First Sunday after Trinity
When it comes to the rich man and Lazarus, you probably hear it with some preconceived misconceptions. You are not alone in that regard, though the way you come at those misconceptions likely differs from the people who first heard of them from Jesus.
You hear of the rich man, and you likely think he is a conniving overlord in his community who has little regard for others, least of all Lazarus who laid by the gate of his house. So long as he was comfortable, it didn’t matter what happened to the people around him, and especially the people outside of his gates. So long as he is able to feast sumptuously night after night, he didn’t care that the poor souls of his community starved for a crumb of bread, especially that poor, sore, soul who laid as his gates. Consequently, he would have no respect from the people in town; they would merely fear him.
You hear of Lazarus, and you likely think he is a poor man down on his luck. If he could only get a hand up, he could easily be a productive member of his society again. If only he could get the dogs to quit licking his sores and seek some actual medical attention, he would be able to return to the workforce which wrongfully released him when he got sick. If it weren’t for the fact that Lazarus was under the thumb of the rich man, whom the rest of the community feared, the people would probably give the poor man a crumb or sandwich.
When both men die, Lazarus is rewarded with eternal life in a place of peace and rest from his earthly torments. The rich man, on the other hand, who lived in luxury on earth, is likewise rewarded with torment in Hades. It seems that both men got what they deserved. The first shall be last and the last shall be first (Matthew 19:30, poorly used), and all that.
If you come at this text thinking that both men got what they deserved, then you are most certainly wrong. That would be your preconceived misconception.
You may be right about both men, at least in regards to their earthly lives, but even here, mostly likely you are not. The text simply doesn’t tell us much about who these two men are or what they did or how they got to where they are in life.
There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day. But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate, desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.
There was a rich man who dressed opulently and ate the finest meals every night. That’s all Jesus says about the rich man. There was a beggar named Lazarus who laid at the rich man’s gate, full of sores which dogs came and licked. That’s all Jesus says about Lazarus. Both men died; Lazarus was carried to Abraham’s bosom—the place of eternal life in the presence of the true and living God—while the rich man was sent to Hades—the place of eternal torment prepared for Satan and his fallen angels. (cf. Matthew 25:41)
Why are you likely wrong? Because of who Jesus is first telling about the rich man and Lazarus. What He tells them, though, also challenges their preconceived misconceptions.
The rich man, according to Jesus’ first hearers, would have been rich because he had God’s favor. He would have been thought of as a prominent member of the community, perhaps even the patriarch of the community’s economic existence; he would have likely owned and run the primary business of the community and employed almost all of the people in the community. By that account, the rich man likely had the respect of all or almost all in the town, and he would have legitimately earned it. When he feasted sumptuously every night, he likely had people from town, other prominent citizens, as guests. While shrewd, he was likely an honest business man and patron of his community.
Lazarus, on the other hand, was a beggar more than because he was down on his luck. He would have been viewed as being under the thumb of God, squished daily for some unknown sin—unknown to the community and to himself. He was a social pariah, avoided at all costs—being seen as unclean, it would have been best not to be around him so as not to risk being touched by him and have some of his uncleanness rub off on others; why risk the wrath of God on yourself when you see what it’s like for Lazarus? Why the rich man tolerated Lazarus at his gate is beyond the comprehension of anyone in town, but likely speaks to the generous patronage that the rich man had of his town.
So, when both men die, and the rich man ends up in Hades and Lazarus in Abraham’s bosom, Jesus’ hearers are shocked. Neither man got what he deserved; rather the opposite—they both got what they didn’t deserve.
Again, if you come at this text thinking that both men got what they didn’t deserve, you’re just as wrong as if you thought that both men got what they did deserve. What both men received after death, or to put it better, where they were received after death, has nothing to do with what they deserve based on their earthly life.
Now, for the rest of the story...
Then [the rich man] cried and said, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.” But Abraham said, “Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.”
Then he said, “I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.” Abraham said to him, “They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.” And he said, “No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.” But he said to him, “If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.”
Okay, it would seem that there is some turn around at the end. The rich man received his good things in life, but is tormented in eternity, while Lazarus received evil things in life, but is comforted in eternity. However, there is more going on than good being repaid with evil in eternity and vice versa.
There is a great gulf fixed between Hades and Abraham’s bosom, such that none can cross from one to the other. It is amazing that the rich man can cry across the gulf so that Abraham can hear. However, no reaction on the part of Lazarus ever mentioned; he is in paradise, and there is nothing more for him to do, not even dip his finger into a pool of water to cool the rich man’s tongue, even though in life, the rich man still allowed Lazarus to lay by his gate.
The second part of that is the most telling. The rich man appears to realize the error of his way and knows that his father’s house participates in those errors. “Send Lazarus to them,” he begs, “so that they can repent and miss out on this place of torment.” “They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them...If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead,” Jesus said.
What do Moses and the prophets say? They speak of the coming of the Messiah; they point forward to Jesus as the Anointed One to take away all sin, which of course, culminates in the greatest of the prophets pointing to Jesus and saying, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)
The Lamb of God, Jesus, God’s Son, is baptized by John, and begins His ministry among the people. He heals all manner of diseases and infirmities. He raises a few dead. He forgives sins! Only God can do that. Moses and the prophets say that One would come who would do these things. There is the true and certain Word of God that One would come to restore mankind, not only to health, but to the way things were before the fall of Adam; that in that day, there would be feasts of finest meats, wine on the lees, and fat things full of marrows (cf. Isaiah 25:6)—the type of sumptuousness that the rich man enjoyed, but better. The Word of God proclaimed that One would come to restore mankind, not only to health, but to the way things were before the fall of Adam; that He would do so by forgiving their sin, remembering their iniquity no more. (cf. Jeremiah 31:34) This is what Moses and the prophets say!
All along the way, He is met by opposition—not by all, but certainly by many. Moses and the prophets speak of Jesus; Jesus fulfills all that Moses and the prophets say of the One who is to come and return God’s people to Himself. And His opposition don’t hear them!
Jesus’ opposition scheme and plot against the Son of God. When the time was right, they captured Jesus, bound Him, had Him beaten and flogged, spat upon Him, uttered all manner of evil against Him, and convinced the Roman governor to crucify Him. Upon the tree of the cross, Jesus, the Son of God, died for and with the sin of the world. Gaze upon the unbroken, bloodied, lifeless body of God on the tree of the cross: “Behold! The Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world!” The lifeless body of God is taken down from the cross and placed in a new grave. Jesus, the Son of God and Son of Man, is dead and buried, and in that you have the propitiation for all of your sins; His shed blood covers you with His righteousness and makes you clean and fit to be seated at that sumptuous eternal feast. Oh, yes, Moses and the prophets say that the One would do this, too:
He is despised and rejected by men, A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Surely He has borne our griefs And carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, Smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, And as a sheep before its shearers is silent, So He opened not His mouth. He was taken from prison and from judgment, And who will declare His generation? For He was cut off from the land of the living; For the transgressions of My people He was stricken. And they made His grave with the wicked—But with the rich at His death, Because He had done no violence, Nor was any deceit in His mouth. (Isaiah 53:3-9)
On the third day, Jesus rose again from the grave. Do you hear Jesus speaking through His servant David in the Psalms? “For You will not leave my soul in Sheol, Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption.” (Psalm 16:10) Or perhaps you hear Job’s prophetic words: “I know that my Redeemer lives.” (Job 19:25a) Still, Jesus says, “[N]either will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.” Much can be said about that, but suffice it to say that a resurrection, much less that of Jesus, the Son of God, will not persuade those who do not hear Moses and the prophets speak of forgiveness, life, and salvation found the the death of the Suffering Servant, the Lamb of God.
The Lamb of God certainly didn’t deserve the death that Moses and the prophets speak about. If you listen to them, you will hear that, too. However, Jesus bore the full what of what He didn’t deserve for those that did.
That’s the thing about the rich man and Lazarus, and all of you, too, dear hearers. If your place in Abraham’s bosom or Hades was yours by what is deserved, then what they both and all of you deserve is Hades and everlasting torment. “All have sinned,” St. Paul wrote, “and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) All deserve to be on the “wrong” side of the great gulf, pleading for a drop of water to cool our tongues.
Of what do the member’s of the rich man’s father’s house have to repent? Well, look to the rest of what St. Paul wrote:
But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:21-26)
The rich man and all of his father’s house have all manner of sin of which to repent, to be certain, namely no faith in Jesus. That’s what makes him and Lazarus all that different. That is why Lazarus is in Abraham’s bosom, because he was justified by the grace of God, poured out on all men (for there is no difference) in the blood of Christ, but received for forgiveness, life, and salvation in all who have been given faith in Jesus Christ.
The rich man likely trusted in his riches. That is to say, he thought and believed, like Jesus’ first hearers, that his riches were proof that He had God’s favor—that was all the good that he had in life, and all the good he thought he ever needed, for this life and the next. Lazarus had no riches, but He trusted in the grace of God and took God at His Word—there was nothing left for him as he had nothing, and in fact, his life was a cacophony that sought to tell him that He didn’t have God’s grace—such evil in life.
It is so with you, also, dear Baptized. You have God’s grace. You have receive faith to believe that Jesus is your propitiation, that His blood covers you, makes you clean, and prepares you for life everlasting at the sumptuous feast that is the feast of victory of our God, the wedding feast of the Lamb and His Bride, the Church, regardless of what you may or may not have now or ever in this life. By grace, you take God at His Word, not only Moses and the Prophets, but the Apostles, too. By grace through faith, you are a member of the Bride. Jesus the Christ died and rose for you—His heavenly riches are yours by what He deserves, for He has given it to you. Therefore, in your last day, He will send His angels to bring you to Abraham’s bosom, because, by His work wrought in you, you are forgiven for all of your sins.