Lord, anoint our eyes to see what You show us. Amen.
Text: Luke 16:19–31
“There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day. But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate, desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. 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. And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. 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.’ 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. 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.’ Then he said, ‘I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.’ Abraham said to him, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 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.'”
“It is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mat 19:23). Not that the rich man is condemned because he is rich, but rich people are so severely tempted to worldliness and unbelief. The rich man in our Gospel was unfortunate because he was unbelieving, worldly, and self-righteous. His life is summed up in few, but very significant words: “He was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day.” Then we hear that “in his lifetime he received his good things,” that he did not acknowledge God’s Word as necessary for salvation and did not understand that faith is the way to life. If you strive for earthly things and think that salvation inevitably belongs to you and all decent people, then you are the rich man’s partner, whether you have much or little in the world.
Poverty and sickness press hard, and no one is saved merely because he suffers here on earth. But these things can help us to hear God’s Word and turn our hearts away from the world. Lazarus was not saved as a reward for his suffering, but he inherited life, because he believed in the Lord. We learn this from the name “Lazarus” which means one who trusts in God, and, besides, we hear that he is at home in the bosom of Abraham – Abraham, “the father of believers” – and that he did not seek his goods in earthly life. You are no “Lazarus” and are not saved – even though you suffer ever so much on earth – unless you believe from the heart, suffer as a Christian, and have your treasure in heaven. But if you do this, your suffering is blessed and your tears are sown for a rich harvest.
There are only two places then. The unconverted go to hell when they die and the believers to heaven. There is no middle place. The damned are doomed to everlasting pain, they never get out of there and never get any comfort for eternity. But the saved enjoy eternal salvation and no longer have to fear any danger from sin, death, or the devil. No one goes from heaven to hell or from hell to heaven or back to earth again. – The blessed are in good company, and that increases their joy. They know each other: Lazarus knows Abraham, and Abraham knows Lazarus. There all God’s friends find one another again. They also know what goes on here on earth: Abraham, who was dead long before the age of Moses and the prophets, knows their writings and their significance for the way of our salvation, and there is scarcely any doubt that the blessed surround us as witnesses to our struggle and our faithfulness.
But terrible is the condition of the damned: they are “in torments in hell” and do not get even a drop to quench their thirst. They are without everything they want, but feel everything they suffer. They are bitter over their misfortune, but despair over their hopelessness and suffer so much worse in company with their brothers from earth, because the fire of wickedness in them thus burns stronger. – All this our Lord Jesus teaches us clearly in today’s Gospel to admonish and comfort us, and what He says is not exaggeration. How incredibly important it is then to use the time of grace well! O earnestly take it to heart and consider that wealth and honor without the fear of God are miserable, yes, terrible, but that the suffering of the saints is nothing compared to the glory which shall be revealed in them.
Lord Jesus, waken us to seriousness concerning our souls, and teach us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. Help the rich to do good and to gather for themselves treasures in heaven, and help the poor to suffer patiently like Lazarus. Lord, save us from unbelief, and give us a blessed end. Amen.
Our restless spirits yearn for Thee,
Where’er our changeful lot is cast;
Glad that Thy gracious smile we see,
Blest that our faith can hold Thee fast.
O Jesus, ever with us stay,
Make all our moments calm and bright;
Chase the dark night of sin away,
Shed o’er the world Thy holy light.
Heerman (based on Clairvaux?): Tenk, Menneske, paa Enden vel L 455:10-11 ELH 318:4-5 tr. R. Palmer;
tune: Jesu dulcis memoria