A subject Jesus liked to spend a great deal of time talking about was money and possessions. Approximately one out of eight verses in the Gospels deal with this subject. Of the parables He told, twelve of thirty-eight are about money. Jesus knew the dangers of money and possessions – how they can ruin our relationship with God and our neighbors when it becomes the focus of our lives. Whether we are rich, middle-class, or poor, money can blind us to that which is most important.
Today in our text, Jesus is telling a story regarding money. It’s about a rich man and a poor man. This story is divided into three parts, and the first part is about two men.
There was a rich man who lived an extravagant life. He had the best of everything: the finest clothes, the best food, a beautiful home with a gate out front to keep the riffraff out. He had it all, and he carried on a sumptuous lifestyle.
There was also a man named Lazarus who was very poor. He was a beggar and sought to live off the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table. In other words, he was looking through the rich man’s garbage for his next meal.
Lazarus was suffering. He had sores all over his body, and the dogs licked the sores, which made things all the worse for him. He couldn’t defend himself. He was destitute.
The second part of the story is about the deaths and destinations of these two men.
Lazarus died and was carried away by the angels to Father Abraham’s side in heaven. The rich man died and was buried, in all likelihood, with all sorts of pomp and circumstance. It was an extravagant funeral. But he woke up in hell, Hades, a place of torment.
An interesting conversation takes place in the final part.
The rich man makes two requests of Father Abraham. First, he says, “Father Abraham, would you send Lazarus down here to cool me off with some water. It’s hot down here.” Interestingly, he saw Lazarus as less than him still, that he should be serving him. But Abraham responds, “No, you had it all before. Now things are different.”
Please note – Lazarus was not in heaven simply because he was poor. He was where he was because he had a relationship with God, and God had a heart for the poor.
Abraham went on to point out to the rich man, “Besides all this, a great chasm is between us, and no one can cross back and forth.” This is a permanent situation, so get used to the heat.
Realizing all was lost for him, the rich man then requests, “Then please send Lazarus to warn my five brothers who are living the same way I did.”
Abraham replies, “No, they have Moses and the prophets.”
“But a resurrected person would move them to repent and change their ways,” the rich man said.
“A resurrected person will not convince them to listen to God. They must listen to God’s word,” Abraham said.
It’s interesting to note that Jesus had already brought the widow’s son in Nain back to life. In John 11 He will also raise His friend Lazarus back to life. And He himself will rise from the dead. Still many would not believe, repent, and turn to Him.
This story has one main point. (Remember, a parable is an earthly story with a heavenly truth.) The main truth can be summed up with this theme, STOP, LOOK, AND LISTEN, just like we tell our children. It is not meant to be a treatise on what the afterlife looks like (though we do know from Jesus there is a judgment day, a heaven, and a hell). It is not intended to give us a view of how hot hell is, nor is it an attack on rich people (though it was told to the disciples with Pharisees, who were lovers of money, overhearing.) Jesus’ purpose was to move them to repentance and finally enter into God’s kingdom.
This parable is not teaching us that the way to heaven is by being poor. Nor is it teaching us that we can earn our way by doing right things. Scripture is clear that a person is saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. So what then is the big idea?
This story calls us to a life of compassion and generosity with the riches God has given us. Notice the focus of the story is on the rich man. He does all the talking. Lazarus doesn’t have a line in the story.
The parable tells us, Don’t be like the rich guy. Stop and look. See the poor. See the hurting. See the destitute. Don’t ignore them. Have compassion for them and help them. It’s all too easy to not pay attention and not act on the suffering of others. It’s always been like that. It still is. Like this rich man who proudly considered himself a son of Abraham.
The rich man had a poor, suffering person right outside his gate, and he did absolutely nothing! This sort of thing still happens today with the likes of us. When we see someone like Lazarus, we might be prone to think, Let someone else take care of him. Let the government take care of him. Instead of asking, What can I do?
Media overload can make us less compassionate and more callous to suffering as we get used to seeing it all around us. People with cardboard signs stand at every stoplight, it seems, and one can’t help but be suspicious and skeptical. We hear news stories about how they’re a scam, so we stop looking at them. Besides, we are preoccupied with our own lives and our own problems and have no time for anyone else.
This is part of our sinful nature, which tells us we must take care of ourselves and no one else. The rich man’s blunder, his sin in this story, was to ignore the poor and focus on himself.
This parable also teaches us that it is important to listen to God’s Word, which tells us what God expects from His people who have the poor outside their gates. The rich man chose to ignore God’s desires for his life, which were revealed by Moses and the prophets in the Old Testament. Again and again, God’s Word points us to show compassion to the poor and helpless. For instance, in the book of Leviticus when Israel enters the Promised Land, Moses tells the people, on behalf of God, to leave parts of their fields for the poor to harvest.
In the book of Deuteronomy, as the people are about to enter the land of milk and honey (plenty), Moses instructs His people,
“Every third year you shall bring out the full tithe of your produce for that year, and store it within your towns; the Levites, because they have no allotment or inheritance with you, as well as the resident aliens, the orphans, and the widows in your towns, may come and eat their fill so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work that you undertake” (14:28, 29).
Listen to God’s heart for the poor and the prophets.
“For the poor will never cease from the land; therefore I command you, saying, ‘You shall open your hand wide to your brother, to your poor and your needy, in your land’” (15:12).
Later on, when God’s people are under His judgment, the prophets tell them why God is so infuriated with them.
“What do you mean by crushing My people and grinding the faces of the poor?” says the Lord God of hosts (Isaiah 3:15).
“For three transgressions of Israel, and for four, I will not turn away its punishment, because they sell the righteous for silver and the poor for a pair of sandals. They trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth and push the afflicted out of the way” (Amos 2:6, 7).
“What does the Lord require of you? He’s told you to show justice, love kindness, walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).
God cares for the poor, and He wants His people to care for them as well with the resources He has given us.
Zacchaeus, a rich man who had a life-changing encounter with Jesus, gave away half his possessions to the poor as a sign of repentance. Jesus affirmed his act (Luke 19:1-10).
Later on, the Apostle Paul wrote to some well-to-do Corinthian Christians:
“If you count yourself a Christ follower, remember that we follow One who was rich and became poor for our sakes, dying on the cross for our sins so we might be rich in Him, Jesus Christ” (II Cor. 8:9).
By giving to the poor, we show the genuineness of our faith in Him and our love for Him.
Picking up on this truth, James writes to an early congregation,
“What good it is, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works. Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food and one of you says to them: ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,’ and yet you do not supply their bodily needs – what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead” (James 2:14-17).
Church historians have shown us that early Christianity survived and actually thrived and grew in a hostile, pagan world largely because Christ-followers took this teaching of Jesus seriously. They showed generosity and compassion toward those who could not help themselves. They showed it not only amongst themselves but also toward those who were outside the faith. As a result, people were amazed and eventually attracted to the gospel being preached.
This story from Jesus is meant to teach us to stop and look. Notice the poor, the helpless, the destitute. Listen to God’s Word regarding them. Be compassionate and generous toward them, and share from what God has given you. Generosity and compassion are key marks of the Christian life.
God would also have us listen to Moses and the prophets who point us to the One who fulfilled their words – Jesus Christ. He fulfilled God’s plan of salvation, which began in the Old Testament. They looked forward to the day when the Messiah would arrive and fulfill all God’s plans. It happened in Jesus Christ. As we place our trust in Him, we count ourselves among those who are saved by grace through faith in the Savior Jesus Christ.
So the follower of Jesus Christ needs to regularly ask himself or herself this personal question: What am I doing with my riches?
By the way friend, you and I are rich. You may be thinking, Wait a minute! I’m not rich. If you are an American listening today, you are rich, far richer than most of the world. You are right up there in the upper percent.
Here’s a good question for us, as rich Christians, to ask, What is my attitude toward my wealth and giving? Does your attitude fall prey to the mindset that it’s mine; I earned it, and I’m going to use it for myself to enjoy. Be careful. Better your attitude is, How can I use this trust God has given me to help others in the name of Jesus?
Next, are you someone who is stopping, looking, and paying attention to the suffering going on around you? Are you listening to God’s Word and wanting to obey it? You don’t have to look far to see the suffering and the hurting. It’s all around us.
Are you listening to God’s Word to help the helpless? How much weight does God’s Word carry in your life when it comes to your riches? Needs and opportunities galore are all around us to help this hurting world such as,
• Local opportunities and missions. We have a Union Gospel Mission in our community, and a Loaves and Fishes food closet to serve the poor. Give or volunteer to help.
• National opportunities. Give of your resources to flood, fire, and hurricane victim organizations that are Christian. The Salvation Army is always on the front line working amid these disasters. Offer to volunteer.
• International opportunities. Help support organizations such as Samaritans Purse and World Vision, which are serving the poor in Christ’s name. Adopt a child through Compassion International. Finance them for school. Write letters to them, and encourage them in their growing up.
I leave you with this quote:
“Every person possesses something of some sort, be it no more than a heart and a hand and a span of life; and to every person is given some ‘Lazarus at the door’, a test case as to whether he or she will use those possessions rightly or wrongly, with love or with self-indulgence, bringing God’s will into the matter or leaving it out” (The Message of Luke, The Saviour of the world, by Michael Wilcock).
Stop. Look. Listen. That, my dear friends, is Christ’s Word to you today. Amen.
Pastor Steve Kramer