Grace, Good Things, and Lazarus

We know the story and it teases, taunts and mystifies us:

19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20 At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.

22 “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24 So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’

25 “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’

27 “He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, 28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’

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

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

31 “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 16:19-31

I’ve been criticized in the last few months for proposing that perhaps not all mankind is totally depraved, and that those who hear and believe are recipients of a promise of salvation, but that salvation is not necessarily denied to those who haven’t heard.

So I just wanted to bring up this little story that Jesus told and point out that (whatever His point in relating it was at the moment), the poor man Lazarus in this story dies and receives eternal comfort. He is not commended for exceptional behavior nor for his faith in God nor for any attribute of his life over which he seemed to have control.

The difference between Lazarus and the rich man in torment was that in life Lazarus received bad things and the rich man received good things.

And if this story has any value at all in describing the afterlife (and I believe it does; a second value in addition to describing the unwillingness of some in Jesus’ lifetime who would not believe in resurrection), then its secondary value may well be in pointing out that God saves whom He wishes to save. He is sovereign. He is free to do that.

That does not mean that He will necessarily save everyone; it’s not even implied. The Lord gives life to whomever He wills:

For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it. ~ John 5:21

Is Lazarus an example of this unqualified grace and mercy? A way Jesus meant to communicate it? What are your reasons for thinking so — or not?

Feel free to discuss among yourselves.

4 thoughts on “Grace, Good Things, and Lazarus

  1. Father Abraham…

    Moses and the Prophets…

    This is a covenantal story, so I’d be careful about drawing too much meaning out of it for those outside the covenant. Not to say that there’s *no* meaning there for those outside the covenant – just that, like so many of Jesus’ sayings, its main focus is on the shame of inequity and the evil of lovelessness inside the covenant community.

  2. You may both be right, and I don’t want to draw too much from this story (that’d be the first time, wouldn’t it?), but I’d have to say that this is one of only two substantial possibilities of a glimpse at judgment and eternal life that Jesus gives us. And the other one is Matthew 25, which is about as abstruse as anything you’ll read in the Revelation: virgins, bridegroom, oil lamps; a wealthy man and servants; a shepherd-king, sheep, goats, right, left, nobody knows what they’ve done right or wrong to him ….

    If we didn’t trust God, they’d be of little or no comfort at all!

  3. The issue I have with most Christians is that their view of heaven or the after life is very simplistic and black and white, and their absolute ‘ certainty ‘ about what they ‘ know ‘.
    Jesus only ever said ‘heaven is like…’ and never got any more specific than that.

    My own meditations & prayers on the subject and the little I have been given have led me to understand its multifaceted and much more complex than we can even begin to imagine.
    I must say that its made going to funerals somewhat interesting as I am generally allowed to know where the deceased now is………..

    God doesn’t fool around and means what he says, Christians in general really need to fear God more, and have a few less assumptions.

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