The Rich Man and Lazarus

Complacency and creature comforts are on the table for our examination this morning. Amos chides the people of the north for their hearts made heavy by luxury, by food and drink and hedonistic idleness. Jesus tells a parable about a man who had everything who went to hell, and a poor man who had nothing who went to heaven. And in the middle in today’s epistle, we hear the apostle Paul’s description of the kind of men that ought to be put into the offices of bishop and deacon in the Church.

“Woe to those who are at ease in Zion, woe to the smugly secure on the mountain of Samaria!” Amos, the troubler of Israel is stirring up trouble. And he’s doing it in a dangerous place – among the rich and famous, the movers and shakers, the wealthy and attractive, the kinds of people you and I would like to hang out with and may be one of. Oh, yes, give me the life of the rich man over Lazarus any day of the week.

Amos is taking no prisoners. Permit me a paraphrase for our ears: Woe to those who lie on their SleepComfort mattresses, who stretch out on the Lazyboys, who gorge themselves on rack of lamb and prime rib, who fill their ears with idle songs and their mouths with bowls of wine and who slather their perfect skin with the finest oils and lotions – and have not a care for the ruin of Joseph. Who couldn’t care less about the state of the Church. Who do not grieve over what is happening to Gospel of Jesus. Woe to you and to me with our satiated bellies and drunken tongues and ringing ears! I’ve said it before from this pulpit, I’ll say it again this morning. Never trust a happy theologian. Amos would agree.

This is not to say that there is anything wrong with a nice dinner, a bottle of wine, and a comfortable mattress. But when creature comforts bring spiritual complacency then we have a problem of idolatrous proportions. When we are too lethargic to hear the call to worship, when our late night parties mean we sleep in on Sundays or doze through church if we’re hear, when our tongues are too loose with wine, beer, or booze to speak a clear word of rebuke and comfort to our neighbor, when our ears are so full of the noise of this culture’s music that we can’t hear the Word of God through the din, then something is tragically wrong.

Jesus told a frightening parable about a rich man who had everything and a poor man who had nothing. Which would you want to be? Oh, come on, be honest. You’d want to be the rich man, wouldn’t you? Armani suits, linen tablecloths, servants waiting on his every need, a Rolls in the garage, a Ferrari for the weekends, the finest meats cooked to perfection, the best vintage wines from his endless cellar. Who wouldn’t want to be him? He’s living la vida loca! Why do people play the Lotto? Why do people roll the dice? Why do people grab and claw for every dollar they can get their hands on? They want to be this guy, or at least, have a little piece of his pie.

At the end of his driveway is a guy named Lazarus. It’s unusual for Jesus to name someone in his parable, and I’ll explain in a second why I think He does. Who on earth would want to be Lazarus? Diving the rich man’s dumpster, searching for a bite to eat, even a few crumbs of that fresh sourdough baguette, maybe a few bones with some meat left on them. His skin was covered with oozing sores, but old Lazarus didn’t have a medical plan. His only physicians were the dogs that hung around to lick his sores. They say a dog is a man’s best friend, and that may be true here, but where Lazarus lived dogs were dirty, garbage picking scavengers. They were the only comfort Lazarus had. Who would want to be Lazarus?

Every day the rich man looked out his window, down the driveway, to the gate. He’d stand there in his satin bathrobe, with a gin and tonic in hand, and he’d look down the drive at old Lazarus with the dogs, and he’d think to himself, “There but by the grace of God go I. Poor sucker. He must have done something bad to deserve this.”

And then one day, they both dropped dead. Death is the great equalizer – rich and poor die pretty much the same. The rich man died on his Sleep Comfort or his Lazy Boy; Lazarus died in the street. But both of them were equally dead. Death reveals the hidden truth, something that wasn’t so apparent in this life. Lazarus was faithful, full of faith in the promises of God even in his emptyness, he hungered and thirsted and now is satisfied. The rich man rejected God just as he rejected Lazarus; he was faith-less. He winds up in Hades (which is kind of hell before hell), while Lazarus winds up in the “bosom of Abraham” or “Abraham’s side” (which is kind of heaven before heaven).

Everything is reversed. Lazarus is blessed, the rich man cursed. Lazarus is comforted, the rich tormented. The rich man tries to bargain, but his bargaining days are over. He becomes mission-minded. He has five unbelieving brothers, probably just as hedonistic as he was. “Send Lazarus to them. They’ll be impressed. Lazarus risen from the dead. That’ll shake them out of their drunken stupor.”

“They have Moses and the Prophets,” Abraham says. Lazarus’ work days are over now. He gets to rest from his labors. And those five brothers have all they need to be saved – the Torah and the Prophets. Let them hear them. And if they don’t hear the Word of God, they won’t be convinced even if someone should rise from the dead.”

Do you think Jesus had the divine tongue in the divine cheek when He said that? He actually did raise a man named Lazarus from the dead. This Lazarus wasn’t poor, but he was dead. And Jesus raised him to life to show that He is the resurrection and the life. Do you know what they tried to do to Lazarus? They wanted to kill him, just as they wanted to kill Jesus, because if they do not believe Moses and the Prophets, they’re not going to believe if one rises from the dead. They’re not even going to believe if Jesus Himself rises from the dead.

You, my friends, have the prophetic Word made even more sure. You are blessed to live in the last days. You not only have Moses and the prophets, you have the apostles and evangelists. You know how this whole thing comes out. You know how Jesus died to bear the sin of the world and your sin; how He became the least and the loser for all of us, losing His life to win us, laying down His life to save us. He was rich in the riches of heaven, richer than any rich man, yet for our sakes He become poor like Lazarus in the parable, wretched, miserable, crucified – to save you.

Can you imagine what it would be like to take those two characters, the rich man and Lazarus, and have that poor beggar at the end of the driveway being licked by the dogs be the rich man’s savior? What if Lazarus were Jesus begging at the rich man’s gate? Outrageous, you say? “For as often as you have done it to the least of these, my brothers, you have done it to me.” How would you expect Jesus to come into the world the first time? As the rich man, or as Lazarus? But the rich man in all his luxury and comfort and food and drink and purple and linen could not see it, and would not believe it, that God saves from the bottom up, not the top down. The last are first, the first are last.

Beware complacency that comes with creature comforts. The call to discipleship is not a call to be comfortable. Remember the church at Laodicea – a rich city with bankers and doctors and businessmen. It had hot springs with warm mineral waters. But the charge from the Lord to this church is “You are lukewarm, like your water.” Neither hot nor cold. They said, “We are rich, we have wealth, we don’t need a thing.” But the Lord of the Church says, “You are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked. You need gold only I can give; you need a robe only I can provide, you need balm for your eyes that only I have.” Repent of your riches, your complacency, your false comforts, and recognize that you are no better off or different than that beggar Lazarus at the end of your driveway.

“We are all beggars,” Luther wrote as his dying words. “This is true.” We are all beggars. Lazaruses, each of us, begging, hungry, wounded, sick, sore. And the good news is that Jesus has joined us there, among the dogs, the outcasts, the losers. A beggar to save the beggars. You have the Word of Christ, greater than Moses and the prophets. You have the Word made flesh. Faith comes by hearing the Word of Chirst. Hear it. Your sins are forgiven in Jesus. Your death is destroyed in Jesus. Hell has no power over you as your are in Jesus.

Lord, let at last Thine angels come,
To Abr’ham’s bosom bear me home,
That I may die unfearing;
And in its narrow chamber keep
My body safe in peaceful sleep
Until they reappearing.
And then from death awaken me,
That these mine eyes with joy may see,
O Son of God, Thy glorious face,
My Savior and my fount of grace.
Lord Jesus Christ, my prayer attend, my prayer attend,
And I will praise Thee without end.

In the name of Jesus, Amen

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