Summary: A parable that tells us much about the human heart
“The Rich Man & Lazarus”
Pastor Bob Leroe, Cliftondale Congregational Church, Saugus, Massachusetts
You may be thinking, “Hey—wasn’t Stewardship Sunday last week? Although I’m sure there’ve been plenty of sermons on this parable that condemned the misuse of money, that’s not what I want to focus on today. However, I need to say that Jesus’ parable is not teaching that it is sinful to be wealthy (Abraham was rich); nor is He indicating that it’s a virtue to be poor. Our worldly state—whether prosperous or miserable—is no indication of our condition in the eyes of God.
A few interesting facts about this parable: Ancient Hebrew tombs often carry the inscription, “Asleep in the bosom of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” The term expresses the fellowship that exists in the life beyond the grave. Jesus used terminology familiar to His audience. And the name Lazarus means “God is my help”. In this parable Jesus draws a dramatic scene of contrasts: riches and poverty, heaven and hell, compassion and indifference, inclusion and exclusion, faith and unbelief.
The rich man in the parable ends up in hell, and for the purpose of the story, it’s a hell in which the condemned can see heaven. During Desert Storm in Saudi Arabia we used to say “This isn’t hell, but you can see it from here.” The rich man calls to Father Abraham to send Lazarus to help relieve his suffering. His whole, comfortable life he never needed to ask for anything from anybody else, till now. He then asks that Lazarus be sent to warn his family to mend their ways, so they won’t end up in fiery torment. C.S. Lewis told about a tombstone that read, “Here lies an atheist—all dressed up and no place to go.” He commented, “I bet he wishes that were so.”
This parable doesn’t tell us much about the afterlife, but it tells us plenty about the human heart. Abraham sadly replies that “if they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” Jesus’ parable tells us plenty about the nature of unbelief.
There a point of irony in this story that no one caught at the time. Right before Jesus’ death, He performed a miracle involving another Lazarus; not a beggar, but the brother of Mary & Martha. Lazarus was dead, and Jesus wept—not because Lazarus had died, but because Jesus knew that His miracle wouldn’t change a thing. The people would still cry out “Crucify him”, rejecting their Messiah. Lazarus was raised from the dead, and the people weren’t convinced. In fact, some sought to kill Lazarus, to put to death this obvious, divine miracle. The rich man of the parable urges Abraham, “If someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.” A real-life Lazarus did—to no avail. Jesus was rejected in spite of His miracles. Miracles can attest to the authority of the prophet but they cannot produce conversions. It still takes faith to accept Christ.
Throughout the ages there have been scores of skeptics, who deny anything supernatural. I spoke with someone this past week who reminded me of Voltaire, the French philosopher. He claimed that within a hundred years Christianity would be dead. Within a hundred years Voltaire was dead, and his house had become a Bible publishing company. Skeptics raise objections to Christianity, yet we are still in business. No one has offered any objections that have caused our faith to topple.