Looks Are Deceiving!
Pentecost 19 Trinity Lutheran Church
25 September 2016 Murdock, NE
+ Jesu Juva +
St. Luke 16:19-31
Well, another outrageous story by Preacher Jesus today! Turns everything on its head. What you’d never expect. What no one would expect. Except those who believe in Him!
According to worldly standards … the wisdom of the world … who is the one blessed by God? The sharp dressed, gourmet-fed, Wall Street Warren Buffet-like multi-millionaire? Or the pathetic, rag-tag, poverty stricken and body full of open oozing wounds street beggar named Lazarus?
The worldly wise would choose the Warren Buffet-like tycoon. Simply by outward appearances. After all, he has luxury beyond belief! His opulence is on steroids. Everyone is mesmerized by the hot blonde babes on each arm. Dazzled by his $90,000 Stuart Hughs Diamond Edition suits, his Salvatore Ferragamo dress shoes, and his Prada leather and silver cuff links. His skin shines like Angelina Jolie or Kim Kardashian because his masseuse rubs his body with Chanel Regenerating Cream to the tune of $220/ounce! All are stunned by his sumptuous dinner parties in which he serves the choicest Kobe beef and the finest rack of lamb. Mesmerized by his jet set business partners and his big-wig D.C. insider chronies that jealously spare to sit on his one of a kind ivory encrusted couches and chairs. They do not sip wine from flute glasses but guzzle from ruby and emerald encrusted silver bowls! Astounded by the headliners that fly in to entertain the crowds: Maroon 5, Beyoncé, Adele, Jason Aldean, Shoji Tabuchi and Kanye West. Each takes their turn to perform live at the mansion. It’s a who’s who of gold teeth celebrities, high end politicians, and power brokers from all over the world. God must be impressed. God must be blessing him. God will welcome him into heaven PDQ. Right? And you’re jealous, right? You want to be just like him!
Everyone would blow off Lazarus. He’s a loser. A failure. A deadbeat. A drain on society. The kind you see sitting outside the Walmart – only scarier! A critter full of stenchy BO and secreting sores on steroids! His only companions are the street dogs that lick his sores. Best just to ignore him. The Lord would. Right? After all, no doubt he’s one of those irredeemable deplorables! You don’t want to be like him.
Well, as the old saying goes: “Looks can be deceiving.” That’s precisely the case here with the millionaire man and loser Lazarus in the story Jesus tells. Remember what Jesus said last week? He said: “You cannot serve both God and money.” In connection with that true statement, let’s not forget why Jesus tells the story. It helps us understand what’s going on. In verses 14-15 we are told that the hearers were: “Pharisees.” So what? Well, “they were lovers of money … and they ridiculed” Jesus! Jesus is dealing with people that worship money and not Him! So Jesus categorically tells these idolaters: “You are those who justify yourselves BEFORE MEN, but GOD KNOWS YOUR HEARTS. For what is exalted before among men is an abomination in the sight of God.”
Did you catch that? They loved money. Worshiped it. And they justified themselves with it. Self-justifiers! Their affluence and wealth was “proof” that God was blessing them. That God loved them.
Thus the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. It appears that the rich man is blessed by God and that Lazarus is cursed by God. Just look at them. The contrast couldn’t be any starker! The spiritual contrast, that is. At least it looks that way!
When it comes to salvation you can’t justify yourself! In any way. It’s only by faith in Jesus! Faith in Jesus as the Savior is what saves. Only Jesus saves. Only Good Friday Jesus justifies. And He justifies the ungodly, that is, to say, the sinner.
So when God looks at the rich man and Lazarus He sees things as they are. What man exalts, what man pushes – the love of money or the justification of the self by means of money and possessions – God considers an abomination. What man despises, God sees as blessed.
It all comes to a head when both men die. God’s judgment on both the rich man and Lazarus reverses everything in man’s eyes. “The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried.” Death makes clear what was hidden from human eyes in life. Death makes crystal clear HOW EACH OF THESE TWO GENTLEMEN STOOD BEFORE GOD!
Lazarus’ death was a blessed death. He dies and goes to heaven. They angels carry him to paradise that Jesus describes as Abraham’s bosom. Lazarus no longer lies outside the mansion gates of the rich man but has entered the gates of heavenly eternal life and enjoys the presence, fellowship and wedding banquet of Jesus Himself! His stomach growls no more. The tormenting sores are healed. His skin shines now. He enjoys the opulence and forevermore blessing of heaven! He relishes the company of all the saints. He sings four-part harmony with the heavenly choir.
Lazarus is revealed to be the man forever blessed. In fact, in death the very truth of the name “Lazarus” – “the one who God helps” – is revealed. In his earthly life human eyes could not see this divine help. In fact, it appeared that God did just the opposite. But God’s help was hidden. Now in death it is revealed. One of the hymns that we sing every All Saints’ Day is “Behold a Host, Arrayed in White.” Stanza 2 describes Lazarus perfectly:
Despised and scorned, they sojourned here
But now, how glorious they appear!
Those martyrs stand, A priestly band
God’s throne forever near.
On earth they wept through bitter years
Now God has wiped away their tears
Transformed their strife to heav’nly life
And freed them from their fears.
They now enjoy the Sabbath rest
The heav’nly banquet of the blest
The Lamb, their Lord at festive board
Himself is host and guest. (LSB #676:2)
Death is also a revelation of how it is with the rich man. The end of his life of self-justification – his life of unbelief in Jesus is hell. He is not damned because he’s rich – because he’s wealthy. He is damned because he insisted on justifying himself. Because he did not trust in Jesus. He worshiped his wealth and possession, not Jesus. So, his idol, money, that he feared, loved and trusted above all things was not able to save him from death and damnation. He’s in hell’s torment. Lazarus, who trusted in Jesus, enjoys the riches of heaven.
Now, I’ve got to wrap this up. Getting too long again. OK. Let’s be clear. God’s judgment is final. The boundaries between heaven and hell are completely closed. Once the day of grace and the time of repentance ends there are no second chances. Remarkably, the rich man still thinks he can call the shots – EVEN IN HELL! In vain, he barks out the order for Lazarus to come visit him and bring a little bit of cool water from the tip of his finger. TOO LATE FOR THAT!
Well, the parable then a turn that gets to utmost point. The story is not about riches and poverty. It’s about faith in the Good Friday and Easter Sunday Jesus or unbelief. It’s about having good use of Jesus (faith) and having no use of Jesus (unbelief). Sinners are not saved by their poverty. Sinners are not condemned because of their wealth.
The rich man is concerned about his five brothers who are still alive. He doesn’t want them to end up in hell too. So he barks out another order. “Send Lazarus back to earth. Have him tell my brothers that hell is for real!”
What’s Abraham’s answer? It’s quite mind blowing. Shocking. What hardly anyone takes seriously. It’s the Third Commandment answer. It’s the word of God answer. Holding God’s Word sacred answer. It’s the gladly hear and learn God’s Word answer. “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.” God doesn’t use ghosts to bring people to repentance and faith. God uses His Word to do that and preachers to preach that Word. If people will not listen to God’s Word faithfully preached and taught by the preachers He sends, they will not be converted “if someone should rise from the dead.”
Well, with that little remark “neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead,” Jesus is prophetically preaching His own death and resurrection. No sign, not even the sign of Jesus’ own resurrection from the grave, will convince those who do not believe the preaching of God’s Word!
In a previous sermon that Jesus preached in Luke 11:28 He declares, “Blessed … are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” That’s is absolutely true. So, your blessedness before God does not depend on your wealth, your learning, your career, your prestige or your anything. You blessedness before God depends on faith that clings, trusts, or depends on Jesus who suffered and died FOR YOU as the atoning sacrifice that answers for all your sin. He was raised again to give life – eternal life – to all who believe in Him.
Apart from faith in Him – all appearances to the contrary, there is only eternal death in hell. However, in Him – faith in Him – there is eternal life. Lazarus came to know that life. Jesus grants that same blessing to you even now as you eat and drink His Body and Blood at this altar today – the medicine of immortality – the foretaste of the heavenly feast to come.
In the Name of Jesus.