1 Timothy 6:6-19 and Luke 16:19-31
The Rich Man and Lazarus were neighbors. They saw each other every day. Not socially, but there was contact. Every day the Rich Man saw this beggar at his front gate. Who were these men?
We shall call the Rich Man Dives (pronounced ‘Dive-ees’: it’s Latin for “Rich Man” as he has been called for centuries). Dives would have felt very comfortable living in our present time. He was a progressive kind of a guy. He was self-indulgent and this is the age of self-indulgence. The contrasting life-styles of these two men is so obvious that you can’t miss it. Dives was a connoisseur, a lover of the arts, one who knows and appreciates fine living and four-star restaurants.
We are told in vs. 19 that he dressed in purple. Purple was known as the color of royalty because it was the most expensive dye in the ancient world. Only the upper echelon and the high priest could afford it. We are also told that his undergarments were made of fine linen. Linen, the lifestyle of the rich and famous.
The other man in the story is Lazarus. How can we describe Lazarus? Lazarus is homeless. Lazarus barely made it from day to day, living off the leftovers thrown to him by Dives as he daily passed him. He is just a survivor, that’s all you can say of him.
Dives drove a Mercedes, lived in a fifteen-room mansion, ordered his suits tailor-made from Europe. Poor Lazarus was a street person. The Public Library, where he tried to rest during the day, particularly on cold days, threw him out. Even the police turned their heads when they drove by. They were tired of giving him a free ride to jail for a meal and a night’s lodging. He had nowhere to sleep except a hard sidewalk.
There was a gate in front of the driveway leading up to Dives’ mansion. Lazarus, tired and hungry, dirty and covered with sores, sat on the sidewalk and propped himself against the gate to Dives’ mansion and tried to sleep. Dives’ Dobermans wandered out to see the sleeping man. The dogs perceived that he was no threat and quietly came over and licked the sores on Lazarus’ face. Each time he drove his Mercedes out the gate, Dives looked in disgust at the filthy piece of humanity leaning against the gatepost of his house and wondered why somebody didn’t do something to get people like that off the street.
Eventually, both Lazarus and Dives died. Unexpectedly, Lazarus went to heaven, but poor, rich Dives went to Hell. Obviously, the very affluent Dives couldn’t believe what had happened to him. He had made it a personal rule in his earthly life never to experience any discomfort. It was his conviction that he deserved to travel in style, after all, in the words of the popular commercial a few years back, he was worth it! But now he was experiencing an eternity of stark discomfort. The air conditioner had failed and the water was turned off. “Please father Abraham,” he cried out, “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.”
Interesting, isn’t it? Dives is in Hell. Lazarus is in heaven, but Dives still thinks of Lazarus as no better than an errand boy.
Abraham replied, “Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this,” says Abraham, “between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.”
“But please, father Abraham,” cries Dives. “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.’”
Dives is desperate now. . . “No, father Abraham,” he said, “but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.”
Abraham shook his head. 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.”
You would think that, if a man is resurrected from the dead, people would listen to what he says, but not so. Do you listen to Jesus, who rose from the dead? It’s amazing how many who call themselves Christians are not willing to listen. There are at least two things that Jesus seems to be saying to us in this popular story of the rich man and Lazarus.
The message of the story of the rich man and Lazarus is no different than the parable of the Good Samaritan. We are responsible for the good of our neighbor. The greatest commandments, Jesus says in Matthew 22:37-39, are that we are to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and we are to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. Who is our neighbor? Anyone who is in need. That is a strand of truth that runs through both the Old and the New Testaments.
In Deuteronomy 15 the people are instructed to deal generously with the poor. Every seven years all debts are to be canceled. That’s one of the most radical laws in human history. We are not certain that it was obeyed, but that shows God’s heart for the poor. According to the tenth verse of that chapter, the people are to give generously to the poor and do so without a grudging heart; then because the people have obeyed God’s command in caring for the poor, God promises them that He will bless them in all their work and in everything they put their hand to. There is that recognition that while a few poor people are that way because they refuse to work, most are the victims of circumstances over which they have no control. Throughout the entire Bible, Old and New Testaments, there is this concern for the unfortunate.
Joe and I have a friend who is active in the Emmaus Community, the Kyrex prison ministry and attends church faithfully. He is always ready to help people who are down on their luck. He was instrumental in the building of the Agape Wigwam at Camp Michigamme. There are pictures out on the table in the fellowship hall, of what it looks like today. God has blessed this man with prosperity.
Jesus was concerned about the poor, as this story and several of his other teachings reveal, as was the early church. If you love God, you care about people, all people, rich and poor alike.
You and I have so much. Others have so little. The seven billionth baby was born on planet earth recently. Chances are very high that baby will live all his or her life poorly clothed, poorly housed, poorly fed. That is because most of the babies born today are in third world countries where poverty is the rule and not the exception.
Most of us have never known real poverty. We drive past houses that are run down and see children who are neglected. We say, “That’s poverty.” Someone has noted, however, that what impresses people in deprived countries about America is not how the wealthy live, but how the poor live. Our poor are wealthy compared to the poor in many developing countries.
This is not to say poverty is not a great problem in America. It is probably more painful to be poor in America than in any other country on earth, because everywhere you look, you see other people with so much. It is to say, though, that we are living in a world where there are millions of people who face such grim lives that even death can be a welcome prospect. In Jesus’ name we must care about those people.
The Apostle Paul writes to the young preacher in 1 Timothy 6:6-10, “But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”
It is the same way with us. We are stronger individually if we are willing to share what we have with others. Too often, people have the idea that if they cling to what they have, they will be able to take care of their own needs and if they give it away, they will run out and leave themselves in a predicament.
I like the story told of Elijah and his visit to the widow of Zarephath found in 1 Kings 17. When he came upon her, she had very little to eat in her house, yet she fed Elijah. She was a little reluctant but she shared it anyway. Miraculously, there was enough food for all of them for many days. She learned to trust God. Her trust was rewarded. God kept providing for her as long as she shared what she had with Elijah. Then the story takes a twist. Her son gets sick and dies. She is overcome by grief. Elijah goes to the boy and brings him back from the dead. The boy is alive and the woman sings God’s praise. I’ll bet that woman never doubted God again.
God works in mysterious ways. When you share what you have with others it always comes back to you in a blessing. It may not be monetary. Yet in God’s wisdom, the blessing comes in a form that makes your heart glad. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a generous person lost in despair. They are often the happiest people I know. God keeps blessing them as fast as they can share what they have with others.
A friend told me about a man in his congregation who accepted Christ and decided he was going to start tithing. He figured out ten percent of his income and wrote out a check to the church. That first week his check bounced. He was a little embarrassed but he made it good. He continued writing out checks for ten percent of his income and there were a few more mishaps. In time he began contributing the tithe and then made out checks for some special offerings. He also noticed that a few of his stocks started gaining rapidly. So he gave away even more. He started funneling some of his newfound wealth into the youth ministry at church. One day, he told his pastor that the scriptures were true when they said you cannot out-give God. He tried and God kept blessing him, not only with added wealth but also in the joy he had in seeing a ministry grow. He said he had never been happier in his life.
When I was first appointed to White Pine, I remember sitting in a meeting with Judy Blezek and she said she had found out the more you give the more God blesses you. Joe and I have found that out as well. The more we give to ministries and mission, the more God blesses us.
Hell is a real place. In Matthew 13 verse 49-50, after telling the parable of the net that is like the Kingdom of God, when it is let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. When it is full the fishermen pull it up on shore and collect the good fish in baskets and they throw the bad fish away, Jesus says, “This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw the them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” In Matthew 25, after Jesus tells the story of the sheep and the goats in verse 46 he says, “Then the unrighteous will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
Hell is a real place. The screen background for today is someplace I do not want to be. How about you? Fire is good when you’re sitting around a campfire or in a fireplace where it is contained. Yet fire can also be destructive. The fire in Paradise California destroyed 14,000 homes and 86 people died.
Please be generous with the less fortunate. It is my goal as your pastor that none of you go to hell, but that all will enjoy eternal life.
Pastor Rosemary DeHut