Pastor James Preus
Trinity Lutheran Church
June 19, 2022
What is at stake? When discussing matters of religion, what is at stake? Jesus tells us. The rich man died and found himself in fiery anguish. The poor man died and angels carried him to the bosom of Abraham. There is no middle ground. When you die, you either go to heaven or hell. Jesus teaches you clearly that you should fear eternal punishment if you do not repent.
The rich man went to hell. Lazarus went to heaven. There is no other option when you die. And heaven and hell are forever. Jesus says in Matthew 25, “And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” There is a great chasm between heaven and hell. No one can pass from one to the other. So, the only time we have to prevent spending an eternity in hell is now. Once you die, it is too late. The stakes are high. We should not fool around with matters of religion. Rather, we should pursue the truth. We must know how we go to heaven and not to hell.
Why did the rich man go to hell? Why did poor Lazarus go to heaven? It’s not that the rich all go to hell and the poor all go to heaven. Abraham was rich, and we see that he went to heaven. And poor people can certainly go to hell. We find our answer by the fact that poor Lazarus is carried by angels to Abraham’s bosom. Abraham’s bosom is an image of heaven, because God gave the Gospel promise to Abraham and he believed it. God told Abraham, “In your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” (Genesis 22:18) The promise which will bless all nations is in Abraham’s offspring, that means, it comes from Abraham’s body. This means that Jesus Christ would be born a descendent of Abraham, and that all who believe in him will be eternally blessed. How do we know that those who believe in him will be blessed? Because Abraham himself believed the Lord and it was counted to him as righteousness (Genesis 15:6).
Not only did the promise concern Abraham’s body, because God promised that the Savior would come from Abraham’s body, but the promise concerned Abraham’s faith, because Abraham believed the promise. This shows that the true children of Abraham are those who believe the promise. St. Paul explains this in Galatians chapter 3, “Abraham ‘believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness’? Know then that it is those of faith who are sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘In you shall all nations be blessed.’ So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.” (vss. 6-9)
Yet, how do we know that the rich man did not have faith in the promise of Abraham? And how do we know that Lazarus did? Abraham tells us. He told the rich man that he received good things in his lifetime, but Lazarus received bad things. What this means is that the rich man stored up treasures on earth where moth and rust destroy, and which are lost to you when you die, but Lazarus stored up his treasures in heaven and remained poor in spirit on earth. It’s not just that the rich man was rich, but that the rich man worshipped his riches. He served mammon rather than God. And it was not just that Lazarus was poor. He was poor in spirit. He desired only to be clothed and fed, otherwise, he was content. His treasure was in heaven, from which he eagerly waited for his Savior.
The rich man lacked love. St. John tells us, “But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” (1 John 3:17) The rich man had the world’s goods. His brother was in need right at the gate of his very house. Yet, his heart remained closed to poor Lazarus. So, we must conclude that the love of God did not abide in the rich man.
St. John again teaches us, “We love because [God] first loved us.” (1 John 4:19) Of course, God loves the whole world (John 3:16). So, what this means is, those who receive God’s love through faith will love, but those who do not know God’s love will not love. Jesus says this very thing in Luke chapter 7, when he speaks of the sinful woman who washed his feet, “Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” (Luke 7:46) He then turns to the woman and says, “Your faith has saved you.” The woman had faith in the forgiveness of sins, so she loved much. But a person who does not believe in the forgiveness of sins, who does not accept God’s love through Christ Jesus, will not love much.
It is important that you get this in the right order. Some people think that you go to heaven and are saved, because of how you love. Many even think that faith in Jesus is not important, as long as you love. But Scripture makes clear that you cannot love unless you first have faith in God’s love. And it is not possible to please God unless you have faith (Hebrews 11:6). This is very offensive. People don’t want to hear that they can’t love. Love is so personal. “Are you saying that if I’m not a Christian that I don’t love my wife or my children or my dog?” Yet, when people say things like this, they ignore the fact that we are by nature sinful. As Jesus says, “Out of the mouth come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.” (Matthew 15:19) So, even if unbelievers do show outward acts of love, which they do, their love is tainted with sinful desires. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. No one loves purely. And without faith, the love we show is not pleasing to God.
Yet, if you have faith in Christ, you must bear good fruits of love. It is not optional to love. “If anyone says, ‘I love God’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” (1 John 4:20) If you have faith in God, you love God. And if you love God, you love your neighbor, because God loves your neighbor. When you love your neighbor, you confess God’s love for his creation.
The word love has been greatly perverted, so it is important to remember that love is God’s Word. God is love (1 John 4:16). And God demonstrates love in this way, by giving his Son to die for us so that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life (John 3:16). So, the love we then show should mirror the love God shows to us. Our love should be selfless and for our neighbor’s good. This is why we should seek to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, and visit the sick. We should seek to preach the Gospel to those who have not heard it, so that they may escape their sins.
There is a catchphrase, which says, “Love is love,” which is meant to defend all forms of sexual immorality. But there is a big difference between love and sexual infatuation and lust. Love is not lust. Love does not seek to do harm to a neighbor or rejoice in wrongdoing (Romans 13:10; 1 Corinthians 13:6). So, defending or promoting sexual immorality in any of its forms is not loving in the least bit. Sexual immorality focuses a person in on himself and his own lusts. It does not seek out the good in the neighbor. And sexual immorality is not only damaging to the body, but it is destructive to the soul. Scripture warns, “Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers will inherit the kingdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10) And so it is loving to call fornication, homosexuality, adultery, pornography, narcissism, drunkenness, and all other sins which are now celebrated, sins. We should warn people of the dangers of sin, call them to repent and to believe in the Gospel. Those who are currently celebrating pride in sexual perversions need to be called to repentance and they need to know that Jesus died for their sins, so that they too may be saved.
Three times the rich man from hell called Abraham his father. He no doubt was a Jew, who could trace his lineage back to Abraham. But in fact, Abraham was not his father. If Abraham were the rich man’s father, then the rich man would have done what Abraham did. Abraham listened to the word of God and believed the Lord. Abraham offered food and shelter to strangers and helped those in distress. St. Paul says in Romans chapter 9, “Not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but ‘Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.’” This means that we are children of Abraham when we believe in the promise of Jesus Christ, the descendant of Isaac. And children of Abraham prove that they are his children by how they love one another.
Most of us are probably not physical descendants of Abraham, but we who believe in Jesus Christ as our Savior are certainly children of Abraham through faith. Abraham is our father. And this also serves as a good message for fathers on Father’s Day. Any man can become a father. What makes a good father? Well, it must be spending time with your children, sharing your interests with them and taking an interest in theirs; it must be to teach them how to catch and throw a ball, take them fishing, and tell some good “Dad jokes.” And that’s all fine and all, but that is not what makes a man a good father. There is one thing that is indispensable to being a good father, and that is teaching your children the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Abraham told the rich man that his brothers needed to listen to Moses and the Prophets, that is, to Holy Scripture in order for them to be converted. The rich man disagreed. He thought a dead man rising could scare them into faith. But that’s not how it works. Faith comes by hearing and hearing through the word of Christ (Romans 10:17). The only way for these brothers of the rich man to become children of Abraham, was for them to listen to the promise of Jesus Christ. We aren’t scared into faith, but we are converted by the promise that Christ has paid for all our sins and that whoever believes in him will be saved. This is also why fathers should teach their children the Gospel at home and bring them to church to hear Moses, the Prophets, and the Apostles, who all proclaim Jesus.
Our communities would be much better off if fathers would be married to the mothers of their children, and if fathers would work hard, yet still spend quality time with their kids. But the stakes are much higher than living in a nice community and having good memories here on earth. The stakes are eternal damnation and eternal salvation. This is why every father should acknowledge his duty to be a spiritual father to his children. Scripture says, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4) The most important thing for a Christian father to pass on to his children is the saving faith, that all who repent of their sins and trust in Christ Jesus for forgiveness, will be saved. That is the most loving thing a father can do for his children. And if he believes in the Lord Jesus, he will strive to do it.
God grant all Christian fathers the strength to carry out this sacred task and grace to their children to keep the faith. Amen.