Text: Luke 16:19-31
Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost
Listen to the sermon here.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Last week we heard Jesus say, “No one can serve two masters. You cannot serve God and money.” We also heard that everything we have was given to us by God. This week we get the well-known story of the Rich Man and Lazarus. This morning, Jesus is holding a mirror before our eyes and asking us, “Which of these two men are you?” Are you the rich man, or are you, Lazarus? This story tells us how we live our lives today, not only reflects what we believe but echoes into eternity.
Jesus told a frightening story about a rich man who had everything and a poor man who had nothing. Which would you want to be? Oh, come on, be honest. Don’t you want to be rich? Notice first what the man is wearing. Purple cloth was costly, and only the truly wealthy could afford it. This rich man wore purple every day. Wouldn’t you want that? Armani suits or fabulous dresses and gowns every day. He feasted sumptuously every day. He probably had servants waiting on his every need, a Rolls in the garage, a Ferrari for the weekends, the finest meats cooked to perfection, and the best vintage wines from his endless cellar. Who wouldn’t want to be him? That’s why people play the Lottery. Why do people gamble? They want to be this guy or have a little piece of his pie.
This self-indulgent rich man cared for no one but himself. He wanted everyone to know that he had money. Each day he was overpowered with the impulse to drive his gold-plated Cadillac. He was in constant need to remind everyone of his wealth. While he sat at the table, Lazarus lay by the locked gate at the end of his driveway. He could see the rich man in his expensive clothes sipping his fine wines and dining on the finest foods . He would have been happy to eat the crumbs that fell from that table.
This wealthy man was dressed in the most expensive robes, had a banquet daily, and lived on an estate with a walled garden. He would naturally keep and feed vicious guard dogs to protect his property. Those dogs were fed, but Lazarus was not. Those dogs would come and lick his sores. Dogs lick people as a sign of affection. The rich man did nothing for Lazarus, but these guard dogs, who attack strangers, know that Lazarus is their friend and do what they can. The dogs showed more compassion than the rich man.
Did the Rich Man in the Gospel reading have faith? He walked right by the poor beggar Lazarus and did nothing. What kind of faith is that? He proves by his actions that his faith is in his wealth. Lazarus was faithful. Even though he had nothing on earth, he was full of confidence in the promises of God. He knew that God was going to help him.
The day came when they both died. But in death, there was an unexpected reversal of fortunes. Our text tell us: death is not the end, there is conscious existence after death, and there is a heaven and a hell. Lazarus was too poor for a funeral, so the angels transported him to heaven, where Abraham threw a party to welcome him. Lazarus was the guest of honour at a heavenly feast, with a seat next to Abraham. When the rich man died, I’m sure there was an expensive funeral and an impressive tomb. Yet, the rich man’s failure to love God and his neighbour does not go unnoticed. God is not indifferent to evil. He finds himself in Hell, enduring torment. Everything is reversed. Lazarus is blessed, the rich man cursed. Lazarus is comforted, the rich tormented
The rich man now says what every beggar cries: “Father Abraham, have mercy on me.” The rich man is now in pain, and something must be done about it – immediately. Instead of an apology, he demands services from the very man he refused to help. “Send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue.” The one who had no mercy on the poor beggar at his gate now seeks mercy. He wants Lazarus to bring him a drink like his servants filled his wine glass whenever it was empty. Even after his death, the man cannot shake his sense of self-importance. It’s like he said, “Now that Lazarus is feeling better and is on his feet, I would like a few services. Unlike Lazarus, I am not accustomed to discomfort. Send him down, Abraham, and hurry up about it.”
Not once does the rich man own up to his own mistreatment of Lazarus. Not once does the rich man repent. Not once does the rich man even talk to Lazarus. And yet—he knows Lazarus’ name, and that means that he knew all along about this poor, suffering man who laid at his gates.
“Child.” Abraham tells him, “You received good things in your lifetime and Lazarus bad.” Now things are flipped. The rich man tries to bargain, but his bargaining days are over. He becomes mission-minded. He has five unbelieving brothers, probably just like him. “Send Lazarus to them. They’ll be impressed seeing Lazarus risen from the dead. That’ll shake them out of their stupor.” Lazarus is now turned into an errand boy to serve the interests of the rich man’s siblings. There is no hint of repentance or apology. The rich man fails to get the point even in Hell. None of his attitudes changed. There is no repentance after death. Call upon God while he is near. Now is the only acceptable time.
Abraham responds that they have Moses and the prophets and need to hear the Scriptures. The rich man dismisses such a thought. “No, father Abraham,” he pleads, “the Scriptures don’t work. They need a miracle.” Even in Hell, the unbelievers despise the Word, think little of it, and don’t believe it has the power it truly does. This happens today, too. Many Christians do not believe that God’s Word is enough. They might not outright think that or admit to that. But that is what comes to the surface when the opinions arise that there must be more that we can do to save the lost. Preaching Christ and him crucified isn’t working. Reading the Word of God is too dull. Bible class is irrelevant to my life. Singing old hymns that proclaim Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection does not grab hold of the unbeliever.
Father Abraham disagreed. “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.” The rich man was put in his place. So are we. What God has said is enough. Moses, the Prophets, the Apostles and Evangelists are enough. The Scriptures are enough because they call us to repent. Whether you are rich or poor or somewhere in between, you and I all have sins for which we need to repent. We all have failed, each one of us, in our love for God and neighbour. We are all beggars. This is true. We’re Lazarus laying at the rich man’s gate, no matter how rich we might be in this world. Do you have loved ones who need to be warned? Faith comes by hearing, not seeing, not touching. Hearing. Let them hear Moses and the Prophets, the Apostles and Evangelists.
What should you do if you think you’re like the rich man? Abraham points the way. He tells you to listen to God’s Word and take it to heart. Don’t be like the rich man who refused to acknowledge his sins. Repent.
Where’s Jesus in all this? He’s with Lazarus. He was rich in eternal treasures. The Son of God became poor, a beggar who borrowed everything – His crib, donkey, cross, and tomb. All borrowed. He had no place to lay His head in this world. The Lord of the universe, the eternal Son, took His place at the end of our driveway. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake, he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, came down from heaven, descended to where we live, and he suffered and died for you for your sins. Christ, the truly rich one, emptied himself for your sake. He suffered anguish and torment so that you would not. He was covered with bloody stripes of beating and flogging. They threw a scarlet robe on him in mockery and a crown of thorns on his head. Then his clothes were stripped from him. In his hands, feet, and side, Christ was wounded for our transgressions. On that cross, Jesus cried out, “I thirst.” And then he died and was buried. All this he did for you. He saw you lying there, helpless, dying in your sins, and he came and took your place. Someone did rise from the dead, and it is Jesus. Jesus died and rose again and ascended into heaven, and now he lives forever. And it’s because of him that you and I will receive the help we need, the help that only God can give. Christ has opened the kingdom of heaven to you!
So the rich man and poor Lazarus–which one would you rather be? At first glance, we might say the rich man had it all over poor Lazarus. Yet, Lazarus had something better, and you have it too. You have Moses and the Prophets, the apostles and evangelists too. How rich you are! Faith comes by hearing the Word of Christ. Hear it. Your sins are forgiven in Jesus. Your death is destroyed, and Hell has no power over you since you are in Jesus. You might not feast on the delicacies of this world’s table. But today, you feast at the Lamb’s table, and his Supper is a foretaste of a feast to come.
May, the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.