The Rich Man and Lazarus

Sermon preached on Luke 16:19-31 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 08/14/2022 in Novato, CA.

Sermon Manuscript

Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.

When I preached through Luke 15, I had the sense to preach through the whole thing at once. If I were to preach through this chapter 16 again, I might be also tempted to preach the whole chapter at all once. Just like how last chapter was one big message to the Pharisees and the scribes, so too this chapter is presenting one long critique against the Pharisees` and their shortsighted love of money while thinking themselves better students of God’s word than they really were.

So then, I want to begin today by helping us to see how this presumable parable of this rich man and this Lazarus is the culmination of one consistent theme throughout this chapter. The chapter began with a critique of money with the Parable of the Unrighteous Manager. Jesus warned us there of displacing God as our master with money and riches as our master. Instead, he said we should use this world’s so called “unrighteous wealth” to make friends for eternity, that they would receive you into eternal dwellings in the afterlife. That was verses 1-13. Then the chapter applied to that the Pharisees in verse 14 saying that they were lovers of money. That showed that Jesus told the Parable of the Unrighteous Manager against them to challenge the way they loved money over God. So then, this chapter ends with another chapter dealing with the love of money over God and over godliness. It helps us to think of the final end for someone who so loves money over God. In fact, the rich man in today’s parable had the very opportunity that was held out in the Parable of the Unrighteous Manager. The rich man could have used his earthly wealth to make a friend of this Lazarus and ultimately be welcomed by him in the afterlife into the same eternal dwelling that Lazarus had entered. Yet, in this parable, this rich man did not do that and thus we see how this worked out for him. This final parable is again told against the Pharisees and any like them who so loved money more than God.

So then, let us in the first point appreciate how the parable presents a turning and reversal of states between this rich man and Lazarus. As Jesus foretold on various occasions, there was coming a time where the first will be last and the last will be first. The wicked godless in this life who’ve enjoyed many worldly successes too often because of their wickedness will find in the afterlife that God will reverse their circumstances as they receive the torments of hell, cursed forever in an eternal fire (Mat 18:8), where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Luke 13:28) day and night (Rev 20:10). Yet, the poor godly in this life, who’ve too often because of their godliness experienced suffering and persecution will find in the afterlife that God will reverse their circumstances as they receive the blessings of everlasting paradise, comforted in the bosom of Abraham, and in the joy and peace of the presence of the Lord. In that description, I’m employing some of the rich versus poor stereotyping that we often find in the gospels, though we are reminded here that one’s state in the afterlife is not ultimately about whether you are rich or poor. In fact, the Parable of the Unrighteous Manager taught how people who had riches in this life could use them in good godly ways in preparation for a good place in the afterlife. Yet too often at that time, it was the rich who were godless and it was the poor who recognized their need for God in their life. That is what we find again even in this Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus.

So then, let’s see the reversal that is pictured here between the Rich Man and Lazarus. Observe their different stations and circumstances in their lives. The rich man was rich and he enjoyed his riches. In his life, he received his many good things as verse 25 says. Per verse 19, he dressed in the most expensive clothes, such as fine linen and the expensive purple clothing that only the most wealthy could afford. And this rich man feasted sumptuously every day, verse 25. In other words, every day he ate lavish meals, like every meal was a special occasion. Surely in his wealth, he lived in some nice home, with verse 20 referencing the gate to it. It looked well off enough such that Lazarus had been laid there in hopes that the rich person might show him mercy. Go back to last week’s passage in verse 15 where it says that what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God. Well, our parable paints this rich man as someone who was exalted among men. In contrast, you have Lazarus. Since he was laid at the gate of the rich man, it suggests he was crippled or lame. It also suggests he was laid there to beg. As it says in verse 25, in his life he received bad things. He was sick, as we see with these sores that even the wild dogs licked. And he was hungry as we see him longing for even just some crumbs from the rich man’s table – but the sense you get is that he didn’t get any such crumbs.

But there was also something we can say about this Lazarus. He was an opportunity. He was an opportunity for this rich man to show mercy to this poor soul. He was literally an opportunity dropped on his front doorstep, so to speak. He was a test of whether this rich man would use his money to make a friend for eternity. But he didn’t. And he should have. Later the rich man recognized that he should have treated Lazarus better. We see that at the end when he asks for someone to go warn his brothers so that they could repent. In other words, that’s the rich man realizing too late that he had needed to have repented, but never did. Something that I find especially damning to this rich man is that we find out in the afterlife that he even knew who this Lazarus was, even knew his name, verse 24. Yet, he had never shown mercy to him.

So then we see the reversal take place when they both die. In the parable, Lazarus dies first and then the rich man. That order is helpful, because it fits the idea from the Parable of the Unrighteous Manager how Lazarus was already there in heaven and could have been there waiting for the rich man to welcome him, had circumstances been different. So then we are told of Lazarus’ state in the afterlife first. He is brought to Abraham’s bosom and finds there his comfort and good things, verses 22 and 25. In contrast, the rich man is described as being in torment, and in anguish. He describes his pain as coming from flame and desiring to have his tongue cooled. He is left begging for mercy from father Abraham. That he describes that he needs mercy and should have repented when he was still alive shows that he recognizes now his sin and guilt. But yet he still apparently can’t help but think that Lazarus might exist to serve him, when he asks for Lazarus to be the one to bring him some water. Clearly, the rich man and Lazarus’s situations had become quite reversed. This rich man had seemed so important and exalted before men, but ultimately, his name isn’t even mentioned here. Lazarus in the sight of God and from the vantage point of eternity, had the better name between the two. By the way, his name means, “God has helped”.

And so, hopefully my brief descriptions here show that the rich man’s problem wasn’t ultimately that he was rich, but his own sinful love of money that cared more for his excessive pleasures than to show love toward neighbor, especially for someone poor and needy like Lazarus. Along these lines, we might note that Abraham was also a rich man, and yet we see his outcome is different than this rich man, showing that it is not ultimately about his riches.

Having observed the reversal that took place in this parable between the rich man and Lazarus, let us now in our second point step back and appreciate what is being taught here about the horrors of what we have come to call hell. After this life, you will either go to a paradise or a place of punishment. Often, we refer to that simply as going to heaven or hell. We can be even more specific to say that this parable describes what we call the intermediate state. The intermediate state is what happens when you die but before Christ Jesus returns. When Jesus returns, there will be a bodily resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked, and then a final judgment, where the righteous are received into the glorious new creation where there is only blessing and peace in the full. But the wicked will be brought to a place of eternal torment and punishment in the lake of fire. What we have in this parable describes that intermediate state while we wait for that final return of Christ. But where we end up in the afterlife in this intermediate state is already in light of where we will end up in eternity after the final day of judgment. Like Lazarus, the godly in Christ go to heaven when they die and immediately enjoy blessing and goodness and comfort, even while they await the final consummation of glory. And like this rich man, the wicked go to hell when they die and immediately experience torment and punishment, even while they await the final judgment when they are cast into the eternal lake of fire. Yet, what we find in Scripture is that these intermediate states are described similar to their equivalent final states. For example, both the intermediate and final state for the saved is described as a paradise, while both the intermedia and final state for damned are described as involving unending torment of fire.

In other words, the intermediate state is a precursor to the final state, and in line with your final state. What those like Lazarus have begun to enjoy in the intermediate state, they will all the more so enjoy in the final state. And what those like this rich man have been to suffer with in the intermediate state, they will all the more so suffer such in the final state. And as father Abraham brings out here, there is no changing things once you get to the afterlife. There is this chasm it speaks of in verse 26. You can’t start in the bad afterlife in the intermediate state and get things fixed before the final state. There are no second chances at that point. In this life, while you still have breath, you can find the grace and mercy of God. But once you die, that opportunity is no longer. At that point, your salvation or your condemnation will be fixed and will not change.

Sadly, there are some who deny this historic teaching of orthodoxy. There are various versions of the false teaching of annihilationism that would deny that the wicked will experience an eternal conscious punishment. But that is the repeated teaching of Scripture. Some of those who deny this, try to take this passage and say it is just a parable so we shouldn’t conclude anything about the afterlife from it. I agree it is presumably a parable. And I would even acknowledge that surely there is some accommodated language here to help us begin to have some understanding of what it will be like. But the whole point of Jesus’ teaching would be lost here if what this parable teaches didn’t speak to some sense of the reality of the afterlife. Make no mistake, this parable is meant to warn the wicked to repent now before it is too late, because hell is horrible.

I would note that some of those annihilationists wouldn’t want me to use the word “hell” here. To be fair, the word in the Greek here in verse 23 is hades which is a Greek word. It is often compared to the Hebrew word sheol in the Old Testament. Sometimes those words are used with a more neutral connotation, effectively as a description for the grave. But often those words, especially hades in the New Testament, is used to describe the place where the wicked go to experience punishment from God. That is how it is being used in this passage. That is why the King James Version here translates the Greek word hades as the English word hell. We don’t want to quarrel about words, but rather understand what the Scripture is teaching. Here it teaches about the horrible punishment that the wicked will begin to consciously experience at death – something that will endure unto eternity.

Let’s turn now to our third point and consider the warning that Abraham and the rich man discuss starting in verse 27. The rich man had begged Abraham for mercy that Lazarus might bring him some water. Abraham had told him no. No, for justice’s sake. And no, because it was impossible for someone to bridge that gap between heaven and hell. So then, the rich man begs that Lazarus might be able to be sent back from the dead to warn his brothers. Notice then Abraham’s response. Again, it is no, and his reason is that they already have witnesses to warn them. They have Moses and the prophets.

The reference to Moses, of course, is a reference to the Law. Here we again find connection to earlier in this chapter. Recall back to verse 16. That’s when Jesus was admonishing the Pharisees for their love of money. In verse 16 he had spoken of how something new had come with the gospel of the kingdom, but that it didn’t nullify the Law and the Prophets. That’s what we looked at last week. The idea was that the Pharisees at points criticized Jesus’ gospel preaching claiming that he was getting rid of the Law and the Prophets. But that was not true. Last week we saw an example with divorce by which it was the Pharisees who were actually the ones guilty of trying to nullify God’s law with their teachings. So then, Jesus’ parable today again makes this point. The Pharisees had been lovers of money and were on track to go to hell when they die. They have the Law and the Prophets to warn them. They obviously know the Law and the Prophets because they even talk about them all the time. But they need to heed their warning.

Let’s get specific here. What are the kinds of things that we find that the Law and the Prophets bear witness to in this regards? Well, the Law says that the greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, Deuteronomy 6:4. That speaks against the love of money which is to make money an idol. The Law then teaches that the second greatest commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself, Leviticus 19:18. The Law then has various many commands and provisions about God’s people caring for the poor in their midst. For example, Deuteronomy 15:7 commanded to not harden your heart or shut your hand against the poor. The Prophets then repeatedly bore witness as God’s lawyers against the people for all the ways they were breaking God’s commandments. A repeated sin the Prophets spoke against was how they afflicted the poor and took advantage of them. Amos 4:1, for example, condemns the people for the way they had oppressed the poor and crushed the needy. Time and again, when the prophets spoke against such sin, they declared that the people were under God’s judgment because of it and they needed to repent before the wrath of God came upon them further. It was also in the Prophets where a terrible day of judgment was described for the wicked, the coming day of the Lord. People needed to repent ahead of that day because how terrible that judgment would ultimately be. For example, Daniel 12:2 said that while the saved would one day be resurrected unto eternal life, the wicked instead would be raised up unto eternal contempt. Isaiah 66:24 describes the state of their eternal torment as where the worm does not die and the fire is never quenched. So, this is just a brief summary of how the Law the Prophets bore witness to all of this and called the people to repent ahead of the terrible judgment of God.

You see, that is what this rich man in the parable is hoping can happen if Father Abraham would send Lazarus back from the dead, to warn his five brothers. The rich mans says in verse 30 that if this happens, then his brothers would repent. That is what was needed. They needed to repent of their love of money over God and neighbor lest they end up knowing the wrath of God in a place of torment in the afterlife. But, Abraham would not agree to send Lazarus back. He said that if they won’t believe Moses and the Prophets, then wouldn’t change even if someone came back the dead to warn them. Of course, this is told here as it foreshadows that God would ultimately send Jesus back from the dead to warn humanity. Sadly, Abraham is proven true here. Even when reports of Jesus’ resurrection came, so many Pharisees continued to reject Jesus. Yet, praise be to God, many others did heed God’s call to repent when he sent Jesus back from the dead!

So then, in conclusion, we have this chapter which was meant as a wake up call to the Pharisees over their love for money. They thought themselves religious. They thought themselves students of God’s Word. But they were being warned here that they had fallen short and were under the judgment of God. This warning now comes to us in these latter days. If you have fallen into the same sort of trap as the Pharisees, then today’s passage is meant as a wakeup call. It might not be for you money. Maybe it is some other area where you have set up some other idol in your heart over God. If that is the case, this passage is meant as a wake up call for you today. Because there is a terrible judgment of torment and hell in store for all who are not saved from their sins. I know that modern people hate hearing fire and brimstone sermons, but of course they do. May no one turn a deaf ear to this message. In the word of Jonathan Edwards, it is a terrible thing to be a sinner in the hands of an angry God.

Beside the love of money, another problem we know these Pharisees had was they were very self-righteous. So then, the Christian response is to have a different attitude. We don’t say, “By my own strength I will now repent and begin to live a righteous life.” Rather, we recognize how prone we are to sin. We recognize how too often we struggle to do what is right. We see our need for mercy for our past sins and how we will continue to need mercy for our future sins. So yes, may our response to this wake-up call be one of repentance. But may that be expressed not in self-righteousness but in the humble contrition that says, “Lord, have mercy on me a sinner”. May we endeavor again to live a new life, and then look to God for grace to help us in that new life and mercy for the ways that we will still fall short. In fact, this is also something that the Old Testament also testified to as well. For example, we recently studied Psalm 32 on the Wednesday night study, which said that “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.”

So then, as Christians let us gladly receive such a wake-up call as a reminder of the very gospel of Jesus Christ. The Law and the Prophets have both revealed our guilt, but they have also foretold the Gospel of grace that would come in the Messiah. Let us be renewed in that grace we’ve come to know in Christ again today, that in the afterlife Jesus himself will receive us into an eternal home and bestow upon us the true riches. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich,” 2 Cor. 8:9.


Copyright © 2022 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.


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