Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 30, 2007
Text: Luke 16:19-31
“If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone rises from the dead” (Luke 16:31; ESV). Our blessed Lord has caused all Holy Scriptures to be written for our learning. They are able to make us wise unto salvation through faith in Jesus Christ (2 Timothy 3:15). We diligently search the Scriptures, reading, marking, learning, and inwardly digesting them, because we think that in them we have eternal life. These are they which testify of our Savior (John 5:39). Indeed, “one cannot deal with God or grasp him except through the Word. Therefore justification takes place through the Word, as Paul says (Rom. 1:16), ‘The Gospel is the power of God for salvation to every one who has faith,’ and (Rom. 10:17), ‘Faith comes from what is heard.’” If, then, you do not believe the Scriptures; if you do not heed Moses and the prophets, the apostles and evangelists, neither will you be convinced if someone rises from the dead.
We always want something more than the Scriptures. We always want some better assurance. We always want more than God has given us. The devil whispers to us, “If you are the sons of God, if God really loves you as much as He says He does, then He should prove it. He should grant you unlimited bread, a sumptuous feast everyday. He should fulfill your every desire. Health, wealth, and prosperity should be in the palms of your hands.” In other words, the devil, the world, and your own sinful flesh would have you believe you should be like the rich man in our text. You should be at the table with him. God should reward your loyalty. He should rain down the choicest of material blessings on His own. But this is so often not the case. So often God’s people are poor in this life. So often God’s people suffer illness and injury in this life. So often God’s people suffer failure in their own eyes and in the eyes of others in this life. Beloved, this is not apparent to our earthly, physical eyes, but God’s power is made perfect in weakness (2 Cor. 12:9). It is also not apparent to our earthly, physical eyes, that so often unrighteous mammon, worldly wealth, can be a curse, not a blessing.
Consider the rich man. There is nothing wrong with feasting, particularly on special occasions, but the rich man in our text feasted sumptuously and excessively everyday, without any thought or care for his neighbor. He dressed in the finest apparel, the color and cloth of royalty, purple and fine linen. It is not that the man’s wealth was a sin in and of itself. It is what the man chose to do, or rather, not do, with the earthly possessions he had been given. He chose not to have mercy. He did not use his unrighteous mammon to make friends (Luke 16:9). In fact, he rejected his neighbor Lazarus in the moment of Lazarus’ greatest need. He would not spare even the crumbs of his table for the poor, leprous beggar. The rich man was like the Pharisees Jesus described in last week’s Gospel lesson (Luke 16:1-13), those who were morally upright in the eyes of others, as undoubtedly the rich man was, but who were lovers of money, and failed to heed the admonition of Jesus, “You cannot serve God and money” (v. 13). The rich man was counting on his outward righteousness to be saved. But money, wealth, was the idol of his heart. The rich man died and went to hell. He was in anguish in the fire that is not quenched, where the worm is not destroyed. He did not heed the Holy Scriptures. Neither would he be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.
This is what is so absurd about our desire to be like the rich man. We, too, covet worldly wealth. We think we want to live like the rich man. We want what God has not given us. We are jealous that God has not given us these things. If He really loved us, He would give us what we desire. But if God has not blessed you with worldly wealth, it is because He is merciful. “For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God” (18:25). The rich man went to hell. God has spared you this temptation. Repent of your covetousness and dissatisfaction. God is good, and He has been good to you. Repent. Do not be like the rich man. If God has blessed you with excessive wealth, use it now, to make friends for yourselves, so that when our Lord returns and worldly wealth fails, the poor will receive you into their eternal dwellings (Luke 16:9). Have mercy now, remembering that insofar as you do it to one of the least of these, you do it unto Jesus (Matt. 25:40). And if you are poor, rejoice, for you are blessed. Believe in Jesus who became poor for your sake, so that the very Kingdom of God might be yours (Luke 6:20).
Do not be like the rich man, living luxuriously with no eye on the future or the plight of others. Rather, consider Lazarus. We do not want to be like him, but we should. For though he is poor in the eyes of the world, he is truly rich. He is rich in God. He does not count on worldly wealth. He has none. He makes no claim of any righteousness of his own. He casts himself on the mercy of God. He believes Moses and the Prophets, the Scriptures which testify of Jesus. He trusts Jesus. So even as he sits at the feet of the rich man, with his empty and aching belly, the dogs licking his burning sores, he is rich. He is rich, and the rich man is poor. It is a great reversal. And God uses even the weakness of Lazarus for his good. Lazarus also dies, and God uses his death to deliver him into life. The holy angels usher Lazarus to Abraham’s bosom, which is to say, heaven. Lazarus believed the Scriptures, and trusted the One Who rose from the dead, and Who in fact conquered death forever.
Jesus became poor that Lazarus might become rich. Jesus became poor that you might become rich. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9). “For our sake [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (5:21). Our Lord Jesus Christ humbled Himself, becoming obedient to the point of death on the cross, paying on our behalf the just penalty for our sins. He rested in the grave, becoming our Sabbath rest. He rose from the dead, triumphant over the grave. Sin is vanquished. The devil can no longer accuse us. Death no longer has any power over us. And in Holy Baptism, all the righteousness of Jesus’ perfect fulfilling of the Law is credited to our account. That’s the Gospel. That’s the Good News of Jesus Christ that is for all people. It is to this great truth that all the Holy Scriptures testify. It is for this reason they have been given. They testify of the One Who has risen from the dead.
So be like Lazarus. Believe the Holy Scriptures. For if you don’t believe the Holy Scriptures, you will never be convinced by any miracle, not even if someone rises from the dead. The rich man thought His brothers would believe if only Lazarus went to them from the dead to warn them. No dice, said Father Abraham. “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them” (Luke 16:29). But the sons of this world will never believe if they don’t believe the Scriptures. They will not even believe if someone should rise from the dead. They do not believe even though One has risen from the dead, our Lord Jesus Christ.
There is no need to look for more than God has given you. There is no need to look for more than the Holy Scriptures. You “have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” (2 Peter 1:19). The Word written on the pages of Scripture gives you the Word enfleshed in the person of Jesus. In the Scriptures, you have all the assurance you need. Don’t look for grandiose miracles or money or possessions for assurance. These things are deceiving. They tempt you to avert your eyes from Jesus and His righteousness. They tempt you to think of yourself more highly than you ought. Don’t look to these things. Look to Jesus and His Word. He loves you. He makes this abundantly clear in His Word to you. He loves you with an everlasting love. He woos you with the sound of His voice. He bathes you in His cool baptismal waters. He throws you a feast far more sumptuous than that which earthly wealth can provide. He feeds you the fare of God’s Kingdom, His very body and blood, the very same given and shed for you for the forgiveness of all your sins. It is the tangible Word of our risen Lord. The holy angels are present to usher you forward this morning for a foretaste of the feast to come, just as they will be present on the day they carry you to Abraham’s side, to bask in the glory of the Father. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
 Apol. IV:67, Tappert, p. 116.