HAVE YOU HEARD THE REAL STORY OF THE RICH MAN, POOR MAN?
SERIES: JESUS, SAVIOR OF THE LOST
By Ron Ritchie
Every January, a special section in Life magazine reminds us
that many rich, famous and creative writers, musicians, scientists, sport
figures and movie actors have been removed from this earth by death in the
year just past. The magazine prints their pictures and makes admiring comments
about them. This year the world lost Miles Davis, the jazz pioneer who died
at the age of 65. The beautiful movie actress, Gene Tierney, died at 70.
Life said of her: "View one of her films today and you'll notice here
timelessness. She was quite grand in that way." Edwin Land, whose Polaroid
camera revolutionized color photography, died at 80. Redd Fox died at 68.
Life commented: "When God sent us Redd, he sent us a natural-born comic."
Red Grange died at 87: "He was a truly loved American hero," said
the magazine. Fred MacMurray, the world's best father," said Life,
died at 83. One of my favorite newscasters, Harry Reasoner, died of cancer
at 68. Mike Wallace, his co-worker, said of him: "He wasn't just a
reporter getting a story. With Harry you got insight, intelligence and compassion
in addition to the facts."
Some of these people who passed away during the year were rich while they
were on this earth, but also during the year, according to the San
Francisco Chronicle newspaper, more than one hundred and fifty poor
and diseased homeless people died on the streets of San Francisco. The issue
is not who was rich or poor, but that, following a short time on this earth,
all of these people tasted death. If Life magazine or the Chronicle were
to have the final word on their lives, one would assume that they are gone
forever. But if you read the New Testament, and hear the words of Jesus
Christ recorded in Luke 16:19-31, you will discover that all these people
are still living somewhere in eternity-and that somewhere is determined
by what kind of relationship they established with Jesus during their short
stay on this earth. As we begin this New Year, God is giving each one of
us another moment in time to consider establishing a personal relationship
with his Son, and what we do with this invitation will determine where we
will spend eternity.
As we open to the gospel of Luke this morning we see that our Lord is ministering
in the area of Perea on the east side of the Jordan, teaching his disciples
the secrets of the kingdom of God. As the tax-gatherers and sinners gathered
around him to listen to his teaching, a group of Pharisees surrounded him
also, grumbling and upset to the point that they charged him with receiving
sinners and eating with them (15:2). Our Lord went on to tell the story
of a certain rich man who had a unrighteous but shrewd steward who was eventually
caught and fired. But before he was fired he went around to the men in the
community who owed money to his master and cut their debts so that in the
future, when he had nowhere to go, they would take him in because of his
kindness towards them. Jesus used this story to warn the disciples that
the "sons of this age are more shrewd in relation to their own kind
than the sons of light." Continued Jesus: "And I say to you, make
friends for yourselves by the means of mammon of unrighteousness that when
it fails, they may receive you into the eternal dwellings" (Luke 16:
8-9.) However, the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, scoffed at his words.
Now, from his heart of love and mercy, Jesus is about to open the curtains
of eternity once again in order to show this crowd of Pharisees, sinners
and disciples gathered around him, as well as all of us, that our lives
are not merely lived out on this earth, but in time we must all appear in
eternity and give an accounting. Our Lord's conclusion will not be the same
as our present-day New Age prophets. They say that when we die, we will
be met by a warm light at the end of a long tunnel. We will feel love all
around us, and we will be met by our family and friends who have died before
us. Nor does Jesus hold out the false hope that spiritualist mediums give
their clients when they tell them things like one elderly man reported recently:
"I've heard from my wife and my brother, and they tell me that the
world ahead is a beautiful one. There's no pain; everybody's happy. I'm
content here, but I can't wait to join them." Rather, where we appear
in eternity will be determined by how we related to the Lord Jesus Christ
during our short stay on earth. By the way, when Jesus uses the term "a
certain man," most biblical scholars believe that he is referring to
someone he knows or has some firsthand knowledge about. He is not using
this merely as an illustration, in other words. It is probably true to say
therefore that these two men once lived out their lives on this earth, one
in splendor and one in poverty.
I. The rich man and the poor man lived on this earth
"Now there was a certain rich man, and he habitually dressed
in purple and fine linen, gaily living in splendor every day. And a certain
poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores, and longing
to be fed with the crumbs which were falling from the rich man's table;
besides, even the dogs were coming and licking his sores.
"Now there was a certain rich man, and he habitually dressed in purple
and fine linen, gaily living in splendor every day." Our Lord has already
used this phrase, in 16:1: "There was a certain rich man who had a
steward..." Although the Jews were living under the Roman government,
many of them were still able to acquire riches. This rich man could have
been featured on the TV programme, The Life Style of the Rich and Famous.
He dressed in purple and fine linen-the same clothing as the high priests.
His gourmet food was served on exotic dishes. This was a self-indulgent
man. He was what we might call filthy rich. But that was not his problem.
Jesus never condemned anyone for being rich, but rather for being "lovers
of money." Why? It was because he taught his disciples earlier that
"No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and
love the other, or he will hold to one and despise the other. You cannot
serve God and riches" (Matt. 6:24.) Paul wrote to Timothy: "But
those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish
and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the
love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it
have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many a pang"
(1 Tim. 6:9-10.) Apparently his selfish lifestyle so blinded this rich man
that he was poor toward God and toward the many poor people around him,
some of whom lay at his gate to beg.
Our text continues:
"And a certain poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate
covered with sores, and longing to be fed with the crumbs which were falling
from the rich man's table; besides even the dogs were coming and licking
Lazarus was a godly man who believed in the God of Abraham. He was so sick
that apparently some people had placed him against the gate of the rich
man's home, so the rich man should have seen him every day. Lazarus sought
nothing more than the crumbs that fell from the rich man's table, but the
only comfort he received was provided by the stray dogs who licked his sores.
In time, he died of disease and starvation.
Have you heard the real story of the rich man, poor man? They both lived
on this earth some two thousand years ago. And then,
II. The rich man and the poor man died
Now it came about that the poor man died and he was carried
away by the angels to Abraham's bosom; and the rich man also died and was
buried. And 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, 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, in order that those who wish to come over from here to you
may not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us.' And he
said, 'Then I beg you, Father, that you send him to my father's house -
for I have five brothers - that he may warn them, lest they also come to
this place of torment.' But Abraham said, 'They have Moses and the Prophets;
let them hear them.' But he said, 'No, Father Abraham, but if someone goes
to them from the dead, they will repent!' But he said to him, 'If they do
not listen to Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be persuaded if
someone rises from the dead."
The poor man made rich. "Now it came about that the poor man died and
he was carried away by the angels to Abraham's bosom." I always like
when the Lord Jesus pulls back the curtains of eternity and gives us these
wonderful views of heaven. We are told by our Lord that Lazarus, who apparently
depended on God as his help and salvation, was finally rewarded with the
joy of spending eternity in the presence of God. At the moment of his physical
death (and apparently no one gave him the dignity of a proper burial), his
spirit and soul were taken by angels into the bosom of Abraham.
The universe is filled with these wonderful spirit beings-angels-who are
faithful servants of God. They appear to be forever present in and around
the righteous, encouraging us in times of danger (Acts 27:23-24), and observing
as we live out our Christian lives (1 Cor. 4:9; 1 Tim. 5:21). They can appear
on earth and speak to people and then step back into eternity. For instance,
the angel Gabriel appeared to Zacharias, a priest and husband of a barren
wife named Elizabeth, to announce the birth of John the Baptist. He also
appeared to Mary to announce the good news that "the Holy Spirit will
come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for
that reason the holy offspring shall be called the Son of God" (Luke
1:35.) A short time later, an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream, encouraging
him to take the now pregnant Mary as his wife and name her son Jesus, "...for
it is He who will save His people from their sins" (Matt.1:20-21.)
Angels ministered to Jesus after his temptation in the wilderness, and they
announced the good news of his resurrection to the women at the empty tomb.
We know that angels rejoice over the salvation of one sinner who repents,
and now we see they are involved to taking the righteous into the bosom
The phrase, "in Abraham's bosom," pictures an ancient eastern
feast, where men laid around the table, each with his head near or on the
chest of the man on his right. To be in the bosom of the host was an honor
indeed. We will see this same picture at the Last Supper, where "there
was reclining on Jesus' breast one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved"
(John 13:23). According to Matthew 8:1-13, to be in "Abraham's bosom"
refers to God's presence, where the righteous will be comforted in his presence
as well as that of Abraham. Jesus said to his disciples after witnessing
the faith of the Roman centurion who had come to him on behalf of his dying
servant: "I say to you many shall come from east and west, and recline
at table with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven; but
the sons of the kingdom shall be cast out into the outer darkness; in that
place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth." Lazarus had trusted
God as his helper on earth, and now at the time of his physical death he
was carried by angels into Paradise and placed into the bosom of father
Abraham. He was not related to Abraham because of blood, but because of
his faith in God. "Even so Abraham believed God and it was reckoned
to him as righteousness. Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of
faith that are sons of Abraham" (Gal.3:6-7.)
The rich man made poor. "...and the rich man also died and was buried."
What a contrast between the death of Lazarus and the death of the rich man!
The angels came to bring the soul and spirit of Lazarus to Abraham's bosom,
but the rich man died and was buried in the cold earth. Once he died, all
his earthy power, position, authority and wealth remained here on earth.
He left his fine purple robes to the moths, and his wealth to his quarreling
relatives. He may have had a great burial service (which he never had the
privilege of witnessing), but his first moment of consciousness in eternity
revealed to him that he had arrived in Hades spiritual bankrupt.
God's view of eternity. Then the Lord gives seven helpful but sober spiritual
insights, using the rich man as an example, regarding one's conscious existence
1. The former rich man died and went to Hades. One scholar has written:
"The ancient Greek view of Hades, and the Roman view of Orcus, or Inferna,
is that of a place for all the dead in the depth of the earth; dark, dreary,
cheerless, shut up, inaccessible to prayers and sacrifices, ruled over by
Pluto. This presiding god was the enemy of all life, heartless, inexorable
and hated accordingly by gods and men. The Hebrews equated Sheol in the
O.T. with Hades. It is the subterranean abode of all the dead until the
final judgment. From other scriptures we can surmise that the unrighteous
who die are send to Hades until the time of the Great White Throne judgment,
then Hades will surrender the wicked. They will be judged and be cast into
the Lake of Fire, called Hell, forever (Rev. 20:11-15). Before the cross,
it appears that believers went into the bosom of Abraham, a place of security
and comfort, but since our Lord's death and resurrection, believers upon
their death are immediately placed into God's presence (Phil 1:23; 2 Cor.
5-10). The believing thief on the cross who repented was told by our Lord:
"...today you shall be with Me in Paradise" (Luke 24:42-43.) The
rest of the ungodly who have died are now waiting in Hades for the final
2. He was alive. The former rich man awoke after his physical death and
found himself fully conscious of his spiritual bankruptcy. He was aware
that he was in Hades, with a eternal body, which was experiencing torment.
He was equipped with eyes to see where he was and where Abraham and Lazarus
were, and he was also able to see that there was a great distance between
3. He was fully rational and able to communicate. "And he cried out
and said, 'Father Abraham, have mercy on me...'" It is interesting
to note that, according to our Lord's story, the former rich man showed
no mercy toward Lazarus when he was on earth, yet he now pleads for mercy.
He called Abraham "Father" because he believed, as all Jews believe,
that to be physically born a Jew automatically makes them spiritual candidates
for a place in "Abraham's bosom" when they die. We now see that
their theology is false. Abraham is the one who placed his faith in God
and his promises. He was declared righteous in the sight of God, and for
the last 2000 years he has been living in God's presence. Abraham also was
declared to be "Father Abraham" to all who place their faith in
God and in his Son Jesus Christ. He was alive in eternity with Moses and
Elijah, who appeared before the disciples on the Mt of Transfiguration.
4. He was experiencing physical pain. Because he had power, position and
authority on earth, the rich man still thinks he has that power in Hades.
Thus he asks Abraham to order Lazarus to meet his immediate need, like some
earthly servant: "...send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger
in water and cool off my tongue; for I am in agony in this flame."
The former rich man who never needed anything on earth now finds himself
begging Abraham for water from the hand of a beggar whom he formerly ignored.
5. He discovered the reason for his present position. "But Abraham
said, 'Child, remember that during your life (on earth) you received your
good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted
here, and you are in agony." Abraham is saying, in effect, "When
you were on earth you received all the good things-beautiful clothes, fine
food, and position and power. These were the first things on your priority
list. But living according to the royal commandment, 'You shall love the
Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all
your strength and with all your mind and your neighbor as yourself' (Luke10:27),
was not part of your life style. You did nothing to build up your treasure
in heaven, whereas Lazarus, who had nothing, was spiritually rich towards
God in love and service towards others. He never let pain and suffering
drive him away from God. He chose to receive true life from God and now
he is bathing in the fulfillment of God's promises of eternal life."
6. He discovered the hopelessness of his position. "And besides all
this between us and you there is a great chasm fixed, in order that those
who wish to come over from here to you may not be able, and that none may
cross over from there to us." Note carefully here: Abraham is aware
that some of the redeemed, seeing the terrible condition of the former rich
man and others like him, would want to do something to help relieve this,
but God had created a "great chasm" in order that those who wished
to cross over to the other side would be prevented from doing so; and that
same "great chasm" would prevent the unrighteous from trying to
enter into the presence of Abraham. They had plenty of time of earth to
find out how they could do so. If they missed it and then died, their fate
was eternally sealed. There is no second chance, no purgatory where in time
they would finally earn the right to cross over the chasm and enter into
the presence of God.
7. He discovered he was helpless to save his brothers. Still thinking he
has the power of influence, the rich man begs Abraham to send Lazarus to
his Father's house "...for I have five brothers-that he may warn them,
lest they also come to this place of torment." Reality is beginning
to sink in. He realizes that Abraham isn't able to show him mercy because
of the great chasm; that he isn't going to get any water for his tongue;
that he isn't going to get out of this eternal torment; and finally, it
has dawned on him that his five brothers were living unrighteous lives on
earth, and that if someone did not warn them about the hellish place he
was in, they too would end up in Hades. Again, we can see how selfish he
is. He thinks only of his immediate family, not his neighbors and friends,
etc. His plan was to persuade Abraham to allow Lazarus to leave heaven and
tell his brothers the bad news and then the good news of how they could
end up in Abraham's bosom after their physical death, if they would but
repent of their view of God and place their faith in him, turning from their
wicked and selfish lifestyles.
Last week, I spent some time at the graveside of a man who had recently
died. I was amazed by the size of the cemetery; it had thousands of graves.
The fresh Christmas flowers on the tombstones indicated that almost all
the grave sites were being cared for. I had been studying this passage,
so I remembered that these thousands of people were still alive eternally.
They all had to appear before God and give an account of their relationship
with his Son Jesus Christ; then they were placed in a place of comfort or
a place of torment to await the final judgment. I was asked to say a few
words of comfort for the family, so I read from John 14:1-6, the words that
Jesus uttered to his disciples on the night before his own death on the
cross for the sins of humanity: "'Let not your heart be troubled, believe
in God, believe also in Me. In My Father's house are many dwelling places;
if it were not so I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for
you, and if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive
you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the
way where I am going.' Thomas said to Him, 'Lord, we do not know where You
are going; how do we know the way? Jesus said to him, 'I am the way, and
the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father, but through Me.'"
Shortly after the service I had an opportunity to talk with a young man
who was standing next to me. In the course of our conversation he told me
that death terrified him. I encouraged him that that fear was given to him
as a gift from God to help him during his short stay on earth to become
sober about his life and his relationship with God and his Son Jesus Christ.
I told him that he would be wise to seriously consider the claims of Christ,
for when Jesus said he was the "way the truth and the life and that
no man could come to the Father except thought him." I asked him if
he was interested in some printed material concerning the claims of Christ,
as well as how to eliminate the fear of death. He said he was interested,
and I sent him a booklet entitled "Just because you're breathing doesn't
mean you're living," as well as an invitation to continue our conversation
sometime in the future.
Now we come to Abraham's response to the rich man's request: "If they
do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be persuaded
if someone rises from the dead." Had this man read Moses and the Prophets,
he would have seen the love that God had for him and his own need to place
his faith in the God of Abraham, for when Abraham put his faith in God it
was reckoned to him as righteousness (Genesis 15:6). Abraham was accepted
in the sight of God before the Law was written. It was Moses who wrote:
"Hear O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one. And you shall
love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and with
all your might" (Deut 6.) And then it was the Law that instructed the
Jews to participate in good works towards the poor, widows, orphans, slaves
and aliens. Both Moses and the prophets pointed toward Jesus as the long-awaited
prophet, priest and king who would become the final lamb of God who would
die as a ransom for the sins of many. Abraham told the former rich man that
someone returning from the dead to walk on the earth would not be enough
evidence to change their wicked hearts. The Lord had given the Scriptures,
which are able to lead men and women, and even this man's brothers, to a
saving knowledge of the Lord and the joy of eternal life. "If they
do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be persuaded
if someone rises from the dead." Later, as you remember, another Lazarus,
the brother of Mary and Martha, died, and Jesus raised him from the dead.
In spite of that miracle the chief priest tried to kill the Lord (John 12:9-10),
Later, Jesus himself would die for the sins of the world, be buried and
rise again, but few would believe in him as the Savior of their souls. So
the miracle of a dead man being raised from the dead would not convince
this man's brothers to change their wicked ways. The only way their hearts
would change would be if they placed their faith in God as their father
Abraham did so long ago, and that would be accounted unto them as righteousness.
Do you want to hear the real story of the rich man, poor man? The rich man
and the poor man lived on this earth for a short season and then they both
died. The man who refused to place his faith in God and use his life on
earth pursuing good works died and awoke in a place of torment called Hades;
he is still their awaiting the final judgment. The man who placed his faith
in God, on the other hand, and lived a life that honored him on earth, died
and awoke in Abraham's bosom in security and comfort. He is still there
to this day and will be forever.
The point of this story that our Lord told the disciples, the sinners and
the Pharisees does not concern being rich or poor; the issue rests on one's
spiritual relationship with God. A rich man or a poor man can either reject
or accept the gift of salvation that is offered by God through his Son Jesus
Christ. Rejection of the salvation that is offered in Jesus, however, regardless
of whether you were rich or poor on this earth, will result in your spending
eternity in hell. If you accept the gift of salvation as offered by God
in his Son Jesus, whether you were rich or poor on this earth, you can be
assured that after your physical death you will spend eternity in the presence
of God and his Son, your Savior and Lord forever.
As my friend and I stood at the graveside of his father-in-law, I was reminded
once again that the grave only ends one's life on earth, but not in eternity.
I also realized that I had by faith invited Jesus Christ to become my Lord
and Savior, and my eternal existence had already been determined. My prayer
now is for the salvation of my friend who at this point has rejected the
gift of salvation. At this moment in time, his eternal existence hangs in
a balance between heaven and hell. His only hope while he is still breathing
on earth is that he will come to see his need to invite Jesus Christ to
become his Lord and Savior before he breathes his last. Many of you are
in the same position, and God in his grace is offering you one more opportunity
to spend eternity with him. Do it now, before you stop breathing on earth.
Catalog No. 4263
Ron R. Ritchie
December 29, 1991
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