A Certain Beggar

     Luke 16:19-31 is the account of the rich man and Lazarus, who is described as a “certain beggar.” The description brings to mind a number of things. Then as now, there were multiple beggars. These days and in this area we don’t have too many folks begging on the streets. Other areas do, but we don’t. In our area folks are more sophisticated and quite a bit more accomplished in their ability to separate material resources from others.

     The reality of that sophistication might create a little hardness in our hearts. “We work for what we have” we say and it riles us a bit to see people ask and receive without working maybe like we do or did. I’ve felt that way but I wonder if I should. After all I was raised up and trained to be independent. Maybe that person I felt hard about didn’t have the blessing of the instruction I received. Or maybe they are wrapped up in the sin of indolence and do not mind a bit taking advantage of other people. Whatever the case may be, I know I don’t want to be like that. If anything I should feel a sense of pity for them but certainly not hardness.

    And then it seems clear that Lazarus was in the shape he was in but couldn’t do much about it. Back then a rich man’s house would have a nice wall and gate and we can imagine Lazarus stretched out there near it. The text says he was “full of sores.” That cannot be good. The dogs were his only doctors. He was a pitiful mess.

     There could not be a greater contrast between pitiful Lazarus and the purple wearing rich man. This fellow had a fine home, the best clothes and ate the best food all the time. Jesus doesn’t tell us very much about him at this point except that he did allow the crumbs from his table to be swept out for Lazarus to pick at. How gracious.

     As the Lord related, as is inevitable unless He returns beforehand, they both died. Lazarus went to that portion of the Hadean realm known as Abraham’s bosom which is also known as paradise as is seen in Luke 23:4. The rich man went to the infinitely less desirable division of Hades known as torments. The beautifully poetic old King James translates this portion of the text as “in hell he lift up his eyes.” He would be, just not yet. His soul would wait in the torment portion of Hades until the judgment when sentence is passed on all our lives (1 Corinthians 15). Then his soul will be united with his resurrection body and he will spend eternity in hell. Lazarus’s soul will be united with his resurrection body and spend eternity in Heaven. The lesson of the chapter is hard to miss: Once you die your eternal destiny is determined.

     That lesson is reinforced by the Lord as He tells us about a conversation between the rich man and Father Abraham. The rich man recognized both Lazarus and Abraham and fervently desired just a little water for relief from the torment of the flame. (Note: Though “fire and brimstone” sermons are not very popular these days it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the Lord Jesus Christ preached one right here!).

    Abraham reminded the rich man about the lives that he and Lazarus had lived on Earth. Perhaps that reminder might serve to spur greater compassion in our lives. Abraham also reminded the rich man of the great gulf fixed in that Hadean realm. That border was indeed closed.

     It seems to me the most powerful lesson here among many powerful lessons is the last one. The rich man wanted Abraham to send Lazarus to his (the rich man’s) father’s house with a message of warning. Abraham told him that those people should listen to Moses and the prophets, in essence, the Word of God. When the rich man claimed that his kinsman would hear a resurrected man, Jesus quoted a great prophecy from Abraham: “If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.”

Jesus was reaching out to the audience before Him then. He is also reaching out to us today. He rose from the dead. Are we persuaded?