Sermon: A Tale of Two Men (Luke 16:19-31)

Luke 16.19-31 Click for Audio

A Tale of Two Men

Luke 16:19-31

Introduction

Our text today is yet another parable addressed to the Pharisees.  The thrust is similar to those from the previous weeks.  Jesus receives sinners because in the Kingdom of God, there is a great reversal.  This reversal often has to do with those who seem to be rich in this life often will be in great want in the life to come.  Likewise, those who are poor in this life may, in fact, be those whom God has selected for eternal life.

This past week my family and I spent a few days on a cruise ship.  Each evening we ate at our assigned table with the assigned guests.  One such person named Jeffery, we ate with each evening.  I don’t really know much about Jeffery other than basic dinner conversation.

Before we ate, my family and I prayed and thanked the Lord for our food as we always do.  The second night, I asked if the others around the table would care to join us.  So, we prayed together.  Jeffery, I learned, was basically semi-retired and spent most of his time on various vacations and cruises living the high life.

As I prepared this message, I thought of Jeffery because in many ways, he reminds me of the rich man in this parable.  One who spends every day partying, feasting, and drinking and never giving the condition of his soul a second thought.

Please Hear God’s Word…

19 “There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, 23 and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. 24 And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’ 25 But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ 27 And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house— 28 for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ 29 But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ 30 And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’ ”

1. The Rich Man (Luke 16:19)

19 “There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day.

Jesus wastes no time in describing this rich man.  He gives us a couple of important details: notice first, this man was clothed in purple and fine linen.  His clothing was the best money could buy.  When it came to himself, he spared no expense.  Many of you may recall in the Book of Acts, Lydia bought and sold purple goods (Acts 16:14).  The rich loved to be clothed in purple; it was the color of royalty.  The clothing was dyed using a very costly Tyrian purple dye and seen as a luxury only for the very rich.  We also remember those crucifying our Lord mockingly wrapped a purple garment around Him as they hurled insults and beat Him.

Fine linen was a woolen garment worn as a status symbol.  To make fine linen was a process whereby the garment was soaked in a special clay pot and made brilliantly white.

Next, Jesus mentions that this man feasted every day.  The very definition of a feast has woven into it a special occasion.  In other words, to feast every day would almost stop the celebration from being a feast, but a normal meal.  To this man, his feasting was so common he hardly even thought of it as feasting.  Compare this to the Father who when his son was restored to him, killed the fattened calf and began to celebrate.  The rich man had a daily supply of fattened calves.

Could you be clothed in the finest clothing and feasting sumptuously every day while fifty feet away a man lay in tattered clothing, sick and starving?  Could this rich man not even send a servant out to help this poor man in and bathe, feed, and tend to him?

2. The Poor Man (Luke 16:20-21)

20 And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores.

Jesus notes, that this poor man was in very close vicinity to the rich man.  While in this life, the rich man had ample time to tend to the needs of Lazarus but never gave him a second thought.

Lazarus, as Jesus notes, was covered with sores, whereas the rich man was clothed in purple and fine linen.  Do you see the imagery and contrast Jesus is picturing before us?  One man clothed in fine linen and costly purple the other clothed in sores.

Surely, the Pharisees would have viewed Lazarus as unclean and suffering Divine judgment.  Much like Job’s friends who wondered what great evil Job must have secretly done for God to curse him so severely.

Just as the prodigal son longed to eat the pods that were fed to the pigs, so Lazarus longed to just eat the crumbs that fell from this rich man’s table.

Was the rich man blessed because he was rich?  Was Lazarus under divine judgment because he was suffering so?

Lazarus was in such a poor state and so utterly unclean that, Jesus tells us, the mongrel dogs that ate from the refuse pile even added more misery to him.  They were not licking his sores to help him, but to be a picture of more suffering.  Lazarus was unclean.

These curs have not come to lick his wounds (as we would say), but to abuse him further and, in the story, to add one more reason for us to regard him as less than human, unclean, through-and-through an outcast. [1]  

I don’t want to gross anyone out but can you picture the sad state of Lazarus.  He smelled terribly not so much from his lack of bathing but because his skin was rotten and full of sores.

Next, Jesus contrasts their homes.  The rich man lives in a state compound, which is signified by the fact that he has his own gate.  Cities had gates and fortified towns had gates, not a house.  However, this man was so rich his fenced in compound had its own gate.  Lazarus, on the other hand, had no home at all.

Many scholars believe that because Lazarus was lying at the rich man’s gate that he was crippled.  This may or may not be the case.

Well, that’s the sad state of both the rich man and Lazarus this side of eternity.  But something is about to change everything…

3.  The Rich Man and the Poor Man in the Life to Come (Luke 16:22-23) 

22 The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, 23 and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side.

Did God bless the rich man because he fared so well while on earth?  Was Lazarus under divine judgment because he suffered so?

Jesus continues with His comparison and contrast of these to men.  No longer are they living their earthly lives but both have died.  Notice the switch in their circumstances.

Lazarus no longer suffered.  He no longer was hungry and needy.  He now had a home and rather than being mocked as he lay at the rich man’s gate, he was cared for and it was he who now feasted.   In life his only companions were the scavenger wild dogs roaming the country, but now he is in the presence of Abraham and the angels.  As soon as Lazarus breathed his last breath, he was whisked up by the angels and transported in a split second to heaven or as Jesus symbolically explains, Abraham’s side, which depicts a place of the beloved.  So, Lazarus is receiving his eternal inheritance and the rich man eternal suffering.

The rich man was now in dire need.  His suffering was unfathomable.  In Hades or Hell, as some translations call it, he suffered great pain.

The tables have now turned.  The one who suffered greatly in this life now feasts daily at the side of Abraham and the other who in this life enjoyed many pleasures now is the one suffering for all eternity.

I want to examine the logic of the rich man in the next few verses to see the fallacy of his thinking.  I really believe if we can understand where this man was gravely mistaken, it may just help us eternally.

4. Five Wrong Assumptions (Luke 16:24-28)

 24 And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’ 25 But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’

Wrong Assumption #1: Abraham Was His Father

The rich man called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me…

As kindly and as fatherly as Abraham’s response was, he was not the rich man’s father.  To be a child of Abraham is to be a child of God.  All the rich man had was a Jewish lineage not saving faith.  All he could claim was to be a physical descendant of Abraham not a spiritual descendant.  It is true, Abraham addressed him as child but this indicates a kind Jewish address not an indication of faith.  He is not a child of God.

Wrong Assumption #2: His Status in This Life Continued in the Life to Come

send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’

Even in torture, the rich man’s arrogance is seen.  Who does he think he is that he could ask Lazarus to enter the tortures of hell to give him some relief?  He assumes that Lazarus should still be low in the status department and he should be high.  He is viewing the circumstances as if Lazarus is still covered in sores and he is covered in purple and fine linen.

Perhaps we may experience times of suffering in this life.  We must never think that sorrow and grief in this life means sorrow and grief in the life to come.  Like Lazarus, who experienced pain and suffering here went on to be highly exalted in the life to come.

Wrong Assumption #3: The Great Gulf Between Heaven and Hell Can Be Crossed

26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’

Do you understand how eternity works?  Jesus tells us very clearly.  Wherever you end up after death whether it’s heaven or hell, your position is forever fixed.  Once you’re in heaven you are there forever.  Once you’re in hell, you’re there forever.  There will be no second chances.  No try-agains.

Wrong Assumption #4: Some People are Entitled to Special Treatment

27 And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house— 28 for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’

Here, the rich man may seem to finally be showing some compassion.  But don’t be fooled.  His heart is still only concerned about himself and a certain few people among the socially elite.  If Lazarus cannot come here then send him to warn my people.  He still does not care about the poor and needy.  He doesn’t say, please send Lazarus to the rest of those lying at my gate and warn them.  He simply cares for his own.   The rich caring for the rich and no one else.

The only thing that would make his suffering worse, is to know that his family is also suffering eternal punishment.  He still is thinking of himself.

Wrong Assumption #5:  A Miracle Will Bring About Repentance (Luke 16:29-31)

29 But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ 30 And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’ ”

Hearing is a very important theme in Luke’s Gospel.  The phrase to hear or those who have ears to hear…this is a hearing with a response.

It’s so important that we understand that the Law and the Prophets (Old Testament) teach us our need to repent.  If we don’t read the OT and have our evil rebellious hearts exposed, there is nothing left for God to do.  Do you understand this most important truth?  There is no other place where God can show a human his or her need of repentance than in His written Word.  No miracle will convince man to repent.

Rather than seeing a miracle, like Lazarus coming back from the dead and warning the rich man’s family, they must heed the warning as all people must.  The same is true for all people.

I pray, as we read through God’s Word we don’t simply read old stories but we hear God speak to us the warnings given in the pages.  If we are not convinced by God’s Word to repent, there’s nothing left God can do.

His Law brings forth repentance.  There are no special cases and no exceptions.  Our sin and need for a Savior is exposed within the pages of God’s Word and nowhere else.  No miracle or sign will ever convince us we’re sinners in need of a Savior.

This rich man should have listened to the Prophets.  His brothers should listen to them as well and so should the Pharisees and so should we.  Do you have ears to hear?

I think Peter hits on this very point when he writes…

16 For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” 18 we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. 19 And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts,[2]

As amazing as those miracles were for Peter, he saw in God’s Word a more sure and solid foundation on which to believe.  He very emphatically states that we too must pay careful attention to God’s Word.

5.  The Greatest Miracle Will Have No Effect on Those Who Refuse God’s Word

Peter and the others had their faith strengthened by miracles but not given to them by miracles.  This is Jesus’ point in His story as well.

Through the course of redemptive history, we witness the culmination of Moses and the Prophets.  What they preached and taught has come.  We have their prophecies fulfilled in Christ…Someone rising from the dead.

Jesus’ words, are always true.  He did rise from the dead and sent forth a warning and those in Israel still did not repent.  Miracles will not change the hearts of the spiritually dead.  Instead it takes God’s grace working through His Word to bring about repentance and faith.

The Scriptures contain all we need in order to repent and be saved.  They are utterly complete and lack nothing we need for salvation.  They are perfect and if one will not hear them then even the greatest miracles will have no effect.

So, we learn that it is not more evidence that is needed to bring about repentance, but to hear what is already given.

Are you listening to God as He speaks from the Bible?


[1] Gospel of Luke NICNT by Joel Green page 606

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2001 (2 Pet. 1:16–19). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.