16th Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 21[c] September 25, 2022
19 “There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, 23 and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. 24 And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’ 25 But Abraham said, ‘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. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ 27 And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him 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.’ 29 But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ 30 And he 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.’”
In the Name of Jesus.
How does Jesus pull someone out of the jaws of death?
Jesus is speaking to the Pharisees. Not to the Pharisees only; everyone, his own disciples included, can hear the parable, but the point at dispute is with the Pharisees.
So to the Pharisees, Jesus preaches this strange parable.
It is strange. Heaven and Hell. A rich man, a poor man, Lazarus. And then throw in Abraham, and throw in Moses and the prophets. And throw in the rich man in Hell having a conversation with Abraham in Heaven. It is a parable, after all. So it’s not a narrative to give an accurate picture of Heaven and Hell. It is, rather, as the other parables, pressing a point. The parable draws a picture of Heaven and Hell and a conversation between them not to show how Heaven and Hell work—but to force the point, the big point Jesus wants to make.
He’s preaching to the Pharisees. What is Jesus doing to the Pharisees with his preaching?
The Pharisees were teachers of the Law. As Jesus says to them in the previous verses, the Pharisees wanted to use the Law to justify themselves. Luke 16:15:
The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard [the words of Jesus], and they ridiculed him. And [Jesus] said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts.”
When Jesus looks at Pharisees, he sees teachers pressed down by the Law. They want the Law, they use the Law to justify themselves, and when Jesus sees a sinner using the Law to justify himself, he sees a dead man, and man belonging to the realm of Hell.
So he preaches to the Pharisees. He preaches a parable driving home the futility of living under the Law; he preaches it in order to bring them into the comfort of the Gospel.
There was a rich man in Hell. Rich in his own accomplishments. Rich in justifying himself in the eyes of the world. Rich, that is, in living an effective life under the Law.
So, he’s in Hell. To be enslaved by the Law, to be justifying yourself, that’s to belong to the realm of Hell, even while you live here on Earth.
So the rich man pleads at least for his brothers still on Earth that they would be kept from Hell.
Send Lazarus from the dead, the rich man pleads to Abraham. A man from the dead, that will impress his brothers. If his brothers were only to see the almighty power of God in raising a man from the dead, well, then, in the face of such pure power, then they would finally know to repent and hear the Gospel.
But the Gospel doesn’t come in power.
The Gospel—the forgiveness of sins—doesn’t come in ways to impress the world. The Gospel of the sinner justified by faith in Jesus doesn’t come in ways to bowl over his brothers with the promise of grace and life. The Gospel comes in weakness, in humility, in ways not big and impressive, but small and humble.
So in the parable, Abraham says to the rich man, “Let [your brothers] hear Moses and the prophets … 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, and Abraham, they’ve always had them. If his brothers have Abraham and Moses and the prophets, they lack nothing.
Abraham was a sinner. But the promise was given to Abraham, the gift of the Name of the Lord was given to Abraham and his descendants.
Abraham is lowly and humble, nothing impressive in the counting of this world, nothing impressive to the counting of the Law, but he heard the promise, he had faith in the promise, and the Lord accounted it to him as justification. [Genesis 15:6]
Moses was a sinner. But the promise was given to Moses, and Moses preached that promise to the Israelites, and by that promise the Lord brought the Israelites into the promised land. By faith in that promise, Moses was justified, and the Israelites, this small, unimpressive tribe of people, they were justified, too.
The prophets, Elijah and Isaiah and Jeremiah and Amos, and the rest, were they not all despised by the people, tormented, sometimes thrown into jail, other times chased out of town, often even killed—but by these lowly, common, humiliated prophets, the Lord was having the promise preached to his people, and by faith in that promise, the sinful people were justified.
Your brothers have Moses and prophets, Abraham tells the rich man. From the words of the prophets your brothers will hear their justification.
In the parable, Jesus shows us the weakness of the Gospel.
The Gospel is preached to the sinner, but it’s preached in lowliness. It’s brought to the sinner in the humble means of water and the Word, of Wine and Bread and the Word, but in this weakness is the power of God unto salvation. As the Apostle Paul writes to the Church, God’s grace is sufficient for you, for his power is made complete in weakness. [2 Corinthians 12:4]
So it comes to us. To us and our families. Jesus has the Gospel preached.
Is that the way we would want it?
We would want some great sign of God’s presence with us. Some impressive evidence that God is with us. Something effective and awesome to the eyes of the world.
Is God with you? How about if God gave evidence of that by giving you success at work?
Is God happy with you? How about if God signaled his pleasure with you by giving you good health?
Is God on track with you, is your will aligned with his? How about if you could know by how you felt as you drive down the road, by your emotional state being stable and happy?
And the corollary would be, if you are having trouble, if you don’t feel spiritually close with God, if things just don’t seem to be clicking right, then God must not be close to you.
The evidence of our world, the testimony of our feelings, the effectiveness of our life—this is not the Gospel.
Because, it’s not the Gospel, it tells us nothing abut God’s disposition toward us. The Gospel comes in weakness. In the preaching of the promise. In the Word of the justification of the sinner.
They have Moses and prophets, Abraham said to the rich man. Moses and the prophets, the preaching of the promise, the Word of justification, this is God rescuing your brothers from Hell, Abraham is saying to the rich man.
It comes to us.
Moses and prophets, Paul and the Apostles, the preaching of the promise, the Word of justification into the ears of the sinner, that’s Jesus coming to you in a way weak and lowly to the world, but it is the full power of God unto the salvation of the sinner.
The preaching of the cross—this is Jesus pulling you out of the jaws of death into life. The Word of justification, this is Jesus releasing you from the Law, bringing you into grace.
It’s lowly, it’s humble in the counting of this world; this preaching seems not nearly impressive enough, but it is the crucified Christ making you his own.
In the Name of Jesus.