The Great Divide
We have another parable to think about this morning. So let me begin by reminding what a parable actually is and how we should approach them.
A parable is a simple story with a spiritual meaning or, to put it another way, a parable is God-breathed fiction that teaches us infallible truth.
Now stories don’t have to be literally true with regard to all their details in order to teach truth. While parables are usually based on real events and experiences they are literary devices and they make use of figurative language so that the message to be conveyed comes across with drama and vividness. We must take care that we do not miss the main point of the parable by focusing too much on the fictional details which are there simply to add colour to the story.
Let me give an example of what I mean: this particular parable draws our attention to two men with occupied two very different situations in life on earth. They both die and have a completely different experience after death. The emphasis of the parable is upon the great divide that separates them and will separate them forever. The conversation that takes place between the rich man and Abraham is a literary device that is used to help us understand that. The parable does not intend to teach that people who find themselves in hell when they die will be able to have conversations with others who are in heaven.
So with that proviso, let’s turn to look more closely at the story Jesus told. Jesus had been speaking to the Pharisees with their love of money and had warned them of the danger of trying to serve two masters. This story takes that warning a stage further by highlighting what will be the end for those who don’t listen.
The story is simple and can be divided into two unequal parts. Firstly, Jesus looked at two men in this life (vv.19-22) and then, secondly, he looked at them in eternity (vv.22-31).
vv.19-22 Two Men in this Life
The contrast between the two men in Jesus’ story could hardly be greater.
The first to be described was a rich man – and my how he lived! He dressed well and he ate well – in fact he lived in the lap of luxury and he did this day in day out. Feasting and celebration wasn’t a rarity for him – in fact he did it on a daily basis. We sometimes talk about people who have loads of money as being "filthy rich" and that description would have fitted this man well. There is a further detail that will prove to be important as we come to think about this rich man and this is it: he was very largely indifferent to the plight of others and in particular the plight of the other man in Jesus’ story even though it becomes apparent that he was aware of him, knowing who he was.
The second man wasn’t rich but poor and very poor at that. And his poverty was compounded by sickness and handicap (– he was laid at the gate of the rich man’s home). Now if something isn’t worth very much we might describe it as being "dirt cheap" and this poor man was, to use an American expression "dirt poor". No fine clothing for him - his covering was made up of sores!
No fine food for him either – how he would have loved to eat some of what fell from the rich man’s table but we’re left with the distinct impression that he wasn’t even given any of that!
And we are meant to understand just how low his status was when we hear that the dogs came and licked his wounds – the dogs would not have been nicely groomed and vaccinated like the well-behaved pet dogs you may have at home – these were semi-wild and rough scavengers.
There is one unusual detail that is worth pausing over. This is the only occasion in telling a parable that Jesus actually named one of the characters and he called his Lazarus. The name was perhaps chosen because of what it meant: the name Lazarus means "God is my help". Despite his difficult earthly existence Lazarus did enjoy the help of the God as we find him transferred to Abraham’s side – a synonym for heaven – after his death.
Before we can proceed we need to emphasise a couple of things or else we might go completely astray in what follows:
Riches per se did not condemn the rich man
The Bible does not teach that riches are wrong, that wealth is wrong, that fine clothing and fine food are wrong – indeed the Bible teaches that God has given us all things richly to enjoy. There is nothing inherently wrong in having your favourite set of glad-rags, your Sunday best and there is nothing wrong about eating well or luxuriously on special occasions for example. But this rich man lived in the lap of luxury every single day of his life. His life was dominated by his wealth and his heart-attitude was consequently all wrong.
You sometimes hear people say that "money is the root of all evil" but the Bible doesn’t actually teach that. What the Bible says is something very different, it says "the love of money is the root of all/all kinds of evil" (1Tim.6:10) and we see that clearly in the life of this rich man. Outwardly he professed to be a believer – he will speak to Abraham as "Father Abraham" and Abraham is considered the Father of the Faithful. But when the reality of his faith was tested by the presence of Lazarus on his doorstep he failed as he refused to be moved by compassion and to offer even the smallest degree of help to that needy man. The lack of fruit in his life shows that his faith was not the real deal, it was dead faith – for faith without works is dead.
Earlier in the exchanges Jesus had at this time with his followers and with the Pharisees he had encouraged men to use their finances carefully and generously:
Lk.16:9 "I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings."
This rich man had patently failed to do that in his life! It wasn’t his wealth that condemned him but it was his attitude to it that was all wrong.
Poverty per se did not save the poor man
Everywhere in the Bible we are taught the same truth: salvation is by grace, through faith. Salvation becomes ours not because we might be poor but because we receive it as a gift from God. Poverty is not a virtue that by itself commends us to God because a poor man may be just as dominated by his desire to have wealth as the rich man is to keep and increase his. A poor man may strive every bit as much as a rich man to serve mammon.
After Death comes Judgment
How the conditions of each of these two men have changed! Jesus says that after his death Lazarus was taken up to heaven by the angels. On the other hand the rich man is simply buried and is next found in Hades, a place of torment, where he suffered greatly.
An important truth to note: Let us understand that we are confronted by an important assumption here without which the whole of Jesus’ story would be meaningless. Jesus clearly believed that human life, all human life, continues in some form beyond the grave. There are some people who don’t want to believe that and say things like "when you’ve gone you’ve gone" or "when you’re dead you stay dead". Jesus obviously did not buy into this idea of annihilation but spoke of conscious existence beyond death. This is what we mean when we talk of men and women having never-dying souls. Our physical death, while very real, does not bring existence to an end but serves rather to introduce us into a whole new sphere of existence – and that will mean either in heaven or in hell.
Jesus describes the two men as being in two entirely different, distinct and separate places. The Bible knows of only these two options. There is a good place to be and there is a bad place to avoid.
The rich man was in the bad place – it was a place of torment – and from there the rich man looked up and saw Abraham with Lazarus at his side. They were a long way off and the rich man cried out. He will make two requests and conclude with one statement. This conversation is obviously an imaginary one but serves to sharpen up the issues for us by making them so memorable. These issues are very relevant for us too!
Send Lazarus to lighten my sufferings!
No change of heart. Although the rich man is suffering he demonstrates no fundamental change in his character – he remains as self-serving in hell as he had been in life. His focus is still upon his own self-comfort and he demonstrates no hint of repentance for the way he has lived his life; no sense at all that he has been treated with justice; no desire at all to honour God. For him Lazarus in life had been a nobody at his gates and now he asks Abraham to send Lazarus as a common servant to alleviate the one who done nothing in life to alleviate Lazarus’ sufferings.
What are we to make of this?
It tells us that what we are fundamentally in this life we will be in the next. Those who would ignore God in this life will want to ignore him in the next. For men and women who have spent this life trying to keep God out of their lives will find in the next that they can have their way only they will be in hell.
In life this rich man’s god had been his wealth and now this god has failed him utterly. The riches enjoyed in life are gone and gone forever. The rich man is no longer rich but he remains unrepentant in his sufferings.
Abraham responds that our eternal destinies are justly fixed and they are fixed for eternity. There is no way there will be any movement between the two groups because a great chasm has been fixed forever separating them and prohibiting any exchange. This chasm means that there will be no "second chance" offered to men and women in the next life and it would prove useless if there were for men and women do not change. The unrepentant sinner will die as they have lived in their refusal of God.
Send Lazarus to speak to members of my family!
Having been told that his position is forever fixed the rich man continues to try to turn Lazarus into his servant and asks Abraham to send him with a warning message to his brothers.
Now what was his motive in making this request?
Was it love for his brothers? Was it concern for their souls? But is such love to be found in hell? It seems unlikely.
But is there any other reason why the rich man might cry out like this? And yes there is: self-interest – exactly the same sentiment that had dominated his life hitherto! But where is self-interest here? Well, what kind of example had he set his brothers? He had lived a life of selfish gratification and not given a thought to God or to those in need and living like that he had failed to warn his brothers but instead by his example had encouraged to follow the same high road to hell. What would it be like to have them there with him blaming him and endlessly accusing him – it would only add to his distress and torment and he didn’t want that!
Are you concerned for your family members? Then speak to them now while you have the opportunity.
Once again Abraham refuses to grant the rich man’s request. It wouldn’t happen because it was unnecessary. His brothers had Moses and the Prophets – that is they had God’s word. And the Bible, God’s word, tells us what God is like, what he requires of us and what provision he has made for us in the gospel of Jesus Christ – everything we need is to be found in that book. Let them listen to the Bible Abraham says.
What attention do you pay to it and to its teachings? There you will find all you need in order to be saved – do you have a Bible? Do you read it? Do you listen to it? Do you seek to hear it explained so that you may act upon its teachings? Have you responded to the gospel of Jesus Christ?
How foolish to have God’s word but to ignore it. The book that would have kept the rich man and his brothers out of hell will do the same for you if only you will hear it and heed it!
The rich man can’t get his own way but still complains that he knows best.
He argues that his brothers need something more than the word of God if they were to be effectively warned of the danger they were in. Implicit in this criticism is the suggestion that he himself had been treated unfairly because he surely would have acted differently if he’d had a different kind of warning.
How many people say similar things still today! "If only we saw a miracle or heard a voice speaking direct from heaven then we’d believe" they say. And perhaps you echo their words in your own heart. "How can we be expected to believe on the basis of what that old book has to say?"
So the rich man wants Lazarus to be sent back from heaven on a mission to warn his brothers. He’s convinced that seeing a man raised from the dead would do the trick and influence his brothers accordingly.
And so men carry on today. They simply refuse to do things God’s way. Without any hesitancy, they make out that their way and their plans would be much better than the Lord’s way. How arrogant sinful human beings can be even pleading that their way is reasonable as though God would be foolish not to agree with them.
My friend, there is a way for you to be saved but it is not by following a path of your own imagination. You will be saved if you come God’s way and that is by coming by his son the Lord Jesus Christ. But let it be known to you this day that if you will not come the way of Jesus then you will not come at all and your destination will just that of the rich man in Jesus’ story.
Abraham confirms what he has said – the word of God is all people need and if they won’t heed that it wouldn’t make the slightest bit of difference if a man should rise from the dead, they wouldn’t let that convince them either.
It is striking that in John’s Gospel we hear of a real man with the same name as the poor man in this parable, Lazarus.This Lazarus too died and Jesus intervened and raised him to life again!
What a wonderful miracle! What a powerful sign! Surely all those who now met Lazarus would take heed for here was a man who had been raised from the dead. But do you know what happened? The Pharisees quite simply refused to believe in Jesus. They knew what had happened but they had already made up their minds about him and had already determined to kill him. When they saw others being influenced by the newly alive again Lazarus they decided to put an end to him as well:
Jn.12:10-11 "So the chief priests made plans to put Lazarus to death as well, because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus."
And of course there was the greater resurrection of our Lord Jesus himself. This was witnessed by at least 500 of his followers and was a message that has been taken out into the whole world where it has brought so much good as spiritual darkness has fled before the Light of the World and where men and women, boys and girls, have had their sins forgiven and come to experience peace with God. But so many people still refuse to believe even though they are told that this man Jesus has conquered death!
The human race is already divided in two: those who are Jesus’ disciples and those who aren’t. But while we remain alive it is possible to move from the unbelieving camp into the camp of Jesus’ disciples. Death, when it comes, is not the end of everything but the passage way to God’s judgment.
The gospel is all we need and the gospel is found in the Word of God. We don’t have to go on arduous pilgrimages, we don’t have to perform a long list of good deeds, we simply need to respond to the gospel: to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and we shall be saved.
If we have not embraced this gospel of God’s grace by the time we die it will be too late for there will no longer be any possibility of passing from one camp to the other: the great divide will be fixed forever. Will you be in heaven or in hell? The matter is great and it is urgent and it depends upon what you will do with Jesus. How important it is therefore for us to avail ourselves of the salvation that is offered so freely to us now while it is yet the day of salvation! We must not delay; a delay might mean the difference between two eternities. And Jesus will receive you today!
Come and heed the Word the God!