“There once was a rich man, expensively dressed in the latest fashions, wasting his days in conspicuous consumption. A poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, had been dumped on his doorstep. All he lived for was to get a meal from scraps off the rich man’s table. His best friends were the dogs who came and licked his sores.“Then he died, this poor man, and was taken up by the angels to the lap of Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In hell and in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham in the distance and Lazarus in his lap. He called out, ‘Father Abraham, mercy! Have mercy! Send Lazarus to dip his finger in water to cool my tongue. I’m in agony in this fire.’“But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that in your lifetime you got the good things and Lazarus the bad things. It’s not like that here. Here he’s consoled and you’re tormented. Besides, in all these matters there is a huge chasm set between us so that no one can go from us to you even if he wanted to, nor can anyone cross over from you to us.’ “The rich man said, ‘Then let me ask you, Father: Send him to the house of my father where I have five brothers, so he can tell them the score and warn them so they won’t end up here in this place of torment.’ “Abraham answered, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets to tell them the score. Let them listen to them.’“‘I know, Father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but they’re not listening. If someone came back to them from the dead, they would change their ways.’“Abraham replied, ‘If they won’t listen to Moses and the Prophets, they’re not going to be convinced by someone who rises from the dead.’” Luke 16:19-31
This parable is only recorded in Luke. It is addressed primarily to the Pharisees but since you and I have a little Pharisee in us it wouldn't hurt for us to listen in.
There are three topics Jesus taught about more than any others: money, heaven and hell. And this parable covers all three of them making it a very important and unique among the parables.
Two contrasting characters are featured in this parable; a very wealthy man and a very needy man named Lazarus. The wealthy man was provided an opportunity to help the needy man but did not meet the need. In this story both die and we discover one was dead right while the other was dead wrong.
So, what would Jesus have us learn from this parable? We can learn how to make sure that we don't end up dead wrong! The Rich Man is our example, albeit a bad example!
He was dead wrong about wealth.
Since Jesus was addressing this parable toward the Pharisees He attributes to the Rich Man the thinking of the Pharisees. He is hoping they will see themselves in this character and discover the errors of their way.
Jewish people believed that material wealth was evidence of God's spiritual blessing on their lives. So the more wealthy they were the more spiritual they perceived themselves to be!
If we understand this it helps us understand why the Rich Man behaved as he did. His excessive wealth had filled him with spiritual pride. So, in his thinking, his displays of wealth became the source of his witness. The more lavish his clothing and his lifestyle, the more non-believers would want to believe like him!
So his riches equated to his righteousness and his wealth equated to his witness. That may explain how callous and uncaring the Rich Man was toward Lazarus. If wealth was a reward for righteousness than poverty would be a punishment for unbelief. So rather than having compassion for this miserable creature all he had was contempt.
It turned out he was wrong in his belief about his wealth. In fact, he was dead wrong since he didn't discover the truth until he awoke in Hell.
He was also dead wrong about works.
Basically, his attitude about good works was this, let other people do it!
Since this poor man's misery was a result of his unrighteousness the Rich Man felt no obligation to help him. He wouldn't even throw him a crumb of leftover bread. This term "crumbs" refers to the practice of wealthy people using bread to wipe the grease off of their fingers after a lavish feast. Lazarus was longing for the bread that the Rich Man had used for a handi-wipe but he wouldn't even share that.
By the time he was in Hell and realized he was dead wrong, then He wanted someone else to go and warn his brothers because he couldn't.