An Unexpected Twist.
“But Abraham said, ‘If they won’t listen to Moses and the prophets, they won’t listen even if someone rises from the dead.’” – Luke 16:31 NLT
Jesus had a unique way of turning things on their ear, upsetting the apple cart, and disrupting the status quo. He was always shaking up the comfortable conclusions people had reached and making them reassess their preconceived ideas of how things worked in God’s Kingdom. He used His stories or parables as a way to hook people in, piquing their interest, while at the same time rocking their world. In considering His story of the rich man and the poor man, it is important to remember the context. It goes all the way back to the opening of chapter 15, where the Pharisees and religious leaders confronted Jesus about His questionable choice of friends. It seems that they were offended that this so-called Messiah was fond of hanging out with sinners. He even ate with them. Something these self-righteous men would never do. It was that encounter with the religious leaders that began Jesus’ string of stories. He then launched into the stories of the lost sheep, the lost coin, the lost son, the unfaithful manager, and now, the rich man and the poor man. But if you remember to consider what prompted Jesus to tell these stories, it might be better to rename them “The Parable of the Abandoned Sheep,” “The Parable of the Overlooked Coins,” The Parable of the Self-Righteous Son,” The Parable of the Remorseful Servant, and “The Parable of Unbelieving Rich Man.”
If we remember the context, we can’t overlook the fact that Jesus is dealing with the attitude of the Pharisees and the religious leaders. In the middle of His story about the unfaithful manager, Luke records the statement, “The Pharisees, who dearly loved their money, heard all this and scoffed at him” (Luke 16:14 NLT). Whether they got that the story was about them, they certainly didn’t agree with what Jesus was saying. They didn’t like His conclusions. These were men who enjoyed a rich and satisfying life. They viewed wealth as a sign of the blessing of God. They were rich because they were righteous – or so they thought. Unlike the manager in the story, they didn’t see themselves as unfaithful stewards of God. They had been faithful and their wealth was a sign that God was pleased with them. Which led Jesus to tell the story of the rich man and the poor man. This is a story designed to juxtapose two extreme conditions, and to destroy the faulty thinking that plagued the people of Israel concerning the blessings of God. The rich man “was splendidly clothed in purple and fine linen.” He lived a life of luxury. Jesus’ audience would have naturally concluded that this man was righteous because of His wealth. Then Jesus described a second man, who was a poor beggar, relegated to begging for food. Not only that, he was inflicted with sores. Again, Jesus’ audience would have naturally concluded that this man was a wicked sinner who was simply being punished by God for his sins.
Both men die. But this is where the story begins to take an unexpected turn for the audience. Things do not turn out the way they would have imagined. Shockingly, in Jesus’ story, the rich man ends up in hell and the poor man ends up in heaven, with Abraham and all the faithful patriarchs. This would have been a shock to all those listening to Jesus speak that day. Why? Because they believed the one man’s wealth was a sign of God’s blessing and, therefore, a guarantee of his future in heaven. The poor man should have been the one to end up in hell because he obviously had lived a wicked life on earth. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have been destined to a life of begging and misery. But Jesus’ story is designed to explode these myths regarding righteousness and reward in God’s Kingdom. The poor man was not being rewarded with heaven because he was poor and the rich man was not being punished with hell because he was wealthy. This was all about the condition of the hearts of the two men. Just a few moments before, Jesus had told the Pharisees, “You like to appear righteous in public, but God knows your hearts. What this world honors is detestable in the sight of God” (Luke 16:15 NLT). In the story, Jesus says that the rich man called out to Abraham for relief. He was in anguish and he asked Abraham to send the poor man to cool his parched tongue with just a dip of water from his fingertip. Interestingly, Jesus reveals that the rich man, while in hell and under torment, still views the poor man as his servant. Abraham breaks the news to this man that what he is asking is impossible. So the rich man begs Abraham to send the poor to warn his family so that they won’t end up like he did. He wants Lazarus, the poor man, to rise from the dead and tell his rich brothers that they can’t depend on their wealth as a sign of God’s blessing and an assurance of their future place in God’s Kingdom. And this is where Jesus makes His final and most important point. The rich man says, “But if someone is sent to them from the dead, then they will repent of their sins and turn to God” (Luke 16:30 NLT). Interestingly, Jesus wove the great patriarch and icon of the Jewish people, Abraham, into this story. It is he who is speaking, when Jesus relates the following message: “If they won’t listen to Moses and the prophets, they won’t listen even if someone rises from the dead” (Luke 16:31 NLT). The rich man in the story was an unbeliever. He had placed all his faith and hope in his wealth and riches. The Pharisees standing before Jesus as He told this story were also unbelievers. They refused to believe that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God. And even when Jesus was put to death by them and rose again from the grave, they would still refuse to believe that He was who He said He was. They put their faith in their own self-righteousness. They believed that they were blessed by God because they were descendants of Abraham. Which is why Jesus chose to have Abraham deliver the bad news in His story. God does not reward men based on their affluence, influence, religiosity, piety, power, prestige, position, Bible knowledge, status in the religious community, good works, or any other man-established criteria. What this world honors is detestable in the sight of God. He looks at the heart. Jesus knew the hearts of the Pharisees. He knew why they refused to believe in Him. And He knew that they would continue to refuse to believe Him even after He rose from the dead. They had placed their faith elsewhere. And the results for them were going to be unexpected and highly unwelcome.
Father, Your ways are not our ways. You don’t do things the way we expect. You are not impressed by what impresses us. You don’t reward the way we do. You see what we can’t see – the hearts of men. You reward based on faith and faith alone. Those who humble themselves and recognize their own sinfulness and their need for a Savior, and place their faith in the gift of Your Son are saved. Rich, poor, slave, free, educated, uneducated, young, old, male, female, religious, irreligious, impressive, unimpressive. It has nothing to do with our value and what we have done, but only with what Jesus Christ has done for us. Thank You! Amen.
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men