“The Poor Man and Rich Lazarus” (Luke 16:19-31)

Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 25, 2022

“The Poor Man and Rich Lazarus” (Luke 16:19-31)

Our text today is the story commonly known as “The Rich Man and Poor Lazarus.” But I’m going to suggest to you today that we could just as well call this story “The Poor Man and Rich Lazarus.” As we shall see. So let’s go.

Jesus starts out the story with the rich man: “There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day.” Now this is quite a picture Jesus is painting with just a few words. The man is described as a rich man, but his wealth is made more vivid by what follows. It says he is clothed “in purple and fine linen.” Now those were very expensive fabrics in those days. It would be like if we would say that a man today wears $6,000 custom-made Armani suits! So this guy was very wealthy, very rich, and he liked to dress in the fanciest style.

And what about his dining habits? It says he “feasted.” OK, fine. Special occasion, once in a while, maybe he likes to splurge a little bit. But no, it’s more than that. It says he “feasted sumptuously.” That means he didn’t hold back at all. He laid it on with the fanciest food, the most expensive wine, whenever he did feast. But wait, there’s more. It says he feasted sumptuously “every day.” He wasn’t content with just his daily bread. No, he wanted his daily filet mignon and pheasant under glass and several bottles of Dom Pérignon, every single day! This man is living in the lap of luxury. He’s living the dream.

But then we meet a man who’s living a nightmare. At the rich man’s gate is “a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table.” This poor man is not far from the rich man in terms of distance–he’s right at his gate–but in terms of living conditions, the two men could not be further apart. The rich man is covered with expensive clothes. The poor man is covered with sores. The rich man’s table is filled with sumptuous feasts every day. The poor man would be happy just to get some scraps from his table. The poor man has to be laid at the rich man’s gate, in hopes of getting some help from inside. And the rich man wouldn’t even miss the little bit of help he could have easily given the poor man, and it would have been more than plenty for the poor man. But the rich man will not help.

This rich man has everything you could possibly want–except of course the qualities of love and mercy that flow from a living faith. The poor man, by contrast, has absolutely nothing–except he does have one thing that the rich man does not have. This poor man has a name. And his name has in it all the riches and all the help that will make the difference in the long run. For this poor man’s name is “Lazarus.”

You know, it’s very unusual for anyone in Jesus’ stories to have a name. But here, in this story, this man does. And his name is Lazarus. In Hebrew, his name would be “Eliezer,” which means, “My God is help.” So, “Lazarus”: “The one whom God helps.” The rich man isn’t helping Lazarus. No one else is helping him. But God will.

Lazarus, the one whom God helps. And God does help him, magnificently so, at the hour of his death. The poor man dies, and he is “carried by the angels to Abraham’s side.” Wow, what a beautiful way to describe what happens at a believer’s death! To be “carried by the angels to Abraham’s side”!

And this is the hope you and I have in Christ, the hope that will be realized at the hour of our death. It’s like we sang in the hymn: “Lord, let at last Thine angels come, to Abr’ham’s bosom bear me home, that I may die unfearing.” Friends, this is the hope and the help that God will give to you, so that you need not fear death. When you die, your soul will be with the Lord in heaven, even as your body is laid in the grave, awaiting the resurrection of all flesh, which will happen on the day when Christ returns.

So the poor man–I guess I should call him the formerly poor man–is carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. Beautiful! But now contrast that to what happens to the rich man when he dies: “The rich man also died and was buried.” Boom. Blah. Not so beautiful and poetic, is it? And what’s more, where does this formerly rich man end up? In hell. In Hades. In torment. Not because he was rich. No, in fact, Abraham himself was rich, and he ends up in Paradise. No, the rich man went to hell because he lacked faith. He was an unbeliever. He did not repent and put his trust in God. No, this unbelieving rich man was all about himself, indulging his pleasures and making himself his own god. That’s what sin is, that’s what sin does, and, if left unrepented and unforgiven, it will send you to hell. Whether rich or poor or anywhere in between, unbelief–that is, lack of trust in the mercy and forgiveness that God freely offers in Christ–this unbelief will send you straight to hell.

So the rich guy is in Hades, and he looks up to heaven and sees Abraham there, with Lazarus at his side. “Father Abraham, have mercy on me.” In the Bible, Abraham often is portrayed as the father of faith. So in this story, Abraham kind of functions like we might talk about St. Peter at the pearly gates–he’s sort of a gatekeeper. The rich guy addresses him with a special request: “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.” If you don’t think that hell is real, and that it’s a place of anguish and torment, well, guess again. Because Jesus certainly believes in and teaches, here and in many other places, the existence of a real hell.

“Abraham, help!” But Abraham replies: “No can do! You had your chance during your lifetime to escape the flames of hell. You could have received God’s free gift of repentance and faith, but you refused. That was evident in your lack of mercy toward Lazarus. Besides that, I can’t grant your request, because there’s no crossing over from here to there or there to here. There’s a great chasm, a great gulf, between heaven and hell, and it is impassable.” So much for the unbiblical notion of purgatory. No, once a person dies, that’s it. “It is appointed unto man once to die, and then the judgment.”

“OK, disappointing,” the man in Hades thinks, “so I’ll have to try something else.” He says: “Then I beg you, father, to send Lazarus to my father’s house–for I have five brothers–so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.” Well, that isn’t going to work, either. If those boys need a warning, they’ve already got one, just like you had. It’s called the Bible. Abraham says: “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.” “Moses and the Prophets” is shorthand for what we call the Old Testament, which was the extent of the Bible at that time. Now we’ve got the New Testament, too. The Bible throughout has plenty to warn a person of the dangers of sin, unbelief, and eternal judgment. But do people listen? That is the question.

The rich man hadn’t listened to the Bible’s message. And he’s worried that his brothers won’t, either. So he thinks he has a better idea: “No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.” Abraham shoots that one down, too: “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.” If people refuse to listen to God’s word, if they will not hear the Bible’s clear message: that you are a sinner, and you will be going to hell if you think you’re good enough on your own. . . . If you will not listen to Holy Scripture’s clear teaching that you need a Savior, and you’re not it. . . . If you or your friends or your family have no concern about eternity and where you will spend it, if you just merrily go about your way, ignoring God, dismissing his word of penetrating law and life-giving gospel–well, then you’re on your own, because you are refusing the help God wants to give you. And good luck with that.

Friends, today be a Lazarus, the one whom God helps. Brothers and sisters in Christ, you have been given a name, the name of the triune God, placed on you in your baptism. God knows you by name; you are his own. Your sins are covered by the holy blood of Christ. For there is one man who did come down from heaven. He is the God-man, our Savior, our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus came so that you would not be cast into the flames of hell, so that you would be delivered from eternal torment and anguish, so that you would be carried by angels into heaven. Jesus did this for you–he did this for your friends and family, he did this for all the rich men and poor men and everyone in between. Jesus did this out of God’s pure grace and mercy. Our Lord suffered pain and agony when he was beaten and flogged, and his body was covered with bloody stripes. He did this for you, in your place. Christ Jesus was crowned with thorns and nailed to a cross. There he cried out in thirst. There he suffered the agony of God’s judgment upon sinners–the judgment you and I deserve, which he took in our place.

And then, this man did rise from the dead. And yet, many still did not believe. Some people will not be convinced even if “someone should rise from the dead.” But, dear friends, you do believe. You are convinced. You have heard Moses and the Prophets and the rest of the Bible, and the Holy Spirit has given you the gift of faith. Praise God!

Now you are forgiven. Now, as Christ’s baptized believers, you share in his everlasting life. When you die, you too will be carried by the angels into the bliss of Paradise. And then when this same Jesus returns, you will share in his bodily resurrection, with a glorified body, in a perfectly restored creation. Brothers and sisters in Christ, whatever your income, you are truly rich! You also are named Lazarus! For you are the ones whom God helps!

Published in: on September 24, 2022 at 12:08 pm  Leave a Comment  
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