Sabbath and attended religious services at the Temple. He probably gave an offering each time the plate passed by, but after he died, he learned that religious exercise and activity does not save. Only faith in Jesus saves. And you don’t have to be a despot like the rich man to go to hell. Just because Warren Buffett lives modestly and gives great sums of money away to charity doesn’t mean he’s going to hell. Rich or poor, caring or a Grinch, faith in Christ is the only determining factor as to whether your eternity will be spent in heaven or in hell. Nothing else matters.