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Parables to Live By
“A Crypt-tic Tale: The Rich Man and Lazarus”
Watch on YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N-HKUffZoBI
Over the last several months, we’ve been looking at a series of stories told by Jesus to an eclectic group of individuals; from tax-collectors to Pharisees, from sinners to scribes, and to His disciples who were there to receive His words of life, and just as He is speaking to us today.
We’ve been looking at a series of parables from out of Luke’s gospel and they’ve been leading us to one of the most profound parables of them all, and that is the story the rich man and Lazarus, or what I’m calling, “A Crypt-tic Tale.” Now, some believe this was not a parable, but an actual occurrence because out of all the parables Jesus taught, not once did He ever call someone by name, but here Jesus identified the poor man by the name, Lazarus.
Now, when you watch TV, it seems like all we see are these various reality shows, from singing, dancing, and surviving, to shows about cooking and fashion. Yet these shows are not original in their desire to reveal reality. The Bible not only is reality, but it reveals actual stories about real people and a real God who rules and reigns and to whom we must all give an account in the end.
When I think about this story, and the rich man’s desire to send Lazarus back from the dead, from the grave, to tell his brothers of their need to change their ways, the story of a young college graduate comes to mind. His name was Tom. Ready to enter the working world and make his fortune, he joined his uncle Morty’s investment firm.
On his first day, uncle Morty took him to lunch and was ready to tell him a secret investment that would make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But before he could say a word, he took a bite of his shrimp cocktail and choked to death.
After his burial, Tom was up in his room lamenting the loss and blurted out, “Uncle Morty, come back and give me that tip so I can have the life I always dreamed of.”
Suddenly, at the end of Tom’s bed, the ghost of uncle Morty appeared and said, “I’ve come to tell you what you need to hear.” Excitedly, Tom responded, “Tell me Uncle, what is that secret?” And uncle Morty replied, “Don’t eat the shrimp.”
For those who would like to hear some supernatural wisdom beyond the grave, Jesus tells this remarkable story of a man who believed that things would have been different if only he could have received such a message.
Yet Jesus clarified that even such communication wouldn’t make a difference, because they still wouldn’t believe, even if someone came back from the dead. So, the moral of today’s message would be this.
Listen to God Now, or You’ll Regret it for all Eternity
Remember the other week when I said that one of the quickest ways to empty a church is to talk about money? Well, today, we’re going to talk about the second way, and that is to talk about Hell. And what I find interesting is that Hell runs a close second in what Jesus taught, second only to money and material possessions. (So, things aren’t boding too well for our upcoming messages.)
J.C. Ryle, however said, “It’s not possible to say too much about Christ. But it is quite possible to say too little about hell.” (J.C. Ryle)
Teachings on Hell have fallen on lean times in the American church. Years ago, the vast number of Christians believed in Hell as an actual place, and preachers spoke often about the horrors of Hell to warn their hearers of their impending destination if they didn’t repent and believe.
But today, rarely is Hell spoken about. Most churches have stopped preaching about Hell or even using the word, because it makes seekers squeamish. And not only do they believe Hell is too old-fashioned, but that it is bad for the church’s bottom line, that is attendance and income.
Yet, Jesus spoke often and soberly about Hell with this constant warning – Avoid Hell at All Costs.
We see this in Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount where He said, “If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.” (Matthew 5:29 NKJV)
Jesus was using a hyperbole in his illustration about hell. A hyperbole is an exaggeration not to be taken literally, but to make a point that cannot be misconstrued.
Within His teaching about Hell, Jesus describes it as a place of outer darkness where there is great torment, which He describes as a place of weeping, wailing, and a gnashing of teeth in pain and anguish.
Now, liberal scholars say that such language is symbolic, but this shouldn’t comfort anyone, because symbols point beyond themselves to something higher or more of an intense state than what is being described. Therefore, if these images are symbolic, then the reality of Hell is even worse than what Jesus was describing.
One old revival preacher said, “You not believing in Hell don’t lower the temperature there one degree.” The word of God is true, and this story’s warning is serious, and how a person answers the invitation has eternal consequences.
But as always, I’m getting ahead of myself, so let’s look at the parable.
“There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day. But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate, desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, the dogs came and licked his sores. So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. Then he cried and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.’ Then he said, ‘’I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.’ Abraham said to him, ‘’They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ But he said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.’” (Luke 16:19-31 NKJV)
This is a story of contrasts. Here you have a wealthy individual. The color purple is just one way this is revealed. Purple was a sign of wealth and worn by royalty, and fine linen was delicate and costly. Because of this, we describe the rich man as living in the lap of luxury, a man of great fortune, reputation, and influence.
Lazarus, however, was a man of extreme poverty. There was nothing appealing about his life. Being crippled, He was unceremoniously tossed at the rich man’s gate, with no care as to his pain and agony. Ulcers and open sores covered his body, and to make matters worse, the dogs would lick these sores, a painful and humiliating experience. And every day he remained in that condition, in absolute poverty and hunger, wishing that someone would help. And that he could just have a few crumbs from the rich man’s table.
Yet, at their deaths, the contrasts remain, but their roles are reversed. You might say there was a reversal of fortune. Now, from what we saw the other week, the story that Jesus told would have astonished those who were listening, and that’s because the common assumption was that those who were rich, meant that God was blessing them, while those who were poor and crippled, God’s reproach was upon them because they must have been sinful. And so you can imagine, to their surprise, when Jesus inverts the position or standing of these two men after their deaths.
The rich man most probably had a grand funeral with many people in attendance, maybe even some dignitaries. Speaker after speaker would have given wonderful speeches on how religious the man must have been, and thus, blessed by God, they would have said how he had gone on to his reward in Abrahams’s bosom.
Imagine the rich man’s surprise when he found himself in torment, far from the power, prestige, and comfort he experienced in life.
Lazarus probably didn’t have a funeral. His body was most likely buried without ceremony or fanfare in the field for the poor. They tossed him to the side at his death as they tossed him to the side of the rich man’s gate in life.
Yet, Lazarus could receive no greater honor than at his death to be carried by the angels to Abrahams’s bosom, the place where those who died believing went prior to Jesus’s sacrifice upon the cross and resurrection.
Now, what we must understand is that the rich man didn’t go to hell because he was rich, nor did Lazarus go to heaven because he was poor. Rather, one’s eternal destiny is found in the beggar’s name. Lazarus means, “God is my helper.” It was in the Lord that Lazarus trusted, which is why the angels escorted him after his death.
The rich man’s condemnation came because his heart was not right with God, and his self-absorption and neglect of Lazarus’s needs were the symptoms of his disbelief.
This became clear seeing what the rich man had at his disposal, and what he would have heard from the law. It states that if there was someone who was poor and in need; they were not to be hardhearted or tightfisted towards them, instead, they were to give what was required.
“If there is among you a poor man of your brethren, within any of the gates in your land which the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart nor shut your hand from your poor brother, but you shall open your hand wide to him and willingly lend him sufficient for his need, whatever he needs.” (Deuteronomy 15:7-8 NKJV)
The prophet Isaiah says that the type of fast that pleases God is one where a person shares his food with the hungry and provides clothes and shelter to the poor (Isaiah 58:6-7).
This brings us to a salient point, and that is our eternal destiny is determined by what we believe and what we do about that belief. There is only one way to be saved, and that is only through belief in Jesus Christ. But faith without works is a dead faith according to the Apostle James (James 2:17). Now, we can use all the Christian phrases we want, but if our faith is real, we will live it out in our lives.
Now, this itself is sufficient to conclude our study, but there are some serious revelations from this story that need our attention.
1. People in Hell Will See Those in Heaven
“And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.” (Luke 16:23 NKJV)
People often ask if we will recognize each other on the other side of death, and this story confirms this possibility. Forget the fire and flames, if that’s possible, but the worst agony in Hell is the continual knowledge and separation from the Lord.
Lutheran pastor, Helmut Thielicke, said, “This is hell: to be forced to see the glory of God and have no access to it.” (Helmut Thielicke)
But the second worst agony still won’t be the fire and flames; it will be the ability to see those who are in heaven and be forever separated by an unbreachable gap.
And so, like the rich man who lifted his eyes in Hell, we need to lift our eyes to heaven and repent while we still have a chance to do so.
In the book of Daniel chapter three, there is an interesting story concerning the immediate transformation of King Nebuchadnezzar from insanity, wandering around like an animal, to sanity when he lifted his eyes to heaven. And when that happened, he admitted his fault, repented, and was restored.
The same is true for us. If we want to return to sanity from the insane condition of our sins that sees our eternal destiny in Hell, then we need to lift our eyes and hearts to heaven and accept Jesus’s sacrifice for our sins and repent of them. Then our outcome will be like Lazarus’s, and that is heaven upon our deaths.
2. People in Hell Will Remember What Happened in Life
“But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted, and you are tormented.’” (Luke 16:25 NKJV)
Just as scary is the thought of seeing people in heaven is the thought that people in Hell will carry their memories with them. They will remember every gospel message they ever heard, and there will be no excuses or defense.
Life is tough, and I know that most of us would rather not remember all things that we’ve gone through, which is one of heaven’s blessings where there are no more tears or sorrows. But there is no such erasure in Hell. Hell will be a place of eternal torment, remembering and regretting the wrong choices and decisions made on earth.
Now, most have heard of “buyer’s remorse.” That is where we buy something and regret it later. Well, in Hell there will be “invitation remorse.” This is remorse over what someone didn’t do, and that is, accepting Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord when they had the chance, because the promise of life does not extend beyond the now and our next breath.
3. There Is No Second Chance After Death
There is no coming back for a second or third chance to try it again as something or someone else.
I heard a story of two lizards who were warming themselves in the sunshine. The first said, “I just can’t escape this strange feeling.” “What feeling is that?” asked the second. “The feeling that in a past life I was called Shirley MacLaine.”
Reincarnation is one of the oldest religious beliefs in the world, and one that has a broad base of acceptance in our country. Yet, such a belief goes against what the Bible tells us.
The Bible says, “It is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27 NKJV)
Long time Christian pastor and author, John Beukema, said, “There are no second changes, reprieves, or reincarnations. As horrible as hell was, this rich man would not escape. The choice had been made.”
When this rich man understood there was no hope for himself, he begged Abraham to send Lazarus back to warn his brothers. I remember how often I would say, flippantly, how I looked forward to hell because heaven sounded so boring.
But notice that this man was in misery and that even though the popular saying is that misery loves company, not so in Hell. The rich man didn’t want anyone joining him, which brings me to another salient point, and that is people in Hell seem to be a lot more concerned about people heading there than Christians do.
One pastor tells this story about going to Lowes. While in the store, an announcement came over the public address system. “Attention employees and shoppers, we have a code Adam. There is a 3-year-old boy with blonde hair wearing a blue shirt that has disappeared. Please help us look for him.”
Immediately, the entire store went into search mode. There was this sense of urgency as everyone fanned out across the store looking. After ten minutes, they announced, “Cancel code Adam, we found the boy.” And you could hear the cheers and applause from every part of the store.
We desperately need a new vision of our eternal destiny, a new fresh vision not only of Heaven, but of Hell as well. And maybe then the passion will return to our souls to search high and low for the lost and rescue them from a fate far worse than death, and that is eternal death in Hell.
4. People Need God’s Word, Not Special Revelation Beyond the Grave
“But he said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.’” (Luke 16:31 NKJV)
Here’s the crux. The rich man believed that only a miracle or supernatural revelation was what his brothers needed. His thinking was, “If the Scriptures didn’t do it for me, then it won’t do it for them either, but if Lazarus came back from the dead, then they’ll listen.”
Now, if you are anything like me, God forbid, we would agree with this rich man, because if someone whose funeral we just attended came knocking at our door, and ask to come in, we’d say, “Of corpse, come on in.” (Sorry, but I just couldn’t pass up on a pun like that). But it would literally scare the hell out of us.
But listen to what Abraham said, and I’m paraphrasing, “Listen, if they don’t believe God’s word, then they won’t believe if someone came back from the dead.”
Now, the irony is that this very thing happened with another man named Lazarus. He died, and Jesus made this statement, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26 NKJV)
And so, as we end our time together, let me make this one-point crystal clear.
God Never Created Hell for Humanity, but for Satan and his Demons
Jesus said that in the end of days, He will gather all people, whom he described sheep and goats, and that He would separate them. The sheep would be those who believe, and the goats, those who don’t.
For those who don’t believe, and act in the same way the rich man acted towards Lazarus, in the end they will hear, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” (Matthew 25:41 NKJV)
God never designed Hell for humanity’s habitation, but because of humanity’s sinfulness and refusal to repent and believe in Jesus; Hell will be their eternal home. But if a person repents and believes, then God sets in Heaven an RSVP with their name on it.
One day, when Vice-President Calvin Coolidge was presiding over the Senate, one senator told another senator to go to hell. The offended Senator complained to Coolidge, who had been leafing through the Senate rule book. When he put the book down, he said, “I’ve looked through the rule book, and it says you don’t have to go.”
The Bible says we don’t have to go to Hell. Sometimes I like to read people’s epitaphs they have written on their gravestones. One person had this written on theirs.
“Consider, young man, as you walk by,
As You are now, so once was I
As I am now, you soon shall be
So prepare, young man to follow me.”
Well, someone had the gumption and the right idea when they wrote underneath.
“To follow you is not my intent
Until I know which way you went.”
There are only two directions to go, and your destination is determined by the choice that you make concerning Jesus Christ. Salvation is a gift of God’s grace that must be accepted and opened.
First, acknowledge your sin and your need to be saved. Then accept God’s gift of grace and mercy and accept Jesus Christ into your heart and life. The Apostle Paul tells us that anyone who calls upon the name of the Lord, will receive salvation, and that word “anyone,” includes “everyone.
The Cross Life
After looking this story of the Rich Man and Lazarus, we come to that point where we have to decide on how we’re going to live out our lives. And for us as believers in Jesus Christ, and the type of life that will see us in heaven versus Hell, is what I am calling, The Cross Life.
The Cross Life is a life that is lived in the cross’s shadow, or the cross of Christ, and it is a life that is lived with the cross always and ever before us. It’s a life a sacrifice and death, death to all that is of self so that we can live a new life entirely dependent upon and lived completely in Christ.
Therefore, it’s a life where we ask the Holy Spirit to lead us, not only to the cross, but one where He allows the cross to reveal those areas in our lives that are not in line with or under God’s word and hence the Kingdom of God.
Now, for this to take place, we need the Holy Spirit to examine our lives, or what we might say, the Holy Spirit needs to do a Cross Examination.
It starts with David and His prayer in Psalm 139:23-24, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my anxieties; and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
We also should be as bold as Paul, who said we are to ask God to examine us to see whether we are in the faith so that we would not disqualify ourselves (2 Corinthians 13:5-6)
And so, take a moment and do a cross examination with a series of question.
Now, this is not a condemnation, because none of us can give a positive answer with 100% on any of these. But what the Bible tells us, which is a part of our overall statement we repeat every Sunday Morning, taken from 1 John 3:20 that says, “If our hearts condemn us, we know God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.”
And so, let’s do a cross examination and ask the Lord to give us the courage to live a life in full view of the cross, and the courage and the strength, to live a cross life.
Wednesday Evening Bible Study