March 10, 2019

Lent One, Sunday March 10, 2019 — Luke 16:19-31 — Things Respected by Men are not Respected by God

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Passage: Luke 16:19-31
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Sermon for Lent One – Sunday March 10, 2019

Calvary/Marquette ● Soli Deo Gloria

Grace be unto you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus, the Christ. Amen.

Luke 16:19–31 (NKJV)

19 “There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day. 20 But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate, 21 desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, the dogs came and licked his sores.

 

22 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. 23 And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.

 

24 “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.’ 25 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. 26 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.’

 

27 “Then he said, ‘I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house, 28 for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.’ 29 Abraham said to him, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ 30 And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 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.’ ”

In the Name of Jesus, the Christ,

   Through whom we are ‘declared righteous’

      Dear Fellow Redeemed in His Precious Blood –

 

I would guess that many, if not all of us, have heard of Aesop’s Fables.   Aesop’s Fables are believed to date back to the 5th Century BC, at the time of the late Old Testament Prophets.

In many cases, the characters in Aesop’s Fables are animals that act and talk like people, while still retaining their animal characteristics.  Fables are short stories that illustrate a particular lesson for children, for example, in the fable of the Hare and the Tortoise, the simple lesson is stated: “Slow and steady wins the race.”

When our Lord Jesus, the Son of God, walked this earth in his human nature, He told a number of stories to illustrate a spiritual point.  We call these stories, Parables.  A parable is similar to a fable in one respect, in every case there is a single lesson, a spiritual lesson, a heavenly teaching.

For this reason, we define a parable as ‘an earthly story with a heavenly meaning.”  But when we study a parable from the Bible, we have to carefully consider the context, the situation that prompted Jesus to tell the story.  This will help us to understand the reason and point of the story. We also need to be careful that we don’t get bogged down in the details of the story and miss the simple lesson of the story.

This shouldn’t be a problem, because at the close of almost every parable of Jesus, the Savior explains the meaning. In the Parable of the Rich Man and Poor Lazarus we see that what is often respected by sinful human beings…isn’t respected by God.  There is a severe contrast between the rich man and the poor man, not only in their earthly lives but also in what they found in the life to come.  We will learn, with the help of the Holy Spirit, the true determining factor, the one thing needful.

Let us pray:

 

Lord God, Heavenly Father, you inspired the psalmist to write, ‘Your Word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path’ (Psalm 119:105). If only it were more of a delight than it is for us to have the gift of your Word. It is true, profound and enlightening, but we often take it for granted. When we study your Word, may it be to us like hearing you talking to us.  May we listen carefully as you reveal your will for us in Your Law, which shows us our sin and makes plain that we have no hope unless you deliver us.  We ask that you always turn us back to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.  May this Good News always cause our hearts to rejoice, for in Christ we have forgiveness of sins and rescue from eternal death. So long as we live, grant us grace that we never cease to be thrilled by Your life-giving word. Amen. 

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Parables can be difficult…not because the parable itself is complicated…but because we sometimes make too much out of the parts of the story.  There are those who do this with the Parable of the Rich Man and Poor Lazarus and come away with all kinds of strange ideas that contradict other scripture.  We will make every effort to avoid these wrong ideas and make our way down the straight path.

Let’s start with the circumstance in which Jesus told this story.  The Savior had just warned the people about placing money before God, when He said (Luke 16:13):

13 “No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon (money).”

The Holy Spirit also sets the scene (Luke 16:14-15):

 

Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, also heard all these things, and they derided Him. 15 And He said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God.

 

The things that sinful human beings’ value and hold in esteem…are not valued by God!  So, with this in mind, we take the story of the rich man and the poor man named Lazarus.

19 “There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day. 20 But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate, 21 desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, the dogs came and licked his sores.

There is an obvious contrast between the rich man and the poor man named Lazarus.

 

Ø  The Rich Man – was wealthy and it showed in the way he dressed.  He was clothed in purple (a sign of wealth, so expensive it was sold by weight) and fine linen, (second only to silk).  He fared sumptuously – every day.  He ate like a king!  Every meal was a grand party to which he invited his friends.  He was living the life that the Pharisees wanted, the kind of man that they loved to rub shoulders with! Sadly, he lived his life for himself.

 

Ø  The Poor Man – wasn’t just poor, He was a beggar.  He was dropped off at the gate of the Rich man’s compound.  He was covered in sores, in skin ulcers.  These kinds of sores developed in unsanitary conditions, and are still found in 3rd world countries.  The poor man had no food and desired only the things that fell to the floor from the rich man’s table, the scraps usually fed to the dogs.  So destitute was this man that dogs were his only friends, so weak that he couldn’t stop them from licking his wounds.

 

So, which of the two do you suppose was respected by the people of that day?  Which would be respected in our day? Wealth and prosperity will always be popular; poverty and disease will always be detested. Wealth matters to men, wealth can buy favors and respect among men…but not with God.

 

Still, we should read carefully… 

 

The rich man isn’t condemned for his wealth…not by Jesus and not in the parable.  The lesson here is not that wealth is evil. There isn’t anything inherently evil about wealth, no matter what some blowhard politicians say. God’s Word teaches no such lesson.  The LORD warns the rich about allowing their blessings to become more important than God.

Moreover, the poor man isn’t exalted because of his poverty…not by Jesus and not in the parable.  The truth is that this lesson has almost nothing to do with money!  What the rich man had the poor man lacked; what the poor man possessed, the rich man lacked!  This is the one case in all of Jesus’ parables, that he gives a name to a character.  He calls the poor man Lazarus, which means ‘God has helped.’

This Lazarus…isn’t the brother of Mary and Martha (Actually there is good evidence that He was wealthy!). Thus far, Jesus has only introduced us to the two characters.  The point of the story is yet to come:

22 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. 23 And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.

Once again, there is an obvious contrast between the rich man and the poor man in death.  The rich man and the poor man each suffered the same fate, the fate of every human being, they both died.  Thus, their bodies were buried and Jesus tells us what happened to their souls.

 

Ø  The Poor Man – died and his soul was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom.

 

“Wait, excuse me, what? Did I hear that correctly?”

Um, wouldn’t the Angels carry the soul of the man to God?  Why would they carry his soul to Abraham’s bosom?  Why Abraham…and does a man even have a bosom?

This is a story told to Jews.  Jesus used descriptions that the people of that day understood.  The Jews saw Abraham as the father of their nation.  In fact, even in the New Testament, Abraham is described as the Father of all believers, for like him we believe God and are accounted as righteous (Genesis 15:6, Romans 4:3, 16; Galatians 3:6).

Thus, to be with Abraham is to be in heaven. Well, maybe it helps us to think of sitting at the side of a loving grandfather. Jesus speaks in a simple way, picturing a place of comfort, happiness and love.  The world to come is far beyond our comprehension…yet the LORD comforts us by speaking in simple terms of it.

Ø  The Rich man – died and was buried. The soul of the rich man wasn’t carried by angels to heaven.  Rather, He found himself below in hell, the place of tormented souls. The Bible says nothing of a holding tank for souls.

Again, read carefully.

 

We have still not yet reached the lesson of the parable.  This is simply another contrast.

Ø  This doesn’t teach us that poor people have a ‘get into heaven free card’ or that all rich people are destined for hell.  In point of fact, many Old Testament Believers were wealthy…Abraham himself, Job, Jacob, David and Solomon to name a few. No doubt there were and will always be poor people who don’t believe, who blame God for their poverty. The difference between men like Abraham and Job and this rich man was that they did not trust in their wealth as their god.  They, like Lazarus trusted in the LORD!

Ø  This doesn’t teach that a person can really see from Hell to Heaven! This is a story whose simple lesson is more important than the parts. Once a person has passed through death, there is no second chance, there is no moving from hell to heaven after death or vice versa!  This point is simply illustrated…

24 “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.’ 25 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. 26 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.’

Death is the dividing line…afterward either heaven or hell.  Blessedness and comfort or anguish.

 

What the poor man possessed…very few men count as valuable!  The poor man had nothing tangible or visible, yet he had the greatest treasure of all…the gift of faith in God’s Promises…especially the promise of the Savior.

What the rich man didn’t possess…was what he needed most...the gift of faith to trust God’s promises.

In the World to come, Faith in God’s Promises – and Christ is the sum of all of God’s Promises – is the dividing line.  If one comes to death without faith in Jesus, he/she will be judged. Wealth is of no value in the life to come. The rich man lacked the one thing needful, faith in the Savior.

Faith in God’s Promises, especially His Promise to send the Savior is the determining factor.  Faith that saves a person from Hell is created by the Holy Spirit, through the Word and Promise of God. It is in that Word that God Himself declares that He so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.

The only way to escape torment is through the message recorded in the Word of God. There is no other way as these final words illustrate…

27 “Then he said, ‘I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house, 28 for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.’ 29 Abraham said to him, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ 30 And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 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.’ ”

 

There are many in our world, like Oprah Winfrey, who suggest that there are many ways to God, many ways to heaven.  Sadly, even some who claim to be Christians, who claim to believe in Jesus, who said plainly (John 14:6):

“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.

 

The rich man in Jesus’ parable also suggested that there was another way.  He suggested that there was one thing God hadn’t thought about.  God hadn’t exhausted every means of saving sinners and so He should send Lazarus back from the dead to warn his brothers.  Surely the shock of a man rising from the dead would open their eyes and hearts!  Surely this miracle of life after death would become the new dividing line!  Even when corrected the first time, He contradicted the truth.

Miracles don’t change hearts and minds.  The only thing that can change the heart is the Word of God.  This is the twice repeated lesson of this story: They have Moses and the Prophets (the Old Testament) let them hear them.  If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.

Ø  Did the Resurrection of Lazarus change the hearts of those who did not believe in Jesus?  No, they just sped up their plans to kill Jesus and even to kill Lazarus, whom He had raised (John 11:46-53, 12:9-11).

Ø  Did the Resurrection of Jesus change the hearts of those who had rejected Him?  No, they just paid off the soldiers to lie about what had happened (Matthew 28:11-15).

There is but one thing that can change the hearts of human beings.  There is one thing that – though rejected by men as foolishness – is respected by God…faith in His Promises, in His Savior. This saving faith is created in us by the Holy Spirit through the Word of God…and no other way.

 

Lord Jesus Christ, Thy power make known, For Thou art Lord of lords alone;  Defend Thy Christendom that we May evermore sing praise to Thee.

 

O Comforter of priceless worth. Send peace and unity on earth. Support us in our final strife And lead us out of death to life.(TLH 261:2-3)

 

Amen!