I want to tell you I saw a story, a football story where a very powerful woman spectator in the crowd kept calling out to the players on the field – “Give the ball to Muldoon”. And the ball went out to one guy who was crash-tackled and carried off, and the voice came out again “Give the ball to Muldoon”. And another guy was given the ball, and he was smashed and went off limping, and in the next scrum the voice came again from this woman “Give the ball to Muldoon”. And the biggest of the props stood up in the scrum and cupped his hands and called back to the crown “Muldoon says he doesn’t want the ball”.
Now the story in Luke 16 is the story that nobody really wants. It’s not a great story for a preacher to tell because it’s so solemn and sad. It’s not a great story fun story for us to listen to but it does grab attention, and it does put a lot of our problems in perspective. It’s the story, as you heard, of two men who end up to two different places, one in hell and one in heaven. And it explains in a very surprising way why these two men end up where they end up. In fact, as you begin to read it, you might come to a very hasty conclusion, but as you get to the end of the story, you come to a very profound conclusion – why these two men end up where they do.
We saw in Luke 14 that God invites people to a wonderful celebration, a banquet, a feast. And then we saw in Chapter 15, He goes out searching for people to come. And then we also saw in Chapter 15, He even welcomes those who respond with great joy and excitement.
Last week if you were here we saw the Parable directed to the disciples that they should be involved in the mission of extending the gospel. They should be good stewards for eternity.
This week we see a message to the Pharisees, you remember Jesus is grappling with two groups. He’s got his followers – they don’t seem to be quick in getting out, and He’s got the Pharisees, and they don’t seem to be quick in coming in. And so Luke 16 is divided into two parts – there is a message to the insiders, the disciples to go out and there is a message to the outsiders, the Pharisees to come in. Now I want to prove to you at the start of this message, why the parable is directed to Pharisees? And you discover it in Luke 16:14.
We finish talking to disciples and verse 14 the Pharisee’s pipe up, and they smear at Jesus, and He said to them in verse 15, and if you had a red-letter bible you would discover that everything down to verse 31 is pretty well directed to the Pharisees. All those strange verses,14,15,16,17,18 and then the story from 19-31 is addressed to the Pharisees. That I think is the first proof.
But the second proof that Jesus is speaking to Pharisees is, did you notice as the reading was being read, seven references to Abraham. Those of you who are old enough to remember the old song “Rock my Soul in the Bosom of Abraham” I think the phrase “Bosom of Abraham” comes from Luke 16. And this, of course, is proof that Jesus is talking to Pharisees because the Jews regarded their hope as to be with Abraham. And Jesus is explaining to the Pharisees that their human links to Abraham, their national links, their cultural links to Abraham are no good for salvation and are no good for eternity.
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Now that’s the two parts of Luke 16 but the Parable, the story also has two parts. The first half of the Parable is this very surprising reversal. Why is it that the rich man goes down and why is it that the poor man goes up? Visibly you would expect the opposite if you were a Jew. That’s the first, A surprising reversal. The second half is A sufficient revelation. Jesus announces that there is adequate information for everybody to believe if they are willing.
A surprising reversal
Now I want to ask you to work because I know that there are some Sunday mornings where you just tune off,I do – plan the shopping list for Christmas,think about the things that have happened,the things that are coming – the brain disappears and you tune in a few minutes later, perhaps an hour later and come back to what’s being said.
I want to ask you to concentrate for a minute – What are verses 14-18 all about? Why do we have these funny verses? And I want to suggest to you that verses 14-18 introduce precisely the two points I have mentioned. A surprising reversal and then A sufficient revelation.
So look at 16:14. The Pharisees are introduced, they are very wealthy, they are happy with themselves, they are very popular with people. Lots of gullible people think the Pharisees are wonderful, look at God’s verdict in verse 15 “detestable in God’s sight”. That is a very surprising reversal. It’s as if the Pharisees are all lined up like bishops and everybody is revering and saying “how wonderful, how wonderful” and Jesus steps in and says “you’re all detestable in God’s sight”. It’s a surprising reversal. And that’s, of course, the first half of the story. – A remarkable reversal.
And then in 16:16 you see that Jesus announces that The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed till John, since that time the Kingdom is being preached and everyone is forcing their way into it, and nothing of the Law has been removed or ever will be removed – it is all functional and practical and useful until eternity. And this I think is a perfect reminder of what we’re talking about. There is a sufficient revelation given by God for all the world. And an illustration of it is verse 18.
In cause you tune out as Jesus talks about the Law, He suddenly comes in with an illustration, divorce,re-marriage, a very pertinent reminder that the Law stands, and it’s dangerous to break. This may have been a particular word to the Pharisees, some of whom were very lax in the subject of marriage and divorce but it’s certainly a clear word of sufficient revelation. And that’s the second half of the story where Jesus says in the second half in verses 27-31 that there is an adequate revelation for people today to believe and to live.
So the two issues in verses 14-18 are the two issues in verses 19-31. I mention that to you because sometimes we read the verses in the middle of the two stories, and we scratch our head and we say, “well somebody was mucking around when they put all this together, and this is a real hotch potch isn’t it, it doesn’t have any logical flow to it, but actually those verses introduce the two themes in a compelling way.
Remember I reminded you last week in Luke 1:3 where Luke himself says he has written “an orderly account” so don’t be surprised if everything doesn’t have a place, and it’s one of our jobs to think carefully about what that place might be.
Well, let’s look at the surprising reversal in the first half of the Parable. It’s not often called a Parable because it doesn’t seem to be talking about something fictitious, but it is something real. But there is a surprising reversal in the first half of the story.
There is a man in verse 19 who is rich, who is well dressed and he lives in luxury and to the Jews of the day who considered that outward blessings are a sign of God’s approval, they would have said: “that man is blessed by God”. “God is with that man”.
And then suddenly we come to verse 20, and there is a man called Lazarus, and he’s a beggar with sores, no doubt placed at the rich man’s gate to get something. There doesn’t seem to be any sign that he gets anything except a little bit of comfort from the dogs.
We see that both men die verse 22. And there is a very great surprise for anybody who thinks that there’s just one destination for everybody up ahead because Jesus who is the expert on the future says that there is heaven verse 22 and there is hell verse 23. You and I don’t like the subject, but we seek to be faithful to what Jesus tells us about. And so there are these two places, and there is a surprise as I say because the poor man goes up to Abraham’s side and the rich man goes down to hell.
Don’t fall for the immediate trap that rich is wrong because Abraham was a wealthy man. He had enormous herds and property, and you’ll see that in verse 22 Abraham is in heaven and in verse 23, the rich man is in hell. There is a rich man in heaven, and there is a rich man in hell. It’s obviously not that riches are by nature the killer. And don’t be concerned as I say that heaven is described as “Abraham’s side” because this is a special phrase which is probably designed to comfort the Pharisees or to challenge the Pharisees for whom being with Abraham was a very desirable goal.
And when Jesus talked like this, it must have greatly annoyed the Pharisees, first of all, that the rich man would go down and then secondly it must have annoyed them that the poor man would go up. And the rise of the poor man is described very beautifully – there is no mention of burial, there’s just the angels carrying him up to Abraham’s side and the description of the rich man is very sobering – buried in hell in torment.
I want to say again to you in case you find yourself embarrassed or uncomfortable with any talk of hell or suffering that the bulk of the teaching of the Scriptures on hell has come from the mouth of the kindest, sanest, finest person the world has ever seen, and that is from Jesus. I understand that 11 out of the 12 passages which talk of hell as a place of torment come from the mouth of Jesus. And I can only assume that he spoke this way because He really does love people. The talk of hell as a place of suffering is not the invention therefore of mad medial monks, nor is it the invention of raving fundamentalist preachers who think that it’s helpful to scare people. The teaching on hell predominantly comes from the mouth of Jesus and the very person who spoke most and died that people might not go there is the person that we must take our lead from on this subject.
Nothing really makes sense in Christianity if there is no such place as hell. Jesus need not have come. Jesus need not have lived, need not have died. There’s no special news about the resurrection since if there’s no hell, everybody is fine anyway. Nothing makes sense without the backcloth of hell, and therefore it is a fundamental doctrine.
Well as I say, we see this surprising reversal in the fate of these two men, and there’s no explanation given yet. But the first thing that Jesus wants is his listeners to realise in verse 24 is that there is a terrible and irreversible gulf between the two. The rich man calls out to Abraham to have Lazarus come from heaven to hell with just enough water on the tip of his finger to cool his tongue. It’s a very graphic description of the desire for relief, isn’t it?
Jesus is using an idea we understand, an idea that we recoil from and there is a very serious aspect to Christianity as well as the peace of Christianity, the joy, the forgiveness and the praise and all the fellowship and all the wonderful things, there is a solemn aspect.
Can I say that I am suspicious of Christians or churches who are predominantly or if not permanently given to praise and not the serious message of judgment, because nothing really makes sense without the two? If there isn’t a serious and unpopular element to the message, I think the devil is at work because there is a serious and unpopular message when Jesus is at work.
People who ask Christians to drop the subject are like people who want lifesavers and firemen and doctors just to say positive things all the time. It’s impossible – it’s irresponsible. And therefore although it’s a difficult thing, remember it’s a loving thing to put the context of the good news on the backdrop of the bad news.
Why do these two men go different ways? Verse 25 doesn’t seem to help us on the surface does it, because Abraham replies “Son, rich, man remember that in your lifetime you received your good things while Lazarus received bad things – now he’s comforted here and you are in agony. It looks on the surface of verse 25 as though it’s just a matter of getting the opposite in the afterlife to what you got in this life. And that can’t be right because if that’s the case, let’s give away everything we’ve got so that we can have everything in the next world. It looks on the surface of verse 25 doesn’t it as though God just swaps our fortunes. But if you keep reading, you’ll see what the real cause is.
All we know from this first answer of Abraham’s, especially in verse 26, is that there is a chasm, a gulf, between heaven and hell which is unbridgeable. That’s why Hebrews 9 says it’s appointed to people to die and then comes judgment fixed. And that’s incidentally friends, one of the reasons we ought not to think of praying for the dead because when people die, their condition, their future, their eternity is fixed, wonderfully fixed. And so an elderly man came to me today after the 8.00 service, whose wife had died and he quite tearfully said – “should I be praying for my wife?” and I said “No, she’s fine – you can give thanks for her, she was a believer. There’s nothing that your prayers can add to her bliss to her condition”.And that’s what this particular verse also reminds us that when a person goes from this world to the next world, it’s a fixed thing.
I want to come to the reason for the reversal, and that takes us to our second thing this morning, and that is a sufficient revelation. If the first request is for relief, the second request is for the relatives, verse 27. “I beg you, Father Abraham, send Lazarus to my father’s house for I have five brothers, let him warn them so they’ll not also come to this place of torment”.
It also looks on the surface as though the man, the rich man is a nice man because he is concerned for his brothers, but we need to remember that he’s sort of interested in his own circle again. The very thing that Jesus was warning of in Chapter 14. He doesn’t seem to be of great concern for the world, although I wouldn’t want to make too much of the fact that he is concerned for his brothers. Jesus points out that if a man on the other side of the grave was in hell, and could get a message back to this world, the message would be “don’t come here”. And if a man on the other side of the grace was in heaven and could get a message to the people of this world, the message would be “be sure you come here”. Isn’t that interesting.
We are very interested today in messages from the other side of the grave. The Bible says that if a person arrives in heaven and could get a message back to the earth, they would say “don’t let anything come between you and Jesus so that you definitely arrive where I am”. And if a person could send a message from hell to us, they would say “don’t let anything come between you and Jesus, so you don’t end up where I am”. Verse 28 is, isn’t it? The man in hell wants people in the world to be warned of hell. Abraham’s reply, however, is that they have sufficient, verse 29, revelation. They have Moses and the prophets. They have a Bible. How did Abraham get into heaven? He listened to the Word of God, Genesis 15:6 says “Abraham believed the Lord, and He credited to him as righteousness”. So Abraham here’s the key, listen very carefully to this, Abraham was a listener to the Word of God. And when he heard the Word of God and believed it, he was saved. And he was saved forever.
He happened to have an excellent life, not without its troubles. The Lazarus character in this story happened to have a tough life, full of troubles but they both seemed to be listeners to the Word of God, and that’s the reason that they believed and live.
Well, the brothers back home have a Bible says, Abraham. Their problem is not lack of information, their problem is lack of inclination. The rich man has one final request, he doesn’t think that the Bible is going to be good enough. He says in verse 30 “No, father Abraham, let someone from the dead go and then they will repent”. Do a miracle, send a man from the dead and they’ll repent. What they need Abraham is something bigger than the Bible. If they could have something that was proof that they couldn’t resist. If someone were to rise from the dead, they would believe. And Abraham says this very solemn word in verse 31 “If they are deaf to the Bible, they’ll be deaf to a resurrection.
Now, friends, Abraham is not being unkind, please don’t think that. God would give and gives everything necessary for the believer. He provides us with a creation that we might see and understand a big Creator. He puts inside us a conscience so that we know we’re accountable to someone. He walks into the world in the person of Jesus Christ. He puts into the world a record. He gives people reminders. There’s an enormous amount of information, and one commentator says this, I think it is very interesting “If seeing and hearing and apparition would have brought the brothers to repentance. You can be sure God would have provided every room they sat in, every street they walked down would have been alive with apparitions”. But apparitions would not have helped them. And now I say again Jesus you see has put His finger on the issue. What is the difference between these two men?
The rich man says if you warn my brothers, all will be well. Abraham says they have got a warning. The rich man says if you give a warning and a miracle, all will be well. Abraham says the problem is they don’t want anything. The problem is that they have got their fingers in their ears, hands over their eyes and they don’t want anything. And that’s what it’s like with the Pharisees. It’s such a terrible group that Jesus is speaking to these Pharisees. They don’t want anything. They’ve got their Old Testament. It hasn’t brought them to faith. They’ve got the Son of God in front of them, He hasn’t brought them to faith. They’ve got miracles, that hasn’t brought them to faith. It’s a terrible, terrible group that Jesus is having to deal with and the only way He can lovingly wake them up is to talk to them about something terrible to come and that the obligation is on them to respond to what they have received.
That’s the problem of course with the rich man as well. The rich man was a man who did not listen. The first symptom of his deafness was that he was a man of this world. All he was interested in was this world. He was getting everything that he was interested in right now. He was throwing all his heart, mind, soul and strength into this world. His treasure was here. Of course, when his time and his energy ran out, everything was gone.
The second symptom that this rich man had that he was deaf to the neighbour outside his gate. He did not believe Commandment 1, and therefore he did not believe Commandment 2. He did not love God, his neighbour. This is the problem for the rich man. It’s not that he had money. The problem is that he was deaf, deliberately deaf to the Word of God.
The way into God’s heaven, the way into God’s feast or celebration is not unfair. I know that many people think that God is unjust. The Bible says again and again that God has given everything we need to believe. His Word is open to everybody, and then He adds the resurrection and people don’t believe.
Luke 16:31 would be an excellent text for Easter Day, wouldn’t it? If they don’t listen to Moses and the Prophets, they’ll not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead. But the problem you see is not the invitations, it’s not the information, the problem is the refusals.
I hope as we study this story on this particular Sunday morning, you won’t be entirely discouraged by it. It’s full of very great comfort. It’s true it’s a warning, but it’s also full of very wonderful things. Here is this man Lazarus, who is going through a tough time and yet he’s right with God. He has eternal life. He is heading to heaven. He will be carried as it were by angels into the very centre of heaven for eternity. The reason is he listened to the Word of God. That’s the implication. John 5:24 “He who hears my word and believes Him who sent me, has eternal life. He will not come into judgment but has crossed from death to life”.
There is great comfort in this section. But there is also a serious challenge, and we can’t miss the serious challenge that the person who blocks their ears to the Word of God, what more can Jesus say or do? What more can I say to the people who are here this morning who have been listening to me for months and years and decades and don’t believe? What more can I say to them? It’s a terrible thing for the unbeliever to suddenly find themselves at the end of their life in such a destiny as Jesus explains here in Luke 16.
But believers also, we’re in danger of censoring God, aren’t we? We often block our ears. We become selective listeners. We say to God,’well I’m working on my kingdom at the moment, so yours just has to wait in the background’. Or we say ‘I’m actually committed to my thinking on this issue and I’m not committed to your thinking. I’m committed to mine’, and so we become selective listeners. Or we say to God ‘I’m committed to my family. My family comes before your family’.
Those are real issues here for us, aren’t they? We are all in danger here of putting our kingdom before His and our thoughts before His and our will before His and our family before His. And when there becomes a clash between the two, “what we want” wins. That’s selective listening.
The great danger with selective listening is that those people very quickly get deafer. So Jesus is warning in this passage with very great love for us. He wants the Pharisees to be afraid so that they might turn and live. He loves the Pharisees enough to warn them. The Bible says “Today if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts”. That applies to the unbeliever: hear the message of Jesus today. The devil says to you “Wait till tomorrow. Tomorrow will be fine. And then tomorrow comes, and he says – tomorrow”. But the Bible says “Today”. And for those who are Christians, the bulk of the congregation here this morning, God’s Word, again and again, comes “Today, if you hear His voice, don’t harden your hearts”.
Well let’s bow our heads and pray together:
Our heavenly Father, we thank you for this very sobering but special story on the lips of the Lord Jesus. We are conscious, our Father, of how difficult it is to get people who are unwilling to be willing and we pray that you would work in their lives to turn their minds and hearts, to give them the humility and the hunger to know you and to listen to you and to live.
We pray that You would help us to pray and go on in patience and perseverance and love for these people and we also pray for ourselves that you would forgive us for when we have turned a deaf ear to your Word, for where we have gone our own way and decided to exactly what we want. In the small and the large, we pray that you will forgive us and please give to us again the humility and the honesty to be good listeners to your Word that we might be quick to hear it today and quick to practice it today. We thank you, and we commit ourselves to you for this in Jesus Name – Amen