Summary: Jesus painted a masterpiece of words with the parable of the rich man and Lazarus as we see two contrasting lives.
Creating a Masterpiece:
The Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man, Part 1
Jesus was a master story teller. Throughout his ministry, Jesus used the parable to illustrate the intimate details of the kingdom of God. With each parable Jesus told, he painted vivid pictures in the minds of his listeners that connected his listeners to the story he told and the truth he sought to communicate. That is the purpose of a good story teller, to connect the listener to the story, so that the hearer actually puts him/herself in the story. It is as if the hearer hears about a blind man, and then actually becomes the blind man, or hears a story of a woman who lost a coin in her house, and literally tears the house apart to find the coin, and the listener becomes that woman. Jesus painted pictures with his words because that is what master story tellers do. Jesus painted a vivid masterpiece of words when he told the parable of Lazarus and the rich man in Luke 16:19-31.
Art is good when it is both simple and complex. The longer we look at any work of art the more we see, and so it is with the masterpiece of words painted by the master in this text that is at once so simple, yet so glaringly complex that it is almost too powerful to see as one painting. Yet it is one painting, but the more we look at it the more we see. This parable, so simple in its premise, is too complex to take a glancing look at. We must stand and study it, look at its parts and discern the detail to catch the nuances, and then find ourselves in the story Jesus tells. As we study the parable we find it is actually a work of art that consists of three different scenes and styles. First, Jesus paints a portrait of two contrasting lives that are central to the parable. Then, Jesus weaves into his masterpiece an abstract of the mystery that is death, and finally, Jesus crafts a landscape of the afterlife. Yet the unifying elements that tie the three scenes together are the men, Lazarus and the rich man.
I want us to look at the picture Jesus paints with this parable over the next three weeks, and I want us to see the detail that the brushstrokes of his words convey across the canvass of eternity, and then let his words also color our hearts with the grace that will bear us into eternity. We shall start with the portrait of two contrasting lives.
A good portrait will capture the essence of the individual subject. Looking at a portrait we are supposed to see the person as they are, and that is exactly what we see in this portrait of contrasting lives. We see a typical day in the lives of two different men, one poor (Lazarus), and the other rich (unnamed, but tradition has given the man the name, Dives).
Jesus said, "There was a certain rich man who was splendidly clothed and who lived each day in luxury.  At his door lay a diseased beggar named Lazarus.  As Lazarus lay there longing for scraps from the rich man’s table, the dogs would come and lick his open sores.
Jesus, in his portrait of these lives, shows us how these men lived. We look at the rich man and also the beggar. That’s all we see. Jesus doesn’t give a word of comment about the character of either man. He just paints the picture.
Can you see it? A nice, some would say, large home, almost palatial. You enter the compound through a magnificent gate. You look around and see the finest manicured lawns, and entering the home you see the marble adorning the walls. Fine draperies cover the rooms as you glance around, and the oriental rugs don’t escape your notice, either. And right in the center, who could miss that beautiful fountain. You simply stand in awe at the surroundings, and wonder how anyone could make this place home.
Then you catch a glimpse of the host who is receiving you today—you and about 200 others that are being entertained. Of course, he is the best dressed in the place. How do we know? Well, the NKJV tells us he is adorned in purple and fine linen. Purple was the color of royalty, and was the most expensive dye used for coloring fabric in the first century. And the text of the NKJV also tells us he wore fine linen. Just a word—that is a reference to the man’s underwear. He wore linen drawers, and that was a sign of wealth.
A lovely picture indeed, except for the one thing you noticed on your way into the home. There is one thing that detracts from the complete beauty of the surroundings, and you had to step over this thing as you made your way through the magnificent gate. There, outside this palatial estate lies a bundle of dirty rags. As you moved to step over them, the rags stirred just ever so slightly. It was the sick beggar. This sick beggar had guests as well, but unlike the 200 or so that you are with, his visitors were only a couple, and they were there to scavenge the surroundings just like the beggar, and as you walk by you catch a glimpse of these visitors licking the wounds of the poor, sick beggar. These visitors are the wild dogs that roamed the streets of the city. It really does stain the beauty of the whole scene, but you put it out of your mind, for there is a party to attend.