The Parable of Lazarus and the Poor Man

Luke 16:19-31 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen, living in luxury every day. 20 A beggar named Lazarus had been laid at his gate. Lazarus was covered with sores and 21 longed to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Besides this, the dogs also came and licked his sores. 22 Eventually the beggar died, and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In hell, where he was in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far away and Lazarus at his side. 24 He called out and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me! Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in misery in this flame.’

25 “But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus received bad things. But now he is comforted here, and you are in misery. 26 Besides all this, a great chasm has been set in place between us and you, so that those who want to cross from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’

27 “He said, ‘Then I beg you, father, send him to my father’s home, 28 because I have five brothers—to warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’

29 “Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets. Let them listen to them.’

30 “‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’

31 “Abraham replied to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

There was a certain rich man who was decked out in the finest clothing. Every day was a feast. His closest friends gathered round about him, delighting in his company, and he in theirs. This rich man led the best of lives, had the best things in this world. He was a blessed man.

And this rich man’s name was Lazarus.

Usually Jesus’ parable is titled, “Lazarus and the Rich Man.” However, when you really understand and appreciate what Jesus is teaching in this parable, the title could be, “Lazarus and the Poor Man.”

Jesus tells an intriguing story about a rich man whom we’ll call Dives (pronounced “Dive-ees”) because it’s Latin for “rich man,” as he has been called for centuries. Dives would have fit very well into our society. Trade in the purple robes for business suits, the fine linen for the HDTV and leather sofa, and living in luxury for a middle-class salary and a home with 3 bedrooms, 2 ½ baths, a dog, a cat, 2.5 kids and you have the American dream.

In the eyes of Dives and everyone around him, he was pretty well-off. But, in the eyes of Jesus – who is telling the story – Dives is actually very poor.

We mistake appearance for reality. We see someone driving a fancy car, owning a big home, having healthy children and an attractive spouse. Instantly, almost without a second thought, we assume they are successful. Life is good for them. They are living the dream. 

Maybe they are. Or maybe they're not. Because if Christ is not living within them, if the word of God is not part of their lives, they are to be pitied, not admired. I don't care how much money they have, they're impoverished. I don't care how healthy their children are, they're dead in sin. Without Jesus, our whole life is a non-life. Without Jesus, every second of earthly life is simply a prelude to everlasting darkness and despair.

Our eyes are often mistaken. That’s why we need to listen with the ears of faith.

Look at our friend, Lazarus. Our eyes and ears tell us polar-opposite stories:

  • Our eyes see Lazarus as a poor beggar, but our ears hear him as a man rich with the Father's grace.
  • Our eyes see Lazarus in rags, but our ears hear him decked out in the righteousness of Christ.
  • Our eyes see him starving, but our ears hear him feasting sumptuously every day on the bread that came down from heaven.
  • Our eyes see him a man without friends, but our ears hear him as the friend of God, the companion of angels.

Worldly reality made Lazarus appear poor. Heavenly grace made Lazarus rich.

Dives may have worked hard for all his wealth and fine clothing and rich foods. But, Lazarus was given all his spiritual wealth, his saintly white robe, and the feast of heaven.

What is grace – sola gratia – grace alone? It’s what someone gives us out of the goodness of his heart, not out of the perfection of ours. Grace is receiving what we do not deserve. We come empty-handed. The giver fills our hands with every good thing. Grace is something we do not expect. It is certainly something we could never earn. But, grace is something we would never turn down.

Officer Gower and Officer Hawkins pulled over a car being driven by a young father. Earlier in the month, Officer Hawkins had pulled over the same fellow – a fellow who was having some financial difficulties.

Officer Gower approached the car to speak to the fellow. His conversation was cut short when we saw the man’s three daughters in the vehicle’s back seat.

Even worse, the girls – aged one, three and four – were not in car seats. That’s a dangerous proposition … and an illegal one. Which is why Officer Gower should have given the man a citation. Actually, the financially strapped man should have come away with three tickets.

But, things didn’t go down that way.

While Officer Gower engaged the man in conversation, his partner snuck off to Wal-Mart and bought each of the girls their very own pink car seat. But, the officers weren’t done. They helped the man install those tricky protection devices into his car.

You know what's so great about that story?

That's right! These men could rightly have applied the law to this man and hit him up with three punishing tickets. They could have done that, but they were motivated by grace toward this struggling dad and they gave him a taste of that grace.

It’s what the Lord did for Lazarus, to make him rich beside Abraham in heaven. It’s what the Lord has done for each of us.

We are sinners and deserving of punishment. But God, seeing our helpless, hopeless condition, decided to pursue another path, a path of grace. Rather than allow us to wallow in the riches of this world, Jesus Christ rescued us so we might enjoy true riches in His mansion in heaven. The Son of God entered our world in humility and poverty, so that He might make us wealthy through His suffering, death and resurrection.

Rather than condemning us, the Lord sent His Son into this world to fulfill the Law, carry our sins, and die the death we had coming. Jesus’ third-day resurrection from the dead offers us assurance that complete forgiveness is there for all who are brought to faith in the Savior.

Looking back at what the officers did for him, the dad said, “It was nothing short of a miracle. It was something that was really needed. The officers have been a blessing.”

Well, I don't know if the policemen's gesture was miraculous, but I will agree that it was needed and it was a pretty neat thing for them to do.

This takes me to the point where I can say if a father is grateful for three pink car seats, how much more grateful should we be to the Lord for all the grace He shows us, for all the blessings He has showered upon us in winning our salvation?

Sola Fide – faith alone – is what made poor Lazarus wealthy with the riches of forgiveness, new life and salvation.

Sola Gratia – grace alone – is what gave Lazarus, who was lacking so much in this world, everything in the world to come.

Sola Scriptura – Scriptura alone – is what changed Lazarus into the heavenly wealthy man at Abraham’s side in heaven.

Solus Christus – Christ alone – is what true wealth is all about, for He alone is the way, the truth, and the life.

Sole Deo Gloria – to God alone be the glory – is why we spend the week at Training Camp, why we come for weekly worship, why we support a Lutheran grade school and high school. So that we can give God glory now. For, one day, we will be beside Abraham and Lazarus, giving God glory for eternity.

We agree with the Psalmist: “The Lord has done great things for us, and we are glad” (Psalm 126:3).

  • You don’t need a drop of water because you have been doused with baptism’s water.
  • You aren’t satisfied with fine foods because you have been fed with the bread and water of life.
  • You aren’t shopping for new clothes because you are clothed in the white robe of Christ’s righteousness.
  • You have not been sprinkled with forgiveness. Unending forgiveness is yours through the death of the Son of God.
  • You have not been spattered with grace. You have been immersed with it.
  • You have not been dusted with kindness. You are submerged in it.

No matter how the world sees you, you are rich. Rich with grace and grace alone. Sola gratia. Amen.