Using the parable of Lazarus and the rich man, Aries Zulkarnain unpacks what it means to be known by God.
“It is important for us to know God more intimately and radically, but it is also equally important for God to know us deeper,” declared Aries Zulkernain, City Harvest Church’s executive pastor as he began his sermon on the weekend of Aug 21 and 22.
Building upon the series on cultivating Christlikeness, the pastor emphasised that God wants to know each of His people intimately. 1 Corinthians 13:12 reads, “then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known”. The words “I am fully known” is “epiginosko” in Greek, which means to become thoroughly acquainted with or to know a person thoroughly and accurately well.
After Joseph Schooling rose to fame after winning the first gold medal for Singapore at the Rio 2016 Olympics, many people claimed to know him or to have some form of association with him. “You may know Joseph Schooling, but does he know you?” the pastor questioned.
He continued, “Similarly, we all say we know God but the real question we need to ask ourselves is: does God know the real me?” In Matthew 7:21-23, Jesus said that not everyone that does things in His name will enter the Kingdom of heaven. “There is a possibility that in our pursuit of doing great things for God, we can miss out on an equally important thing,” and that is to be known by God.
What does it mean to be known by God? Pastor Aries went to the parable of Lazarus and the rich man in Luke 16:19-26 to answer this question.
1. SOMEONE WHO HAS THEIR IDENTITY IN CHRIST
A person known by God has his identity in Christ. The difference between Lazarus and the rich man, as American theologian Timothy Keller postulated, is that Lazarus was mentioned by name, while the other was simply “the rich man”.
In most of the parables in the Gospels, Jesus usually referred to the characters by generic terms—a man, a widow, a judge. However, in this parable, Jesus gave the beggar a name—Lazarus. This is the difference: God knew Lazarus by name.
The rich man did not end up in Hades because he was rich, nor did Lazarus go to paradise because he was poor. “The name ‘Lazarus’ means ‘God is my help,’” the pastor explained. “Lazarus lived his life begging but he depended on God for his entire life—this was his identity.”
Lazarus may have only been a beggar but God knew him by name; conversely, the rich man was well known on earth but was completely nameless in the Bible because his wealth was his identity, not God.
One’s economic status has zero bearing on his eternal status. “You must make sure that success and accomplishment do not replace your self-worth and your self-esteem in God,” Pastor Aries reminded the congregation. “God must always be your source of security and joy.”
“Our identity in God will give us freedom in Christ to enjoy what we have and who we are,” he added.
2. SOMEONE WHO CHOOSES TO SUBMIT AND OBEY GOD’S WILL
Going back to the main text, in Luke 16:23-24, Pastor Aries noted that despite being in agony and torment in Hades, the rich man did not ask Abraham to bring him out of that place—he only asked for comfort. Even in Hades, he wanted to live life on his own terms.
In verse 25, Abraham told him “that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony.” The word ‘receive’ referred to getting what is due. The rich man probably had wealth because of his hard work and social status. On the other hand, Lazarus had probably been born into unfortunate circumstances. The word “receive” implied that both men received what was due to them.
Pastor Aries highlighted one thing that Christians can learn from this verse: “No matter what happens to you, it is how you choose to respond to God that matters.” He challenged the church to consider: do they choose to submit to God during tough times, or do they choose to blame God and make themselves the lord over their own circumstances.
“What if you experienced what Lazarus went through? Tragedy, pain and sickness—how would you respond?” Pastor Aries asked. The pastor encouraged the congregation to choose to be steadfast and have faith in God, and in doing so, they will be blessed.
Lazarus did not live to see his breakthrough, yet he held on to his identity and chose to be steadfast and have faith in God. He chose to submit his life and predicament to the Lord, and God eventually saved him after his life on earth ended. That was the award that was due to him—his faith in God ultimately saved him. He was comforted in paradise and had everlasting joy with the Lord.
“God’s will is to bless, save and heal us. The question is its timing. What is His sovereign will over us? Sometimes, He will not heal us in this life, but in the afterlife, you and I will be saved,” Pastor Aries encouraged.
Jesus submitted Himself to the will of God and God exalted Him and gave Him the name above every name (Mt 26:53-45, Phil 2:8-9, Acts 19:15). Even in hades, the demons know His name. Pastor Aries encouraged the church to submit and obey the will of God even in tough times so that God will recognize their names.
3. SOMEONE WHO CARES FOR THE POOR AND MARGINALISED
Lazarus begged by the rich man’s gate, but it is not known if he ever received help from the rich man. Why is this important? Matthew 25:40-45 teach believers that if they show compassion to their neighbours, strangers, the poor and marginalised, they are doing it on behalf of God—it is evidence that God is ruling in their hearts. When Christians show compassion to the poor, they are representing God to give to the poor. As a result of their genuine compassion, the poor would see Jesus in them.
Similarly, God identifies Himself with the poor and marginalised. Giving to the poor and needy is giving to God Himself.
“How you treat the poor and marginalised reflects how much of God is in you,” said the pastor. Showing kindness and compassion to those who are struggling is the least one can do as a child of God.
Jesus could have had another reason for telling this parable. The Pharisees, who loved money, had the tendency to look down on others and used their social standing to justify their lack of kindness towards the sinners, the poor and the needy (Lk 16:15).
Bringing it closer home, Pastor Aries gave the example of a person who came to church as a poor student but found the grace of God and eventually did well in life. “But what happens when you see someone going through the same pain as you?” the pastor asked. “The problem starts when you feel that the reason these people are in their predicament is they did not work as hard as you.”
When a person gives to others with a sense of superiority instead of genuine compassion, they are behaving like the Pharisees who sneer at others.
“God knows the real person inside of us, not the one we have been portraying on the outside,” Pastor Aries pointed out as he closed his message. He urged the church to reflect on these three areas: if their identity was in Christ, if they would choose to submit to God and obey His will even in tough times, and if they showed kindness and compassion to the poor and marginalised.