In the story of the rich man and Lazarus Jesus gives us one of the clearest biblical depictions of the afterlife that we have in all of scripture.
As we read through the Old Testament did you notice how few times the Bible mentions anything about the afterlife? We’ve been reading through the Bible focusing on God’s Saving mission and our part in it. The Old Testament points us to Jesus over and over. He is our creator. He is our sacrifice. He is our Deliverer. He is our Bread from heaven in the wilderness. He is our Water from the Rock in the dry desert. He is our Passover Lamb. He is our Jubilee. He is our High Priest. He is our King. He is our Prophet. He is our Redeemer. Jesus in the Old Testament is our Savior who is to come. He is the Suffering Servant by whose stripes we are all healed. He is our Shepherd, our Protector, Provider, and Defender. Moses wrote about Him. The Psalmists wrote about Him. The Prophets wrote about Him. The stream of the genealogy from Adam throughout the Old Testament leads us to Him. Jesus is the Son of God, the Son of David, the Son of man. In the New Testament we also discover that Jesus is our final Judge. There’s more to come after we die. In fact, in the New Testament we discover that what’s on the OTHER side of death is what we should have as our ultimate concern, not this temporal vapor of time we experience in the flesh.
As we read through the gospels that tell us of Jesus’ life, amazing light shines through His words on this very subject. Jesus throws open the gates between us and the afterlife pointing to the other side. Jesus came into our world to give His life for us, to pay for our sins and redeem us to God. His death, burial and resurrection proved Him to be God’s Holy Messiah, our Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection from death to eternal life are the core of why He came. Jesus died on the cross, He was buried, and He rose from the grave, to live forever as Lord and Savior. What happens after you and me after we die? Jesus shows us. He says more about that than anyone else before Him in the Bible.
Today’s reading from Luke 16:19-31 is an amazing teaching of Jesus about what happens after we die. It is packed.
Luke is the only gospel to give us this particular teaching of Jesus. Luke talks more about poverty and riches than any other gospel.
Let’s go through these familiar words of Jesus together. Luke 16:19-31
Verses 19-22. Now which of these two best represents where you and I are on the economic scale?
Do you have a house? Do you have clothes? Do you have food? Are any of us without healthcare?
Have you ever been homeless? Have you ever been without clothes? Have you ever gone without food because you didn’t have any and couldn’t get some? Have you ever been sick and without any medication or anyone to care about your condition?
I think if we are honest, most of us here are a more like the rich man as far as our condition is concerned. But did you know that we are in the minority on this planet? Did you know that half the population of this world lives on less than two dollars a day? Almost 4 billion people on planet earth today live on less than two dollars a day. And it’s not because they won’t work! Many of these are working like dogs just to get what little they have. In the Bible, a lot of the poor were hard workers who were cheated out of their pay by their rich bosses. Did you know that?
Jenny and I just returned from El Salvador where we visited Christian and Jolisa, who have a new son. They live in a pole structure covered with metal roofing. Christian leaves home at 6:30 am and works at a store all day, returning home at 8:30 pm, six days a week. They have enough to eat and live. No running water, she cooks on a wood burning platform, I don’t know how they wash clothes, but they do. This family and many, many more like them are our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Hector and I visited Windy, a Christian sister in her 40’s who recently was in an auto accident where she and her niece Eva, both broke their pelvic bones. Eva had married a Christian from Huntsville, Alabama and was able to get a visa and be flown to the US for surgery. She’s recovering well. Windy, however still lays in bed at home cared for by her husband and mother, where she can’t move, hoping the bones will knit and heal. El Salvador’s poor don’t have the medical care we do. Hector and I prayed for her and I wished there was a way to help. Her faith is strong even as her body is weak.
The Lord’s prayer includes this line: Give us this day our daily bread. Do any of us here know how to appreciate this prayer request?
James 2:5 says this: Listen my beloved brethren, had God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?
Look again at Luke 16:22-26.
What do these few words tell us about the afterlife?
A lot of sermons have been written based on this passage of scripture. One thing is certain: all of us will die. Unless the Lord returns, we will all face death. Verse 22 states what everyone knows is true. Death is coming. None of us knows how long we have. All of us know we have only so much left.
I wonder what you think about dying? Jenny and I just read a biography called Bill Wallace of China. Maybe you haven’t heard of him. He’s from Knoxville, TN. His dad was a doctor and he wanted to be a mechanic. But he was a young man who believed in Jesus Christ and at 17 decided that God wanted him to become a medical missionary. From that point on, Bill Wallace gave himself to study and training and became a surgeon. In his mid twenty’s he gave up a coveted position and opportunity to join a surgical group here in the U.S., and moved into a soon to be war torn city in China where he worked the rest of his life in a hospital. He faced death over and over, first from the Japanese invasions and finally from the Communist takeover. He never married, and at the age of 43 was killed by the Communists who accused him of being a spy. Bill Wallace’s moto was this: to live is Christ, to die is gain.
I find it interesting that this story is more about why the rich man is in torment, than why Lazarus is in Paradise with Abraham. It’s a one sided look at what happens when a rich man fails to love his closest neighbor, is it not? Lazarus is at his gate. Dogs come lick his sores. Lazarus wishes he could just have the crumbs that fall from the table of the rich man.
Those poor people! They are so in the way, are they not? Why do they have to ruin the appearance of the beautiful ornate gate? And those dogs! Who will clean up after them? Rich people have so many problems because of the poor, do we not?
One point in this story of Jesus is that both the rich man and Lazarus are children of Abraham. They are brothers. What if we looked on our neighbors as part of our family? I guess some families are nasty to one another too, are they not?
Just think about this story of Jesus with me a moment. How could this have turned out differently? What might have happened if the rich man had compassion and showed kindness and care for Lazarus? How might that impact his afterlife? Remember Matthew 25? Jesus, the King comes and separates the people, some on his right and some on his left, and he tells those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, enter the kingdom prepared for you from before the foundation of the earth! For I was hungry and you fed me, thirsty and you gave me to drink, naked and you clothed me, sick and you looked after me, in prison and you visited me.
But to those on his left, Jesus says: Depart from me you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels! For I was hungry and you gave me nothing, thirsty and you gave me no drink, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not care for me.
What does Jesus look like? How does he appear in this world? What did he say in Matthew 25?
Well, let’s finish Luke 16, verses 27-31.
Here we see that the rich man finally realizes the truth. He becomes evangelistic. Although he didn’t care about his brother Lazarus, he now does care about his five other brothers, who sound like they are a lot like he was before he died.
The rich man now wants to save his brothers from something far worse than what Lazarus went through in life.
He suggests something that will impress them enough to convince them. A resurrected Lazarus! If someone came back from the dead, they would listen and repent!
What does it take to get people to listen and repent? What does it take to bring salvation to the rich?
In our case, we not only have Moses and the Prophets, but we have the resurrected Christ! Amen?
A greater question is, what does it take to get God’s people to share the gospel with the lost? What would motivate the church to become urgent about making sure others know the dangers of not serving the Lord by reaching out to help others?
Jesus once said, “The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them anytime you like, but you will not always have me.” The first place to put our attention is on Jesus Himself. To bow to Him, obey Him and become like Him, that is our first mission. Seeking the kingdom of God and His righteousness first, Saving the lost by His grace as we share His word, Serving like Him with His love as His hands and feet… and finally suffering with Him the rejection of those who will not follow.
Jesus gave up everything when we saw us at His gate in our lost and sinful condition. He came to seek and save and serve… and suffer. These are all parts of the mission of God for us as well.