Riches, Suffering and the Mystery of Faith
St. Luke 16:19-31
June 19, 2022 anno Domini – Redeemer
Today’s text, like last Sunday’s presents us with a mystery. We do not know if this is a parable or a real story. Scripturally it doesn’t appear to be a parable. Jesus usually begins a parable by stating “the kingdom of God is like a man who owned a vineyard, a grain of seed, a wedding festival, and so on. The parables usually have a strong central Christ figure – the groom at the wedding banquet, the sower of the seed, the shepherd. Another hint that this might be a real story is that the poor man is named. Lazarus. No one gets named in a parable. Maybe everyone in Jesus’ congregation knew old Lazarus. No one could forget that disgusting beggar, full of sores, lying outside the mansion of the rich man, begging for a doggie bag while the dogs licked his wounds.
If it is a real story that gives us another mystery. Is it possible that those who are saved might be able to see those who are damned and vice-versa? That while dwelling with your heavenly Father you might see your earthly daughter suffering in hell?
That would seem to make heaven into a form of hell. I don’t have a satisfactory answer to that mystery, because we don’t know. The Christian faith is full of teachings that are beyond understanding. The Holy Trinity. Jesus Christ being true God and true man. A wafer of bread and a sip of mediocre wine being the only meal that feeds you with life. The death of God’s Son for adulterers, murderers, gossips, thieves, vandals, and rebels. I cannot explain why God would give His Son for you, but I can preach with confidence that He did.
God’s Word is filled with uncomfortable Words. Husbands love your wife to death. Wives obey and submit to your husbands. Pray for your enemies. Whoever wants to save his life must lose it. Discomfort comes with the work of Christ. When you believe that Christ died for your sin, sin is going to become uncomfortable, even the sin you really enjoy. When you believe that God is merciful, your selfishness will feel like a swimsuit four sizes too small. When you confess that Jesus is the only way for a sinner to get into heaven, you have the discomfort of wanting everyone, especially your family and loved ones, to believe in Jesus. You have awkward conversations with them, you lose sleep over them, weep for them.
Even when we do not understand, even when God speaks an unbearable Word, we can trust Him because He perfectly loves you. Perfect love casts out fear. He gave His Son that you might not suffer like the rich man but be comforted like Lazarus.
This text teaches us the mystery of faith – faith that saves and faith that damns. It also declares a paradox that you cannot see faith and yet you can see faith.
To everyone’s eyes the rich man was blessed by God. He owned a mansion on the river. He slept on Egyptian cotton sheets. Every meal he ate was catered or delivered by grub hub. He lacked nothing. Surely a man blessed with such wealth must be one of God’s favorites.
Poor Lazarus, on the other hand appeared to be cursed by God. He must have done something horribly wrong and now God was paying him back. He was a blight on the rich man’s property – hanging out by the big gate, hoping someone coming or going would give him table scraps or a few bucks to go to Taco Johns.
You cannot see saving faith because it is hidden in a man’s heart. You would never know from sight that the rich man was cursed for eternity and Lazarus was heading for the riches of God’s presence.
The difference between these two men is faith in Jesus. Lazarus believed what father Abraham believed – that the son of God’s promise would bless the world. He believed the Law and the Prophets. He believed what Micah prophesied. This boy would be born in Bethlehem. Lazarus believed what Isaiah foretold. This Savior would proclaim good news to the poor, heal the sick, and restore sight to the blind. He would be despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows. He would be crushed for our iniquities on a cross. Three days later, like Jonah, the belly of the earth would spit Him out because death cannot hold anyone without sin. Lazarus believed what Paul would eventually write “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 (and Lazarus) through His poverty might become rich.” (2 Cor 8:9).
While faith cannot be seen it also can be seen. The rich man had faith and it was evident in everything he did. He believed in himself so he served himself. Even as he roasted away in the flames of hell he still thinks he’s the rich boss, telling people what to do. “Send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue.” It’s possible that he was concerned about his brother’s salvation, but it’s more likely that he didn’t want them to see his failure. He even argues with Abraham about what should be done for his brothers – always the rich boss.
The rich man wanted his brothers to see something. That’s what unbelief always asks for – a sign. miracle. Abraham says no. You have Moses and the Prophets – the whole Old Testament points to Jesus. If people won’t believe the Word they won’t believe a miracle either. Remember, it was a miracle, the raising of another Lazarus from the dead, that sealed Jesus’ rejection by the Jews.
Ironically, God did give a factual, historical sign. One man in history did rise from the dead. And as Abraham said, most still will not believe in Him. If you’re worried about death or afraid of what you might suffer beforehand, or where you might end up after death, if you’re troubled by the suffering of poor Lazaruses of the world – hear the Word of Moses and the Prophets, the Word of the Evangelists and Apostles. There is One who took on the evil of man and the devil behind it. There is One who died for sin and rose again so you could be forgiven and taken by the angels to Abraham. His name is Jesus of Nazareth and like Abraham – if you believe in Him you are counted as righteous.
Your faith is seen. The question is “What god does your faith reveal?” Does your day include prayer? Is your conversation sweet with Godliness and truth or poisoned with gossip, complaining, and demands? Does your contentment center on getting your way or like Lazarus do you endure suffering as discipline from your Father in heaven? When you see people different than you, do you avoid them like the Rich man avoided Lazarus or do you see them as fellow humans, created in the image of God and redeemed by Jesus? When you steward your wealth are you doing it with your heavenly Father in mind or feeding your earthly appetites?
Lord, we believe. Help our unbelief. Thankfully we are not saved by what others see. We are saved by what God sees in our heart, the Son of the Promise, the One whose blood cleanses us from all sins. God has given us another day to hear His Word, to be forgiven our sins, to have Moses and the Prophets, the Evangelists, and Apostles preach the full cross and the empty tomb to us. Whether we are poor and suffering or rich and feasting God is still speaking His Word that we might repent, believe, and be comforted like poor Lazarus. In the name of Jesus. Amen.