by Jeff Henry
Synopsis: In "Lazarus and the Poor Man," Jeff observes the role reversal that occurred as these two individuals passed from this world into the hadean realm to await the final judgment.
Let us consider the story Jesus told of Lazarus and the poor man. You might be thinking I made a mistake. After all, Luke 16:19-31 refers to a rich man, described as one who "habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, joyously living in splendor every day" and a poor beggar named Lazarus, who lay at the rich man's gate, longing to be fed with the crumbs that fell from his table. He was covered with sores, and even the dogs were coming and licking his sores. However, I have deliberately entitled this article like this so that we might consider the question anew, "What makes a person rich?"
In preparing this lesson, I was amazed by how much the Bible has to say concerning riches and wealth, greed and generosity, covetousness and contentment, etc. Much of this teaching serves as a warning to us. My theory is that some sins are more blatantly apparent to us than others. Some lapses are unmistakably lawless—we know them to be wrong. Other sins are more subtle. The love of money is stealthy and may consume a person's life (i.e., their time and devotion) without them realizing the danger. Believers and unbelievers alike may be seduced by the deceitfulness of riches. Perhaps for this very reason, God continually warns us to be on guard.
Since we live in a prosperous society, we shoulder greater responsibility. Americans are incredibly wealthy in comparison to most people in the world. Remember, to whom much is given, much is required. Jesus said, "From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more" (Luke 12:48).
Consider what Jesus had to say about Lazarus and the rich/poor man. After describing their differences in life, Jesus describes their differences in death:
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."
Jesus describes two different men and two different endings. While on earth, Lazarus endured hunger, sickness, and misery, but in the end, he was spiritually rich, happy, and content, resting in Abraham's bosom. Here, the rich man lived lavishly; however, in hades his real poverty became apparent. He was in agony, begging for a mere single drop of water to quench his thirst. What a role reversal! Earthly wealth becomes eternal wretchedness, and earthly wretchedness becomes eternal wealth.
Which is more important: material blessings (which are momentary) or spiritual blessings (which are eternal)? Earthly life is a vapor (Jas. 4:14). So it was for the rich man. So it was for Lazarus. So it will be for us. In contrast, both heaven and hell are everlasting. We will dwell in one or the other realm for all eternity.
In contrasting riches and righteousness, Solomon said, "Riches do not profit in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death" (Prov. 11:4). Are you trusting in material riches, or are you storing up treasures in heaven (Matt. 6:19-21; 19:23-24)?
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Matt. 6:19-21).
And Jesus said to His disciples, "Truly I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God" (Matt. 19:23-24).
Note the rich/poor man's concern for his family (Luke 16:27-31). 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." However, Abraham replied, "They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them." He said, "No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!" However, 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."
As Christians, we share the gospel, i.e., the good news of salvation. Our mission is to seek and save the lost. May we remind others of the coming judgment, so that they (like the surviving brothers of the rich man) might change their ways before it is everlastingly too late. Let us warn others (and be personally mindful) of the deceptiveness of sin (Heb. 3:13), and the danger of trusting in riches (1 Tim. 6:17-19).
But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called "Today," so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin (Heb. 3:13).
Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed (1 Tim. 6:17-19).
The rich man lived his life in ignorance, not recognizing the poverty that he would eventually face. In contrast, Jesus knew and willingly left the riches of heaven, and embraced the poverty for us. "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake, He became poor so that you through His poverty might become rich" (2 Cor. 8:9).
Can you and I say that we are spiritually rich in Christ Jesus? It is easy to ignore the inevitability of future judgment and embrace the life of now, eating, drinking, and being merry. If you live only for today, you will be turning your back on Jesus, just like the rich young ruler. Make your life right with God, and He will lovingly accept you. For any who have not yet been baptized, please take advantage of the opportunity that is offered today. If you are an erring Christian, make the necessary corrections. Don't delay until it is too late.
Author Bio: Jeff is a student at the University of Houston pursuing a business degree. He is a member of the Adoue Street Church of Christ. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.