Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Third Pass at This Sunday's Bible Lesson: Luke 16:19-31

[Here and here are, respectively, the first and second passes at this Sunday's Bible lesson. The first link explains what these "passes" are about.]

Verse-by-Verse Comments, continued
23In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side.
(1) Brian Stoffregen points out:
"Hades" is a word that comes from Greek mythology that originally referred to the god of the lower world (in Roman mythology: "Pluto"). Later, it came to refer to the place of the dead (like she'ol in Hebrew). However, Luke's use of the word is in contrast to "heaven" (10:15) and to "Abraham's bosom" (16:23), suggesting that it is a place where only some of the dead may go -- or a particular part of she'ol which is divided by the deep chasm.
(2) In popular piety, the term Hades may be used interchangeably with hell. It's the place where those who have turned away from God and God's will live with the consequences of that choice.

(3) It's clear that the rich man, in Hades, finds the isolation he once craved in this life, at least his isolation from the poor, the lame, and the hungry, painful in the next.

(4) Lazarus is seen by the rich man to, literally be in the bosom of Abraham, the place of highest bliss in Jewish piety.

(5) Lazarus, who in this life would have appreciated the scraps from the rich man's table, now appears to be enjoying the great heavenly banquet that Jesus addressed in last week's lesson. (See here and here.)

24He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’
(1) In spite of his lifelong disobedience of God's commands to love his neighbor and to care for the poor, the rich man calls out to Abraham as the "Father" of his faith.

In Luke 3, John the Baptist, preparing the world for Jesus' ministry told the throngs who had come to hear him preach and to be baptized by him:
“You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham..." (Luke 3:7-8)
According to the Bible, there's more to being a son or daughter of Abraham than genetics. In a bitter exchange with fellow Jews intent on killing Him, Jesus acknowledged that they were the genetic descendants of Abraham. But, He insisted that by their refusal to do as Abraham had done--trust in God and not his own "righteousness"--they proved that their real "father" was "the father of lies," the devil himself. (John 8:37-47; also see Romans 4:1-8)

(2) It's interesting that in Hades, the rich man is aware of Lazarus' existence. He even calls Lazarus by name. But he also regards Lazarus as someone who can be ordered to give him comfort, something he never would have afforded Lazarus during their earthly lives. It appears thus far anyway that the rich man's experience in Hades hasn't made him any more compassionate or any less self-absorbed.

25But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony.
(1) Abraham acknowledges that the rich man is his descendant. He calls the rich man, "Child." Yet, the record has been written. While living this life, the rich man refused to obey the command to love neighbor. (See also Matthew 25:31-46) When I consider how often I fail to love my neighbor, I find this parable a little frightening. That's when I cry out again, "God, be merciful to me, a sinner."

(2) Of Abraham's use of the term, Child, in addressing the rich man, Culpepper writes:
Being a child of not guarantee that one will dwell with Abraham in paradise. That is reserved for the repentant who believe in Jesus Christ.
Abraham's attitude is the same as that of God. God wants all to be saved from sin and death and to live with Him forever. But God respects our right to decide to forswear repentance or belief in Him.

(3) Abraham speaks of a great reversal of fortunes here. The rich man had received good things here. Lazarus was receiving them in eternity. Jesus says that those who insist on putting themselves first, viewing wealth, power, status, and health as entitlements, will be last in His kingdom, while those who are last will be first.

26Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’
(1) Culpepper writes:
The chasm that now separates the rich man and Lazarus confirms the finality of the judgment on the rich man.
27He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— 28for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’
(1) This is the first hint of concern for others shown by the rich man. Granted, it's only for members of his family. But we've never seen him look beyond his own comforts before this.

(2) But as in v.24, the rich man sees Lazarus as a servant he can summon for his purposes.

(3) It's interesting to note that Lazarus never says a word in this entire parable of Jesus. Instead, Abraham, acting as something of a stand-in for God and as the representative of authentic Biblical faith, speaks on Lazarus' behalf. Christians who have committed their lives to Christ can place themselves in Christ's hands, knowing that He'll be our advocate.

29Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’
(1) This is a telling response. Moses represents one major strand of Old Testament tradition, the Law. (After all, it was Moses who brought the Law down from Mount Sinai.) The other strand in that tradition was that of the prophets.

A major emphasis found in the New Testament is that Jesus Christ doesn't represent a strange departure from Biblical faith. He fulfills it. Check out what some New Testament passages say on this point here.

(2) Throughout chapters 14, 15, and 16 of Luke's Gospel, there's something of a polemic against Jews who repudiated Jesus. They're being told that in their rejection of Jesus, they're repudiating their own faith and God Himself.

30He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”
(1) One can't help but think of the resurrected Jesus here. If God's people refuse to trustingly follow God based on the Law and the Prophets, it's unlikely that they'll do so in response to the risen Savior either. See here.

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