Jesus told the ghost story about Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16) to illustrate two points: the need for charity and the danger of spiritual deafness. It’s easy to focus on the first point. We need to care for people like Lazarus, who survived by eating crumbs from the rich man’s table. We need to think about the rich man’s selfishness, the poor man’s need, and God’s desire that we should care for our fellow man.
Don’t you wonder if Charles Dickens got his idea for The Christmas Carol from this parable? Except, in this case, no messenger was sent to warn the living. Once the rich man realized the consequences of his selfishness and unbelief, he wanted to warn his five brothers to avoid eternal punishment by repenting and mending their ways. He asked Abraham to send Lazarus, resurrected from the dead, as a messenger.
“But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’” Luke 16:19-31
The Danger of Spiritual Deafness
Often, we overlook Christ’s lesson about hearing God’s Word when we study this parable. Abraham refused to send Lazarus from the dead to warn the unbelieving brothers because God’s Word was (and is) sufficient; the five brothers had only to listen. If they didn’t heed God’s Word, they wouldn’t be convinced by miraculous signs, either.
When Jesus told this parable, he knew he would rise from the dead. He also knew his resurrection wouldn’t convince those who truly didn’t believe Moses and the Prophets. Most likely, Jesus knew he would raise his friend Lazarus from the dead. He knew some of the people who heard this parable would see Lazarus’s resurrection and that they wouldn’t believe. Not only did they ignore the message of Lazarus’s resurrection, but they wanted to kill Lazarus afterward.
“Hearing” is the Key
Hearing is the key to salvation, not the physical ability to hear, but the willingness to learn by whatever means—visual, kinesthetic, or auditory—and take God’s Word to heart. Physical deafness is no bar to spiritual learning, but deafness to God’s Word is a bar to spiritual life.
More than once, Jesus entreated his listeners to really hear his words. “He who has ears to hear, let him hear,” Jesus said. Matthew 11 is all about hearing the word of God with an open heart and mind.
Why Don’t We Hear?
The chief reason we grow deaf to God’s Word is that we accept the lies of Satan:
- “You will not surely die.” Modern versions of this are: “Don’t worry; be happy.” “You only live once (YOLO).”
- “Did God actually say…?” Editing God’s words, or ignoring them altogether, inevitably leads us into trouble; by doing so, we make God out to be a liar.
- If you do thus and so, “…you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
Ah, knowledge. We revere it. We desire it. We pursue it. But knowledge has no value without discernment. If Satan convinces us to spend our time just getting more knowledge, he can successfully keep us from reflecting on what it all means. Pity the scientist who spends years decoding DNA without thinking about what the existence of DNA means.
Listen and Learn
God’s Word is sufficient for those willing to hear it. Listen and learn. This is the third post in a series inspired by Ephesians 3.
- Searching the Scriptures in Vain – Part I (christsreflections.wordpress.com)
- Searching the Scriptures in Vain – Part II (christsreflections.wordpress.com)