Last week we read the story from Luke 12:32-40 about servants waiting for their master to return. We asked the questions: Are we ready for Jesus to return? How do we keep ready? This week we continue with a slight variation on this theme. Are you ready to face Jesus Christ? What will be outcome of your way of life?
Certain events that have happened lately in my life, helped me to realize that good news doesn't mean much to people if they don't understand the bad news. For example, people in Los Angeles, could probably care less that the Bay Bridge is open or that the BART strike is over. But for those of us who use the bridge to commute every day, this is good news!
In the same way, the good news of Jesus Christ doesn't mean much to people who aren't confronted with the bad news of judgment or the bad news that we will be held accountable for how we lived in this world.
In Luke 16:19-31, Jesus tells the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. The rich man is fabulously, extravagantly wealthy compared to the poor man Lazarus, who is a beggar, covered in sores, laying at the rich man's gate. Both men eventually die but their eternal destinations are different.
The rich man goes to Hades, described as a place of torment and Lazarus is carried to Abraham's side, a place of comfort. It is the rich man's turn to beg and he begs that Lazarus come and give him some water. When Abraham tells him this isn't possible, then the rich man begs that Lazarus go and warn his family.
Abraham's reply is blunt in v.29, "They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them."
What is Jesus' point in this story and why does he tell it? First, let's start with what Jesus is NOT saying:
1) Jesus is not saying that if you are rich, you will go to hell, but if you are poor you will go to heaven; 2) This story is not Jesus' theology on hell.
So what is Jesus saying? 1) First of all, this story was mostly directed towards the Pharisees. As the religious leaders and self-proclaimed experts in the Law and Prophets, Jesus held them accountable for what the Scriptures said.
Many of the Old Testament prophets cried out about those who trample on the poor and deny justice to the oppressed (Amos 2:7, 4:1) and were very clear on what God did want: justice, humility, mercy (Micah 6:8). But the Pharisees loved money and wanted honor for themselves. In this story, Jesus is calling them out!
2) The nature of the kingdom of God is reinforced. Theologians and commentaries call this "the great reversal." This is the theology that the first shall be last, those who exalt themselves will be humbled and those who humble themselves will be exalted. The rich man received his good things but Lazarus received bad things - but things would be reversed after death.
One commentator writes, "The rich man's situation is due not to his wealth but due to his lack of putting into practice what Scripture teaches about it."
So what does this story have to say to us? What is the good news?
1) The good news is that we are not saved by our good works but by the grace of Jesus Christ. Truly living that out breathes life into our faith and gives evidence of our belief and reflects what the kingdom of God is all about.
2) But, this is a wake up call for us too. Even though many claim to be Christians, do we really live out our faith according to Jesus' teaching? Are we loving each other, caring for those in need and being a light to those around us?
3) As we preach, teach and most importantly live out God's word in the power of the Holy Spirit, we pray that those who have not received Christ would be led to repentance and faith.