Sermon from Luke 16:14-31
At first glance, one’s interpretation of this Gospel passage might be to say that rich people go to hell and poor people go to heaven. That’s not what this is saying! Instead, it is a direct follow-up to last week’s Gospel message, which ended with, “No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Luke 16:13). It’s upside-down when you take the possessions that were meant to serve you and you serve them instead.
Then the following Gospel passage says that the money-loving Pharisees ridiculed Jesus for this stance, so he doubled down with the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus to reaffirm his position.
Jesus presents the circumstance of a wealthy man, clothed in fine clothing and eating fine food. Sitting outside this man’s gate is a poor man called Lazarus, who is starving and covered in sores. Isn’t it interesting that Jesus tells us the name of the poor man, but the rich man goes unnamed?
This is not the only time that Jesus teaches that at the end there will be a great reversal – those who are last shall be first, and the first shall be last (Matthew 20:16). This parable is another example of that principle.
So Lazarus dies and is carried to the heavenly realms by angels, and the rich man dies and goes down to torment. Notice it’s the poor man who God helped, not because he was poor but because he was humble. The rich man wasn’t condemned because he was rich, but because he was selfish.
Notice that the rich man gives himself away when he is in torment. First, he decides to try to boss around Father Abraham, proving that a person’s selfishness doesn’t go away once they see the torment they will receive in the afterlife. But secondly, he calls Lazarus by name, asking for his help, proving that in life, he KNEW who Lazarus was, the beggar who had been sitting outside his gate for years, and he had declined to help him then.
But Abraham, having none of it, declared what is true. The rich man had received his good things in life, and now Lazarus, who had received bad things in life, was receiving his reward thereafter. Also, just like the rich man had put a gate up outside his house to keep out the dirty beggar Lazarus, now there is a fixed chasm between Lazarus and the rich man, so that even if Lazarus had wanted to help him, he wouldn’t be able to.
The rich man tries a different tack, asking Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his brothers who are still living about the torment that would come. But once again, Abraham states the plain truth, saying that even Lazarus rising from the dead wouldn’t convince the man’s brothers if they are unwilling to believe based on the truth of the Law and Prophets, which they already know.
Through this parable, Jesus is challenging his listeners to be intentional about our material blessings. Our world is upside-down, and the natural inclination is to worship our possessions. Jesus says that path will only end in destruction. If you have been given earthly material blessings by God, do not settle into the false thinking that you deserve those things, and they are meant to serve YOU. They are meant for you to use to serve GOD. He is the one worthy of worship, not us, and not our possessions.
Look around and see who God has placed around you, maybe someone in need right outside your gate. Can you use your own earthly possessions to make an eternal difference in their life? Don’t let your heart get greedy, conceited, or wrapped up in using money as your identity.
I cannot say it any better than the Apostle Paul did in his letter to Timothy:
Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs… As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.1 Timothy 6:6-10, 17-19 (ESVUK)