************ Sermon on Luke 16:19-31 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on October 19, 2014
"The Rich Man and Lazarus"
World Hunger Sunday
"Is the World Falling Apart?" That's the question on the cover of this week's World Magazine.
There is no doubt that the world is a scary place. From Iraq to Syria, from Israel to Ukraine, wars and rumors of wars scatter refugees and strain residents struggling to live normal lives. It's a scary world when a man with ebola can board a plane in West Africa, hopscotch his way across Europe, and land in Dallas the next day.
Nearly a century ago, Irish poet William Butler Yeats published his description of a devastated Europe after the brutality of World War I: "Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world ..."
It is not unlike New Testament days when the Apostle Paul wrote to Christians facing persecution and instability. But, unlike Yeats, Paul was not pessimistic. Christ "is before all things," wrote Paul, "and in him all things hold together" (Col 1:17).
The same holds true today. In some of the darkest corners of the world, people are being used by Christ to hold things together. For instance, relief workers and missionaries are doing valiant work to help the weak and needy.
Today, on this World Hunger Sunday, in a series of contrasts, we see a rich man who does not allow himself to be used of God and Christ to hold things together.
I A Contrast in Life (vs 19-21)
A In the first scene of His parable Jesus tells us about a rich man "who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day" (vs 19). This sort of description tells us he wasn't just prosperous or well-off. Rather, he was enormously wealthy. He lived like a king. He was the Bible-time equivalent of a Kennedy or Rockefeller or Bill Gates. Whatever he wanted to do or get was well within his financial means. He wore fine clothes, had a mansion of a home with fine furnishings, was waited upon hand-and-foot by servants, and never once knew physical hunger or want. It was obvious that he was well-fed and fully satisfied with life.
To guard his wealth and protect his physical well-being his estate was surrounded by a wall. The entrance was blocked by a gate and armed soldiers. You see, back then, just like now, many people wanted to share in his wealth and envied him his success.
What else do we know about the rich man? He was acquainted with "Father Abraham" (Lk 16:24). He understood the reference to "Moses and the Prophets" (Lk 16:29-31). He was concerned about the souls of his brothers (Lk 16:27-28). Telling us what? Telling us he was a religious man. Telling us he was a Jew. Telling us he was instructed in the faith. Telling us he attended worship. Telling us he was a child of the covenant.
B Jesus also tells us about a beggar named Lazarus. Lazarus "was laid" at the rich man's gate – telling us he was probably disabled (Lk 16:20). Through the gate's bars he caught glimpses of the mansion and gardens within. Each and every day Lazarus saw the rich man coming and going, eating and drinking, entertaining and partying, while his own body wasted away due to hunger. Lazarus was covered with sores and longed to eat what fell from the rich man's table.
What do we do with food that falls on the floor? Our normal response is to throw it in the garbage or feed it to our dog or cat. That's our normal response because we consider food that has fallen on the floor to be unclean. Lazarus, however, was so hungry he didn't worry whether the food was clean, covered with dirt or hair or germs. Lazarus was so hungry he longed to eat what fell from the rich man's table.
C It is obvious, isn't it, that the rich man did not listen to Moses and the prophets! Or, he let it go in one ear and out the other. If the rich man and the Jewish people obeyed God's commandments concerning the Sabbatical year and the Year of Jubilee, there would have been little or no poverty in the land (Lev 25; Ex 23:11; Deut 14:28-29). Also, the prophets denounced the exploitation of the widows and the poor (Is 3:15; 10:2; Amos 2:6; 4:1; 5:11-12; 8:4-6; Hab 3:9-13).
Notice, too, that the dogs showed more love, compassion, and care for poor Lazarus than does the rich man. At least the dogs came and licked his sores and eased his pain and discomfort. But the rich man, he did his best each and every single day to ignore the pleas, the stares, the hunger, and the needs of Lazarus. He didn't even give Lazarus the left-over scraps from his table. Instead, the rich man enjoyed his house and his riches.
II A Contrast in Death (vs 22)
A Our parable continues by telling us about death:
(Luke 16:22) The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried.We see that death is the great leveler. Whether you are rich or poor, you all can expect someday to die – unless the Lord Jesus returns. The rich man died, in spite of his wealth. The poor beggar died, because of his poverty.
B Yet, there is also a big contrast in their death. We are told the rich man died and "was buried" (Lk 16:22). Everyone listening to Jesus knew what this meant. This meant an expensive funeral with paid mourners, costly spices, and an elaborate tomb.
C But when Lazarus died, he was carried to "Abraham's side" (Lk 16:22). That's it. Nothing more. Telling us what? Telling us the beggar did not even have a decent burial. He certainly did not have the traditional Jewish funeral, with its paid mourners, costly spices, and elaborate tomb. Very few mourned his death. After his body was taken away, the neighbors were probably happy that he was not around anymore.
III A Contrast in Eternity (vs 23-26)
A Our third contrast concerns eternity. Lazarus is carried by the angels to "Abraham's side" (Lk 16:22). This is a Jewish term for paradise or heaven. What does Lazarus experience? His experience is comfort (Lk 16:25). That is, he experiences the joy of being with God. And, he looks forward with confidence to a new and better life in a new and better body on a new and better earth.
B The rich man, on the other hand, ends up in hell or hades (Lk 16:23). Four times the Greek word for "torment" or "agony" is used to describe his experience (Lk 16:23, 24, 25, 28). This word speaks of definite pain, awful pain, horrible pain. Hear how he begged for even one drop of water with which to cool his tongue (Lk 16:24)?
C Notice, the Bible does not teach that death is the end. Nor does the Bible teach some kind of soul sleep. Rather, the Bible teaches there is an eternal destiny. Either you end up in the place of comfort or you end up in the place of torment. Now is a good time to ask yourself where you will end up when you die? Will you be carried to the bosom of Abraham or will you end up in the fires of hell?
D What a contrast between the rich man and Lazarus. What a reversal of fortune we see. Or, as Abraham puts it to the rich man:
(Lk 16:25) 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.
Now, we need to ask about the reason for this contrast? Why this reversal of fortune for the rich man? What has he done to deserve such a fate? Jesus wants to make the point here that the rich man was uncaring, that he showed no compassion, that he was greedy with his wealth and his possessions.
Now we see the real purpose of the wall and the gate. It wasn't just to keep the thieves out but also to keep the needy out. The rich man didn't want to see them. He didn't want to hear them. He didn't want the comfort of his existence or the peace of his conscience to be disturbed by their shrunken forms and outstretched hands.
The rich man ended up in the fires of hell because his greed and lack of compassion clearly marked him as a man outside of God's grace. The rich man ended up in the fires of hell because his indifference to human suffering showed him to be unjust and loveless. The rich man ended up in the fires of hell because his failure to share showed him to be outside of the covenant and without faith. Remember what Jesus said about the rich? He said,
(Mt 10:23-24) "I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. (24) Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.That's the negative message Jesus wants to bring by means of this parable.
But there is also a positive message. If those without compassion end up in hell then those with compassion end up in heaven. Of course they don't end up in heaven because of their compassion – for no one can ever earn their way to the side of Abraham; rather, they are in heaven because their compassion reveals them to be one of God's children, within the covenant, and a recipient of grace.
Let me put it, then, in the starkest possible terms. Those without compassion are without grace and end up in hell. And, those with compassion are full of grace and end up in heaven. Compassion, then, proves the reality of faith. Charity shows the presence of grace. And generosity indicates love for God and neighbor.
IV A Contrast that Includes Us
A We may not like to admit this, but the parable of the rich man and Lazarus could very well be a parable about North America and most of the rest of the world. We are the rich man and outside of our gates, our borders, lies the world's poor and hungry: Somalia, Ethiopia, Haiti, Mexico, West Africa. These people are so hungry and so desperate that, like Lazarus, they long to eat what falls from our tables.
Sometimes we may fool ourselves into thinking we are poor, that times are tough, that we have to struggle. "I'm not rich," you may say. "I have a hard time making ends meet. With house payments, car payments, growing children, braces, and Christian school tuition, there is precious little left." Yet, make no mistake about it: compared to 90% of the world we are rich, fabulously rich, richer than they can even imagine in their dreams.
"But we deserve this," you may say. "We work hard, get ourselves educated, practice good management, and are not lazy and shiftless." The LORD quickly sets us straight when we dare to think and talk this way:
(Deut 8:17-18) You may say to yourself, "My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me." (18) But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth ...
B On this World Hunger Sunday Jesus warns us who sit in church every Sunday against the indifference of the rich man. He warns us against erecting our walls and locking our gates in order to keep the hungry out. He warns us against being greedy and selfish with our wealth. He warns us against not sharing with those in need.
The point is that those who consider themselves to be one of God's children in Christ MUST share with the needy. Those who worship God must show compassion to the hungry. Those who have been saved by the cross and grave of Christ must be generous with the poor. This is not an option. This is a requirement from the Lord for those who are saved by grace through faith. Showing compassion is a test of the reality of our faith.
C What exactly can we do? How can we show compassion to the world's poor and hungry? We can pray, of course. But, through Word & Deed and Peter Fish, we can also give. We can join a Word & Deed Business group that supports a specific project.
I am sure you all realize we are not to show compassion just to families in Africa or Asia. There are poor people in Visalia and area who also need our compassion. Hardly a week goes by, for instance, that someone does not call the church office looking for help. Love INC, Visalia Rescue Mission, Visalia Emergency Aid, Food Link, the local Red Cross, and food pantries cannot keep up with all the needy people in our community.
I've mentioned before what my parents and a couple of my aunts and uncles do at Christmas – they have done this for 10 or 11 years now. They buy Christmas presents for the smallest children and for all the rest they donate money on their behalf for relief work in Haiti.
V How to End the Contrast (vs 27-31)
A When we look at the second half of our Scripture lesson we see the rich man begging for Lazarus to be sent to his brothers to warn them to repent and change their life before they also die and end up in the torments of hell.
Abraham pointed to Moses and the prophets and replied that if they are not enough to call people to repentance then the return of a dead person is not enough either.
B So, if Moses and the prophets are not enough, and if a dead person brought to life is not enough, what is needed to make someone show compassion?
You all know – or should know. You need a new heart. You need to be born again by the blood and Spirit of Christ. You need to have the seed of faith and love planted in your soul. Then you are not only able to show compassion but you are eager to show compassion.
Make no mistake about it, congregation: we are the religious rich man in Jesus' parable. And all around us we can find poor Lazarus: in Visalia, Orange Cove, Dinuba, Los Angeles, Somalia, and Ethiopia.
As evidence of God's grace in you, I urge you to show compassion to the poor and hungry around the world and here at home as well.
When that happens, we are being used by Christ to hold things together.
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
Back to Index of Sermons Page