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Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Luke 16:19–31

James T. Batchelor

Pentecost 19, Proper 21, series C
Saint Paul Lutheran Church  
Manito, IL

view DOC file

Sun, Sep 25, 2016 

If we were to ask people to name the top ten parables that Jesus told, it is very likely that many of them would recall the parable that we heard today … the parable of the “Rich Man and Poor Lazarus.” Like many of the popular parables, people often misinterpret it.  For example: Just because Jesus described Lazarus as a poor and suffering man who died and went to heaven, that does not mean that all poor and suffering people go to heaven.  Conversely, just because the healthy, wealthy man went to hell, that does not mean that all wealthy, healthy people will go to hell.  The culture of that time believed that God blessed righteous people by making them well-off.  They also believed that God condemned the unrighteous by causing them to suffer, or by making them poor.  They expected people of honest wealth to go to heaven and they expected the poor and sickly to go to hell.  Therefore, Jesus often taught that it is possible for the wealthy to go to hell and the poor and suffering to enter heaven.  Jesus wants us to understand that the prosperity and troubles we encounter in this life have no bearing on our eternal destination.

We also need to understand that sooner or later, every parable must break down.  That is because there is no earthly experience that exactly corresponds to every last detail of eternal truth.  That means that even when Jesus is telling the story, we need to focus on His main points and not get bogged down in the minute details of the parable.  So, while the general portrayal of heaven and hell in this parable is consistent with the teachings of Jesus elsewhere, we should not get bogged down in the detailed descriptions of heaven and hell in this parable.  Jesus did not tell this parable in order to teach about the details of eternity in heaven or hell, nor did He tell it in order to teach about the details of the process of death.

So, the angels carry Lazarus from a life of torment to an eternity of comfort.  The rich man, on the other hand, descends from a life of comfort to an eternity of torment.  It is with this background that Jesus teaches the main point of the parable in a conversation that the rich man had with Abraham.

Initially, the rich man is still arrogant and self-centered.  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.’ (Luke 16:24) The rich man still thought of Lazarus as some sort of servant or slave that Abraham could just order around.  He also did not understand that his current state of suffering was permanent … that there was no relief.

Jesus then had Abraham inform the man of his hopelessness.  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. 26And 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.’ (Luke 16:25–26) There is no relief for those who have died and gone to hell.  There is only eternal suffering.

Finally, after all hope is gone, the rich man thinks of someone else.  He said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house— 28for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ (Luke 16:27–28) the rich man believes that the miraculous appearance of someone coming back from the dead will shock his brothers into belief.

It is now that Jesus began to develop the main point of the parable as Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ (Luke 16:29) Within the context of the story, Jesus was teaching that it is the Word of God that proclaims salvation from eternal torture.  Jesus calls all who hear this parable to listen to the proclamation of God’s Word.  He calls all men to listen as He interprets God’s promises and fulfills them in His own life and in His own death on the cross.

It is at this point in the parable that the rich man expresses a false understanding that still plagues us today.  The rich man thought that God’s Word was not enough.  He thought that the miracle of resurrection from the dead would be more powerful than the Word of God.  He said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ (Luke 16:30) Sadly, even many Christians will agree with the rich man at this point.

We still have many in the church on earth who do not believe that God’s Word is enough.  While none of them would come right out and say that God’s Word is not enough, their opinions and practices show that they see God’s Word as simple information and nothing more.  When a person states that Preaching Christ and Him crucified isn’t working, they are really saying that God’s Word is not enough.  When they say that reading the Word of God is boring, they are really saying that God’s Word is not enough.  When they say that we need to reach out to people’s felt needs instead of the real need of forgiveness in Christ Jesus that the Bible proclaims, they are really saying that God’s Word is not enough. 

Father Abraham disagreed.  He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’ (Luke 16:31) Did you hear what Jesus said through the mouth of Abraham in the parable?  He said that the sign of a person coming back from the dead is not as powerful as the simple proclamation of the Word of God.  If a resurrection from the dead is not as powerful as the Word of God, then no marketing plan … no innovation … no gimmick of any kind is as powerful as the simple proclamation of the Word of God.  Here is the main point of the parable.

When it comes to salvation, there is nothing lacking from God’s Word.  The Holy Spirit spoke through the Apostle Paul and said, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” (Romans 1:16) The Apostle Paul also said, “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:17) The Holy Spirit also spoke through the prophet Isaiah and said, “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, 11so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:10–11) As far as our salvation is concerned, we need nothing more than the Word of God.  We don’t need emotional manipulation, advertising gimmicks, or any other ideas of our own.  The Word of God is enough.

Not long after Jesus told this parable, there was a real world example of the exact point that Jesus was making.  By an interesting coincidence, Jesus had a real world friend whose name actually was Lazarus.  Lazarus died and was in the grave for four days.  Jesus called him forth and raised him from the dead.  What was the response?  When the large crowd of the Jews learned that Jesus was there, they came, not only on account of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 10So the chief priests made plans to put Lazarus to death as well, 11because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus. (John 12:9–11) Jesus was not engaging in one bit of overstatement when He spoke through Abraham in the parable and said, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’ (Luke 16:31)

How is it that the Word of God is more powerful than the sign of the resurrection?  Jesus said, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me.” (John 5:39) With these words, Jesus taught that the Word of God is important because it is only through the Word of God that we can know who Jesus is and what Jesus did to save us.

It is the teaching of the Holy Scriptures that tell us that Jesus is both God and man.  God’s Word teaches us that Jesus, the Son of God, reigns over all things in equality with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit and in this equality, there are not three Gods, but only one God in three persons.  God’s Word teaches us that Jesus took on our flesh in order to take our place under the law.  God’s Word teaches us that Jesus took our sin and its consequences into Himself.  God’s Word teaches us that Jesus suffered and died on a cross and that this sacrifice redeemed all creation from the ravages of sin.  God’s Word teaches us that because Jesus did all this, we do not have to be like the rich man and spend eternity in torment.  Instead, Jesus earned a place for us like the place of Lazarus at Abraham’s side in paradise.  God’s word teaches us that Jesus rose from the dead so that we can have confidence in all these things.

God’s Word not only teaches us about these things, but the Holy Spirit has promised to use the Word of God to deliver these things to us.  It is through the Word of God that the Holy Spirit creates the faith that receives the benefits of Christ’s work.  It is by the Holy Spirit working through the Word of God that we will take our place in comfort at Abraham’s side.

Jesus made several points with His story about Lazarus and the Rich man.  The first point is that there are only two possible destinations for us when we leave this world; one is a place of eternal comfort; the other is a place of eternal torment.  The second point Jesus made is that there is no way to leave your eternal destination once you have arrived.  The third and main point that Jesus made is that the Word of God proclaims and delivers the very Grace of God that carries us to that place of eternal comfort.

Those who reject God’s Word will be like the rich man who ended up in the place of eternal torment.  Those who have the Holy Spirit’s gift of faith will live forever in the comfort of paradise.  They have God’s Word that they will live with Him forever.  Amen



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