“Showing Compassion for the Poor”
Lesson Text:Luke 16:19-31
Background Scripture: Luke 16
Devotional Reading: Luke 19:1-10
Luke 16:19-31 (KJV)
19 There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day:
20 And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores,
21 And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.
22 And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried;
23 And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.
24 And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, 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.
25 But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented.
26 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.
27 Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father's house:
28 For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment.
29 Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.
30 And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent.
31 And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.
To know that we choose our eternal destination through the life that we live.
To be concerned with the welfare of others.
To Live a compassionate life.
As the time this was written, a Midwestern city finally reached the end of an epic flood season. The nearby Missouri River had been above flood stage for nearly four months, and several communities were flooded for weeks. The stories of people helping others are both heartbreaking and heartening. Homes and businesses were ruined, and some families lost nearly everything. Helping hands have been extended by those who escaped devastation, offering timely assistance in the form of housing, money, and jobs.
The natural world throws disasters at us all the time: earthquakes, famines, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires, and tsunamis. Relief efforts are noteworthy. But, what about the ongoing personal disasters in our neighborhoods and communities? What about that family that never seems to rise above grinding poverty? What about the households devastated by alcoholism, unemployment, divorce, or medical expenses? Sometimes we see the megadisasters but not the individual catastrophes.
Today's lesson is set in the time of Jesus, but the contrast between a selfish rich man and a suffering poor man is timeless. It is a story that should cause us to reflect on our own participation in relief efforts, of both physical and spiritual natures, large and small.
This week's lesson comes from a section of Luke that is heavy on parables. Luke 15 offers three parables involving issues of "lost and found," and Luke 16 begins with the parable of the unjust steward. This parable is followed by a brief dialog between Jesus and His opponents (vs. 13-15) and some additional teachings (vs. 16-18). Next comes the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, today's text.
We should pause at this point to acknowledge that some Bible students do not view this story as a parable, but as a real situation describing real people. A primary reason for this conclusion is that Jesus' use of a personal name (Lazarus) breaks the pattern of how He presents parables. Proceeding on the assumption that this is indeed a parable will make us more cautious in the conclusions we draw along the way.
As with all of Jesus' teaching, we should be on the alert for special literary techniques. Two in particular will catch our attention in this parable: hyperbole and foreshadowing.
Hyperbole is deliberate exaggeration for effect. If I say, "Bob never stops talking," I don't mean that Bob talks every minute of every hour without ceasing, which is obviously impossible. Rather, I would be using hyperbole to create the impression that Bob talks much more than the average person. We want to read the Bible literally, but we must be careful to recognize hyperbole. The parable in today's lesson features two "larger than life" figures that Jesus used to drive home His point.
Foreshadowing, for its part, is an exciting technique where a hint of the future plot is revealed to engage our interest and make us think. The foreshadowing in the parable comes in the last verse, and it is a great one.
Since today's lesson involves a contrast between rich and poor, we should consider what it meant to be classified as poor in Bible times. The Bible speaks often of three groups who seem most susceptible to falling into poverty: widows, the fatherless (orphans), and strangers (foreigners; compare Deuteronomy 24:21; Psalm 146:9). We also know from the Gospels that Jesus encountered persons whose disabilities rendered them unable to work and therefore reduced them to begging. This may be the situation with Lazarus, a character in today's lesson.
Rich and Poor (Luke 16:19-21)
1. How is the character of the “rich man” described? (Luke 16:19)
The first character in Jesus' parable is a certain rich man whose self-indulgent nature is evident in the ways he dresses and eats, as we will see. His clothes are expensive, since purple dye is costly (compare Acts 16:14). Those in Jesus' audience know about the cities of Phoenicia on the Mediterranean coastline where an ancient process is used for obtaining purple dye from a species of sea snails. The result of this time-consuming process is known as "Tyrian purple" (after the city of Tyre) or "royal purple." The mention of fine linen adds to the imagery of luxurious clothing (compare Ezekiel 27:7).
The phrase “fared sumptuously every day” creates a mental image of fine dining with rich food and lavish entertainment seven days per week. Jesus is painting this word picture to create the impression of a self-absorbed individual who devotes his extensive financial resources to nothing but his own enjoyment.
This man was indeed rich if he could afford daily to wear expensive clothes and host splendid feasts. The one word that best describes his lifestyle is "flamboyant." He was definitely among "the rich," and perhaps other people admired and envied him (compare Luke 16:14, 15).
2. How is the poor man described, and what is his situation? (Luke 16:20, 21)
With the introduction of a certain beggar, we come to the only character in any of Jesus' parables who is mentioned by name: Lazarus. The name Lazarus is a form of the name Eleazar, which means "he whom God helps."
The brief nature of this verse makes us wonder how Lazarus ends up at the rich man's gate, etc. Lazarus was possibly crippled, because he was "laid" at the rich man's gate. Does he have friends who bring him there during the day to beg (compare Acts 3:2), then take him home at night? The picture seems to be that Lazarus has been laid at the entrance to the rich man's residence and abandoned, unable to move to a new location by himself. His loathsome condition reminds us of Job's affliction, being covered with sores from head to foot (Job 2:7).
Apparently, the only food available to poor Lazarus is whatever falls to the floor from the rich man's table. These crumbs are not the scrapings of leftovers from the pots and dishes, but are scraps of bread, etc., that end up on the floor either accidentally or intentionally. Such "food" (if we can call it that) is normally devoured by dogs (compare Mark 7:28). In effect, Jesus is saying that Lazarus has no choice but to eat the dogs' food. This doglike status of the poor man is heightened by the detail that his sores are licked by dogs.
The positioning of Lazarus at the rich man's gate (Luke 16:20) gives us a picture of this beggar receiving the scraps only after they are swept up and tossed outside after a banquet. Such sweepings would include all the assorted dirt and crud that also is on the floor at the time. What dire straits Lazarus is in! Lazarus was not only poor, hungry, sick, and possibly crippled, but the only attention he got was from the dogs! The rich man could easily have assisted Lazarus, but he ignored him and went on enjoying his recognition and his riches. Life was comfortable for him and he felt secure.
What Do You Think?
What assessments should we make, if any, before extending assistance to those in need? How can you help your church improve in this regard?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
. Regarding the scope of their need
. Regarding their ability to earn a living
. Regarding the reason for their situation
. Regarding assistance already given by others
. Regarding immediate vs. long-term need
Paradise and Torment (Luke 16:22-26)
3. What happened to the two men? (Luke 16:22)
Given the description of exposure to the laying outdoors, malnutrition, and infected sores, it is not surprising that the death of Lazarus is part of the story. The fact that he is carried by the angels into Abraham's “bosom” signifies that Lazarus is in a place of favor to Jewish thinking, since the great patriarch Abraham is described as a "friend" of God (see Isaiah 41:8; James 2:23), and one of the all-time greatest persons of faith. To be where Abraham is in the afterlife is to be in a place of comfort. For Lazarus, we can assume there will be no more sores, no more cold nights on the street, no more hunger.
Although not homeless, malnourished, or afflicted with sores, the rich man also died, apparently at about the same time. We can imagine a lavish funeral and burial in a family tomb, but these things mean nothing to the bigger picture of the story. Jesus simply affirms the man's death and burial. The man's wealth does not spare him from the fate common to all. Despite their vastly different lifestyles, the earthly outcomes of the rich man and Lazarus are one and the same: they both die.
“The rich and poor meet together (have this in common); the Lord is the Maker of them all”(Prov. 22:2). As John Donne said, death is the "great leveler."
Death takes place when the spirit leaves the body (James 2:26). But death is not the end; it is the beginning of a whole new existence in another world. For the Christian, death means to be present with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:1-8; Phil. 1:21). For the unbeliever, death means to be away from God's presence and in torment.
4. Where did the two men find themselves after death? (Luke 16:23)
The rich man's death is not said to result in angelic activity as does that of Lazarus. Instead, the rich man's next conscious moment seems to be his awareness that he is in hell. Jesus' description obviously has the rich man in the place of punishment in the afterlife, and we can imagine the man's surprise. It isn't supposed to be like this, is it? Rich people are favored by God, aren't they? Shouldn't this favor continue after death?
To make things worse, the rich man is able to see Lazarus off in the distance, in the presence of Abraham. "Isn't that where I should be?" the rich man may ask himself.
Jesus’ parable discloses that it is a place of torment(Luke 16:23) in which the unrighteous endure the unrelenting misery produced by flames. It would be incorrect to conclude from this verse that the wealthy automatically go to hell and the poor end up in heaven. Economic status does not determine one’s destiny. In this case, Lazarus trusted God, while the rich man put his faith in his wealth. The focus of their lives, not the amount of their material possessions, determined their respective eternal futures.
5. What request does the rich man ask of Abraham from his place of torment? (Luke 16:24)
The key irony in this reversal is that the rich man had not even given crumbs to Lazarus before. Now he wanted Abraham to send Lazarus to give him mere drops of water to cool his tongue.
As far as this parable of the rich man and Lazarus is concerned, rather than being simply a description of suffering in the afterlife, it is first and foremost a moral illustration. In this lite, the rich man ignored Lazarus’s suffering. In the life to come, this same rich man wanted someone to alleviate his own suffering.
In these verses we also proceed with caution in the presence of figurative language. Having died and left his body behind to be buried, the rich man no longer has a literal, physical tongue that can be cooled by literal, physical water. Jesus is painting a word picture for the greatest impact on His audience. A place of torment in the afterlife is very real, as other Scriptures make clear. But Jesus often uses figurative language to make His point—a practice His disciples often cannot grasp (Mark 8:14-21; John 16:29).
With awareness of this caution, we can at least conclude that there is nothing the rich man can do on his own to relieve his torment. Cannot Lazarus do a small kindness for him?
6. What was Abraham’s response to the rich man’s request? (Luke 16:25, 26)
As previously mentioned, we have an example of "the great reversal" of Scripture (see Luke 14:11, last week's lesson). This involves an exchange of roles between the rich and the poor, the proud and the humble (compare Luke 1:52, 53; 18:14). Abraham is not presented here as the judge, but as the mouthpiece of God to explain this reversal to the rich man: Lazarus is comforted and the rich man is tormented, the reverse of the circumstances in their lifetimes. There seems to be compassion in Abraham's voice, for he addresses the rich man as Son, but there is nothing Abraham can do but explain the situation.
Abraham gave two reasons why Lazarus could not bring the comfort that was requested: the character of the rich man and the character of the eternal state. The rich man had lived for the "good things" of earth, and had experienced abundant temporal blessings. He had his reward (Matt. 6:2, 5, 16). He had determined his own destiny by leaving God out of his life, and now neither his character nor his destiny could be changed. Lazarus could not leave his place of comfort and make even a brief visit to the place of torment. We don't know if the great part of the “gulf”has to do with its depth, width, or both. The important part is the gulf's impassability. No one can cross it. These states of being cannot be altered in any way.
What Do You Think?
What changes do you need to make in your life as you realize that there is no way to cross the "great gulf" after death?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
Changes in outreach priorities (evangelism and benevolence)
Changes in upreach priorities (corporate and personal worship)
Changes in inreach priorities (spiritual growth of self and fellow Christians)
The Rejection of the Rich Man’s Additional Pleas (Luke 16:27-31)
7. How did the rich man respond to the denial of his request? (Luke 16:27, 28)
The former rich man must have felt desperate when he learned that he was unable to receive help from Lazarus. Next, the former rich man pleaded with Abraham to send Lazarus to other family members who were still alive (Luke 16:27). He was especially concerned for the eternal welfare of his five brothers. Evidently, they were just as self-absorbed and calloused toward the needs of the impoverished as the former rich man had been. If Lazarus could give them a word of warning in advance, there was the slim possibility they might abandon their wickedness, adopt a godlier lifestyle, and avoid being condemned to “this place of torment” (v. 28).
Again, however, we are cautious about literal applications from the language of parables. We cannot conclude with certainty, for example, that everyone who dies and ends up in the place of torment feels compassion for those still living. The parable is not constructed to address this issue.
8. Did Abraham agree to the former rich man’s request? (Luke 16:29-31)
Abraham explained that only one thing could prevent the five men from eventually joining their brother: the writings of “Moses and the Prophets” (v. 29). This phrase was a customary way in Jesus’ day of referring to the entire Old Testament Scriptures. The brothers needed to hear the Word of God and respond to it by faith. Moses and the Prophets tell sinners how to repent and be saved, and the Jews heard them read every Sabbath in the synagogue.
The former rich man knew his five brothers well enough to realize that the Hebrew sacred writings would not convince them to change their evil ways and escape judgment after death. He reasoned that if someone such as Lazarus would come back from the grave and admonish them to change, then they surely would “repent” (v. 30).
Faith that is based solely on miracles is not saving faith (John 2:23-25). A man named Lazarus did come back from the dead, and some of the people wanted to kill him! (see John 11:43-57; 12:10). In calling for Lazarus to be raised from the dead, the former rich man was insisting that God bless his brothers with a uniquely compelling witness to the truth. He wanted it to be easy for them. Do we also expect that we have a better plan than God’s for bringing healing and salvation to the lost?
Abraham then declared that if the five brothers refused to pay attention to the Old Testament Scriptures, they would not even listen to someone who comes back from the grave to warn them (v. 31). This conclusion to Jesus’ parable might have hinted at His own resurrection. Specifically, the religious leaders would reject the testimony of the risen Lord, just as they rejected the messianic prophecies about Him recorded in the Hebrew sacred writings.
What Do You Think?
Why do people fail to heed God's Word? How can we overcome these barriers?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
As to misplaced priorities | As to preconceived ideas about God, Heaven, Hell, etc.
As to contentment in their lives | As to "the tyranny of the urgent"| Other
POINTS TO PONDER
It’s possible to draw from Jesus’ story several principles about the afterlife: (l) How we live in this life affects our status in the afterlife. (2) One’s eternal destiny is fixed at death. (3) The righteous go to heaven, which is a place of blessing and comfort. (4) The unrighteous go to hell, which is a place of torment. (5) There is a conscious awareness in the afterlife.
Saving Dear Ones
Since ancient times, some have wanted to use the details of today's parable as a source of information for details about the afterlife. While it is possible that Jesus is revealing some information in that regard, we should be cautious. To provide such descriptions is not the purpose of this parable, as we have seen.
Perhaps the most important application of this parable is witnessing to others! The rich man wanted an extra chance for his brothers to avoid the punishment that he himself was undergoing. So he suggested something so dramatic that, to his reasoning, it was bound to catch his brothers' attention. But wait—hadn't God already provided numerous second chances? Hadn’t God provided messianic prophecies about Him recorded in the Hebrew sacred writings?
Today we have even more knowledge in this regard, as the completed New Testament bears witness. But a time comes for each of us when there are no more second chances, when all decisions become final. What can you do today to shine light on the importance of accepting Jesus while the chance to do so remains?
The rich man wanted his relatives to be saved, but only after it was too late for him to do anything about it himself. Do you want your brothers and sisters to be saved? Do you want your sons and daughters to be saved? Do you have a passion not to let one precious lamb of your family be lost?
We may be so wrapped up in world evangelism, in national ministries, and in citywide crusades that we neglect those who are dearest to us—our own family members. Ask yourself this question: if you were to die tonight, would you be certain that you had done all you could to convince your closest family members of their need for Jesus? After you die, it is too late for you to witness to them personally.
Let's finish this lesson by writing a prayer that will express our desire to see all of our family members become believers in Christ. Pray for them, name by name; then be resolved to speak to them about Jesus if they are not believers. Do it by showing them you care about them; repeatedly, and looking for nothing in return (with love). Don’t wait!
Righteous Heavenly Father, we bring before You our concern for family members who don't know Your Son. Use us as Your instruments to bring the gospel to them so that they might be saved. We pray this in the name of Jesus, the resurrected one who is now seated at Your right hand, amen.
THOUGHT TO REMEMBER
Remember the poor of both body and spirit.