Summary: The similarities between these men were limited, but very significant; whereas the difference between them was very great.
TWO MEN NAMED LAZARUS
“Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was the Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick. So the sisters sent word to Him, saying, ‘Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.’ But when Jesus heard this, He said, ‘This sickness is not to end in death, but for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it.’ Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” John 11:1-5 (NASB)
“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.” Luke 16:20-21 (NKJV)
I. THE SIMILARITIES BETWEEN THEM WERE LIMITED BUT VERY SIGNIFICANT:
1. They both were named Lazarus
2. They were both Israelites
3. They both were children of God
II. THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THEM WERE GREAT:
1. The Lazarus of Bethany was a man of considerable wealth. The ruins of his home are still viewed today by visitors to Israel. I have had the privilege of visiting the site many times over the sixty-two years of my pastoral ministry. These ruins clearly establish that this family had considerable wealth.
The account of Mary, Lazarus’ sister, and the costly fragrant oil as found in Matthew 26:6-13 and Mark 14:3-9 provides strong evidence to support this supposition. In Mark’s account we are told that the fragrant oil could have sold for more than three hundred denarii which was approximately a working man’s wages for an entire year.
Read Mark’s account as follows. "And being in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper, as He sat at the table, a woman came having an alabaster flask of very costly oil of spikenard. Then she broke the flask and poured it on His head. But there were some who were indignant among themselves, and said, ’Why was this fragrant oil wasted? For it might have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.’ And they criticized her sharply. But Jesus said, ’Let her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a good work for Me. For you have the poor with you always, and whenever you wish you may do them good; but Me you do not have always.’She has done what she could. She has come beforehand to anoint My body for burial. ’Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her.’" Mark 14:3-9 (NKJV)
As far as we are able to discern, Lazarus’ health was excellent until the time of his death. His illness caused great concern among his family and a multitude of his friends. His death brought great sorrow and weeping from all the town of Bethany and is so stated in John 11:33-35 (NASB) which reads: When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled, and said, "Where have you laid him?" They said to Him, "Lord, come and see." Jesus wept.
2. We find the absolute opposite to be the case with Lazarus the beggar. He was totally destitute of any material possessions. His health was wretchedly poor, “full of sores”; a helpless invalid “who was laid at the rich man‘s gate“. No one cared that he suffered; only the dogs that licked his sores ever noticed him. No one grieved his death.
III. THE WONDERFUL “OVERRIDING FACTOR” IS THAT THEY BOTH SHARED IN THE JOYS OF ETERNAL LIFE:
“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8 (NASB) [Also John 3:16] Paul elaborated further when he wrote, “For there is no respect of persons with God.” Romans 2:11 KJV. The NASB translates the verse, “For there is no partiality with God.”
III. TRUTHS WE CAN DERIVE FROM THIS MESSAGE:
1. All children of God are not necessarily equal in regard to material possessions, physical health, beauty, prowess, social status, intellectual capacity or family love and support. Some of our friends in the Christian community really don’t see this. Some equate worldly wealth as an indication of God’s favor and that if you live in poverty or if you are struggling to pay your debts it is because of your lack of faith. That may indeed be true at times but we dare not establish it as the rule. Remember the believers who constituted the church in Jerusalem, which was the cradle of Christianity, were poor, indeed impoverished, and they joyfully accepted love gifts from the Gentile churches as Paul continually encouraged them to do (i.e. Romans 15:25-26 and 1 Corinthians 16:1).