Luke 16:19-21 There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.
Both men died and went to separate places. Lazarus went to be with Abraham, and the rich man went to hell. Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire (Luke 16:24). Abraham replied, those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us (Luke 16:26).
Luke 16:27-31 Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment. Abraham replied, They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them. No, father Abraham, he said, but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent. He said to him, If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.
There are at least six things we can learn from this remarkable story. First, those who appear to be forgotten by God may actually be his children. Lazarus was so far down the social ladder that he was barely above the dogs that licked his sores. Health, wealth and circumstances are no indication of a person’s standing with God. This was a challenge to the religious leaders who thought that wealth was a sign of God’s favor.
Second, death may bring a great reversal. Lazarus went to heaven, and the rich man went to hell. Heaven is open to all who believe in Jesus Christ (John 3:16), but the poor are often more receptive than the rich. How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God (Luke 18:24), said Jesus. Likewise, Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom . . . ? (James 2:5), asked James.
Third, hell is a place of torment. I am in agony in this fire, said the rich man. And Jesus described hell as a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 13:50). Many do not believe that God would create a place of eternal misery. But if God allows misery on earth, there is no reason to think he would not allow misery in the age to come.
Fourth, there is no second chance. [T]hose who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us, said Abraham. Many hope that if they do not go to heaven at first, they might arrive eventually. But that idea is not in the Bible. [P]eople are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment (Hebrews 9:27), says Hebrews. At the moment of death, everyone goes to heaven or hell forever.
Fifth, people in hell feel sorry for their loved one’s who follow them. The rich man wanted Lazarus to warn his brothers not to come to [that] place of torment. And we can imagine his sorrow for each of his siblings who dropped into hell after him. If he was the oldest, he set a terrible example for the others to follow.
We can also imagine the sorrow of parents who failed to teach their children the gospel, and to model the Christian life for them. Their everlasting sorrow will be made worse as they see their children drop into hell, followed by their grandchildren, for countless generations.
Sixth, God’s word is warning enough. The rich man thought his brothers would repent if Lazarus warned them. But Abraham replied, If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.
This became obvious when Jesus himself rose from the dead. The guards at his tomb saw an angel, and were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men (Matthew 28:4). But instead of repenting, they accepted a bribe and said, His disciples came during the night and stole him away (Matthew 28:13).
The guards knew perfectly well what happened, but they refused to repent and believe in Jesus Christ. Stubborn unbelief is not an intellectual problem, but a moral problem. People will not repent and believe because they do not want to change their lives. This story is a powerful warning of the terrible judgment awaiting them.
Luke 17:12-14 As [Jesus] was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, Jesus, Master, have pity on us! When he saw them, he said, Go, show yourselves to the priests. And as they went, they were cleansed.
To the great surprise of Jesus, however, only one returned to give thanks. Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? (Luke 17:17), he asked. Their ingratitude was profound, and shows how little they thought of God. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him (Romans 1:21), wrote Paul.
The ungodly are marked by ingratitude, but not the redeemed. I will give thanks to the Lord because of his righteousness (Psalm 7:17). I will give thanks to you, Lord, with all my heart (Psalm 9:1). And, I will give you thanks, for you answered me (Psalm 118:21), wrote the Psalmists.
A Christian man was robbed, and later wrote the following: I thank you first, because I was never robbed before. I thank you second, because although they took my money they didn’t take my life. I thank you third, because although they took my all, it wasn’t much. And I thank you fourth, because it was I who was robbed, and not I who robbed (Matthew Henry). [G]ive thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus (1 Thessalonians 5:18), wrote Paul.
Luke 17:21 [T]he kingdom of God is in your midst.
The kingdom of God was in their midst because the king was in their midst. Wherever Christ is present, the kingdom of God is present. Before the coming of Christ, the world was characterized by sin, sorrow and death. When Christ returns, the world will be characterized holiness, happiness and life. For now, Christ is in the midst of his people (Matthew 28:20), bringing their future into the present.
Imagine two overlapping circles: one dark and the other light. Christians live in the overlapping part. Christ has given us holiness, happiness and life; but we still experience sin, sorrow and death. When this present evil age (Galatians 1:4) gives way to the age to come (Luke 20:35) whatever is dark will give way to the light. Our lives are brighter than they used to be, but not as bright as they will become.
Understanding this will keep us from expecting too little, or too much, from the Christian life. Those who expect too little underestimate the holiness, happiness and life that Jesus brings. Those who expect too much will doubt or despair whenever they suffer or sin.
This also explains why some of our prayers are answered quickly, and some are not. The kingdom of God has come in Christ, but it has not come in its fullness. The king is in our midst, but has not appeared in glory. Christians live in the overlap between the present evil age and the glorious age to come. Our lives are better because of Christ, but the best is yet to come.
Reflection and Review
What can we learn from Lazarus and the rich man?
Why should believers be thankful?
How is the Christian life like two overlapping circles?