Thursday, May 16, 2013

Luke 16:19-24

“Now there was a rich man, and he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, joyously living in splendor 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.

“The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried out and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.’”

Some have contended that the story of the rich man and Lazarus is a true story. After all, it is unusual for Jesus to give a character in one of his parables a real name. Perhaps Jesus chose the name Lazurus because it means "God has helped". It is clearly a parable because certain details in the story are not backed up in other places. With rare exception, no one is taken bodily into heaven. And even Enoch and Elijah are not described as dying before they left this world. People in heaven and hell cannot see each other and converse over some great divide. But in this fictional account Jesus has, as usual, hidden deep truths.

The rich man wears the finst clothing every day - clothing that even other wealthy men would only wear on special occasions. In modern times a man like this would don Alexander McQueen to walk his dog - not that he wouldn't have people to do that for him. He was joyous, indulging his wants and needs every day of his life. In this culture wealth symbolized the blessings of God. Jesus' listeners would hear this story and know that this was the good guy. (Well, unless they'd begun to see the pattern of Jesus' tales that is.)

At the large, fancy gate to his estate, a wretched man was laid. The beggar couldn't walk, was skin and bones, and was covered with oozing sores. He couldn't even shoo away the dogs who came to lick his wounds. He longed to eat the scraps of stale bread used to clean the hands of the diners, but the dogs had that privilege as well. Clearly this was a man punished and hated by God.

Not surprisingly, the sickly beggar dies. But surprisingly that is not the end of his story. With no one to give him a burial or care about his death, an angel carries him to Abraham's side. Abraham, being the father of the Jewish nation both ethnically and spiritually, would clearly be in heaven.

The rich man also dies and receives a lavish burial. Suddenly, he lifts his eyes and realizes he is in Hades. Of course he is shocked. How could he have ended up here? He was blessed in life! He was the right race, the right religion, and the right socioeconomic statues. From the story he doesn't see a particularly bad man. He doesn't help Lazarus, but can any of us help every person we see in need? But his lack of faith and understanding have landed him here.

Clearly he still looks down on Lazarus, asking Abraham to send him over with a few drops of water. Surely heaven can spare such a beggar to help ease the agony of a man such as himself. But we will see tomorrow that no relief is possible for the rich man. He is quite literally beyond hope.

40% of Westerners believe that all people will go to heaven, and 48% agree than anyone who does enough good for others will make the cut. But ask people if they think they themselves will enter heaven and 90% answer in the affirmative.They may claim, "Well, I'm a good person." Perhaps they reply, "I'm religious. I believe in God." Or they muse, "God is good and wouldn't send me to hell."

Clearly there is a disconnect. Unfortunately, many people are mislead. We have been fed just enough religion to believe we are safe without possession the true justification that comes when we place our faith in God and the righteousness or Christ is imputed to us. Most of the people who find themselves in hell in the next life will lift up their eyes in total surprise, just like the rich man in the story. It is up to believers to stop sugar coating the gospel and start speaking the truth in love. The body of Christ does not exist to make people feel uplifted, it exists to pull people from the clutches of the evil one to the glory of God.

The story continues tomorrow.

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’” Matthew 7:21-8:1

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