Are We Beggars?

Text: Luke 16:19-31

In the name of Jesus. Amen. 

He was like an American playboy – the type of man who lived chiefly in the pursuit of pleasure.  You know what I am talking about.  The type of man who dresses flashy, has a fancy car, jewelry, new technology and thinks he is God’s gift to the world.  This is the man that we are introduced to in our reading from the Gospel of Luke.  This is the rich man.  

But we are also introduced to another man named Lazarus.  This man was quite the opposite.  He was poor, hungry, and cast aside.  He was a beggar – a loser.  No one comforted this poor beggar; no one gave him anything – he was forsaken having nothing.  No covering, no house, no home, no money, and no friends.  No one came to his aid.  Only the dogs had mercy on him as they licked his sores.  Indeed, Lazarus was a pathetic loser in the eyes of the world.  He was nothing more than a filthy failure that took up space. 

Now, both of these men had nothing in common.  They were from opposite sides of the tracks.  They were a part of two completely different classes of people.  They were cut from different cloth.  They had nothing in common.  Well, except for one thing – they both died.   

It has been said before that death is the great equalizer in life.  We all end up in the grave – the rich and the poor, the popular and the losers.  Everyone goes to the same place.  From dust, we were formed, to dust we will return.

But what about after death.  What happened to the rich man and Lazarus after death?  Well, after death we heard from our Gospel reading that there were only two options.  There was Hades (hell), and there was paradise.  Yes, there were only two options, not one and not three or four.  Only two – heaven and hell.  And so, after death there was a great change.  The rich man became poor, and poor Lazarus became rich.  That is right; Lazarus was carried by holy angels into Abraham’s bosom, and the rich man was buried in hell in the devil’s graveyard. 

But why? 

Modern day social justice warriors would say that the rich man went to hell because he was rich.  The mantra goes like this, rich capitalists are evil and poor blue collar workers are righteous.  However, is this really the point of our Gospel reading?  Is it a sin to dress nicely and live well?  Do rich people automatically go to hell and do poor people automatically go to heaven?  

No, this is not the case.  Fine clothing and good living do not condemn a person to hell, and an empty wallet is not a ticket to heaven.  There will be plenty of rich people in heaven, and there will be plenty of poor people in hell… and vice versa. 

So then, what is the point of our Gospel reading?  

Dear friends, it is simply this, fine clothing and good living would not have condemned the rich man to hell had he not looked for his pleasure and desire in them, forgetting God, and letting poor Lazarus die of hunger.[1] 

You see, in the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon tells us to go and eat our bread in joy and to drink our wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what we do.  He tells us to enjoy life with our spouse.[2]  Yes, we are to consider all that we have before us as gifts.  The food that we have, the property that we own, the family that we have, and the health that we possess, are all gifts of God.  We are not worthy of any of this!  And so, we acknowledge that absolutely everything that we have received is a gift of God, no matter how big or how small, it is a sheer gift of God’s graciousness to us.  So, we enjoy the things of life that God gives to us, knowing that the Lord has blessed us. 

However, things go wrong quickly when our eating turns to gluttony and when our drinking turns to drunkenness.  Everything is perverted when our clothing turns to vainglory, and our love turns away from our neighbor to the Benjamins – that is money.  There is a big difference between enjoying the gifts that God gives to us and collapsing inward into the darkness of our sin living a pig’s life. 

That is the problem with the rich man.  It wasn’t his clothing, money, and food, but rather, he made an idol out of his belly and his desires. The rich man was so fixated on himself and serving his desires, every single day, that as a consequence he became ungracious and unmerciful because he caved inward on himself.  The rich man reclined each day submerging himself in feasting and drunkenness like a fattened hog, and as a result became blind and deaf to God and Lazarus.  He was blind to everything around him, except the delight of his eyes.  He was deaf to the cries of Lazarus, but not to the grumbles of his belly.  And the same was true for his family, his brothers.  They had Moses and the prophets, but they did not listen to them as well. 

And now we begin to see the point of this story from Jesus.  Jesus is giving us a lesson on the Third Commandment.  He is showing us that the rich man was blind and deaf to everything around him, except himself. 

What Jesus is saying in this story is that the rich man despised God’s Word because He did not hold it sacred.  In other words, the rich man did not love God. He did not recognize God as the source of his wealth.  He did not recognize the needs of his neighbor. He thought only of his pleasures and as a result, neglected God’s Word and his neighbor.  He did not gladly hear and learn the Word because his whole life was spent looking elsewhere – his clothing, feasting, and carnal desires.  He was caved in on himself. 

Dear friends, you may or may not have the blessings of luxury in your life.  Your wallets may be full, or they may be empty.  Whatever your circumstances may be, whether big or small, luxurious or humble, if you are pursuing your dreams to the point that you have neglected and turned a deaf ear to God’s Word, you are committing spiritual suicide.  And what is worse is that calling yourself a Christian, you are encouraging those around you to follow you in your destructive path to hell. 

Are these strong words?  You bet.  They are strong, because you need to hear them.  You need to hear them because the Lord does not want you to end in the place of torment with the rich man.  But rather, the Lord wants you to be with Lazarus in paradise – to be with Him.   

Dear friends, open your ears.  Turn away from yourselves.  Listen to the Word.  Do not despise the Word.  Do not neglect it at the expense of serving the god of your gut.  The Word is sacred and powerful and active to give full salvation and forgiveness. 

We have so often failed to hold this Word sacred.  We have failed to trust God, who speaks in His Word.  We have turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to the Word of God way too many times, which is often evident in how neglect the needs of our neighbors.

Lord have mercy on us.  Christ have mercy on us.  Lord have mercy on us. 

However, the Lord has compassion on you and me.  He did not ignore you and me, as we lay helplessly before Him, trapped in our sins, covered with the sores of our uncleanness.  No, He stooped down to us by sending His Son into our flesh. Jesus experienced pain and poverty and hunger for us.  He was despised and rejected by men as if He was the most repulsive outcast of all.

Jesus even experienced our sin, as He let the full weight of our guilt pile upon Him at Calvary.  All the idols that clutter our sinful hearts – all of the idols that we chase after – all of the idols that distract us from the Word – all of the idols that we chose over our neighbor, were counted against Jesus so that He felt the full torment of Hades as He hung upon the Tree for you and me. 

And get this, though, Jesus did not remain forever in torment but rose again from death – for you and me.

And today, as the resurrected Lord, He speaks to you in His Word.  He gives you this vivid story of the rich man and Lazarus to open your ears – to give eyes to see – to turn you away from yourselves.  And as you are given eyes to see and ears to hear, you are given faith – faith that receives the Lord’s forgiveness, life, and salvation.  Yes, you are given faith that hears that angels will someday carry you not to hades but to paradise, where God Himself will seat you with Lazarus to enjoy the eternal feast of joy.  You are given faith that grants you assurance!  You are given faith that is mighty, busy, active, and living.  You are given faith that does not ask whether there are good works to do, but before the question arises, it has already done them, and is always doing them. 

Yes, dear Baptized Saints, open your ears to hear this day.  Look away from yourselves.  Jesus has died for all of your sins and the sins of your neighbor.  He has been raised from death.  He lives today.  Therefore, He is your hope, and your neighbor’s too.  He is you and your neighbor’s satisfaction.  He is our worth.  He is our pleasure.  You are clothed in His righteousness.  You have everything you need in Christ in this life and in death and in the life to come. 

So, today, turn away from yourselves and receive the body and blood of the Lord for the forgiveness of your sin, the strengthening of your faith toward God, and the strengthening of your love towards your neighbor, neighbors like Lazarus, who are in your midst.    

In the name of Jesus.  Amen. 

[1] Johann Spangenberg, The Christian Year of Grace: The Chief Parts of Scripture Explained in Questions and Answers, tr. and ed. Matthew Carver, (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2014), 235.
[2] See Ecclesiastes 9:7-9.  

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