Pastor Aaron A. Koch
Mt. Zion Lutheran Church
✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠
Unbelief makes a person blind. All the while he thinks he’s being religious and doing the right thing, he can’t see that he’s really still self-absorbed and in rebellion against God. Just consider the rich man in today’s Gospel. Even after he dies, even after he knows that he has separated himself from God forever, notice that nothing really changes with him. The same beggar that he apparently ignored while he was alive, he now still treats selfishly, wanting to use and control him for his own purposes. “Send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue.” “Send Lazarus back from the dead to my brothers, so that they don’t also come here to this place of torment.” Lazarus was still not fully a person in the rich man’s mind, just someone who could be used to do something he wanted done.
Of course, it is a good thing that the rich man was thinking of his brothers. He could at least care about his own flesh and blood. But even here, we see most profoundly how the rich man was still an unbeliever. For after he begs Abraham to send Lazarus back to his brothers, he completely rejects Abraham’s holy reply. Abraham says to him, “They have Moses and the prophets; let [your brothers] hear them.” In other words, “Your brothers have the Scriptures, the Word of God, which alone has the power to bring about true repentance and saving faith. That’s what they desperately need to listen to.” But the rich man–he who was on the other side of that uncrossable chasm–actually has the gall to contradict our father in the faith. “No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.” The rich man is still the rebellious child, thinking he knows better. No, father Abraham. I don’t believe you; I don’t trust in the power of God’s Word to help in this situation. My brothers need something better, something more than the Scriptures. No, they need to see a miracle, something to shake them up to really make them repent.
This reveals the rich man’s fundamental problem. He doesn’t have faith in God’s Word, before or after death. It’s not as if once an unbeliever dies, he suddenly becomes a believer, but it’s just too late. No, the lack of love for God and the lack of trust in God remains. During his life, even though the rich man probably would have gone to hear God’s Word on the Sabbath as a good citizen, he was blind to its message, blind to the presence and power of God there to save, and blind to the Messiah it spoke of. And so he was also blind to the need of his neighbor laid right there at his gate. All he could see were the things that helped out his business, how his religious living helped to give him a good reputation and honor in the community, how secure he felt having the things he had come to possess. In the end, because he lived without the Lord in any real way, he also dies forever without the Lord, only seeing from the greatest distance and never experiencing or knowing the Lord’s goodness that had been freely offered him.
There is a rich man also in every one of you, your old Adam; and he too is blind. All he can see is what he wants to see, what fits in with his way of thinking, what serves his purposes. When there’s a problem, your fallen nature thinks, “if only my spouse or my friends or co-workers would just see things my way, then everything would be better; everything would be right.” Ironically, we selfishly want everyone else to repent of their selfishness, to our benefit. Your old Adam is always trying to lead you to avoid those who can’t do anything for you. He finds his security and happiness in having a cushion in the bank account, and can’t seem to feel any love for God when the finances go south. It is that old nature in you which likes religion only to the extent that it brings success or makes you look good to others. It is that part of you which still believes that a key part of how you get in good standing with God somehow has to do with the fact that you’ve lived a pretty decent life.
Repent. Take your place not with those whom the world loves, but with humble Lazarus. Return to your baptism and drown the old ways. Your old Adam is not the real you, not in God’s sight. He has given you a new life in Christ. That is your true identity; that is who you are, a beloved child of God. With empty open hands, receive the good gifts God freely places into your hands.
Lazarus is one who most certainly heard Moses and the prophets in true faith. Stripped of all the entanglements of this world, there was nothing to blind him to his true condition or the only place where there was real help for him. The Word of God was his hope, as his name indicated– “Lazarus” which means “God is My Help.” Even though Lazarus longed for mere crumbs from the table like a dog, even though the street dogs were his company and licked his wounds, even though in this world Lazarus had nothing–not even his health–in truth, Lazarus found what he was seeking. He found mercy that endures forever. He received Living Water and Bread from Heaven. He obtained perfect satisfaction and health. It was all there for him in Moses and the prophets. For there in Moses and the prophets was the Messiah, Jesus, his Help and his Savior.
Later in this same Gospel Luke recounts the narrative of Jesus after His resurrection walking with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. There it is written that “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, [Jesus] explained to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.” Moses and the Prophets are all about Jesus–from creation to the last prophecy in Malachi. Lazarus went to heaven because he believed Moses and the prophets. Or to put it more precisely, he believed in the Messiah Jesus whom they prophesied, who would take the sins of the world upon Himself and earn for him God’s favor and a place in heaven.
Lazarus found there in the Scriptures a man much like himself, in fact, in even worse shape than himself. Isaiah prophesies that the Christ is a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, despised and rejected by men, one without any attractiveness that we should desire to be near Him. Jesus Himself said in the Psalms that He was surrounded by unbelieving dogs who mocked Him in His pain, who pierced His hands and His feet. And yet, Isaiah says, “He Himself took our infirmities and bore our sicknesses. . . And by His wounds we are healed.” The blood that flowed from those wounds cleansed us of our sin and bought our eternal healing, the restoration and resurrection of our bodies to glory on the Last Day.
Truly Jesus made Himself to be just like Lazarus for us. For notice how Lazarus is comforted there in the bosom of father Abraham. That is a clear picture for us of the first two persons of the Trinity, the eternal Father and Son, as John 1 states, “No one has seen God at any time.” But, “The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has made Him known.” Jesus made the love of the Father known and manifested it to us by coming down from heaven into the midst of our poverty and affliction in order to raise us up and bring us back with Himself to the Father’s embrace. “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich,” with the eternal blessings of mercy and life, which do not pass away.
Lazarus was a true son of Abraham, not only by blood, but also because he had the same faith as Abraham. Remember how the elderly, childless Abraham was told by God that he would be the father of many nations, that his descendants would be as countless as the stars. And even though Abraham had no evidence or experience to go on, he believed God’s promise, and God credited it to him as righteousness. Abraham was righteous by faith alone. And so was Lazarus. Lazarus, too, trusted in God’s promise that He would not forsake the lowly, that no one who puts his trust in Him would ever be put to shame, that the Lord saves those who have a humble and contrite and penitent heart. Even when all of the evidence and experience of Lazarus’ life said that God had forsaken him, he still clung to God’s promise. By that faith he was accounted righteous before God. He was saved.
And so it is also for you. The evidence and experience of your life may seem to suggest that God doesn’t like you, that He’s forgotten you, or at best that He’s ignoring you. But don’t judge God by what you see or feel. Instead, go on His Word and His promises. Give up looking for impressive but fleeting signs. Trust that what He says is true and real. For God does not lie; He does not break His Word. He will come through for you–maybe not the way you want right now; maybe not even in this life. But most assuredly He will do so in the life of the world to come. And He will be with you every step of the way there. For He has conquered your sin and death by His own death and resurrection. By faith in Him, you are accounted righteous before God. You are holy in His sight, without a single flaw. The comfort and happiness of heaven is yours, entirely by the grace of God. You don’t have to earn it by your works. Notice that there’s no purgatory here where you have to suffer for a while before you get into heaven. No, it’s all a gift of Christ’s love for you. Like Lazarus you have it all in Moses and the Prophets, in the Word, in Jesus.
The unbelieving rich man, you’ll notice, is given no name by Jesus. But like Lazarus, you have been given a name by God in holy baptism as His beloved child. The Lord did more than dip the tip of His finger in the water; He reached in with His whole self and doused you with His Spirit, that you may know that God is your Help. Let us, then, be like Lazarus in spirit–poor, weak, dependent on the Lord, satisfied with no other food than what comes from His table, eating the rich crumbs of the Bread of Life that satisfy completely. Then you may die unfearing; for God’s own angels will bear you home to His side in Christ. And in the resurrection you will with your own eyes behold the Son of God’s glorious face, your Savior and your fount of grace.
✠ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠