“Even If Someone Rises From the Dead”
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Let us be clear about one thing: neither the rich man nor Lazarus ended up in the place that he did based on his riches or the lack thereof. The rich man was in hell because of his sin. Lazarus was in heaven because of the mercy of Christ, in spite of his sin. But let us be clear about another thing as well: this parable is about neither the rich man nor Lazarus. Lazarus never even speaks. Sure, the rich man should have fed and clothed Lazarus; God has given wealth to people in this world so that they would act as His masks and His instruments to help those who are in need. Nevertheless, even if the rich man had given everything he had to Lazarus, he would not have been able to cross the great chasm between hell and heaven. Only One can cross that chasm. Only One Man is able to go from heaven to tear the gates of hell from their foundations and free death’s captives. Only One is able to return to heaven victorious, bringing the captives home in triumph. No mere man can cross the chasm, either to help the one in hell or to harm the one in heaven. No prayers can avail for those who are already in hell; no curses can affect those who are already in heaven. This parable is not about the rich man. And it is not about Lazarus. It is aimed at those who remain in the houses of their fathers. It is aimed at the brothers and the sisters, the friends and the neighbors.It is also a warning to you. Have you listened to Moses and the Prophets? Have you repented? Your sin is no less than the rich man’s. You are selfish and you would like to dress in nice clothing and to eat good food. I would, too. I want what’s coming to me. I work hard; why should I struggle to pay the bills? It’s not too hard to lose myself in the fantasy of not having to worry about money. What good things I could do for the church, if only God would put the winning Powerball ticket in my hand! You and I are rich men, who go about our daily business in blissful ignorance of the downtrodden and the destitute who lie in the gutter just beyond our closed doors. We are so focused on our own needs and wants that we don’t even realized how blessed we are. Perhaps we should be careful about asking for what’s coming to us. The rich man got what was coming to him. He had received his comfort on earth. He had taken care only for his earthly life. Thus was his entire reward. What he really deserved, in the judgment of God’s Law, he received after death. What do you deserve in the judgment of God’s Law? No, you do not want what is coming to you. I do not want what is coming to me. So the Lord of heaven and earth took it from us. Death and hell. Buried in the cold ground and separated by an uncrossable chasm from the presence of God. These are the eternal consequences of our sin. Someone had to suffer them, and someone did. For your mercy, O Lord, we give you eternal thanks and praise. “I committed the crime; You underwent the punishment. I plundered; You made amends (Psalm 69:4). I sinned; You were punished” (Johann Gerhard, “Thanksgiving for Christ’s Suffering,” Meditations on Divine Mercy [St. Louis: CPH, 2003], 67).
The rich man rejected that grace. By the time he recognized it, it was too late. So he said to Abraham, “‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house-for I have five brothers-so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 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'” (Luke 16:17-31, ESV). You have to sympathize with the rich man. Hell is not a good place to be. All he wants is a little water; and if he can’t have that, he only wants to make sure that his brothers don’t end up in the same place. Father Abraham, isn’t there something you can do about that? Maybe you could send Lazarus back from the dead to warn them? They have no idea what it’s like here! If only someone would rise from the dead, surely they would repent and believe! You know how it goes: If only God would perform a miracle for my friends and co-workers. Maybe if we could show them something really cool, instead of just talking to them, they would be impressed with the power of God. Or maybe if we could just get them in the door with something more exciting than words, words, words. Nothing wrong with the motivation. We don’t want our nice neighbor in hell. The rich man didn’t want his brothers in hell. Why is Abraham so cold-hearted? Doesn’t he care about the unchurched? “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them” (16:29, ESV). Okay. We get it. The Scriptures are important. But isn’t there something more we can do? The Word doesn’t actually do anything, does it? I think it would work better if we could tone down some of the offense of God’s Word. Maybe focus more on our reinterpretations of God’s love. We could downplay the cross and play up resurrection-or, at least, “abundant living.” Then maybe they would be more open to God’s Word. It seems to have worked for that guy down in Houston.
But Abraham is firm: “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead” (16:31, ESV). We, like the rich man, assume that if only we could make God’s love clearer in some way; if only we had the right argument; if only people knew that hell is hot; if only people could see a resurrection; if only, if only, if only-then they would be convinced. We assume that the problem is on God’s side of the equation. We assume that if we could only control the conditions in which the Word of God is heard, it would work better. But the problem is not with God or His Word. The problem is with us. The problem is that there is no equation. Conversion is not God’s Word + our eloquence + human openness = repentance and faith. We have no control over the things of God. If they are not convinced by the Word of God, by Moses, the Prophets, and the Apostles, then they will not be convinced by our efforts to make God look good. Neither will they be convinced even by a resurrection from the dead. And, of course, they are not convinced by a resurrection from the dead. We forget who is telling this parable. Jesus is telling the parable, the One who is on His way to Jerusalem where He will be beaten, mocked, and crucified, and on the third day rise from the dead. In the parable, Lazarus was carried away to Abraham’s side because he trusted the promise of God about this Jesus. The Holy Spirit opened his ears to Moses and the Prophets, and he believed.
So it is for you, and for me, and for all people. “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets [and the Apostles], neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.” Jesus has been raised from the dead by the glory of God the Father, and there are still so many corpses who refuse to believe. But our God is a resurrecting God. He did it to us! We have been given to believe the Word of God through the mouths of prophets and apostles; we have been given to believe in the One who rose from the grave. And such faith is nothing less than the miracle of resurrection. The miracle of resurrection here, in this place; today you are raised from the dead. The life of the Christian-your life-is nothing but confession and absolution, death and resurrection, cross and empty grave. Because Jesus’ death is your death and His life is your life.
As it turns out, this parable is also not about those who have yet to repent. It is about the crucified and resurrected one. It is, as always, about His Word and His Work. Because if it is not about Jesus, then it’s not about anyone else either. But I tell you today: this parable is about Jesus, and so it is about you. The Word has marked you with His cross and you bear that Word among all of your brothers and sisters who remain in the houses of their father Adam. Bring them here. The Word that was already there in the beginning is here and He will not fail to do His work in those who hear Him in this place. Christ’s promise cannot be broken. As a sign of that promise, He has connected His own Body and Blood to bread and wine. He comes to you this morning, and He will go with you when you leave. The Word of God is not bound; it has free course and it moves out from your mouth and from your life. And it is powerful. Do not doubt that God will work by His Word, even if you cannot see it. He is in control of His Word, and that is good news for us sinners. Because it was by that Word of and about Jesus Christ crucified that He brought us and all believers to repentance.
Brothers and sisters, the Resurrection is only beginning! He will complete His work of resurrection that He began in you. To that end, He gives us this holy meal to eat and drink with Moses, Abraham, Lazarus, and all the prophets and saints. It is a foretaste of the wedding feast to come, when all hearers of the Word will be reunited in the resurrection. On all those who have yet to be resurrected we pray, Kyrie eleison! O Lord, have mercy! O Lord, have mercy on us!
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
–Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 9/26/07