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A PARABLE ABOUT ME (1): I GOTTA BE ME

(Luke 16:19-21)
May 29, 2016
Intro Two cows are chatting over the fence. The first said, This mad-cow
disease is pretty scary -- spreading fast. I heard it hit some cows down at the
Smiths Farm. The other cow replies, Hey, we got nothin to worry about.
It dont affect us ducks. Theres a bad case of confused identity but no
worse than what we are all born with. Thats Jesus issue in this familiar and
striking parable. Who am I? Who should I be? How do I get there?
Now, before we jump in, is this really a parable? Some believe since Jesus
uses a name here Lazarus (the only time He does that) its a real event. But
everything else suggests parable. The beginning, There was a rich man is a
formula that always introduces a parable. Parts of the story are clearly not
literal. For example, nothing in the Bible suggests that people in hell can see
or converse with people in heaven. Its used here to make a point. I believe
this is a parable. The name is introduced for other reasons we will see later.
One fascinating thing here is to see Jesus talk about heaven and hell as
naturally as He might talk about the weather or the Sea of Galilee. Why?
Because Hes been there. He knows whats there and He speaks like it. Those
who love heaven but reject hell oppose Jesus Himself who said more about
hell than anyone, solemnly affirming its reality and giving us a brief glimpse.
But this parable is not primarily about hell. Hell is incidental to the larger
message. This is a parable about identity. And it flies in the face of Sammy
Daviss song, I Gotta Be Me. Remember? Whether Im right or whether
Im wrong / Whether I find a place in this world or never belong / I gotta be
me, Ive gotta be me / What else can I be but what I am? Jesus responds we
find our true identity in Him. Eternal consequences attach to only being Me.
Jesus is warning the Me we choose in this life is the Me we will be forever.
Thats a long time. The Me we choose will land us in heaven or hell; we must
get it right. Along the way, Jesus reveals some unnerving truths about hell.
The outline we will use to study this passage is I. The Eternal Me is
Determined in This Life (Me Unformed) II. Death Reveals but does not
Change Me (Me Unveiled) III. The True Me is Found in Gods Word (Me
Unearthed). We dont gotta be Me and it we need to consider a change.
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I.

The Eternal Me is Determined in This Life (Me Unformed)

Thats sobering! The Pharisees thought prosperity was a sign of Gods


blessing. Jesus says, Not necessarily! To illustrate, He invents a story about
2 men and 2 destinies. It is a story of absolute contrasts and absolute
reversal. One man has everything in this life comfort, clothing, parties the
works. The other is in torment having absolutely nothing and desiring only a
little of what the first man has. BUT fast forward to eternity and the roles are
absolutely reversed. Now the poor man is at Gods eternal banquet with every
comfort at his disposal while the rich man is in torment desiring only a little of
what the poor man now has. Total contrast. Total reversal.
Jesus uses this parable to take us behind the veil of physical perception. He is
warning that what we see is often totally misleading regarding eternal
destinies. Hes been there; He knows. So He gives us 2 men. Two identities.
Two destinies. And Jesus first point is, who we will be in eternity is decided
now, in this life! Will we be like the first man and accept our birth identity -Self. Or will we be like the 2nd and accept a new identity with God in Christ.
What we choose now is who well be forever. So lets see the 2 choices.
A. Determined by Self (Gotta be me)
The rich mans focus is so much on SELF that he doesnt even notice what
else is going on. And the results are spectacularly successful from his
perspective. V. 19: There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine
linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. Hes rich and successful. He
has the finest mansion in town, the gold Cadillac and big screen and he is set.
His purple outer garments had been dyed with a substance extracted from sea
snails -- very labor intensive to produce, thus extremely expensive. Purple
clothes had their own section at Nordstroms. Lydia in Acts 16:14 is called a
seller of purple goods. Purple clothing indicated you were at the top of the
food chain in terms of wealth. And this guy didnt just feast sumptuously on
special occasions. His table was loaded every day! His life was a neverending display of dazzling splendor.
He certainly had no time for the beggar at his gate didnt even throw him
out. Lazarus was a non-person. He focused only on SELF. He reminds me of
song-writer, Pierce Pettis who said: When I grow up Ill look out for me.
Its a small lifeboat and baby, its a great big sea. And your tears are
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nothing, dont put that guilt on me. Thats the rich man in his self-centered
existence. He wasnt really vicious; he just didnt care about anyone but me.
And from the worlds perspective, he had it made, right? The Pharisees would
have said he was right with God and right with the world. He was living the
Lifestyle of the Rich and Famous the envy of everyone who knew him. He
must have gotten it right made the right choice. Look at him. Hes a success.
If hes worshipping SELF, it seems to be working!
But guess what? You dont have to be rich to living for SELF. Jesus isnt
teaching against wealth here. Hes created a wealthy man as an example of the
greatest contrast. But you dont have to rich to be creating your identity
around Self. You can do that from any tax bracket. You may not do as well in
worldly terms as this man, but if your existence is dedicated to number 1, then
the identity you are creating that will take into the next life is also Self. You
are just worshipping at another side of the same altar. If the thing you simply
cant live without is aimed at your own comfort, ease, ambition or pleasure,
then your identity is directed at Self just as surely as was this man.
So we must ask, Who am I? Is my identity Self, or am I in Christ? You
know, a producer asked Oscar Wilde to make certain changes in one of his
plays. Wilde responded, I wont do it. Who am I to tamper with a
masterpiece! Similarly, a lot of us dont want Jesus tampering with their selfcreated masterpiece but, Beloved, it will not look so good when it follows us
into eternity. The self the rich man surrounded by success here totally
disintegrated there. So will any identity built on Self.
B. Dependent on God (Gotta be His)
By contrast to the rich man we have Lazarus. 20 And at his gate was laid a
poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who desired to be fed with
what fell from the rich mans table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked
his sores. What a picture! Not the life anyone would choose for themselves.
Lazarus is covered with open, oozing sores and laid at the rich mans gate
the entrance to his courtyard. Laid is too gentle. The word is thrown or
cast. It implies first that he is paralyzed and second that someone is placing
him there who cares little. He is nothing but a burden.
His only recourse, naturally, is to beg. He desires the leftovers. In those days
there were no knives, forks or napkins. Food was eaten with the hands, and in
wealthy houses, the hands were cleansed by wiping them to hunks of bread
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which were then thrown away. That is what Lazarus desired. We are not told
whether or not that desire was fulfilled, but he must have been able to get just
enough to stay alive or he would either have quit coming or died sooner.
Jesus adds one more fact: Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his
sores. Commentators argue over whether this was a good or bad thing. Dogs
in those days were not the pets we have made them today. They were vicious
scavengers who roamed the city looking for food. They were a danger to most
people. So many commentators see them as totally bad, the final humiliation.
But I think Jesus introduced them for another reason. Certainly the fact that
Lazarus could not ward them off shows the depth of his helplessness. But
licking his sores could have had a healing effect. Dogs lick their own wounds
to heal them. Their saliva contains something called endogenous peptide
antibiotics which facilitate healing. Ancient healing cults have been found
which kept dogs for just this purpose. I think Jesus is making a point. Whereas
the rich man would do nothing at all to help Lazarus, even these mangy, dirty
dogs did what they could to help. This gives us a first indication of how the
rich man rates in Gods eyes below the dogs of the street.
See, there are no accidents in this life. None at all. The rich man didnt know
it, but Lazarus was a TEST. The Bible consistently indicates saving faith is
shown by a heart moved with compassion for the less fortunate. The OT law
provided that harvesters were to leave something in fields and vineyards for
the poor to glean. Poor people could bring inexpensive birds for sacrifice
instead of the normal goats or lambs. God instructed in Lev 25:35, If your
brother becomes poor and cannot maintain himself with you, you shall support
him as though he were a stranger and a sojourner, and he shall live with you.
Deut 15: 7) If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of
your towns within your land that the LORD your God is giving you, you shall
not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother. . . . 11) For
there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, You
shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in
your land. What was the great sin of Sodom? Immoral sexuality, you say.
And there was certainly that. But God points out something else as at the heart
of the evil of Sodom. Ezekiel 16:49, Behold, this was the guilt of your sister
Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease,
but did not aid the poor and needy. Are you getting the point? Its all over
the OT. How people treat those in need shows the condition of their heart
and their true identity Self or God.
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More telling yet, Jesus makes it a test of saving faith at His second coming.
Matt 25:41 Then he will say to those on his left, Depart from me, you cursed,
into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry
and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43 I was a
stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick
and in prison and you did not visit me. Is Jesus teaching that we are saved by
giving to the poor? Of course not. What He means is that how we treat those
in need reveals our heart. A repentant heart that is saved by faith will reach
out. An indifferent heart is a sure indication of an identity built on Self and no
saving faith. Lazarus was a test that the rich man failed miserably.
It wasnt that he heartlessly kicked Lazarus out. He didnt. It wasnt that he
objected to the handouts he didnt want anyway. He didnt. He was not overtly
cruel didnt kick him in passing. The sin of the rich man was that he never
noticed Lazarus just accepted him as part of the landscape. His sin was
indifference. As someone has said, It was not what the rich man did that
got him into hell; it was what he did not do. He was condemned by an
identity that saw only Self and was indifferent to anyone else. And
indifference kills.
Theres an old story about a scoundrel who died leaving his farm to the devil.
The probate court wasnt quite sure what to do with that will, but after months
of deliberation they issued this decision: It is decided that the best way to
carry out the wish of the deceased is to allow the farm to grow weeds, the
soil to erode, and the house and barn to rot. In our opinion, the best way to
leave something to the devil is to do nothing. Thats what the rich man did
nothing. And while things looked good outwardly, inwardly, every time he
passed Lazarus he disintegrated a little more. Rottenness and erosion of
character continued to build and decay advanced. We werent made to live for
self, Beloved. And when we do, we are slowly disintegrating.
So what of Lazarus? Why did he find himself in heaven when he died? His
name gives us a clue. I think thats why Jesus named him. Nothing in his life
would have suggested he could earn his way to heaven even if he wanted to.
He was an unloved, paralyzed, sore-ridden, ugly, helpless beggar. But he had
a name. Lazarus. Lazarus is the Greek translation of a common Hebrew name,
Eliezer which means whom God has helped. Jesus gave him that name to
emphasize that Lazarus was depending on God. That was his identity. The
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rich mans identity was, Me, myself and I. Lazarus identity was helped by
God. Here is a man who is trusting in God, not self.
Now, lets admit, it sure didnt look like God was helping him. Hed have
never passed the prosperity gospel test of faith. But like Job he was trusting
in God so diligently that he could have said, Though he slay me, yet will I
trust Him (Job 13:5). His faith wasnt in Gods gifts; His faith was in Gods
Person, and he knew, appearances notwithstanding, He belonged to a God
who had his back and a God who had his future. See, Beloved, God never
promised to made all our circumstances perfect in this life. We misrepresent
the gospel when we tell that to people. He promised to make circumstances
perfect in the life to come. Things may look hard here, but that doesnt tell the
story. Its not how things look outwardly but who we are inside that matters.
In 1959 Gore Vidal had written a play called The Best Man and they were
casting it for Broadway. An actor was invited to read for the lead role of a
distinguished front running presidential candidate. He was rejected bc he
lacked the presidential look. Apparently looks arent everything. Ronald
Regan became president in reality! Who he was inside mattered! Thats what
separated the rich man and Lazarus. Circumstances notwithstanding, one was
into Self, the other was in Christ and it made an eternal difference.
Conc Let me conclude with this. You can bet that everyone in town knew
that rich man. His name was everywhere. But the poor man he had no
identity. No one paid him any mind at all. But Jesus tells this parable from
heavens perspective, and what a difference. Lazarus is well-known there
because he is in Christ. His name is written in the Book of Life that is
mentioned several times in the Bible. We might say he is known in all the
right places. But the rich man? He is not known there at all. He has no name.
He is not listed in the Book of Life, and the consequences are exactly what the
Apostle John tells us in Rev 21:15: And if anyones name was not found
written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. Jesus parable
illustrates that very point. It doesnt matter who you are here. But it matters
who you are there. If you gotta be me, you will never be written there. But
if you will trust in Christ, your name will be found in the Lambs Book of
Life. Forget Whos Who in this life. Go for the Book of Life.
In the movie Bridget Jones Diary, Bridget is a rather perplexed character
trying to find her way in these post-modern times. She adopts a false bravado
she thinks is expected by society in describing herself as a assured, receptive
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responsive woman of substance. She falters a bit when she explains. My


sense of self comes not from other people but from . . . from . . . myself.
Then she gives herself away by continuing, My sense of self comes from
myself? That cant be right. She is so right. If we want to be known in
eternity where it really counts, our sense of self must come from our identity
in Him. A gift received by faith. Lets pray.