January 27, 1998
Philosopher Karl Marx was not very rich nor did he have many close friends. When he died, eleven people attended his funeral. If significance were measured by that number, he would not have been a very important person.
Another man, Lazarus, was a beggar by profession. He did not have many friends either. He spent his life sitting on a curb asking for money. Beyond the few who tossed him coins and the dogs who came to lick his sores, no one cared. Eventually he died in pain and poverty. Where was his significance?
A third man was rich. He dressed in purple and fine linen. He had money, power and just about everything anyone could desire. He lived every day in luxury. Like the others, he also died. How can his significance be measured?
Jesus Christ was perhaps more well known than Karl Marx, but He was just as poor as the beggar, if one measures poverty by changes of clothing and a mortgage. Like Marx and the beggar, He gained few close friends. Even though multitudes idolized Him for a time, as His claims on their lives increased, His popularity dwindled. How can His significance be measured?
We tend to evaluate human life by popularity and possessions and other temporal things. The person adored by millions or who owns three homes, five cars and a yacht is rated as highly successful. However, these four people provoke rethinking that value system.
For instance, the significance of a Karl Marx cannot be accurately measured by his status at death. Marx co-authored the Communist Manifesto and his political ideas still impact many parts of the world. Even though his best ideas have been carried to extreme and brought suffering to many people, no one can say he was an insignificant person, at least in his lifetime.
The beggar comes out of a story told in the New Testament. Jesus says, “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side.” The Lord adds that in his lifetime, “Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted . . .” The beggar’s life was nothing but his eternity is quite wonderful.
The third man, the one who was rich, did not fare so well. When alive, he fit the picture of “the man with the most toys.” His life seemed to matter, but after he died, Jesus said he went to a place of torment where he kept calling out for just a drop of water to cool his tongue from the fire. Significance earned by wealth and power did nothing for him in that place.
What then makes a life significant? If it cannot be measured by what we can see during its physical duration, nor in the size of the funeral, nor in any human evaluation, how can we say who is important and who is not?
The answer can be seen in the person of Jesus Christ. He was poor. He died with no possessions except the garments on His back. He was not without friends but in the end, the crowds became violent with hatred and threatened his life. Finally, jealous religious leaders killed Him. When they did, He had no funeral. Only a few women attended His grave and even His friends walked away.
However, “God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.”
What did He do that made Him so significant? The Bible says, “He humbled Himself and became obedient to death — even death on a cross” and “God was pleased with Him.”
The wealth and power (or lack of it) have no bearing on the eternal destinies of Marx, the beggar, the rich man, or even Jesus. All that counts is obedience. Where does that leave us?