19 “There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day. 20 And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus who was laid at his gate, full of sores, 21 And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 And it came to pass, that the beggar died and was carried by angels into Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 And in hell he lifted up his eyes, being in torments, and sees Abraham afar off with Lazarus in his bosom. 24 And he cried, and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am tormented in this flame.’ 25 But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus, in like manner, evil things. But now he is comforted and you are tormented. 26 And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who would pass from here to you cannot, neither can they pass to us who would come from there.’ 27 Then he said, ‘I pray you, therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house, 28 For I have five brothers, so that he may testify to them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ 29 Abraham says to him, ‘They have Moses and the prophets. Let them hear them.’ 30 And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 And he said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if one rises from the dead.’” Luke 16:19-31
Jesus’ illustration of the rich man and Lazarus may be much more than a parable, for it is told by Jesus as if it is a true and factual account. But, whether an actual historical event or a parable, we can still learn much from Jesus’ words.
The rich man is not identified by name, but the poor beggar’s name was Lazarus (from Greek, but probably Eleazer in Hebrew), which means “God is help.” Even though Lazarus was poor and full of sores, he was a true believer in God, as his name indicates, because he was taken to heaven when he died.
Even though the rich man was greatly blessed by God in material things, he did not hear and heed God’s Word (Moses and the Prophets) and repent of his selfish and sinful ways and look in faith to the Messiah. This can be seen by the fact that there were no fruits of faith in his life in regard to poor Lazarus, who was laid at his gate, and also by the fact that his soul went to hell when he died. And we see that his brothers, too, were self-deceived and didn’t heed the warnings of God’s Word and repent.
In addition to teaching that one’s soul goes either to heaven or to hell when he dies, Jesus warns against living one’s life solely for the selfish enjoyment of the things of this world. One’s first concern should be to heed the Word of God and repent, turning away from sin and the selfish use of this world’s goods to faith in Christ, who died to redeem us from sin and death and then rose again.
As a fruit of true repentance, we will then, in love for Christ and neighbor, put to death our selfish and sinful desires and use the goods of this world to help those in need. We will not close our hearts to the poor and needy but will do all we can to help them.
One more important truth should also be learned. If one does not heed the Word of God during his lifetime, there is no other hope for repentance; for the Holy Spirit works through the Law to convince us of our sin and the punishment we deserve, and through the Gospel to reveal our Savior and to give and assure to us forgiveness of sins and eternal salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.
If one, during his lifetime, refuses to turn from his sins to Christ Jesus, his Savior, there will be no more opportunity for repentance. His torment in hell will be forever!
But when one, by the grace of God, heeds the Word and repents, trusting in Christ for forgiveness and life, he is forgiven by God and will love his brother; and his soul, at the time of death, will be transported by angels to the bosom of Abraham.
O Jesus, who my debt didst pay and for my sin wast smitten, within the Book of Life, oh, may my name be also written! I will not doubt; I trust in Thee, from Satan Thou hast made me free and from all condemnation. Amen. (The Lutheran Hymnal, Hymn 611, Verse 5)
[Scripture is quoted from the Revised Common Version of the Bible.]