Why is money such a common topic in Jesus’ preaching? Are we tired of it? Do we want something else to be preached? Perhaps we don’t yet get it. Perhaps we need to just relax and let Jesus have his say.
I want us to learn that there are two ways of life, the selfish way and the generous way. One is the way of hell and the other is from heaven.
We will discuss an unnamed rich man and a famous beggar, Lazarus. We will learn about the dangers of the hard-hearted selfish life and God’s Great Reversal.
Covetousness (vs. 19)
Jethro advised Moses that national leaders ought to hate covetousness (Exodus 18:21). Samuel warned Israel about government excess spending and high taxes (1 Samuel 8:10-18). Modern governments have far exceeded the ten percent tax which he predicted kings would levy. Covetous people rob others of their inheritance (Micah 2:1-5). To someone defrauded of an inheritance by a greedy brother Jesus said not to covet what others have stolen from us, because they are the losers (Luke 12:13-21). The Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man (Luke 16:19-31) decries the greedy accumulation of private wealth by those who do not share with the poor. Covetous swindlers will not be in the kingdom of heaven (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). Covetousness is a major cause of war and conflict (James 4:1-4) and false religion (2 Peter 2).
Social gospel & works salvation (vs. 19)
As in all things that divide Christians, the words social gospel are unfortunately misunderstood. The phrase is not a quote from scripture. However, the concept of a social responsibility towards others is there. One example is that of the selfish rich man in Luke 16:19-31 who was hard-hearted towards poor Lazarus. Another question that Protestants have is whether this passage requires works for salvation. I believe that Protestants and Catholics actually agree on works. The biggest difference is that Protestants see good works resulting from saving faith. Catholics see saving faith evidenced by good works. It’s like splitting hairs, if you ask me. The bottom line is that a social responsibility towards others is clearly evident among those who believe. Jesus told the Pharisees to show fruit of a changed heart. One such fruit is how we treat others.
Famous homeless man (vs. 19-20)
Luke 16:19-31 is one of the most famous stories of a homeless man of all time. Throughout most of history it has been the brutal, the powerful and the wealthy whose names we remember. The destitute poor are usually anonymous. Nobody seems to know their names. They come into this world in filth and squalor and depart leaving unmarked graves. Folklore names the rich man Dives. In reality he was given no name in the original story. The rich man could represent anyone who ignores the plight of the poor. The story of Lazarus and the Rich Man gives the destitute beggar a name but not the rich man. Is this how God looks at the world? Do the homeless who believe have a name in heaven, but do selfish and uncaring materialists have no name and no fame?
Judgment Day for a Bully (vs. 19-21)
Terrorists, overbearing governments, corporate cock-a-doodle-dos and union tough guys all have one thing in common. They are bullies. From the school yard to many homes, from the work place to the commute on the freeway, bullies seem to be in every walk of life. Bullies bellow demands. They don’t act with compassion and they don’t consider the effect that they have on the lives of those they trample under their feet. They use others to serve them. They do not serve others. It is a completely opposite attitude to that kind of sacrificial leadership we find in Jesus. In Luke 16:19-31 we are introduced to a bully, who even after being brought down to hell, continued to bark orders. Another lesson for us is that if we do not have compassion on the weak, we are no better than bullies.
A great failure (vs. 21)
In a world which defines success in terms of materialism and popularity, the great failure in Luke 16:19-31 rarely comes to mind. The story is of a wealthy man, who by the standards of Hollywood and Wall Street was probably a great success. However, in reality he was a great failure. He neglected one of life’s most important areas, the care of those less fortunate. He had not experienced repentance, a change of heart, and so had no compassion towards others. A life without compassion is a failure. Too many Christians seek a selfish salvation, to save themselves and not save others. Yet that is an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms. Salvation is something that a person shares, both physical salvation for this life and eternal salvation for the next. Lacking compassion, is one of life’s greatest ethical failures.
Two souls not asleep after death (vs. 22-23)
For soul-sleepers, the story of Lazarus and the Rich Man in Luke 16:19-31 is difficult to explain away. It indicates a consciousness after death. So, what is the soul-sleep theory? It purports that between death and the resurrection, the soul sleeps and is not conscious. Another difficult passage for soul-sleepers to explain is Luke 23:43 where Jesus tells the thief on the cross, today you shall be with me in paradise. 2 Corinthians 5:8 speaks of being absent from the body and at home with the Lord. In Philippians 1:21-24 Paul desired to depart this flesh and be with Christ. Revelation 6:9-11 speaks of slain souls that cried with a loud voice. The theory of soul sleep is a dubious, one-sided view which takes one set of passages as literal and others as non-literal metaphors.
Hell & wealth (vs. 23)
Some Christians trip over themselves hysterically to avoid any trappings of pagan religions, yet in places like Luke 16:19-31, Jesus used ancient mythology to explain an aspect of the afterlife. Why? The word translated as hell is Hades, originally referred to as the house of Hades, a Greek god of the underworld, the place of the dead. Hades was also called Pluto, the giver of wealth. Greek mythology closely linked wealth and hell. In the parable of Lazarus and the rich man Jesus also linked the two. Why? Is it a sin to be rich? No, it is not. That is not the point. Wealth and luxury deceive us into thinking that we have no responsibility towards those around us who are suffering. We build walls so that we can ignore their torment. However, walls cannot remove our guilt.
Questions about hell (vs. 23-24)
Is hell a painful end or eternal suffering? Is the fire literal or symbolic of purging? If hell is annihilation, then parts of Luke 16, Revelation 14 and 20 are symbolic. If hell is eternal conscious suffering, then words like perish, destruction, ashes, and second death are symbolic. Does the phrase “eternal punishment” refer to a punishing that lasts forever or a punishment that has eternal consequences? Is there the possibility of escape from hell, or graduation from a purging place between heaven and hell? Many theologians will tell us that we must be humble and admit that many questions remain unanswered. Certainly, heaven is good and hell is bad, but we do not know God’s plans in detail. Hell is painfully bad. There will horrible suffering of some kind there. Heaven is wonderfully good. So, let's choose heaven!
3 reasons not to end up in hell (vs. 23-24)
With thanks to Ed Hill I also have 3 reasons that I don't want to be in hell like the rich man in the parable (Luke 16:19-31). Reason #1: I don’t like pain. The descriptions of hell in the Bible range from eternal separation from God in blackness forever to a fiery lake. No matter what pictures we read, all of them are bad and include suffering. Reason #2: I don’t like bad company. Hell is full of people you can’t trust, who will hate you and cause your existence to be miserable. Reason #3: I want to be with the one who loves me more than anyone else in the world, God. He died for me and gave up everything so that I could live with him forever. Now that’s the kind of company I want to keep forever.
Hell fire (vs. 24)
Some Bible passages seem to describe hell as punishment in fire. We read of maggots, a human barbecue, a rich man‘s cry of agony from the fiery pit and worshipers of human governments who will be tormented day and night (Mark 9:43-45; Luke 16:19-31; Revelation 14:10-11, 20:10-15). Are they literal or symbolic? Are the beast and false prophet people or symbols? Does this describe eternal physical and emotional suffering? Is God sadistic? Can gracious, divine love and eternal torture be reconciled? Is this traditional view of hell the result of a person’s complete and knowing choice, or have some been predestined to this without a chance? How can a just God punish for eternity sins committed in a finite lifetime? Other passages on hell offer alternative descriptions, but all are negative. Bottom line: Don’t choose hell.
The Great Reversal (vs. 24)
Life after death is sometimes called the Great Reversal. That is certainly the case in the story of Lazarus and the Rich Man found in Luke 16:19-31. Heaven’s opinion about what a person accomplishes in this life is very different than that spoken about in high society. Possessions and status symbols are less important than what they have been used for. After death, who’s out and who’s in has nothing to who’s out and who’s in by this world’s standards. What was the rich man’s problem? It was actually not his wealth, but what he had allowed his wealth to do to him. He had neglected his obligation under Moses and the Prophets to look after the less fortunate. The passage makes it clear that he knew Lazarus by name and therefore had no excuse for letting him suffer.
Deluded to the end (vs. 24)
The man who interviewed Saddam Hussein before his death, remarked how he insisted on still being treated like a head of state. The mad butcher of Babylon appeared deluded about his own guilt even when confronted with videos of his atrocities. We must all face humility. Life is designed to humble us. We get old. Our fortunes cannot be taken with us. We fail immensely at numerous ventures. We simply do not have the capacity to live perfect lives and solve all our problems. A parable in Luke 16:19-31 pictures a rich man who failed in one of life’s most important responsibilities, caring for the poor. Unrepentant, he still saw himself as superior to Lazarus, wanting him to serve him. Wealth and power delude us into thinking we are superior, when in fact; we must all serve one another.
Obligation to the poor (vs. 25)
Luke wrote as a well-educated man to the wealthy. In Luke 16:19-31 he quoted Jesus’ reminder to the wealthy of their social responsibilities. The story of Lazarus and the Rich Man is an encouragement to the poor that those who count for nothing in this life, count for a great deal in heaven. Yet, at the same time it is a reminder to those who have the means, to make a difference in ways that count in this life. Wealth and power are not tools for self-indulgence, but obligations to be used wisely in service to others. Relief of suffering is the neglected responsibility of the rich man in the story. The rich man who humbles himself and takes his responsibility seriously and joins the street beggar to care for him and relieve his suffering, is a rare person.
Overcoming a hard heart (vs. 25)
Being rich does not have to be a problem. Being hard hearted is. The problem of the rich man in Luke 16:19-31 was not his wealth, but his hard heart. How do we overcome such a hard heart? Throwing a few dollars in an offering plate for the poor is a beginning, but only a small first step. An injection of money only goes so far. Long term solutions to poverty and suffering cannot be made by throwing crumbs at the poor and beating a hasty retreat back into our luxury. The opposite example was that of the Good Samaritan, who got involved. The Christian life is easily counterfeited. Some believers chase miracles, doctrinal twigs, wealth and gurus who put on fancy shows. God is seeking compassionate people who will get involved in relieving the suffering of the poor.
Rich & out of touch (vs. 25)
When the British royal family asked for money from government poor funds to heat their palaces, it highlighted just how out of touch the rich can sometimes be. The same is true of those who blame the poor for their poverty. The fact is that many poor are unable to find work. Starting a business has so many obstacles for those of little means that enterprising poor are often forced into the black market shadows of cash under the table for unlicensed work. In the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man in Luke 16:19-31, we find a poor man who was reduced to passively accepting his plight. In the Greek it says that he was dumped at the rich man’s gate to beg indicating an inability for aggressive enterprise. His only physical salvation was in compassion from others.
Dividing rich & poor (vs. 26)
There is a divide between the rich and the poor. That divide can be a gated community with a large fence around or a national border keeping poorer nations out. That divide also exists in education, recreation and in business. Rather than using their wealth to bring people together, many of the wealthy support and enforce a separation. Because God respects our decisions, he may also enforce our decisions of this life in the next. One example is in the story of Lazarus and the rich man found in Luke 16:19-31. Lazarus was too poor for health care and could not tend to the sores that covered his body. He was also forced to beg for second hand food as do many street people. After he died, the gulf between them continued. But this time, the tables were turned.
Post-mortem evangelism (vs. 26)
The Catholic theory of purgatory and the Orthodox theory of post-mortem evangelism have similarities and differences. Purgatory teaches that the fires of hell will purge people’s sins and give them a chance to eventually enter eternal bliss with God. The Eastern Orthodox view is less gruesome but provides a similar chance for re-education and subsequent repentance after death. Such theories appeal to a sense of fairness towards people who had little or no chance to accept or reject Christ in this life. They are an attempt to answer the question, “Is God fair?” Though they seem to contradict the insurmountable gulf in Luke 16:19-31, post mortem evangelism theories rely on a sense of justice and grace seen in God. Some Protestants have similar theories which are based almost entirely on hope in God’s mercy and little other scriptural evidence.
Not a new concept (vs. 27-31)
In Luke 16:19-31 Jesus’ story of Lazarus and the Rich Man concludes that Moses and the Prophets taught an obligation to the poor. Perhaps we assume that such altruism is only a New Testament concept and not found under the law. It is a central issue in both Judaism and Christianity. Deuteronomy 14:28-29 records the concept of a tithe for the poor. Isaiah 3:14-15 gives dire warning to those who plunder the poor. Jeremiah 5:26-28 criticizes those who do not defend the rights of the poor. Ezekiel 18:12-18 warns that those who oppress the poor and needy with things like excessive interest rates will not live. Amos 2:6-8 declares punishment for those who deny justice to the oppressed. Zechariah 7:9-10 demands that we do not oppress the widow, fatherless, foreigner or the poor.
Evidence (vs. 31)
People often ask for proof that God exists. Are they blind to the evidence all around them or are they simply too hard hearted to be convinced? Two things limit how reliable any piece of evidence is: the extent of human knowledge and the trustworthiness of human reasoning. Even outside the religious community, faith plays a huge role in whether any piece of evidence is believed or not. One person sees a blade of grass as proof there is a God. Another person views more proof and remains unconvinced. In Luke 16:19-31 a rich man suggested that if someone from the dead warned his brothers they would repent. Abraham said that if they would not believe Moses and the Prophets they would not believe someone rising from the dead. More evidence will not convince a hard-hearted person against their will.
Hard-hearted selfishness is the road to hell. Conversion leads us to generosity. It is evidence that the Holy Spirit is living in us. That is the giving way and is the way practiced by those bound for heaven.