19 Pentecost Proper C21
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Luke 16:19-31 Sermon
September 29, 2013
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Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal & With One Voice):
(NOTE: This is Hymn Sing Sunday; these hymns were selections by the congregation)
360 "O For A Thousand Tongues"
199 "Jesus Christ Is Risen Today":
----- "Victory In Jesus"
15 "From All That Dwell"
436 "The Lord's My Shepherd"
464 "Blest Be The Tie That Binds"
WOV 772 "O Lord Hear My Prayer"
552 "Abide With Me"
THE FIVE BROTHERS
TEXT (vs. 27-29): “27 “The rich man responded, ‘Then I ask you, Father, to send Lazarus back to my father’s home. 28 I have five brothers. He can warn them so that they won’t end up in this place of torture.’ 29 “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses’ Teachings and the Prophets. Your brothers should listen to them!’”
Today we have in front of us probably one of the most unique parables that Jesus tells. It is unique for several reasons. First of all, most parables are illustrative in one or more points. For example, when we look at the parable of the sower, the seed illustrates the Word of God. And the places where the seed is sown illustrates the various types of people who receive the Word. The seed sown on the footpath gets trodden underfoot, the seed sown on the rocky soil sprouts quickly and dies, the seed sown amongst the weeds gets choked out, and so forth. It's a good, solid, clear application; and it is readily understandable by everyone.
Today's parable doesn't have that type of metaphorical application. It is what it is. The rich man is the rich man. Lazarus is Lazarus. Hell is hell. Abraham's bosom is used to describe the peace and comfort of heaven, which is the only real metaphor in this whole Biblical account. We might include the chasm, or gulf that separates heaven and hell that nobody can cross, but that's about it. Since descriptions of heaven and hell defy all forms of human understanding, we have to rely upon examples that we do understand.
In Luke chapter 16, we actually have two parables. The first one is the parable we discussed last week, which is the parable of the shrewd, or dishonest manager. He was the one who was caught misappropriating his master's money, so he makes some fast friends with some underhanded dealings of his own. This of course shows the difference between the way God views wealth and sinful man views wealth. It's a good lead-in to our parable today.
Jesus was talking to his disciples; however the Pharisees were listening and paying attention to all this as well. We could say they were eavesdropping. But of course Jesus never passes up a teaching moment, so a lot of what he says has special application to them and their way of thinking.
Jesus told this story into a culture that assumed people suffered and were poor because they had committed some sort of sin. They also assumed that people who were well off were blessed by God. This was exactly the philosophy of the Pharisees. The Pharisees especially loved money and saw the accumulation of wealth as an indication of God's favor. They figured that God owed it to them because of their righteousness. To them, God's favor was payment for a job well done.
So when Jesus tells about poor, suffering Lazarus going to Abraham’s side, he was teaching against the expectations of the culture. Likewise, a rich person going to hell also ran against the expectations of the culture. This was flying right in the face of the basic rules of life of the Pharisees! Of course they weren't the least bit happy either. But Jesus wanted his hearers to understand that earthly measures of success have nothing to do with our eternal destination, and that is the point of this whole story.
Jesus doesn't dwell too much on the rich man or Lazarus; in fact there is no other mention of these people anywhere else in the Bible. From our text, we know that the rich man had lots of money, and he partied all of the time. Poor Lazarus didn't have anything at all. He was starving, and was covered with ulcerated sores. Only the dogs had pity on him, and nursed his wounds.
So once Jesus establishes who these two people are, he moves on from there. These two characters in the story are not the main point of what Jesus was talking about.
It's right here that we need to eliminate a whole lot of misunderstandings about this story. First of all, it is not a sin to be rich. Second, being poor isn't an automatic ticket into heaven. Third, we can't get to heaven by going out into the community and finding "Lazaruses" to help. Serving meals at the Matt Talbot isn't a ticket to eternal paradise. Even though charitable acts are things we are to do, it still isn't the reason we will go to heaven. And I'll talk a bit more about this as we go on.
Right now, let's get back to what happened to these two men. When they entered eternity, their roles reversed. Lazarus rested peacefully in comfort at Abraham’s side in heaven. The rich man, on the other hand, entered a state of eternal torment. He is suffering in hell. It is after Lazarus and the rich man arrive at their eternal homes that Jesus made the main points of this story.
The Pharisees would have easily identified Abraham's bosom as a reference to heaven. They prided themselves as being descendents of Abraham, whom they knew was enjoying a blessed eternity. So for someone the likes of Lazarus to be in heaven, especially someone who was unclean with all those sores, was disturbing to them. This didn't fit their ideas of heaven at all.
Right away, we see two important points brought to light. The first main point is that there is a very real hell, which is a place of eternal suffering and someplace we should avoid at all costs. The rich man begged for a wet fingertip to ease his suffering. Just think of what kind of evil place this must be, where a wet fingertip is regarded as a luxury! And Jesus presents us with this account not as a scare tactic or a threat, but something that is very, very real.
The second point is that once you are in hell, there is no way out. In verse 26 of our text for today, Jesus quotes Abraham as saying, “Between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.” Or as the God's Word translation puts it, "Besides, a wide area separates us. People couldn’t cross it in either direction even if they wanted to." It is abundantly clear that there are two destinations in the next life. There is a heaven to strive for at all costs and a hell to avoid at all costs. And once you have arrived at one of these two destinations, you are there for eternity. And those are the facts, plain and simple.
This morning if you noticed in your bulletin, the theme I chose for this sermon is "the five brothers." I did this because of an observation one commentator makes. Jacob Jeremias says, "The parable is not about the super rich, but about the five brothers, about you and me, about us living on this earth today. This parable is intended to warn us, the five brothers; it is to convince us that what the Bible says about [the rich man and] Lazarus is true." Like I said earlier, Jesus didn't tell us these things to frighten us or to scare us into faith, but to give us the straight facts about the situation.
This leads us to the third, and what I think is the most important thing about this parable, which is the power of the Scriptures, the Word of God. And Jesus, in very short order, points this out twice. You know that when this happens, Jesus wants people to make sure they get the point. This "Moses and the Prophets" reference is the same thought behind what Paul writes to Timothy in his first letter, chapter 3, verse 15: "...and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus."
An important lesson for us in this regard is the sufficiency of God's Word. The rich man's argument was that his five brothers needed something more, like someone coming back from the dead to convince them. "Send Lazarus" the rich man says.
But even according to human logic, what good would that have done? Do you think that the brothers would have believed that Lazarus had actually returned from the dead, or would they have regarded him as a lunatic with a lot of crazy talk? No, the Scriptures would be sufficient, if only the brothers wouldn't grieve the Holy Spirit and reject it.
We're that way too sometimes. In our human way of thinking, we think that God should punctuate things according to our logic. But it's like Jesus points out to the Pharisees and Sadducees in Matthew chapter 12, verse 39: "A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign!" He even says this to them again in Matthew chapter 16. Human logic and reason looks for more beyond what God has revealed to us. But we know that what God has told us in his Word is sufficient for us.
Even after Jesus himself rose from the dead, he pointed to the Word of God. When he appeared to his disciples after he rose from the dead, he didn't say, "Hey guys! Feast your eyes on this! I'm alive!" No, he didn't even allude to that. Luke chapter 24, verse 46 quotes Jesus as saying, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead.” He didn’t even point to himself in the flesh as proof that he rose; rather he pointed to Scripture, to the clear and unmistakable Word of God.
In our text for today, Abraham said, “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.” Even Jesus, who rose from the dead used the Scriptures as his witness.
It hasn't been that long ago that we studied Jesus' High Priestly Prayer in John chapter 17. Listen to the words he shares with his Father in verses 18-21: “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your Word. …As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth. I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me."
He prayed for people the likes of you and me in this prayer, for we are the ones who believe through that very same Word Jesus gave to the Apostles. Jesus did not pray that you would come to faith in any other way than through the Holy Spirit working through the Word of God.
No person can have faith on their own. There is no humanly contrived marketing gimmick that will produce faith. The only way that we can have the saving faith that receives eternal life is if the Holy Spirit creates it in us. And the Holy Spirit has promised to work that faith through the Word of God. We don't go seeking signs and wonders either, because what God gives us in his Word is sufficient for us.
We're like the five brothers, sinners in need of the Saviour. We're like the five brothers who have Jesus revealed to us in the Scriptures. Moses and the prophets and the New Testament Apostles and Evangelists all point to Christ Jesus as our only Saviour from sin. And through the Scriptures God the Holy Spirit works faith in our lives.
Why is God’s Word so powerful? In John chapter 5, verse 39 Jesus said, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me.” With these words, Jesus taught that the Word of God is important because it is only through the Word of God that we can know who Jesus is and what Jesus did to save us.
At the beginning, I mentioned that even though charitable acts are things we are to do, it still isn't the reason we will go to heaven. Salvation is a matter of faith, and not works. But faith does show itself in action.
You might not think of it in this way, but there are various "Lazaruses" outside our door. Every month in our Ministerial Association meeting, we are brought up to date on Blue Valley Community Action, Food Net, Habitat for Humanity, and the Salvation Army as well as the charitable acts of the association itself. As Christians, we are asked to be a blessing to others as God has blest us.
For the rich man's five brothers, they had what we have, namely the Holy Scriptures. These Scriptures indeed have, as Paul writes to Timothy, made us wise unto salvation through faith in Christ Jesus, equipping the Christian for every good work.