The Rich Man and Lazarus: We may be tempted to conclude from this story that the poor will end in eternal bliss, while the rich must end in torment in Hades.
Quite obviously, that is not true. Salvation is not by wealth, or by lack of wealth. Salvation is by grace through faith on account of Christ.
Both poor and rich may enter the Kingdom of God. On the other hand, both poor and rich may find stumbling blocks that can lead them to destruction.
The rich may love their riches too much. The idols of material things in their hearts may block out true faith and worship.
The rich man in the story always dressed and ate richly. He worshiped the idol of pleasure every day at his dinner table by feasting without restraint. He lived for physical pleasures.
The rich man was typical of Americans. We Americans love our physical pleasures. We love our food. We want just the right food to suit our taste. We want our favorite drinks. We want our favorite movies, or favorite hobbies and pastimes. We want the right car for our needs, and the right house. We want this, we want that.
It is not wrong in itself to enjoy physical blessings from God. But they can so easily occupy a central place in our lives. We may organize our whole lives around them.
One symptom of the rich man's idolatry was that he did not care for the poor people whom God set near him. The rich man ignored Lazarus, even though he knew him. So lack of charity is evidence that priorities are off-center.
Do we do that? The closest charity to you at this moment is the church. Do you support the church as you should? If everyone did, then our budget would always enjoy a very large surplus. We would never struggle to pay our bills. But this is not the case. We merely scrape by as a Church.
We do love material things too much, in particular, money. As our Large Catechism says, money and property are the most common idols on earth. There is a desire for wealth that clings and stick to our nature all the way to the grave.
Since we all have this desire in us, then it does not really matter whether you are rich or poor. Even those who have little easily idolize the little they have. Even the poor can covet what they lack.
Sometimes, the poor may make poverty into a virtue, as if it were a sin to be rich. In this way, their poverty becomes an idol, as if the poor are saints and the rich are evil. This also is a strong temptation.
The poor may despise the rich. Then poverty becomes an excuse for hate.
There are so many temptations here on every side. Whatever gifts God has given you, your fleshly nature will find occasion to sin.
Since poor and rich are alike in God's sight, then what is the difference between the rich man and Lazarus, so that one ended in Abraham's bosom, and the other in flames of torment? The thing that separated them was repentance and faith. One of them heard Moses and the prophets, and did not listen or take it to heart. The other heard, was sorry for his sin, and believed in God's promise of the Messiah.
That is the only difference that matters for anyone, including you.
Do you listen to the Word and repent of your sins? Or do you make excuses for your sins and ultimately feel little or no sorrow? Do you trust in Christ? Not just an abstract Christ in your heart, but the actual Christ who comes in Word and Sacrament?
These are vital questions. A day will come when it will be too late to put your life in order. Now is the time, lest you find yourself in a place of torment. So I tell you most urgently, repent and believe in this Gospel.
Be careful to believe this Gospel, and not in the things that go along with it. Do not believe because of the love of fellow Christians. Do not believe because of the togetherness you feel. Do not believe because God said yes to a prayer. Do not believe because of a miracle.
Those who believe because of the accompanying signs will not be saved. They never really believed in the Word at all. If someone will not listen to the Word of God for its own sake, then they will not believe or repent even if they might see a man raised from the dead.
Instead of trusting in signs, trust in Christ your Lord who suffered Hades for you. The agony of those flames burned Him on the Cross. Torture you cannot imagine fell upon His flesh. This He did for you. You deserved the same fate as the rich man: to suffer in eternal torment forever, with no chance of escape. The only way to save you was for Christ to take your punishment. Hades fell upon Him, so that you would not fall into Hades.
Then Christ was raised as proof of your salvation. His resurrection is the sign that the Father has accepted the sacrifice of the Cross, so that now all sins have been paid for, of all people for all time. It is also the proof that you will be raised also, to live in the joyful, eternal Feast with the saints and prophets, with Lazarus and Abraham and Moses, and best of all, with Christ our dear Lord.
Fools may deny the truth of the Resurrection. Yet the truth remains. You can believe in the Raising of Christ as the seal and promise of God's salvation for you.
So believe that, in spite of your sinfulness, Christ has reserved a place for you at His wedding banquet. He has prepared all things, from the finest wines to the richest foods, as the prophets have testified. He has banished sin and death from that place, and made it the home of righteousness.
These are the rewards and the promises of your Lord for you. He has made a solemn oath and Testament, sealed with His Blood, so that you can know for certain that He is ready to give you all things in the new heaven and new earth.
Therefore, the saints rejoice in His holy Name, He who is love: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
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