Saturday, June 6, 2015
God is not our last hope but our only hope
At first glance the story of Lazarus the poor beggar and the rich man seems to assure us that in the end all people will get their just due. The poor will be vindicated, the self-centered rich will suffer and, as the Bible promises, the rich will become poor and the poor will become rich.
I want this to be true and I am sure you do as well. In part because I identify as the poor and not as the rich. Even though our lives says we are rich by the world’s definition of rich, most of us in our hearts feel like the poor. So we hope the day will come when we can smugly snicker when the rich get the comeuppance and poor will receive beyond their hopes and dreams.
But this is wrong. Suffering does not curry favor with God any more than ease. The rich man and Lazarus are different not simply by how much money they had but they are distinguished by the character of their hearts. Lazarus, whose name means mercy, has only mercy as his hope but the rich man has everything to count on. He has everything but he is not content with this and death shows him how little everything it. He insists that God give him something more – more than Moses and the prophets, more than God’s Word, and more than His mercy.
For the rich man the Word is not enough. He wants more. He wants a sign – even if it can do nothing for him, the rich man knows it will take more than the Word to convince his brothers. And therein is our condemnation. The Scriptures speak the voice of God even when we choose not to hear. We will get nothing more and nothing less that the Word. That is the hard part of this message and it is the promise of the Gospel at the same time. The Word is enough.
Lazarus found no mercy from the hand of this rich man. He lay wounded and in pain. He was rejected by rich and the poor alike. He had only the Word to hold on to – the Word was His courage and strength in life and His comfort and peace in death. The rich man did not need the Word. He had everything. But in the end his everything was nothing and only the Word was endured.
We do not come to Bible study because it is interesting or because we learn something new. We come because it is the Word of life and there is no where else for sinners to go to find mercy for their failure, forgiveness for their sins, hope in their weakness, life in their death, and comfort in their pain.
Mercy endures forever. That is what the Word teaches. Lazarus’ story proves that mercy is enough, that mercy will sustain us when we appear lost and lone. Lazarus was not a better man than the rich man but he trusted in the promise of the Lord to redeem Him when the rich man trusting in no one and in nothing.
In the end, the rich man found that only the Word endured forever and only the Word had the power to rescue Him from sin and death. Lazarus did not know this – he was as weak and vulnerable as you and I are but he trusted the Word of the Lord as his only hope. The story showed us that Lazarus hope was vindicated.
When Paul said he was no man but merely a worm, when Luther wrote on that scrap of paper the last words of his life, “we are beggars, this is true. . .” both men got it right and got it from Lazarus. God’s mercy is not our last hope but our only hope. For weak or strong, rich or poor, insider or outcast, we enter the Kingdom of God through mercy’s gate and that is its only door.
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A reasonable estimate is that in my 78 years of life, I have heard a sermon about the Rich Man and Lazarus about 50 times. Somewhere along the way I learned that in most cases the meaning of a parable is in the last sentence. But I have never heard a pastor speak about the last sentence in this parable, Luke 16:31, “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”
So then, the Word is not enough. Those are the words of our Lord! Who should know better what people will or will not do than He Who rose from the dead? What does He say to His own Disciples just before He is taken away to suffer and die? Does He say words to the effect that during the three or so years they were with Him He has told them everything they need to know? No! Because the Word is not enough! John 14: 26, “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” Then, what does He do when He comes to them for the first time after His resurrection? John 20: 22, “When He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’”
Lest we think that this applies only to the Disciples, the Word also says the following, John 7: 37, “On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, He cried out, ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to Me, 38 and let the one who believes in Me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer's heart shall flow rivers of living water.'’ 39 Now He said this about the Spirit, which believers in Him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified.”
One cannot rank the differences between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant in order of importance. But surely the giving of the Holy Spirit to all of God’s people of the New Covenant should not be ignored. As we all learned before we were confirmed, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith; even as He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith; in which Christian Church He forgives daily and richly all sins to me and all believers, and at the last day will raise up me and all the dead, and will give to me and to all believers in Christ everlasting life. This is most certainly true.” But only after One rose from the dead.
Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart
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