The Poor Rich Man
Luke 16:19 – 31
The Poor Rich Man
Don’t be blinded by wealth
Just a week or so ago, I received a letter from a friend of mine in the US. He had been the pastor of the church in Darwin that I attended as a kid. But he had also worked as a university lecturer in America.
He told me once about when he was working in a college in Los Angeles, where he was teaching some of the wealthiest kids in the country. His students, were the young adult children of the Hollywood A-list.
And so in one sociology class, he thought it would be good for these very rich kids, to put themselves in the shoes of people at the other end of the socio-economic spectrum, and so he set them an assignment:, They had to write an essay, from the perspective of a poor person, explaining what life was like, when you’re poor.
He told me, one student’s essay began like this.
My family is very poor. Very, very poor.
We are so poor,
That our butler is poor,
Our chauffeur is poor,
Our gardeners, are all poor.
That’s how poor we are!
I kid you not!
Our wealth can make us blind, to the realities around us, can’t it?
And since we started this teaching series in Jesus’ parables, and especially after Jesus’ quite confronting parable, and his assessment of his followers last week, numbers of you have commented to me, on the surprise you’ve felt on reading the parables, at just how frequently Jesus chooses this method of communication, to teach his disciples an important lesson about money.
There’s something about a parable’s ability to get under our guard,
Or to surprise us or shock us, which is why so often Jesus chooses this method, to point our attention to what he wants us to notice.
So let’s take a look at the parable, and find out what Jesus would say to us today.
Making sense of the parable
“There was a rich man, Jesus says, who was dressed in purple and fine linen, and lived in luxury every day,
This man is rich, and I mean really rich!
In Jesus’ day, purple clothing was dyed with the secretions of a particular type of sea snail. And archaeologists have figured out , somehow, that to make 1 gram of dye, you needed 12,000 snails. And that 1 gram of purple dye, was enough to colour the trim, around the edge, of one piece of clothing.
Production of this stuff was incredibly labour intensive. Can you imagine the poor guy whose job it was to milk 12,000 snails?!
Hardly anyone could afford it! Royalty, and this guy.
So that’s his outer clothing, top of the line from Paris fashion week, the fine linen that Jesus describes is probably a reference to his under garments.
This guy’s lifestyle is so opulent, that even his underwear gets a mention in the parable for being so fantastic!
I’m pretty sure that his butler was rich,
His chauffeur was rich,
And all his gardeners were rich!
The poor man in the parable is also described in vivid terms, At his gate was laid, literally , was sprawled, a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21 and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.
Now, maybe if you’re feeling miserable, you quite like the thought of your dog bounding up and comforting you. But this isn’t your friendly pet, fresh and clean, straight from the dog salon.
To a Jewish person, a dog wasn’t “man’s best friend.” Dogs were scavengers, and so they were considered defiled.
I remember when I was a kid in Malaysia, I saw a rat about this big, eating rubbish in the street.
That’s how Jesus’ hearers thought about dogs.
If the rich man was the wealthiest of the wealthy,
The poor man is the poorest of the poor.
And yet, they’re side by side. Lazarus was laid at the gate of the rich man.
Your average suburban house didn’t have a gate,
What this rich man had at the end of his driveway, is what you’d find at the entrance to a palace, or even a city.
And so there, beside this enormous entrance way, lies Lazarus, and to get in and out of his house every day, the rich man has to pass him by.
Verse 24 makes it clear that the rich man knows who Lazarus is, but he makes no effort to help him at all.
I don’t know if you’re one of those people, who, when you see the Greenpeace recruiters in the street, trying to grab passers-by, you take out your phone and pretend to be on a call when you walk past so you don’t have to talk to them?
Every day the rich man employs some sort of technique like that, to avoid having to acknowledge this beggar, right outside his house.
Lazarus longed to eat the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table, but he was given nothing.
The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried.
Lazarus is in heaven.
He’s with Abraham, the father of the people of Israel, the great national hero. And what he gets to enjoy, is pictured in terms of a feast. Think of the pictures you may have seen of Middle Eastern banquets;, Lazarus is in the position of honour, right next to Abraham.
It’s not unusual for the kingdom of God to be pictured as this kind of banquet, and Jesus has already told some parables in the last couple of chapters where God’s kingdom is described in exactly this way.
But over the hubbub of happy conversation, they hear a voice calling out.
It’s the rich man, calling out to Abraham, from verse 23, Hades, where he was in torment
“Can you send Lazarus down here?”
And Abraham replies, “No I can’t, No one can cross from here to there.”
“Well, how about my brothers, can you send Lazarus to them?”
Presumably his brothers lived the same kind of life-style as the rich man,
Living according to the same priorities, and so they were facing the same torment.
“Send Lazarus to them, that will shock them into action.”
But the parable closes , If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced, even, if someone rises from the dead.’ ”
OK, so let’s remember, our word parable comes from a Greek word that means “to place alongside.” A parable is a story placed alongside of the realities of the kingdom of God, in order to teach us, about God’s kingdom.
But it doesn’t mean that every point of the parable, corresponds exactly to some element in our relationship with God.
If we go down that track we get ourselves tangled up, so think of the parable of the Good Samaritan, for example. Some Christian people have tried to connect every single point in the parable, to some aspect of the Christian faith, so they end up saying things like, the 2 coins the Samaritan gives the innkeeper are supposed to represent the 2 stone tablets of the 10 Commandments!
Get bogged in that level of detail and we’ve missed the point! Which is “Don’t ask who your neighbour is, just be a neighbour!”
So we need to make sure we don’t make that mistake with this parable.
Jesus is not trying to give us a detailed cosmology, all the specifics of the physical, geographic relationship between heaven and hell.
We’re not supposed to come away from this thinking, “Oh, you can obviously see into heaven, from hell.”
Or, “I never knew that someone in hell could carry on a conversation with someone in heaven.”
And the point is not that poor people get to heaven, and rich people go to hell. Abraham, was a wealthy man, and he’s in heaven.
So don’t get distracted trying to find a point of connection for all the details.
The parable in context
What we want to make sure that we do, is take away the main lesson of the parable, and apply that as we ought to.
And, naturally, one of the ways we understand the overall theme of the parable is by looking at the context.
We know that Jesus is still talking to his disciples, and the Pharisees, a group of religious leaders, are sitting around the outside listening in.
Just up in verse 13, Jesus had said, you cannot serve both God and money.
And we saw last week, that there’s a discipline to be developed, in training ourselves to say yes to eternal investments, and no to things that are short term and temporary.
We’re to spend our money on what God thinks is important, particularly on what these parables show is God’s great priority, the reason that Jesus spends his time with sinful people;,
And that is, rebellious sinful people, hearing the good news of Jesus, and being brought back to God.
“Serve God, Not money”, Jesus says.
And the implication in this parable, is that the rich man is doing the opposite.
He has spent his life doing the very thing Jesus warns his disciples against. The context Jesus has created tells us this man was serving money.
And again from last week, we saw that God watches how we use our money to see if he can trust with things of real value.
Verse 11, just up a couple more lines, if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?
Jesus says “if, when you’re given worldly wealth, you use it only for yourself, for selfish purposes, then God’s not going to give you true blessing.
So that’s the immediate context, and obviously, that’s going to shape how we understand this.
We also know the broader context of all these parables, goes back to chapter 13, and the question “how can someone be in right relationship with God?”
How do we get to enjoy eternity with God?
That’s the question in the background.
What does Jesus want us to learn?
So what does Jesus want us to learn from this parable?
Who do you depend on? 19 - 21
Well first of all, We’re presented with a question;
Who do you depend on?
You probably noticed as we read through, that the poor man actually has something that the rich man doesn’t.
What is it?
Depending on what you count, Jesus told about 48 parables. This is the only time, in all of those parables, that Jesus gives one of his characters a name.
That should get our attention.
The name Lazarus means “God is my helper.”
And the that Jesus gives him this name says to us, “here is someone who depends on God”,
“Here is a man who relies on God for , everything.
Jesus gives him this name, Lazarus, because what is most important in the parable isn’t that he is poor, but that he depends on God.
He has a name,
He is known.
He is known by God.
And the repeated contrast between the rich man and the poor man, reminds us all the way through, that we’re supposed to think of these 2 in 2 different ways.
Whatever we think of one, we’re supposed to think the opposite of the other.
So since Lazarus depends on God, we’re led to believe, that the rich man does not.
And we’re supposed to come away thinking that he depends on himself.
He serves, and relies on his money.
I’m sure you noticed,
Even in death and torment, he’s still acting like he’s the boss!
Like he has resources at his disposal that he can allocate for his own benefit; “Send Lazarus here, Send Lazarus there!”
Who does he depend on?
He depends on himself,
On his own power,
His own influence,
What he can achieve, for himself.
The things that happen to the rich man in the parable, happen not because he is rich, but because he is not like Lazarus, who depends on God.
Watch out for calluses, the great danger of wealth (v 22 – 25)
As I said last Sunday, this week I conducted my grandfather’s funeral, and so between that, and reading this parable, this week I have been confronted many times by the reality, that death can so easily take away, what we work for in life.
My grandfather owned his own businesses,
He had holiday houses, boats and caravans,
In his 87 years, he owned 84 cars. And I mean real cars, not the models I talked about a few weeks ago!
And in death, all of that was taken away from him.
When this rich man in the parable died, everything he had was taken away from him, because none of what he had spent his wealth on, was of any worth beyond the grave.
You might have heard the expression “Some people are so poor, all they have is money”, well that was exactly the case with this rich man.
His great wealth,
And the way he used his wealth to indulge himself, had made him callused.
If you’ve ever tried learning to play the violin, or guitar, or some other stringed instrument, you know about calluses.
When you first start to play, the strings of the instrument cut into your skin, hurt like crazy,
But with more and more playing, you develop calluses, your skin gets tougher, and you no longer feel the pain of what’s pressing in against you.
One of the great dangers of material wealth, is that it can cause us to become callused;,
We no longer feel the pain pressing in around us,
We can stop noticing the needs of others,
We no longer acknowledge the responsibility that God has entrusted to us, to be about the business of his kingdom,
To see friends won for eternity.
When we’re comfortable,
When we’re enjoying the blessings that God has given us, it’s all too easy to ignore the work that God would have us do, the very reason he’s entrusted his resources to us in the first place.
And that’s the rich man’s problem.
Not that he’s wealthy,
But that his wealth, and the way he chose to use his wealth, made him callused to the great needs around him,
Callused, to the great responsibility placed on him as , one of God’s people, to show compassion,
To seek justice ,
To see God’s kingdom advance.
See, he is one of God’s covenant people, he plays the race card!
Verse 24, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue,
Father Abraham, I’m one of your children,
I’m one of God’s people.
I’ve got the Trinity Mount Barker name badge, look!
But, verse 25, 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
Again, Jesus isn’t saying, simply because the rich man had good things, that he’s now missed out on heaven.
And he’s not saying, that Lazarus, by virtue of the fact that he missed out on good things in his life, he automatically gets entry into heaven.
The Bible’s quite explicit about God’s compassion for the poor, but it’s equally clear, that simply being poor doesn’t get you into heaven.
And there are, particular examples in the Bible, of people who are poor, for example, because they are lazy, they refuse to work, and they will one day face God’s judgment.
This isn’t about having,
It’s about depending.
And so Abraham replies,
Notice he calls him son, he acknowledges the family relationship, his religious heritage.
But simply being part of the right family doesn’t mean you really are one of God’s people.
And that’s a warning to those Pharisees and others listening in, who thought that simply being among God’s people was enough to guarantee God’s favour.
And it’s a warning for us today, isn’t it?
Simply being among God’s people,
Being born into a Christian family,
Turning up to church on Sunday isn’t enough to get us into a right relationship with God.
Abraham says, you are reaping now, what you sowed, in your life.
Your extravagant wealth,
Your lack of compassion,
Your failure to do anything for this man, whose name you know, who was sprawled at your gate very day,
Has resulted in this spiritual poverty, in which you find yourself.
The American pastor A W Tozer once wrote "Money often comes between people and God. Someone has said that you can take two small ten-cent pieces, and shut out the view of a panoramic landscape.
Go to the mountains and just hold two coins closely in front of your eyes-,
- the mountains are still there, but you cannot see them at all."
Of course that’s true isn’t it?!
And it’s not just mountains, our money can blind us to things of even greater importance;
There’s an event coming up in couple of weeks called Walk to Water.
It’s a fundraising event that started out to raise money for Christian people in Nigeria, because the Islamic government there refused to drill bores for water, in villages that are predominantly Christian.
They’d already charged the villages for the bores, they just refused to drill them.
These are some of the poorest people on the planet, and they live in one of the countries where it’s most dangerous to be a Christian, and yet, it’s so easy for us to not even think about that situation isn’t it?
When we turn on the tap, and clean, drinkable water comes out, how often do we think of those people who have to walk miles and miles, sometimes at great risk to their lives, just to get water?
The danger for us, is that our wealth, our relative wealth, can cause calluses, and we don’t notice what’s pressing in against us.
Make no mistake - decisions in this life shape the next (v 26)
And while God is incredibly patient, and gives us opportunity, after opportunity, to develop that discipline we talked about last week, of choosing to invest our money in what Jesus thinks is important, God’s patience is not , infinite.
Once death comes, there are no more chances to show that we can be trusted with things of greater value.
The spiritual state that people deserve,
The spiritual state that people demonstrate and show that they deserve, by how they live in this life, cannot be changed after death.
There is no purgatory,
There is no chance to change your destiny after death.
I downloaded an e-book this week. It was called 30 Keys to Change Your Destiny. I didn’t make it past the 2nd page of the introduction, so I can’t tell you what the 30 keys are, but this parable tells us, if they work at all, they have a due date.
There is no chance to change your destiny after death.
We can’t ask for a recount,
We can’t try and negotiate a special deal.
The decisions we make in this life demonstrate, which of these 2 destinies lie before us.
Abraham says, verse 26, there’s a great chasm, no one can cross over.
How we live, and respond to God, how we submit to his Word in this life, is decisive for what our experience of eternity will look like.
If we live in God’s world, without any reference to God,
Without depending on God,
If we enjoy all the blessings that God gives us, but with no regard for God, or no thought for how he would have us use the blessings he’s given us,
Then we will spend eternity,
Far from God, and far from his blessing.
A number of our young people are preparing to be baptised in the coming months, and one of the things we’ve seen together about baptism, is that it is a visible sign, of an invisible work of God.
There’s something similar happening here. We can’t see someone’s standing before God. That’s an invisible reality.
But how we think about our money,
The way we use the resources that God has placed at our disposal,
They are a visible indicator, of that invisible reality.
If you’re here this morning and you’re not a Christian,
Or if you do call yourself a Christian, but this parable raises questions for you about how you use money and the resources God has given you, please hear how serious this is.
People often say death is the great leveller.
But that’s not quite true is it?
Death is only the great leveller, if what death brings to every person is the same.
And clearly Jesus wants us to hear the warning, that what death brings isn’t the same, for every person.
What death brings does vary from person to person, according to the response to God that you’ve made in this life,
Based on whether you are dependent on God, or depending on other things.
No one needs to miss out on heaven 29 – 31
But in verse 27, the parable seems to take a remarkable turn, doesn’t it?
The reality of the rich man’s situation seems to sink in,
He is getting, what he showed throughout his life that he deserved, but he thinks, “my brothers need not go through what I’m going through.”
send Lazarus to my family, 28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’
He’s still giving orders, still , not even speaking to Lazarus, just addressing Abraham and expecting him to send Lazarus here there and everywhere. But he’s saying ‘Don’t let my brothers live their whole lives making the same mistake that I did.
Send Lazarus to warn them, that living the way I did ends in disaster.
As we’ll see in a moment, the rich man’s brothers don’t get what he asked for, the voice from beyond the grave.
But, and it probably occurred to you as we read it, we do!
We hear the voice from beyond the grave; The rich man’s own voice.
We hear the warning.
If today, a dead person could speak to you,
If someone could cross over from the other side,
What would they say to you today,
What would they say to me?
This is it.
This is what a dead person would say to us.
“Don’t live like I did!
Don’t live in God’s world, accepting God’s blessings, but with no regard for God, and no thought for how he would have you live.”
This is no séance! But hear the voice from beyond the grave.
In God’s kindness, we hear a voice in the parable, urging us to learn in life, the lesson the rich man only learned after death;, Don’t let your wealth make you callused toward God and toward others.
But Abraham says, actually, You don’t need a warning from beyond the grave, in order to understand what God wants from you.
See verse 29, 29 “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’
30 “ ‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’
31 “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.’ ”
“They’ve got a Bible haven’t they?” asks Abraham.
They can download the Bible app onto their phone?
What they need most is to read their Bible, hear what God says, do what God says, and then they won’t face an eternity apart from God and his blessing.
Luke explains in chapter 24, that Moses and all the prophets, point to Jesus, and prepare people for Jesus, and for the kingdom of God that he brings into existence.
They already have enough.
They have God’s Word, that he has kindly and generously given to them,
He’s revealed himself in it!
What a staggeringly gracious gift. God making himself known in his Word. He’s left out nothing that we need to know.
And yet this man says, “No, send them something else.
The Bible’s not enough!”
The other thing that Abraham points out here, is that God has already said and done so much, that no message from beyond the grave is going to be more powerful that what he’s has already said.
If you’ve shut yourself off from what God says in the Bible,
If you’ve made decision after decision, that’s all about serving yourself and ignoring others,
If you deliberately choose, every time, to invest in your pleasures, and not in the things God thinks are important, even a miracle, someone coming back from the dead, won’t change you.
Scholars have figured out Lazarus was perhaps the 4th most common name among Palestinian Jews in the time of Jesus.
But even so, it’s probably no coincidence, that Jesus chooses that name for this story, when it is the resurrection from the dead of another Lazarus, in John 11 that, far from bringing everyone to repentance, actually leads the religious leaders to try all the more, to kill Jesus.
And, of course, Jesus’ own resurrection from dead,
One of the most well-attested events of history, won’t generate faith in the heart of someone who is opposed to God.
No, no one needs to miss out, on heaven, and the blessings that Lazarus enjoyed,
But the way to encounter God, is through his Word, and without that, nothing else will ever be enough.
Some of you I know, were fans of the TV show Enough Rope with Andrew Denton, and so you might recall Denton interviewing Mike Willesee a few years ago.
In the interview, Willesee described his amazing experience of surviving a plane crash, and interestingly, he attributed his survival to the direct intervention of God;
He was saved,
And he believed that one was the direct result of the other, and yet by his own admission, it wasn’t enough to make him trust in God.
Wilesee believed that he’d experienced first-hand the sensational intervention of God in his world, and yet it didn’t lead him to God.
A lack of evidence isn’t what stops people coming to God,
A lack of evidence isn’t what stops us living as God would have us live
It is a lack , of will.
Let’s come back to calluses!
There are some kinds of calluses, that are good.
Did you know, there are documented cases of people getting calluses , from praying?
They’re on their knees so much, they literally get calluses.
Imagine if we could all get calluses, from doing the work of the kingdom of God, throwing ourselves so much into the work that we know God rejoices at, much rejoicing in heaven, remember, at the advancement of the Kingdom of God across the world.
Imagine if, instead of becoming callused in our hearts, because of the wealth and security we enjoy, we could actually become calloused, through showing love, compassion,
Seeking to bring the blessings of knowing God in Jesus Christ, into people’s lives.
Imagine being so frequent, and diligent, in using that which God has given us for the wellbeing, especially the spiritual well-being of other people, that it gives us calluses!
Imagine that my hand was so worn and rubbed, from putting it into my wallet, and taking out money to support gospel ministry, that it gets all callused!
Imagine if we fell to our knees in desperate prayer for people who don’t know Jesus, so frequently, that our knees became calloused.
Imagine if our Prayer Focus cards, were dog-eared, and worn, and faded, from being gripped in our hands, stained by tears every day, as we prayed for people who don’t know Jesus.
Imagine your tongue getting callused, I don’t even know if that’s possible, as you lick the envelopes, stick the stamps, writing letters of encouragement to your brothers and sisters in this church.
Imagine if you had to ring the bank, and say, “Can you send me a new credit card, because I have worn mine out! Time, and time again, I’ve used it, to demonstrate compassion,
To share hope.
Imagine losing your voice,
Wearing out your vocal chords,
Because you cannot help but speak of what God has done for us in Christ.
Imagine if someone were to look in here in a year, September 9, 2016, and we’re all hobbling around,
Can hardly walk,
Can hardly speak,
Don’t have any money,
We’ve all grown calluses, doing the work of the Kingdom of God.
Wouldn’t that be something to pray for?!