Calvary Road Baptist Church

“THE RICH MAN AND LAZARUS”

Luke 16.19-31


(Adapted from a sermon by Asahel Nettleton)

 

My text for this evening is the account of the rich man and Lazarus. Turn to Luke 16. 19, and remain seated for just a moment or two before we stand to read God’s Word. Leading up to this tragic account, the Lord Jesus Christ had been teaching His disciples on the right use of material possessions. And He illustrated His subject with the parable of the unjust steward, which teaches us that we must all soon give an account of our stewardship.

In Luke 16.14, we are informed that “The Pharisees also, who were covetous, heard all these things and they derided him.” The wording in the Greek New Testament is very strong. Luke’s choice of words shows that the Pharisees had the greatest contempt for the Lord Jesus Christ. After making a few brief statements to them, the Savior turned and addressed them in the language of this text we are about to read. With that background in place, stand and read together Luke 16. 19-31:

 

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.

 

That this portion of scripture is sometimes, and improperly, labeled a parable. Though the language is in some small measure figurative, it cannot be shown that the Lord Jesus Christ was not describing events which He Himself had actually observed. In any event, the Lord intended by this true account to give to us a correct view of the hereafter. Please keep in mind that “Hell is naked and open before him, and destruction hath no covering,” Job 26. 6. So, we can trust the Lord Jesus Christ’s telling of these details and events that occurred in Hell.

Here we have a man who was rolling in splendor and faring sumptuously every day. We also have another man laid at this rich man’s gate who was not only poor, but sick and covered with sores. Why was Lazarus at the rich man’s gate? We are not told, for sure. Perhaps he was trying to arouse the rich man’s compassion, hungry to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table, and satisfied and thankful for that meager portion. Whether or not he got what he wanted from the rich man, we are not told. Remember, Lazarus was not just poor and sick, but also friendless. He had no one to dress his sores or tend to his needs.

“Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores,” Jesus tells us. It is almost as if the dogs were more compassionate than the people around him.

“And it came to pass, that the beggar died.” No doubt, with the suffering he endured from a combination of starvation resulting from his poverty and also his sickness, death was something he did not dread. He looked forward to his long approaching death with a kind of joyful anticipation. You see, for him death was the end of sin and sorrow and was his introduction to that glorious rest which remains for the people of God.

Nothing is said of his burial. So perhaps poor people carried his body to some pauper’s grave, where it would return to the dust from whence it came, there to rest forgotten by the world until the resurrection. However, his soul was carried by the angels into a place called Abraham’s bosom, a special and delightful place where the saved who had passed on before Christ’s resurrection would wait for the Lord Jesus Christ’s saving work to be completed. He was a child of God and an heir of heaven, and angels attended to him in his last moments, to receive his spirit and to conduct it safely to that place of delight and bliss. The joys of the saved who had passed on before the crucifixion and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ are set forth under the emblem of a feast. Abraham is represented as seated at the head, and Lazarus can be imagined to be leaning on Abraham’s bosom. O what a sudden and what a joyful transition. From being the companion of dogs, he awakes surrounded by a guard of shining angels.

“The rich man also died, and was buried.” When it was told that he was dangerously sick, his numerous friends no doubt felt the greatest sorrow. The most competent doctors were employed, and we should have no doubt that they exhausted their skill to restore him to health. However, their efforts were in vain.

“Riches profit not in the day of wrath,” wise Solomon tells us in Proverbs chapter 11. In Ecclesiastes, he wrote that “There is no man hath power over the spirit to retain the spirit; neither hath he power in the day of death: and there is no discharge in that war.”[1] In the end, the rich and the poor must both lie down in the grave.

So, he was buried. At the time appointed, the next day if he was buried according to Jewish tradition, the rich man’s friends from near and far would have assembled at the house of mourning, to conduct him with great ceremony to the land of darkness. We can imagine that an orator eulogized him, and consoled the mourners with the idea that he had gone to a better place. Then, in due time, as is the manner of the rich, a stately monument would have been erected in his memory so that “he might rot in state.”His friends then mourned for a while, consoling themselves with the thought that he was happy in heaven.

O, how he must have howled with the shock and jolt of searing pain at being so abruptly removed from his bed in the comfort of his home to the fiery pit of Hell. The all-knowing and all-seeing Savior informs us “in hell he lifted up his eyes, being in torments.”What does he see in Hell? He “seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.” What follows is an interesting dialogue between heaven and Hell.

“And he cried and said, Father Abraham.” He pleaded his relationship to the father of the faithful, and certainly expected Abraham to acknowledge that relationship. “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.” He cried for mercy, whether he had ever done that before or not during the span of his mortal lifetime. I think the smallness of his request deserves our notice. He did not ask for a full cup of water, but only that he might dip, not his hand, nor his finger, but the tip of his finger in water, barely a single drop, and cool his tongue. His torment, you must understand, was great beyond description.

Whether the wicked in the future world will suffer in literal fire or not, that is, whether or not the flames of Hell result from the rapid oxidation of combustible materials that we associate with fire in this world, their sufferings will certainly be equal to the description given here.

He pleaded that Abraham would send Lazarus. From this we conclude that he must have regarded Lazarus as a kind man, and ready to administer relief whenever it was in his power, even though he himself might not have provided relief had he the opportunity. What is the answer to this small request? You hear it from heaven. “Abraham said, Son, remember.” (He addressed him in the kindest manner, even though he was lost forever.) “Remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst 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,” fixed by the unchanging purpose of God, “so that they which would pass from hence to you, cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence.”

The answer has two parts: First, it was improper that he should receive any mercy. He had received all his good things in his normal span of mortal life. Second, it was impossible. Between them there was a great gulf fixed. A great gulf, an awful separation. There is no passage from heaven to Hell, and none from Hell to heaven. So, now the rich man sends up another petition. “I pray thee, therefore, Father, that thou wouldst 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.”

Knowing that it was too late for him to obtain mercy for himself, he turned his attention to his brothers on earth who were convincing themselves to comfort themselves that he had gone to heaven. However, do not think that he felt any concern for the salvation of his brothers. Not at all. He just knew that their presence in Hell would add to his own torment. Contrary to fools who chortle about partying with their friends in Hell, sinners who are lost will not want the companionship of their friends or families in Hell. So, what message did he wish to send to his brothers? He knew them and what they believed. They may have doubted the existence of such a place as Hell. They may have thought that God is not One to torment His creatures in the flames of Hell.

He did not ask for the privilege of going himself, because he knew that that was impossible. What he wanted was: “Send Lazarus that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment.”Let Lazarus tell them that their brother was not in heaven, but in Hell, and that no description they had ever heard of the miseries of the wicked equaled the awful reality. Or, perhaps his brothers may have believed that the wicked will be restored, that in process of time, their sufferings will cancel their debts, and they will eventually be admitted to heaven. So, send Lazarus that he may tell them that there is no passage from Hell to heaven, that a great gulf is fixed as firmly as the unchanging decree of the eternal God can make it, and that those who are once lost are lost forever.

The rich man was certain that unless something more was done his brothers would never be saved; that in their present state and with their present beliefs they would certainly be lost. This is clearly intimated in his request: “Lest they also come into this place of torment.” What was the reply? You hear it from heaven. “Abraham saith unto him, they have Moses and the prophets, let them hear them.” In other words, they have all the warnings contained in the Bible, and that is sufficient. What is his reply? You hear it from Hell. “Nay, father Abraham, but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent.” What is the reply? You hear it from heaven. “And he saith unto him, if they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.”

Beloved, in light of the tragedies we hear about in the news every day, and in light of the present conflicts going on around the world, ponder these several things:

 

First, THOSE WHO DIE CHRISTIANS GO IMMEDIATELY TO HEAVEN

 

The soul of the believer does not sleep between death and the resurrection, as the cult of the Seventh Day Adventists would have us to believe. This is evident from the case of Lazarus. Lazarus was in paradise while the five brothers of the rich man were living on the earth. It is also evident from the promise of the Lord Jesus Christ to the penitent thief on the cross. “And Jesus said unto him, Verily, I say unto you, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise,” Luke 23. 43. As well, Paul wrote, indicating that he had “a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better,” Philippians 1. 23. Consider also that, once in a great while, a dear child of God passing to the other side will give convincing testimony that angels invisible to mortal eyes surround the dying bed of the saint, to conduct him to heaven above.

Christian, you may be nearer to heaven than you are aware. Tonight you may wake up surrounded by an innumerable company of angels, and the spirits of just men made perfect.

 

Second, THOSE WHO DIE SINNERS GO IMMEDIATELY TO HELL

 

Their souls do not sleep between death and the time of the final resurrection. The moment the soul of the rich man left his body he awoke in Hell, surrounded by demons and the spirits of the damned who had gone there before him. And this was while his five brothers were still living.

 

·      “He that being often reproved, hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy,” Proverbs 29. 1.

 

·     “How are they brought into desolation, as in a moment! they are utterly consumed with terrors,” Psalm 73. 19.

 

·     “When they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, . . . and they shall not escape,” First Thessalonians 5.3.

 

Sinner, you may be nearer to Hell than you are aware. God may say, “Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee.”[2]

How suddenly and how unexpectedly the sinner may be lost. Open the lid to Hell. Ask the 12 people from among the 15 whose lives ended so suddenly and found themselves in Hell, who were at Columbine High School, in Littleton, Colorado, back on that Tuesday in April of 1999, how suddenly and how unexpectedly a sinner may be lost. Ask the seventeen-year-old Inland Empire girl on her way home from summer school two weeks ago, who was kidnapped and murdered.

“Hell,” says one, “is a truth learned too late.”Those who have died without Christ certainly know about Hell now, but they know too late.

 

Third, WE LEARN FROM THIS EPISODE THAT ALL SINNERS WILL PRAY, SOONER OR LATER

 

The Psalmist tells us “The wicked, through the pride of his countenance, will not seek after God,” Psalm 10. 4. You see, the sinner casts off fear of God and refuses prayer to God. Look at the window decals that say “No Fear.”They are in effect saying, “What is the Almighty, that we should serve him? and what profit should we have, if we pray unto him?” Job 21.15.

When they are in Hell, they will cry for mercy. O how they will howl for mercy. The rich man in Hell cried. He lifted up his voice in awful distress: “Father Abraham, have mercy on me.”However, it was too late for mercy.

“Then,” says Christ, “shall they call upon me, but I will not answer.”It will do no good. They may cry long and loud, but not one drop of the water of life shalt descend to those in Hell. Not a leaf from the tree of life shall be blown across the great gulf. This, my friends, this world in which we presently live, is the world where prayer is heard.

 

Where are the living? On the ground

     Where prayer is heard, and mercy found,

Where in the compass of a span,

     The mortal makes the immortal man!

 

Soon it may be forever too late. Sinner, seek the Lord while He may be found.

 

Fourth, THOSE WHO LOSE THEIR SOULS WILL REMEMBER WHAT TOOK PLACE ON EARTH

 

Abraham said, “Son, remember.”Memory and conscience will function perfectly in Hell. You in Hell will remember all the joyful scenes through which you have passed. You will remember all the duties toward God, which you have neglected, church services missed, sermons ignored, privileges you once enjoyed, all the sins, which you have committed, and especially the sins of the tongue.

You who have mocked and joked about Christianity, who have refused reverence in the house of God, who dishonor God by withholding the firstfruits of your increase, who deny that there is any such place as Hell, who work to quiet your own fears and the fears of others, who say that preachers only want to frighten people . . . you will want to come back and unsay what you have said.

A great many do before they die. It was that way with Voltaire, the French skeptic.

 

The Frenchman, first in literary fame,-

     Mention him, if you please; Voltaire! The same:

With spirit, genius, eloquence supplied,

     Lived long, wrote much, laughed heartily, and died.

The Bible was his jest-book, whence he drew

     Bon mots to gall the Christian and the Jew;

An infidel in hell-But what when sick?

     O, then a text would touch him to the quick.

 

When wicked Voltaire became concerned that his death was approaching, he offered his doctor, Dr.  Tronchin, one-half of his property if he would prolong his life six months. When the doctor informed Voltaire that he could not live so much as six days, Voltaire replied, “Then I shall go to Hell, and you will go with me.”

Do you remember the name Thomas Paine? He was the Englishman who wrote Common Sense, and was active in promoting our Revolutionary War, as well as the French Revolution. He, too, was a wicked, God-denying skeptic much of his life. However, in his last moments he cried: “O Lord, help me. O Lord, help me. O Christ, help me. O Christ, help me.”

All the warnings, all the kind invitations, and all the sermons, which you have heard and sneered at, you, will then, when you are in Hell, remember,

 

The sacred temples sounding roof,

The voice of mercy and reproof,

Regarded never -

 

Will then be remembered. This very sermon to which you are now listening, will in the hereafter be distinctly recollected, and can never be forgotten.


Fifth, WE SEE WHAT THE DAMNED WOULD SAY, WERE THEY TO COME BACK TO THIS WORLD

 

They could not state what they have seen and felt any better than in the language of the Bible. They could not describe the torments of the lost in any better language than is described in our text. They would call upon their companions to repent, lest they come to the place of torment. This, we can be sure, is the essence of what they would say.

 

Sixth, WE LEARN THAT SINNERS IN HELL ARE NOT YET ENTIRELY CONVINCED OF THE AWFUL DEPRAVITY OF THE HUMAN HEART

 

You see, the rich man still thought that moral persuasion, if it was increased in its intensity to a certain level, or if a certain method was employed, would be sufficient to bring sinners to repentance. He said, “If one went unto them from the dead, they will repent.”However, he was mistaken. He still did not get it. The problem with you, sinner, is not the amount of persuasive information that is available for you to ponder and consider and pass judgment on, but your stubborn resistance and your love of sin.

 

Finally, WE LEARN FROM THIS SUBJECT THAT OUR SAVIOR WAS A VERY PLAIN PREACHER

 

“Never man spake like this man.”Some people think they would like to hear the Lord Jesus Christ preach. While it is true that He spoke with words that melted the hearts of those who were repentant, it is also true that no one ever preached so much terror to the wicked.

 

·     Who was it Who said, “Wide is the gate, and broad is the way which leadeth to destruction, and many there be who go in there at?”

 

·     Who was it Who said, “Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it?”

 

·     Who was it Who said, “Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?”

 

·     Who was it Who spoke of the worm that shall never die, and of the fire that shall never be quenched?

 

·     Who was it Who described the last judgment in these words, “Then shall the king say to them on his left hand, depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels?”

 

·     Finally, Who was it Who spoke the words of the text we consider this evening, with the rich man and Lazarus as the main characters?

 

How riveting it would be if we could observe a departed soul in Hell on a video screen in this auditorium. Would you like to hear what that soul in Hell would say? Okay. You will get your wish. The Lord Jesus Christ drops a camera into the pit and lets the man, right now, speak to sinners in this congregation with a microphone in front of a camera. You see, Jesus knows all the feelings of every damned soul in Hell and can tell us just what the guy would say. So, the Lord lights him up in that dark place, puts the camera on him, gives him a microphone, and lets him speak. What would he say? First, you would hear him plead for one drop of water. Second, you would hear him beg for Lazarus, or some glorified saint, to be sent to warn you. With what persuasive urgency does he try to press upon you the duty of immediate repentance. “Nay, father Abraham, but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent.” Then you would hear a voice from heaven say (listen carefully now), “If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.”

Yes, the Lord Jesus Christ spoke plainly, directly, pointedly, truthfully, correctly, and profoundly. “Neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.”

 

My friend, One did rise from the dead. Yet you are not persuaded. You are not persuaded to fear God, which is the beginning of wisdom. You are not persuaded to flee from the wrath to come. You are not persuaded to flee from your sins. You are not persuaded to flee into the arms of Jesus.

Or are you persuaded? There are some few who are persuaded. Might you be one?





[1] Ecclesiastes 8.8

[2] Luke 12. 20

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