Of all the parables that Jesus told, the one we’re going to look at in the book of Luke today may be the one that intrigues me the most. It strikes me as the wildest of his parables. Where most parables laid out relatively everyday scenarios in order to teach a lesson, the parable of the rich man and Lazarus gives us a look at an afterlife exchange that teaches some powerful lessons. Let’s take a look at it.
Luke 16:19-31 Jesus said, “There was a certain rich man who was splendidly clothed in purple and fine linen and who lived each day in luxury. 20 At his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus who was covered with sores. 21 As Lazarus lay there longing for scraps from the rich man’s table, the dogs would come and lick his open sores. 22 “Finally, the poor man died and was carried by the angels to sit beside Abraham at the heavenly banquet. The rich man also died and was buried, 23 and he went to the place of the dead. There, in torment, he saw Abraham in the far distance with Lazarus at his side. 24 “The rich man shouted, ‘Father Abraham, have some pity! Send Lazarus over here to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue. I am in anguish in these flames.’ 25 “But Abraham said to him, ‘Son, remember that during your lifetime you had everything you wanted, and Lazarus had nothing. So now he is here being comforted, and you are in anguish. 26 And besides, there is a great chasm separating us. No one can cross over to you from here, and no one can cross over to us from there.’ 27 “Then the rich man said, ‘Please, Father Abraham, at least send him to my father’s home. 28 For I have five brothers, and I want him to warn them so they don’t end up in this place of torment.’ 29 “But Abraham said, ‘Moses and the prophets have warned them. Your brothers can read what they wrote.’ 30 “The rich man replied, ‘No, Father Abraham! But if someone is sent to them from the dead, then they will repent of their sins and turn to God.’ 31 “But Abraham said, ‘If they won’t listen to Moses and the prophets, they won’t be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.’”
There’s one specific thing I want to focus on here today, but first I want to pause a moment and just look at the priorities of the rich man as he suffered in torment in the afterlife. First of all, if you really dig into the words, you come to the conclusion that the rich man never helped Lazarus. In life, Lazarus was the one in desperate need who was ignored by the rich man. In death, the rich man is the one who is begging Lazarus to help him. Jesus speaks so often as those who are last in life being first in the kingdom of God, and here we’re seeing a graphic representation of that in the parable. God’s really been speaking to me a lot lately about our ties to material things, to our love of our “stuff”. There are a lot of people who seem perfectly content to live out their time on planet earth enjoying good food, good times, new shoes, new cars, so on and so forth. More than ever, I feel in my spirit the danger of our materialistic culture. It causes me to long for a simpler mindset for myself and those I love so there are fewer “things” in our lives that can pull our attention and affection away from the Lord.
So, the first priority for the rich man in torment was for his torment to be lessened. When he learns that this isn’t going to happen, he asks for something better. For his five brothers to be warned so that they don’t end up in the place of torment with him. He asks for a miracle to be done on their behalf, for Lazarus to be brought back from the dead, thinking this would convince them to straighten up and live a life that would lead them to heaven. The response that the rich man gets is one that floors me every single time I read it.
Luke 16:31 “But Abraham said, ‘If they won’t listen to Moses and the prophets, they won’t be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.’”
As someone who deeply loves the Bible, you can probably sense why this parable means so much to me. Jesus is telling this story to illustrate a few things, but one of the main things he’s making clear is that the Bible, and in fact just the Old Testament, is every bit as powerful as seeing a miracle in person. In a day and age when popular pastors go on record and say that the Old Testament isn’t necessary, or when many believers give it zero time or thought, Jesus is on record saying that it’s every bit as soul-saving as being the recipient or witness of a major miracle.
I often end up speaking to people about the relevance of the Old Testament, and one thing that I like to point out is that Jesus’ ministry was largely built upon his knowledge and use of the Old Testament. Modern believers seem to forget that all of the New Testament authors that we love so much were shaped not just by their associations and experiences with Jesus, but by their knowledge and love of scripture (Old Testament).
The parable of the rich man and Lazarus is really important because it’s Jesus cautioning against the very thing that’s happened in our society. Jesus told this story so no one would ever doubt the soul-saving power of the Old Testament and yet, what happened? Many in the modern Christian faith have discarded the words of Moses and the prophets. It breaks my heart that this is true. Every time I encounter someone who tells me about their tactic of ignoring the Old Testament I grieve inwardly for them because it’s so dangerous and harmful to them to do so. Jesus resisted temptation through his knowledge of the Old Testament, Peter utilized it at Pentecost to save 3,000 souls with one sermon. Jesus himself said that it holds every bit as much power as the miracle of someone being raised from the dead.
If you asked me what I thought would have more impact, having someone raised from the dead and sent to me with a warning from one of my dead relatives or a bunch of really old scrolls, I would choose the first one. It’s awe-inspiring, mind-blowing, supernatural, all the things that would grab your attention. But Jesus said that the words of Moses and the prophets are every bit as powerful. I’ve seen miracles and I’ve been in the room when wild things happened that have no natural explanation. In the moment, it is overwhelming and life-changing. Three months later? It’s a memory that I have to fight to remind myself of. But the word? That’s with me daily. It lives inside my mind and my heart and instructs my steps. Alive and ever-present. Old Testament and New. I hunger for and am inspired by big moments with God and the Holy Spirit, but I am fueled by and instructed daily by the Bible.
If it’s been a while since you spent time in the Old Testament or if you’re someone who doesn’t feel as if it’s worthwhile, I want to encourage you today to heed the words of Jesus. Pour some time into it, and open your heart and your spirit to being deeply moved and instructed by what you find there.
It’s always nice to get back to the Bible blog on Monday. I hope all of you had a great weekend and that this week is off to a great start for you. Spend time in the word today. It’s never wasted time.
If you’ve got a prayer need or just need someone to talk to, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org