Based on: Luke 16:19-31
There was a man who had a winning lottery ticket. It wasn’t worth a million dollars, but then again it wasn’t a ten or twenty dollar lottery ticket. This man held on to the ticket thinking that one day he would take it and claim his prize. The days and the weeks went by. He intended to redeem that ticket, but there were always other things that needed to be done. Work was busy or his family needed him at home. One day he realized that the lottery ticket had expired. He needed to claim his prize by a certain date and that date had passed. The piece of paper that had once been worth a substantial amount of money was now worthless.
There is another piece of paper worth far more than any lottery ticket, and we all have it very close to us. In fact if you look in front of you below the pew, there’s a book called the Holy Bible. This book has incredible value for us right now, but after we die it will not help us. We have a portion of that book printed on the yellow insert in today’s bulletin. If you took a bulletin as you entered this morning please take the yellow sheet out and turn to the gospel for today. If not, you can also turn to Luke chapter 16 in that Bible in the pew.
As Jesus tells us about the rich man and Lazarus, he wants us to know that now is the time to hear God’s word. The question for us as we hear Jesus tell this story is not whether we are the rich man or Lazarus, but the question is, "When you act like that rich man?" All of us here, because we trust in Jesus as our Savior, are like Lazarus, and we will stand next Abraham one day. But because we’re still sinful human beings we sometimes act like that rich man and ignore God’s word.
First let’s look at the rich man. Verse 19 says, "there was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day." Jesus starts with the rich man. He is a nameless, faceless, generic kind of rich man who enjoys his wealth. He "lives in luxury every day." It becomes more obvious later that this rich man does not place much value on God’s word. Here we see him focused on his wealth and showing more interest in the things which his money can buy. Perhaps by not having a name it makes it easier for us to identify a little bit of this rich man in each and every one of us.
Eventually the rich man died. Jesus simply mentions in verse 22 that he "was buried." Considering how this man lived we can be certain that his burial was something worth mentioning. He was probably carried out of the city with a long line of people following and was taken to a tomb cut out of rock where his body was placed. Then look at the very next words from Jesus. Verse 23 begins, "in hell, where he was in torment." Jesus moves abruptly from the rich man "died and was buried,” to "in hell." One day this rich man was enjoying his wealth and the very next he was suffering the torment of hell. The change is abrupt for every one who is not interested in hearing God’s word.
After he dies it becomes obvious that this rich man had no use for God and his word. Even in hell when he wants help, he does not ask God, but instead he trusts in his physical relationship to Abraham. He trusts that Abraham can help him because he is a physical descendant of Abraham. He does not go to God, and he does not rely on God’s promises. He says, "Father Abraham, have pity on me." When he finds out that no one can help him in his torment, he shows concern for his brothers. Still he doesn’t understand why he is where he is. He thinks that his brothers need to see someone rise from the dead. He still does not value God’s word. He didn’t think it was good enough for him to read and study it while he lived on the earth, and he doesn’t think that is good enough for his brothers. But Abraham makes it clear that God’s word, Moses and the Prophets – and we could also add the apostles of the New Testament – is what God has given us to hear and to study while on this earth. If we don’t think that’s good enough, if we think our time is better spent in joining the things money can buy or we are looking for other signs instead of reading his word, then we will end up in the torment of hell with this rich man.
Now let’s talk about Lazarus. In contrast to the nameless rich man, Jesus mentions the name of Lazarus. That is a wonderful comfort for each and every one believer because as children of God, God knows our name too. Lazarus however, suffered greatly while on this earth. Verses 20 and 21 tell us he was, “covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his soars.” When Lazarus died, there is no mention of the burial. Perhaps there was no burial. Perhaps if there was one, it was so insignificant that it wasn’t even worth mentioning. But, as a child of God, Lazarus received a personal escort by God’s angels directly to Abraham’s side in heaven. Because Lazarus is in heaven, we can be sure that he heard God’s Word, he valued God’s promises and he trusted in God as his Savior.
Perhaps you have had the experience or you know of someone who has had something painful in their life which has brought them closer to God and his Word. God will use hardships in this life to draw us back into studying his Word and trusting in His promises. We can be sure that whatever Lazarus suffered while on earth, the agony of that rich man in hell was far worse. God sometimes allows us to suffer on this earth so that we can avoid the pain of hell. Perhaps we should even pray, "Lord, do whatever it takes so that I am in heaven with you when I die, even if that means I must suffer as Lazarus did." That it’s not an easy prayer to pray is it?
The rich man had no trust in God’s word and went to hell. He would not have prayed that prayer, because it was his wealth and his connection to Abraham that he trusted. Let us learn from the rich man and understand these words that Jesus puts into the mouth of Abraham, "If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead." The Bible is the only place we can learn about our salvation. God does not promise to come to us in dreams, or through miracles, but only through the pages of Scripture. Let us also consider that when we die, it is too late. Our time here on earth is the time that we have to hear God’s word and to share God’s word with others. That’s why evangelism is so important. Now is the time to hear God’s word.
And what is it that we hear in God’s word? We hear that we are guilty of neglect God’s word and sometimes considering the things of this world as more worthy of our time. We also hear that Jesus Christ lived a perfect life for us and died on the cross and paid for all those sins. We hear that God knows our names just as he knew Lazarus. We hear that God did everything needed to get us into heaven with him. We hear that when we die the angels will escort us to Abraham side.
Let me share one more story to illustrate the point. There was a boy who fell in love with a girl. Every time this girl entered the room that he was in, he could think of nothing else except her. He forgot about his homework and problems. All was right in the world, but he was too shy to talk to her. Every time someone else sat next to this girl or asked her out, it was an opportunity lost for this boy to spend time with her. Eventually the girl got married to someone else and moved away. There were no more chances left for this boy.
As Christians we want to spend time with our Savior. We want to hear what he has to say to us. Now is the time to spend time with God’s word. In heaven we will not hear the words, "You know, you really spent too much time reading God’s word." God has rescued us from hell. He wants to spend time with us both on this earth and in eternity. He sent his son to prove it.