19th Sunday after Pentecost October 8, 2023
1 Timothy 6:6-12
40, Worship Supplement 2000: #764 (TLH alt. #395), 430, WS #788 (TLH alt. #442)
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Sermon Audio: https://podcasters.spotify.com/pod/show/ministrybymail
Prayer of the Day: O Lord, almighty and everlasting God, You have commanded us to pray and have promised to hear us. Mercifully grant that Your Holy Spirit may direct and govern our hearts in all things that we may persevere with steadfast faith in the confession of Your name. We pray this through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
“There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house— for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’” (ESV)
Our text for today is one of the most familiar parables of Jesus, but also one of His most unique. It’s different in a number of ways from Jesus’ other parables. For example, did you notice that this story that Jesus tells is not introduced as a parable. He just goes right into telling the story. One of the main characters in the parable is given a name (“Lazarus”). That doesn’t happen in any other parable of Jesus either. This has led some to believe that this story wasn’t actually a parable of Jesus, but that it actually happened (I believe, given the context and nature of this story, that it actually is a parable. That is, “an earthly story that teaches spiritual truths.”) And then, of course, there’s the unique and unusual conversation between the rich man when he is in hell (“Hades” v.23) and Abraham in heaven. A scene like this is found nowhere else in Jesus’ parables, and, in fact, nowhere else in the Bible.
While there is obviously a lot we could discuss about this parable, when it comes to the parables of Jesus, we always want to look for the one or two main points, or main “lessons” that Jesus is teaching in the story. If this is one of the most important things to remember when it comes to all of the parables of Jesus, it is especially true with this parable. We need to find and focus on the main points or main lessons Jesus is trying to teach us with His illustration.
We pray that the Holy Spirit would open our hearts and minds to hear, understand, and put into practice the lessons Jesus would have us learn from the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus.
Let’s start with the lessons Jesus is NOT trying to teach us with this parable:
So what is He trying to teach us? What lessons does Jesus want us to learn in this parable of the rich man and Lazarus? We can essentially boil it down into two main lessons. The first is: “Be Rich in the Right Things.”
Abraham illustrated this to the rich man in the parable when he compared the lavish life he used to live with Lazarus’ poverty. In eternity, however, Abraham’s words and the rich man’s fate make it very clear that this rich man truly wasn’t “rich” at all. He wasn’t rich in the right things or in the right way. “But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish.’” (v.25)
Again, let’s be clear: Jesus is not saying that the rich man received hell as a punishment for being rich or that Lazarus received heaven as a reward for being poor. The rich man was wealthy in material things, but was bankrupt spiritually. Or as Jesus put it earlier in the Gospel of Luke, he was not “rich toward God.” (Luke 12:21) He is a good illustration of the warning we read from the Apostle Paul, “Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and many foolish and harmful desires, which plunge them into complete destruction and utter ruin. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evils. By striving for money, some have wandered away from the faith and have pierced themselves with many pains.” (1 Timothy 6:9-1 EHV) Lazarus was the complete opposite. Materially and physically he was abjectly poor. Jesus makes this very clear in the parable, “And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores.” (v.20-21) But spiritually, Lazarus was “wealthy” and “rich toward God” (Luke 12:21) because of his faith in the Savior, Jesus.
Ask yourself, after reading this parable, “Which of these men was truly rich?” The answer is obvious, isn’t it? It’s Lazarus.
But do we apply this important lesson from Jesus to our lives? One of the questions Jesus wants us to ask ourselves after reading this parable is, “Am I ‘rich’ in the right things?” “Am I ‘rich toward God’?” Is the focus of my life on earthly things and material wealth and security? Or do I “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matthew 16:33a) and trust the promise that Jesus gives at the end of that verse: “and all these things (earthly, material things) shall be added to you” (Matthew 6:33b NKJV)?
This is a lesson that obviously has eternal implications and consequences. Its importance cannot be overstated. Jesus clearly illustrates in this parable that heaven is for real and hell is for real (He, of course, also speaks of their reality in a number of other places in the Gospels as well). Heaven and hell according to Jesus and His Word, the Bible, are the eternal destinations for believer and unbeliever after this life is over. This parable, along with the rest of the Bible, describes heaven as a place of “comfort” (v.25) and hell as a place of “anguish” (v.24), and “torment” (v.23,28) and “flame” (v.24). Jesus’ words in this parable serve as a striking illustration of His soul-searching question from Matthew 16:26, “After all, what will it benefit a person if he gains the whole world, but forfeits his soul? Or what can a person give in exchange for his soul?”
We do not know when our last day will be. We do not know when The Last Day will be. Jesus’ words here in this parable are meant to serve as a warning to us as well as an encouragement to “Be Rich in the Right Things.” To be “rich toward God” (Luke 12:21) as Jesus says.
Ok, so the question is, “How?” How do we become “rich toward God”? This parable also teaches us this great lesson. In the last verses of the parable the rich man begs Abraham to “send [Lazarus] to my father’s house—for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’” He argues that “if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.” (v.27-28,30)
What was Abraham’s response to the rich man? “But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ …‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’” (v.29,31) “Moses and the Prophets” is another expression for the Old Testament, the Word of God (which at that time was the entirety of the written Word of God).
So, the second lesson Jesus teaches us in this parable is: “The Word Alone Gives Life.”
This sounded unbelievable to the rich man in the parable. He said, “No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.” (v.30) Here’s the irony: Eventually in Jesus’ ministry a man named Lazarus would be raised from the dead. Did all who witnessed it repent and believe? Many did, but the result for some, especially Jesus enemies, was simply a hardening of their hearts toward Jesus and a final firm conviction that they had to put Jesus to death (see John 11:46-53). Even after Jesus Himself rose from the dead, all who witnessed it did not believe.
The fact is, as Jesus reminds us in this parable, God’s Word alone gives us spiritual life by creating faith in our hearts. Romans 10:17 says, “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”
We receive spiritual life through His Word, and we become “rich toward God” through His Word. His Word alone regenerates hearts and gives new life to the unbeliever. His Word refreshes life in the believer and gives us the riches of God.
So the answer to the question “How do we become ‘rich toward God’?” and the solution to not placing our hearts and hopes on the things of this world are found in the Word of God!
Do you want true “riches” in your life and heart and soul this week? Dig deeply into the treasure that we have in Jesus’ Word. There we find the riches Jesus won for us—both here in this life, and especially eternally in the next—through His suffering, His death, and His resurrection. There in His Word we find Jesus Himself and the riches of His grace, freely given for us. We know this—some of us have known this all our lives. May Jesus’ words to us today be a reminder to rejoice in those riches once again! “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9 NKJV) Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
The Holy Bible, Evangelical Heritage Version® (EHV ®) © 2019 The Wartburg Project. All rights reserved. Used by permission.
Scripture quotations marked (NKJV) are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved