+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.
Text: Luke 16:19-31
Theme: Now In View Of Then
Dear friends in Christ Jesus,
The angels came. The angels came at the death of a poor believer named Lazarus and the Scriptures says, “the angels carried him to Abraham’s side.”1 In other words, Lazarus went to heaven where Abraham, the father of believers, is. The fact that Jesus refers to Abraham as a representative of heaven is significant for the story Jesus tells. The story is an illustration of contrasts. Jesus tells of a rich man who indulges himself without measure, in the process, ignoring a poor beggar named Lazarus who is laid at the gate of his estate. The condition of Lazarus is pitiful. He longs for anything that falls from the rich man’s table, even scraps that the dogs eat. Evidently he is crippled in some way and his situation is so wretched that he cannot even prevent the dogs from licking his sores. Still, the rich man pays him no heed.
The crux of the matter is revealed when both men die. The rich man went to hell. Jesus says, “In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’”2 Now we learn something we didn’t previously know. Apparently the rich man was Jewish, for he refers to Abraham as father. The clear implication is that the rich man considered himself to be a shoe-in for heaven because He was a descendant of Abraham. He was thought to be one of the chosen. But a great reversal has taken place. Lazarus (a Gentile), in heaven, is now in the position the rich man was on earth, and vice versa. Lazarus is now feasting extravagantly and the rich man is shut out. Heaven is often depicted as a luxurious banquet. Abraham is present at this banquet with all believers. Christ says in Matthew, “I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.”3 And Jesus continues, “But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”4
Lazarus represents the many Gentiles that would come from east and west to the banquet. The rich man represents a son of the kingdom (a person of Jewish bloodline) who nevertheless has been thrown out. He has lost his inheritance. His faith was not genuine. It was not manifested in works. He did not believe in the Messiah. In his confrontation with the Jews, John the Baptist said to them, “And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.”5 Romans says the true children of Abraham are the children of faith.
Dear friends, the things the world values can give false impressions and create false assumptions about spiritual truths. The impression is easily given that the impressive people of the world, the rich, the powerful, the well-known, the famous, are somehow in better standing with God than the poor and weak, the downtrodden, the humble and insignificant. What is visible in externals is not necessarily a measure of the internal state of things. Sometimes just the opposite is true. The rich man was the epitome of the warning from, Timothy, “People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”6. Certainly Abraham’s reply to the rich man is frank, “Remember 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.”7 The world is always pressing us to focus on the now. Get rich quick, get the goodie out of life, take advantage of everyone and everything because it is the only chance you will have. This is the philosophy of a self-indulged, unbelieving world. In the world’s eyes, there is nothing to look forward to in the later. Everything is focused on the now at the expense of the then.
Now we must be crystal clear about the cause of this man’s damnation. It wasn’t because he was rich. His heart was hardened to the point of unbelief. This hardening was evidenced by his consistent refusal to be generous with the blessings God had entrusted him with. His money itself was not a sin. His idolatry of it was. This idolatry cost him his eternal salvation. Put differently, his works, or lack thereof, showed that his faith was dead. True faith always shows itself in works. However, works, because they can be orchestrated, that is, faked, are not an infallible measure of true faith. Genuine faith is seen by God alone. If we are concerned our own faith is lacking that is normally a good sign. Nevertheless, we should, like the disciples, ask the Lord to increase our faith and drive out unbelief.
The story reaches its conclusion when the rich man thinks of someone other than himself. He begs Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his brothers, lest they meet with the same fate. Abraham replies, “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.”8 Moses and the Prophets is a designation of the Old Testament Scriptures. Essentially Abraham was saying, “They have the Bible, that is sufficient.” The rich man presses the issue one more time. “’No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ He said to them, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”9
Surely the shock of someone rising from the dead would drive one to repentance. Here Jesus refers to His own resurrection. Perhaps such shock may drive a person to repentance, but not someone who has already hardened his heart against the truth of Scripture. This verse is a prophecy that was soon to be fulfilled. Even some who saw Jesus rise from the dead did not believe. Faith in Christ is not a matter of intellectual concession. That is, it is not a matter of conceding because there is no other rational way to explain the facts: a man who was dead is now alive. Faith is a matter of humbly trusting that the One who rose, died to give you new life. It is trusting that sin has been defeated, personally for you, in you, by the Holy Spirit’s power. It is finding strength every day in a God who loves you so unconditionally and with such certainty that not even nails driven into His flesh could prevent Him from reconciling us to the heavenly Father. He has atoned for our sins and covered our transgressions.
Abraham’s words are important for us also who were not present for a post-resurrection appearance of Jesus. “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen.”10 We have Moses and the Prophets and the Gospels and the epistles too. Christ is crucified. Christ is risen. We do hear Him when His forgiveness is proclaimed. When do taste Him when we receive His body and blood. We do feel Him when the baptismal water is poured. Exactly in these sacred things, we do see Him with the eyes of faith. We have Him here and now. And we will have the fullness of a new creation later. Amen.
+ In nomine Jesu +
Nineteenth Sunday After Pentecost
18 September, 2016
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 Luke 16:22
2 Luke 16:23-24
3 Matthew 8:11
4 Matthew 8:12
5 Matthew 3:9
6 1 Timothy 6:9-10
7 Luke 16:25
8 Luke 16:29
9 Luke 16:30
10 Hebrews 11:1