Sunday, September 30, 2007

What Has God Said?

Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Sunday, September 30, 2007
Luke 16:19-31

How did the serpent put doubt in Eve’s mind? “Did God really say?” God has this funny way of communicating with us. He speaks. He gives words. He makes known His message through spoken and written words. So what does the devil try to do? Get us to question those words. Place doubt in our minds; to wonder if God is holding out on us. Has He given us all we need?

The rich man apparently had all that he needed. But then again, Adam and Eve actually did have all they needed. God withheld nothing from them except one tree. Satan capitalized on that. Was the problem with the rich man that he was rich? Was it even that he didn’t help poor old Lazarus out? No, those weren’t the real problems with this guy; there are plenty of rich people going to heaven even as there are plenty of poor people going to hell. And there’s lots of nice people who are going to hell even though they help others profusely. And you’d even be surprised that some of those people you think aren’t so nice will be in heaven.

The problem is shown in how he lived his life. Look at how he clothed himself. Look at how feasted. With the very best of attire. Celebrations are normally reserved for truly special events. But this man’s daily eating habits were spectacular feasts. The man’s life was filled up with himself. Not God.

On the other side of the fence was Lazarus. His life is devoid of anything good. He is clothed with sores and not even faring on any food, wishing only that he could get some scraps from the rich man’s feast. At least there were some beings around that showed some compassion on him, even if they were only dogs that licked his sores.

When he dies a figure well-known to us comes into the picture. And this is where we see that though Lazarus’ life was bleak in this life, he was filled with something that makes the rich man’s wealth look like pennies. Nearly every time Abraham is mentioned in the New Testament it is in connection with the promise God gave to him. What is that promise? It is the promise of the Savior. It is the promise God gave to Abraham and fulfilled in Christ.

So while Jesus here in His story didn’t spell it out—that is, how Lazarus got in to heaven—by showing us that the angels carried him to Abraham’s side, Jesus actually is spelling it out for us. That it is in Him that Lazarus received eternal life. But we even see it in the name of Lazarus. Lazarus is the Greek name of the Hebrew Old Testament name Eliezer, which means something like “God is my help.” We even see a real life example of that in the Scriptures with Jesus raising His friend Lazarus from the dead. Lazarus, even in the grave, was helped by his God.

After the Lazarus of our story died, the rich man also died. It’s interesting, isn’t it, that he knows who Abraham is? It truly is a dangerous thing to live in this life ignoring the Word of God. In hell, those who didn’t believe in Christ in this life will know without a doubt who He is. James even says that the demons even believe—but they shudder. It’s also fascinating that the rich man calls him “father”. You can almost feel the longing in his soul to be part of the intimate relationship with this father figure. Do you think maybe Lazarus had sought that as well in his lifetime with the rich man?

In his short life on earth the rich man feasted as if there were no end to it. Now he is in constant and eternal torment. What is it he asks for from Abraham? Mercy. The very thing Lazarus had sought and the very thing the rich man denied him. When Lazarus had been at his gate even the smallest of crumbs would have given him some relief. Now in torment the rich man asks for a drop of water that he may have the slightest bit of relief. But we see that God’s desire for Lazarus was not simply to grant him relief from his hunger. He filled him completely, bringing him to Abraham’s bosom and eternal rest in heaven. Whereas in hell there is not the slightest bit of relief granted but the torment is complete and unending.

The rich man strangely enough had called to Abraham as “father”. Abraham now addresses him as “child”. Even though the man had had no regard for anyone else, and most notably Lazarus, Abraham regards the rich man’s plight as if to remind him that he had placed himself above others, including God, and never humbled himself to acknowledge that he is merely a child, as we all are. Abraham then uses brutal logic on the man, as if to say, “In your lifetime you got exactly what you wanted. You wanted to have nothing to do with God and now He has given you exactly that—you are separated from Him eternally.” On other side, Lazarus in the midst of his suffering realized that God truly was his help, the suffering he endured in this life could not compare to the glory that would be revealed to him.

But even if Abraham had wanted to help the rich man he couldn’t. It is appointed for man once to die and then the judgment. When you die, you die either in faith and are welcomed into heaven or in unbelief and are cast into hell in torment. There’s no chance after you die. And if you’re in heaven there’s no chance of ending up in hell.

It’s funny, in an ironic way, how the rich man had no regard for Lazarus while he was alive. Now in hell he’s requesting of Abraham for Lazarus to do all sorts of things. Help him in his torment, warn his brothers… When you’re in hell everything becomes clear. The demons do indeed believe, but shudder. There is no time after you die. But Jesus tells this story to us while we’re alive so that we may end up where Lazarus ended up and not where the rich man ended up.

The rich man’s second request of Abraham introduces to us what is at the root of our problem. We have already seen that the purpose for Abraham being in this story is to show us that salvation is in Christ alone; in the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham. We surmise from this that the rich man rejected that promise. In other words, he rejected Christ as his Lord and Savior. Now he’s grasping at straws, trying to figure out a way to prevent his brothers from doing the same thing and ending up in the same place. The same disregard the rich man had toward God in life he continues to have in hell—his thoughts are not of glorifying God, but of being relieved of suffering and in his brothers not ending up suffering.

Abraham’s answer is profound. If we took his answer to heart we would see how much like the rich man we really are. We have Moses and Prophets. In other words, we have the Word of God. The Bible. We have readily available to us the message of God in written form for us to see and read and hear. But do we? Do we see that we are like Lazarus in that we have nothing of our own in the sight of God? That He alone is our help? That it is only through the promise that is fulfilled in Christ that we have hope of being with Abraham and the whole company of heaven rather than in torment with the devil and all unbelievers? Or do we seek comfort in our possessions and the things of this life? Abraham’s response is simple: Let them hear the Word of the Lord.

The rich man’s response is eerily similar to the serpent’s temptation of Eve: Did God really say? The rich man does not listen to what Abraham says. He questions it. It can’t be. The Word of God alone can’t be enough. If someone rises from the grave, that will convince them. And that’s the way it will always be until Christ comes again. We will always be questioning the Word of God. What has God said? It can’t be enough. We need some other sign that’s powerful enough to show us that, yes, this is really true that there is salvation in no one else than Jesus Christ.

But Abraham knows about these things. He, too, had doubted God’s Word at times. He, too, asked for things from God on his own terms. But God’s Word is always sure. It is always true. And Abraham speaks the truth that if they don’t listen to the Word of God then they won’t believe even if someone rises from the dead. That is shown, in fact, in the real life Lazarus, who was raised from the dead, providing an opportunity for many people who didn’t believe to now believe. But just the opposite happened. Some were convinced even more so that Jesus was of the devil.

But the best example is Jesus Himself. He rose from the dead. He gave the greatest evidence of all, not just in being raised from the dead, as Lazarus was, but in rising from the dead Himself. If you don’t believe the Word of God not even Jesus’ own resurrection will convince you. So that’s why we must go back to our question: What has God said? But not as a way of questioning God, as the serpent and the rich man did. But asking “What has God said?” in the way of going back to what He said. In His Word, the Bible, we see what He has said. And we abide by it. We listen to it. We Mark it. Learn it. Meditate on it and memorize it and take it to heart.

What has God said? He has said that He is our Help. He is our salvation. Jesus Himself was covered with the sores of our sins and clothed in our guilt in His suffering and death on the cross. He traded His kingly robes for blood-stained garments. He has marked for us in His Word His promise to us: that when we die His angels will carry us to the place of everlasting peace and feasting. Amen.


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