The Life of Christ in the Synoptic Gospels
POVERTY AND RICHES
1. True Riches – The Rich Poor (Lk. 6:20-23)
2. Real Poverty – The Poor Rich (Lk. 6:24-26)
3. Lazarus and Dives – Riches on Earth and In Heaven (Lk. 16:19-31)
4. Lazarus and Dives Today
Time: The Sermon on the Mount was preached probably in the summer of 28 A.D. The parable of Lazarus is recorded in connection with the Perean ministry, probably toward the end of 29 A.D. or maybe early in 30 A.D.
Place: The Sermon on the Mount was preached on a hill probably west of the Sea of Galilee. Perea is the region east of the Jordan.
Inductive Study of the Lesson:
a. Note that Luke's is particularly the Gospel to the poor, reading Luke 1:53; 2:7, 24; 6:20-25, 30: 8:2, 3; 12:15-34; 14:12-14; 16:9-14, 19-25
b. Note in Christ's parables the evidences of the impoverishment of Palestine in His day: Matthew 18:23-30; Luke. 7:41; 12:58, 59; 14:28-30; 16:6, 7
c. In regard to the persecution of the prophets see 1 Kings 19:10; 22:27; 2 Chronicles 16:10; 24:20, 21; Jeremiah 26:23; 32:38; Amos 7:10-16; Acts 7:52; 1 Thessalonians 2:14, 15; Hebrews 11:33-38
d. With verse 25, compare Ecclesiastes 2:2; 7:6; Proverbs 14:13
e. Concerning the honor paid to false prophets see 1 Kings 18:19, 20; 22:11; Isaiah 30:10; Jeremiah 5:31
f. With verses 20-26, compare James. 1:2-9, 20; 2:13-18; 4:4, 10, 11; 5:10, 11
g. Regarding fine linen see Genesis 41:42; Esther 8:15; Proverbs 31:22; Ezekiel 27:7; Revelations 18:12
h. With the parable of Lazarus, compare Christ's other parables concerning property: Matthew 13:44-46; 18:23-34; 25:14-30; Luke 7:41, 42; 12:16-20; 12:42-48; 15:8-10; 16:1-8; 19:12-27; 20:9-16
The Rich Poor and the Poor Rich
Introduction: Why is it worthwhile to have a lesson on the use of money? – (a) Because money is a great power in life. Whoever has a dollar is sovereign over all those without a dollar. Money is a good servant, but a dangerous master. In one sense, money is concentrated life, because it represents the time, thought and strength that went into gaining it. Therefore, the use of it is the use of life. If heaven allotted to each of us seven guardian angels, probably five of them would be appointed to constantly hover over our pockets. (b) Because the wealth of the world is constantly increasing; and because in these days of computers, providing swift and universal communication, money matters are determining more and more the world's history. We are no longer impressed with a millionaire; today a truly rich man must be worth billions. The rich are certainly growing richer. Are the poor growing poorer? (c) Because our heart-attitude toward money determines our attitude toward this world and the next. An attitude largely fixed in the years of our youth. This lesson has to do with wealth in its relation to both worlds.
Scripture Reading: Luke 6:20-23
1. True Riches – The Rich Poor
The remainder of this chapter of Luke is occupied with Luke's summary of the Sermon on the Mount – thirty verses where Matthew has three chapters. Much, of course, is omitted; but also, some things are added that Matthew left out.
Why did Christ begin with v 20 ... "Blessed be ye poor"? – (a) Because Palestine was full of poor people. The Roman system of taxation was exhausting the empire. The results were most oppressive in the eastern provinces, and Roman historians record that the burdens of taxation were producing chronic poverty with its accompaniment of rebellion. The teachings of Jesus constantly reveal the impoverishment of the land and of the people [see Inductive Study b. above]. (b) Because Luke especially delights in recording Christ's 'gospel to the poor' [See Inductive Study a. above]. (c) Because Christ's followers, represented by the company He saw before Him on this occasion, were for the most part poor in this world's goods, peasants and fisherman, etc. (d) Because Christ would begin with a note of cheer, teaching them to look on the bright side of their lot, unfortunate though it was.
In what ways are the poor in Christ blessed? – (a) Notice that Christ does not declare all poor people blessed. Ye poor declares that our Lord is not thinking of the whole class of literally needy, but of such of these He saw willing to learn of Him. Their earthly poverty and misery had opened their hearts to receive Him, had transmuted outward wants and sorrows into spiritual ones, as is evident from their being disciples. These are the characteristics He pronounces to bless. (b) The poor are filled with a sense of need, and are far removed from the great temptation of wealth and self-satisfaction. The poor are forced to seek salvation from what is outside their lives. (c) Therefore the poor may seek and find the kingdom of God more easily than the rich. That kingdom is not based upon riches – or poverty either, for that matter. It is based solely upon character. If any amount of riches, greater or smaller, give you consolation, it is well for you to understand that there is a woe upon those riches. Riches (at any level) were not meant to give consolation; we were not meant to find such there. (d) The blessing upon hunger and weeping is similar to that upon poverty: The poor are blessed if they learn humility; the hungry, if they obtain a higher aspiration after spiritual life; the suffering, if they are drawn to seek refuge in God. The Savior does not count wealth, food, and laughter as bad things; they are good things, and He promises them to His disciples. But, He says their opposites also may be made good and blessed if you will use them correctly. Every poor man may become a king in his poverty, as Christ did; as Paul did. Every mourner may learn to smile through tears. Every hungry body may feed upon the bread of Life. This is because "the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost" (Rom. 14:17). Whoever has this righteousness, peace, and joy though he may be poor, is 'rich poor' indeed. Granting that poverty, want, and sorrow may be blessed, what blessings can come from the hatred and reproaches of others?
v 22 ... "When they shall separate you from their company" refers to the excommunication or exclusion from the synagogue, and therefore from social fellowship. This is the lesser excommunication for thirty or ninety days (Jn. 9:34), while cast out your name refers to the greater excommunication, permanent exclusion from synagogue and Temple (Jn. 16:2).
v 22 ... "Men shall hate you ... and shall reproach you" was abundantly fulfilled in later days, when the Christians were charged, as under Nero, with incendiarism, cannibalism, and many other horrible crimes. (a) In the first place, the blessing of all this comes from the fact that it is endured "for the Son of man's sake" (v 22), and therefore Christ is the companion and the fellow sufferer of such martyrs. Then (b) "the prophets" (v 23) also are their companions, the great reformers and noble leaders of all ages. Elijah was driven into the wilderness. Hanani and Micaiah were imprisoned. Zechariah was stoned. Urijah was slain. Jeremiah was imprisoned, beaten, and put in the stocks. Amos was expelled and perhaps beaten to death. Isaiah was sawn asunder. James, Peter, and Paul were executed [See Inductive Study c. above]. Thus, suffered thousands of other heroic men and women. (c) Further, this hatred of men, though it is not good in itself and is never to be sought, yet does serve to wean the Christian from false ambitions, from subserviency to men and love of the world. It leads him to set his affection upon higher things, upon his "great reward in heaven" (v 23) which is sure to come. For every obloquy here, the honor there of millions upon millions of the greatest and best of all ages, and of our Lord Himself. For every sorrow here, eternal rejoicings there. It is a happy exchange.
Scripture Reading: Luke 6:24-26
2. Real Poverty – The Poor Rich
From describing the rich poor, Christ passes to the opposite picture, i.e., the poor rich. Christ does not imprecate woe upon them, but prophesies woe for them. It is not ...
v 24 ... "Woe (be) unto you," but ... "Woe (shall be) unto you."
Upon what classes were these woes to come? – (a) Upon the rich that make wealth their "consolation" (v 24), finding in it the satisfaction of all their desires and aspirations. The priest- nobles who had already condemned Him to death (Jn. 5:18), and the scribes of the Pharisees who were plotting against Him in Galilee (Mk. 3:6). The reference is not to rich men such as Nicodemus or Joseph of Arimathaea, but to those that trust in their riches (Mk. 10:24). (b) Upon those "that (were) full" (v 25) ... carelessly reveling in their abundance, like Dives in the parable we soon will study in this lesson. (c) Upon those that were laughing (v 25); not that laughter is not a good thing, but those were sad times, when all true men were filled with sorrow for the woes of the nation and the world, and deeply serious with earnest purpose to remedy the many evils of the time. It was no season for idle jesting. These were yet to know what it is to hunger and mourn – a reference probably to the calamities which overtook the governing classes at the siege of Jerusalem. (d) Upon those of whom all men "speak well" (v 26) ... as their ancestors praised the ...
v 26 ... "false prophets," such as the priests of Baal and of Asherah, honored by Jezebel, and Zedekiah, supported by Ahab [See Inductive Study e. above]. Jesus warns against universal popularity, too often acquired by pandering to prejudice, and too often smothering our conscience, blinding us to the vision of truth and God’s will. These words open a wide question as to the worth of praise as a test of human conduct.
What is the woe that comes upon all who fancy themselves rich? – Could it be the discovery of emptiness? Emptiness of all they have placed their hopes upon. Are you a preacher, pursuing popular applause? Are you a teacher, pursuing popular applause? Are you a businessman, pursuing popular applause? Whatever the reason, if you pursue popular applause, you run the high risk of ending up without true friends. If you live a self-serving life, eventually you will find yourself confronted with an eternity into which you cannot carry a single penny, an eternity where the only wealth is a noble, loving character. What woe can poverty bring that is equal to this terrible predicament of the poor rich?
Illustration: One Sunday morning a preacher found a little folded note on the pulpit which contained the words, "The prayers of the congregation are requested for a brother who is growing rich."
Illustration: Some rich men are like the child who was found with his hand in a valuable vase, and he could not withdraw it. After several tearful trials he was told, as a last attempt before the vase would be broken, "Now, try just once more. Open your hand and hold your fingers out straight like this, and then pull." To their astonishment the little fellow said, "Oh no, papa, I couldn't put my fingers like that; if I did, I'd drop my penny."
Illustration: A wealthy man lost his money in business reverses. One day his little daughter climbed on his knee and said, "Papa, please don't get rich again. You never come home when you're rich, and you don't hold me and kiss me as much. Please don't get rich again, papa."
Illustration: "The poorest man I know of is the man who has nothing but money, nothing else in the world upon which to expend his ambition and thought" (John D. Rockefeller).
Scripture Reading: Luke 16:19-31
3. Lazarus and Dives – Riches on Earth and In Heaven
The most striking illustration ever given of the poor rich and the rich poor is Christ's parable of Lazarus and Dives, therefore we fittingly study it now, though it was actually spoken during Jesus' Perean ministry, probably a year later than the Sermon on the Mount, near the end of our Lord's earthly life. In this parable, who is the typical 'poor rich' man?
v 19 ... "A certain rich man," who is significantly left unnamed, as not worth naming, while the poor man is given a name, the only name mentioned in all Christ's parables, and a name very dear to Jesus. "Dives" is not a proper name, but merely Latin for "a rich man."
How does Christ picture his wealth and luxury? – (a) By describing his clothes, which were dyed "purple" [or scarlet] (v 19) ... in the blood of a Tyrian mollusk – a rich, permanent hue, enormously expensive, reserved for the rich and powerful. Under the purple robe he wore "fine linen" (v 19), the Egyptian byssus, worth twice its weight in gold. Some was fine enough to be called 'woven air,' very transparent. (b) By describing his habits, that he "fared sumptuously every day" (v 19) ... literally, 'splendidly making merry every day,' his life a round of banquets, songs, dances, and revels.
Contrasting with Dives, who is the typical 'rich poor' man? – Lazarus, abbreviated from Eleazar, meaning, 'God a help.' The notion that he was a leper is impossible, since he must then have kept afar off, and would not have lain at the rich man's gateway. Nevertheless, this notion has obtained a foothold in some languages in such words as lazar, lazar-house, lazaretto, lazzarini.
How does Christ picture his wretchedness? – He was laid at Dives' portal, apparently cast aside by his bearers and left to die if the rich man did not take pity on him. While Dives was fasting, Lazarus would gladly have grasped at the "crumbs" (v 21) from his loaded table, but no one gave to him. Every whim and fancied want of Dives received prompt and obsequious attention, and the only care Lazarus got was ...
v 21 ... "the dogs (who) licked his sores." The only dogs in the East are the wild and neglected Pariah dogs, which run about master-less and are the common scavengers. "That man is far from friendless who has a good dog to stand by him. Dogs are seldom as mean as their masters" (Talmage). Selfishness was the sin of Dives: There was nothing sinful in his being rich. Abraham himself had been a wealthy man. It is not hinted that the rich man had made his money in unlawful ways. His crime was the unrelieved beggar at his gate. And he could not plead that he was ignorant of Lazarus, for he recognized him at once in Abraham's bosom. It was not want of knowledge but want of thought that was the innermost secret of his tragedy. Let children learn how needful it is to begin doing deeds of kindness while young.
What became of Lazarus? – He "died" (v 22) ... perhaps starved to death, "and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom." A Rabbinical phrase, equivalent to being with Abraham in Paradise. The popular thought was of a great feast, in which Abraham was the host. To lie in his bosom, as John in that of our Lord (Jn. 13:23), was to be there as the most favored guest. While reclining at table, the head of the next lower on the couch rested against the breast of the one above him. "Abraham became 'the friend of God.' On this account Christ says that Abraham's bosom is a sort of fair haven and sheltered resting-place for the just" (Asterius, 400 A.D.).
Why did Lazarus go to heaven? – Lazarus was not buried; only his sores. Perhaps Christ was thinking of the real Lazarus, whose death and resurrection came at about this time. It was not because he was poor that Lazarus was carried into Abraham's bosom. If Lazarus had not been patient as well as poor, resigned as well as afflicted, he would have been as rejected a suitor for a drop of water in the next world as he had been for a few falling crumbs of bread in this; for in Christ Jesus neither riches avail anything, nor want of riches, but a new creature.
Illustration: A preacher, talking with an elderly Christian lady outside a building housing the poor, saw her face light up with unusual luster. He asked what she was thinking. "Oh, I was just thinking what a change it will be from this place to heaven."
Ever since Jesus left this world, He has been preparing and receiving in the other. That He should be there is in itself a preparation.
What became of the rich man? – He "also died" (v 22) ... for not all his wealth could prevent it, "and was buried." The burial of Lazarus is not mentioned, but Dives had a big funeral. The world, loving its own, no doubt followed him with pomp and pride till it could follow no further. There was not wanting when it came to the long procession of funeral solemnities through the streets of Jerusalem, the crowd of hired mourners, the precious spices and ointment wrapping the body; as well as the costly sepulcher on which the genial virtues of the departed were recorded. The play, in which he acted the rich man, is now ended. Going off stage, he was stripped of all the trappings which he had been furnished to sustain his part: there remains only the fact that he has played his part badly.
Illustration: "If thou art rich, thou art poor, For like an ass whose back with ingots bows, Thou bear'st thy heavy riches but a journey, And death unloads thee" (Shakespeare).
Where did Dives go after death? – To "hell" [R.V. 'Hades'] (v 23) ... 'the invisible world,' 'the receptacle of all the departed until final judgment.' Gehenna means 'the valley of Hinnom,' and was probably the valley to the west and south of Jerusalem, where under Ahaz and Manasseh children were burned in the worship of Molech, and where later the city's waste was thrown and burned. It became the symbol of the division of Hades reserved for the wicked, where Dives found himself. Christ takes their own notions of it, i.e., angel bearers, Abraham's bosom, the two divisions in Hades, the separation, yet communication, between them. Here the Lord obviously takes advantage of Rabbis' fancies, revealing His revelations. The main fact, however, is plain, i.e., evil is punished in the next world, and beyond remedy. The same Savior that came down from heaven to tell us about heaven, tells us about hell. Some leading religious groups today no longer believe in or uphold the Lord's teaching regarding hell. Penalty is simply sin bringing forth after its kind. It is sin with its pleasure gone, leaving only the sting. In nothing are men allowed to have their own way more unreservedly than in the matter of the future. Hell is prepared only for those who prepare it for themselves by kindling its fires here and now. "The wicked life will not wait one second after death to begin reaping the rewards of unrighteousness; and yet, the eternal reward for both classes will not actually begin until the judgment" (Coffman).
What cry came from Dives in hell? – It was a petition to "Father Abraham" (v 24) ... for Dives had prided himself on being an orthodox 'son of Abraham,' quite forgetting the liberal spirit of that nobel and generous patriarch. Perhaps with still the old pride that could order around his many servants, Dives asks Abraham to send Lazarus with a drop of water ...
v 24 ... "on the tip of his finger," to cool the sufferer's burning tongue. The organ of sense which the man had pampered by his riotous living is now the chief instrument of retribution. This is the only prayer to saints spoken of in Scripture, and is poor encouragement for others. Once Lazarus wanted just the crumbs from Dives' feast; now Dives wants just a drop from Lazarus's banquet. Poor as poor can be. Why did he not ask for an ocean of water, or a pail full at least, or a pitcher full? Why restrict himself to the least drop? Plainly he knew he was placed beyond all good.
Why did Abraham answer? – He call him "Son" (v 25), rather 'child.' Even in the punishment of Hell he is addressed by a word of tenderness. Then he bids Dives ...
v 25 ... "remember." Memory in another world is indispensable to the gladness of the glad, and strikes the deepest note in the sadness of the lost. Remember! Had he remembered on earth, he would not have been called to remember in hell. It is for want of remembering that people perish. He was told to remember how he had on earth exalted gold and pleasure as his ...
v 25 ... "good things," with no thought for God or other men. He had received his reward.
What made it impossible to grant Dives' request? – The "great gulf fixed" (v 26), permanently between Paradise and hell, the eternal life of the good and that of the wicked. Life here determines life hereafter, and character, once set and hardened here, cannot be cast into the melting-pot and remolded there. The joys of heaven are spiritual, there is no pleasure there for a man who has no pleasure in obeying God. All his life long the rich man had been ever digging this gulf deeper and deeper, by selfishly enjoying his good things and his pleasures, while leaving Lazarus to his evil things and his anguish.
What second request did Dives proceed to make? – Now Dives knows there is an impassable gulf between Paradise and hell, but what about between Paradise and earth? So he begs that Lazarus be sent back to testify to his five brothers, warning them against hell and its torments. It would have been better if Dives had developed a missionary spirit before going to hell. His request is equivalent to a bold and impudent criticism of the Almighty. It implies that he scarcely had a fair chance. If God had warned him sufficiently, he would have escaped this place of torment.
What answer is made to this implied criticism? – That in the lives and words of "Moses and the prophets" (v 29) ... they already had a sufficient knowledge of their duty and warning of the result if they did not obey God. If they closed their ears to these revelations and exhortations, they would not believe ...
v 31 ... "though one rose from the dead." If there is nothing in the present circumstances of our life, or in the opportunities which we have enjoyed, to make us realize our duty, then most likely in no circumstances and in no opportunities shall we find anything that will. No sight can ever create faith; for sights are things seen, and faith deals only with things unseen.
Illustration: The Pharisees were always asking Christ for 'signs,' and the more signs He gave, the less they believed. Did you ever read of a boy who stood on a muddy road, and who promised God that he would be a Christian if there and then God would dry up the puddles? He thought he would become Christ's if he got a miracle. Jesus here tells us that is a great mistake. The man who is not persuaded by the gospel will never be persuaded by a ghost.
Saul was not made a better man when Samuel rose from the dead to warn him. Herod thought that John the Baptist had risen from the dead, but the belief did not change his life. In a few days the real Lazarus was to return from the grave, but the only effect it produced on these cruel Pharisees was that they sought to send him back there.
4. Lazarus and Dives Today
We have the rich rich, the poor rich, the poor poor, as well as the rich poor today.
Who are the 'rich rich' today? – Wealth has great and beneficent uses, and the world would go slowly indeed if money could not be accumulated in wise and enterprising hands. The Christian use of wealth is what America needs, as do all countries. The wealth of a man is the number of things which he loves and blesses, which he is loved and blessed by. The 'rich rich' are those using their money to bless others. Does that describe you? More wealthy Christians need to subscribe to Mr. Carnegie's maxim, "it is a disgrace to die rich."
Illustration: During a time of great distress and heavy taxation in England, a tax was levied on plates, and the tax list furnished by a certain popular government official in a high position consisted of "two silver spoons and a teapot." The assessor returned it, asking to have a full description. "It is all I have," answered the official, "and I am not likely to have more while so many people lack bread." A 'Lazarus' was not going to lie unattended at his door.
Who are the 'poor rich' today? – They are those who, like Dives, fix their affections on riches and live for what money will buy. They lack the keen sense of Jacob Ridgway, who lived years ago in Philadelphia, worth many millions. When a young man envied him his wealth, he declared, "All I get out of it is my victuals and clothes, and I can't eat more than one man's allowance or wear more than one suit at a time." 'Poor rich' men are like the English miser, with whom his wife was praying as he lay on his death-bed. She asked her husband to take her hand, but he refused. After he died she discovered that both his hands were clasped tightly around his safe key.
Illustration: A rich man was showing a friend his possessions from the top of a high tower. He pointed east, west, north, and south, saying he owned all the land that could be seen in those directions. "Yes," said his friend; "I see you have land on all four quarters; but" – pointing upward – "what have you in that direction?" The rich man was silent.
Who are the 'poor poor' today? – The discontented, envious, raging, professional, and unjust poor. The lazy, criminal and drunken poor. There is no virtue in poverty, though there is every chance for virtue. A poor man may be as inveterate a miser as a rich man. A country grocer may be as bad an oppressor, according to his power, as a magnet at the head of the worst company. Christian employers will always seek to end injustices in the work place, giving workers their fair share of the products of their toil; but only the 'rich poor,' not these 'poor poor,' can take advantage of reforms.
Who are the 'rich poor' today? – They do not hate a rich man just because he is rich. They are not in slothful despair just because they are poor. They join the rich who work for the betterment of the poor, believing in Jesus Christ, knowing that true betterment of the poor comes only through Christianity. While they seek to make this world more like heaven, they are glad and content in the knowledge that heaven with its untold wealth is waiting for them.
Illustration: A tax assessor once went to such a 'rich poor' man and asked about his property. "I am a rich man," was the astonishing statement. The assessor quickly prepared to make a list of his goods. When completed, it read: "A Savior, Who has earned for me everlasting life. A place for me in the Eternal City. Healthy and obedient children. A merry heart."