September 26, 2010 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA
“The rich man said: ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ Abraham said to him: ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’”
The rich man had everything that he could ever need. Just listen again to his description: “There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day.” What more could be asked for? The bank account was full of gold. The closet held nothing but the finest of clothes. The dinner tables were set with the most gourmet foods. His house was even equipped with a gate to keep the nosy neighbors and riff-raff away. The rich man really had it all.
This man described by Jesus was nearly identical to the nobility and elite spoken of by the Prophet Amos: “those who lie on beds of ivory and stretch themselves out on their couches, and eat lambs from the flock and calves from the midst of the stall, who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp and like David invent for themselves instruments of music, who drink wine in bowls and anoint themselves with the finest oils.” Life was full of leisure. Nothing troubled the hearts or minds.
But there was a major problem with the nobility of Israel and the rich man. They had everything that their hearts desired. But their hearts’ desire was misguided, incomplete. These people found security in what they possessed, but were not motivated by what the Lord spoke in the Scriptures. Both the ancient nobles of Israel and the rich man had the opportunity for virtuous action—behavior motivated by proper belief. But what do they do instead? The nobles “are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph.” The rich man has a neighbor in need put in front of Him: “At his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores.” But no help was forthcoming.
So what happens to these people? They receive divine judgment. They feel the Lord’s wrath. Amos the Prophet declares the fate of Israel’s nobility: “Therefore they shall now be the first of those who go into exile, and the revelry of those who stretch themselves out shall pass away.” All the parties will come to an end. All the possessions will be lost. All their high status will be torn down. The same is true for the rich man. His life comes to an end. Note the fate that he receives: “The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’”
Why do these people receive such a miserable end? It is quite simple. They have no right belief. They do not heed the Lord’s words spoken to them through Moses and the Prophets. Instead, they chase after what they determine to be virtuous and good, though it stands in opposition to the Lord’s righteousness. This is sin of the first degree, not only poor actions, but an idolatrous substitution of other gods before the Lord. It is an awful combination, especially when it results in having wealth, success, and easy life now, but everlasting loss, torment, and death in the world to come.
So it was with the rich man. When his torment leads him to ask for the smallest bit of relief—a moist finger to barely wet his tongue—the rich man is rejected. Remember what was said to him: “But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’” The rich man had received all his good things—riches, fine clothing, gourmet foods, gated house—in his earthly life. That was his choice. It pleased him to have it. But there was nothing good left to give him in eternity. The chasm between Hades and Paradise prevents it.
The rich man’s actions reflected his belief. And that belief included no concern about the Lord’s righteousness or about the life in the world to come. What comes to him is dreadful, but it was avoidable. This is seen in the dialogue between the rich man and Abraham: “Then he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house—for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’” Abraham’s statement shows the source of salvation: what Moses and the Prophets declared. They proclaimed the Divine Covenant, all the declarations and decrees that the Lord had made to His people. That Covenant revealed all the sins and shortcomings of humanity. It exhorted mankind to change and repent. And the Covenant included the promise of forgiveness, life, and salvation for those who would believe it.
But the rich man did not heed it and neither would his brothers: “[The rich man] said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ [Abraham] said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’” Believing the words of the Covenant made is what was needed. The miraculous signs do no good, if the people will not believe what Moses and the Prophets said. If one will not love the Lord with all his heart, mind, soul, and strength and love his neighbor as himself, it does not matter how many signs and miracles they might see.
So how is it with you? What do you believe? When and where do you wish to receive your good things? Do you heed the Lord’s words or do you substitute your own righteousness and virtue instead? These are the questions that Jesus’ description of the rich man and Lazarus is meant to provoke in your hearts and minds. They are asked, because His words are what will bring you life, if you will believe the Covenant that He makes with you.
Moses and the Prophets spoke about Jesus Christ. They predicted what He would say and what He would do. They laid out the faith that one must confess to be saved. They even foretold His death and resurrection. So you have the words of Moses and the Prophets. But if you don’t hear them, then it won’t matter that you also have the words of Jesus who has risen from the dead. But do you believe them? Do you find them to be true and life-giving for you? Are they declaring the good things in eternity that you want to receive?
Those are the topics that Jesus’ words speak of. That is what He wishes to convey to you. His work was to atone for your sin, to shut the doors of Hades for you, to gain you access to Paradise forever. It has all been accomplished for you. All is done, so that you can receive your good things, so that you can be comforted for all eternity in the presence of Abraham, Moses, and all the Prophets. What Christ has earned through His death and resurrection is delivered to you through His Word—His forgiving Word, His watery Word, His feeding Word. As you hear and believe, then what Jesus has for you becomes yours.
That is the way it works. Having a heart only fixed on all the matters of this earth will keep you from receiving them. But having a heart transformed by the Holy Spirit, converted through repentance and then set on what Christ has to give makes those good things yours. This is what moves you from the fate of the rich man to the fate of Lazarus. Again, what determined their fates was their faith: refusal to heed the Lord’s Word led to disaster for the rich man, but trust in the Lord’s Word brought everlasting benefit to Lazarus—the one whom the Lord helped, just as promised in the Psalm: “Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, who keeps faith forever; who executes justice for the oppressed, who gives food to the hungry.”
So as you have been brought to faith through hearing the Word of Christ you are helped by Him. Unlike the nobles of Israel and the rich man, Jesus does not ignore your plight. Instead, He helps you, giving all that you need. Instead of leaving you at the outer gates, Christ makes you a part of His household. Jesus takes His finest robe of righteousness and clothes you with it. He sets up the finest banquet and seats you at the table, so that you may eat no crumbs, but your fill of the Bread of Life. He makes you an heir of all His riches, even a place in His heavenly kingdom. It is where the angels will bring you as your life in this world comes to and end. All this is how Christ makes you like Lazarus—one whom the Lord has helped.
But one more thing must be said concerning this statement of Jesus. The same Word that carries the Holy Spirit who transforms your hearts and souls and delivers Christ’s merits to you causes you to act like differently. As you have been helped by Christ, you should not neglect the plight of your neighbors. It does no good to be one helped by Christ, but then act like the rich man and ignore all the other Lazaruses around you. Instead, you are led to consider them as Christ considered you. Your churchbody will be emphasizing that in the next three years. This parish should note that emphasis and see how we can act accordingly.
Today, as you are welcomed into Christ’s household, clothed with Christ’s righteousness, and fed with Christ’s meal, remember that this is how you are helped by the Lord. That help is delivered through His Word. Pray that your hearts and minds may be transformed and enlightened—strengthened in faith toward the Lord and in fervent love toward one another—that you may believe the Covenant that He makes with you. So you shall avoid the dreadful fate of the rich man, but instead have all the good things like Lazarus.
T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.