“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20 At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21 and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.
22 “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24 So he called to him, ‘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.’
25 “But 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. 26 And besides all this, 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.’
27 “He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, 28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’
29 “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’
30 “‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’
31 “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.’”
Luke 16:19-31 (NIV)
There is a great deal to learn from this short account, and so far we have thought about what happens when we die, how we spend our earthly life and a few other points. It is hard to understate the importance of what we have seen here. Eternal judgement is a very serious matter, and this passage suggests a conscious torment – something we should all want to avoid!
Last time, the rich man had asked Abraham to send Lazarus to him to give him a little water for comfort. Abraham explained that the rich man was receiving just reward for his life on earth, and that is simply was not possible for anyone to travel between the two halves of eternity.
We pick up the story in verse 27, and the rich man now begs Abraham to send Lazarus to his family to warn them about hell. Again, this rich man is ordering Lazarus about. He cannot seem to let go the idea that he is somehow above Lazarus, and that the poorer ought to be serving the richer. One aspect of hell may be that it amplifies our worse characteristics or selfishness. If we choose to reject God and wallow in our sin, then God grants us our wish for all eternity.
Yet, for the first time in this account, the rich man shows some concern for someone other than himself. He fears for his brothers – all five – that they too may end up in the place of torment. He pleads with Abraham that Lazarus would go and warn them to change their ways. In a small way, it reminds me of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. The ghost of Marley returns to warn Scrooge of what is to come if he does not change. In reality sadly, no such warnings are given to the rich man’s brothers.
Verse 29 is fascinating to me. Abraham denies the request of the rich man and points to Moses and the Prophets. The still living brothers have the Law to instruct them, and Abraham is clear this is sufficient.
We must never underestimate the power of God’s Word. The Bible is the key witness of truth to the things of God. If we fail to believe what the Bible says, then nothing else will convince us. People argue that if they see this or that miracle, then they will believe. This is rarely so. Only conviction by the Spirit of God and the testimony of the Bible can really convince someone that God is indeed real.
In retort in verse 30, the rich man argues that if someone comes back from the dead, then surely his brothers will believe. But Abraham again denies it, saying that if they refuse to accept the word of Moses and the prophets, then even someone rising from the dead will not convince them.
You cannot read these words without thinking of Christ crucified and His own rising from the dead. There were many witnesses to the Resurrection, and yet many denied or dismissed the claims of the Apostles. The scribes and teachers of the Law knew the Scriptures inside and out, and yet did not believe them nor believe the One about whom the Scriptures were written.
You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me,John 5:39 (NIV)
The religious leaders studied the Scripture – Moses and the Prophets – and yet totally missed the point. The Scriptures pointed (and still point) to Christ Jesus. Yet, when He came in the flesh, lived and died and rose again, they did not recognise Him.
Many say that they would believe in God if they only saw evidence first hand. What more could God have done? He gave us the Bible, detailed and perfect, telling us the things to come and foretelling the coming of the Messiah. He came as predicted, lived as He promised and then was killed – and on the third day He rose again to new life, exactly as the Scriptures said He would.
Yet the religious of the day did not believe. Many living today do not believe. This rich man would have been well aware of the Scriptures and knew both Moses and the Prophets’ teaching, yet he refused to practice them. The Law which foretold of Christ also instructed the people to take care of orphans, widows and the poor, and it is clear that this man did not.
Unlike the rich man, you and I do not have to follow the Old Testament Law in the same way. We can believe the Bible and put our trust in Jesus for our salvation. Once we have that, we should live and act as the Law teaches. We do not follow the instructions of God to become saved, we are saved and in response we live the way God wants us to live.
Do not study the Bible, refusing to believe it or never putting any of it into practice. Give Jesus His proper place in Lordship over your life and willing obey all that He asks of you.
You can avoid the place of torment by trusting Christ and what He did at the cross. As the Holy Spirit begins to dwell in you, you can live to please God in and through Christ.
I leave you with this in closing. The rich man could not warn his family of the dangers of hell once he was there, because it was too late. Only the living can spread the Gospel of Christ and share the good news. It is our responsibility and privilege to tell others about Jesus. It is the best news they will ever receive! Whether they accept or not is not down to you, but your job is to share Jesus as best you can. This is done by both words and actions.
Spend some time this week thinking about this passage. I am sure there is much more to learn than I have pointed out here. May it spur you on to make a decision for Christ, or to keep sharing the Good News with others.