"There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day."
Now perhaps purple clothes and linen underwear doesn't sound like your kind of thing?! But that's not the point!
The point is, that this man was rich. Purple and fine linen were the most expensive clothes that money could buy. And it wasn't just in his wardrobe that this man had the best of everything. Jesus tells us that he "lived in luxury every day."
Fancy food and drink, the latest gizmos and gadgets, exotic holidays and fast cars, weren't reserved for special occasions. It's what he had every day. Cocktail sausages on sticks and Shloer before every meal…or whatever!
The other man in Jesus' story couldn't have been more different, vv 20-21…
"At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man's table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores."
This man was the poorest of the poor. A beggar. And did you notice, it says he was laid at the gate of the rich man. He had been put there. He couldn't move, he was crippled. And he was diseased, covered in sores. Back then dogs weren't household pets, they were vermin. But they were the only ones who showed Lazarus any pity.
And he longed to eat what fell from the rich man's table. He would have gladly eaten what the rich man threw away. But he wasn't given even that.
Two men. One incredibly rich and one desperately poor. And one day, both of them died.
Everybody dies. One day I will. And one day you will. And on one particular day both these men, the rich man and Lazarus died.
When Lazarus died, there was no funeral. I suppose no one even noticed. But it tells us in v22 that when he died, "...the angels carried him to Abraham's side,"
When the rich man died, however, he was buried. There was a funeral. I imagine there were plenty of friends and families and mourners. But there were no angels waiting to carry him to heaven. Instead we're told in v23, he went to hell, "where he was in torment."
Now, let's stop there for a moment. This is probably just a story. Jesus is inventing a story to make a point, as we'll see. But don't be fooled. Just because this story is made up, doesn't mean that the places in the story aren't real.
I could tell you a story about a person who lived in Gateshead and travelled to London, but just because it's a story doesn't mean that Gateshead and London aren't real places. They are real places, and so are Heaven and Hell.
The Bible is very clear, and Jesus is very clear that when we die, all of us will go either to Heaven or to Hell. Heaven in the eternal home of those who have loved God in this life. It is a place of God's love. And Hell is the eternal home of those who have rejected God in this life. It is a place of God's punishment.
And Hell…is hell. Just look at vv 23 and 24. Hell, we're told in v23 is a place of "torment". And in v24, a place of "agony."
I take no pleasure in talking about it this morning, and nor does Jesus, but Hell is a real place and so is Heaven. And yet, for the people listening to Jesus back then, hearing about Heaven and Hell wouldn't have been a shock. What would have been a shock is that in Jesus' story it is the rich man who is sent to Hell and the poor man who goes to Heaven.
You see, Jesus' story is
A story about money
The Pharisees, we're told back in v14, loved money. They thought that having money and being rich in this life was a sign that God must love you, and be pleased with you. Health and wealth and happiness, is what they loved and valued.
So as the Pharisees heard Jesus' story they would have assumed, well, God must love the rich man and must hate the poor man. Surely the rich man will be welcomed into Heaven, and the poor man will be destined for Hell.
They lived in a world that assumes that rich = good and poor = bad. And very often we think the same, don't we?
Just think…in Jesus' story who would you rather be? The rich man, or Lazarus?
Now we know that the sensible answer, the logical answer, the right answer is Lazarus, because when he died he went to Heaven. But when we read verses 19-21 about one man living in luxury every day and another man begging and starving with dogs licking his sores,even though we know where the story is going, wouldn't we still rather be like the rich man than Lazarus?
You see, this is a story about money, but it's also
A story about love
The Pharisees loved money. They thought that is you were rich in this life that you'd been blessed by God and God must love you, and that if you were poor in this life then you were despised by God and God must hate you. And Jesus says that's completely wrong.
But it would be equally wrong to swing to the other extreme and say, Oh Jesus is teaching that if you're poor in this life that you've been blessed by God and God loves you, and if you're rich in this life then you're despised by God and God hates you. No, that's not true either.
After all in the story Lazarus went to Heaven to be with Abraham, and Abraham was a very wealthy man. The truth is this isn't really a story about money. It's a story about love.
Look at vv 24-25…
"So he called to him, 'Father Abraham, have pity 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 fire.' "But Abraham replied, 'Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony."
Now unless you're familiar with Jesus' stories, there is something very important here that is easy to miss. And that is the fact that Lazarus is given a name.
In Jesus' stories people are always called 'the farmer' or 'the widow' or 'the rich man' or something like that. But Lazarus isn't called 'the poor man' or 'the beggar'. He's given a name, Lazarus. In fact, this is the only time that Jesus ever names one of his characters. And I think it's because the name Lazarus, in Hebrew, means 'God is my helper'.
Abraham tells us in v25 that in this life Lazarus received bad things. But even though this man was poor and crippled, by giving him the name Lazarus Jesus wants us to see that this man was helped by God. He had a relationship with God. The very fact that Lazarus was carried by the angels to be with Abraham when he died shows us that he loved God.
But the rich man didn't love God, he loved money. Look at v25 again…
"But Abraham replied, 'Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things,"
In this life the rich man had received good things. He was a rich man. But what had he done with his wealth? How had he used his money?
He'd spent it on himself. He lived in luxury every day. He used his money to lavish on himself all his hearts desires. He didn't use it to help others.
Not even the poor beggar who lay on the ground outside his gate.
Lazaraus would have loved to eat even the scraps from the rich man's table. But the rich man had never gave him anything. Because he didn't love other people. He loved himself. And because he loved himself, he loved money, and all that money could buy him. And because he loved money, he did not love God.
Look back at v13…
"No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money."
It's not wrong to be rich. Some people think that the Bible says that money is the root of all evil. It doesn't. It says, in 1 Timothy 6 v 10, "…the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil."
This isn't really a story about money. It's a story about love.
When Lazarus died he went to Heaven because God was his helper. He had a relationship with God. He loved God. But when the rich man died he went to Hell because he didn't love God, he loved money.
And that should make us stop and think this morning, because you and I are rich. We are some of the richest people in the world, and some of the richest people in history. And it's not wrong to be rich, but it is wrong, the Bible says, to love money. Because you cannot love both God and money.
So let me ask you the same question that Jesus was asking his audience with this story. Do you love money? Because if you love money, then you cannot love God.
Perhaps you're not sure. Well if you're not sure if you love money or not, there is one very simple way to find out. Give it away. Give it away to people like Lazarus.
This is a story about money, that is really a story about love, that is really…
A story about you and me, today
Look at v25 again...
"But Abraham replied, 'Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.'"
Heaven and Hell are real places. Heaven in the eternal home of those who have loved God in this life. And Hell is the eternal home of those who have rejected God in this life.
And whether you go to Heaven or Hell depends on only one thing. Do you chose to love God in this life, or do you chose to reject him?
And what Abraham says to the rich man is that once you and I die it will be too late for us to change our minds. "…between us and you." Abraham says, v26 "a great chasm has been fixed…"
And when the rich man realises that is true, for the first time in this story he thinks about someone other than himself. Look at vv 27-29…
"He answered, 'Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father's house, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.' "Abraham replied, 'They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.'"
There's nothing the rich man can do to change his situation now that he's dead. But he has 5 brothers who are still alive, and so he asked Abraham to send Lazarus back from the dead to warn them about Heaven and Hell.
And Abraham says, 'They've got the Bible'! They don't need Lazarus to tell them the truth, they can read it for themselves in the words that Moses and the prophets wrote down in the OT. v30…
" 'No, father Abraham,' he said, 'but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.'"
Do you see what the rich man is saying? On the surface it looks like he's thinking about his brothers, and perhaps he is. But he's also trying to justify himself. Because in his life he also had the words of Moses and the Prophets to listen to. He had lived his life with a copy of the OT sitting on his shelf. But he'd never taken it seriously. He'd never really bothered with God, he'd always been too busy making and spending money.
But, if someone had come back from the dead, to tell him about Heaven and Hell, then he would have listened. And he would have turned his life around, and started loving God.
It's the same thing that many people have said to me over the years. Perhaps it's something you've said, or something that you're still saying to yourself? 'If God revealed himself to me, if he showed me a miracle…then I would believe.' And what does Abraham say, v31…
"He said to him, 'If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.' "
Don't kid yourself, he says. You and I have all the information and evidence we need right here in the Bible.
And Moses and the Prophets, and Jesus in the NT, tell us all about the God who made us and loves us, and they tell us that there is a real place called Heaven and a real place called Hell. Heaven in the eternal home of those who have loved God in this life. And Hell is the eternal home of those who have rejected God in this life.
Do you see? Jesus' story is really a story about you and me, and a decision that we face, today.
In a little while we're going to celebrate communion. In communion we eat a bit of bread, and drink wine, to help remind us of the body and blood that Jesus sacrificed when he chose to die on the cross.
You see, God loves you and me so much that he sent his son Jesus to tell us about Heaven and warn us about Hell. He came to show us that we've all chosen to reject God and love ourselves, like the rich man, and that Hell is what we deserve. But he also came to die on the cross and go through Hell so that we don't have to. He came to warn us, and to die for us, because he loves us.
And three days after he died, he did come back from the dead (!) to show us that he really is God, and his words really are true.
Communion is a reminder that God loves us. And it's a meal for all of us who have chosen to live our loves loving him in return. For those of us who recognise that God is our helper, just like Lazarus.
If that's you this morning, then I want to invite you to join us in taking communion. Perhaps you've never taken communion before, but this morning you've realised that you want to stop live like the rich man, and start loving God. If that's you, then come I the centre aisle when the stewards invite you, and take a place at the rope and we'll come and give you the bread and the wine.
But perhaps this morning, if you're honest, you know you still love money, and not God. Or perhaps it's not money, it's your career, or your family or your comfort, or whatever. You love things but not God.
If that's you then I'm so glad you're here this morning, but please don't come up for communion. Just stay in your seat. But why not take the time to have a look again at Jesus' story in Luke 16.
Because really it is a story about you and me, today.