There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen,
and fared sumptuously every day:
This passage of scripture is constantly used in messages and bible studies on the doctrine of hell. Because of this, maybe we have overlooked some basic truths about the Christian life that can be found in the life of Lazarus. Lazarus was an Old Testament saint, a saved person. The question we may overlook in this passage is this --HOW DID A SAINT OF GOD END UP IN THE SITUATION THAT LAZARUS FOUND HIMSELF?
Why did God not protect Lazarus from the life of a beggar? Doesn't a saint of God have a right to expect a better life than that of Lazarus? How could God allow such suffering and deprivation in the life of one of His children?
As I am writing this message, the Littleton, Colorado shooting is still very much in the news. Many people want answers from Christian leaders and laymen alike. How could God allow such misery and pain? This past week I visited a backsliden preacher whose wife had deserted him about a year ago. "I'm mad at God," he told me. "I gave my whole life to Him to use me in His service, and this is how He repays me!"
If there ever
was a saint of God who had a right to complain, it was Lazarus.
I. THE STORY OF THE BEGGAR
The story of the hardships of Lazarus is a significant one. God places him right beside the rich man so we can understand His ways. There's much more to this story than just the truth of the doctrine of hell. Beneath the surface there is the story of a Sovereign God who places His servants in just the conditions and situations of life that will bring glory to Himself.
LAZARUS WAS REJECTED OF MEN. Lazarus was "laid at the gate" of the rich man. the word translated "laid" means to throw or to cast without concern of the results. Perhaps as a joke or as a result of hatred for the rich man, the townsfolk deposited Lazarus at the gate of the rich man. This was an act of barbarism. They used the misfortune of another in their own plans and schemes.
LAZARUS WAS REPULSIVE TO MEN. The scripture tells us that he was "full of sores." It reminds the bible student of Job in the Old Testament who also suffered from boils and ulcerated skin. The people of the city were most probably repulsed at the sight of him.
LAZARUS WAS RESTRICTED BY MEN. He "desired" the crumbs from the table of the rich man. The word denotes a longing or a lusting after. Poor Lazarus could not control himself. He was so hungered that he literally begged for scraps. This is the same word that is translated "fain" in the story of the prodigal son, "And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him." Luke 15:16 His movements, his diet, his very existence was controlled by others. He seemingly had nothing in his life that was his own.
What a pitiful existence! This is a life so lacking in quality that the euthanasia proponents would use him as a poster boy! And you say this man is a believer in God? What kind of God would allow a life like this?
II. THE SECRETS OF THE BEGGAR
We are almost sickened as we examine the life of Lazarus. But we know from the story that Lazarus knew God's salvation. Though technically and Old Testament believer, he had no doubt come to trust in the coming Redeemer as did Job when he said, "I know my redeemer liveth..."
Just like Job, Lazarus had faith that God would take care of him. And if you examine the text closely, you will see that God did take care of him, albeit in unusual ways.
LAZARUS' RESIDENCE. There are those who preach a "prosperity" gospel who would say that poor Lazarus had to be backsliden. There is no excuse, they say, for a man to live in poverty. It's God's will that we all have fine houses, they tell us. Lazarus' residence was the rich man's gate! Certainly there would be more opportunities for him there than any other place in the city! But, you say, God owes us more! Does He? Who says that you are destined to live in a big, fancy house? Who says you won't even be on the street one day, just like Lazarus? But God was with Lazarus and there is no indication in the text where Lazarus one time complained about his lot in life. Contrast that with our everyday complaints to ourselves, our friends, even to God.
LAZARUS' REQUEST. He desired to eat the scraps from the rich man's table. His biggest need was food and God placed him right in front of the biggest glutton and waster of food in the city. Even in his poverty and want, can you see the blessings of God? God met his needs, though in very strange ways.
LAZARUS' RELIEF. The dogs came to Lazarus and licked his sores. What a distressing picture. He needed relief from the pain and suffering of the boils and God sent him dogs to relieve his suffering. I can see some of you now recoiling in horror at the prospects. Surely God could do better! Surely there was some other way! How repulsive! How sickening! And yet the bible records no complaint from Lazarus.
III. THE SATISFACTION OF THE BEGGAR
I am so glad the story does not end with Lazarus' death. His life is not enough to convince some people of the goodness of God. There are many who would refuse to acknowledge a God that would allow suffering of the magnitude of Lazarus'. But in death we can see the blessings that he enjoyed as a believer in God.
HE HAD A SWEET FELLOWSHIP. Notice where the angels carried him - to the "bosom" of Abraham. This word denotes the place next to the heart, the loose upper part of a garment. It can also mean a special pocket, used for carrying valuables. Can you see the fellowship that Lazarus enjoyed? He was in a special place of honor. But the truth is that he enjoyed a sweet fellowship with God even while he begged at the rich man's gate! You can't see a person's fellowship with God, but you can see the results of it.
HE HAD A SPECIAL COMFORT. "...He is comforted..." the scripture says. This is the same word used for the Holy Spirit in other passages. Literally, Lazarus was encouraged, strengthened, and taught. Lazarus enjoyed the perfect presence of the Holy Ghost in his death, but he was also comforted in life. And we, in this dispensation of the Holy Spirit, enjoy the continual presence of His Spirit dwelling in us. Should we not be able to withstand whatever may come our way with his divine presence with us every moment?
HE HAD A SUPPORTING GRACE. In verse 26, Abraham tells the rich man of the "great gulf" that is "fixed." It was a separation that was established between the righteous dead and the wicked dead. This shows us the matchless grace of God in salvation. Salvation is both free and forever. There would be no crossing from one side to the other. Lazarus was just as "saved" as anyone could be. He was hidden in the grace of his God. But was not that grace also active in his life? Did not God have His hand on Lazarus even in his poverty and want?
IV. THE SOLUTION OF THE BEGGAR'S STORY
The question of the hour is "why?". Why do bad things happen in a world supposedly ordered by a righteous and loving God? Why do teenagers die in needless slaughter? Why do Christian families disintegrate before our eyes? Why do disease and poverty hit so many Christians in our day?
Only a fool would attempt to answer these questions from his own intellect. But the bible does have some answers. These answers will not satisfy the atheist nor the agnostic with their doubts and denials. But Christians can take heart in knowing that God is in control.
GOD ALLOWS SUFFERING TO PREPARE SINNERS FOR SALVATION. Lazarus suffered at the gate of one of the richest men of that day. God had him there as a witness. He never complained or cursed his lot in life. He never blamed God or others for his lot in life. God has a right to place His witnesses where ever He pleases, and sometimes there are dark circumstances to endure. Paul, in I Corinthians 9:12, says, "...but (we) suffer all things, lest we should hinder the gospel of Christ."
GOD ALLOWS SUFFERING TO PERFECT THE SAINT IN HOLINESS. God's goal is to make His people more and more like Him day by day. Sometimes God is perfecting us the most when we are at our lowest. He is the author and finisher of our salvation. He can write the book of our lives as He sees fit. I Peter 5:10 says, "But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you." We have no right to fight against the perfecting work of God.
GOD ALLOWS SUFFERING TO PROVIDE THE SWEETNESS OF FELLOWSHIP. Experiences of life bind people together like few other things can. I once saw a telecast of a reunion of D-Day soldiers on TV. They spoke in terms only they could fully understand. I felt like an outsider intruding in their world. So it is with those who suffer for Christ's sake. "That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death;" Philippians 3:10
SUFFERING TO THE PLEASURE OF HIS SOVEREIGNTY. I am not saying
that God takes pleasure in bringing suffering to His children. What
I am saying is that God does not have to check with humanity before making
decisions about His creation. God is sovereign and we must trust
Him to do what is best in our lives and in the world. He promises
us that "all things" will work to our good.
said, "When I can't trace Him, I'll trust Him." You can search the
scripture from cover to cover and you will never find where God made a
mistake in anything. Since He has such a good track record, why not
do like Lazarus and let Him work His will in your life?
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