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FAITH LIFT | Two men named Lazareth

'Our soul is eternal and will end up somewhere forever'

The Gospels talk about two different men with the same name – Lazarus. The name comes from the Hebrew word “Eleazar” and means “God has helped”. One man was a close friend of Jesus. The other was a main figure in a story Jesus told. The two men shared one major difference and one major similarity. Let’s take a closer look…

A rich man
This Lazarus was a close friend of Jesus and appears in John’s Gospel (ch. 11). He lived in the village of Bethany (a couple miles south of Jerusalem) with his two sisters, Mary and Martha. They had opened their home to Jesus and his 12 disciples when they were travelling through town (would you open yours to 13 itinerant strangers?).

They were spiritually hungry and received Jesus’ teaching with faith and eagerness. Every time Jesus and his band were in the area, they knew they would be welcome at this home. We don’t know Lazarus’ vocation but this family must have been well placed in society because religious leaders in Jerusalem knew them and Mary had once used expensive perfume to anoint Jesus.

However, tragedy struck and Lazarus died suddenly and prematurely. Jesus was notified and arrived at their grieving home after his friend had already been in the tomb four days (they bury the deceased quickly in the Middle East due to the heat). Jesus’ love for this family is evident. “Jesus wept” (John 11:35) is the shortest verse in the Bible (even you can memorize that one).

Jesus then uses this tragedy to perform one of his greatest miracles. Before an astonished crowd, Jesus orders the tomb stone be rolled away and calls out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” As mouths gape open and eyes bulge, the shrouded body of Lazarus emerges from the cave. Many more people believe in Jesus as a result and the threatened Jewish leaders realize that this miracle-worker is becoming far too popular and needs to be stopped. They begin plotting his execution in earnest.

A poor man
Interestingly, this is the only time that Jesus uses a proper name in one of his stories (parables).

This Lazarus is a poor beggar “covered with sores” which is a stark contrast to his wealthy namesake. This is the major difference. The two men represent the opposite ends of the social and economic spectrum. Jesus tells the story in Luke’s Gospel (ch. 16).

Lazarus begs by the gate of a rich man hoping to eat the scraps of food put out in the garbage.

Perhaps due to malnutrition or disease, he dies and his body would be disposed of in a pauper’s grave without fanfare. However, he is a sincere believer in God and he is “carried by angels” (with fanfare) to his heavenly home. The beggar’s faith is the main similarity with the earlier Lazarus.

In Jesus’ story, the rich man also dies but his destination is different. He is separated from God and heaven by a “great chasm” which cannot be crossed. It represents the “Grand Canyon of Sin” which separates a holy God from sinful man. This man had lived a selfish, materialistic life and now leaves it all behind as he enters eternity.

Interestingly, from his “place of torment” the rich man is able to see Lazarus in glory and makes two requests of Abraham. The first one is to send the former beggar to him to bring some relief from his “agony in this fire.” The second (in a rare unselfish moment) is to send Lazarus to his surviving brothers to warn them of what awaits them so they can “repent” before it’s too late. Both requests are refused.

The bottom line
The lives of these two men named Lazarus teach us some vital and relevant truths for today. This life on earth will come to an end some day for all of us. The life to come is a whole lot longer than our few decades here. Our soul is eternal and will end up somewhere forever.

The good news is that these two men shared a genuine faith and ended up in heaven. The warning is that earthly riches and power can easily blind people to what is truly important. The Jewish leaders in the first example and the rich man in the second chose the wrong path. They were woefully unprepared for life after death.

So, regardless of your station in life (rich, poor or somewhere in between), follow the example of these two men named Lazarus. And believe the words of Jesus who said, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die…” (John 11:25-26).

Rob Weatherby is a retired pastor.