The grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus rest upon each and every one of you this day.
It’s clear from the lessons today that the focus is on faith. As we all know, faith is not based upon what we see, but what we hear. We have faith in the unseen. We have faith because we hear and believe, not because we see. And yet…what sticks out the most to me in these lessons isn’t in what we hear, but rather in what we don’t hear.
Consider Abraham. We never hear Abraham start to count and number the stars, even though the Lord Himself commanded him to do it. We hear Abraham struggling in his faith, lamenting to God that even though he had been promised a child, he still hasn’t received a child. “I’m not getting any younger here, Lord!” Our Lord, in His patience and mercy, doesn’t immediately strike Abraham down for his lack of faith (which is exactly what it is), but instead takes him outside for a little teaching moment. As most of you already know, this doesn’t take place under the cover of darkness. We know this because in the verses immediately following this event we’re told that THEN it began to get dark and THEN the sun finally set and night set in and became dark. When our Lord took Abraham outside and told him to start counting the stars, it was broad daylight! “Number the stars, if you can.” Abraham couldn’t do it, and it wasn’t because there were too many to count, but it was because they simply couldn’t be seen. Abraham knew that a sky full of stars was up there, but because of the bright blue sky of daytime, he couldn’t see any of them. “So shall your offspring be,” declares the Lord. And this is when we’re told that Abraham believed and God counted this belief/faith as righteousness. Abraham was justified because of his faith in God’s Word and promise. No counting. No debate. No great profession of faith that blew our Lord away so that He had to justify Abraham. Nope. Abraham heard and listened and believed…and was justified on account of this silent faith.
Consider, also, the account of poor old Lazarus and the anonymous rich man. We hear a great deal about all the many ways that the rich man had been blessed with material blessings in this life. We hear how he was so confident in his “stuff” that he had wound up forsaking faith in the Word and promise of God. We also hear a great deal about poor old Lazarus; how he was covered with sores and was despised and lowly, laying at the rich man’s gate, desiring to be fed with mere table scraps. We hear how he didn’t have a friend in the world. Only the dogs would tend to his wounds. That’s how truly despised he was. Only the stray dogs would pay him any attention. We hear how when this poor wretch was finally mercifully released in death the angels of the Lord took him home to heaven to recline at the heavenly feast table at Abraham’s side—the place of honor. We know, based on what we’ve already heard from Holy Writ, that one is saved only because of faith alone in God’s grace and promise alone. Lazarus was given this heavenly honor because he died with saving faith. If we were to judge based only on what we see, God must have hated Lazarus. After all, he had nothing. He was the very epitome of “God-forsaken.” And yet…we know, based solely upon what we’ve already heard, that God loved Lazarus, and Lazarus loved and trusted in God.
We hear all these things, and they make perfect sense to our ears of faith. And yet, again, what I find most interesting out of all of this is what we don’t hear. We never hear the rich man give credit to God for any of the good things in his life. We never hear this arrogant and self-confident rich man repent of—or even acknowledge—any sin in his life. Even in death, we never hear him admit that God’s Word is all-sufficient for salvation. We never hear him confess to his unbelief. “Your brothers have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.” “No, father Abraham. If someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.” No, father Abraham. You don’t understand. They need something more than the Word of God. The Word of God alone won’t do. They need something more. Hmm…that sounds a lot like what we hear today, doesn’t it?
We also never hear Lazarus. Not once. Like Abraham, we don’t hear him make a profound confession of faith. We don’t hear great and glorious words from him. We hear nothing. We see nothing. And yet…God knows the faithful truth. What strikes me the most out of all of this is the fact that we also never hear Lazarus complain. Not once. Even Abraham lamented when things didn’t go according to his plan or timeline. Not Lazarus. Not once does he blame God for his wretched state. Not once does he lament his low standing or the crosses he is forced to bear. Not once does he try to make a deal with God or complain that it’s not fair that the unbelieving jerk gets all the breaks, and he gets nothing but pain and misery and abandonment. How many of you can say that? We don’t hear any of that, and yet our Lord makes clear that Lazarus is the example par excellence of humble saving faith.
Folks: Look here. (Yes, I know I full-well that I told you to look and not listen.) Look to this cross and consider: What do you NOT hear? Like a lamb led to slaughter; like a sheep before the shearer, He was silent…for you. We never hear Him lament how it’s unfair that He has to suffer and die for a bunch of sinful losers, even though He was sinless and didn’t deserve any of it. We never hear Him gripe or complain or try to cut a deal in order to get out of it. We never hear Him renounce God.
What we do hear, though, is all that we need to hear for our salvation, our assurance, and our eternal peace. We hear Christ, even in the midst of all this pain and suffering, confess saving faith in His God and Father. Even though His Father had forsaken Him, He still holds fast to God as HIS God. “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?” In spite of it all, Christ never forsook God as His God. Christ was forsaken so that we would never be forsaken. He was forsaken for us, in our place. We are saved because of His perfect faith. His faith NEVER wavered, even as His Father forsook Him.
We also hear those magnificent words, “It is finished! Into your hands I commend My Spirit.” It is finished. We hear it. By God’s grace, we believe it. And I hope and pray that you are able to see this blessed finished reality in your own daily life. Look right here (baptismal font). Here is where God made you His own. Here is where God brought His victories over sin, death, and the grave to you, putting His name upon your head and your heart, marking you as one redeemed by Christ the Lord. Look to this altar. Look to this rail. Look and listen. Here is where your God and Lord continues to keep His promise to abide with you always, even to the end of the age. Let that sink in. No matter how bad things may get. No matter how bad things may seem, your God and Lord never leaves you, forsakes you, or abandons you. He is with you always, right where He promises to be—His Word and Sacraments. No matter how bad things may get—even as bad as Lazarus, if that’s even possible—God remains your loving, merciful, gracious God and Father. Because of Christ’s all-redeeming death and resurrection; because of your baptism into His death and resurrection, nothing and no one can ever take this from you.
And you know what? When you hold fast to these blessed Truth, it will be witnessed in your daily life. You will come before the Lord in repentant silence. It won’t be a show. It won’t be practiced or rehearsed. Pride-filled, self-centered boasts and lame excuses will not be heard from your lips. In faith, you come before God clinging only to the cross of Jesus. You come before God, holding fast to Christ’s righteousness. Look at this. How could you possibly boast about anything you do or don’t do?! How could you possibly complain about any way you feel you’ve been wronged; about any great injustice or suffering you feel you don’t deserve?! In the words of Habakkuk: “The Lord is in His holy temple. Let all mortal flesh keep silence.”
By the same token, however, when you, by God’s grace, rightly and faithfully understand all that your Lord has done and continues to do for you in and through Jesus Christ, how can you not cry out in thanks and praise? How can you possibly keep this Good News silent? How can you not want everyone to know? It is finished, in Christ and because of Christ! I’m reminded of the infants and young children who were crying out their loud hosannas as Christ processed into Jerusalem for the purpose of His death and their salvation. The Pharisees rebuked such praise, to which Jesus responded, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.”
Folks: By the gracious working of God’s Holy Spirit in these, His means of grace, you have, you know, and you believe this blessed Truth of your salvation and the salvation of all men whom God loved enough to die for. May this Good News keep you both humbly silent in repentant faith and at the same time filled with loud hosannas in joyous thanksgiving for all that Christ has done and continues to do for you.
In His most holy name…AMEN.
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