16 “The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing their way into it. 17 It is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the least stroke of a pen to drop out of the Law. 18 “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
Verses 16 to 17 talk about the law and so it seems like an odd shift when Jesus goes on to talk about divorce in the following verse 18.
For some context, let’s look back in verse 14 where the Pharisees sneered at Jesus after he told a parable. Listen to last week’s sermon entitled ‘Who are You Serving?‘ for a deeper study on that parable.
In light of that, Jesus is essentially saying, “Yes I’m new, but I’m not changing the law – unlike you!” Jesus is pointing out a way by which the Pharisees were abusing the law in a huge way by giving their blessing on divorce.
If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house,
The word displeasing as the reason for divorce mentioned in the passage above was interpreted in two different ways in Jesus’ time:
- The school of Shammai had a conservative view by interpreting displeasing as adultery only.
- The school of Hillel, on the other hand, had a very liberal view. Displeasing could be something like a wife that was considered a bad cook.
Guess what was the commonly chosen interpretation at that time?
In verses 16-18, Jesus is addressing the impure motives for interpreting the scriptures in such a way that Deuteronomy 24:1 gets misused and abused by the Pharisees in that day. Jesus did this several times as recorded in other places throughout the gospels, see Matthew 5, for example.
Interpreting scripture is about finding its meaning not finding what we want it to mean.
In other words, too much exegesis can exit Jesus.
In verses 19-31, Jesus then goes on to give a parable which is unique to the gospel according to Luke – the rich man and Lazarus.
19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20 At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21 and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24 So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’ 25 “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’ 27 “He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, 28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ 29 “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’ 30 ” ‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ 31 “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’ “
Interestingly, this is also the only parable where Jesus uses an actual name. We don’t know whether he was referring to a real person or not.
It is a parable of contrasts
The rich man is dressed in purple and fine linen. This was the dress of a high priest. He had extravagant clothing and lived an extravagant lifestyle. What the NIV translates as ‘lived in luxury’ means more literally that he feasted sumptuously every day.
By doing that he was breaking the 4th commandment:
8 “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns.
This is in a time and culture in which your average person might eat meat once a week and labour for six days per week. Therefore, this man’s lifestyle was very self-indulgent and excessive. He was most certainly also forcing his servants to violate the commandment as well.
Every day at the rich man’s gate lay Lazarus, a beggar. He was longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table.
Back in that day, they did not use knives, forks or napkins. They just ate with their hands. The wealthy would use bread to clean their hands. Maybe Lazarus was living off that. Either way, he had his reasons for being at this man’s gate.
In verses 20-21 the parable says that Lazarus was hungry and unable to walk. He laid at the gate and was covered in sores. He was so helpless, that dogs licked at his sores.
This contrast and disparity of too much for some and too little for others has always followed humanity. This is due to many factors, but mostly sin of greed and sin of omission and indifference.
In verse 22 we learn that both men meet their final destiny – death.
Lazarus was most likely not buried because he had neither money nor help. In this case, his body would have been flung into Gehenna – a rubbish and refuse heap of fire in a valley called Ben Hinnom. It was considered cursed due to child sacrifice that the pagan culture long ago had influenced the kings of Judah to practice (Jeremiah condemns this in Jeremiah 19).
In contrast, the rich man had a stately burial with hired mourners and an ornate tomb.
However, in death, they enter the final eternal state that our souls are made for. Here, their fortunes are completely reversed.
This is a big picture kind of parable that opens a window for us into the next life.
1. You Choose
We have a choice about many things in life. Some seem trivial at the time, others we deem highly important. The outcome or consequences of our choices are sometimes favourable and sometimes negative.
What could be more important than the choices we make about our eternal life.
We cannot choose some things in this life. Material wealth or poverty can be this way. On the other hand, there is an abundance of choices that we can make in this life.
The parable of Lazarus and the rich man is a stark reminder for us all that many of these choices will have eternal consequences and help determine where we will be when we die.
Please note, that this parable is not trying to tell us that wealth leads to hell in all cases. Although Jesus says that it is harder for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. The opposite is also true, poverty doesn’t provide a ticket into heaven. Even though poverty can hold spiritual advantages.
The rich can choose the path to heaven just as much as the poor can set themselves on a path to hell.
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Hell is what we earn (wages of sin) whereas heaven is a gift of God. Heaven only comes through Jesus. It is a gift. Under no circumstances can it be earned.
Choose something other than Jesus in this life and in the next life you will have it, but it but that will be hell.
So, this parable is a great reminder to be careful what we chose.
The rich man regrets his choice but it’s too late (verse 26).
As far as life beyond death, you choose!
Today, we are still alive and here, we have a choice. Jesus chose to come here so that we could and would make the right choice.
2. Choose Heaven
There are eternal lessons here before we face eternity even though we don’t know how literal or symbolic they are. But Jesus uses real figures in his parable – Abraham and Moses. Also, Jesus himself came from eternity. So, I suppose he knew what he was speaking of.
This definitely gives us a comforting or terrifying picture of spiritual life beyond this one. Of course, Jesus wants us to choose heaven over hell.
We are introduced to two places. Firstly, Abraham’s side/bosom (see verses 22, 24), which is a Jewish symbolism of rest in death before the resurrection.
Jesus also spoke of it in another place pretty clearly.
Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
The second place we are introduced to in verse 23 is Hades, the place of torment. Jesus would eventually refer to it as hell or Gēhannā, Some kind of temporary place as it is thrown into the lake of fire along with death in Revelations 20:14.
We cannot speak with great certainty but it appears that this parable allows us to peer into some kind of in-between or holding place for our souls until Christ’s return and earth’s restoration.
And this place is either wonderfully good or terribly bad.
This is how it looks like when it’s wonderfully good.
In verse 22 Jesus tells us that when Lazarus died, “the angels carried him to Abraham’s side.” In verse 25 we read that he is comforted.
Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his faithful servants.
For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.
To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord!
The death of Sharon this week was a shocking reminder of our fragile state in this life and the inevitable pain of loss. The only comfort we can find in knowing where Sharon is now. Yes, it is a great comfort! Whilst it is comforting for us to realise where she is, her comfort right now is beyond anything we can experience. She is with Abraham and Jesus in paradise now and in this, we take great hope and comfort!
Isn’t the holy spirit’s timing remarkable? God knew that we needed to study this parable right this very Sunday.
However, there is another contrast here. We have now looked at what it looks like when it is wonderfully good. Now, we look at what it looks like when it’s terribly bad.
The idea of hell, hades or Gehenna portrayed here provides a terrifying picture. It begins in the present in the form of a life without Christ, ruled by sin, chaos and destruction.
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.
They were presently sons of hell. And if hell in this life continues in the next to be finalised it will be a terrible and miserable end.
In Jesus’ parable in Luke 16, it is described as a place of torment (verses 23, 28) and agony (verse 25). Why is that, though?
After dying the rich man still seems to have his senses as he longs and thirsts. He seems to still be human in many ways.
It’s also worth noting that he seems to see what he could have had. He is in a state of regret as he is being tormented by fire, which symbolises judgement.
To know that you were irreversibly wrong and could have had a much better outcome that certainly is hell.
However, there is good news in this parable and ultimately in the gospel. Jesus came to love the hell out of us! Jesus came to pull us out of the wrong place and into the right place.
I’m so proud of Neo, a young man coming to understand his need for a saviour and thus avoiding a lot of hell in this life and find Heaven in the next. He chose that now. This choice must be made before we enter the next life.
There are many questions that arise from this parable. Likewise, this week we may have asked many questions with regards to the loss of a loved one. Especially when it seems too soon.
When it comes to this parable, we may ask why people have to suffer so much. Life doesn’t seem fair. A better question than “God, why this, why that?” may be, “Am I ready to meet God when I cross over into the final state?”
There was an epitaph left on a tombstone long ago …
“Please view my tomb as you pass by,
For as you are, so once was I;
And as I am, soon you shall be. ―,
So, make your plans to follow me.”
The rich man in this story makes his plans too late. See Luke 16:27-28. Abraham’s answer is our only answer to make the right plans.
This rich man should have listened to God’s Word. His brothers should listen. The Pharisees should listen. We should listen.
That means the question is not, “God will you speak”, but “Will we listen?”.
I think Peter hits on this very key point when he writes …
2 Peter 1:16-19
16 For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 He received honour and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” 18 We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain. 19 We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.
As amazing as the miracles were for Peter, he saw in God’s Word a more sure and solid foundation on which to believe. He very emphatically states that we too must pay careful attention to God’s Word.
Therefore, let’s learn these lessons now from God’s word. Let’s choose heaven before it is too late.
Hope is one of the Theological virtues. This means that a continual looking forward to the eternal world is not (as some modern people think) a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do. It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is.
If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven.
It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.
Aim at Heaven and you will get earth “thrown in”. Aim at earth and you will get neither. The rich man in this parable aimed for earth and hit the bullseye but he missed the meaning of life and heaven. Lazarus, on the other hand, aimed for Heaven and in the end did not regret even his life on earth.
So, like our sisters Sharon and Lynn, as well as our brother Warner and many saints before them: Let’s choose Heaven!
More by Forest Versele
More from the The Gospel of Luke series