Let Them Hear Them

Text: Luke 16:19-31

Our text today comes from a chapter where our Lord teaches how to hold things in the right perspective. The big topic in the chapter is money and everything that comes with it. St. Luke tells us just before our text that this parable today was given to the Pharisees who happened to be grumbling at Jesus. They were grumbling, Luke said, because “[They] were lovers of money.” (Luke 16:14 English Standard Version) Money and possessions aren’t the only things the Lord teaches about, though. Marriage also comes up, as do good works. What we would like to ruminate on today is: what the right perspective concerning God’s Word is. We are directed this way by the words placed into the mouth of Abraham. He said in the parable, “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.” (29)

This was Abraham’s response when the rich man desired Lazarus to be sent from heaven to his brothers, so that they wouldn’t end up in hell like he did. This response shows us that the reason he was there was not just that he had a wrong perspective concerning wealth and possessions, how we are to use them. He (and his brothers) was also wrong about God’s Word. His error was simple: He didn’t hear it. The man and his brothers didn’t go to synagogue to hear it read; they didn’t listen to it. They did not consult it times of need. They didn’t have faith. How could they, since they cut off the means by which faith is created? The rich man ended up in hell through his unbelief, which he fed by disregarding God’s Word. So that we might not end up the same way, God had mercy on us. He sent to us His Word so that we, like Lazarus, might recline at His table eternally.

I.

This parable is familiar to us. We hear it every year on the first Sunday after Trinity. It should also be familiar to our confirmation students since it comes up in three out of four years. The setting is that Jesus is teaching, perhaps at a meal, and a mixed crowd is before Him. There were tax collectors and sinners, who had come to confess and be forgiven, but there were also some Pharisees. They grumbled at Jesus for eating with those tax collectors and sinners, and because they rejected Jesus’ teaching that you cannot serve both God and wealth. Our parable is told for their benefit. They were lovers of money, but they also misunderstood God’s Word.

The parable features two men, an unnamed rich man and a beggar, whose name was Lazarus. The rich man, Jesus said, “was clothed in purple and fine linen and…feasted sumptuously every day.” (19) Lazarus, on the other hand, was “covered with sores.” (20) Some people laid him at the rich man’s gate, hoping that some of the partygoers who were there everyday would have mercy on him. Neither they nor the man ever did. Lazarus longed to eat the crumbs that came from the table, but never did. Eventually, he died. Jesus says, “The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off, and Lazarus at his side.” (22-23)

II.

Let’s diverge for a moment and talk about why the rich man ended up in hell and why Lazarus went to heaven. It’s very easy to get mixed up about both things, especially if we don’t read the parable as a whole and in the context of the Scriptures as a whole. If we were to ask why the rich man died and went to hell, what do you think most people would say? Some might remember their catechism and answer correctly, but most people would fire from the hip and say there was a lack of love, or some good work was missing. He didn’t help Lazarus; therefore, he went to hell. If we think about it for a minute, that is a terrifying thought. Fail to love one person and you end up in hell for eternity. There’s some truth there, but we’ll come back to that. The text also doesn’t say that. The man held feasts every day, which involved inviting people. So, he was capable of loving. Also, as a prominent and wealthy member of society it was expected that he would be a philanthropist, and he probably was. That much hasn’t changed today. We expect those who have great wealth to do something benefitting others with it.

The reason the rich man died and went to hell is revealed through the conversation with Abraham. First, he indicates no remorse when he demands of Abraham – it is a command in the Greek – “Send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.” (24) He is sad for where he is but not what got him there. When Abraham denied, then he begged that Lazarus be sent to his father’s house. “For I have five brothers,” he said, “that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.” (28) Then came the response which we heard already, “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.” The conversation revealed that the rich man had been a Jew. He had been a part of God’s chosen people according to the flesh and had been entrusted with God’s Word. Only, he didn’t listen to it. He didn’t even hear it read. By this point, not only was there the temple, but also synagogues in every town. Every Sabbath in every Jewish town, the Scriptures were read and taught. Jesus always taught in the synagogues. This man didn’t go. He didn’t hear the Scriptures. Thereby, he cut himself off from the Holy Spirit who creates faith. That is why he ended up in hell. His lack of love was only a symptom of the true illness.

This illness – let’s call it what it really is – this sin, also affects us. Just as it is terrifying, and yet true, to say that a failure to love one’s neighbor can result in eternal condemnation so, too, can failure to hear and learn God’s Word. It is commanded by God in the Third Commandment that we hear, learn, sing, and pray the Word. He commands us to gather with other Christians, if not daily, then at least weekly to do these things together. And it is not without reason. The Bible is God’s saving message to us, where we hear about the forgiveness of sins. But is also active and living. God’s Word is not just the message of salvation, it is the means of it. The Word is the instrument of the Holy Spirit to create faith and sustain us in it. The Word is how He comforts us in all distress. Through the Word God gives us a supernatural peace that confounds the devil. But, still, at times we cannot be bothered to hear it. Now is one of those times. By that, I mean summer. But it’s not just summer. All of us need very little reason to neglect hearing God’s Word, even pastors. We who are here this morning are not excused because, even within this hour and this sermon, our minds have wandered. This is to say nothing of our conduct between Sundays. The rich man went to hell for his unbelieving neglect of the Word, and so will we if we continue.

III.

It’s also easy to be wrong about why Lazarus went to heaven. He didn’t go to heaven because of his good works. He didn’t go to heaven because he was poor. The answer is hidden in his name. Lazarus is the Greek translation of the Hebrew name Eleazar. Eleazar means, “One whom God helps.” The one whom God helps goes to heaven; the one upon whom God has mercy. Such has He had upon us. For this Lazarus, and for us, God the Father sent His own Son into the flesh. We heard last week that Jesus was sent into the flesh not to condemn the world but so that we might be saved through Him. The work of our salvation included Jesus’ active obedience of the Third Commandment.

It was our Lord’s practice to teach in the synagogue every Sabbath day. If He wasn’t teaching, He was listening to the Word. The psalms foretold and the Evangelists wrote that zeal for God’s house consumed our Lord. He loved being in God’s presence. Even as a boy, Jesus confessed, “I must be in My Father’s house,” when they finally found Him in the temple. (Lk. 2:49) There was only one Sabbath Jesus was not in a synagogue. It was when He rested in the tomb, fulfilling the Sabbath Day. He rested after completing His work of our salvation. It was a bloody work. Jesus took our sins into Himself, including our failure to hear and treasure the Word, and He was nailed to the cross. Even with His dying breaths, He honored the Word by praying the psalms from the cross for us. When our atonement had been made, Jesus bowed His head. The price for our sin was paid.

So that we might not end as the rich man, the Lord had mercy on us. He helped us by sending His Son into the flesh. His help does not end there, though, as He has also sent to us His Word. Beginning in our Baptism, and even before for we who were born to Christian parents, He has given us His Word. Through the outward preaching, reading, and singing of the Word, our Lord Jesus Christ sends into our hearts the Holy Spirit. The Spirit uses the Word as His instrument to bring us to faith. Through the Word, He sustains us in all trials, fears, and needs. By the Word, He causes us to love and do good works – not to earn heaven but because our neighbor needs them. Through the Word, He brings us into the bright courts of heaven.

This may be shocking to the Old Adam in our hearts, but it is good and true. it is the right perspective. God would have us be constantly hearing and learning His Word. To neglect this brings eternal ruin. We would have ended the same as the rich man for our neglect had the Lord not had mercy on us. He sent His Son to die for us and now, even in this hour, sends to us – again – His holy Word. Through the Word, the Holy Spirit calls us to faith, returns us to it, and sustains us in it until we die. May He continue this work always. Amen. 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: