Sunday, June 19, 2022

The Parable of the Rich Man & Lazarus: What Amount of Evidence for God is Enough?

G.K. Chesterton tells the story of a magician who is visiting a town, and performing tricks for the people. But there was a young scholar there who persistently watched the magician desperately trying to explain away each of the tricks. The magician became exasperated with the man, and he finally came upon a trick that the intellectual would not be able to explain.

The magician called the intellectual over to him and said, “What color was the light outside your home when you left?” The scholar did have a light on his driveway and it had a special red lamp.

The magician said, “alright run along home now, and as you are running home I will turn it into a green light.”

“You can’t possibly do that!” Demanded the scholar.

The magician replied, “Oh yes I can.”

As he drove home he spotted his house and the red light glowing in the night, and as he approached to within a block, it suddenly turned green.

He immediately turned his car around and came back to the magician and said, “alright How did you do it?”

The magician looked at him and said, “I just sent a couple angels to the change the bulb.”

“That is nonsense,” said the scholar. “Tell me how you did it.”

But no matter how diligently the scholar protested he always got the same answer: “I sent a couple angels to change the bulb.”

The young scholar retreated to his science lab, setting to work for endless hours to discover how a red light could be changed into a green light. He worked day and night for week, months, and years. He became more and more neurotic and upset, until he finally went insane.

His wife seeing what a mess her husband had become in desperately trying to prove the answer to this problem, she went to the magician and said please, just this once give away your trick, so that my husband regains his sanity.

But the magician said, “I’ve already told him the truth.”

She replied, “But what I’m saying is just tell him something, anything that sounds reasonable and scientific so that he regains his sanity.”

The magician reluctantly reluctantly agreed to help, and went to the man in the mental hospital, and told him a concocted story, that swamp gas had reflected off a weather balloon, and various amino acids had combined together at an explosion in outer space, which over billions and billions of eons brought forth complex yet harmonious systems which developed into more complex gammas rays and electrons which did this and that and made it possible for the red light to become green at the appropriate time.

And the man was so extremely relieved, and immediately regained his sanity.

Do you understand the theme of this parable crafted by GK Chesterton? For some, the supernatural is something they’ve outright rejected ahead of time, and no amount of explanation will convince them that something happened that could break the laws of space and time and matter and energy.

There is no amount of evidence that will convince them that God is really real. There is no amount of evidence that will convince them that miracles do happen. They would rather believe a lie that sounds reasonable and well crafted, than concede that the universe was made by an intelligent personal designer who can break the rules of the system he created.

And Chesterton remarks that the man was more sane while he had gone insane, than how he was after believing the lie.

That today I think we will see is one of the key themes in the parable we are studying today, which is the parable of the Rich man and Lazarus.

Last week we talked about the parable of the master and the servant, and the value of staying humble and serving Jesus, that was in Luke 17, today we take a step back to Luke chapter 16, where we find our parable today. And I think we’ll see the parable from last week and this one are linked together at least somewhat in theme.

This is probably one of the most fascinating and disturbing parables that Jesus taught. We learn a lot about the after life in this parable, but that is not necessarily the theme of the parable.

But before we discuss the theme, let’s take a look at our context. At the beginning of Luke 16, we see the parable of the dishonest manager. A rather strange parable we haven’t looked at, where Jesus praises a dishonest manager who cuts deals with some of his masters clients, to lessen their bills, so that he has opportunities for himself after his master fires him. As fascinating as it would be to get into that today we don’t have the time. So we’ll skip ahead to the context immediately prior to this parable, it says this starting in verse 16, “The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then, the good news of the kingdom of God has been proclaimed, and everyone is urgently invited to enter it. 17 But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one stroke of a letter in the law to drop out.

18 “Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and everyone who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.”

With the context we might be left scratching our heads, but Jesus is making an important point about the Old Testament, Jesus did not come to do away with the Old Testament, and he even brings in the concept of marriage and divorce to explain what he means. The Jews lived as if wedded to the Old Testament law, and Jesus is saying you do not divorce the law, and now remarry the new testament. That would be false and wicked. The Old Testament is fulfilled by the New Testament, and it’s one in the same, it’s the same marriage.

But we’ll see later how that fits in with the parable. Now, the parable itself, let’s take a look:

Luke 16:19-31:“There was a rich man who would dress in purple and fine linen, feasting lavishly every day. 20 But a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, was lying at his gate. 21 He longed to be filled with what fell from the rich man’s table, but instead the dogs would come and lick his sores. 22 One day the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 And being in torment in Hades, he looked up and saw Abraham a long way off, with Lazarus at his side. 24 ‘Father Abraham!’ he called out, ‘Have mercy on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this flame!’”

So we have a rich guy, and the poor homeless guy who lays near the gate to his mansion. Apparently the poor man hoped just to have some food from the rich man, but instead he doesn’t get anything. The rich man must’ve refused to give him anything. Judged him harshly. Turned him away. Instead the poor man gets these stray dogs coming and licking his sores. That’s just nasty. My cat will come over and lick me sometimes, and it’s not good at all. Stop that kitty. But this poor man eventually dies of his illnesses, laying in the hot sun day after day, starving to death, and he dies and he goes to the place where Abraham is, to a sort of paradise.

The rich man later dies, and he finds himself in hell, in utter sorrow and torment. He looks up, and he sees Abraham and Lazarus in paradise. And asks for a drink of water, just a drop.

Very interesting. So we see a parable playing out here. But we also get some interesting details about heaven and hell. That is not the primary theme of the parable, but, it’s something we get to see along the way. We learn that from hell, you can actually see heaven, so you are painfully aware of what you’re missing. We learn that hell is active pain and flame and torment. Let’s continue, Abraham responds to the request, he says

25 “‘Son,’ Abraham said, ‘remember that during your life you received your good things, just as Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here, while you are in agony. 26 Besides all this, a great chasm has been fixed between us and you, so that those who want to pass over from here to you cannot; neither can those from there cross over to us.’”

Sometimes in this life it seems like deceitful and wealthy people get everything they want, and we as Christians tend to get a lot of problems and bad things. Doesn’t it seem like that sometimes? Well, in the case of the rich man and Lazarus, we learn that often that is the case. How many people in this church have serious health problems? Myself included. Sometimes I feel just a bit like Lazarus, laying there sick in front of the rich man’s gate. It’s not near that bad though. But sometimes it feels like that way.

It continues, the rich man says,

27 “‘Father,’ he said, ‘then I beg you to send him to my father’s house— 28 because I have five brothers—to warn them, so that they won’t also come to this place of torment.’

29 “But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’

30 “‘No, father Abraham,’ he said. ‘But if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’

31 “But he told him, ‘If they don’t listen to Moses and the prophets, they will not be persuaded if someone rises from the dead.’”

And that is how it concludes. And we hear them the central theme of this parable, its not really about hell, or about the rich and the poor necessarily, but what it’s here to tell us is that there is a fundamental divide between people, and how they will respond to the truth.

Some will respond and find life and breath and hope and salvation in Christ, but for some, no amount of evidence will ever be enough. It wouldn’t matter if someone died and came back to life. They still would not believe in Jesus Christ.

And later, we see that this is true. Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, a different Lazarus. But how did the Pharisees respond to that miraculous event? They plotted to kill Lazarus and Jesus.

Then, the ultimate happened, when Jesus himself was crucified and was raised from the dead 3 days later. And still, the Jewish leaders, the Pharisees, responded by hatching a scheme to claim that the disciples had stolen the body.

Now, think back to the context of the scripture today. Jesus said that the law and the prophets went on until John came, the new times began with Jesus Christ. Similarly in the parable, Jesus is saying, Israel had Moses, the law, the prophets, but they didn’t believe them either, so it won’t even matter if someone rises from dead, the new covenant, even that won’t matter, they still won’t believe.

It reminds me of another scripture from Matthew 11, which really indicates just how contrary we are as humans,

Matthew 11:16-19 says ,"To what should I compare this generation? It’s like children sitting in the marketplaces who call out to each other: 17 We played the flute for you, but you didn’t dance;
we sang a lament, but you didn’t mourn![g]

18 For John did not come eating or drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon!’ 19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’

It reminds me of some that I’ve known where you just can’t possibly do right by them, they will find a way to find fault with what you did or said or didn’t say. Like you see someone on the street, and you go and invite them to church and they say, “how dare you force your religion on me?’ But if you had not invited them to church and just smiled and waved, they would’ve turned to their friend and said, “wow they didn’t even invite us in I guess we aren’t welcome there.” And that’s what I think Jesus is pointing to here.

We can play these games in our minds, to twist just about anything, and prove ourselves right and the other person wrong. And a lot of people do that with the message of Jesus Christ.

They find some excuse, some reason to toss it aside. And that’s not going to be any sort of excuse on the day of judgment.

So in conclusion today, I want you all to see yourself in this parable, hopefully, as the man, Lazarus, who struggles in this life. We all struggle in this life, don’t we? We also have victories and good things happen, but I want to affirm your struggles today as valuable in the sight of God.

Sometimes we have days and weeks, and even months or years, where we feel a bit like Lazarus, laying in the hot sun, tired, hungry, open sores all over your body, and then to sweeten the scenario, a dog comes over and starts licking the sores. And we think, yep, that figures. I’ve had a few days like that recently, just over the last few weeks, well, since March I’d say.

The fact that you struggle in this life with all sorts of problems is similar to the plight of Lazarus. But Lazarus finds his comfort in the arms of Abraham, just as we find our comfort in the arms of Jesus Christ. He loves us. And cares for us in our sorrows. And we know our ultimate comfort and encouragement comes in paradise, when we set aside the sorrows of this life. But if you do feel like Lazarus, with open sores at the gates of the rich and wealthy who seem to have everything in this life, well, don’t feel out of place, because that was Lazarus’ place. And yet he was resurrected after death, and found eternal encouragement with God in heaven. May it be the same for us, one wonderful day in the future.