Tag Archives: Abraham

Digging Deeper Into God’s Word: Lazarus and the Rich Man

Jesus pulls back the curtain and gives us a glimpse of eternity. He does so by speaking about a certain rich man and a poor beggar named Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). These two men experience a great reversal after death. The rich man, ostentatious in life, finds himself tormented in hell. Lazarus, pitiful in life, finds himself comforted after dying. More than the images Jesus paints, the words he reports unveil a vital truth.

The ensuing dialogue in this pericope is between the rich man and Abraham, the great patriarch of faith who is alive in eternity. In v. 29, Abraham is responding to the rich man’s request that someone be sent to warn his brothers, who have not yet died. In his eternal anguish, the rich man realizes that his brothers are in jeopardy and he has
compassion on them.

The remarks between the rich man and Abraham are always introduced by an aorist tense verb in the Greek text (εἶπεν in vv. 24, 25, 27, 30, 31) with the one exception of Abraham’s statement in v. 29. Here, Luke chooses to employ a so-called historical present tense (λέγει), which marks Abraham’s response to the rich man as emphatic and therefore critical for understanding the Author’s purpose in this text. Abraham’s grammatically marked statement is the key for properly interpreting Jesus’ teaching in this account.

A literal rendering of v. 29 is as follows: “Now Abraham says (vs. “said”), ‘They have Moses and the Prophets, they must listen to them.’” Moses and the Prophets, of course, is a first-century reference to Scripture. Abraham tells the rich man that nobody need go to his living brothers from the dead in order to warn them about hell because they have the Bible and they should read it and obey it.

The present-tense introduction, “Abraham says,” elevates the status of the patriarch’s statement from a simple response which is bound to the immediate context of the rich man’s request and instead places it on the level of an unchangeable truth (gnomic). They have God’s written word and they must listen and obey. So the idea of obeying God’s written word emerges as the crux of the matter for the rich man and for Jesus’ listeners (and Luke’s readers), and for us.

Abraham is affirming that God’s primary method of revealing himself is his written word. This is not to deny the work of his Spirit (see Joel 2 and Acts 2) or the revelation of his Person through his handiwork in creation (Psalm 19:1-6), or through the testimony of his people (Psalm 9:11). Nevertheless, the revelation of God through creation, sometimes called general revelation, is incomplete without special revelation: God’s written word (see Psalm 19:7-11). In addition, God’s Spirit works through his written word by illuminating the Bible to the human heart (Luke 24:45). Moreover, the spoken word of the prophet/apostle (and the witness of every believer) is empowered by God’s Spirit to reflect the apostolic message with precision, that is, to express accurately in a given historical context the universal truth revealed by Scripture (Matthew 10:19; see also Romans 10:17).

The rich man in Jesus’ teaching erred when he discounted the critical importance of hearing and acting on God’s written word. His hard-hearted response toward the poor man (Lazarus) who was left begging at his gate every day was the visible manifestation of his rejection of God’s word (which repeatedly enjoins God’s people to be gracious toward the poor; see Exodus 23:11 and many more OT examples). The rich man ignored the poor man because he ignored God’s word. The rich man’s indifference toward the poor man was a symptom of his indifference toward Scripture, which reveals an indifference toward God himself. This understanding of the rich man’s error keeps us from missing Jesus’ real point in Luke 16.

Jesus’ presentation strongly implies that the rich man’s cavalier attitude toward the poor man at his gate contributed to his disappointing eternal destination. As a result, some readers of this text might conclude that one’s merciful attention to the poor is the desired end result, therefore, any who care for the poor have no real need for the Bible. After all, they are obeying God’s word on their own impetus. In fact, they might decide that they are morally superior to those who study the Bible because they have no such need for God and the Bible to inspire them to do the right thing, no need to be frightened into acting right by an eternal fiery hell. But this would be a grave mistake as surely as the rich man’s error.

In another place (Matthew 5:14-16), Jesus tells his disciples that they are the light of world, so they should let their light shine before people so that people will see their good deeds and glorify their Father in the heavens. Helping the poor is good. Glorifying God is the goal. Helping others without bringing glory to God will ultimately bring glory to the helper instead of the Maker. The Maker of the heavens and the earth who is the Giver of life is also the one who provides us with the resources to help the poor. To take his resources and help others without giving him credit is robbing God of the honor that he rightfully deserves. In other words, helping people without worshiping God is an eternal mistake.

The rich man emphatically denies the necessity of God’s word in his rejoinder to Abraham by beginning with a strengthened form of a Greek negative particle (οὐχί vs. οὐ): “No! Father Abraham, but if . . .” (see Luke 16:30). His personal conviction is that God must do more than merely provide his written word (at least for important people like the rich man; he and his five brothers deserve more from God!). He insists that someone return from the dead and convince his brothers to change their ways. And this is the rich man’s eternal miscalculation, insisting that a miracle is necessary to inspire belief and obedience, insisting that he can demand of God how God must do his business, and dismissing the power of God’s written word (see 2 Timothy 3:16-17 and Hebrews 4:12).

How many people today respond to the Bible by saying “No! God, but if . . .”? They reject the idea that God’s word is sufficient. They imply that their unbelief and disobedience is God’s fault for not doing more, for not giving them the obligatory miraculous sign. If only God would do right, then they would act right, so they imply.

Others assert that they have discovered a way to experience the Living God which circumvents or minimizes Scripture. But anyone who suggests that there is an avenue to God and to his truth which trivializes or ignores the Bible should be corrected quickly and rejected completely if they persist in promoting such a dangerously incorrect notion.

For instance, those who seem to elevate God’s Spirit above God’s word are apparently unaware that the Spirit of God is committed to the word of God. The primary revelation of Christ is the New Testament. Our choice is not between Spirit and word. The choice is between Spirit-word and confusion-ignorance (which leads to eternal disaster).

No doubt the rich man had concluded before he died that his apparent success in life, which came without serious attention to Scripture, meant that God’s written word was of little or no consequence, at least for him and people of his privileged status (or his intellectual superiority). He was assuming an elite position, either not knowing or not considering seriously enough the truth revealed in God’s word that the Lord opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble (Proverbs 3:34; James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5).

The rich man exemplifies the proud. Lazarus exemplifies the humble. The rich man, pampered in life, finds himself in hell after death. Lazarus, poor and pathetic in life, finds himself carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom in death (a place of honor at the heavenly feast). Jesus’ teaching in this text shatters the rich man’s deadly illusion that Scripture is somehow insufficient or optional. The Bible is more important than the most impressive miracle: even someone rising from the dead.

The statement about rising from the dead is ironic because Jesus would be resurrected and show himself to eyewitnesses with many proofs of his conquest over the grave. After a cruel and shameful execution on a cross at Calvary, in fulfillment of God’s written word, Jesus was raised alive by God from his tomb, also fulfilling God’s written promise. But despite the magnitude of Jesus’ greatest miracle, his resurrection, some would still refuse to believe (Matthew 28:17). So this teaching about the rich man and Lazarus is prophetic, predicting with accuracy that his own resurrection would be insufficient to inspire faith for some who were eyewitnesses.

Miracles cannot take the place of the Bible. We must accept the reality that God’s word is sufficient for saving faith. And the written words of the Prophet, in this case the Lord Jesus Christ himself, are worthy of our greatest and most careful attention. Eternity demands it.

Brother Richard Foster

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Jacob’s Wrestling Match

Abraham’s grandson Jacob encountered God in a very unusual manner.  It was nighttime.  Jacob was alone.  Tomorrow he would see his brother Esau for the first time in twenty years.  Esau had wanted to kill Jacob when he left home two decades earlier.  Had Esau changed his mind?

Then it happened.  In a rugged area not far from the Jordan River, some miles north of the Dead Sea, Jacob was attacked.  Suddenly a man began wrestling with him.  And they wrestled all night.

Neither one could seem to gain the upper hand in this nocturnal wrestling match.  So as dawn approached, the man touched Jacob’s hip, which was immediately and permanently disjointed.  After a brief conversation, the mysterious man changed Jacob’s name to Israel and then he was gone.

With whom did Jacob wrestle that night?  Was it Esau?  Was it an angel?  As the sun rose and Jacob went limping away, he realized that he had encountered God face-to-face.  And he lived to tell about it.

This was not Jacob’s first encounter with God.  Twenty years earlier when he left home, God appeared to Jacob in a dream.  In the dream, Jacob saw God high and lifted up, standing over a ladder which reached from heaven to earth.  But now God comes to Jacob as a man, wrestling.  Why?

Jacob could stand in awe when God stayed in heaven overseeing that ladder with angels ascending and descending on it.  He could be amazed and astonished at God, but Jacob could not relate closely to such transcendence.  God-in-flesh, however, was easier for Jacob to understand, to get his hands on, to draw close and relate.

Jacob’s encounter with God was a foreshadowing of Bethlehem.  More than a thousand years after Jacob’s wrestling match, God’s Son Jesus stepped down from the throne in heaven and took on the very nature of a man, God-in-flesh.  In Jesus Christ, God condescended.

But if the man who wrestled Jacob was God-in-flesh, then why could he not instantly overcome Jacob?  Why did he prolong the contest?  Because God did not step down from heaven and wrestle Jacob in order to destroy him.  God came to mold Jacob and to build him up.  God fought Jacob so Jacob could have the victory.

A similar question occurs when Jesus becomes God-in-flesh.  How could he die on the cross at Calvary?  Can God really die?  Yes, Jesus can die and he did, so that we can be saved from sin and have eternal life.  God became like us so that we can become like him.  This is the mystery of God among us.

Jacob had no way of knowing that his wrestling match that night in the dark east of the Jordan River anticipated the momentous day when the Word became flesh and lived among us (John 1:14).  Jacob’s encounter with God was a hint of Christmas future.

Jacob’s pre-Christmas encounter with God-in-flesh left him a changed man.  Not such a silent night, but it was surely a holy night.  He had a new name and a new walk.  Our encounter with the God-Man Jesus has also changed us forever.  We have a new identity and a new life.  Joy to the world!  The Lord is come.

Praise God that he is with us and for us,

Brother Richard Foster

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What More Does God Want?

When he had lived 75 years, Abraham was called by God to leave behind all that was familiar to him: home, work, culture, and career. The Lord challenged him to move hundreds of miles and to live as a sojourner in a foreign country. Abraham followed God’s leadership.

God promised to make Abraham into a great nation, but he and his wife Sarah had no children. Years passed and the couple entered their senior years, but God insisted that they would have a son. Abraham believed God’s promise.

God commanded Abraham to be circumcised and to circumcise all the males in his household. This was a sign that he believed God’s promises and entrusted his future into God’s hands. Abraham accepted God’s mark of ownership.

Abraham and Sarah waited 25 years, until she was beyond child-bearing years and he was 100. Finally, God’s promise was fulfilled. They had a son and named him Isaac, which means laughter. Sarah laughed with joy. At last, things seemed to be coming together. Abraham celebrated God’s blessing.

Then God challenged Abraham again. The Lord tested him. He commanded Abraham to take his son, whom he loved, and to sacrifice him on a certain mountain. Isaac, who represented the future of God’s promises to Abraham, would be gone.

How many times did Abraham have to prove his faith to God? After all, he had left his home to live as a stranger in a strange land. He had believed God’s promises and adopted the sign of circumcision. And he had waited for a quarter of a century for his son to be born. What more did God want?

The Lord wanted Abraham’s faith to keep growing. No matter how many years he lived in this world, God kept urging Abraham to reach new heights in his walk with the Lord. God wanted him to have a vital and living faith, content but not complacent, confident but not presumptive.

As he had in the past, Abraham obeyed God. And on that mountain, God provided a substitute sacrifice for Isaac. Abraham gave up his son for the Lord’s sake and as a result he got Isaac back, along with an even stronger and more mature faith. Abraham passed the test.

Only our Lord knows what he has in store for us in 2014. Surely we will enjoy many great times of joy and blessing as God continues to fulfill his promises to us. We may face a test along the way. If we do, we can be certain that the Lord will provide.

May God’s Holy Spirit enable us to soar to new heights and discover greater depth in the faith this year,

Brother Richard Foster

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The Appointed Time

God promised Abraham and Sarah that they would have a son, but nothing happened. They waited for years, until Sarah was physically unable to bear children and Abraham was closing in on 100 years of age. They remained childless.

Then a miracle happened. The Bible says that God visited Sarah, that is, God enabled her to have a baby with Abraham. More than that, the Bible tells us that God blessed the couple with a son at the very time he had promised (Genesis 21:2).

Some people might think that God was a bit late in blessing Abraham and Sarah, but Scripture assures us that he acted at the appointed time. The boy was named Isaac, which means “he laughs.” Sarah was laughing. She was filled with joy.

Some two thousand years after Isaac was born, God promised a miracle baby to one of Isaac’s descendants. She was a young lady named Mary. She was soon to be married to a man named Joseph.

God promised Mary that she would have a boy before she was married to Joseph, before she and Joseph came together, and without knowing any other man. She was understandably confused.

Sure enough, God’s Spirit visited young Mary and she was carrying a baby. Joseph was stunned. He drew the logical conclusion that Mary had been unfaithful to him. But the Lord spoke to him personally and cleared Mary of any wrongdoing.

Some people might think that God was a bit early in the case of Joseph and Mary. Was he not putting Mary in an awkward position? What would people say? But Scripture assures us that God acted at the appointed time. When the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem us (Galatians 4:4-5).

God’s great work of salvation started thousands of years ago when he chose a man named Abraham and promised him a son. It seemed impossible, but God does the impossible.

Centuries later a prophet named Isaiah wrote that a virgin would be with child and give birth to a son, calling him Immanuel. It seemed impossible, but it happened. And all who heard it were amazed.

Laugh with Sarah, rejoice with Isaiah, and treasure up all these things in your heart with Mary. Our Savior has come!

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will to all,

Brother Richard Foster

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If My People

Why did God visit Abraham on his way to Sodom and Gomorrah? He said that he would go down and see if things were as wicked as it seemed in Sodom. But the God of heaven and earth has no need to “go down and see” in order to know the state of Sodom or any city.

On his way to Sodom, God stopped by the home of Abraham. Abraham looked up and three men stood near his tent in the heat of the day. According to the customs of his day, Abraham was quick to offer gracious hospitality for the men. They accepted his offer of a restful meal.

During the after-dinner talk, Abraham realized that he was not entertaining normal visitors. In some mysterious way, God’s very presence had come to call. And God decided to share his mission with Abraham. He was apparently on a fact-finding trip that would determine the fate of a city and its citizens.

Abraham could have kept quiet and let the Lord go on. After all, what business was it of his? So long as God did not bother Abraham and his household, what good would it do to get involved anyway? God knows what he is doing. Let him go to it.

Or Abraham could have offered his opinion. After all, he lived just a few miles away from the city. He could have told God that what he heard about Sodom was right. It definitely was a desperately wicked city. Abraham could have told God that he would not blame him for sweeping the place away in judgment.

But what Abraham did was simply astounding. He appealed to God for mercy. He asked that God spare the wicked citizens of Sodom. God agreed with Abraham that if just ten righteous people could be found in the city then he would spare everyone. Abraham interceded with God for a corrupt, violent, and immoral people.

True, Abraham’s nephew, Lot, lived in the city. His intercession could have been for selfish reasons. But he did not ask God to save only his kinfolk. He pleaded for God to show mercy on the entire population of Sodom. Abraham appealed to God for undeserved favor.

Abraham’s example of intercession with God is timely for us. By almost every measure imaginable the cities around us are declining rapidly. The most important measure, of course, is spiritual. And the spiritual condition of America is deplorable. We are driving hard and fast toward a truly desperate situation.

We could easily feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of the problem and choose to simply protect our own. We could rightly be angry about the horrible circumstances and just agree that God should wipe out the wicked. But Abraham, the man of faith, offers us a better response: we should intercede with God for America, appealing for his great grace.

America needs godly people to cry out to the Lord for mercy. God our Savior is gracious. He told Abraham that for just ten righteous people he would spare the desperately sinful city of Sodom. Unfortunately for Sodom, not even ten righteous people were left in the place.

We must cry out to God for his grace and mercy before the righteous dwindle away to nothing and it is too late for our communities and neighborhoods. The Lord has promised that when his people, those called by his name, humble themselves and pray, that he will hear and forgive and heal the land. (2 Chronicles 7:14)

May we be found faithful,

Brother Richard

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