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The Way Things Are

Luke 16:19-31

Pastor Robin Fish

First Sunday after Trinity
Shaped by the Cross Lutheran Church  
Laurie, MO

view DOC file

Sun, May 25, 2008
Second S. a. Pent.

Luke 16:19-31

"Now there was a certain rich man, and he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, gaily living in splendor every day.  And a certain poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores, and longing to be fed with the crumbs which were falling from the rich man's table; besides, even the dogs were coming and licking his sores.

"Now it came about that the poor man died and he was carried away by the angels to Abraham's bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried.  And in Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away, and Lazarus in his bosom.  And he cried out and said, 'Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue; for I am in agony in this flame.' But Abraham said, 'Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony.  And besides all this, between us and you there is a great chasm fixed, in order that those who wish to come over from here to you may not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us.'

"And he said, 'Then I beg you, Father, that you send him to my father's house - for I have five brothers - that he may warn them, lest they also come to this place of torment.' But Abraham said, 'They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.'

"But he said, 'No, Father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!' But he said to him, 'If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone rises from the dead.'"

The Way Things Are

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Our Gospel today is the parable of the Rich man and Lazarus.  It has always been one of my favorites.  When I was a young child I thought that it was a window opened into heaven for us to look in.  When I was in college we would debate if this was a parable or not, since the text never calls it a parable.  It is, of course.  It has characteristics of a parable, and it has elements that do not seem likely to be real in the face of what Scripture teaches us about heaven and hell and so forth.  To top it off, it teaches like a parable - and like a parable every detail is not important, but the main message is the thing.  That main point is called the "Tertium", the point of comparison.  And the point of this parable is the last line, the answer of Father Abraham to the Rich Man.

But that is not all we can learn from this parable.  It presents us with several truths, if we have a mind to pay attention to them.  Jesus teaches us things that many in our age still need to learn and remember.  So, I invite you to take a closer look at this familiar old parable, and our theme is, "The Way Things Are."

This is a parable of contrasts.  Jesus paints a remarkably detailed picture of a Rich Man - the idle rich really - with His words.  He habitually dressed in purple - the finest and most expensive attire.  These were not work clothes.  He lived gaily in splendor every day.  That means that life was a party and he had it good, very good!  And, as the parable unfolds, we see clearly that he had no concern for others around him.

Contrast that to Lazarus.  He was described as a "poor man".  Our Bibles say that he was laid at the gate of the rich man, but the original Greek actually says he was thrown there.  In today's English we would say that he had been dumped at the gate of this rich man.  He was desperately poor - remember that the average man was living in abysmal poverty compared to any of us today.  He was sick.  He apparently could not get around for himself.  He was covered with sores - some disgusting ailment and a truly heart-wrenching situation.  Dogs were licking his sores.  He either could not fend them off - or he felt so bad that the licking of the dogs was a relief and a comfort of some sort.  Neither sounds like a desirable condition.  And Lazarus was hoping that he might get to eat the table scraps and garbage that fell from the rich man's table.  All in all, this was an ugly picture.

But what utter and absolute contrast!  True, abundant, idle wealth right in the presence of abject, absolute, disgusting to consider poverty!  The next detail of importance was that Lazarus, whose name means "God is my help," dies, and the Angels of God come and carry Lazarus away to heaven, which Jesus calls "Abraham's Bosom."  We know that the name of the poor man is symbolic - it was intended to communicate his trust in God and dependence on God alone.  That this is so is illustrated by the angels bringing him to eternal rest and comfort.  What this does not suggest is that the poor are automatically precious in the sight of God or have some special hope the rest of us do not have simply because they are poor.  They do not.  Lazarus was a faithful child of God.

And the rich man was not.  When he dies, he is simply buried.  No angels.  No Bosom of Abraham.  And since he was simply buried, he was found in Hades - the Greek word for Hell, in the New Testament.  It is clear from the details that follow that Jesus did not simply mean the grave.  He meant a place of tremendous torment and burning agony - hell, just as we have always pictured it.

The first truth that is apparent here is this: Our outward circumstances, at least as we perceive them, do not necessarily reflect our standing with or our relationship to God.  Earthly blessings do not reveal how we stand before Him.  That 'God loves the believer' does not mean that God gives the believer health or wealth, or comfort, or ease, or any pleasant thing that the flesh craves.  There are teachers who say that a good relationship with God will accomplish these things, and our flesh likes that thought, but it is simply not true.  To think that God abundantly blesses His children in this life simply because they are His is what we call a theology of glory.  You cannot measure the love of God for you by your bankbook, or the size of your house, or the prosperity and well-being of your family, or any other outward sign.  If you want to measure the love of God for you, you must look to the cross of Jesus Christ.  That, and that alone is the measure of God's love for you

On that cross, God gave for you that which was most precious, His Son.  Jesus endured life in this world, walked among men of evil will and heart, endured the presence of the devil tempting Him, and then suffered injustice and false conviction and agonizing execution and hours of torment of the cross - and all of that for you, to take your place, to die your death, and to forgive you your sins and give you the gift of everlasting life.  Everyone that knows what God has done in Jesus Christ, and trusts in God's promises in connection with Jesus Christ, has forgiveness, life and salvation in His name.

Based on what one could see, most everyone would have assumed that the rich man was favored by God, and Lazarus had done something to really irritate God.  The parable makes it clear that those judgments would have been in error.  And, although God has blessed you with every good thing you have, there is nothing about your outward circumstances that means for sure that you are particularly beloved of the Lord.  You find that message only in the cross.

So, Lazarus and Richie Rich find themselves in eternity, one in heaven with comforts and angels waiting on him and so forth.  The other is in agonizing torment in flames.  It is so bad that the rich man asks only for Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and touch his tongue and cool it off for just a moment.

The second truth about the way things are that we can gather from this parable is that there is a heaven and there is a hell.  Heaven is so good we cannot actually imagine it, and hell is so bad that our most grisly imaginings are going to fall short of the reality.  And everyone is going to go to one place or the other.  Nothing in the parable even suggests that the rich man was outwardly wicked.  Preachers like to make a big deal out of his wealth or his life-style and pretend that he earned hell in spades, but the text says nothing like that.  The one indication of distinction is that name of Lazarus.  God was his Help and comfort.  The rich man had everything he could imagine wanting - until he came into hell.

Every one of us is going to one place or the other.  What your life here is like may give you no clue.  There will be rich people and poor people in heaven.  There will be rich people and poor people in hell.  There will be church-going people in heaven and church-going people in hell.  There will be nice neighbors and those we think of as awful neighbors in heaven (I assume) and nice neighbors and awful neighbors in hell.  Outwardly good and decent people will go to hell along with those who are obnoxious, violent, and anti-social.  The single division among men that means anything here will be those whose hope and trust is in the Lord, and those who do not trust in God and His promises.  He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.  He that does not believe shall be condemned.

Scriptures is pretty clear on this topic:

"And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; that whoever believes may in Him have eternal life.

"For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.

"For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through Him.  He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast.

Like it or not, your family and your friends, and your neighbors will all be sorted out.  God will not be looking at how they struck you, or whether you feel all warm and squishy about them or not.  They will either be found to hope in Jesus alone, or they will join the rich man in his agonies.  That is the second truth about the way things are that this parable forces us to face.

At this point in the parable, this rich man seemed to understand this truth.  He began to negotiate - not for himself for he understood that he had no hope remaining.  He had already had all of his good things.  Now he was concerned for his brothers, and asked for help for them.  Send Lazarus to warn them.  They would know Lazarus, and they would listen to a man who had risen from the grave!  But Abraham, speaking in the place of God, tells the rich man - and all of us - that we have the Word of God (Moses and the Prophets), the Holy Scriptures.  He tells the rich man that they can learn everything they will want to have known from the Scriptures.

The rich man is still ready to argue with God.  "No, Father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!" Then Jesus tells us the third truth about the way things are, the main point of the parable, "If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone rises from the dead."  If someone will not believe on the basis of the Word of God, from the simple preaching of the Word of God, then nothing will bring them to faith.  Not even someone rising from the dead will bring them to faith.  And it almost takes my breath away when I consider that Jesus proved this lesson Himself!

Jesus rose from the grave.  His adversaries knew that He rose from the dead.  And yet, they did not believe.  They lied about what they knew, when Jesus rose from the dead, spreading false reports to discredit God and the Gospel.  When they did not believe the Word of God, even resurrection from the grave was not able to impress them!

God works in us through the Word.  He does not work in any other way.  If the Word of God leaves you cold, only the fires of hell will warm you up. You cannot be brought to faith by any other thing, any other technique, or any set of conditions and blessings.  You are not able even to cling to faith except by the power of God at work in you through the Word of God!  We cannot win the hearts of men by our logic, by our persuasiveness, or by our gimmicks.  Only hearing the Word of God preached will work faith in them. 

Or in us.  That is just the way things are!  So you want to be in that place where God's Word will be preached in clarity and purity, true and plain, as often as you can.  And you want to invite those whom you would rather not see go to hell to come with you and hear this life-giving Word.  You can speak to them about your hope in Jesus, too, of course, but the simplest and most powerful thing you can do to help your neighbors and your loved ones, is bring them to church here.  If you think they can hear the Word more clearly somewhere else, take them there - and in all honesty, you should be going there yourself.  But if you believe that here the Word of God is preached clearly, and here the Word of God is preached faithfully and honestly and truly - then invite them here to hear God's Word.

Not everyone who hears will believe - in illustration I offer the rich man and his five brothers.  But the only hope we have is the Word of God, in hearing it, and the Holy Spirit working faith in us and in them.  Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God!

So, heed the lesson of the parable.  Learn the way things are: neither your outward blessedness nor troubles speak the reality of the love of God for you - only the cross of Jesus can do that.  There is a heaven and there is a hell, and we will all spend eternity in one place or the other - and which place is decided on the basis of grace through faith.  And it is only through hearing the Word of God - listening with faith - that anyone ever believes.  Therefore, we should hear it and believe it at every opportunity, and we should invite those we would hope to see in everlasting joy, rather than everlasting misery, to hear it with us.  That is the way things are!

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.

(Let the people say Amen)

These sermons are for the Church. If you find it useful, go ahead and use it -- but give credit where credit is due. Shaped by the Cross Lutheran Church's Website can be found by clicking here.

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