The grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus rest upon each and every one of you this day.
To say that the Christian life is all about faith is not only an understatement, but it’s also a bit of a misnomer. Yes, we are saved through faith alone. We are not saved because of our works, but because of our faith, and ONLY our faith. But here’s where the misnomer comes in—faith in what? Define “faith.” As I’ve told you many times already, EVERYONE has faith. Christians have faith. Jews have faith. Buddhists and Muslims have faith. Even Atheists have faith. Everyone trusts in something. That’s “faith.” You can’t just say that Christians are saved because they have faith. EVERYONE has faith! What makes the Christian’s faith so fundamentally different from the faith of everyone else?
The answer, as I’m sure all of you already know, is the object of our faith. Everyone has faith, but faith in what? To what or to whom does faith hold fast and cling? Our faith holds fast to God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—whereas all those other faiths (even of those who claim to be Christian) are reaching out to and cleaving to something or someone else, be it Allah, Confucius, Buddha, Mohammed, the Virgin Mary, their own intellect and reason, their works and deeds, their tax-deductible donation statement, their fame, their fortune, their well-being…whatever. The faith that saves, however, is different. This saving faith is founded solely upon the solid rock that is God and His Word and Promise.
And we see this in spades as we look to the Old Testament lesson. As I’ve taught you many times before, this account of Abram being taken outside by God Himself and directed to “look to the heavens and number the stars” takes place in broad daylight, under the bright blue sky and shining sun. We know this because just a few verses later (15:12, 17) Scripture tells us very plainly that after the star-counting command, THEN it began to get dark, and THEN it finally became dark/night. In terms of faith; that is, in terms of trusting in what is unseen, this account makes perfect sense to our ears. God wasn’t telling Abram to count all the stars he could already see. That wouldn’t be an exercise in faith, but futility. No! God was commanding him to count the stars that he knew were there and would make their appearance later on, but he could not see at the moment. So it was with God’s promise that Abram and his wife would bear children. Those children weren’t there yet…but they would be. God said so. He promised it. Trust in the promise. Have faith in God’s Word. Scripture tells us that Abram did trust in God’s Word, as crazy and far-fetched and improbable as it may have seemed, and God counted that faith—that trust—as righteousness. God justified Abram, not because of his good deeds or anything like that, but solely because Abram trusted God. Makes perfect sense to our ears of faith, right?
The Gospel lesson gives us this same lesson in spades. We know the story. Poor, destitute Lazarus is saved and brought home to heaven, not because he was some exemplary good guy, pillar of society, and consummate Boy Scout, but solely because he was faithful; that is, he trusted in God and His promise of salvation. And that’s important to understand. Lazarus had nothing to offer in terms of greatness…or even mediocrity, for that matter. Lazarus had nothing. He was broke-down, sick, dying, and full of sores. His only friends in the entire world were the dogs who would come and lick at his sores. Think about that. No one would even give the guy basic medical care. It was left up to the dogs. Everyone else would step around, step over, or simply cross to the other side of the street. Only the lowly stray dogs paid him any attention. But…in spite of it all, Lazarus believed God. He trusted. He trusted that God would save him and bring him home to heaven, not because he deserved it, but precisely because God was gracious and merciful. Despite all the temporal pain and misery, Lazarus never doubted that God loved him. He never doubted because God Himself said so. That’s faith!
The anonymous rich man, on the other hand, did have it all, and yet…he had nothing. Broke-down, destitute Lazarus was known by name and loved by God. The rich man, who had it all in life, was anonymous and unknown by God in death. And why? Not because of all that he did or failed to offer; not even because of all his wealth, as if merely having money or being well-off makes one evil. Nope. This man was condemned to hell solely because he rejected God’s Word and Promise. His “faith” was in the wrong things. The object(s) of his faith deceived him. They could not and did not help him, deliver him, and save him. All they did was serve to blind him, distract him, and lead him away from the one thing that could save him. This fact is plain to see in his crying out to Abraham for deliverance. This guy is roasting in hell, and he cries out to Abraham for help. He still doesn’t get it! He doesn’t cry out to God for mercy. He cries out to Abraham, as if being part of Abraham’s bloodline somehow made him exempt from the fires and anguish of hell. Again, it comes down to proper, saving faith. This guy had faith, to be sure…but his faith was in all the wrong things. His wasn’t a saving faith; a faith in God’s Word and Promise.
And this is where we come in to the story. I know that may sound strange, but it’s true. You see, when the condemned rich man learns just how bad and miserable and eternal hell is going to be, he pleads with Abraham to send Lazarus back from the dead to warn his brothers so that they don’t wind up facing the same eternal wrath and punishment. Abraham responds very bluntly and matter-of-factly: “No, they have Moses and the Prophets. Let them hear them.” Keep in mind that when Jesus is teaching this lesson, the New Testament hasn’t been written yet. The Bible—the Word of God—consisted of Genesis to Malachi; aka, the books written by Moses and the Prophets.
This guy is burning in hell, and he doesn’t want his brothers to suffer the same fate. “Send Lazarus back so he can warn them.” “No. They have the Bible. God’s already said everything Lazarus would say. They have the Word of God to listen to. Let them listen to the Word of God. Let them listen to their Bible.” “Yeah, but you don’t understand, Father Abraham. The Bible won’t work. It won’t do the trick. But…if someone from the dead shows up and starts speaking to them, they’ll listen for sure.” To which Abraham responds (quite prophetically, I might add): “If they don’t hear Moses and the Prophets; that is, if they don’t hear God speaking in all these times, in these many and various ways, through all these different men throughout all of history up to this point, then they won’t even bother to listen, even if someone should come back from the dead.” Basically, if they don’t want to listen, they won’t. God has been speaking. He’s very clear. He’s even risen from the dead, proving and backing up His Word of peace and victory with proof; the proof of His own wounds! But…if you don’t want to hear it, you won’t hear it. If you insist on plugging your ears, that’s it. You’ve chosen deafness. “Faith comes through hearing….” You can see how willful deafness presents a problem.
And this, my friends, is where we come in to the story. I know everyone here likes to see themselves as Lazarus. That’s good. I would hope you do. More than that, I hope you are “Lazarus” in your faith. I hope it’s not just lip-service or an empty-souled punching of the clock on Sunday morning. I hope that “fear, love, and trust in God above all things” is truly your reality. But…how does this happen? How does one become Lazarus in their faith? Well…that’s kind of a trick question…a bit of a misnomer. You see, there isn’t a long litany of chores and exercises that you need to do and master so that you can become a better, more faithful Christian. No! Either you believe God’s Word and Promise…or you don’t. It’s that cut-and-dry. It’s that simple. Either you trust in God’s grace, or you don’t.
And that’s why I do the one and only thing I can do—I point you to God’s Word; the very same saving Word that all faithful men—from Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Paul, and up to today—have believed in and held fast to. It is the same Word and Promise of God that Moses and all the Prophets looked forward to and trusted in, and it’s the same Word and Promise that took on flesh and went to the cross; the same Word and Promise that we cleave to in the present as He continues to proclaim His unconditional and undeserved grace, mercy, forgiveness, and peace to us, speaking it into our ears, and even placing it on our tongues. “Take and eat...take and drink….”
I say all this and point to all this because all this is all you need for salvation. This is what Lazarus trusted in! This is what Abraham pointed the condemned rich guy to as he roasted in hellish torment! This is the all-sufficient Word and Promise of God! “Where the Word is rightly taught and the sacraments rightly administered….” Here it is! Here is the deadly truth of your sin. Here is the blessed truth of your salvation. Here is the one and only object of true, saving faith. Here is Christ!
I know lots of people, maybe even you, don’t think this is enough. This isn’t sufficient for salvation. It can’t be. There needs to be “more.” We need to do our part. We need to help out. This [Word and Sacrament alone] just doesn’t do it. It doesn’t scratch you where you itch. It doesn’t give you that warm-and-fuzzy feeling; that high that you so crave. “This is just Word and Sacrament ministry. There’s nothing flashy. There’s nothing exciting. There’s nothing fun going on here. There’s nothing left for me to do. It’s just ‘church.’”
Yup! And here is Jesus, risen from the dead and calling out to you, speaking to you His Law and His Gospel, calling you to repent and turn and hold fast to Him, holding out to you the real and tangible proofs of His loving grace and peace, inviting you to come and take and eat and drink for the complete forgiveness of all your sin and the peace and assurance that surpasses all understanding. Here is the all-sufficient, all-redeeming, unconditional gift of Christ, to you and for you. Here is the fount, source, and focus of true saving faith.
May this [the crucifix—the promise of God, in the flesh] ever and always be the object to which your faith cleaves to and holds fast to. Here is Christ. Here is all you need for salvation. Here is peace—your blood-bought peace; a peace that is known and understood only in true, humble, saving faith.
Those who have ears to hear, let them hear…and rejoice and be at peace.
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