Luke 16:19-31

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.’”

Theme and parts:

“Let them Hear the Word”

            I.  The Word is our Greatest Need (19-21)

            II. The Word secures our Eternity (22-26)

            III. The Word is the only means of Salvation (27-31)

            Dear fellow redeemed,

            Back in March, as churches began making painful decisions to pause Services and classes and alter the way they operated out of concern for everyone’s health, many pastors expressed a very specific desire. I talked about it with a number of our other pastors. I talked about it with a number of you. It was the desire that this situation with COVID-19 would wake people up to the importance of the things of God. It was the desire that people who had stopped coming to church would heed the call to reconnect to the church. It was the desire that the concerns about life and death in our communities would lead people to listen when the church spoke of the answer to those concerns. For the most part, this has not happened. Our churches are not seeing many people returning who had stopped coming prior to all this. Our churches are not seeing many people in our communities now listening to what we offer. There are cases where this is happening to be sure, but not as we wished and in many places it seems to not be happening at all. So, what should we do now? We must do the same thing we have always done: proclaim the Word; call out, “Let them hear the Word!

            In our text today, Jesus is the one speaking. A few verses prior to this, He had spoken the parable of the dishonest manager and summarized its warning, “No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Luke 16:13). The Pharisees heard all this, and, Luke writes, “they ridiculed him” because they “were lovers of money” (16:14).

            The account of our text then is spoken in the context of condemning making wealth one’s god. This is vital to understanding the two main people: the rich man and Lazarus. The rich man’s sin is not that he had wealth; many believers over the years have been wealthy. Abraham, who is in heaven as we see in this text, had vast wealth. The sin of the rich man is that He did not listen to God’s Word but rather made wealth his god. He did not hear the Word because he did not believe that the Word was his greatest need. He believed material wealth was his greatest need and he served it with his life.

            In contrast to the rich man is the poor man Lazarus. There are indicators even before we later find him in heaven that Lazarus is a believer. For one thing, he, unlike the rich man, is named. His name is known in heaven’s book of life. The name Lazarus means “he whom God helps.” Lazarus had horrible suffering in this life and it seems that he died as a result of his physical suffering. But, Lazarus knew God’s Word was his greatest need and Lazarus trusted that Word.

            In the Large Catechism, Martin Luther defined what it means to have a god this way. “A god means that from which we are to expect all good and in which we are to take refuge in all distress.” The rich man placed his joy and security in wealth. Lazarus’ joy and security were in the Lord. In other words, the rich man did not listen to the warnings of God’s Word against sin and the promises of God’s Word about forgiveness and life. Lazarus did listen. Lazarus knew what our greatest need is: the truth of God’s Word.

            There is certainly a warning for us here as there was for the Pharisees. Particularly during times of financial uncertainty, there is a temptation to look to wealth rather than God. Where have we taken refuge? In our savings accounts? In our retirement plans? Where have we looked for good? Job security? Government programs? When such things have been negatively affected, have we been shaken as if our refuge was gone? Don’t hold on to your wealth as the answer or look to accumulating wealth as the answer. Repent of such sins.

            Our greatest need is God’s Word because God’s Word shows us the truth about life and eternity.  This is the message we must hear and this is the message that everyone needs to hear. We must continue to proclaim this message and pray that people will listen because no other message will bring people what they need.

            Hear the Word because the Word secures your eternity. Even if you should suffer as Lazarus suffered, wealth cannot save you just as it did not save the rich man. In our text, the rich man died. The next thing we learn is that he is “in Hades, being in torment.” “Hades,” is simply another common New Testament name for hell.

            As we see from the description of the rich man’s experience, the suffering in hell is really twofold. On the one hand, it is deprivation of anything good. On the other hand, it is a condition of torment. There is none of God’s good gifts or grace, but rather only the continual outpouring of His wrath and punishment. There is no health of mind or body but only continual pain and anguish. There is no relief from any of this, just as Abraham told the rich man in our text. This existence goes on for all eternity.

            This hell is the punishment that all deserve and it is the punishment that everyone who does not trust in Jesus will receive. Jesus said in Mark 16, “Whoever does not believe will be condemned” (16:16). It is the Word which grants such belief and thus secures one’s eternity, so we must continue to proclaim the Word.

            For, look at Lazarus’ eternity in our text. “The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side.” “Abraham’s side” is used in Scripture as a description of heaven. To be where Abraham is means to be in heaven because Abraham, having died a believer, is in heaven. All believers share the faith of Abraham and all who die a believer will live forever in heaven as Abraham does.

            Abraham, Lazarus, you and I, and every believer of all time have something else in common. We are all sinners. We all deserve hell. So how is it that heaven is our home? By the work of Christ Jesus. Jesus came for us that heaven should be our home. Jesus knew all the uncertainty of this life. He experienced the earthly uncertainty of where food, shelter, and finances would come from. Through it all, He ever kept the Father as His God, as the source from which He expected all good and refuge.

            Jesus has taken the punishment of hell for you. On the cross, the Father’s good gifts and love were turned away from the Son; He was forsaken of such things. On the cross, the Father’s full wrath at our sin was poured out upon the Son. Christ not only suffered agony of body but agony of mind and soul as He took the experience of hell that we deserved. You will not experience hell because Jesus experienced it for you.

            This Word about Jesus, this Word of God, secures your eternity. Through faith, given through the Word, you will enter into heaven. As Jesus has promised, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mark 16:16). And, Scripture tells us that this belief, this faith, “comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17).

            In our text, Abraham described Lazarus’ experience of heaven with the words, “now he is comforted here.” In heaven we will experience everything good, and only good. God’s loving presence will be the source of all good for us. There will only be health of mind and body and no pain or distress of any kind. There will be no interruption to perfect health and perfect bliss. This existence goes on for all eternity. We will be comforted. We will continue to proclaim the Word because by it comes faith through which people are delivered from hell unto heaven.

            Let people hear the Word because the Word is the only means of salvation. In our text, the rich man had a request for 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.” It seems not listening to God’s Word ran in the family. The man’s brothers had easy access to God’s Word. They had the written Old Testament and access to the Synagogues where that Word was publicly proclaimed. They did not listen.

            You see, nothing is new under the sun. People today have greater access to God’s Word and house than ever before. It is incredibly sad for us to see those who formerly came to God’s House now neglect it. It is incredibly sad for us to see people all around us refuse to darken a church door. In our sadness, we may be tempted. We may begin to wonder if perhaps we should do something else. Maybe we need a new approach to connect people to church.

            That was the error of the rich man. He believed the Word wasn’t enough and something else was needed to save his brothers – specifically, a visit from someone who had died. But look at Abraham’s reply, “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.” Then Abraham refuted the rich man’s objection, “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.”

            The Word is the only means of salvation. The Word alone is what convicts people of sin. The Word alone is what gives faith in Jesus. The Word alone delivers certainty. That is why we must use the Word – the Word of Scripture, the Word in baptism, the Word in Holy Communion. So, let them hear the Word. You hear this Word. You come to God’s House. You read this Word. Hear the Word – that is, listen and believe.

            Do not lose heart in proclaiming this Word. Do not lose heart in supporting the church in proclaiming this Word. Look at the amazing things the Word has done in your life and does for others. Yes, many will refuse to listen, but for those who do listen the Word will bring them into paradise itself.

            Dear friends, hear the Word. The Word is your greatest need; in this Word you are given forgiveness of all your sins and you are strengthened in faith. The Word secures your eternity; through this Word you have the certainty of everlasting life in heaven. The Word is the only means of salvation; this Word is the only means by which you can be saved. The Lord has given you the astonishing gift of His Word. The Lord gives you life according to His Word. The Word of God is your greatest treasure. Amen.