It’s coming up Easter and I am thinking about Lazarus. Not Lazarus of Bethany, the brother of Mary and Martha whom Jesus famously raised from the dead just prior to his own death and resurrection. I am talking about the other Lazarus, the one who is a character in a cautionary tale by Jesus. It is sometimes known as the story of the rich man and Lazarus.
Lazarus is one in a string of parables recorded in the gospel of Luke, this one in chapter sixteen. To me it is no accident that Jesus warns the pharisees just before telling this story.
“The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone forces his way into it. But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the Law to become void.” Luke 16:16–17 ESV
What’s he talking about here? He is saying that the tradition is important such that it will not be done away with, by anything new. The Gospel of Jesus Christ does not obviate the Law and the Prophets. It brings it to completion. It is the fruition of all things talked about by those who recognized God’s plan for redemption far back in time.
“These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.” Hebrews 11:13 KJV
So let’s get to the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus. What’s it all about and what has it to do with us today? For those who have not read it, find the story here. We see in this parable, paradigms of belief. There is an invisible world that the rich man is unaware of. He thinks his present good luck will last forever and never run out. He has no desire or concern for things heavenly and no need for righteousness. He is comfortable, fed, and justified in his own eyes. He might be the very example of the kind of church members others praise because God is obviously blessing them. What’s to learn when your life is going so well?
This belies the point that Jesus intended. How do we come to faith? What do we depend on? It is clear from this story that success has little to do with righteousness. The rain falls on the just and the unjust alike. The parable points to a tradition that everyone knows about, that has been around for so long it might be considered stodgy and boring. I am talking about the law and the prophets, the witness to faith that Jesus said will not pass away until every part of it has been fulfilled.
The story of the Rich Man and Lazarus ends with Lazarus in torment, separated from God’s favour in eternity. Across the chasm, he pleads with Abraham, the father of faith to send Lazarus back from the dead, to warn the rich man’s family of the torment that awaits their present trajectory.
And herein comes the point that Jesus is making.
“He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’
“Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’ “‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ “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 16:27–31 NIV
We live in an age that might best be defined by the idea that seeing is believing. Since the time of Immanuel Kant in the Enlightenment, we have been advised to follow our own nose. What we see can be depended on. Chart your pathway accordingly. It leaves little shrift for those things unseen like the parable talks about.
Despite this love of empirical proof, we still like to dish on doubting Thomas, the disciple of Jesus who refused to believe Jesus was resurrected until he saw it with his own eyes and touched Jesus’ wounds with his own hands. Jesus told those present, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believed”. He is talking about us. The future face of the Church invisible. We do not have to rely on signs and wonders in order to believe. In fact we do not need anything new at all. Just like the brothers of the rich man, we also have the Law and the Prophets, the tradition Jesus said will not be done away with. Presumably such pedestrian things, which warn, instruct us, and tell us what to do, are also valuable groundwork for a life of faith. Just like the music teacher tells her students. Do your scales. Mozart will come later. Perhaps the Law and the prophets are enough to go on, for now.
There is a lot of “new theology” bouncing around both in churches and in Christian culture that has no basis in the Biblical tradition. Go to the section on spirituality in any bookstore and it will be a self-help smorgasbord. From New Age, to followers of angels, techniques like centering prayer, to the cult of personality with charlatans like Joel Osteen and Richard Rohr, each claims it is the missing piece of the puzzle which will change your life. In the back of my mind I hear Paul’s warning in the book of Galatians...beware of anyone coming to you preaching a different gospel.
I am reading a wonderful book called “Good News for Anxious Christians” by Dr. Phillip Cary. The book has a list of ten things you will never have to do to follow the Gospel, as follows.
1) Hearing the voice of God in your heart,
2) Why you don’t have to believe your intuitions are the Holy Spirit.
3) Why you don’t have to let God “take control”.
4) Why you don’t have to find “God’s will for your life”.
5) Why you don’t have to be sure you have the right motivations.
6) Why you don’t have to worry about splitting heart from head.
7) Why you don’t have to keep on getting transformed all the time.
8) Why you don’t have to always experience joy.
9) Why “applying it to your life” is boring.
10) Why basing faith on experience leads to a Post-Christian future.
All food for thought. In todays uber-stresed world a list of things we don’t have to do, is very good news indeed. There is a lot of flim-flam out there these days, targeting Christians like a well-oiled marketing scheme. Nothing is ever enough. You aren’t there yet unless you are living a Purpose Driven life, or praying the Prayer of Jabez and so on. Approaching Easter, perhaps it is a good time to look back and again, retread the witness of the church from the first traditions onward. Traditions can be a beautiful thing, none more wonderful than Easter.
Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believed. Even more blessed are those who don’t feel defeated and stressed by all the things they have to do to merit the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Let’s sit back this Easter and again listen to the wonderful news of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. God has already made a way for us. It will cheer and comfort you like good news truly should, and the beauty of the story heard yet again will work on your heart in ways that Gospel marketing techniques have likely missed altogether.