The Rich and the Poor, and Heaven and Hell

So. Much. Theology.

That was my first thought after reading a story Jesus told in Luke 16:19-31. I’ve been reading through the book of Luke this month, and I have to tell you, Jesus’ words are amazing. I’ve asked God to give me fresh eyes and a receptive heart as I read through familiar passages. I want to really absorb what Jesus is teaching us.

Listen.

This is our Savior talking. It’s the One we trust in for our eternal salvation, the One who went to the cross and paid for my sin. He is THE CENTERPIECE of everything I believe about God, about who I am and where I came from, and about what happens to me when I die.

So, really, shouldn’t we pay attention to His words??

So often we read through the Gospels (and the rest of the Bible) like it’s just a good suggestion book that makes our life better. But these are words of life. Jesus is telling us the secrets of the kingdom, and I, for one, want to pay better attention.

Let’s begin by reading the story, in Jesus’ own words (of course translated into English so we can understand them)!

“Now there was a rich man, and he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, joyously living in splendor every day. And a poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores, and longing to be fed with the crumbs which were falling from the rich man’s table; besides, even the dogs were coming and licking his sores. Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom; and 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.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great chasm fixed, so that those who wish to come over from here to you will not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us.’ And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, that you send him to my father’s house— for I have five brothers—in order that he may warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ But he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!’ But he said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.’” (Luke 16:19-31 NASB)

Some theologians see this story as a parable since it follows several other stories clearly designated as parables (Luke 15-16). Personally, I believe it is a real story about real people. When Jesus told parables, He never used real names. This story tells us about a man named Lazarus; it mentions Abraham, as well as specifically talks about Moses and the Prophets. Parables most always use an earthly, physical story (a judge, a household manager, a sower sowing seed, etc.) to illustrate a spiritual meaning which must be explained, like a riddle. In contrast, this story is told in simple facts; there doesn’t seem to be another, hidden meaning, other than what the facts say.

I don’t need to re-tell you the story; you just read it. So what theological conclusions can we draw from this passage, and how do they impact our life?

#1 – There is life after death, and it’s very real.

Both the rich man and Lazarus were aware of their surroundings. Lazarus was being comforted. The picture is a place of peace and rest. The rich man was in agony. He was tormented. He was thirsty. He describes flames which caused him great pain.

#2 – Good deeds can’t earn you heaven.

At first read, you might draw the conclusion that the rich man was punished because he selfishly spent his money on himself and ignored Lazarus’ pain. That if he only had taken pity on Lazarus and done something to help him, he, too, would have ended up in peace and comfort. But wait. If that’s true, then how did Lazarus get there? His life was spent in extreme poverty and hunger. He sat on the street letting dogs lick his sores, starving. He had NOTHING. He had no abilities to help himself, let alone do good deeds for others.

The answer is in the rich man’s wise response to Abraham, as he begged him to send Lazarus to warn his five brothers not to end up in this place of torment. But he said, “No, Father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!” The way to the eternal life we all want is not good deeds, but repentance. Repentance means a change of heart, a turning around. It is the act of recognizing our own sin, asking the Father for forgiveness and turning to follow Jesus. Lazarus KNEW his need; the rich man did not.

#3 – There are no second chances.

The instant Lazarus died, he was in a place of peace and comfort, Abraham’s Bosom. Likewise, the instant the rich man died, he found himself in torment and agony in Hades. When the rich man asked Abraham to send Lazarus over with just a drop of water to cool his tongue, Abraham responds that there is a great chasm fixed, so that no one can cross over. When you die, your fate is sealed. The only way to change your fate is to act before you die.

#4 – Your unsaved friends who have died don’t want to see you.

I’ve heard people who reject Jesus say flippantly, “I want to go to hell because all my friends will be there partying.”  Not so. Anyone who has died apart from Christ is in agony, and if they cared about you at all, they would do anything in their power to tell you to make a different decision! The rich man asked Abraham to send Lazarus back to warn his five brothers. He knew his own fate was sealed, but they still had an opportunity. He begged Abraham to send Lazarus.

#5 – Supernatural miracles aren’t enough to convince you if you already reject the Bible.

Abraham’s response to the rich man was that his brothers already had the truth. They had scripture. And consider this, they didn’t even have the New Testament yet. The Old Testament books of Moses and the Prophets contained the gospel. The truth was there all the time; they simply had to believe. A person rising from the dead was not going to change their mind. And yet, here we are in the 21st century with clear, historical evidence that Jesus DID rise from the dead. So there’s that.

Why would Jesus share this story? Is it to scare us?

No, my friend. Jesus wants us to know the truth. Like I said, He’s giving us the secrets of the kingdom. He’s telling us all we need to know to believe. He’s warning us because He loves us, and He doesn’t want anyone to end up like the rich man.

2 Peter 3:9 – The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.

Dear reader…know my heart. I want to spend eternity with you. How much more does the One who created you and knit you together in your mother’s womb desire you to believe? Well, so much that He lay aside heaven and came to earth as a human baby to make it possible.

So. Much. Theology.

What will you do with it today?

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