It’s A Wonderful Life – and… The Rich Man and Lazarus
By Ben Fronczek
I really enjoy watching some of the older movies, especially this time of the year. One of my all time favorites is the movie, It’s A Wonderful Life.
In the movie Jimmy Stewart plays George Bailey, a small-town man whose life seems so desperate he contemplates suicide. He had always wanted to leave the town of Bedford Falls to see the world, but circumstances and his own good heart led him to stay. As he prepares to jump from a bridge, his guardian angel, Clarence, intercedes and shows him how life would have turned out for the residents of Bedford Falls if he had never been born. He gets to see life from a whole different perspective and then gets a second chance. It kinda reminded me of the second chance that old Scrooge got when he had a chance to look ahead in the movie, Christmas Carol. Just seeing things from a different perspective changed both of their lives.
For some reason as I thought about those movies, I thought about a parable that Jesus told, and wondered what it would have been like if the main character of His story had a second chance like George Bailey, or old Scrooge. Let’s first read the parable to you in Luke 16:19-31.
“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.
“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 Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 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.’
“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. 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.’
“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.’”
Now what I would like to do is put a little twist on this story and I would like you to bear with me a bit and use your imagination. Imagine if you would that after pleading with Abraham for his family and kin-folk, and experiencing the fury of Hades with all its pain and suffering…. If for some reason Jesus appeared on the scene and granted the rich man a special favor, allowing him to return to his life on earth for just one year so that he could warn his brothers and anyone else who would listen to him.
And then all of a sudden, ‘BAM,’ the next thing the rich man realizes is that he is out of the fiery torment and on his own bed taking gasps of cool fresh air. As he gasps he opens his eyes and sees his doctor bent over him shocked saying something like, “Wow, for a while I thought we lost him.”
If something like that happened what do you suppose the rich man’s reaction would be? Better yet, suppose that it was you that had this 2nd chance, and it was you who had returned from the fiery fury of Hades? Do you think his new found life would be different? What about yours?
Maybe he would blurt out something like, “Thank You, Thank You!” “How did I get here? How long was I gone? Where did father Abraham go? Where is Lazarus?”
“Who?” those at your bedside ask.
“You know Lazarus, the beggar that always sat out by the entrance gate.”
And someone answers by saying, :”Sir, that beggar died a few days ago. Don’t you remember I told you and you said that you were glad and you told us to get rid of him?”
Then the rich man mumbles, “He said I only have a year” ”A year for what? We don’t understand what you are talking about… you better get some rest sir.”
And a gitty smile I’m sure would come over the rich man’s face; may like the on George Bailey or Scrooge had when they woke up from their visions.
I wonder how his life would change. I wonder how our life would change if it was you or me knowing that we had a second chance and we were free from that fiery torment?
As we considered this parable and this imaginary twist on the story, I would like to suggest a few ways that I think that this rich man’s life, or even my life would have changed if I had that second chance like this.
#1. For one thing, I would from that point be a zealous believer in heaven and hell. I don’t believe I would quickly forget the torment and the suffering in Hades:
●The utter pain
● The unending suffering
● The longing for relief
● The cries coming from my mouth and from those around me.
● The longing for just one drop of water
● And the feeling of total helplessness
● And that chasm that I could never cross
But then there was that other place where Lazarus was along with father Abraham, and the Lord Himself. It was a paradise. It was a place only for believers, the faithful, for those who accepted God’s grace and obeyed His will, and for those who had their sin washed away. What a contrast, one was a paradise and Hades was the abode of the selfish. I believe that I would remember the view of that paradise from the place of torment and I would not forget the scene no matter how long I lived.
#2. From that point on, I don’t believe that there would be any hesitation in seeing a personal need for the Savior, for Jesus, to save me from returning to that place of torment. From that point on I would do whatever I’d have to do, no matter what it entailed, to get right with the Lord. This would become my first and highest priority… to seek first the Kingdom and His righteousness.
- I would probably rush out to buy a Bible if I didn’t have one
- I would read the New Testament and study it until I really understood how to get right with God. I would take note of how men and women of old were saved from their sin and the fearful expectation of Hell.
- If I had questions I would ask until I had a clear answer. Nothing less would do because my eternal destiny depended my understand and what I did with that knowledge.
- Hopefully I would have learned the lesson that having money and worldly power and being a know-it-all was dangerous and could be deadly if used improperly.
- And once I became a Christian, and accepted Jesus as both my new Lord and Savior I would rejoice in my salvation and in my new hope for that paradise and seek to thank and worship Him on every occasion.
#3. And I believe that my new found faith would empower me or change my everyday life. Maybe I’d stop serving self and start serving my new Lord in the short time I had left. This new found faith, this kind of belief can empowers you to do things like never before. I would pray that the Holy Spirit would really start to work thru me. And I don’t think that I would ignore or treat the poor as I did before. Lazarus was poor but he became rich. I think I would do my best to help them and consol them if I could. Maybe I would try to give them hope by telling them about Lazarus and how he was saved because he put his faith in Jesus. Maybe, I’d help them financially or even find them jobs.
#4. I believe all this knowledge would also lead me to do something else in the short time I’d have left. Each time the memory of Hades came to mind… and the sheer terror of it… and my narrow escape… I would have to tell my brothers and my family over and over again what I saw and the torment I felt… And how I pleaded to have someone come and warn them….and the paradise I almost missed.
I think I would do whatever it took to convince them that they needed Jesus, that He was the only way to escape Hell. I would tell them of their need to become a Christian and have their sin washed away. And I probably would not stop with just them… I would tell anyone and everyone I could, even knowing full well that some would not listen.
If I was the rich man, and if I had that kind of 2nd chance, after my year was up, not only would I want to be there in paradise with the Lord, and with Abraham and Lazarus, I would also want to know that my parents, my brothers, and all of my family and friends… as a matter of fact, everyone that I warned was going to be there as well.
#5. One last point: If I was that rich man, I don’t think the money and luxuries of this world would seem as important anymore. I’d probably have a whole new perspective and realize how temporary money and material things are.
I would probably feel real bad if there were people I cheated or hurt to get ahead financially.
From that point I think I would ask God to forgive me for my greed and I would ask Him to give me the wisdom on how to be a good steward of my material possessions. And I would also ask Him to show me how to wisely invest in spiritual things that will bring Him glory and enlighten others so that they would not have to suffer the same fate as I did in Hades.
As you know, the way I presented this story is all make believe. I made it up and Jesus did not preach it that way. The reality of Heaven and Hell is real and true, but once you get there, you don’t come back. You don’t get a 2nd chance. And there isn’t some kind of purgatory, where maybe you can work things out. It’s now or nothing. Either you accept Jesus and the forgiveness He is offering you and become a Christian in this life, or you lose. And if you are a Christian, the greatest gift that you can ever, ever, ever give anyone is what you know about Jesus and how to get into that Paradise. Either we share that information and persuade family and friends in the here and now, or they will lose out on God’s paradise later. There’s no coming back! In this parable, I believe that Jesus was trying to shock His listeners into reality, and likewise, it is meant to have the same effect today on us. It is my prayer that tomorrow we will all wake up with a renewed spirit like George Bailey and old Scrooge who both woke up filled with an appreciation for life and with a renewed purpose in their hearts. God has given us a great gift that we can share with others. And I pray that you will not squander that gift but share it with others.
….For truly it can be a wonderful life.
My challenge for you this week …
is to share it with at least one person this week. Talk to at least one about how God has prepared an eternal paradise for them and how to receive it. And I also hope that every time you see one of those old movies, they will remind you of this sermon and what you learned here today and you will be moved to action by that memory.
For more lessons click on the following link: http://granvillenychurchofchrist.org/?page_id=566