Now we come to another story of Jesus which is much more familiar than the one about the shrewd manager, namely the one about the rich man and Lazarus. Here are a few side-notes before we get to the crux of it.
• There’s considerable debate about whether or not this is a parable (that is, a made-up story) or real-life narrative. Did this actually happen? For the parable side, it is true that this matches the format of Jesus’ parables, and it fits in with parables in Luke’s placement in his Gospel. But there are some real arguments for the “really happened" side. First and foremost, if this is a parable, it’s the only one in which Jesus named a character, something he didn’t have to do in order to make the point of the story. Second, nowhere does Luke or Jesus actually call it a parable, as they commonly do when introducing one. For these reasons I’m convinced it’s not a parable and actually happened.
• This again signals the need for context, context, context. If all you had was this story, you’d assume that the way to get to heaven is by being poor. The Bible, however, is very clear on how to receive salvation and be right with God, and it has nothing with the size of your bank account. We’re saved by grace through faith in Christ plus nothing.
• So what is the main point of this story? It would seem pretty obvious to me: The Afterlife is going to provide some real reversals from this life. In this world, Lazarus barely had clothes on his back and was continually starving, while the rich man dined and lived like a king. In the next world, however, everything was severely reversed.
Now we come to an extremely unpleasant subject. If you assume, as I do, that the story gives true insight into the nature of the Hereafter, it tells us a lot more about Hell than it does about the End of the Saints. I remember hearing several years ago a sermon entitled “What your friend in Hell wants you to know,” and it’s stuck with me ever since. Here’s what we can learn about it:
1) It’s a horrible place. The rich man was in conscious torment. He remembered everything about his past life, and the pain of lost opportunities added to his suffering.
2) It’s permanent. This is not a place of parole or purgatory, where you can escape eventually. It’s forever and ever and ever, and you never get out. Ever.
3) It doesn’t get rid of anyone’s sinful nature. Punishment in Hell doesn’t change anyone’s state of rebellion or reform a single soul. Notice the rich man still disdained Lazarus, and selfishly wanted him to leave Paradise in order to warn the brothers.
4) I still remember the main point of that sermon: If your friend could get one message to you right now, it would be “Don’t come here!”
Why did Jesus tell us this awful story about this awful place? Because he doesn’t want people to go there. As someone once put it, you can go to Hell, but you’ll have to step over the broken, bleeding body of the Lord Jesus in order to get there.
Why did I spend all this time talking about Hell? Because I’ve taken upon myself the responsibility to teach about what Scripture says, and this is part of it. Would you want a doctor who spares your feelings and tells you what you'd like to hear? Why would you want a Bible teacher who does the same?
The applications are pretty obvious here. If you haven’t received Christ, then this is the best—really the only--time to do so. Please read this if this applies to you. If you’re a believer, then Christ has saved you from all this. I’m not expecting you to become a preacher or an evangelist, but we can’t shirk our responsibility to tell people the truth.
Father, you’re the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and abounding in love and faithfulness. You don’t want anyone to perish but all to come to repentance. Please give me that heart and passion for those who don’t know you.
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