Depending On God’s Gifts

Depending On God’s Gifts

mercy, and peace to you, from God our Father, and from our Lord and
Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

a shame,” they might have said at his funeral. “He was a fine,
upstanding citizen. A sharp dresser, too. Remember some
of those parties he used to throw? The food was always incredible.
Too bad that dirty beggar Lazarus was always hanging around, looking
for a handout. It gave me the creeps just to look at him.
I wonder whatever happened to that loser?”

who knew the rich man may have been surprised to find out that he was
condemned. He was likely respected and admired for all he had
accomplished. He probably thought he was on the right track, too.
He played by the rules, it seemed.

isn’t any indication that he hurt or cheated anyone, or became wealthy
through dishonest means. He enjoyed his life, but there’s no
crime in that, is there? Why, then, did the rich man go to hell?

went to hell for the same reason as anyone else: He was unable
to perfectly keep the commandments of God, and he failed to grasp the
graciously offered gift of faith in the promises of the Savior.

can we know the rich man lacked faith? We know this because no
good works, the fruits of faith and signs of our salvation in Christ,
flowed from him to his neighbor. They were not sins of commission
which condemned the rich man, but sins of omission.

this parable, we see four clear violations of God’s commandments by
the rich man. Some of these take place after his death, so they
do not condemn him. But they do indicate the attitude he had in
life, and why his soul was sent to torment.

most obvious of the rich man’s sins is breaking the Fifth Commandment:
You shall not kill.
His sin is not overt. He did not
make Lazarus poor, or ill, or hungry. He causes Lazarus no direct
harm, yet he kills Lazarus nonetheless. By withholding the plenty
of his own life from the poor, sick beggar, the rich man failed to
‘help and support his neighbor in every physical
as the Small Catechism explains. The rich man left
Lazarus to suffer hunger and disease when it was easily within his means
to help him.

the Baptist had told those coming to him for baptism that they must
produce fruit in keeping with repentance. The rich man gives no
indication of producing such fruit, and thus no evidence of repentance.
Jesus, too, spoke of those who showed no faith, by their lack of care
for the hungry, ill, poorly clothed, and so on. He will send them
away at the time of judgment, into the same eternal fire and torment
as the rich man.

rich man cannot claim ignorance of Lazarus’ plight. His poverty
and illness was a daily testimony to the rich man’s callousness and
disregard for his fellow creature. Like the Canaanite woman who
sought merely the crumbs of Jesus’ words to meet her needs, or the
prodigal son who longed for the pods being eaten by the pigs, Lazarus
would have been satisfied with very little. Lazarus longed only
for what the rich man considered waste, but he was not shown love.

the second place, we see that the rich man’s condemnation arose from
breaking the First Commandment. He had other gods before the Lord.
He did not fear, love, and trust in God above all things. He loved
and trusted in his wealth on earth, and this was part of his undoing.

has been described as being eternally separated from God. The
rich man had done that on his own: He had separated himself from
God by his own attitudes and actions. His money, possessions,
clothes, pride, and comfort had all become his gods. He was not
punished for having a lavish lifestyle, but for loving it more than
he loved God or neighbor. He did not acknowledge that his very
body and soul were given and preserved by God, that his clothing and
shoes, food and drink, house and home, and all that he had were richly
and daily provided by the Creator. He did not thank and praise,
serve and obey God in the way God desires.

the third place, the rich man failed to keep the Second Commandment.
We do not hear him misuse God’s name by outwardly cursing or swearing
by it. Nor was he openly engaged in satanic arts, or in blatant
lies or deceptions.

while he is in torment, his tongue parched and raw, feeling the agony
that those in hell will experience, the rich man directs his plea for
mercy and relief not to God, but to his ancestor Abraham. In this
time of trouble, he does not call upon the name of the Lord, but upon
that of a mere man. He does not pray to God, but trusts in his
bloodline for salvation.

rich man’s fourth violation is that of breaking the Third Commandment.
He may very well have been a devout Jew in terms of keeping the Sabbath
and all its rules and regulations, but there is evidence that he did
despise God’s word. He had failed to hold it sacred and gladly
hear and learn it.

when Abraham said that the rich man’s brothers had the opportunity
to avoid hell by listening to Moses and the Prophets—that is, by hearing
and responding to the Word of God—the rich man objects. For
him, the Word of God is inadequate and insufficient. Instead,
he wants Lazarus sent from heaven to convey the need for repentance
and faith. Abraham, knowing the power contained in God’s Word,
and that his own salvation had been ensured by hearing and accepting
that Word, tells the rich man that he is in error. If the Word
of God is rejected in unbelief by those who will not come to faith,
then even miraculous signs such as a return from the dead will not convince

then, of Lazarus? Did he keep God’s law fully, and thus earn
the reward of eternal life? Did God decide to balance out the
scales, letting Lazarus wallow in squalor and pain during this life,
so that he might be compensated for his suffering with eternal comfort?
We know that neither of these is true. Lazarus was a sinner, just
as certainly as he was saved. But where was his trust? There
is no indication that Lazarus sought to steal from the rich man or anyone
else to meet his needs. He did not covet, or if he did, he repented
of it. Lazarus sought only the provision of daily bread in accordance
with God’s will. He accepted the life that came to him by God’s
gracious hand, knowing and trusting that his true, eternal needs would
be met by the Lord. This trust is synonymous with faith, as the
book of Hebrews describes it, “faith is
being sure of what we hope for, and certain of what we do not see.”

Abraham before him, Lazarus believed that God had good things in store
for him, and this faith was credited to him as righteousness, also.

was not the state of wealth that condemned the rich man, or poverty
that saved Lazarus. It was the way they each handled the state
of their lives. Where was their faith and trust placed?
To whom was love, generated by their faith, shown? A lack of faith
is demonstrated by a lack of love, and it was for this that the rich
man was condemned.

must always be clear: Good works do not save. They cannot
save. Only faith in the sinless life, atoning death, and victorious
resurrection of Jesus does that. But good works flow out of a
faithful heart, kindled by the gracious gifts granted by God.
Wealth and prestige turned the rich man inward—toward protection and
preservation of his current state, not his eternal well-being.
This led to neglect of the neighbor God had given him, and to a missed
opportunity to serve God through Lazarus.

rich man failed in his opportunity to love and show his thanks for blessings
granted—there was no demonstration of faith.

then, does the lesson of Lazarus and the rich man say to us today?
What Jesus said about the difficulties of a rich man entering the kingdom
of heaven remains true—it is impossible for those who focus on worldly
wealth and comfort to remain wholeheartedly committed to the service
of God and neighbor. The world has its own view of what is desirable
and good, and it misses the hidden condemnation which comes along with
it. It ridicules the Christian’s tolerant suffering of the hardships
of life, our rejection of the shallow rewards of wealth and prestige.
Unbelievers balk and snort at the scandal of the cross, and in that
rejection, they miss its hidden joy and eternal treasure.

ourselves may often get confused. We may sometimes think that
our sufferings or setbacks are due to a lack of faith or a punishment
from God. On the other hand, we may sometimes imagine that our
successes are a result of our own doing, or a reward from a God pleased
with us for our works.

lies can drag us down, pulling us from the foot of Jesus’ cross and
into a theology of glory. But the Holy Spirit sees deep—far
beyond the surface of the rich man, or of Lazarus, and even deep within
us. Remember the blessings and woes Jesus’ spoke of in His Sermon
on the Plain: Those who may be poor, hungry, and rejected in this
life will, through faith, receive great rewards from God because of
that faith.

contrast, those who are rich, comfortable, well fed, satisfied, and
respected according to the measures of this world will, if they place
their trust in anything but Christ crucified, find themselves separated
from the blessings of eternal joy which God has prepared for His children.

expects good from God; unbelief does not have that trust, and so the
unbeliever seeks to gain good through its own efforts. Unbelief
calls us to hoard our money and possessions, to avoid and reject the
undesirable, to harden our hearts to the plights of the helpless.
Faith motivates us to share, to give, and to love. Unbelief generates
a selfishness which looks inward, and tells us to claw and scratch our
way upward toward success. Faith sparks a love which looks outward,
and motivates us to reach downward to extend our hand and lift others

makes it clear to the rich man that an astounding and spectacular way
of moving people to repentance and faith, such as he asked for his brothers
to experience, is not God’s way. Rather, people are to be led
by Moses and the Prophets—that is, by the Word of God—to understand
both the message and the means of salvation. We are taught and
learn the will of God by His Word, by His Son, who fulfills all prophecy
and enlightens us by the Holy Spirit.

Bible is clear over and over that it is the Scriptures which point to
Christ. Philip testified to Nathanael, “We have found
the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also
wrote—Jesus of Nazareth.”
Jesus told the Jews,
“These are the Scriptures that testify about me.”

By the writings of Moses and all the Prophets, the resurrected Jesus
instructed the two disciples on the Emmaus road. And in the locked
room on Easter evening, he reminded His apostles that “everything
must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the
Prophets, and the Psalms.”

is in Scripture that we find all that needs to be known about God’s
plan of salvation. Jesus opened the hearts and minds of his followers
to the necessary understanding in he same way he opens ours: By
the power of the Holy Spirit working through the Word.

seems odd, perhaps, that ordinary words written hundreds or even thousands
of years ago, have the power to penetrate our hearts, convict us of
our sins, move us to faith, and spark us to love others. Yet God
is always doing the extraordinary with ordinary things. While
the world looks for the spectacular, God works in simple ways.
Those who will not hear and believe scoff and ridicule, but miracles
come in ways we do not expect.

is born as a human baby, in a stable far off the beaten path.
A humble carpenter is the Anointed One of God. A gentle and sinless
man is beaten and whipped, punctured by coarse nails, and pays for all
your evil deeds and words and thoughts on a rugged cross in a city dump.
A dead man is raised to life, walks a dusty road, eats bread, grills
fish, and ascends to heaven.

ordinary men—a tax collector, a handful of fishermen, a tentmaker,
and others—speak the Word of God and are so convinced of the truth
of it that they confront governors and kings, soldiers and mobs, prison,
peril, and even death itself in order to convey that truth to others.
Through their writings, it has come to us as well. In that truth,
in that Word, lives the hope we hold, in spite of the hunger and the
sores and the rejections we face on the doorstep of life.

same Jesus who said from the cross, “It is finished,”—and
it was—also said, “Baptize and teach,” and so we
do. The Jesus who said, “Destroy this temple and in three
days I will raise it up,”
—and He did—also said,
“Take, eat this is my body, given for you… take, drink, this is
my blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of sins,”
and we
receive it. His Word with ordinary water cleanses us of our sins,
and His Word with ordinary bread and wine makes Him present with us
and all the hosts of heaven. We can trust His Word with absolute

who have been called by His Gospel and enlightened with the Spirit’s
gifts are also gathered here today, united with the entire Christian
church on earth.

these gifts of faith have been bestowed on us, we, like Lazarus, can
bear our worldly sufferings with patience and hope. Because we
receive His forgiveness and are being sanctified and kept in the one
true faith each day, we can also gladly and willingly demonstrate the
love of Christ to all those Lazaruses He places on our path.

these fruits of faith unto us all, O Lord, according to your Word, for
the sake of your Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.