I love the story of Lazarus and the rich man. I don’t know exactly why, except that it speaks to me in so many ways. Jesus told the story in Luke 16.
“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.
”The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’
“But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’
”He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father’s house, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’
“Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’
“‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’
He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”
The first way this story speaks to me is with reality. The good can have crummy lives and the bad can live in ease and luxury. We see it around us all the time. Chapter 11 of Hebrews has an impressive list of God’s saints, and the most impressive are in the last few verses, “Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated- the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground. These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.”
It has often fascinated me that the very first book of the Bible written down was Job. In fact, it is one of the very first works ever in literature. The subject? Why do the “good” suffer. I don’t think we’ll ever get the answer to this on this side of Heaven, but we keep asking. Indeed, God didn’t even answer Job for that man never knew why he had suffered.
There is no doubting the reality of this when we read of the treatment of Christians in other countries.
Another way this story speaks to me is the clarity with which it explains where the saints before Christ went after death. They went to a place called “Paradise,” while the unbelievers went to Hades. This story explains the exact set up. After Jesus died for our sins He was able at that time to take these saints up to Heaven to be presented to God. Before Jesus died there was no way an imperfect man could be in the presence of a perfect God. Jesus did that for us by taking our place.
“But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore He says:
“When He ascended on high,
He led captivity captive,
And gave gifts to men.”
(Now this, “He ascended”–what does it mean but that He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.) Ephesians 4:7-11 NKJV
Of course, one thing I really love about the story is that it is true! When Jesus spoke in parables to the people he never used a real name. This story tells us the specific name of a specific person. Of course, I love the fact that the stingy rich man didn’t even get his name mentioned.
Now here is a point to ponder: I suppose we have all heard people laugh and joke about hell by saying that all their friends will be there and so it will be a fun place. The rich man didn’t want even one of his five brothers down there with him. With that many brothers he probably didn’t even like a couple of them, but that didn’t matter, he did not want them to suffer as he was suffering. The rich man wasn’t laughing.
Another great point is the importance put on the Bible. Abraham said, “‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.” There is no need for anything more. The Bible holds all the keys for life. In 2 Peter 1:3-4 the Bible tells us: “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.” NIV
In my early days as a Christian I was always seeking more. I thought there must be an easier faster way to be a powerful perfect Christian. Indeed, I thought there was such a thing as a perfect Christian with nothing but blessings and power to do all things. Three years at Bible school, three years on the mission field, and many years as a teacher and leader and I never found one. All my searching for the perfect Christian and I came up empty. After all the seminars, meetings, and camps, it was painfully clear that all around me where nothing but imperfect Christians…I could even list their faults! Even more painful was the realization that I would never be the completely devoted perfect Christian myself. There is no such thing. I have now been a serious Christian for fifty years and this is what I have come up with: “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way, to be happy in Jesus but to trust and obey”…..The Bible has all the answers and if people won’t listen to that there isn’t a reason or a need for more. That is why it is so important I know the Bible, why it is so important I saturate myself with it. No experience can replace it. The Bible is the final word for all!
Just think of the impact of these final words from Abraham, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”
A risen Christ will not convince anyone if they won’t listen to the Bible!
It has always been an amazement to me how many people walked away from Jesus and refused to believe in Him. The miracles didn’t convince them. Raising the other Lazarus from the dead didn’t convince them. His words didn’t change them. They turned their back on Him and walked away…even so far as to go the religious leaders and enter into the plot to kill him. (John 11:45-47)
Jesus had no patience for those who always wanted more, for those who came only for the miracles and the bread. They wanted signs. Jesus said, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” Matthew 12:39-41 NIV
Many times, when I read the Bible and consider this verse, I think of another verse which is far scarier. It’s in Psalms, “Then at last his people believed him. Then they finally sang his praise. Yet how quickly they forgot again! They wouldn’t wait for him to act but demanded better food, testing God’s patience to the breaking point. So he gave them their demands but sent them leanness in their souls.” Psalm 106:12-15 TLB
It really makes me stop and make sure I’m not demanding my own way, not demanding better food and more signs and miracles. The Bible is all I need and that will satisfy me for I really don’t want God to send “leanness” to my soul.
Yep, there is a whole lot of information and points to ponder in that story and the biggest being the importance of the Word of God. The rich man was pretty thirsty, and I want only to be that thirsty for God’s Word.