Luke 16:15 "You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable in God's sight."
I've read Luke 16 many times. Yet tonight, for some reason, this verse popped out at me. It necessarily leads toward an inward scrutiny of self. God knows my heart. He knows what I value...what I value highly.
Is it detestable in His sight?
The obvious conclusion here is that we must not value what men value, but what God values.
So what does God value?
I think the story that follows Luke 16:25 clearly answers that question. It is the story of the rich man and Lazarus.
It was a story that Jesus told to a group of Pharisees who are described in two ways:
1. They loved money.
2. They sneered at His teaching.
So we hear right away what Jesus' audience values, and we also see the condition of their hearts. Not a pretty picture.
As I said in my post "Flourescent," we often don't realize our condition until it is brought into sharp contrast...we are blinded to our own state. So it was with these Pharisees.
Jesus was about to go flourescent on them.
He begins to tell a story...
"There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man's table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores." Luke 16;19-21
A lot of people think that Jesus was talking about a real man, someone who he knew, because he used the man's name. It may have even been a person that everyone in his audience knew too. We can't be sure.
One thing is certain. The rich man was selfish. Consumed with worldly treasure...so consumed that his heart was not moved by the intense suffering of Lazarus. Day after day, the rich man could walk by and ignore the need of the man laying at his gate. How hard, how crusted over, how dark must his heart have been. It was filled with treasure that God has no pleasure in.
The picture Jesus was painting was sure to stir up some hearts. People were probably starting to edge away, slipping through the crowd. The rich man and Lazurus were in sharp relief, vibrant contrast. The Pharisees had to know that in this story, they were being compared to the rich man, and it was a very unpleasant comparison.
Jesus doesn't relent. The story presents yet another contrast, one of life and death.
"The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried. In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus at his side; so he called to him and said, '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.' 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.'" Luke 16:22-25
I don't think that this story teaches that the rich man went to hell because he was rich. This story teaches that the rich man went to hell because His heart had not been transformed by the mercy and compassion of God.
In the end, God got his treasure. He took what He valued--Lazarus. He values humility, brokeness.
He values people.
He values people who need Him.
Not people who feel that they are valuable, because the worth God sees is not a value that we possess. It is a value that God himself breathed into us at creation. It is the worth Jesus Christ bestows upon us when he re-creates us in His image at the point of salvation.
There were two main characters in this story...there was the rich man, and there was Lazarus.
Which one do you think Jesus wants us to be like?
I'd like to offer an alternative.
We know that rich man=bad. We don't want to be like him.
Lazarus=good. But God does not delight in suffering. Jesus Himself came to heal the plague of sin...being lifted up on the cross to bear our griefs and carry our sorrows. Jesus Christ is about redemption. I think he desires us to need Him, depend on Him, like Lazarus did. But I certainly don't think that God ever intended for Lazarus to live a life of anguish.
Did any of you notice that there is another character in this story?
Neither did I...until tonight.
Read it again.
Someone is there....someone in the background of this drama.
Did you find him?
Let me ask you...how did Lazarus get to the gate of the rich man? The story says that he was layed there.
Someone had to do it. Someone had to bring Lazarus to the gate. He is never named or even mentioned.
This person noticed the need of Lazarus. This person did what he could to see that Lazarus' needs were met. In a strict Jewish culture, this person picked up a man covered in sores and brought him each day to the rich man's gate. He wasn't afraid to get personal with suffering. He allowed his heart to be touched by the suffering of another and he took it upon himself to do something about it.
I think God wants you to be the one that gets familiar with suffering. He wants you to meet needs.
This story leaves us with a couple questions that need to be answered.
What do you value? How's your heart doing? Is it crusty and cold? or have you allowed it to be warmed, thawed by the fire of God's mercy and compassion? Has the compassion of Christ transformed you? Is your heart like His?
Also, who is laying at your gate? What kind of suffering are you getting familiar with?
I had to answer those last ones last November in the DR. Honestly, before that, I never really felt like the rich man...at least not compared to the people I'm usually around. It wasn't till I was confronted with true suffering, with my own "Lazarus," that the condition of my heart was put into proper perspective. It is not wrong for me to be American and, relative to the rest of the world, ridiculously wealthy; but it is wrong for me to be those things when Lazarus is laying at my gate and I'm doing nothing.
We are not being asked to meet every need in the world. We are being asked to meet needs one at a time as we come across them...and they are usually not much further than our "front gate." Meeting needs means making sacrifices. It calls us to prioritize our lives, to take our focus off what this world values and put it on what God values. Let's be honest; our world is a lot smaller than it use to be. We can see needs from all around the world in a split second. Our responsibility, Christians, has not lessened. We are surrounded by people who need hope.
Who is your Lazarus?