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Pentecost 16 2019 Proper 21
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud
September 29, 2019

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The story of the rich man and Lazarus is one of those Biblical teachings that leaves you troubled and wondering.  It is a text that the more you think about it, the more disturbing it becomes.

Why is it so disquieting?  First, there is the clear teaching that there is punishment in the world to come.  Now we talk about Hell, we joke about Hell, but real Hell; real, eternal consequence for our sin is something we would rather not think about.  It is something we would like to get rid of if we could.  We want to be able to declare that there is no Hell; it is closed for good.  Most of the made up American religions such as Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christian Scientists and the like get rid of the Biblical teaching of punishment in the afterlife.  Liberal Christian churches are quickly joining them in eliminating the concept of Hell and transitioning themselves into effectively being Universalists.  The leader of ELCA is quoted as saying she believes in Hell but doesn’t think anyone is there.

And it is completely understandable.  The reality of punishment in the world to come is deeply disturbing.  God punishing sinners with eternal…fiery…suffering is too horrible to ponder.  If we could wish Hell out of existence, we all would do it.  And that is what makes today’s Gospel that much more disconcerting.  Jesus is teaching that Hell is real.

Another very unsettling aspect of this text is that it demonstrates that the things that we think show us that God is blessing us, may instead, be what imprisons us.  Success in this life is not an indication of God’s favor.

The prosperity preachers grow wealthy teaching that success in life is a sign of God pouring out His blessings upon you.  If success is a sign of God’s favor then in Jesus’ parable it would follow that the rich man is the one who is blessed by God and poor, starving, sore-covered Lazarus is cursed.  According to the prosperity Gospel and worldly common sense, the rich man is blessed and Lazarus is cursed.  But as we read this parable we find out that is completely backwards.  The man with the money is cursed by God and the beggar is blessed.  This causes us to ask, what about me?  How do I know if I am in God’s good graces?”

Hell is real.  There is punishment in the world to come and I cannot tell by worldly possessions where I am headed.  So the looming questions are, “How do I avoid punishment?  What can I do?  Do I need to be more generous and give away more of what I have?  Do I need to become a destitute beggar like Lazarus?  What do I do?  Is there a score card of good deeds and bad deeds?  Is there a scale weighing out good and evil?”

People will sometimes ask questions such as, “Is Judas in Hell?”  “Is this person or that person in Hell?”  “Are these people going to Hell?”  You can seek guidance from God’s Word about these things, but the decision of who is destined for heaven and who is destined for Hell is a question that is way above your paygrade and mine.  God alone is to judge.  But that means that God does indeed judge.  God decides and you cannot influence God by something you do.  Hell is real and God is in charge.  This account of the rich man and Lazarus stays with you like a nagging splinter in your foot that you can’t remove and find comfort.

The rich man says to Abraham, Luke 16:27-28 (ESV) 27 … ‘… I beg you, father, to send [Lazarus] to my father’s house— 28 for I have five brothers —so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’[1]

The rich man is suffering and he wants to send Lazarus to warn his brothers to repent while there is still time.  He wants Lazarus to tell them that Hell is real.  29 But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’  They have God’s Word in Holy Scripture.  Lazarus will not bring a warning.  The Scriptures warn.  We see this in our Old Testament reading from Amos a warning against living lives as the idle rich.  Amos 6:4 (ESV) 4 “Woe to those who lie on beds of ivory and stretch themselves out on their couches, and eat lambs from the flock and calves from the midst of the stall,[2]  There are warnings about the rich abusing the poor in many places in books of Moses and the Prophets.  Jesus has been warning the Pharisees and Scribes about their need for repentance and the danger of their love of money and this parable continues that warning.  This parable of the rich man and Lazarus is meant to trouble the Pharisees and scribes and it is upsetting for us also.

Jesus continues the teaching and ties it to His own upcoming death and resurrection.  Luke 16:29-31 (ESV) 30 And [the rich man] said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’ ” [3],

Sadly this is so very true.  People at Jesus’ time who are not convinced to repent and believe the Good News by Jesus’ life, miracles and sacrificial death are still not convinced by Jesus rising from the dead.  And Jesus did rise from the dead.  We have eyewitness accounts and still today so many do not repent and believe the good news.

            This changes everything.  You live as a child of God redeemed by the blood of Jesus.  You live in the freedom to rightly see that all the things of this life are not idols to be worshiped, but are tools to use to love and serve others.  Money and belongings are not your gods.  They are tools you use to serve God and your neighbor.

Jesus’ resurrection confirms that He is God the Father’s chosen one.  God the Father gives all good things to Jesus.  Jesus’ resurrection shows He is victorious over sin, death and the devil and to the victor goes the spoils.  Jesus is indeed God in flesh and He has the authority to decide heaven or hell.  God is in charge.  God in Christ is the fount and source of all goodness.  Hell is real.  The amazing Good News is that Jesus is here today for you to give you the gift of eternal life.  He gives it in His words of forgiving absolution.  He gives you the gift in His Body and Blood given and shed for you.  Jesus paid to ransom you from an eternity in Hell and gives you the gift of eternal life in paradise.

The rich man in Hades is in agony and wants a few drops of water from Lazarus.  Jesus gave you more than a few drops of water.  God has poured out forgiveness upon you in abundance in your baptism.  He gives to you forgiveness and eternal life.  He rescues you from sin, death, the devil and Hell.  He marks you as His child destined to inherit the riches of the Kingdom of Heaven.

This changes everything.  You live as a child of God redeemed by the blood of Jesus.  You live in the freedom to rightly see that all the things of this life are not idols to be worshiped, but are tools to use to love and serve others.  Money and belongings are not your gods.  They are tools you use to serve God and your neighbor.

Because of your sin you belong with the rich man in Hell, but Jesus has given you eternal life; what great joy this brings.  Paul writes about this in Colossians 1:11-14 (ESV) 11 May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. 13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. [4]

Live in the forgiveness of God, forgiving others and loving others.  And as you move through this life, do not be fooled by appearances.  Success in life is not an indication of God’s favor; failure in this life is not an indicator of God’s judgement.  These are the things of this world and not of the Kingdom of God.  Cling to Christ not to the things of this world.

Hell is real.  God is in charge and you are not.  The Good News is Jesus has given you the gift of eternal life heaven.  Salvation is all about Jesus.

Amen.


[1]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

[2]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

[3]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

[4]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

 

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