“But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented.”
The parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus confronts us with an amazing paradox.
The rich man, esteemed by men, remains nameless even in hell. The poor, despised beggar is given a name, a most beautiful name. “One Whom God Helps.”
To all appearances the rich man should have had that name. Of him we are told, that “he was clothed in purple, and fared sumptuously every day.” As with a brush-stroke of a master artist, Jesus pictures to us a man who occupies a palatial dwelling, who is surrounded by a host of servants waiting upon his whims and wants. The rich man appears in public in costly attire as a man of means who knows how to use his resources to his best advantage. His well-supplied table is rarely lacking of guests of the highest rank of society. In one word, the rich man lives a flamboyant life, in an attitude of “let us eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow it is all over.” Seemingly he had not a care in the world; he was well cared for.
There was also “a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, and desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table; moreover, the dogs came and licked his sores.” Someone, whoever that may have been, tossed this thin, weak, ugly, festering, reeking beggar, like an unwanted dog, at the gate of the rich man in the hope that the poor fellow might find some help and sympathy there. His very presence in the gutter of the streets of Jerusalem was a sad commentary on the spiritual condition of the church of that day. The laws of Moses prohibited having beggars in the land, since it was the duty of those who loved Jehovah to manifest that love to the neighbor, either directly or through the priesthood. Yet at the time of Jesus there seems to have been an exceptionally large number of lepers haunting the hills and caves outside of the cities; and even in the Holy City one beggar sat for some time at the very gate of the temple. The rich man likely shrugged off his obligation to the miserable wretch at his threshold with the thought that it was a crying shame that the proper authorities cared so little about the imposition placed upon him, one of their esteemed citizens. It never occurred to him that God had laid the beggar there. Nor did he give it any thought that some people had entertained angels unawares. Lazarus was only an undesirable, who was better off dead than alive.
The paradox is intensified by the fact that both the rich man and Lazarus were descendants of Abraham, and members, as it were, of the same church. The rich man was very proud to be able to claim Abraham as his father. He was born of Jewish parents, had been circumcised on the eighth day according to the law of Moses, possibly belonged to the highly respected sect of the Pharisees, and was esteemed among the elite of society as one who knew and scrupulously kept the letter of the law. Even after he is dead he still addresses Abraham as “Father,” and Abraham refers to him as “son.” Lazarus was also born of Jewish parents, was circumcised, and was brought up in the instruction of the Scriptures. Whatever may have befallen him, his lot on earth was that he had become desperately helpless, dependent, and miserable, until he had no friend in the world. The only companionship and compassion he knew came from the dogs which ran their healing tongues over his painful, festering sores. Even his name seems like a contradiction. To all outward appearances the rich man received all the help from God, and Lazarus none. If there were such a thing as “common grace” in this world, the rich man had a goodly share, of it, and Lazarus was left out. Yet man judges by outward appearance; God knows the heart. (Verse 15).
The real difference between the rich man and Lazarus is centered in the heart. The rich man had one cardinal sin that became evident through the presence of the beggar at his gate. One might say that his sin was Lazarus. The rich man was a proud, selfish, cruel, mammon worshipper. God used Lazarus to expose that evil heart. The rich man was forced to turn his head every time he stepped over that sorry, hungry spectacle. He was compelled to banish the sight of that emaciated face from his mind, lest it spoil his appetite for the delicious abundance of bread and wine that weighed down his table. Why spoil his dinner with unpleasant thoughts?
Lazarus knew how to put his trust in God. At the portal of the affluent, with the fragrant odor of steaming hot dishes wafting past his nostrils, he might well have felt like Asaph of Psalm 73, when Asaph saw the prosperity of the wicked and keenly felt his own oppression renewed every morning. His feet might well have slipped from the way of quiet trust, had he allowed himself to be needled to envy by all that extravagance. But like Asaph, Lazarus went into the sanctuary, that is, out there in the gutter he turned to God in prayer, seeking the answer to his many questions in the inscrutable wisdom, the almighty power, and boundless goodness of his God. Lazarus had far more reason than we to ask, as we so often do at the slightest provocation, Has God forgotten to be kind? Will He withhold His mercies forever? The beggar had nothing; yet he would have been content with very little. All he desired was a crumb of bread from the rich man’s table to ease his hunger pangs for a moment. He knew that the little that the righteous hold is better far than all the wealth of wicked men. His humble prayer was but for bread, bread enough for. the day, until God would take his weary soul into the Rest. He had his treasure stowed away in heaven, for with an eye of faith he saw the better things that God had prepared for him, with eager hands he reached out for that perfect communion with God that now in a small way eased his loneliness and suffering. Lazarus was rich, far richer than the rich man, even though “evil things” were his lot in this life. He was rich in faith, faith in his God Who loved him so intensely that in His longsuffering He was willing to suffer along with Lazarus, measuring out each day’s afflictions to work an eternal glory. Lazarus was rich in his God, with Whom he tasted intimate fellowship, in Whom he trusted, knowing that God made his every need His care.
Death is often an enemy. Death can also be a welcome friend.
The rich man died. In spite of his own plans for the future, and in spite of every effort of the doctors to keep him alive, he died. Succinctly Jesus adds, “And was buried.” Relatives and friends bemoaned the loss for them and the church. The officiating “minister” at his funeral spoke long and tender eulogies of the departed, assuring the family that he was now entered into his reward. A large entourage followed his casket to the costly tomb carved out of a hill, where he was gently laid to rest. Yet the rich man knew nothing about this. He could not even enjoy it, for, being “in hell he lifted up his eyes in torment.” The expression “lifted up his eyes to heaven” is a figure of speech in harmony with the parable, but the place of hell and the torment with its hot fire, its gnawing of the tongue and gnashing of teeth is a very real and bitter experience. Immediately after death the wicked go to their appointed place under the righteous judgment of the living God, Who judges every man according to the deeds done in the body, whether good or evil.
Lazarus, on the other hand, “was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom.” Some consider this a bit of gloss that he was carried by angels to heaven, I am inclined to think that this is very real, that the angels do accompany the souls of the departed into their mansion in Father’s House, just as an entire angel host accompanied Jesus at His exaltation into heaven. Lazarus’ resting in Abraham’s bosom is, of course, a figurative expression, but it does express a blessed reality. God has carried out His promise to Abraham, “I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee.” The father of believers sees his real spiritual children gathered round about him in the intimate fellowship of the saints about the throne. He receives poor Lazarus, who suffered so much here below, into his bosom, that Lazarus may lay his weary head on his shoulder to have the last vestige of his tears wiped from his eyes. Now he realizes that every hunger pang, every tear, every cringe of pain, even every cold and sleepless night was measured out to him as a proper dosage of medicine in the exact amount that was necessary for him by the concerned Pharmacist, Who cares as a Father for His children. The man whom God helps is not given a few trinkets that may appeal to the eye, but receives treasures of eternal value. Lazarus now fully realizes that He Who spared not His own Son from the accursed death of the cross to save us from our sins, also grants us with Him all things.
HIS GLORIOUS REWARD
When the rich man opens his eyes he sees Lazarus. The man whose name appears nowhere in the Book of Life sees him whose name is so plainly written there. He whom the rich man did not deign to help, was and always will be helped of God. He who was so highly esteemed among men is rejected of God, for God sees the heart. He who despised God and His Word, because he preferred to have mammon supply his needs, is despised of God. He who showed no mercy receives no mercy. Yet this rich man ventures to make a small request, a very small one. He asks father Abraham to remember that the rich man was born of a Jewish family, was circumcised on the eighth day according to the law of Moses, and had scrupulously kept that law with his tithes and sacrifices and prayers. Is not that sufficient reason to send Lazarus, who knew so well what misery was, to carry a drop of water, no more than a mere drop, on the tip of his finger, to lay it soothingly on the tongue, even the tip of the tongue of the rich man, that for a split second he might experience a bit of relief, ever so small, from his bitter agony. Lazarus knew what it was to want a crumb of bread; the rich man wants but a drop of water from Lazarus.
Even that small respite is refused him. Why? Because he was in the natural sense of the word a son of Abraham, a member of the church. He spoke to his own condemnation, for he showed plainly that he had known the way and had not walked in it. He knew that God demanded mercy, and not sacrifice, love, and not pretense, love to God manifested in caring for one of these little ones. Through the corridors of hell rang and still rings that terrible indictment: “Son, remember!” If only the clock would stop its monotonous ticking; if only the voice of conscience would keep silence; if only that constant remembrance of Lazarus could be blotted out! But there is an impassable gulf between heaven and hell; both heaven and hell are so final.
Lazarus also has his reward as the reward of grace. He who was faithful to his God even unto death enjoys the crown of life. He who put his trust in God was not put to shame. He who fixed his hope on treasures that have real and lasting value has gone into the Rest. He is and remains a lasting testimony that Lazarus, the man whom God, helps, is always blessed, for the poor in spirit inherit the Kingdom.