In mid-summer of 1970, Joyce and I moved to Africa. Years before that, we both wanted to do mission work. We both were convinced in our love for God and our love for people this was the thing to do. So we took our three small children--ages 7, 5, and 2--and moved to an impoverished nation about the size of the state of California.

When we moved I was thoroughly American, thoroughly naive, and poorly prepared, but convinced I was well prepared. I grew up in the mountains of east Tennessee in a rural community with a small congregation. I grew up with a personal goal of making a noticeable faith difference in our world. I had no idea of how large this world is. I had no idea of how complex this world is. I had no idea of how powerful and diverse political systems are in this world.

In Africa we lived and worked in a rural area. I had never seen poverty on the level I saw it. I had never seen need on the level I saw it. I had never seen suffering on the level I saw it.

But, in the beginning, I had the answers! I approached situations as a typical American would approach them. Early, I frequently found myself thinking two thoughts. (1) "If these people only had ..." (2) "If we just had the money, that problem could be solved." Some months later I came to realize that possessing things and money were not the answer and would never be the answer. Increasing their possessions did not contain the answer to their many problems. That is a very un-American realization.

  1. I want to focus you on a statement Jesus made in response to a bad attitude.
    Luke 16:14 Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, were listening to all these things and were scoffing at Him.
    Luke 16:19-31 Now there was a rich man, and he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, joyously living in splendor every day. And a poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores, and longing to be fed with the crumbs which were falling from the rich man's table; besides, even the dogs were coming and licking his sores. Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham's bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried. In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and *saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried out and said, 'Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.' But Abraham said, 'Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great chasm fixed, so that those who wish to come over from here to you will not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us.' And he said, 'Then I beg you, father, that you send him to my father's house--for I have five brothers--in order that he may warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.' But Abraham *said, 'They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.' But he said, 'No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!' But he said to him, 'If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.'"
    1. The first thing of importance to note is this: Jesus' primary lesson focused on the importance of human behavior in this life.
      1. The primary lesson is about people who are convinced that they belong to God but do not focus their lives on God's priorities.
      2. The primary focus of their lives is living well.
      3. The primary focus of their lives is not on caring about other people.
    2. The second thing of importance to note is this: the point of the teaching is not found on what the man did, but on what man was.
      1. The point is not that everything would have been okay in the rich man's life if he had just given Lazarus some leftovers.
      2. The point is that the rich man lived his life oblivious to the suffering of others.
      3. He focused his existence on indulging himself in a marvelous lifestyle.
      4. He did not focus his life on compassion for those who suffered and struggled.

  2. Two thousand years ago when Jesus gave this teaching, the situation and the teaching was full of enormous contrasts.
    1. In its context, the religious elite are laughing at Jesus and his teachings--they thought what he said had no merit, was totally ridiculous.
      1. Jesus' earthly origins were rooted in a peasant's existence.
        1. Nazareth was a small, rural community with a small population who eked out a survival existence in a large bowl like area on top of a mountain.
        2. To put it in terms we can identify with, there were no public schools, the vast majority of the population worked hard as farmers, there was no indoor plumbing, and a common reality was starvation.
        3. Jesus knew the realities of a hard life before his ministry began.
      2. The Pharisees likely lived in a city with the conveniences it offered (like Jerusalem).
        1. They likely had a prestigious education.
        2. They likely had the advantages of an education given by the instructions of a respected Rabbi.
      3. They laughed; who was this country peasant who thought he could teach people about God's priorities?
    2. The values Jesus stressed had nothing in common with the theology the Pharisees taught in Israel, a theology that was accepted by most Israelites.
      1. Everybody knew God materially blessed and prospered the godly!
        1. That is what scripture taught!
        2. If the Pharisees were enjoying the finer things of life, that just proved they were godly men!
      2. Jesus said godliness is not demonstrated in lifestyle, but in one's treatment of struggling people.

  3. To emphasize his point, Jesus used a story as a means of teaching.
    1. He talked about a rich man who concluded that the reason for wealth was to indulge oneself.
      1. This man was truly rich.
        1. His outer clothing was the most expensive dyed cloth you could buy, purple.
        2. His underwear was the finest you could buy, made of fine linen.
      2. He lived the high life!
        1. The word "splendor" suggests that he had and ate the best of the best.
        2. He existence was in total contrast to Lazarus existence.
    2. Lazarus' life contrasted to the rich man's in every way.
      1. Lazarus was a sick man who was starving to death.
        1. Other's routinely carried him to the rich man's gate hoping there he would be noticed and given consideration.
        2. Knives and forks were not used to eat--commonly things were scooped up on small pieces of bread; crumbs were the "waste" that resulted from this type of meal.
        3. Lazarus hoped to eat the waste from meals that dogs ordinarily ate.
      2. He was so sick that he had a lot of open sores on his body.
        1. Evidently his sores were exposed and untreated [maybe he did not have enough clothing to wear?].
        2. His only treatment for his sores was dogs licking them.

  4. They both died, and the contrasts continued.
    1. The man who had everything in his physical life found himself suffering in the afterlife, and the man who suffered in physical life found himself at ease in the afterlife.
      1. The situation was unimaginable!
        1. A prosperous life on earth proved the rich man belonged to God--he should not be suffering!
        2. A life of suffering on earth proved one did not belong to God--Lazarus should not be at ease!
      2. The man who was in control of everything on earth controlled nothing after death; and the man who controlled nothing on earth needed nothing after death.
        1. Now the rich man cries for mercy--in physical life could he have ever imagined the value of a single drop of water?
        2. Now Lazarus is at ease in need of nothing.
      3. In physical life the rich man was accustomed to ordering slaves to do his bidding.
        1. In afterlife he could not even get a request fulfilled.
        2. In physical life he missed the point of living.
        3. He did not want his brothers to make the same mistake.

  5. It is very easy to miss the point of Jesus' story, and very easy to focus our attention on things in the story that are not Jesus' primary point.
    1. Jesus' point: blessings in this life are opportunities to invest in eternal life
      1. We invest by serving the needs of people.
      2. The purpose of having is not:
        1. To be the world's greatest consumer.
        2. To indulge ourselves.
        3. To experience a pleasurable existence.
      3. The purpose of having is to serve.
    2. Jesus' point is not that there is virtue in the experience of poverty or painful struggle.
    3. Jesus' disciples see struggling people, and serve, just like God does.
      1. To me, one of the most sobering statements made by Jesus is found in Luke 16:25:
        But Abraham said, "Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony."

[Song of reflection, followed by one of the elders offering Jesus Christ's invitation.]

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 5 January 2003

 Link to next sermon

 Link to other Writings of David Chadwell