The 1st Sunday after Trinity June 13, 2004
1 John 4:16-21
541, 397, 404, 464
There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day. But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate, desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. Then he cried and said, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.” But Abraham said, “Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.” Then he said, “I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.” Abraham said to him, “They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.” And he said, “No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.” But he said to him, “If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.”
Dear Fellow Redeemed in Christ Jesus, by whom we have the riches of forgiveness and life:
Last year, one of our pastors who had gone on a Mission Helper Trip to India told of his experiences. He spoke of traveling through large cities and seeing the areas that they don’t show tourists. In these areas families live in boxes, scrounging for food wherever they can. Missionary Koenig also tells of visiting the Congo and seeing the thinnest people he’s ever seen in his travels.
By contrast, both of these men were able to climb aboard a huge white bird that whisks them away from all these things and come home to sleep in clean sheets and enjoy the comforts of our modern western lifestyle. But for people who have been in such situations there is a bit of discomfort as well. There is a sense of guilt in having so much wealth after seeing so much poverty.
If that’s not enough to make a person feel guilty about living in relative comfort and luxury, this parable of Jesus will. After all, the rich man winds up in Hell! Fortunately, being wealthy and ending up in Hell are not cause-and-effect. Neither is being poor a guarantee of going to a “better place” after one dies. But Jesus used two very different people and their destinies to highlight the truth that one may, at the same time, be both rich and poor. I. The rich man was a poor soul II. The poor man was a rich soul. May the Holy Spirit guide our thoughts and direct our steps into true riches through this word.
In some places, the rich man of this parable is called Dives. That simply is a Latin name that means rich man. The name was assigned to the rich man, apparently, because somebody thought that since the poor man had a name so should the rich. But somebody else observed that the lack of a name is significant. It is viewed as if Jesus looked into the Book of Life and did not find his name entered there. You see, this so-called rich man was, in fact, a very poor soul.
At first glance, the fellow doesn’t seem so bad off. He has clothes fit for kings. He ate well. He was able to make merry every day. That’s pretty much the reason for living for many people. That’s what they dream of and set their goals on. He was undoubtedly a popular man and no doubt his funeral featured many mourners.
What could the rich man take with him? Nothing. Not one thing because once we look beneath the surface of this man’s life, we see he had nothing. Gaining the whole world he had lost his own soul when his time of grace came to an end. His feasting and drinking had served to numb him to God’s claim on his life. It blocked out the voice of a guilty conscience. He was not hungering and thirsting after righteousness so he had no desire for forgiveness of sins.
It is the case with many rich and comfortable people that they have plenty of access to the Word of God, but are not greatly moved by it. They can take or leave going to church, and the Bible looks best on the coffee table where others can see the fancy gold leaf lettering and fine leather binding. But Jesus made it clear that the Word of God is only helpful if it finds a place in your heart and you find yourself immersed in the Word: “He that is of God hears God’s words. You therefore hear them not, because you are not of God” (John 8:47).
That the rich man was not of God is shown in that he was apparently empty of mercy. There is no mention of compassion or relief given to the miserable beggar that lay by his gate. “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?” (1 John 4:20).
The rich man was poor spiritually. This became even more clear after he died and was stripped of his clothes, his riches, and even his body. He woke up in Hell.
Anyone who reads the New Testament as a record of the life and teachings of Jesus Christ knows that Jesus taught the existence of Hell. He uses a term here, Hades, which in ancient Greek described the underworld—the place where the soul goes when someone dies. But from this parable in which Lazarus goes to Heaven and the rich man goes to Hades, there is no doubt that Jesus is referring to Hell.
Hell is a place of torment. This parable is not given to reveal every detail about Hell, but Jesus uses terms that help us appreciate Hell’s true misery. After death the rich man was “rich” only in torments. He longed for even the most feeble relief. The impassable gulf between Hell and Heaven, the torturous thirst all testified that the man was lost. There would be no change, no relief, and no hope.
Behind all of this, Jesus’ parable reveals a mind still unchanged. The man’s efforts to save his brothers are no real credit to his self-serving heart. He still has no respect for the Word of God and no true appreciation of God. He still deludes himself into thinking that he can get results by appealing to “Father Abraham.”
The rich man was poor in his soul, because he, in his life, desired no savior. He concerned himself with his wealth and was not rich toward God.
Jesus leads us to see a vivid contrast in persons and destiny. By the rich man’s gate, surrounded by dogs waiting to get the table scraps, lay Lazarus. He was a miserable specimen of humanity, unable to walk, suffering from sores all over his body, starving for food, and starving even more for a kind look and compassionate deed from his fellow human beings. Despite the earthly misery, the poor man was a rich soul as Jesus shows us in contrast to the Rich Man.
The poor man had a name. Lazarus means God is a Helper. Most people wouldn’t have guessed this to have been the case. We tend to think that God has abandoned the poor and the suffering. In some cultures such conditions are even assumed to be proof that God has turned against such a person or that he is the object of some divine punishment. That is the cruel twist of our sinful flesh at work. If we can convince ourselves that God has turned against someone else then we need waste no compassion on him ourselves.
Lazarus had nothing of earthly comforts and pleasures. How would we react in his condition? Jesus, who conceived this parable, is assuming many things He taught elsewhere. It is assumed that the poor beggar was rich in faith. It is assumed that despite his poverty and pain, Lazarus had a knowledge of the true God and believed that God’s promise of salvation and peace were not mere empty words. It is assumed that Lazarus’ meager life was a life that was rich toward God in faith and hope, that he trusted in God’s grace and forgiveness, and didn’t consume himself in blaming God or others with his lot in life. We understand that the poor man of Jesus’ parable lived in the same hope as all believers namely, that despite appearances God is his Savior, Friend, and Defender rather than his torturer or enemy.
But how could Lazarus, with such astounding odds against him, have come to such a conclusion? How could he, or the paralytic, or the ugly, or the unpopular, or the slow and weak, ever come to the conclusion that they can trust God? How can such believe that He is their hope and defender? Or how should they trust that He is “his shield and exceedingly great reward” (Genesis 15:1).
The answer is simple. Lazarus heard and received the Means of Grace. Lazarus was rich because he heard and believed, perhaps in only the simplest fashion, the Word of God which awakened and sustained faith in him until he drew his last breath.
Unlike the rich man, Lazarus awoke in Paradise. He was whisked away from this vale of tears by the angels that had invisibly guarded him throughout his life. He found himself in the bosom of Abraham. Why Abraham? He is the father of believers. Genetically, he was the father of the rich man, too, but the rich man severed his connection with his great ancestor by his unbelief.
Lazarus awoke to everlasting life. He awoke to the joy of God’s love and the light of God’s presence. He, who through faith had set aside worry and borne patiently much hardship, received joy and peace immeasurable. He was home. The inheritance of saints was his.
Rich man vs. poor man. May our flesh never deceive us. Only one thing matters in this life: To know the true God and Jesus Christ whom He sent for our salvation. Only one treasure endures: The forgiveness of sins that opens the way to life everlasting. Only one possession is worth pursuing: The Word of God and the Sacraments as God speaks to us, leads us to repentance, cleanses us from all guilt, and raises up a new life through Jesus’ resurrection. May this image of the rich man and Lazarus impress on us that we, with all our earthly riches and all our worldly hopes and dreams, can so easily be deceived. But we who have the Gospel with the power to teach, strengthen, and heal, will always be rich through faith. Amen
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