The Rich Man and Lazarus

“He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father’s house, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’

                “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’

“‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’

                “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.'” (Luke 16:27-31)

 

                The text here comes from the story about the rich man and Lazarus. (Traditionally, the rich man’s name has been “Divies” because it is the term used in the Vulgate, the Latin Bible, for the rich man, but the name is not in Scripture.) Lazarus was a poor beggar who often would sit at the gate of the rich man’s home and beg. But he believed (apparently) and was rewarded with heaven while the rich man suffered in Hades. Jewish legend suggested that when a believer died he would go to Abraham’s bosom, so Jesus was using this idea to make His point, not necessarily condoning any truth to the legend.

                The rich man, while in agony, called upon Father Abraham to soothe his agony by sending Lazarus and when that was not possible, he asked him to send Lazarus back to his family that was still living so that they could be warned. Abraham explained that they had the Scriptures, but the rich man thought that someone coming back to life would more clearly convince them. But Jesus put the main point of His story in the words of Abraham, “If they don’t listen to Moses and the Prophets, they won’t be convinced if someone rises from the dead.”

                There is a specific and a general application to this. The specific application is that the skeptical religious leaders would not be convinced when Jesus Himself rose from the dead. This is, at least in part, because to believe in Him would likely doom their careers within the Jewish Sanhedrin. These positions were acquired at great cost of time and effort. We might compare them to political careers in our day. Very few men are willing to risk their careers to believe in Jesus – then or now.

                The general application is that no matter how many or how stupendous the miracles, they will not convince the skeptic, unless they are convinced by the Scriptures. If a person will believe it will be because he chooses to listen to “Moses and the Prophets” (aka, the Scripture).

                This principle is really a major factor in the decline of the Church in our day. People have things backward – they want the miracles rather than the Scripture. It’s too hard and time-consuming for many to dig into the Scripture; we’d rather just have a quick, easy miracle, or some other “feel-good” entertainment. And there are always churches that will try to accommodate them. But Dr. A.B. Simpson had it right when he penned the verse, “Once it was the blessing, Now it is the Lord; Once it was the feeling, Now it is His Word; Once the gift I wanted, Now the Giver own; Once I sought for healing, Now Himself alone.”

The Storms of Life

24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” (Matthew 7:24-27).

I have always been a person who searches for people with spiritual integrity – people whose lives match their professions of faith. In this famous parable, Jesus calls these people “wise” because they practice His teachings. Often these people are easy to spot – they look you in the eye when you speak to them, they speak openly of Christ’s activity in their daily lives and their speech is seasoned with a healthy understanding of the Scriptures.

It is also usually pretty easy to spot most of the “foolish” people of the parable. Christ has no place in their conversation; there is little overlap between their Sunday morning behavior and the rest of their week’s activities. If they go to any sort of worship service, it takes the form of rote prayers and music, along with a quickly-forgotten homily from the preacher.

But while most of the population is pretty easy to assess, there are some who are good “actors.” For these the trials of life – the rain and the winds of Jesus’ parable – draw out the true assessment of their spiritual lives. In another place Jesus told His audience that the “rain falls on the just and the unjust” (Matt. 5:45), in other words, upon all of us. How we respond determines what foundation our lives are built upon.

As a teacher I have often given my students “tests.” At least we called them “tests” publicly and for some they were. There were enough questions about whether they understood the material that they had to be tested. For others, though, they were more like “affirmations.” It was clear from my interaction in class that these students had a grasp of the material, and the examination instrument merely confirmed this in the minds of the students.

Whether the trials of life are “tests” or “affirmations” is ultimately known only to God and the individual who experiences these trials, but the point is that, deep within, each of us knows. As a teacher I had to have an objective score by which to assess my students’ progress which may not be available in this spiritual realm, but as the storms get stronger, the foundation will be revealed.

The Trust Fund

How great is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you, which you bestow in the sight of men on those who take refuge in you (Ps 31:19).

                Unanswered prayer is the grief of many Christians today. There are usually no answers to the questions of “Why does He delay to answer me? Doesn’t He see how much I am suffering?”

                 As one who has wrestled with these questions many times, I have taken great comfort in Psalm 31:19. It seems that the Lord has a “savings account” of His goodness toward me that I will one day be able to cash in. Perhaps a better illustration would be a “trust fund,” because it is an account that cannot be drawn from whenever I would like. Someone else determines when I will receive it.

                 To access this “trust fund” of God’s goodness to me I must exercise the same kind of faith that a child with a financial trust fund would exercise. It is only a matter of time before I will receive my store of God’s blessing. I must trust that the Word of the One that is managing this fund is true. The only difference is that the time for me is uncertain while the child will know when his inheritance will be given to him.

                 While I am waiting for the display of His goodness the verse tells me the two things I must continue to do: fear Him and take refuge in Him. These are not passive, but active verbs. “Fear” carries the idea of seeking Him wholeheartedly, rather than in just a perfunctory way. “Taking refuge in Him” is an admission of our own weakness and inadequacy.

                 Some believe that this verse suggests that the display of God’s goodness to us will be apparent to all at the Judgment, but my opinion is that the phrase, “in the sight of men,” is that it will be here on earth, not just at a later time. David had earlier stated, “I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living” (Ps 27:13).

                 The Lord has His goodness in store for those who trust Him. We don’t always understand why He tells us that we must wait, and it sometimes distresses us when people around us are looking for external evidence of His reality, but He has His purposes, and those purposes are perfect.

                 Spirit of God, descend upon my heart. Wean it from earth, through all its pulses move;

                Stoop to my weakness mighty as Thou art, And make me love Thee as I ought to love.

                Teach me to feel that Thou art always nigh; Teach me the struggles of the soul to bear:

                To check the rising doubt, the rebel sigh, Teach me the patience of unanswered prayer.

(George Croly, 1780-1860)

The Unseen World

In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man. Then he can rob his house (Mark 3:27).

            Though most of us don’t understand much of it, the Bible makes it clear that there is an unseen world around us that somehow influences this world. This is Jesus’ subject in this passage of Scripture in Mark 3.

            The New Testament suggests a cosmology of angelic beings that exercise their power over various entities within our world. There seems to be a distinction in Paul’s mind between the various angelic beings that he describes in Colossians 1:16, “thrones or powers or rulers or authorities.” What exactly the various beings influence is unclear, but there is ample evidence to suggest that some of these beings influence individuals (for good or for bad) and some influence nations or perhaps, ethnic groups. In a vision the prophet Daniel describes one of these angelic beings as “the prince of Persia” (10:13), suggesting that his influence was over that whole nation or people.

             When Jesus was speaking in Mark 3, it appears that He was referring to this unseen cosmology because it was in the context of a discussion about Satan’s influence in this world. Satan is described as “the god of this world” in 2 Cor. 4:4, and the metaphor is changed to a house in Mark 3. But in both pictures Satan and his angelic majesties are in view and the reference to “the strong man” that must be bound is a reference to Satan or one of his demons. Jesus (and His body, the Church) are seeking to “carry off his possessions,” the people that are still under his dominion.

             The exact meaning of this statement, then, hinges on what it means to “bind the strong man.” Not only, it would appear, does the unseen world have influence over ours, but we in this world can exert some influence over that world as well, probably through prayer, fasting and other spiritual disciplines. In my opinion these disciplines are the means by which we become partners with Him in the work of the kingdom.

             I suggest that one of the ways we are to “bind the strong man” is by prayer for the people groups that are still unreached in our world. Satan is the one who has “blinded the minds of the unbelieving” (see again 2 Cor. 4:4). By “binding” him, then, we would release these people from the blindness so that they can see Christ and turn to Him.

             The Bible is clear in Matthew 24:14 that Jesus will return when the last person is reached with the Gospel. By binding Satan through prayer, we are partnering with Him in the great cause of world evangelization, and hastening His return.

Their Hearts Burned

They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” Luke 24:32

                 On the evening of the Resurrection of Jesus, as the word was beginning to circulate that something had happened to the body of Jesus, two men were walking along a road toward the town of Emmaus when they were joined by a stranger. It was Jesus, but they couldn’t recognize Him.

                 They were amazed that this Man seemed to not know the news that Jesus had been crucified, much less that He was reported to have been seen alive again. So Jesus explained to the men all that the Scriptures had to say about Himself “beginning with Moses and the Prophets” (Luke 24:27). Later, after He became known to them, they realized how His discourse had affected them.

                 The hearts of these men “burned” within them because they were searching for the Truth, and the Truth was being revealed to them. They didn’t have a flippant, fatalistic attitude that found expression in a phrase like “Oh well, it must not have been God’s will!” They were earnestly trying to make sense of the things that had happened and to see these events within the grander scheme of God’s redemptive plan. They were looking to know Truth. They would find it within the revelation of Scripture, explained by the One who embodied the Truth. What a privilege was theirs that makes many of us envious!

               Having known Christ in this culture for the past 35 years, I confess that I am cynical about how many people today are really searching for Truth. Many SAY they are, but the cares and comforts of this life are usually more important. It is unusual – but supremely joyful – these days to find a brother or sister whose greatest concern is simply to know Jesus and His Truth.

 

                But though I tend to be cynical today, I am confident that this tribe will increase in the next few years (if Jesus tarries). As the prosperity of our Western culture wanes, as people become disillusioned with the emptiness of materialism, there will be a hunger for the Word again in the hearts of men, because, as Augustine said, “Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee.” Solomon’s statement in Ecclesiastes that God has placed “eternity in our hearts” implies that the things of this world will never truly satisfy. It may take some time for us to try “everything,” but once we do, the hunger in us for eternal Truth will burn. The junk food spiritual diet many today live on just won’t satisfy.

Hermeneutics

For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ (1 Cor 10:1-4).

             A lot of people think the Bible is a “magical” book, a veritable fortune cookie that kicks out a wise platitude every time it’s opened. Nothing could be further from the Truth!

             One of the most important – but forgotten – courses in seminary is the one on hermeneutics, the science of interpretation. As Evangelicals we believe in the “Grammatical-Historical method,” that is, that the text of the various books of the Bible should be interpreted according to the standard rules of history and grammar.

             While there is a Divine component to the Scriptures, the various books were written by men who lived in space and time. Their writings reflect the history and culture of their day and it is impossible to interpret their writings correctly until we understand something of their circumstances. In those few places where the history and setting are obscured and unknowable, we assume that this will not inhibit a proper understanding of the passage, but for most of the Biblical writings, the context is apparent, or at least available to the reader.

             Likewise the biblical writers used the standard rules of grammar in their writings – subjects and predicates, nouns and verbs and adjectives – all of the parts of speech that we learned in Junior High/Middle School English. What is confusing to some is the fact that in certain places the writers of Scripture record obvious figures of speech, just as we speak and write in our world. The passage above is an example.

             How can we tell that Jesus intended His statement from the Sermon on the Mount that “if your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away” (Matt 5:29), to be a figure of speech and not taken literally? No one actually did it, even though they followed Jesus wholeheartedly. And there are many other examples…

             The point of this blog is that anyone that can read can understand the Bible. Children who are just learning some of these principles of reading may have some trouble in places, but there are still passages that can make sense to them. For most of us, though, the struggle is either a matter of taking time to do it and/or a background in which we have been taught that the Bible cannot be understood without someone interpreting it for us.

             But down through the centuries men have recognized that God desired His Word to be understood by the common, ordinary people. When the common language of the people was Greek, the Hebrew Scriptures were translated into that language – the Septuagint. When the common language became Latin, Jerome translated it into that language. It was called the “Vulgate” (from the Latin word for “common”). In England John Wycliffe and William Tyndale were persecuted because they dared to translate the Scriptures into the English language so the common people could read it, and in Germany Martin Luther translated it into German.

             The point? YOU CAN READ AND UNDERSTAND THE BIBLE – JUST DO IT!

Too Small a Thing

It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth” (Is. 49:6).

 

            The last chapters of Isaiah’s prophecy are often seen as a Messianic prophecy of the “Suffering Servant.” This includes that wonderful passage that describes our Lord’s crucifixion in Isaiah 53. Here in this passage in the 49th chapter, God the Father describes the scope of the commission of His Servant, Jesus, to include the Gentile nations as well as the Jews.

 

            Despite the opinion of the Jews in the First Century, it was always God’s intent to bring all the nations of the world to Himself. Just in the last part of Isaiah, he mentioned God’s love for the “islands” at least a dozen times. This is in addition to the numerous references to “Gentiles,” the “nations” and the “ends of the earth.” It’s to His praise that the Church in the last century and a half has finally begun to reach these people that He has always desired to redeem.

 

            In Matthew 24:14, Jesus links His own return with the proclamation of the Gospel to all the nations, “This gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” Perhaps this is why my heart jumped when I heard a few months back that our missionaries had targeted a remote people group to whom they would take the Gospel. It was in one of the most remote areas of the globe and the thought occurred to me, “Maybe this is that last tribe that needs to hear!”

 

            As our local church prepares for our annual Missions Conference, it is my desire that the Lord will burden each of our hearts with some evangelistic ministry around the world. A few years back He led us to begin praying for a resistant group of people in Thailand, and today they are starting to awaken to His Truth. They are beginning to throw off the chains of idolatry and turn to Christ. May He be praised!

 

Motives

Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God (1 Cor 4:5).

 In a performance driven world, most of us are used to being judged on the basis of our work. Business managers are concerned over the “bottom line”; salesmen, on the amount they sell; teachers, on the progress of their students; and factory workers, on the amount they produce. But Paul notes here that our judgment before God will be on the basis of our motives, not our works. The “why” of what we do is more important to God than the “what” or “how much” of what we do. Two men were standing in the Temple one day praying – they were both doing the same thing – but one man was boasting in his prayers while the other man was humbling himself. Jesus said that the humble man was the one who was justified, not the braggart.

 Many people serve in the Church in an attempt to impress God with their service or sacrifice, but He is not impressed. They haven’t sacrificed anything compared to Him. Other people think that their service should be enough to overcome any negatives that they have done – they are trying to earn His favor. Again, He is not impressed because nothing we do is enough to pay the penalty owed to an infinitely holy God.

 But when we “Love the Lord [our] God with all our heart…soul…mind…and strength” we do for Him out of a motive of gratitude, not obligation. When a spouse prepares meals (or any of the plethora of duties within a marriage) for his/her partner, it is not usually done out of a sense of duty or obligation, but a joyful service to the one he/she loves. So it should be with service to the God that created, redeemed and sustained us.

 When we fail our spouse in some way, the wounds he/she feels are not assuaged by gifts or sacrifices, they are healed to genuine repentance. It is no different with God. He is not interested in our self-abasement or sacrifice – He is interested in real repentance, in our broken and contrite hearts (Ps 51:17).

 

Lord, make my motive always one where Your reputation is more important than my own. Deliver me from trying to make my service somehow to be about me instead of You. Forgive any times I have tried to impress You with my sacrifices or my dedication. I give You permission to expose the real motive of my heart in any service I render. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

In Demonstration of the Spirit’s Power

My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power (1 Cor 2:4-5).

             There are times when, despite my best efforts and thorough study, my delivery of the sermon just doesn’t go well. I feel out of synch and imagine that my hearers are having as much trouble following my thoughts as I am in communicating them. Recently when that happened, I was grateful that God answered my regular prayer that He would speak despite me. The responses I received were significant.

             The preacher is to be the Lord’s mouthpiece. In the tradition of the Old Testament prophets, the preacher is to declare with authority, “Thus says the Lord…” to this generation. We cannot do this unless we have an authoritative text from which we are working. I have often wondered how those who reject the Scriptures find something to say week after week. My words and ideas are not that wise, creative or important.

             But when that sure Word is clear from my study; when I have understood the text of Scripture and am prepared to apply its truth to this generation, it is terribly frustrating to come to that place in the service and be distracted either by my physical circumstances or by something external in the environment – like the air conditioning malfunctioning or the powerpoint presentation not working or some other distraction. It is in these times when I am reminded that this is a spiritual work, and that it is the Holy Spirit who is speaking, not me. No part of the Worship Service – if it is really a WORSHIP service – should be characterized as a performance, especially the sermon. I want people to think well of me because I want them to think well of my Savior, but like Paul, I want my people’s faith to rest upon God’s power not my “wise and persuasive words.”

They Provoked God

And He said to me, “Son of man, do you see what they are doing — the utterly detestable things the house of Israel is doing here, things that will drive Me far from My sanctuary? But you will see things that are even more detestable” (Ezek 8:6).

             Ezekiel was a prophet to the exiles of Judah who had been carried off to Babylon. One day while he was in his house, and the elders of Judah were with him, God carried Ezekiel in a vision back to Jerusalem where He showed him the grievous practices of Judah that led to their captivity. God showed Ezekiel four such practices, which in His eyes were increasingly heinous. After each of the first three, He said that Ezekiel would see “even more detestable” sights.

            The first practice was the placement of an idol in the Temple itself. The Temple was dedicated to the exclusive worship of the God of Israel. It was bad when the people set up “high places” – sites of pagan worship in prominent locations – but it was worse when they brought it into the Temple itself. The second practice involved the religious leadership of the people of Judah who were themselves bowing down before idols and denying that God could see them. As if this weren’t bad enough, the women were mourning for the pagan god, Adonis, and giving themselves to prostitution – again, in the Temple itself! And finally, the leadership willfully snubbed the God of Israel by bowing to the sun while in the Temple of Jehovah.

            The American Church has little room to criticize these Jews. Mainline Christian denominations often see no distinction between the God revealed in Christ and the gods of other world religions. In fact, I have read of some of these denominations sponsoring conferences that promoted the worship of some of these pagan gods.

            I grew up in small town America where my family worshiped in a mainline church. When I was in junior high, our pastor at the time persuaded the governing body of the congregation to purchase a new cloth to cover the altar at the front of our sanctuary. Rather than a typical phrase such as “Holy, Holy, Holy” or a communion message like “This Do in Remembrance of Me” the cloth contained the words, “God is All” – a message that reflected the pantheistic theology of that pastor and of the whole denomination. To my knowledge, that cloth still remains on the altar at that church.

            The Bible declares that God has not changed; “[He] is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb 13:8). If it was detestable in Ezekiel’s time, it still is today.