The “Great Gulf” between the Rich Man and Lazarus
(1 Samuel 16:7)
1) Man looks at the outward appearance,
2) The Lord looks at the heart!
Luke 16:19-31 "There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day. 20 "But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate, 21 "desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 "So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham's bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 "And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. 24 "Then he cried and said, `Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus 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 likewise Lazarus 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 want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.' 27 "Then he said, `I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father's house, 28 `for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.' 29 "Abraham said 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 "But he said to him, `If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.'"
Here we are again at the beginning of a school year. Friends reunite. Classes start. Clubs and sports give us things to do outside of the classroom. Learning commences. Not every kid likes school but learning is a great gift. But, at the same time, some tough things come along with the start of school too. Anytime you get a group of sinful people together there are going to be bad things that happen, probably even more the bigger the group you get. That happens at school too.
One friend contacted me this past week and asked if I had any resources about bullying and peer pressure in school. Talk about two major effects of sin that our children are exposed to at an early age. Bullying and peer pressure happen because people judge by appearances. If someone doesn’t fit what they think is normal, there is a natural tendency to be unkind. Pressures are put on younger kids because of expectations by the majority. Again, it goes back to what is perceived as normal. If you don’t fit into whatever that may be, you will be slighted and pressured to conform.
In this story before us today, Lazarus was not a student in school, but he was bullied and pressured by the world around him. Why? It goes back to the very same reason we see today, the Holy Spirit gave us the answer long ago, “Man looks at the appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” We see that lesson come to life in the tale of the Rich Man and Lazarus. As we take up the first part of our series, this was the “great gulf” between the Rich Man and Lazarus. It was the difference between appearance and the heart. May the Holy Spirit, who recorded these words for us, bless our study today.
Appearance is really the first thing we notice in the great divide between the rich man and Lazarus. The rich man not only has great riches, indicated solely by his name, he has the best of the best. For example, not only was he clothed, it was with the finest materials. Not only did he have food, “he fared sumptuously.” Lazarus’ appearance was the polar opposite. Not only did he have nothing, on top of it all he also suffered from sores. This wasn’t just a picture of fortunate vs. less fortunate. This was a monumental divide. The extreme opposites on both ends of the spectrum.
But, although much description is given to their appearances, God would have focus on something bigger. The appearance really was just an indicator of the disposition of their hearts. The moral of the lesson here is not that whoever has the most wins. It’s meant to show us that belief in the heart shapes the everyday affairs of life. The rich man was not rich, and Lazarus was not poor, because of what they believed. Faith is not meant to make us rich in material things. But, their beliefs did shape how they understood and coped with their individual circumstances.
We see the same today when we compare appearances. A person’s appearance is really only half the story of who they are, and often the less-important half. Yet, we typically build up so much of our thought based primarily on appearance. What is in a person’s heart is much more important. Faith should show through appearance, by expressions in word and action, but sometimes the picture isn’t always very clear.
Life is very much like this story. We are drawn to make immediate judgements based on appearance because it seems so important. But, the Lord would rather have us look deeper. The rich man and Lazarus were much more than just a rich person and a poor person. Ultimately, they were believer and unbeliever, a much more important distinction and one with a much greater divide.
Both the rich man and Lazarus provide examples of the two categories that all people fall into. Setting aside the physical distinctions for a moment, whether someone is rich or poor, well-clothed or living in rages, and so on; all are eventually divided as believer or unbeliever. In this way, the rich man serves as the poster-child for unbelievers. They may or may not be rich, but they are focused on this world and what is happening now. Unbelievers either lack or entirely block out the eternal perspective. Their existence is relegated to the here and now, they do not think about what lies ahead, just as the rich man did not. Lazarus, is the poster-child for the believer. Again, the believer may or may not be rich, that’s not the point. The difference is that no matter what they are here on earth, their ultimate reward is in heaven. The believer not only lives with eternity in mind, it influences everything they do in the present. For Lazarus, that meant keeping hope in God despite his horrible life.
Ultimately, the difference is in the heart. We see that aspect come out in the way that Jesus describes each. The rich man is unnamed. He is just another face in the world. He is generic and unoriginal, an example of those who have no association with God. Lazarus, on the other hand, is named by Jesus. He is an individual to the Lord. We would say that he has been called and has listened to that call. He is known by God as one of God’s children. This is not an unimportant distinction. It helps describe the great gulf between the two.
Remember how Isaiah described the Lord’s salvation for His chosen people: “But now, thus says the LORD, who created you, O Jacob, And He who formed you, O Israel: "Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; You are Mine. 2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, Nor shall the flame scorch you. 3 For I am the LORD your God, The Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”
The hope of the people of Isaiah’s time started with the fact that they were redeemed by God. It had nothing to do with appearance. It had nothing to do with themselves. Their prosperity and hope was from God alone. And because of that, they were known to God by name. The LORD said, “I have called you by name, you are Mine.”
It’s not that God doesn’t know the names of those who refuse to believe, as if it is somehow hidden from Him. He knows, but there’s a difference between knowing a fact and knowing something closely by relationship. We call it head knowledge vs. heart knowledge. God knows the individual believer by name in a deep way. He knows who we are. He knows our skills and abilities. He knows our fears and mistakes. He knows our wants and our needs. He knows us better than we know ourselves. Paul put it another way in his second letter to Timothy when he wrote, “Nevertheless, the solid declaration of God stands firm, the Lord knows those who are His and let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity (2 Timothy 2:19).”
That, my friends, is what it means to be a Christian. We are first redeemed by Jesus. His payment for sins ignites our hearts to belief, confession, and action. God the Holy Spirit then calls each us by name, since He already knows who we are. He calls us by the Gospel, enlightens us with His gifts, sanctifies, and keeps us in the true faith. And the result of that gift of grace is that now when we walk through the fires of life we will not be burned and when the waters rise, they will now overcome us.
We should ask ourselves then, are we people who care more about appearance or about the heart? We know the right answer. But, to be people who care about the heart we must also care about that which awakens our hearts and keeps them alive. To care about that for others means you must think about what they stand for and what they confess. You can’t ignore it. You can’t just let yourself or someone else do whatever and still say you care about them. Paul wrote, “With the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation (Romans 10:10).” The heart and the truth of what you confess are inseparable, and eventually both will be revealed.
In Jesus’ story, both characters eventually died. The rich man’s riches meant nothing then. Lazarus’ passing probably went unnoticed by others. But appearances finally faded away to direct reality. The riches, the glory, the attention counted for nothing on that day. All that mattered was whether or not Christ was in the heart. For the rich man that meant torment in hell, for Lazarus it meant comfort in heaven. We will dig deeper in that great gulf next weekend but for now let us remember today’s truth.
Appearances are like a smokescreen that block reality from our observation. In school, the appearances of being weak or unpopular block the truth that all people have value and worth, and that someone whom you treat unlovingly could very easily be your friend. Appearances distort the truth that being disobedient just to fit in or participating in something you know is wrong just to fit is not good for your life. We know these things to be abundantly true.
Do we also recognize when appearance obscures the vision of faith? Must our church be culturally relevant to be true? Must we have “x” amount of members in order to be assured that we are teaching the right thing? Must we cave to the pressures to conform in doctrine and practice? Very easily we can be quite attuned the ailments of appearances in society but not in our church life.
Man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart. In the end, the only thing that mattered for the rich man and Lazarus is the only thing that matters for you. “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” You have been redeemed. You are called by name. You are promised blessing upon blessing and protection for eternity in heaven. Thanks be to Jesus Christ for proof of that hope. He has cut through the false appearances of man’s making and achieved the truth of salvation for you. Amen.