"We Have God's Word"
Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost
St. Luke 16:19-31
September 30, 2007
IN NOMINE JESU
For the past few weeks we have heard our Lord teach us where to place our trust—in the true riches in heaven. We are to trust in the Lord and lean not on our own understanding…or on our own possessions. He has taught us to crave the true riches He offers in His Means of Grace. Our Lord continues teaching us this truth. By way of story, our Lord is teaching us that we can only get into heaven by believing in God, and faith comes from hearing the Word of God. Our text shows us the importance of hearing the Word of God and keeping it.
Our Lord speaks of a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen, such as those who lived in luxury and were in king's courts. This rich man "fared sumptuously every day" (v. 19); that means he had a feast every day, not just on special occasions. When would we normally enjoy a feast? We tend to eat more than we planned at Christmas, Easter, and Thanksgiving dinners, and perhaps when we celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, baptisms, confirmations, or other occasions. In the previous chapter of St. Luke's Gospel, in the Lord's parable of the "prodigal" or lost son, the father threw a feast because his son who once was lost had been found. Earlier in Chapter 15, the shepherd invited his friends to rejoice with him, for he had found his lost sheep. The woman did likewise when she found her lost coin. Normally, such get-togethers would involve an extravagant feast. However, the rich man did not wait for a special occasion to have a feast; Groundhog Day or the end of Daylight Savings Time would have been occasions enough for him, had these existed then. He gorged himself every day while a poor beggar lay at his gate, a man named Lazarus. This poor man would have been happy to eat merely the crumbs that fell from the rich man's table. However, he did not get even the crumbs. He was also so weak that he could not fend off the dogs that licked his sores. Day after day Lazarus lay at the rich man's gate, hungry and sore, no doubt dying. Day after day the rich man passed through his gate, not lifting even his little finger to help his neighbor in desperate need. The rich man had not the love of God in his heart, nor the love for his neighbor…only the love of self.
And it came to pass that both men died. Lazarus was carried by the angels to Abraham's bosom. That is to say, Lazarus died and went to heaven. It is no coincidence that we hear of the angels here, as the Church celebrated the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels yesterday, and we have entered into the part of the post-Pentecost season known as St. Michael's Tide (or Angels' Tide). They did the bidding of God, their Creator. The rich man was in torment in the fires of hell. Such a notion was contrary to Jewish thought. You see, Lazarus was poor, hungry, and diseased; therefore he must have been a sinner, or else he would not have been afflicted as he was. The rich man may well have been considered righteous; he would have at least had the respect of the people, who would have believed that he would go to heaven. However, the opposite was true. No doubt the Lord spoke this parable to point out the evil and the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. The rich man was in hell, although he was Jewish…albeit in name or in blood only. From hell the rich man cried out, "Father Abraham!" He may have been a physical descendant of Abraham, but he certainly was no spiritual descendant. The spiritual descendants of Abraham in those days placed their trust in the Messianic promises, the promises uttered by the Prophets, speaking of the coming of the Messiah. In these days they (the true Christians) place their trust in the Messiah who has come and will come again. If the rich man had been faithful, he would have heard Moses and the Prophets and believed the Word of the Lord. Yet there he was—in hell—unrepentant…and still arrogant. He still thought of Lazarus as little more than an errand boy, a slave. He wanted Abraham to send Lazarus down to hell and comfort him. But the sainted patriarch reminded him that there was a gulf fixed between heaven and hell, a gulf no one could cross; one would either be in heaven or in hell forever. There was no crossing over.
The rich man then asked Abraham to send Lazarus to the rich man's brothers to warn them of what was awaiting them in hell. Abraham responded, "They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them" (v. 29). They needed to hear the Word of God and believe it, for, as we hear in Romans 10, faith comes from hearing, and the place to hear the Word of God was in the liturgy of the synagogue, just as the place to hear the Word today is here in the Lord's house, for He comes to us in His Word. The rich man thought little of God's Means of Grace, about as little as he thought of Lazarus. The Word was not enough for the rich man; something spectacular had to happen, like someone coming back from the dead, and then they would repent. But Abraham rightly said to him, "If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead" (v. 31). This is most certainly true, since the Holy Spirit does not bring people to faith by a resurrection, but He does so through the Gospel that announces the resurrection of our Lord. A resurrection by no means brings a person to repentance, for the Holy Spirit brings this about through the public reading and preaching of the Law. Our God deals with us solely through the means He has prescribed, the means to which He has voluntarily bound Himself—and has done so for our sake.
We are here, wounded by our many and great sins. Our hearts are broken by the weight of our transgressions. We seek comfort, but we would rather seek comfort in the things we have, or in the things we want to have. We lack comfort because we are not content to have what God has already given us to have. Just as the rich man would not hear Moses and the prophets, so also we do not hear St. Paul as he wrote to St. Timothy and says to us:
"Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows" (1 Tim. 6:6-10).
We look for God to comfort us by giving us signs and wonders; we therefore look outside the means through which our Lord comes to us: through Word and Sacraments. If we see this happen, we will believe. If we see that happen, we will repent. NO! The Lord gives you His Law so you would be convicted and would repent and His Gospel that you may believe and receive His forgiveness. To look elsewhere is to sin against God and His Word. The Lord revealed Himself to Elijah in 1 Kings 19, but not through signs and wonders. He was not in the wind that tore the mountains and broke the rocks into pieces. He was not in the earthquake; nor was He in the fire. No, the Lord came in a still small voice. This is the voice the rich man ignored. This is the voice we need to stop ignoring and start hearing, lest we be in torment and need our tongues cooled, for such will be our life in hell for not hearing the Word of God and keeping it.
And so we are here, for the Holy Spirit has led us here to our Lord's house, where He comes to us today in His Word, to heal our wounds and bind our broken hearts. He spoke to you in the Lection a few moments ago, as His Word was read in your hearing. He is speaking to you now in the sermon. It is not my word that you hear, but it is God's speaking His Word through me, in the stead and by the command of Jesus Christ. The Word He speaks to you is the same Word He has spoken to you throughout your life. He says to you, "Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand." He also says to you what He first said while on the cross: "It is finished!" By these words Jesus Christ told the whole world—and you personally—that He has taken away the sin of the world, that He has taken away your sin, and has taken it upon Himself and paid the debt entirely, and now He offers the same forgiveness He won on the cross to all who come to Him in repentance and faith.
This is the great message you get to hear each Lord's Day: God has forgiven your sins for His Son's sake. You know this, and you believe this, for the Holy Spirit has called you by the Gospel, enlightened you with His gifts, sanctified and kept you in the true faith. He daily and richly forgives all your sins, and He will at the Last Day raise you and all the dead and give to you and all believers in Christ eternal life, that you will join Lazarus and be firmly nestled in Abraham's bosom at the eternal Feast, just as St. John, the beloved disciple, was in the Lord's bosom at the Last Supper, even as we also are as our Lord comes to us in His body and blood, where we enjoy personal, intimate table fellowship with our Lord. May our prayer this day and always be the great hymn stanza: "Lord, let at last Thine angels come, To Abram's bosom bear me home, That I may die unfearing; And in its narrow chamber keep / My body safe in peaceful sleep / Until Thy reappearing. And then from death awaken me / That these mine eyes with joy may see, O Son of God, Thy glorious face, My Savior and my Fount of grace. Lord Jesus Christ, My prayer attend, my prayer attend, And I will praise Thee without end" (TLH 429:3).
Now unto Him "who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see, to whom be honor and everlasting power" (1 Tim. 6:15b-16). In the Name of the Father and of the † Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
SOLI DEO GLORIA
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