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Author:Dr. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (CRTS)
 Hamilton, Ontario
Preached At:Pilgrim Canadian Reformed Church
 London, Ontario
Title:Lazarus and the Rich Man
Text:Luke 16:19-31 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 147:1,2                                                                  

Ps 119:3,4                                                                                 

Reading – Deuteronomy 15:7-11; Luke 16

Ps 10:1,5,6,7

Sermon – Luke 16:19-31

Ps 112:1,3,4,5

Hy 36:1,2,3,4

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Brothers and sisters in our Lord Jesus Christ, have you ever felt invisible? Like you were there, but no one was seeing you? When no one acknowledged your presence? We can turn this around: Have you ever treated someone else this way? Did you do your best not to “see” them, because you didn’t want to talk to them, or help them?

I think this happens when we build walls between ourselves. We let things separate us from others. For instance, we can let the lines of our friendships be the dividing wall: “These are the people I know. This is my group, and those ones are outside it.” Or we let education do the separating: “I’m smart, and you’re not.” Wealth is another wall, separating rich from poor, the well-dressed and successful from those who lack.

And we like walls, because on our side of them, we’re safe. But out there, it’s dangerous. Out there, our comfort can be threatened, and we may have to give of ourselves. The fact is, there can be a wide separation even if people are right beside each other: on the same bus or the same sidewalk. Even if we’re sitting in the same church building! Even then, we might look down on others, or treat them like they’re invisible.

This is the kind of separation we see in our parable this morning. For there are two men here, and they live on the same street. Both are even members of the church: citizens of Israel, and children of Abraham. But one is rich, and one is poor, and they could not be farther apart! There’s a high wall between them. And we’ll see just what a serious thing that is, because in this case, their deep separation only continues after death. It’s a warning and lesson for all of us. I preach God’s Word to you on this theme,


Jesus warns us with the parable of the rich man and Lazarus:

1)     the man who helped himself

2)     the man who was helped by God

3)     the man who would be raised from the dead


1)     the man who helped himself: With his parables, Jesus would use familiar, everyday scenes to instruct his followers and others who were listening. So verse 19: “There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day.” He sets before us a picture of fabulous wealth. Here was a man, clothed in the purple robes of royalty, and decked with the finest linen. If clothes make the man, then this fellow was unquestionably rich. That’s shown also by what he eats. Most people were lucky if they went to a real feast once or twice in a lifetime—where it was all-you-can-eat, with a bottomless cup of wine. But this man enjoyed a feast like this, every single day! He was that rich!

There’s nothing in this first verse that says “wrongdoing” or “sin.” But we’re kind of expecting it, aren’t we? If you’ve read through Luke up to this point, you know Jesus often has a warning word for the wealthy. Listen to what He says in chapter 6, where we find the much-loved Beatitudes: “Blessed are the poor…” and so on. But then come three companion verses, verses that far fewer people have memorized—the Woes. “Woe to you who are rich,” Jesus says, “for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full, for you shall hunger…” Being rich doesn’t mean you’re not a true believer, but those riches come with a real and present danger. For having wealth can hinder us from depending on God alone.

Or as Jesus also says in Luke 12, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (v 34). Either we treasure the right things, or the wrong things. And if you’re not careful, Jesus says, those earthly riches can become a curse. They might even keep you from entering the Kingdom and eternal life.

Or think of the rich fool, also in Luke 12. He enjoyed the blessing of good crops, heaped up piles of material things. And his only response was to build bigger barns, to aspire to the same lifestyle as the rich man in Luke 16. For he says to himself, “Take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry” (v 19). But how did God respond to him? “Fool! This night your soul will be required of you.” In an instant, all his treasures came to nothing.

These texts are all to say that when we read about this well-dressed, well-fed wealthy man in Luke 16, we know we should be worried for him. Jesus has already told us to be concerned for his soul. And that’s confirmed a verse later. Because there’s a beggar sitting “at his gate” (v 20).

First, about that gate: it shows again how rich the rich man was. He lived in a gated community, had his own private compound surrounded by a wall. And that wall spoke of something else: it spoke of sinful separation. Sure, there was a beggar sitting on his doorstep every day, but he was removed from the rich man’s world—he was on the other side of the wall, where he couldn’t spoil his fun. He was the man who wasn’t there.

Not that the rich man didn’t know him, or didn’t see him. He’s familiar with the beggar—we’ll learn that he even knows his name, Lazarus. And whenever the rich man went out through his gate, he probably had to step over him, or around him. Only through a concerted effort could he look the other way, ignore him, and maintain the divide. But that’s just what he did: he kept the separation.

And this is what Jesus has a problem with. It’s not the money. It’s not the nice clothes and the steak dinners and the latest technology. No, it’s how these things can begin to consume us. They can receive our attention, to the point that we forget our true calling as God’s children. Is it all for me? Is it all at my disposal, to do with it just what I want? Is this life just about me, being happy? A lot of people say that it is.

It’s revealing that right before the parable we find out who is Jesus’ main audience at this moment. Look at verse 14, “Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, also heard all these things, and they derided him.” And Jesus responds to them about what really matters to the LORD: “What is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God” (v 15).

We’re not Pharisees, but we might be lovers of money. Or we esteem very highly some of those other worldly values: good looks, success in business, personal charisma, education. We want these things for ourselves, and we like being around people who have these things. But Jesus says if our life isn’t put in service of our God, if it’s not used to bring blessing to others, then what’s it all for? It’s an abomination. It’s useless. It ends in destruction.

And it’s tragic, because the rich man could’ve known that. The Word of God was abundantly clear. Later, when the rich man wants Lazarus sent back from the dead to warn the five brothers, Abraham says, “They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them” (v 29). In other words, what more could be said than had been said? Wasn’t God so clear about showing mercy and loving one’s neighbour?

We read just one example of this, from Deuteronomy 15. “If there is among you a poor man of your brethren, within any of the gates in your land which the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart nor shut your hand from your poor brother, but you shall open your hand wide to him and willingly lend him sufficient for his need, whatever he needs” (vv 7-8). Again and again, the law spoke of it—and so many prophets brought reminders of the same: “Do justice. Show mercy. Be kind to the poor.”

Israel knew there’d always be poor people among them, just like there is today. Even in times of affluence as we enjoy, there will be those in the church who are needy. If they’re not needful of some money, then they’re lonely and needful of an extra visit. Or they’re depressed and needful of kind words. Or they’re in trouble and needful of our earnest prayers. It’s just the nature of this world: that people run stuck, they lose their jobs, they make mistakes, they get sick, or they find themselves suddenly alone. Then Christ’s people have work to do. It’s then that we’re called to reach a hand across the barrier, and to be merciful.

No, we’re not always good at noticing. We’re better at assuming—assuming everything’s just fine! Everyone’s happy and healthy and holy. But in the church there are needy ones. And there are also poor on the street. And oppressed ones in this world. There are refugees, there are beggars, there are children who are conceived and never allowed to see the light of day. Too easily we explain why we’re not helping: “They got themselves into that trouble.” Or, “I’ve already done my bit to help--it's someone else's turn.” But the LORD’s word is clear, “Don’t harden your heart to the poor. Open your hand wide, and give help to those in need.”

For the rich man then, there was no reason for him to feast by himself every day. With the wealth he’d received, his responsibility was clear. Listen to what Jesus had said in Luke 14, “When you give a dinner… do not ask your friends, your brothers, your relatives, nor rich neighbours, lest they also invite you back… But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you; for you shall be repaid at the resurrection of the just” (vv 12-14).

Speaking of being repaid, now comes the shock. For the rich man dies. And when he dies, he goes down to Hades, to hell, where he’s in torment. And instead of looking down on Lazarus as he did before, now he has to look up—where he sees the old beggar sitting with Abraham. And now it’s the rich man’s turn to beg, even for a drop of water to cool his tongue. There’s been a complete reversal.

Yet for all this, the rich man still thinks he’s got credibility. Notice what he calls Abraham, “Father…” He’s still banking on his membership in the covenant. He still thinks that his birth certificate can sneak him into heaven. But Abraham has to tell him it’s far too late. John the Baptist said the same thing, “Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father’” (3:8). There will always be those who know God’s claim on their lives, and have his promises. Yet they’ve committed a fatal spiritual mistake. They’ve placed their trust in outward things: “We have Abraham as our Father. I’ve got my baptism, and I still go to church.” But as John said, that only goes so far. There has to be a sincere turning to the Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. And there has to be genuine love for your neighbour.

No, it was too late for the rich man. He received only one life, and he spent it on himself. There was a time the rich man could’ve done right for Lazarus, but that time has passed. So Abraham has to tell him, “Between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us” (v 26). The division in life has led to division in death.

It’s hard to think of a stronger warning against the dangers of being selfish. Pride in ourselves, greed for material things, an attitude of self-importance—these things can consume us. So inwardly focused, we become like that rich man, and not even see others anymore—those who need our care, concern, and protection. We might walk right past them, on the sidewalk, or in the church. This blindness isn’t fitting for Christ’s people. And it can even be fatal.


2)     the man who was helped by God: Let’s go back to the beginning. We meet the rich man in the first verse, the poor man in the next two. “There was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate, desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores” (vv 20-21). It’s a picture that’s even more vivid. He’s covered with open wounds. He has to be carried to the rich man’s gate. His highest hope is for crumbs, and he’s licked by dogs—and not cute, cuddly puppies either, but the mangy street dogs that roved the big cities.

The one thing he’s got is his name: Lazarus. It’s the only time in any of Jesus' parables that a person is named, and there’s about a dozen different theories as to why he is. One suggestion is that Jesus wants us zero in on the meaning of “Lazarus.” It’s based on the Hebrew name Eliezer, which means, “helped by God.” Lazarus was so helpless in life, yet this poor man was aided by the LORD and saved by his grace.

And that’s an important message in this third Gospel, where Jesus says a lot about the poor. For example, go back to the Beatitudes, “Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God” (6:20). To get into the Kingdom, He says, you’ve got to be poor. And “poor” is not just being one month behind on the mortgage. Jesus uses a word for “poor” that means poverty-stricken, penniless, not a single asset to your name. “Blessed is the one absolutely destitute.”

For here’s another surprise. Blessedness isn’t found in that high-paying job or that collection of nice things. “No,” Jesus says, “I’ll tell you who are happy. It’s those who are poor.” Don’t misunderstand this: there’s terrible stress in being poor. There can be much misery in it—just look at Lazarus. And yet in the end, the poor might be farther ahead. Because better than anyone, the poor realize they can’t do it by themselves. Better than anyone, the poor are learning that their only help is in the Name of the LORD.

And even if we have lots of resources, we have to learn this. To recognize that without God, we’re completely poor! That we can’t enter the Kingdom, unless Christ brings us in by his own free grace. That’s not an easy thing to admit. Part of us always thinks we’ll find happiness on our own terms. But Jesus asks, “Are you really happy? Will you keep being happy? Would your satisfaction continue, even once you lose your job, or lose your health, or lose your family? Most importantly, will you be happy with your life, when it’s time to give an account before God?” Somewhere else Christ puts it this way, “What does it profit you if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?” All our man-made wealth and position and comforts are passing away. And only when we see that, are we moved to seek our help in God. Then, Christ says, we’ll receive all the treasures of the kingdom of heaven.

That’s what Lazarus received. We don’t hear anything about how he lived, whether evil or good, but the outcome of life makes it clear. “The beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom” (v 22). We heard before that Abraham is only interested in welcoming those who’d really lived like his children, who bore fruits of repentance. Well, this Lazarus didn’t have a lot, but he’d shown himself to be one of Abraham’s children.

So he goes to heaven, to Abraham’s bosom or his “side.” Some would say that means Lazarus sits on Abraham’s lap, like a child with his father. But it’s probably better to picture a feast, with Lazarus reclining right next to the patriarch. It’s a place of honour at the heavenly table. Lazarus had received evil things in life—now he’s given good things. Much more than crumbs, the fullness of God’s blessing!

And that’s the promise that remains for God’s people. When we gladly serve Christ, we’re assured of his blessing. We know that when we find our help in God’s Name, He’ll never forsake us. For God’s Word is sure. As Mary sang at the beginning of this gospel, “God exalts the lowly, and He fills the hungry with good things” (1:52-53). That’s God’s way of doing things. This is good to know as we work in this world. We don’t have to worry about not having as much as someone else, not as long as we’re making God our treasure. God fills the hungry with good things!

Now, I realize that sometimes people read this parable and they have piles of interesting questions. Does this text mean that we’ll know each other in heaven? Will we be able to see those who are in hell? Is hell really a place of fire, or is that just a metaphor? We could talk about all these things. But when we’ve listened to this parable, Jesus wants us to reflect on very different matters. He wants us to consider carefully: Are we willing to tear down walls so that we can love properly? And do we live in humility before God, in true poverty of spirit? Or if we say that we love God, do we show our love for him by the way we love and do we serve the people around us? And with all the interesting things around us, do we keep our eyes on the lasting rewards? Do we still aim for heavenly treasure?


3)     the man who would be raised from the dead: There’s one final piece to the conversation between Abraham and the rich man. Because at last the rich man starts thinking about others, and he asks that Lazarus be sent from the dead to warn his five brothers. It seems he wasn’t the only one in his family who ignored the poor. But Abraham replies, as we heard, “They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them” (v 29).

But the rich man’s not easily put off. He presses Father Abraham again for Lazarus to be sent. Except Abraham knows how it’ll turn out, and he makes this prediction: “If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead” (v 31). They don’t need a message from the grave to warn them: Scripture’s testimony spoke for itself. If God says something, again and again, there’s no excuse to ignore it.

And that’s still true today. Sometimes we may wish for signs and miracles, or we want to hear a direct voice from God so we know exactly what to do. But God has spoken, and He’s told us his will. We have his Word—Moses and the prophets, and the apostles—where we learn about our Saviour, and how to follow him. In this life, our calling is clear!

There’s probably something else happening too, in this last exchange between the rich man and Abraham. When Abraham talks about one “rising from the dead,” he’s looking forward. Because in this story that Luke’s telling, there would be one who’d rise from the dead. There would be one who’d come and bring a message that saves lowly sinners! The one who arises from the dead would be the very teller of this parable, Jesus himself. For this is what Christ will do when He’s all done teaching and healing. He’ll be arrested and killed, then He’ll rise on the third day.

And Abraham’s prediction comes true. When Jesus does rise from the dead, many still won’t accept him. They still won’t be persuaded. The book of Acts tells us that many hearts remain hard to his gospel. Even among his own disciples, He’ll have to open Moses and the Prophets, and show how all those Old Testament Scriptures actually pointed to him, the promised Messiah, the Saviour of sinners! He was the one who was perfectly rich, surrounded by all the majesty of heaven, yet Christ became utterly poor. He became one of us in order to lift us up to glory.

Yes, already now in Luke 16, Jesus has his eyes on where He’s going. According to the Scriptures, He’s going to the cross, going to the grave, but He’s also coming back in life. It’s by his death and his resurrection that He breaks down that dividing wall—that terrible separation caused by our sin—and He restores us to the Father, so we may dwell with him forever!

Beloved, this parable of Jesus leaves us all with important work to do: to believe in the one risen from the dead. And to love others, just as He has loved us.  Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2015, Dr. Reuben Bredenhof

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