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Online Text Sermon - The Rich Man and Lazarus, Luke ch.16 vv.26-31

PreacherRev. Ronald MacKenzie, Glenelg
Sermon TitleThe Rich Man and Lazarus
TextLuke ch.16 vv.26-31
Sermon ID435

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"But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivest thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence. Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father's house: For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment. Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the dead" (Luke 16, 25-31).

There is a certain difficulty about this very solemn and graphic picture given by our Lord. It is included among what we term, the parables. You will have noticed that it is not introduced by, "Another parable spake He unto them" or "The Kingdom of Heaven is likened unto." There is a certain reality, detail and literalness in the earlier part of it that doesn't conform to our understanding of a parable. You could say it is a parable with a difference. Better still - it is an illustration of a great truth that concerns every one of us. It may have had some reality in a particular case- we don't know. However, it does have a reality in its application to every case, whether you or me.

The story is quite simple - it is a contrast. This morning we saw the contrast between those in the flesh and those in the Spirit, those in Christ and those out of Christ. Here is a particular illustration of that truth. "A certain rich man" (verse 19) - here is a man the world envies. This is a person, to all appearance, who seems to have everything. He was "clothed in purple and fine linen, and faired sumptuously every day" (verse 19). A picture of opulence, a picture of someone who has everything that is desirable in the world. Someone the world envies.

Then by contrast you have a very different picture: a poor man, named Lazarus (verse 19). The name Lazarus, as you may know, means 'God is my help'. It is a name given to him by Christ. It is a name which was fairly common - the brother of Mary and Martha was called Lazarus. This man was certainly not to be envied outwardly. He was laid at the gate of this rich man. This rich man had a grand house - a mansion of some kind - and he had attendants. Here was this poor beggar. The word here 'lay' does not bring out the emphasis of the ritual; it means he was thrown out, he was cast out, outside his gate. It wasn't that he was gently placed there; it was the place that the rich man would not give to him. He was despised and rejected of men.

We sang in Psalm 22 what was true of our Saviour when He was in this world and yet at the same time, is applicable in the case of some of His people. This was true, we find, of Lazarus. Though he was a pitiable object - not as someone envied but someone to be pitied in the eyes of the world - yet in reality behind the appearance, the truth was very different. The rich man had nothing really and Lazarus had everything. Lazarus was a child of God; the rich man was a worldling.

There is a misunderstanding that comes and it is that our Lord was condemning the rich man because he was rich. That is to miss the whole point of this story. Father Abraham, we know, was rich: rich in cattle, in herds, silver and gold. Yet, Abraham is the person to whom Lazarus goes when he dies. It is not riches but what is done with them.

The other thing about this rich man is that we are not told that he did anything outwardly that was criminal apart from this part of how he treated Lazarus. It is not any sin of commission that is pointed at but the sins of omission. We often think of sin as something we do wrong, and it is that. However, the Catechism says, "any want of conformity to the will of God". That is, there are many things that you and I omit to do which is sin in the sight of God. Often we forget that and we only think of what we have done and not of what we have failed to do. What is brought home to us here is the great omission in this man's life.

He was a man who lived altogether for himself. He lived for this world and the things of this world. He omitted his duty to God and his duty to man. I am not saying that he was an irreligious man; there is nothing to suggest that. Indeed, on the contrary, when we come to the end of this vivid picture, or parable, you find in the conversation between Abraham and himself the suggestion, or the inference that he himself, as well as his brethren, had heard of, or had been hearing in the synagogue or elsewhere, Moses and the prophets. They were read every Sabbath day so it is highly probable that this man had his religion and it would be comfortable to him. He was a man of the world. He was unconcerned about his duty: that is, of faith and trust in the Lord, and the duty of repenting of his sin, for that is brought home at the end - and that again by inference. "If one went unto them (that is, my brethren) from the dead, they will repent" (verse 30). Surely it is inferred from these words that he knew it was his own impenitence that had brought him to this fearful end of being found in the place of the lost.

You have the outward picture but how quickly that changed. That is time passing so quickly. Whether the time between the death of Lazarus and that of the rich man was a matter of days or years, we don't know and, in any case, it doesn't matter. Lazarus was taken first. He had been in his life a miserable creature - that is outwardly. He was desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table. It appears that it was only a desire because we are not told that he got them. Then the dogs came and licked his sores.

For some time I used to have the idea that they pitied the man and licked his wounds in compassion. However, I don't think that is correct. The dog was an unclean animal under the law. These were scavenging dogs. Moreover, this was additional to the misery of the man. He had no strength, as it were, to ward these creatures off. It was an aggravation of his misery. It was a picture of poverty, destitution and suffering. All that changed. At the moment of death, his soul was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom.

Remember our Lord is clothing Gospel truth in Jewish language - it is the same truth. Whether you speak of Abraham's bosom or being with Christ which is far better - and that is a Gospel expression of it - it simply means, being in heaven: in that abode "of just men made perfect" (Hebrews 12, 23). For the souls of those who are washed from their sins are made perfect in holiness, that into which they pass immediately at death, for there was Lazarus, in the bosom of Abraham. The reason is simply that our Lord is conveying truth to His hearers in a mode they can understand and it is the same truth we find enlarged in the Gospel and in the revelation of the Epistles. He is brought into the state of unutterable happiness and blessedness - that state into which the penitent thief was taken.

Remember how the penitent thief was changed by divine grace. He was enabled to hope in the Lord of glory that was being crucified at his side. He received that promise when he called upon Him - "Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom" (Luke 23, 42), "To day," said the Saviour to him, "thou shalt be with me in paradise" (Luke 23, 43). "To day", you shall be with me in that state, for the spirits of the just made perfect in happiness are found between death and the resurrection. That is the state that is revealed.

Our Lord, as it were, is taking the veil of that unseen world and lifting it a little for us to understand something of what it means. Of course, the language in great measure is figurative and that is because we could never understand anything of this unless it was communicated to us in a mode that we could apprehend. Truth must be understood and it is in this way that the truth of the eternal state - the eternal difference between the righteous and the wicked and between those who are saved and those who are unsaved - is brought out.

There is Lazarus in the bosom. The idea of the bosom is that of a father or mother holding an infant child, comforting that child in her love, in her bosom. That is the picture. It is a very beautiful picture. You see the Psalmist describing something of that - "My soul," he said, "is even as a weaned child" (Psalm 131, 2). It is a beautiful picture of tranquillity, peace and satisfaction. Lazarus or the people of God - those who are justified and sanctified and reach heaven at last - are in that blessed condition. They are with Christ, which is far better; that is a reality and there is Lazarus.

I said this is figurative and pictorial because it speaks as if those who are in heaven and those who are in hell - those who are saved and those who are lost - are able to see one another. Whatever the reality - that is not really what is brought home to us here. What this brings home to us is the communication which is brought into the picture to show the great difference of eternal state into which we are brought, either in the place of happiness and bliss or the place of misery and woe. And so we have this picture: the rich man in hell lifted up his eyes being in torment and sees Abraham afar off and Lazarus in his bosom and yet they are able to communicate. There is a great and important truth being brought before us here.

What is so remarkable in this picture is the prayer of this rich man, who in reality is a wicked man. His state is a state that is lost; he has died in his sin and he is lost. He is pictured here as seeing and envying the happiness of Lazarus, seeing the people of God in heaven and desiring that he might be with them. It is, you may say, a prayer of despair and it is too late.

"Father Abraham, have mercy on me" (verse 24). However, the prayer itself is not a true prayer. It is certainly not the prayer of faith. It is not a true prayer that a person with grace can say. It is directed to Abraham. He is hoping that this chief among the people of God, this father of the faithful, will help him - but no creature can help us. No father, mother or godly relation will help us if we land in hell: we cannot be helped by them. Their prayers may be for us here while we are alive but when death comes, if we die unsaved and we are lost then no prayer can do us any good. That time is past and yet this is how the rich man is praying. You see - prayer is through the God of Abraham -the Father of Abraham, the God and Saviour of Abraham - the Son, the God and Comforter of Abraham - the Spirit: to the Father, by and through the Son, with the help of the Holy Spirit. It is a prayer to the triune God, not to a creature, not to saints. No, that is all wrong and yet here is this man making this prayer: the prayer of a damned soul. He is praying for comfort and deliverance. Even a measure of alleviation from his misery would be welcome. "Have mercy on me," he prays to Abraham, "and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame" (verse 24).

Remember, it is a vivid picture of truth. These are disembodied spirits. It is something worse than any material fire. After all, the fire cannot destroy the soul. Men may kill the body - the martyrs were consumed in the flames - but the flames could not touch their souls. What is spoken of here is a greater fire, a more dreadful misery. It speaks of the end of those who have neglected so great salvation, neglected the opportunities they had to turn from their sin, to live a life of faith upon the Son of God, to give obedience to His Word and to practise godliness. This man then was in this dreadful state because at the very root of all his disobedience in the sight of God was his unbelief. His unbelief was at the bottom of it all and this is where unbelief will take every person who dies in the same condition. "If ye believe not that I am he," said Christ to the Pharisees, "ye shall die in your sins" (John 8, 24). "He that believeth not," we are told, "shall be damned" (Mark 16, 16).

There we have it. He gets his reply after pleading with Father Abraham: "Son" (verse 25). He was a Jew, a rich Jew. A Jew who knew his duty according to the knowledge he had of the Word of God but who had failed to practise and to conform to the revealed will of God; that my friend is our duty. We have the Word of God before us and we are called upon to obey what it commands and to receive the truth of this revelation. His unbelief had brought him to the place of unutterable woe and misery. "Son," says Abraham to him - and he is only acknowledging him as a Jew after the flesh, as one who claimed sonship and, in a sense, it was ironical. In effect, he is saying, "You are no true son of mine. You haven't the faith that was given to me. Remember that you in your lifetime received your good things: the things of this world. Like many a Jew and Gentile you thought this was a mark of God's favour and, indeed, outwardly, He is good to the just, He sends rain on the just and the unjust. He is bountiful to those who are good and to those who are evil. The outward temporal blessings of God are indeed blessings - but in themselves they do not prove that a person is right with God.

This, of course, is an old mistake. It was being tempted along that way that the Psalmist was perplexed at the prosperity of the wicked and the sufferings of the people of God and of his own condition. Job likewise - he saw how the wicked prospered, how their cattle increased, how they sent out their children to dancing. They were happy, not plagued - as the Psalmist said in Psalm 73 - as other men. They have no bands in their death; everything seems to go so sweetly, so comfortably with them. These were the good things. But the good things he had received did not bring him to repent. "Thinkest thou this, O man,... that the goodness of God," as the apostle said writing to the Jew of the goodness of God, "leadeth thee to repentance?" (Romans 2, 3-4) That is what it should do. It didn't do it to that Jew, it didn't do it to this Jew - and he was lost. It was no comfort to him to remember this; it was only an additional aggravation of his misery.

"Thou in thy lifetime" (verse 25) - but what did he do with the Saviour? Isn't that the question for ourselves: What do we do? We have our good things. We have our time, talents, health, wealth - or a measure of it. We have these things given to us by God - but what are we doing with them? What are we doing with our time? Eternity is coming nearer every day, every moment to everyone of us. The time is short. What are we doing with that which God in His goodness has given us? Has He not given us these things that we may honour Him, that we may glorify Him, that we may do good with them to our fellow men and women?

We are not told of this man that he was hoarding his wealth. On the contrary, he seems to have been something of a profligate, and indeed, he was simply a man who spent it on himself, a man who was ostentatious and this solely for the enjoyment of a fading and passing world. He "fared sumptuously every day" (verse 19) - not just on special occasions but every day.

And there was the child of God with nothing outwardly and yet possessing inwardly in the promise of divine grace: all things are yours. Yes, all things belong to God. Christ is His and you are His in Him. Whether things present or things to come, all things belong to the child of God and work together for his good. Now he is comforted.

Then we find this: "A great gulf" (text). Notice the emphasis on the fact of a 'chasm' and the word there is the word we get chasm from. If climbing up on rocks you may see a big gap, a chasm or an opening - something like a canyon, it's open. Or going up into the Arctic sometimes, the ice will melt and all of a sudden a chasm appears - a very frightening thing for those who are exploring or travelling on sledges in the far north. What happens there is a separation. There are many kinds of natural chasms that may be bridged by the skills of civil engineers. But this kind of chasm has never been bridged. Of course, there is a chasm that has been bridged; the chasm between the sinner and God has been bridged in the Gospel and in the Person and through the work of Jesus Christ. That chasm between us and our Maker has been bridged. "I am the way, the truth and the life" (John 14, 6). This is the Bridge, it is Jesus Christ Himself - but that is in time, in the Gospel day. There, revealed in the invitation of the Gospel, you have that Bridge open to every penitent sinner to come over it - he is welcome, he is invited and in doing so, he is saved.

However, this chasm is after the time and opportunity to repent has gone. It is a chasm that cannot be bridged. It is between heaven and hell. It is so deep and so wide nothing can bridge it; it is there permanently, it is there forever. An eternal chasm: "A great gulf fixed" (verse 26) by whom? - by the Lord Himself. The Lord Who has appointed the way of salvation and the day of grace. The time of our existence here as appointed after this existence has passed - "A great gulf" between those who shall be with Himself in heaven and the souls of those who are separate from him in hell - "A great gulf". Surely, that should impress upon us the fearful reality of being lost in that eternity of unutterable misery and woe. There is no traffic, no passing and no communication in reality - although you have that picture here to reveal the truth that the Saviour is conveying to us.

What is the prayer of this poor man, this rich man who is now seen to be truly poor? Well, he is asking that Abraham send Lazarus to his father's house out of concern for his brethren, his five brethren. You may think there is some change here but in reality there is not. It is clearly inferred from this that this man is finding fault with God because he says, "For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment..., Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent" ( text). It is inferred from this that he had not received this kind of testimony, that he had not seen this visitation from another world. If somebody arose from the dead, if someone came from the spirit world, if he had seen a ghost to tell him these things, that would have convinced him of the reality of things unseen in eternity; he would have repented of his sins, changed his whole lifestyle and served God and his fellow man.

Oh, my dear friends, there is no evidence here that this man shows the least sign of repentance in a lost eternity. What does this truth bring home to us: the fearful nature of unbelief, this scepticism that is in the heart of every sinner by nature. You have it there - "Show us a sign!" they ask Christ. Show us a sign that will convince us. "There shall no sign be given to it (this generation)," He says, "but the sign of the prophet Jonas" (Matthew 12, 39). Christ is referring there to His own death and resurrection.

Look at the Pharisees. They had seen the resurrection of Lazarus. That was a most remarkable miracle. They couldn't deny it and they didn't deny it but did it work faith in them? Did it bring them to repent of their sin? Did it bring them to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ as the Messiah? No, it didn't! A resurrection from the dead wouldn't do that. It is not something tangible that will convince us. It is the grace of faith; it is the work of the Spirit of God in the heart - that is what is necessary. All that is required is not miracles, not the signs and wonders of the Charismatic Movement or any other Movement, no, but the simple Word of God. This is a revelation. If we don't believe this, if we don't believe the testimony that God and His Son have given to us in His Word, and the testimony concerning His Son that is here, then nothing will convince us. Nothing! "Neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead" (text).

Look at the case of King Saul. At the end of his days his heart hardened: God no longer communicated to him. He wanted to know what would be the outcome of this battle with the Philistines. He went to seek a witch. He was indulging in spiritism - a thing that was, and is still, strictly forbidden. Spiritism is of the devil not of God. There is a power in it but it is the power of the devil. Communication with unseen spirits is forbidden. Saul saw that ghost appear as though Samuel. It did nothing to bring him to repentance, nothing to change him. My dear friends, these things - an apparition from the unseen world or a resurrection from the dead - will not bring us to faith. Nothing but the Word of God convicting us of our sin and our misery and bringing us to hope in Christ as our Saviour is the way to be saved.

Oh, to possess Christ! What does it teach you? Whether we are rich or poor, though we possessed the whole world - and we can't do that, or had nothing in the world, provided our souls possess the Lord Jesus Christ then we have everything. Then we have all that is necessary for our eternal happiness before God.

We are to be content with such things as we have and if we have Christ, we will have that contentment. He will be ours and we will be His. He will be everything to us. That is all that will matter.

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