The story of the rich man and poor Lazarus is not presented as a parable.
“There was a certain rich man…” These are the words of Jesus. It may be that the Pharisees at whom this story was directed knew the man and the beggar as well. The only connection between the wealthy diner and the wretched beggar was the harvest of crumbs that fell from his table. On these, perhaps gathered by compassionate servants and delivered to Lazarus at the gate, the beggar subsisted.
It is difficult to imagine a greater contrast between lifestyles than a rich man who “fared sumptuously” and Lazarus, emaciated and bleeding in the street by the city gates. Dogs were his medical team.
A Further Separation
Just as life separated these two men, death drove them farther apart. When Lazarus died, angels bore him into the bosom of his father in the faith, Abraham. When the rich man died, he plunged into the depths of hell. If this story is indeed a true history and not a parable, we have a vivid glance into the afterlife: bliss in the presence of the Lord and His saints in heaven, and torment in a hell designed for rebellious demons.
Action in the Afterlife
Almost like a science fiction tale, the tormented rich man could see into the bliss of the faithful. He called out to Father Abraham for mercy. Seeing the former beggar, Lazarus, at peace and in perfect health, the familiar face gave him an idea—Send Lazarus with a drop of water to ease the burning pain enveloping the formerly rich man. Abraham answered: “’Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented.”
Not good news. There was no passage from heaven to hell and back again. Why? There was a great span of nothingness between heaven and hell that no mortal could cross. Each man was now reaping what he had sown in life. “…between us and you there is a great gulf fixed so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.’ “
Not accustomed to having his requests denied, the “rich” man thought, finally, of others. ‘I beg you, therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.’
With no need for further thought, Abraham explained that his brothers were adequately warned by the Word so present among them. He speculated that even if someone did return from the dead, he would not be believed by them.
Back from the Dead
The story/history ends at this point. In the light of the Jesus Story we can take it deeper. One has returned from the dead! The Apostles Creed proclaims that Jesus, “descended to the dead” and scripture claims that He “led captivity captive” and rescued the souls waiting for Calvary in Abraham’s bosom. The Good News is, the “great gulf” was spanned by a Cross. Hell still exists and awaits those who refuse the Gospel, but this is an unnecessary outcome. Jesus has opened a “new and living way” to heaven for those who believe wherever they lie on the social scale. The sumptuous fare at the Table of the Lord, not stale crumbs from those who have sold their souls to riches, awaits those who believe.
Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, also heard all these things, and they derided Him. And He said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God. “The law and the prophets were until John. Since that time the kingdom of God has been preached, and everyone is pressing into it. And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one tittle of the law to fail. “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced from her husband commits adultery. “There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day. But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate, desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. “Then 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.’ But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.’ “Then he said, ‘I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.’ Abraham said to him, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ But he said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.'”
Lord Jesus, I believe! You have spanned the great gulf that could not be crossed! You did it with Your holy, sinless life. Now there is a new and living way from the hell we create for ourselves in this life to the joy and satisfaction of serving You. By the time the “rich man” came to his senses, it was too late for him. I pray for my friends and family who still do not know You—Send someone to them (could it be me?) to give them the Good News. There is a path to eternal life and You are the Way! Thank You, Lord! Amen.
Jesus Opened Up the Way
Words and Music: E. M. Bartlett
1. Jesus Christ the Lord opened up the way to glory
When He died to save us from our ruined state,
And He asks that we shall go tell the world the story,
How His blood will save them from their awful fate.
Jesus opened up the way to Heaven’s gate
When He died on the cross,
To redeem all the lost;
He prepared the road that leads To His abode,
’Tis a road marked by blood
But it leads us home to God.
2. And the way is marked by the footprints of the Savior,
With His blood he made it, made it plain and straight;
If you walk that way, it will lead you into Heaven,
Lead you safely into glory’s golden gate.
3. Sinner, will you come and join in this heav’nly journey,
Walk the bloody pathway that the Savior trod;
Then when life is over and all the sheaves are garnered,
You will meet the Savior and be not afraid.