A Sunday School teacher told her children’s class the story of the rich man and Lazarus the beggar (Luke 16:19-31). She said, “The rich man was very, very rich. He wore expensive, bright-colored clothes that were made from the finest linen. He had a beautiful house that was surrounded by a large gate. And he lived in luxury every day.” The children’s eyes danced with excitement at the thought of getting to live such a life.
Then she continued. “But Lazarus was very, very poor. He didn’t even have any money to buy food for himself. That’s why he laid at the gate of the rich man’s beautiful house and asked to be fed with the crumbs that happened to fall to the floor under the rich man’s table. And Lazarus was sick, too. He had sores all over his body and no money to buy medicine for them. So, he let dogs lick them to try to get them better.” The children’s faces turned to horror at the thought of having to live such a life.
“Everything changed, though,” said the teacher, “when both men died.” “The rich man went to a place where he was tormented by hot flames all the time. He was thirsty constantly but could not get even one drop of water to drink. Lazarus, on the other hand, went to a place of perfect happiness. He was healed, comforted, and all his troubles were over. ”
Then the teacher asked, “Now, class, which person would you rather be? The rich man or Lazarus the beggar?” After a second or two of thought, one little fellow piped up and said, “I’d like to be the rich man right now and Lazarus when I die.”
Oh, that’s it, isn’t it? That’s what we want, too. We want an earthly life of wealth, splendor, ease, and good times to segue seamlessly into an afterlife of joy, bliss, comfort, and even better times. Unfortunately, in case you haven’t heard, being a follower of Jesus doesn’t work that way. If you think it does, you are setting yourself up for a ton of disillusionment and disappointment.
The Bible says that Christians must enter the kingdom of God through many tribulations (Acts 14:22). We must endure with Jesus before we can reign with Him (2 Timothy 2:12). We must suffer with Him before we can be glorified with Him (Romans 8:17-18).
We are told to bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2). That implies that we’ll have them. We are told that God comforts us in all our tribulation (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). That implies that we’ll experience a lot of it. We are told that God is a very present help in time of trouble (Psalm 46:1). That implies that trouble will find us. We are promised that God will wipe away every tear from our eyes in the eternal city of New Jerusalem. That implies that we will have cried many of them on earth (Revelation 21:4).
Needless to say, this isn’t popular preaching. It’s not the kind of information that people, even Christians, rush to share. Show me a preacher who preaches about Christian suffering every sermon, and I’ll show you a preacher who is preaching to a small congregation.
Nevertheless, it’s Bible truth, and it’s truth that helps us make sense of this confusing and painful earthly life. It’s not that God is a sadist who enjoys watching His people suffer. It’s just that He knows this world intimately, and He is very up front with us about how life on earth works. The good news, of course, is that He is equally up front with us about how the afterlife works. So, who would you rather be? The rich man or Lazarus?