Trinity 1 2021

Luke 16:19-31

June 6, 2021

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID


We don’t know what circumstances brought Lazarus to the rich man’s step. Jesus doesn’t tell us anything other than he was poor, covered with sores, and desired to be fed. Whatever the cause, whether it was the choices he made or not, there he was, too weak to even beat off the dogs. He was a failure, and he was hungry, and he was alone, and he was in pain.  Life was hard, and then he died. 

The rich man’s life was different, to say the least. He was clothed with the best clothes. He didn’t seem to lack for food. He probably didn’t lack for much of anything in his life, having the money to do what he wants, when he wants, and how he wants.  Life was good, and then he died.

Lazarus was escorted by angels to Abraham’s side, perhaps even the place of honor at the heavenly banquet.  The rich man on the other hand landed in hell, in torment. At first glance this might seem to be a tale of vindication or equalization, and it has even been applied, or rather misapplied, in this way.  It’s the sort of thing where all things even out in the end. The rich become poor and the poor become rich. But that’s not really true, is it. It doesn’t always happen that way.  We don’t know anything about their character, what they did or didn’t do in their lives. But we know something more important. The difference between Lazarus and the rich man is not found in their wallets, nor in their deeds, but in their hearts. Though hungry Lazarus doesn’t seem to have anything besides the mercy of dogs, in truth, he has riches the world can’t imagine. He has Moses and the prophets.

Death delivered Lazarus from a lifetime of bad things. Escorted by angels, he received what God had promised through Moses and the Prophets – forgiveness, healing, restoration, peace. Lazarus heard and believed what was written in Moses and the Prophets. They testify about Christ. So like Abraham before him, he believed in Christ, and God counted to him as righteousness.

The rich man is another story. While he had good things in life, he was much poorer than Lazarus.  He rejected Moses and the prophets, and by rejecting them, he rejected Christ. Proud in the world, in hell a beggar.  While Lazarus didn’t receive any crumbs in life, the rich man did not receive any water in eternity (paraphrasing St. Augustine). And even in hell’s fire the rich man refuses to believe.  Now, he knew the truth of course, but he couldn’t believe that Moses and the prophets could save his brothers. He wanted them to be warned of where the road of unbelief leads, but refused to recognize the Way to Abraham’s side.  Abraham confesses that not even if someone was raised from the dead would they repent and believe.  Another Lazarus did just this.  And so did Jesus Himself, and yet some still refuse.

And we’re left with the question of why. Why do some believe and not others? First, we must remember that repentance and faith are works of the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit has connected Himself to concrete means – the Word and Sacraments.  Faith comes through the hearing of the Word of Christ (Romans 10:17), and that those who believe and are baptized will be saved, but those who do not believe will be condemned (Mark 16:16).  God only counts those who are righteous that are declared so by Him through faith in Christ.  “The reason some are not saved is as follows: They do not listen to God’s Word at all, but willfully despise it, plug their ears, and harden their hearts. In this way they block the ordinary way [Luke 16:29-31] for the Holy Spirit so He cannot perform His work in them.  Or, when they have heard God’s Word, they make light of it again and ignore it. But their wickedness is responsible for this <that they perish>, not God or His election.” (Ep XI 12). 

It is true that this life is not always fair. Some have more than others. Some suffer more than others.  Sometimes it is because of you choices, sometimes because of the choices of others.  And death comes to all, for all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).  In all fairness and justice, we all deserve the fate of the rich man. 

But the Lord is always gracious.  He deals bountifully with His people, not counting your sin against you, nor your lack of righteous deeds, but counting faith in Christ as righteousness, faith that He Himself delivers apart from any worthiness or goodness in you, faith in the One who has taken all sin upon Himself on the cross.  Faith in the One who was raised on the third day, never to die again. Faith in the perfect and sinless and holy Son of God who keeps His promises, who is your eternal shield, who prepares a reward that is very great for all who believe. 

Death is not the end of life.  For upon Jesus’ return, all will be raised in their bodies, those who have done evil and without faith to eternal condemnation, and those who have believed in Christ, who have been forgiven their sins, who have new life by God’s Spirit, and have love as God has loved to eternal glory, to the final and full awarding of penalties and rewards (2 Cor 5:10) to be determined by faith and faith alone.  And there is no crossing that great chasm.   

Repentance has already been demanded by God, here and now.  Today is the day of salvation.  Today is the time to believe. Today is the time to point others to Jesus and to God’s Word that testifies about Him. Today is the day you are called to faith.  This life is your chance to hear the Word of Christ, to believe and be saved.  May God in His abundant grace and wisdom make us like that holy beggar, helpless, weak, and dependent, trusting in no one but Him, satisfied with no other food nor drink than the bread and water of life and to be escorted to Abraham’s side, to eternal glory with Christ forever.

Lord, teach us to read and trust in Your gift of Moses, the Prophets, and all faithful witnesses to the Gospel. May our tongues speak now of Your grace for all who have ears to hear. Amen.