The Rich Man and Lazarus
We come now to Luke 16:19 – 31 where Jesus told this powerful parable. Most people in the Western world who have had any exposure to Christianity, think they are going to heaven. But I'm quite sure that hell is populated mostly with people who are shocked to find themselves there. That is what this story is about, a man who was shocked to find himself in hell.
Equally shocking to those who listen to the story was the idea that Lazarus was in heaven. This was contrary to all of their expectations. Let us look at the setting. Jesus was in constant conversation with the Pharisees, they are the rich religious elite. From the outside they have everything, they have status, they have influence on their community, and they look like they have made it.
But Jesus says, wait a minute. Take a look at the actions of your life, because the actions of your life are a window into your heart. What Jesus is showing the Pharisees is that the actions of their life and their hearts are not for worshipping and adoring God but that their hearts are full of greed, self-righteousness and pride. They were rich and religious but they had no relationship with God.
And to point them to God, He gives them another parable. Let us look what Jesus has to say. Verse 19 - 31, “There was this rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores.”
“22 The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, 23 and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. 24 And he called out, 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 flame.”
“25 But 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. 26 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. 27 And he said, ‘Then I beg you, to send him to my father’s house.”
“28 for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ 29 But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them follow them, 30 But he said, ‘No father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.”
Jesus tells this parable to warn the listeners, warn people like you and me, that hell will be filled with people that never expected to be there. So as we walk together through this parable there will be a sense of shock and dismay. That is the intent of Jesus. He wants us to think and wrestle about this. Let us take a step back from our daily life and take a spiritual inventory of our souls.
Ask this question, am I Lazarus or am I the rich man? This is where we are going. If we do not understand the bad news of the gospel, we will never be able to understand the good news. If we do not understand the depths of our sin, we will not understand the depth of God’s love for us. So what we need to learn is to trust in Jesus. Trust in Jesus Christ alone is sufficient to save you from hell.
And anything that we trust in this world apart from Jesus Christ will not save us. Trust not in earthly riches because they have no power. Let us read again verse 19, “There was this rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day.” So Jesus starts with a character that has no name. He has status, he is a rich man. It is described in two ways, in his clothing and in his eating.
Notice his clothes are purple which is a sign of wealth. It is an indicator of influence and status. Purple was rare in those days, so if you have money to purchase purple clothing, you were wealthy. But he also wears fine linen, some commentators say this is fine Egyptian cotton which is still luxurious to this day. He is well dressed and he is dressing to impress. And he eats ‘sumptuously every day.’
Every day was a party for this man. Every day was a feast for him. Whatever the man wanted was provided. Jesus is painting a picture of extravagant wealth. Constant indulgence. He is living it up. People desired to be like him. And by contrast Jesus provides us with another character. Verse 20, “And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores.”
Verse 21, “who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores.” The word for poor here is very precise, it means that Lazarus was extremely impoverished, like the outcasts and the destitute. He was living every day depending on the mercy of others. Lazarus was a beggar. He was unable to work and depended on the generosity of others for survival.
Notice not only is he poor, he was also disabled. Notice that he was laid at the rich man’s gate. He could not get there by himself, somebody else took him there. Commentators tell us that he had no physical ability to work. Maybe there was something there that he could eat. So now Lazarus was becoming the rich man’s problem. He is also sick, his body is covered with sores.
He longs for the left overs that came from the rich man’s table. Do you feel what life was like for Lazarus? Jesus points out to us this incredible contrast, the rich man who had everything the world desires, and poor Lazarus had nothing. The life of the rich man and the life of Lazarus could not be more opposite. But death comes to all people, right? Death is the great equalizer. They both die.
But notice in the parable of Jesus in death there is a reversal. Verse 22-23, “The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, 23 and in Hades, being in torment.” This is where the listeners would cry out and say, how can that happen? Why is the rich man in hell? And why is Lazarus, the beggar, now in place of honor by Abraham’s side?
They would say, there must be a mistake, the rich man should be in heaven and Lazarus should be in hell. In the Jewish mind, the rich man was precisely the type of person who would have been assured of their place of honor not only in this life but also in the life to come. Look how God has blessed him in his life, he is most blessed. Surely his material blessing is a sign of his spiritual blessing.
But Jesus says that it doesn’t work this way. Their Jewish thinking was since God does not reward sinfulness, and the rich man is doing well, it must mean that God is pleased with him. Likewise they believed that a poor man who is disabled and sick must have done some great sin to earn God’s disapproval. After all, God is righteous and just. Would He allow righteous people to suffer unjustly?
The text tells us that the poor man dies and his body is discarded like trash. His body would have been taken to a place called ‘Gehenna’, outside Jerusalem where there was this always burning trash pile. And no one said anything about him. But the rich man was buried with great care in a wonderful funeral, his body wrapped in linen, covered with spices, and taken to the tomb of his family.
But the text says in verse 23, “and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side.” The angels came and took Lazarus to the place of distinction and honor at Abraham’s bosom. The rich man although he received a beautiful funeral, his soul was discarded to the continuing fires of hell. Because after death the only thing that matters is the condition of your heart.
You see the rich man placed all of his heart trust in his riches. His view was, because God has blessed me now, He will surely bless me in heaven. His hope, his dependence was not placed on God but on himself, on his riches. Whatever you have, your bank accounts, your possessions do not mean anything to God. It is not really yours, it all belongs to God. We are just stewards of what God loans to us.
Being rich does not mean that God is pleased with us. Economic prosperity is never an indication of spiritual prosperity. Jesus is teaching here that it is possible to be rich monetarily yet poor spiritually. Lazarus knew that it is possible to go through this life having nothing but be spiritually rich in Christ. The poorest person who has Christ, is richer than the richest person without Christ.
The rich man in this parable is nameless, he just has his status. But the poor man has a name called Lazarus, which means “the one who God helps.” And the one who God helps is the poor man, not the rich man. Not because of their economic condition, which has led them to totally opposite postures toward God. The rich man was rich in spirit, the poor man became dependent on God.
Remember what Jesus said in His Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:3, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” The one who God helps, the one who God saves, are the ones who understand their own spiritual poverty. That apart from Christ I have nothing. Our sin has separated us from the love of God and I have nothing to offer God and nothing to earn my way back to Him.
Blessed are those who depend on God to give them all they need. Not only in this life but in the life to come. Being dependent on the gracious generosity of God to meet our needs. And our biggest need is to stand right before Him. The rich man had allowed his economic prosperity to corrupt his soul, to make him believe that he did not need God. Being rich is not the problem, but loving it above anything else is.
What else does this parable teach? Do not trust in religious practice to save you from hell. Verse 23-24, “being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. 24 And he called out, 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 flame.” Notice who the rich man cries out to.
He cries out to Abraham, he does not cry out to God. Why? Because he is more acquainted with Abraham than the God of Abraham. He is religious for sure, he believes in Judaism, he is a moral person, he knows the Scriptures, he went to the worship gatherings, he found community in his religious practices, he gave his tithes to the temple, but those practices did not save him.
He never had an intimate life changing relationship with his creator God, the God that he says he worshipped. In other words for this rich man, this religious man, religion was just a means to an end. It gave him what he desired, a place to belong. It gave him social power, it gave him influence, and it gave him boundaries for morality but he never really wanted a relationship with God. He is nameless.
A name implies a relationship, it is what we are known by to others. And in hades under this torment he continues to be nameless because there are no relationships in hell. There is a great fixed chasm so that there cannot be a relationship between him and God. He did not want God in his life and he did not receive God in his death. This man was a religious man and yet he went to hell.
So the only thing he can do is to cry out for mercy. “Father Abraham have mercy on me.” Do you feel the gravity of that statement? Mercy is the deliberate withholding of what we deserve. The rich man knows what he deserves: eternal wrath and eternal punishment. And the only thing that he can do is to plea for momentary mercy. Here we see a terrifying picture of hell.
It is anguish and torment and an all-consuming fire. The New Testament tells us that it is an unquenchable fire, it is weeping and whaling and gashing of teeth. These are just mere metaphors for the much worse reality. What does Abraham reply? It is too late. It’s too late to receive mercy. One of the critical things it teaches is that once we die it is too late to receive God’s grace and mercy.
We all should plead for God’s mercy while we are still alive today. Understand that we deserve to be separated from God, but I’m asking God, please have mercy on me. Do not wait to ask for mercy later, that later may never come. How many people wake up without realizing that this is their last day on earth because they will die in an auto accident or a train accident or an airplane accident?
We have an opportunity now to run to Jesus. He is a good and gracious God. The reason that we still have time is because He is patient and willing and ready to save those who come to Him. So take God’s patience in your life as an indicator that He is waiting for you to repent. He is full of mercy, because if you continue to wait, it will be too late. The Bible says, today is the day of salvation.
The next two verses are scary. Verse 25-26, “But 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. 26 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.”
Notice the response, he calls him ‘child’, not because of his age but because of his spirituality. He is Jewish by nature. He is a good moral religious man. But all those religious practices have no power to save. And what he was missing is the love for the God of Abraham and that is the most important part. Jesus is on purpose painting this Jewish man in a good light with no crime.
But hell is full of good people who never expected to end up there. For you that go to church, this parable is for the religious people. If Jesus were to tell this parable today we might call it the ‘Baptist and the beggar.’ A really good Baptist might spend eternity in hell. Just because you prayed a sinner’s prayer when you were 10 years old does not guarantee that you go to heaven.
Just because you were baptized does not mean that you stand right before God. Just because you attend church every week does not mean you are righteous before God. Just because you serve in your church, or you are a deacon, none of that makes you right with God. Those are just religious practices with no power to save you. The only thing that will save you is the work of Christ in you.
It is nothing that you have done, it is all what Christ has done for you. That is why it says in Matthew 7:22, “Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ It is never what you have done, but what God has done for you.
How do you know which person you are, the rich man or Lazarus? You know, the parable showed that the rich man could have done for Lazarus, what he asked Lazarus to do for him in hell. Every day the rich man passed by Lazarus who was at the gate as he was going in and out of town. And he never stopped or cared for or loved or showed compassion for Lazarus.
So look to your own life, evaluate the actions of you in your life, and how would you answer the questions of Jesus. Do you show compassion and love for those who are below you? Jesus said in Matthew 10:42, “And whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of the least of My followers, surely he shall by no means lose his reward.”
How do you treat a person that you would consider an outcast? Those that beg on the street and that look and smell bad? Are you showing compassion to those kinds of people? And what the Bible teaches us is that our love for the lowest kind of people is based on our love for God. Our love for God always results in love for other people. Our love for God produces fruit in our life.
That fruit is shown in love, compassion, generosity and care for others. If you don’t see those fruit, there is a root cause for that. And that is your love for God. For when we love God with all that we have, He will give us that love that is willing to show that love to others. How will you answer God based on the actions towards others so far in your life? God always will test you so you will progress.
Verse 27-28, “And he said, ‘Then I beg you, to send him to my father’s house. 28 for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.” Now the rich man knows that there is no hope for him, his destiny is fixed. He knows that his five brothers are just like him. He is calling for someone to warn them. Someone has to bring them the Gospel before they die.
How many of us have family members that do not believe yet and if they were to die today they would spend an eternity separated from God in a place of torment called hell. What is preventing you from sharing the good news of salvation with them? Parents, what are you waiting for to share the gospel with your kids? That is why God has chosen you to be a parent so you will share the Scriptures with them.
Children, share the gospel with your parents. Why are you waiting to share the gospel with your neighbors, your co-workers, your friends, with that person you see every day that you know is lost? What are you waiting for? There is a sense of urgency in this parable. 95% of Denver is lost and will go to hell if the gospel does not get to them in time. The reason you are where you are is to tell others about Jesus.
Nothing is by coincidence, the place where you live is not by accident, God has a plan for you to reach your neighbors. God is sovereign over all things and He placed you precisely where you are placed to do what He asked you to do in the Great Commission and He said that He would not leave you nor forsake you ever. God has provided the way of salvation through His Son, Amen?
Verse 29-31, “But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them, 30 And he said, ‘No father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent. 31 He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.” Abraham said they got 39 books in the Old Testament.
They have the Jewish Scriptures, they are religious. And in God’s Word they have what is necessary for them to know what God desires. The Bible communicates God’s message of salvation for all who will believe. Jesus teaches that we are responsible to believe God’s message. And if we reject the message of salvation not even a miracle is able to make people believe.
Miracles do not authenticate belief, miracles authenticate the message of God’s Word. And if we do not believe God’s Word, miracles will not convince us. Miracles have no power to save. What Abraham refuses to do is accomplished by people who read this parable and those who hear this and act upon this. We are the ones that are warned. We know the end of the story.
The grave speaks so that those that are living can hear. Hear what? Trust in Jesus Christ alone is sufficient to save you from hell. The power of salvation comes through the Word of God. God has created you to be in a relationship with God. He has created you on purpose for a purpose. That purpose is to know, to love and to worship Him. But all of us have sinned and fall short of His righteousness.
The wages of sin is death in this life and death in the future. The rich man asked for Lazarus to be send back to tell them about this salvation. And the wonderful news from God is that He did send someone from heaven. Not Lazarus but His own Son, Jesus. To send His Son to become a servant for you and me. He became poor for us so that we might become rich.
He paid the penalty for our sins on the cross so that who so ever believes in Him, might have eternal life. He was buried in the grave and three days later He rose again so that each person who believes in Him will live with God in heaven forever. Christ Himself will be our inheritance. And He will bless you always. But even Jesus who rose from the dead is not believed by everyone.
Sooner or later when we come to your Word, we have to face the reality of eternal punishment. So examine yourself, are you the rich man or are you Lazarus? Let us confess our sins and acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. He is the one who died for our sins, the one who rose to give us eternal life. May this parable have a profound impact on those who hear, Amen? Let us pray.