Luke 16:13-31

Nov 10, 2012

Luke 16 Rich Man & Lazarus.pdf

This entry is a slight break with tradition.  The passage above is not a chiastic structure.  However, since there are several important interpretive points to be made based on the parallel ABAB structure, I thought the passage was worth posting. The first thing to note is how, on the surface, the whole chapter seems to be about money.  Yet Luke 16 contains deeper and more important themes that strike to the very core of what life is all about.  Indeed, how we will spend eternity is based on what lies beneath surface of this story.  We began to look at how the story is set up. In 16:13 we read of Jesus assuming everyone is a servant of someone or something.  We remember the song entitled “You gotta serve somebody” and Jesus says in vs 13 you can’t serve multiple masters (so we should see that each one of us should be a servant of God).

The rich man, like many self-righteous Jews, was not serving God, but himself.  Earlier, John the Baptist preached saying, “Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.” The rich man was not a true son of Abraham. He demonstrated this in two ways and these ways are repeated twice in this passage so that we might see it.  The section of 16:14-17 sets up the story by actually paralleling the same thoughts that occur in the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus in 16:19-31.  So the outline below is repeated twice from 16:14-31:


A. He Prized Money and Outward Things BUT Ignored His Heart & Good Works

1. Earthly Injustice / Man’s Unjust Judgment 

2. Heavenly Justice / God’s Righteous Judgment

B. He was privileged as to Revelation BUT Ignored God’s Word

1. Fruitless attempts to enter the Kingdom (apart from Repentance)

2. The Importance of the Scriptures    

We all need a relationship with God since mankind, in Adam, is sick because of sin.  If we don’t partake of the cure (Christ) we will die in our sins (Jn 8:24, Rom 6:23).  When we do have a real relationship with God, he begins to heal us even in this life, by making us more like his Son as we cooperate in faith in the context of his body, the church. First we need to be grafted into the root, but then we should bear fruit.

If the rich man had been a true son of Abraham and the covenant (Acts 3:25) he would have loved God and his neighbor instead of his wealth (Lk 10:27, cf. Deut. 6:5, 15:7-11, Lev 19:18, Prov. 21:26, Micah 6:8).  Money isn’t evil but “the love of money is the root of all kinds of evils.” Abraham was a man of wealth, but he was also a man who took the footsteps of faith (Rom 4:12). Good works of love were missing from the rich man’s life because his faith in God was missing. Often we think of a relationship with God in terms of “not sinning.” But the Rich man’s problem wasn’t the sins he had committed; it was what he had omitted that was his fatal flaw - a positive faith relationship with God and the commensurate actions of love for God and neighbor. It was what he left undone that counted for eternity. He could easily have helped Lazarus, who was right outside at his gate, but he didn’t. Maybe Lazarus was an annoyance - an eyesore of sorts.  Or maybe the rich man was just “minding his own business” as if that is an acceptable or neutral position. St. Silouan the Athonite said “My brother is my life.”  A servant of God would have thought in these terms. 

Not only did the rich man ignore his heart and good works, but he also spent his life ignoring God’s word. “The Law and the Prophets” refers to the Scriptures.  As a Jew, he was privileged to have access to the very “oracles of God” - the revealed word of God. They told of all that he needed for life and health in covenant relation with God.  But he (and apparently his brothers) were in the habit of ignoring the guidelines and warnings of Scripture.  Though a time for repentance was provided in his life (and maybe even through the preaching of John the Baptist vs16) the rich man ignored this way of humility.  He made arrogant assumptions as the efficacy of his physical descent from Abraham and so he ended up serving the wrong master (his wealth).  This type of service would therefore prove fruitless for entering God’s kingdom.  That is probably the thought of the obscure reference to attempts to enter the kingdom by force (vs 16).  Any such attempts, not based in repentance and faith, would be doomed to failure. In Matt 19:24, Jesus said it would be “easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” You can try all kinds of ways to come to God, but ignoring the instruction manual is a big mistake.  For the rich man it was fatal.  The parallel to vs 16 in vs 26 is another reference to fruitless attempts to enter the kingdom. There was a great chasm fixed after death and so there was no chance of repentance at that point.  All he had left was an eternity of painful feelings and memories. This may seem extreme and it probably sounds unjust, but, I ask, isn't this intended for us as a vivid picture of God’s righteous judgment?  Why would Jesus make such a depiction if it were not based in spiritual reality?  Who would know better about such things? The rich man had the highest privilege of having God's word, so he was responsible for this knowledge (unlike those who have never had such a chance). We who have the Scriptures put our own souls at risk if we ignore their warning.  May we all be willing to humbly pray, “Lord, have mercy” in repentance and faith now in this life while we have the chance. May we all make sure we have a New Covenant relationship, as servants of God through Christ and then live it out in the context of his body, the church.