Luke 16:19-31; 1 John 4:16-21; Genesis 15:1-6
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Lazarus was literally living proof of who Jesus was and what He could do. Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead. The man who had been dead four days so that he stinketh, Jesus raised him up by speaking His life-bestowing Word. Without a doubt, Jesus was the Messiah, God’s anointed one. He was the resurrection and the life, both on the Last Day, and now.
Why did they not rejoice? Why did they not receive Him with joy, and praise, and thanksgiving? The religious leadership of Israel did not rejoice, they could not praise Him, because they, long ago, had given up true hope and true belief in God’s promised Messiah, because they, long ago, had given up true hope and true belief in God’s Holy Word, and because the only law that mattered to them was the law which they themselves bound men with when they taught the children of Israel that they could please God by their own works and merit, and that material wealth and prosperity was God’s blessing upon them for their faithfulness. This horrible doctrine enabled the religious leadership of Israel to self-righteously establish a sort of spiritual caste system, consigning the poor, the ill, widows, and children to the lowest caste, while they enjoyed the privileges and the luxuries of the upper caste.
For them, the Law of God was a law of the do-able, and they believed that they obeyed the Law very well, so well, in fact, that it seemed easy for them, as natural as breathing. Such is the pride and the arrogance of self-righteousness that Satan breeds in the hearts of those who hearken to his tempting voice. So, the religious leaders added to the Law of God their own laws and commandments; in fact, there are 613 Mitzvoth, or commandments, which are drawn from the Tanakh (the Old Testament), and there are thousands of other laws recorded in the Jewish oral law called the Talmud. The religious leadership of Israel used all these commandments to keep the people enslaved by a law of works that could never release them from their sins, while God Himself had given only Ten Commandments, and those ten can be whittled down to but only one: Love.
Jesus’ story of the Rich Man and Lazarus is ultimately about love. It is a warning about how misplaced love – love for riches and power and reputation, which is idolatry – inhibits the true of love of God and the neighbor, which is the fulfilling of the Law of God, fulfilled and made perfect in God’s love for the world in sending His Son, Jesus, to die on the cross. The Rich Man is the self-righteous man who believes that he fulfills the Law of God by his good works and merit. He perceives that his riches, power, and reputation are blessings from God and rewards for his faithfulness. As Jesus tells the story, however, the Rich Man showed no love for his neighbor, particularly for poor Lazarus who begged for crumbs from the Rich Man’s table. Amazingly, as Jesus tells it, even in death, the Rich Man considered Lazarus to be in a servant caste beneath him and he showed him no love at all. But Lazarus, reclining at Abraham’s side, was loved by God, and, the Rich Man too was loved by God as is indicated by Abraham calling him “child”.
The problem for the Rich Man is the problem for all who trust in their works and merits according to the Law of God: If you believe that you keep the Law and so are righteous, then you will be judged according to the Law. The law of works is diametrically opposed to the Law of Love that Jesus calls us to. The one who believes that his works are righteous, and merit him righteousness before God, cannot love God; firstmost, he is deceiving himself by believing that his works are meritorious, and second, he must necessarily see God as a severe and unjust master who takes what he did not deposit and reaps what he did not sow.
The Rich Man believed that his riches, power, and reputation were his rightly earned and merited blessings from God, therefore he felt no guilt in feasting sumptuously and dressing in the most expensive of clothes. Likewise, he felt no guilt in walking past and ignoring poor Lazarus who laid at his gate, for he felt no love for anyone that he deemed to be beneath him, and further, he believed that Lazarus’ suffering was God’s curse upon him because he was unrighteous.
In His story, Jesus describes a great chasm that separates those who dwell in hell from those in heaven. While we should resist the temptation to interpret too literally the detailed descriptions Jesus offers of the afterlife, the general concept of a chasm between heaven and hell serves to illustrate the great separation from God that unbelievers experience after death. Jesus experienced this separation from God His Father according to His human nature when He cried out on the cross, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?” The concept of a chasm that separates unbelievers from God is truly remarkable considering that God fills all things and is everywhere at all times. As David sings, “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.” This only serves to emphasize how serious a problem is sin, that it separates a person from God’s gracious, merciful, and loving presence.
Interestingly, it seems that after the discussion about the chasm of separation between heaven and hell, the Rich Man finally begins to think of someone else other than himself. The Rich Man appealed to Father Abraham to send poor, servant-class Lazarus to his father’s house to warn his five brothers so that they would not also come to the place of his torment. Abraham’s response to the Rich Man is really the crux of Jesus’ story: They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them. If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.
Moses and the Prophets are the Word of God, both Law of Gospel. God gave the Law, the Ten Commandments and the ceremonial laws, through Moses so that men would see their sin and repent. God gave the Gospel in the promise that He would not look upon their sin because of the innocent blood of animals they shed in sacrifice. Even though not a single drop of all that blood of bulls, goats, and lambs ever took away a single sin, God accepted it as a covering for sin and, even more, it served to point to the blood sacrifice that God Himself would provide in sending His Son Jesus to die as the one sacrifice that has secured an eternal atonement for all people of all times in all places.
The Rich Man and his brothers in Jesus’ story represent the religious leadership of Israel and all who have been poisoned by their false teaching to believe in a false religion of works and self-righteousness. They had Moses and the Prophets, the Law and the Gospel of God, and they rejected it for themselves, and they added to it their own laws so that no one could know the sweetness and the gift of the Gospel.
Lazarus died. Jesus said that He was glad that He wasn’t there; He was glad that His friend had died, so that His disciples would believe, for He knew that He was going to raise Lazarus from the dead. The man had been dead four days so that he stinketh, but Jesus raised him up by speaking His life-bestowing Word. Without a doubt, Jesus was the Messiah, God’s anointed one. He was the resurrection and the life, both on the Last Day, and now. His disciples and many others believed in Him. Even the religious leadership of Israel believed in Him. They believed in Him so much that they plotted to kill Him. Their words in John’s Gospel are telling: What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. If we let Him go one like this, everyone will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation. The religious leadership of Israel believed that Jesus was the anointed one of God, the Messiah, and they decided that they loved their riches, power, and reputation, which they now ascribe to the Romans rather than to the blessing of God, they loved these more than they loved God or His Messiah. These same religious leaders sought to kill Lazarus, to get rid of the evidence, and, after Jesus’ death and resurrection, they denied that He had been raised from the dead and they attempted to convince the people that His body had been stolen and that it had all been a hoax. If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.
Jesus’ story about the Rich Man and Lazarus is ultimately about love, for God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. We obey the Law of God because He loves us and has forgiven us in His perfect gift of love, Jesus. We fear God because of His boundless love, mercy, grace, and forgiveness in Jesus Christ. And, because of God’s love for us in Jesus, we love one another. We are not compelled to obey God’s Law because of fear that He is a severe master who takes what he did not deposit and reaps what he did not sow, but we freely obey because of God’s love for us and because His Law and His will are love for us, for our brother and neighbor, and for all the world. We love because He first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. Whoever loves God must also love his brother.
God the Father has called you in His Son by His Holy Spirit to love God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind and to love your neighbor as you love yourself. You do not need to fear losing anything that you have or not being loved in return or anything in this life at all, for there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For, you are loved with the perfect love of God in Christ Jesus and you will stand in confidence before Him on the day of judgment.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.