Our Gospel lesson today is famous for its portrayal of heaven and hell. The poor man Lazarus was carried by angels to the bosom of Abraham where he was comforted. The rich man died and suffered torment in the flame of Hades. And since we are all going to die and will all go either to heaven or hell, it is good to examine this story to see how one gets to heaven. But many get it wrong. Some think that since the rich man went to hell and the poor man went to heaven, then it must be a great sin to be rich and a wonderful virtue to be poor. Yet, there are many examples of extremely wealthy saints in the Bible including Abraham himself! And poor people can certainly go to hell! Rather, when Scripture criticizes the rich and blesses the poor, it means to condemn the worship of earthly goods and to commend the poor in spirit, who store up their treasures in heaven. This is why Abraham said to the rich man that he had his good things in his lifetime, but Lazarus had bad things. The rich man chose his earthly wealth as his true treasure in which his heart trusted. Lazarus rather kept his treasure in heaven through faith.
Another error concluded from this text is that the rich man went to hell, because he failed to love while Lazarus went to heaven, because he did love. In other words, Lazarus’ works were better than the rich man’s works. Yet, this is not what Jesus’ story says. Jesus doesn’t list any good works of Lazarus. Lazarus was just poor and hungry. So, how do you get to heaven according to this Gospel lesson? Abraham tells the rich man, “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.”
Moses and the Prophets refer to the Holy Scriptures of the Old Testament. In other words, the way to heaven is revealed in the Bible. Well, what does the Bible say? St. Paul cites Genesis 15, written by Moses, when he says, “Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith—just as Abraham ‘believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness’? Know then that it is those of faith who are the 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.” (Galatians 3:5-9)
So, if the rich man’s brothers would listen to the writings of Moses, what would they learn? They would learn that it is those of faith who are blessed to be with Abraham in the next life. Your works cannot save you! Rather, you are saved through faith in the promise of God; that promise is salvation through Jesus.
Scripture says that Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness in Genesis chapter 15, where Abraham laments to God that Eliezer of Damascus will be his heir, because he has no son. God insists, “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.” And God provided Abraham a son, Isaac. Yet, this too has led to a false teaching. Jews thought that they were blessed, because they were the physical descendants of Abraham and Isaac. Jesus hints at this when he says that Lazarus lied outside the gate of the rich man’s house. Lazarus is a variant of the name Eliezer, which means, “God is my Help.” God said Eliezer, the Gentile from Damascus, would not be Abraham’s heir. So, Lazarus too, this Gentile stands outside the household of Abraham longing for the food that falls from his table, just like that Canaanite woman, who once said to Jesus, “Yes, Lord. Yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” Yet, Jesus then showed compassion to that Canaanite woman. This rich man, however, let Lazarus starve. Likewise, those who think God is the God of the Jews only would deny salvation and fellowship with God to non-Jews.
Yet, is that what God says? Certainly not. You are not an heir of God’s Kingdom, because you are a physical descendent of Abraham. If you remember, Abraham had multiple sons. But only Isaac was his heir. Why? Because Isaac was the son of promise. St. Paul explains this, “Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman. But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the freewoman was born through promise. … Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise.” (Galatians 4:21-23, 28) St. Paul teaches us that we are children of Abraham through faith in the promise, just as Jesus shows that Lazarus the Gentile who sat outside the rich man’s gate was nevertheless a true son of Abraham.
Scripture links the flesh and the works of the flesh together and the Spirit and the fruits of the Spirit together. You are not justified before God by your natural birth. It doesn’t matter whether you are a Jew or Gentile, black or white. God shows no partiality. Likewise, you are not justified before God by your works according to the flesh. This is why St. Paul writes, “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 15:50) Not your flesh of natural birth nor the works your flesh do can save you.
Rather, you are saved through the Spirit when you have faith in the promise of Christ. God credits your faith as righteousness, because Jesus Christ himself is your righteousness. He fulfilled the laws demands for you. He suffered the punishment of hell for you. Abraham believed that God’s promise was true, so God declared Abraham righteous. And God declares you righteous when you believe that God is reconciled to you for Christ’s sake. This can only be accomplished by the Spirit, who works through the Word of God.
That which is born of flesh is flesh and that which is born of Spirit is spirit. When you are born again through the Spirit and have faith in God’s promise, you then produce fruits of the Spirit. The primary fruit of the Spirit is love. When you possess the love of God through faith, then you produce love. Spiritual fruits are produced when you are spiritual. It is evident that the rich man was not spiritual and had no faith, because he showed no love. He let Lazarus starve and suffer when he could have helped him. Had he had faith in God’s love for him, he would have shown love to Lazarus.
The rich man had no faith in God’s promise, because he refused to listen to the Word of God in Holy Scripture. He even tried to correct Abraham when Abraham told him that his brothers should listen to Moses and the Prophets. “No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.” He doesn’t get it. First, Abraham is not his father. Abraham is the father of those of faith. And this man is rejecting the very source of faith, Holy Scripture. Second, if they do not listen to God from Holy Scripture, neither will they believe if someone should rise from the dead. This very thing happened! Jesus raised his friend Lazarus from the dead, and the Jews who refused to believe in Him plotted to kill Lazarus. And when Jesus himself rose from the dead, the Chief Priests paid the soldiers to lie and say his body was stolen. Unless God’s Word converts you, you will never believe.
Holy Scripture teaches both Law and Gospel. Those who refuse to learn from Scripture not only lose the Gospel that saves, but they also lose the benefits of the Law. This is certainly common today. The Ten Commandments are removed from public squares and most children are not taught them. In fact, even many churches stop teaching portions of God’s Law that are now deemed too offensive, especially those portions of Scripture that teach sexual morality and respect for authority. And faithful churches are often maligned for holding to teachings of Scripture that are now politically incorrect. Yet, faithful teaching of the Law is good. The Law teaches you to love your neighbor. If we would love one another as Scripture teaches, our lives and the lives of others would be better. Also, while the Law condemns you for your sin, the Gospel reveals that Jesus has made atonement for all your sins and offers you free forgiveness. So, there is no benefit in removing the Law.
And those who do remove the Law do not liberate anyone. Because while they take away God’s good commandments, they replace them with commands of their own. And these commands are not good or loving. They make you apologize for things that are not sins. And what they require you to do, does not help your neighbor. And even worse, they offer no forgiveness for transgressions against their man-made laws. Rather, you must make atonement for your transgressions against social progress, which seeks to destroy the Church, family, and state. And you’ll find that your atonement is never enough for these earthly judges until you deny the God who made you and your Lord who redeemed you.
And of course, ignoring God’s Law does not free you from God’s Law. As St. Paul says, “For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law.” (Romans 2:12) The wages of sin is death, whether you acknowledge your sin or not.
So, there is no advantage in ignoring God’s Word in Holy Scripture. For while Scripture does reveal your sin to you, which is unpleasant, just as it is unpleasant to hear from your doctor that you have a deadly disease, Scripture also reveals the way of salvation, how your sins are forgiven for Christ sake and you become a child of Abraham and indeed of God himself through faith in Jesus. And it is only after being liberated by the Gospel of Christ that you can then produce good fruits of love. Only a faith that clings to Christ, who was perfected in love on the cross, can imitate this love and grow in it.
Dear friends in Christ, casting out the Holy Scriptures, because we think they’re too harsh or old fashioned does not help us in any way. We can live in our own imaginary land where we and the world around us think that we are wonderful and righteous. That’s what the rich man did. He was adored by the world around him, because he followed their rules of self-love and worship of wealth. But living without God’s Word places you in hell on earth. To be away from God’s Word is to be away from God’s promise of love and mercy shown to us by Christ’s death on the cross. But to abide in God’s Word is heaven. God’s Word reveals to us God’s love; that we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus alone. The Holy Scriptures reveal to us that God is our help, so that even if we have nothing on this earth, we have a certain treasure in heaven. Amen.