There’s Nothing Else God Can Do
This week we return to the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. It’s an intriguing parable, mainly because of the description of the afterlife. Virtually any time you hear a sermon on this parable, it’s about Hell. To be sure, Jesus does pull the curtain back a little to give us a quick peek at life beyond the grave. But the point of this story isn't necessarily to describe particulars about the afterlife. If it were, we'd have to assume that those in heaven can watch and interact with sufferers in Hell—which doesn't make it sound much like paradise.
So, if this parable isn’t primarily about the afterlife, what is it about? Maybe it’s about the need to care for the poor. A good argument could certainly be made for that. But when Jesus told this parable, he did so on the heels of the other parables he told—the parable of the lost sheep/coin/sons, and the parable of the shrewd manager. Jesus told these parables in response to an accusation from the scribes and Pharisees that he could not be a man of God because he fraternized with tax collectors and sinners. In each of these parables, including the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, Jesus is saying something that should startle the Pharisees from their spiritual slumber. He’s contrasting the lavish mercy of God with the absolute lack of mercy on the part of the Pharisees.
In the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, Jesus converts the currency of mercy into the currency of money. By doing so, he makes a point that the Pharisees should easily get—the thing that was more important to them than anything was not the souls of lost people or of the lavish grace and mercy that is required to save the lost. It was money. They loved money more than they loved anything. More than people. More than God.
In this parable, Jesus is making it poignantly clear that the Pharisees are in danger of Hell. They have been custodians of the law. They kept the rituals religiously, but ignored the heart of the law. They showed no mercy to those who needed it. When the rich man found himself in the place of torment, he soon discovered that there was no relief. And he also learned that no one could return from the dead to warn his brothers of the danger they were in. If Abraham could not show mercy to this man, then would he show mercy to his brothers by sending Lazarus back from the dead to warn them? “They have Moses and the Prophets,” Abraham says. “No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead’” (Luke 16:30-31).
In a sense, the Word of God is more powerful than a resurrection. The Word of God can produce a repentant heart. Resurrection cannot do that. In this parable, Jesus is not saying mercy is denied. Mercy is extended to anyone who will receive the Word of God and live it out. But for anyone who rejects the Word of God, there is nothing else God can do.