Summary: The Parable or story of the Rich Man and Lazarus offers us some poignant insights into the realities of hell. Jesus makes it clear that we don’t have to go.
LET’S TALK ABOUT H-E-DOUBLE-HOCKEY STICKS
A husband and wife were riding their motorcycles to Sturgis, South Dakota for the annual motorcycle convention when the accident occurred. A young woman with a car full of friends and talking on the cell phone swerved into the wife’s motorbike causing serious injury.
Sharon knew the husband through work and we talked about the question that we want to ask but are afraid to verbalize: If you die do you know where you are going? Eternity, and Hell in particular, have become somewhat mythologized in our times. We don’t think of Hell as a real place for a variety of reasons. As a result we are not willing to bring up the subject for fear of scorn or because we don’t want to scare people into heaven.
L. H. Appel, a revival preacher some years ago, took a different approach. He had one favorite sermon he liked to preach at the end of his evangelistic series: “Three people in this church I would like to see go to hell.” He promoted the sermon and joked about its title all week long and sure enough people showed up to see what he meant.
When the night came for the sermon, he would say something like this. “There are three people in this church I would like to see go to hell! In fact, there are a lot more than that. I would like to see the elders go to hell. And the deacons. And the Sunday School teachers. And many of the parents. I would like to see them all go to hell. I would like to see them stay there for about five minutes and then come back. I know one thing for sure. When they come back, they will never be the same again. They will have a new zeal for sharing the gospel. They will have a new determination to live for Christ. If folk in this church just visited hell or really believed in it, they would never be same again!”
People don’t like this subject. Christians shy away from it. We prefer to lean on grace and the love of God. This is good but one person in the Bible talked about Hell more than any other teacher. He brought it up at least a dozen times. And if he thought it was important then we need to consider his warning and study the subject. You know who I mean – Jesus.
1. The Great Equalizer
Jesus told the parable about the Shrewd Manager and received sneers from the Pharisees who loved money. So he told another parable about a rich man and Lazarus.
The contrast between the two men in Jesus’ story is quite stark. Dressed in the best clothes and eating a sumptuous feast each day, that’s what living in luxury means, the rich man is not named. He is simply described by the outer appearances, such as his clothing and habits.
Lazarus, the poor man, is in a sad state. He is sitting at the rich man’s gate, unable to work to earn a living and so must beg to eat. In fact, he eats the bread from the rich man’s table. This bread is the utensil people used in those days to scoop up food or wipe their hands with, and then threw away.
But in Jesus’ story where there is a contrast between the rich man and poor man, the poor man has a name. The rich man has everything but is known only for that. Lazarus is identified by his name which means “God is my helper.” So we see a glimpse of the heart and the issue at hand.
What equalizes the two characters is death. Both die and though the rich man had a magnificent funeral while Lazarus’ body is likely thrown into a fire at the dump, death is final. We will all die. Whether we have accomplished much or accumulated wealth in this life, death comes to claim us all.
However, the rich man finds himself in Hell, or Hades, the place of the dead. Lazarus in a great reversal of roles is carried by angels to Abraham’s side.
Stop a moment and consider now what this parable is about. Is this about the evils of being rich? Is it about not sharing what you have and showing generosity to the poor? At times we may get the impression of the NT that poverty is a virtue while having wealth is automatically sin. Certainly Jesus has a lot to say about the temptations and traps of having money. I think that I too have been blinded by this impression so that I did not understand this parable until now. For you see, I believe Jesus is not talking about wealth so much as he is talking about death, that great equalizer of people, and of Hell. He is imploring us to consider our destinies.