The grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus rest upon each and every one of you this day.
“This, too, shall pass.” Sometimes this is true. Sometimes it isn’t. You know as well as I do that sometimes the struggle doesn’t pass. Now, I know that some of you are already saying, “Yeah, but it will ultimately pass. At some point you will pass away. At some point the world will end and Christ will return. At some point this, too, will pass.” You are absolutely correct! However, I’m only referring to things on this side of eternity. There are times on this side of eternity that the suffering doesn’t pass. Sometimes things don’t get better. Sometimes things only get worse. Faith can really take a beating in these circumstances, can’t it? It’s easy to grow weak in the faith when the struggles aren’t passing. It’s easy to lose faith when things don’t pass; at least not according to your plan and timeline.
Now, I know the simple response to this is to point to the faith of Lazarus, who remained steadfast in the faith even as he endured struggles worse than any of us could even begin to imagine. Lazarus never did get better, did he? Towards the end, his only friends were stray dogs, who licked his festering sores. His health never improved. It only grew worse. Still… he remained faithful, even unto death, when God finally (and mercifully) released him from his earthly suffering and took him home to recline at the eternal feast table in heaven.
Okay… so why was Lazarus saved? Why was Lazarus escorted home to heaven to take the place of honor at Abraham’s bosom at our Lord’s heavenly feast table? We’re quick to answer, “Because he had faith!” Yes… but so did the rich man. He just trusted in the wrong things. He put his faith in the things that could not—and ultimately did not—save him. His faith was in himself and his stuff—his observance of the law; his bloodline; his wealth and material goods and social standing. That faith didn’t save him though, did it? You can’t just say that Lazarus was saved because he had faith. EVERYONE has faith in something!
What differentiates saving faith from everything else? The answer—plain and simple—comes down to the object of saving faith; to that which saving faith holds fast to. It comes down to faith in God and His faithfulness. Lazarus trusted in God’s faithfulness; His Word and promise that declared Lazarus to be His own child in/through faith. In spite of all the tumults and terrors that Lazarus experienced; in spite of all the wretched crosses he was bearing in life, he trusted in God’s promise and declaration that He loved him and would never forsake him. He trusted in the fact that God was faithful and just, and that God would keep His promise to deliver him from this veil of tears home to the heavenly feast table already prepared for him before the foundation of the world. God kept that promise. Lazarus was saved through faith in God’s faithfulness.
And as for the anonymous rich man… God is faithful and just. God keeps His Word. The anonymous rich man didn’t believe it. The fruits he bore in life were proof of this. He didn’t think God would actually keep His Word and follow through on what He said. He didn’t hold fast to God’s Word. He ignored it. He disregarded it. He knew better, and he had better things to do. And when his life was unexpectedly demanded of him, he had nothing. In spite of all that he had in life, he was without saving faith in God’s Word. His faith in his genealogy and material wealth and social standing could not and did not save him. Through the likes of Moses and the prophets, God made abundantly clear—time and time again—that such a faith does not and will not save. Only faith in God’s promise of grace, mercy, and forgiveness is saving faith. Only faith in God’s Gospel promise, who would take on flesh and actually be God’s grace, mercy, and forgiveness in the flesh, is saving faith. God didn’t send this man to hell. This man sent himself to hell by rejecting God’s Word and promise. God is faithful and just.
Here is where I’m going with all this: Behold the faithfulness of God! Look to the incarnation of Christ. Look to the angelic visit to Mary, announcing her pregnancy. Look to the manger. Look to the angelic announcement to the shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night. Behold God’s faithfulness. God keeps His Word. In the person of Christ is the promise of deliverance that God first made in the Garden of Eden, in the flesh. Here is God’s Gospel in the flesh…for you, for me, and for all who are descended from Adam.
Look to this cross. Here is God’s faithfulness and justice. All sin for all time is put on Jesus. This is important. God keeps His Word. He says what He means, and He means what He says. The wage of sin is death. God doesn’t let sin slide. He doesn’t wink at it or ignore it. He doesn’t give it a free pass if you’re nice or generous with your money or have a lot of degrees or high social standing. God doesn’t care how much you put in the offering plate or how much you volunteer. None of that pays for even one single sin, let alone an eternity’s worth of them. He doesn’t let your sin slide simply because your grandma was a good Christian. He doesn’t work with a different set of rules for those who were baptized/confirmed, but then decided to do their own thing, forsaking their Bridegroom while still offering up the lip-service that they love Jesus. That anonymous rich man said the same thing… all the way to hell. God is faithful and just, which means that all sin for all time is accounted for. It’s all paid for—in full—with the lifeblood of Christ Jesus. God, who sent His only-begotten Son to live and die for us, is faithful and just.
Look to the cross. Here is God Himself in the flesh. Here is the One who promised to save His people from their sin, and here He is doing just that—faithful to His Word. God Himself lays down His life for you. He sheds His blood for you in order to atone for your sins. When you really think about it, this is actually quite unjust. The innocent dies for the guilty. The righteous dies for the wicked. Our sins—each and every one of them—are laid upon Him. His perfect righteousness is imputed to us. He gets what we deserve, and we get what we don’t deserve—the mercy, grace, and incomprehensible love of God. And listen to the words He speaks from that cross: “It is finished.” He keeps His promise. He delivers on His Word. It is finished. All sin for all time is put to death; paid in full. God is faithful and just. And it is faith alone in this faithfulness of God alone—the all-atoning sacrifice of Christ alone—that saves. Faith alone, grace alone, Christ alone.
And one last thing before we call it a day: This cruciform faithfulness of God isn’t just a one-time event in the past, nor is it something you have to wait to attain… after all this has come to pass you finally get home to heaven. He IS faithful. God’s faithfulness continues to extend into your lives and your very presence this very day (although, like Abraham and that bright blue sky, it is veiled and apprehended by faith alone). 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 faithful. Your suffering may not pass on this side of eternity. Things may not get better. They may even get worse. Still… He is with you always, right where He promises to be—His Word and Sacraments—veiled beneath ordinary and unassuming elements, but still really and truly here. We may not see Him in all His glory, but by faith and through faith we know and believe the Truth. We trust what He says. We have faith in His faithfulness. Folks: 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. He has promised this, and great is His faithfulness.
This is what it means to have saving faith; the same faith of Abraham; the same faith of Lazarus—faith in God’s great faithfulness. By the working of God’s Holy Spirit in these, His means of grace—Christ with us in His Word and His Sacraments—may you see, may you hear, may you trust and rejoice in His great faithfulness, now and into all eternity.
In the name of Jesus… AMEN.
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