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Friday, July 25, 2014

Who is at the Gate?


Who is at the Gate?

Luke 16: 19-31



Jesus was a great story teller, but He never gave names to the people in his stories.  That is except in one story!  And that was the story recorded in Luke 16 that we call “The Rich Man and Lazarus”.  Lazarus is the only person Jesus ever named in all of his many stories.  And the name “Lazarus” means “the Lord is my help.” 


In Jesus’ story, Lazarus is a dirty homeless man who begs for food.  And he is also a dying man with running sores all over his body and no family who would care for him.  Why would Jesus give this nobody a name when He didn’t give names to the rich and famous in his stories?


Jesus’ story starts out like this:  “There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and lived sumptuously every day.” (Today this rich man would own two mansions and a villa with fifty maids and cooks and grounds people and he would drive a Lamborghini and a Rolls Royse and have his own private jet and throw lavish parties for other rich people)  (Luke 16:19) 


Jesus continues the story: “But there was a beggar named Lazarus, who was full of sores and someone laid him down at the rich man’s gate.  Lazarus, the beggar, was hoping he might be fed with the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table.  And as he lay there at the gate, the dogs came and licked his sores.”  (Luke 16:20-21)


 Jesus never says that Lazarus got to eat some of the rich man’s leftovers as he had hoped he might.  And it seems that the rich man never even noticed Lazarus laying there dying in the dirt as he rushed past his gate to his important meetings. The only ones to notice Lazarus there at the gate were the dogs!  And they licked his sores. 


Jesus continues the story:  “So it was that the beggar died, and he was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom.  And the rich man also died and was buried.  And being in torments in Hades, the rich man lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.”  (Luke 16:22-23)


We see that the rich man is in a place of torment.  The rich man’s wealth did not condemn him to hell and Lazarus’s poverty in this life did not cause him to have eternal joy in the next.  Our eternal destiny according to Scripture depends on our relationship to God which is often reflected in our attitudes toward material possessions!  


Abraham was a man of great wealth, as was David and Job.  And as far as we know these three men all might have been selfish like the rich man in Jesus’ story and felt that they were better than people who had less material possessions.  Abraham and Job were imperfect sinners.  And during his lifetime David committed some serious sins (like murder and adultery for starters) that are recorded in Scripture.


 But Abraham, David and Job will be part of God’s kingdom because these three wanted to follow God and each one wanted God’s will in their lives.  Each one was willing to open his heart to God and let God lead. Each one was sorry for their sins.  But I believe the rich man in Jesus’ story went to a place of torment after death because he didn’t care about what God wanted and he had hardened his heart to letting God change him.         


Jesus continues telling the story.  “Then the rich man cries and says, ‘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 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.  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 over to us.’ “(Luke 16:24-26)   


Jesus’ story brings up powerful images!  Images of reward and punishment and images of those who care and of those who don’t.  Images of a great chasm!  Do we create a chasm when we have apathy toward the needy?  When we don’t care?  Is it our job to let God help us close the chasm if we can? 


Jesus finishes telling his story.  “Then the rich man says, ‘I beg you Father Abraham, please send Lazarus to my father’s house.  For I have five brothers and Lazarus can talk to them, lest they also die and come to this place of torment.’  And Abraham answers him, ‘Your brothers have Moses and the prophets: let them hear them.’” (Luke 16:27-29) 


“And the rich man answered, ‘No, Father Abraham, but if one goes to my brothers from the dead then they will repent.’  But Abraham answered him saying, ‘If your brothers do not hear Moses and the prophets, then they will not be persuaded even if a person rises from the dead.’”  (Luke 16:30-31) 


Jesus’ story’s ending illustrates how perilous it is for a person to harden his heart to God’s commandments to help the poor.(given by Moses and the prophets)  Even a miracle will not soften his heart when we ignore God long enough.  Jesus is teaching that material possessions are a trust from God to be shared and used responsibly for the good of all.  I believe that Jesus told this story to call those who did not share their time and money with the needy to repent and to help others around them as much as they could. 


All through the Bible these lessons commanding us to be generous are repeated again and again!  Repeated I believe, because this matters so much to God!  Giving to the poor is not an option for God’s people!  In the first book of the Bible – Genesis – Cain is found asking God the question: “Am I my brother’s keeper?”  (Genesis 4:9) And the answer from God most definitely is “Yes, you are!”


 In Exodus God warns the Israelites not to mistreat an immigrant or a widow or an orphan.  Jesus himself was once an illegal immigrant when He was a small child!  God sent an angel to tell Joseph to take Jesus and his mother Mary and run away to a foreign country since it was unsafe for them to stay in their own country.  Herod was trying to murder the baby Jesus.  The holy family had to travel from Israel on a donkey all the way across a hot dry desert to Egypt.  It must have been a perilous trip with robbers and lack of water and other dangers lurking along the way.  I am glad that Egypt didn’t turn them away but granted them a safe place to stay.


 At this time our country, the United States, has thousands of immigrant children coming to our borders looking for safety.  Similar to Jesus’ family having to flee their own country to save Jesus’ life, many of these immigrant children’s parents have sent them out of their own countries hoping to save their lives. We have a humanitarian crisis at our doorstep.  There are 47,000 immigrant children at our gates in desperate need of help right now.  Would God have us lock the doors and leave them there at the gate? 


In later books of the Bible God is found telling the Israelite people not to pick all of their grapes when they harvest their vineyards, but to leave some of the fruit for the poor.

And further on in Scripture we read that the destruction of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah happened because of their guilt.  And then Scripture tells us that Sodom’s guilt lay in the fact that she was over fed and did not share her food with the poor. (Ezekiel 16:49)


Jesus always tells his stories for a purpose.  And I believe that Jesus gives us this story about the rich man and Lazarus to remind us again that we are His hands and feet.  That what we do for the least one we are doing for Him!  That we are to open our hearts and pocket books to the needy in His Name. And that He is counting on us to pay attention to those in our sphere of influence – the ones we find who are left at our gates!   










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