It’s a strange parable this one. We are commanded not to talk to the dead (so stop going to spiritualists) and yet this parable has dead people in hell talking to dead people in heaven! It’s a parable. A story to help us grasp some truth and to confront the religious leaders who love money more than the Lord (look back at v. 14).
The rich man is dead and in hell, tormented. He cries out to “Father Abraham”, which means he is a Jew, but his Jewishness has not saved him. You are not saved, or a Christian, because of your race, nationality or your parents’ faith. We have to turn to Jesus and put our trust in Him for ourselves. So the cry “Father Abraham” means this is a parable for those who think they are secure because of their race or upbringing. Back in v. 14 those money loving Pharisees are essentially saying “We are children of Abraham. Don’t threaten us that the use of our money might change our eternal destiny.” A contemporary Christian might say, “stop talking about money. I’m saved. That’s enough.”
Faith purifies us from a love of money. The rich man loved money and material things more than God and more than Lazarus who had laid suffering at his gate, to be passed by every day for probably decades.
The next thing to note is that there is no way out of hell – v. 26 shows us that the great chasm between heaven and hell “has been fixed”. Rob Bell is wrong.
The challenge of this passage is that if we pursue things more than God – then earth will be the extent of our heaven and eternity will be our hell. If we treasure God more, then earth will be the extent of our hell and eternity will be our heaven. That is not saying that we can buy our way to heaven, or earn it. You can’t earn relationship with God, it’s a free gift. It is saying that our use of money shows our hearts and our delight.
So the rich man’s state is fixed, he is now worried for his brothers, whose mindset is also completely about money. They are Jews too, maybe doing their daily devotions and going to “church” once a week, but their passion is accumulating things. Abraham’s answer is that they have Moses and the Prophets. They have the Bible, there’s enough in there to show them the way. The rich man knows they aren’t paying attention, so he asks for a miracle – raising a dead person would be a good one. Big enough to get their attention! Abraham’s answer, in v. 31, is that if they love money so much they ignore the Scriptures, a miracle won’t work either.
The challenge to us is to break free from the broken cisterns of materialism and drink from the fountain of living water (1 Tim 6:7-10) – Love God, earn well and be generous!
Sobering words on stumbling blocks
We live in a fallen world, where sin abounds. Thankfully grace abounds all the more (Romans 5:20)! The world, the flesh and the devil promote, and tempt us to, sin. Jesus’ next challenge at the start of chapter 17 is to not be a stumbling block for others. Last year we saw a sad example of someone engaging others in sin and illegal behaviour – placing a stumbling block in front of brothers and sisters in Christ. Although the unrepentant instigator had to leave the church, it was so good to see restoration and repentance also happen. Don’t be a stumbling block! Don’t drag others into sin – whether it be gossip, drinking too much on a night out, sexual sin or anything else. Be someone who lifts others up!
Aim to restore
The elders worked for six weeks behind the scenes trying to restore those involved in that mess. Jesus’ words are simple – if a brother sins, rebuke him and if he repents, forgive him.
- Grant forgiveness to those who sin against you
- Grant it on the basis of a verbal confession. Words are cheap; kids say I’m sorry, when they really mean I’m sorry I got caught. So Jesus goes on to say even if it happens 7 times a day and they repent, keep forgiving.
Increase our faith
All that has been in this passage so far is not at all easy! Forgiving 7 times a day is challenging and frustrating. The disciples cry out “increase our faith Lord”. I pray that a lot, especially raising teenagers! God will give you grace to do all He asked you to do.
Lord give us grace to live free of the love of money, to always be lifting up brothers and sisters and to forgive those who have sinned against us. Amen.