Trinity 1| Luke 16:19-3| Pastor James Preus| Trinity Lutheran Church| June 6, 2021
“Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish.” So answered Abraham to the rich man when from the depths of hell, he asked Abraham to send Lazarus to refresh him with a drop of water from his finger. What does Abraham mean by this? We know this story dispels the myth that the rich are rich, because God is pleased with them and that the poor are poor, because God is displeased with them. But does Abraham here mean that the rich will all go to hell and the poor will all go to heaven? No, that isn’t right either. Abraham himself was a very rich man and was received into heaven. Abraham is not speaking of the outward conditions of the rich man and Lazarus, but rather the condition of their hearts. We cannot determine from a person’s outward appearance, whether he is rich or poor, that he will go to heaven or hell (Ecclesiastes 9:3).
The rich man not only had great material wealth, but he held his earthly wealth in his heart as his true treasure. Lazarus, on the other hand, not only had no earthly wealth, but he did not desire anything on earth, but to be satisfied with the crumbs, which fell from the rich man’s table. He was as St. Paul declared, “But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.” (1 Timothy 6:8) This is because Lazarus’ true treasure was in heaven, as Jesus elsewhere preached, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21)
This means that we should beware of the love of money. Jesus says that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God (Matthew 19:24). Whether we are rich or poor, we should guard against the love of money. Your wealth cannot help you in hell and may very well be a hindrance to your salvation.
So, what was Lazarus’ true treasure that he stored up in heaven? It was Christ. This is shown by the fact that Lazarus was taken by angels to the bosom of Abraham. That Lazarus was brought to the bosom of Abraham shows that Lazarus trusted in the same promise given to Abraham, that he received that promise, and that he truly is a child of Abraham through faith.
The greater promise God gave to Abraham regarded not the land of Israel or a nation that lasted for a few centuries on this earth. The greater promise God gave to Abraham regarded the Christ. From Abraham would come him through whom all nations of the earth would be blessed. Abraham’s offspring would be numbered as the stars in the sky, from every nation. This is because from Abraham would be born the Christ, Jesus, God’s own Son, who came to take away the sins of the whole world, so that not only the children of Israel, but all nations could hope in him. Abraham’s faith was counted to him as righteousness. And so, Abraham’s offspring as numerous as the stars are those who hold the faith of Abraham, as the Apostle Paul writes, “Know then that it is those of faith who are sons of Abraham.” (Galatians 3:7)
Lazarus, whose name means God is my help, had the faith of Abraham. He held Christ as his true treasure, so that even if he were to be dressed in the finest robe in the rich man’s wardrobe and were to dine at his table, he would remain poor in spirit and an heir of heaven. The rich man chose his earthly wealth as his heaven. He exchanged eternal paradise for temporary pleasure. Now he has neither, but Lazarus is comforted.
This lesson illustrates the condition of each man’s heart, but that does not mean that outward actions cannot give evidence of the condition of a person’s heart. The rich man showed that he had no love for God in his heart by how he hated his brother Lazarus. Lazarus was at his gate covered in sores and starving to death, and the rich man couldn’t be bothered to help him. You cannot love God if you hate your brother (1 John 4:20). This should be a lesson to us to bear good fruits of love. As God has loved us, so ought we to love one another. And in order to tear down the false gods from our heart, we should take breaks from serving ourselves and be of service to others! When you are generous to the Church and to missions, you show that you do not worship your wealth, but that you treasure the Gospel. When you take time and money to help those in need and think about them and pray for them, you demonstrate that you have love for someone else other than yourself.
Yet, outward actions cannot change the heart to possess the one true treasure. The rich man could have easily washed Lazarus’ wounds, clothed him, fed him, and given him a soft bed to sleep on if he wanted people to think highly of him while still maintaining his wealth as his true treasure. The rich man’s problem was that he was an unbeliever. His lack of love was only the rotten fruit of his unbelief. He needed to be converted in his heart, so that Christ alone was his true treasure. Only then would he bear good fruit.
We all have problems in our lives. If you don’t have any now, then just wait, they’ll come around. And everyone tries to solve the outward problems in their lives, while ignoring the root problem. If only we can get him to withdraw the divorce papers; if only we can finalize the divorce; if only he can find a better paying job, if only the teacher will let her retake the final, if only she can get this surgery done, if only we can convince the judge to let him off on probation, if only he can get through rehab, if only they can just get married. This is the way we think. If only the rich man had dressed Lazarus’ sores and given him a warm meal, he would have escaped hell. No. We don’t solve our root problem by simply dealing with the outward problems. We need a change in our hearts.
The rich man begged Abraham to send Lazarus from the dead to his brothers, thinking that if a dead man bore witness to them, they would repent. He was right that his brothers needed to repent. The word used here for repent means to change one’s mind. His brothers needed to be converted. They needed to stop worshipping earthly treasure and hold Christ as their true treasure. But the rich man was wrong that a dead man rising from the dead could accomplish this. Abraham makes clear, “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.”
Here, Abraham is teaching us that only the power of God’s Word can change a sinner’s heart. By Moses and the Prophets, Abraham means the Holy Scriptures, the Bible. Moses refers to the first five books of the Bible. The Prophets refer to the rest of the Old Testament. If a person does not hear the word of God from Holy Scripture, he cannot be converted; he cannot hold Christ as his true treasure; he cannot be saved. And there is no substitute for God’s word.
Here we should see how foolish it is to neglect hearing and learning God’s holy Word, and how precious a treasure we should consider it to hear Scripture and its preaching. Holy Scripture teaches us to repent of our sins and to despair of these false gods that lead us to hell. Holy Scripture reveals to us our Savior Christ Jesus, who has borne our sins on the cross and gives us eternal life through faith. Hell is real. Those who go there cannot come back. Rather, they suffer in anguish in the flame forever. The rich man went to hell, because he rejected Christ as his true treasure. He rejected Christ as his true treasure, because he disregarded Holy Scripture which reveals Christ to us.
This month has been named Pride Month. Of course, pride is a vice, which goes before destruction (Proverbs 16:18). Yet, what this Pride celebrates is sexual immorality, specifically homosexuality and gender fluidity, which is identifying as a “gender” other than the biological sex God made you. Usually, these fake observances can be ignored, like national Burrito Day (April 7), but not so with this observance. The entertainment and media industries along with corporate America have united to press the observance of pride in sexual deviancy on our children. Children TV stations such as Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network, Disney, as well as Netflix have children shows and cartoons made for young children, which promote same-sex relations and gender fluidity, and which encourage children to do unspeakable things to their bodies. These shows teach our children at a very young age to celebrate evil, to spurn repentance, and to find Christ’s sacrifice for sins on the cross absurd and unnecessary. Many parents let their children watch these stations without even checking what these cartoons are about, while neglecting to have devotions with their children or even bringing them to church.
These are dire times. There are many powerful people who are working much harder to bring your children away from Christ than most Christian parents are working to keep them in Christ. Through your television and internet devices, people who hate your Savior Jesus and who want your children to embrace what is evil have direct access to your children. It is incumbent on every Christian parent to control what their children watch on TV and on the internet and keep them from viewing this anti-Christ filth, which is intended to groom their children to embrace immorality. It is also incumbent upon all Christian parents to have devotions, that is, to read the Bible and pray with their children and to bring them to church to hear God’s holy Word, so that they can learn to repent of their sins, hold Christ Jesus as their true treasure, and love their neighbor. It is not loving to embrace sin. Love does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth (1 Corinthians 13:6).
God calls us to love. It is plain that the rich man did not love, and so he went to hell. But you cannot love unless you first receive God’s love through faith. You can only receive God’s love by receiving Jesus Christ, whom God sent to die for your sins and earn you an eternal home in heaven. We all have the same number one need, and that is Jesus. Our sins burden our consciences and threaten hell. Only Jesus offers forgiveness and eternal life to all who believe. Only through Jesus can we learn to truly love our neighbor and do what is right. Jesus died for all people and for all sins. Those who promote pride in sexual immorality do not love sinners. Jesus died for homosexuals and for those who feel like they are not what God has made them, because Jesus loves them. Jesus won forgiveness and salvation for them, just as he has for us. Celebrating their sin does not help them anymore than it would help us. But holding Christ as their true treasure does help, because only Jesus can rescue us from sin. And it is only through hearing the word of God that we can know and believe in Christ Jesus, have eternal life, and bear true fruits of love. May we pray for those trapped in these sins, that they would know Christ. And may Christ dwell in our hearts always, so that we may love our neighbors and inherit eternal life. Amen.