Sunday, September 26, 2010

Word, Promise, Savior

Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 26, 2010
Luke 16:19-31

Abraham says to the rich man about his brothers that they have Moses and the Prophets.

We do too.

Lazarus died and went to heaven. The rich man died and landed in hell. Used to a life of luxury, he was now crying for some relief. Could Lazarus come down to give him even a drop of water? Even if Abraham had wanted to say yes, it was impossible because there was a chasm between them. People on either side could not cross over. Could Lazarus then go back to his brothers so they would be spared this torment? Again, Abraham’s answer was final: No, they have Moses and the Prophets. Just as the rich man had had. It was as if Abraham was saying to him: You also had the Word of God. You didn’t listen to it. You rejected it. If your brothers likewise don’t listen to the Word of God they won’t listen to a man who comes back from the dead.

Jesus tells this story so that we may know of what is available to us. The rich man had it. His brothers had it. Lazarus had it. We have it too. It is the Word of God.

Jesus is making it clear that the Word of God is sufficient. That’s what Abraham in Jesus’ story is making known to the rich man. He tells him that his brothers hear the same Word that Lazarus had heard. If they reject it that’s why they won’t spared, even as the rich man wasn’t.

When Jesus was telling this story the New Testament hadn’t been written. There was only the Old Testament. They didn’t know it as the “Old Testament” but simply as the Bible. And just like us, they had other names for it: the Word of God, the Scriptures, the Law and the Prophets, and the one Abraham uses in Jesus’ story: Moses and the Prophets. What Abraham was saying to the rich man is that just like he had had when he had been alive on earth, his brothers had the Bible, the Word of God. It was sufficient for salvation. That’s what was given to them. That’s what they needed. They didn’t need a man coming back from the grave to warn them of eternal punishment.

There’s something else given by God. It’s given in His Word. It’s the promise. It is the promise of salvation and of the Savior. Jesus told a seemingly story simple with Lazarus and the rich man. There’s a poor man who longs for just the scraps from the rich man’s daily feast and there’s a rich man who feasts lavishly every day and doesn’t seem to care that there’s a poor man outside his gate every day. The poor man dies and goes to heaven and the rich man dies and goes to hell.

But there’s another guy in there. He’s the one we know about. Abraham is straight out of the pages of the Old Testament, what was in Jesus’ day known simply as the Bible. And in that Bible was a very important teaching: the promise. The promise of a Savior. Salvation granted to God’s people through the Savior He would send. Abraham was the guy He made this promise through. You had to be a descendent of Abraham to be brought into the umbrella of the promise of salvation. Either that or be brought in through circumcision if you were born a Gentile. The New Testament tells us that being a descendent of that very promise is through faith, not through genealogy.

That’s how we know what the deal was about Lazarus. Yes, he was poor. Yes, he was deprived of many good things in this life. But the main thing is the thing we learn about when he was carried to heaven. He went to Abraham’s side. He was a recipient of the promise. He believed the promise of the Savior. He believed in the Savior. He may have actually been a physical descendent of Abraham. He may not have. We don’t know. That’s because we don’t need to know. He wasn’t saved by that. He was saved by faith. He was brought to heaven through the promise.

When there’s the Word there is the promise. And where there’s the promise there’s the Savior. The promise was of the Savior and the Savior has brought about His salvation. The Word is there for all to hear. It’s sad that so many would rather lavish themselves with the things of the world rather than the eternal blessings God grants in His Word through the promise by the Savior. However, there’s nothing in Jesus’ story of how ungodly it is to be rich and how honorable it is to be poor. There is only the Word that is made known to all and the promise that rings forth from it. Rich or poor, too many cling to the things of this world rather than take their delight in the things of God. The rich man woke every day to his riches and they were his god. Lazarus, even as he longed for a scrap of food, clung to the promise that His Savior would get him through—and He did, all the way to heaven.

That Lazarus was so poor he would have rejoiced to get a piece of bread shows us how great a Savior we really have. He is one that lifts us up from our depths to the heights of heavenly glory. The kind of Savior we have is not one who will tell the poor man to find a way to lift himself up out of his desperation. The kind of Savior we have is one who Himself became poor that we might become rich. The Savior who was promised in the Word is not one who came as a king, though He is the King of Kings. He is not the one who came as one who flaunted His glory, though He owns all glory and honor. The Savior promised, that the Word makes known, is the Servant of all. The one who suffered on behalf of all, even those who have no use for Him. He is the one who brought on Himself all sin, though He Himself is without sin. He is the one who suffered in our place the torment of hell, though He Himself is innocent.

The only way to see the glory of God is to be stripped of all self-glory, self-righteousness, and pride. Rich or poor, we must fall to our knees before the throne of the Almighty God. We must confess that we are by nature sinful and unclean, utterly corrupt, without anything good within us before the holiness that is God Almighty. And there is where we will see what Lazarus saw. What the rich man was blinded from seeing by his own desire for opulence. What we will see is the very God who is rich in grace and mercy. The God of the Bible who gave the promise of the Savior. The God who still loves to bring us to His side in the refreshing waters of Baptism. We may have hard times or not much to live on but there is refreshment in the forgiveness of those waters of Holy Baptism.

You can look all you want outside the Holy Scriptures. You can listen to the vain promises of other religions. You can seek your salvation or even just a good life apart from the Savior who sought only the cross. He sought only to make good on the promise of salvation for sinners. The word of God does make that clear, that we are sinners in need of salvation. Thank God it also makes known the promise. And the Savior. Amen.


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