The story of a rich man
“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 Hades, 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 set in place, 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 family, 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.’” Luke 16:19-31
At the beginning of our service today we played the old spiritual, ”Dip Your Fingers In The Water”. It has been recorded in various versions by a number of artists, but most notably by the civil rights activist Josh White . The lyrics contain that recurring refrain "Dip your finger in the water, come and cool my tongue, cause I'm tormented in the flame”. It’s about the rich man in the parable we just read. What imagery! Just put a drop of water on my tongue—I am in great suffering and pain! I don’t know such pain, and I cannot imagine opening my eyes one day, and finding out that hell is real and in a place where I know it’s going to eternally painful. Hell is a hard thing to comprehend—and much more is eternity in a place like that. It really does not matter if you, like the Sadducees, deny the existence of hell. Jesus believed in it. You can deny gravity also, but it is doesn’t change reality.
This is one of the most well-know and ofter cited of the parables of Jesus, and it is, perhaps, the most frequently illustrated of parables in medieval art, perhaps because of its vivid account of an afterlife. The parable dramatically illustrates what awaits every human being—eternal peace or eternal pain.
To be honest, there’s some uncertainty as to if this is actually a parable or perhaps a true story. In this story, or parable, he uses a name of person, Lazarus; but in all the other parables He never used a name. The use of a personal name (Lazarus) is not found in any other parable. By contrast, in all of the other parables Jesus refers to a central character by a description, such as "a certain man", "a sower", and so forth. But regardless of this is a true story or a parable, Jesus shared this because of the everlasting truth of heaven, hell and man’s accountability for what he or she does.
To me, what is obvious is that Jesus is again taking stabs at the Pharisees and other religious charlatans in Jerusalem. Pharisees talked a lot about the bosom of Abraham, and they bragged about their ancestral connections to him. When Jesus told this story the poor, and beggars were frowned upon, but the religious folks loved money and nice things and tended to honor those that were rich. In their minds you were rich because God loved you more, and poor because you somehow deserved it. To be fair, that’s how a lot of religious folks still think today.
But in this narrative Jesus once again turns things upside down. He places the poor man, Lazarus, who was despised and poor, in the eternal glory of heaven, with Abraham, and the rich man, the one that was honored and respected during his entire life on earth, in absolute misery in hell for all eternity.
When the rich man begs Abraham to send Lazarus back to warn his family family, he’s told that the would not believe even someone was raised from he dead to speak to them. This was, of course, a prophecy about Jesus own resurrection which would soon happen. And sure enough, these wealthy, religious men, those Pharisees, would not believe in Jesus even when HE rose from the dead. They chose hell over admitting the obvious! Jesus knew what was coming for them. How sad it must have made him….
The parable was also satirical attack on the Sadducees. The Rich Man is identified as being like a Sadducee, perhaps he was a Sadducee, because he was wearing purple and fine linen, priestly dress that Sadducees wore. When Jesus remarked that the rich man had five brothers, he was identifying the five sons of the High Priest Annas, a Sadducee. In the parable, Abraham's statement that "If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, if one rise from the dead, ” fits the Sadducees' rejection of the Prophetical books of the Bible as well as their disbelief in a resurrection of the dead. They only believed in the first five books of the Bible…they did not believe in angels, heaven or hell. Jesus was warning them that those that deny hell are in a for an awful awakening one day. They were all doomed to hell and nothing would change their minds, and Jesus knew it.
This story serves at least two purposes. It gives us peek of the eternal future of all humanity—so its’s both a great hope ….and a dire warning….because after this life there will be a reckoning and things absolutely will be different. The proud will be humbled…. and the humbled exalted. The last will be first… and the first will be last. The ruler will abased…and the greatest servant will be the most respected!
Lazarus was poor, despised, racked with pain and hunger while he was on earth; but when he died, angels carried his soul to the abode of the righteous, where he received eternal protection and consolation; every tear was wiped from his face! However the rich man, who enjoyed a luxurious, carefree, excessive life, received eternal condemnation and pain. He might have esteemed and honored, surrounded by flatterers, waited on by a host of servants, clad in costly clothes, and he feasted sumptuously every day, while on this earth, but that magnificence lasted only a short time. He died and was lost for ever, and by the time anyone of us heard this story, he has been dead for almost 2000 years, and the entire time suffering unspeakable torments.
Consider for a moment this rich man. He was used to the very best and was probably what we would call an epicurean. He may have called himself a good Jew, but obviously religion was a matter of no consideration with him. His only thought was how to seize and maintain a pleasant life, and he neither troubled himself about the future, the suffering of others, a belief in the coming Redeemer, or any thought of heaven or hell. He led a life unaccountable to God, without fear of God’s judgment, a life without grace and without God.
I want to pause and talk about the “mortality” of the soul. There are some folks that do not believe in the immorality of the soul—-perhaps some of you. But particularly Adventists, Seventh Day Adventists, Jehovah Witnesses, and some Lutherans and Anglicans. They believe in the mortality of the soul. That is, they don’t think that once the soul is created be God it lives forever. This is also called "Christian mortalism" or "soul sleep". But this parable teaches that both our personal identity and our memory remains totally intact after death…. for the soul of the one in a hell or heaven. Jesus told the thief on the cross, “this day, you shall be with me in paradise.”
I am of the same understanding. Jesus told this story for a purpose. At death we do not temporarily cease to exist, there is an immediate time of great joy and peace, when we pass into eternity… or sadly into great suffering. Nowhere in the Bible is there a middle place mentioned, nor will we ever find ourselves in some chasm between heaven and hell.
The story was frequently depicted in art, in the middle ages, especially carved at the portals of churches, at the foot of which real life beggars would sit (pleading their cause). There have always been the poor, and according to Jesus we will alway