Sermon for the First Sunday after Trinity based on Luke 16:19-31
Dear people helped by God: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
Only beggars go to heaven. This does not mean that the poor and sick Lazarus went to heaven because he was poor and sick or that the rich man went to hell because he was wealthy and well-dressed. Rather, Lazarus went to heaven because he recognized that he is a beggar before God. The rich man went to hell because he didn’t want anything from God.
You either approach God like a beggar, asking for Him to mercifully give you everything, or you think you have all that you need and ask God for nothing.
The rich man’s god was his belly. He lived for himself. He lived for pleasure. He thought that everything that he wants and desires is the greatest good. He loved himself so much that he had no love for God and no love for Lazarus lying at his gate.
The world would have judged the rich man as blessed and Lazarus as forsaken by God. Man judges by what his eyes see. One man is rich, the other poor. One lives well and feasts sumptuously every day, the other suffers need and dies of hunger. One is clothed in purple and fine linen, the other is clothed in sores. The world would insist that the rich man has God’s favour, while Lazarus has His displeasure and wrath.
God judges differently. God made the beggar rich, and the rich man He sent empty away to suffer for eternity.
Don’t misunderstand – you can be poor and live for yourself and make an idol of your belly, and you can be rich and love God and your neighbour. It’s not your earthly riches that determine if you go to heaven or hell, but whether or not you approach God as a beggar.
What does it mean to approach God as a beggar? It means that you go to Him with nothing to offer Him, asking Him for everything. It is asking God for forgiveness and everlasting life, not because of what you have done and merited, but because of what Jesus has done and merited for you. It means praying for mercy, that God would not give you the eternal punishment you deserve, but instead, out of His great love and mercy, give you eternal life for the sake of Christ.
God makes beggars rich. He gives us overflowing forgiveness and mercy. He brings us to Abraham’s side in the eternal joys of Paradise. He gives us eternal comfort after this life of suffering and evil.
We don’t know exactly what heaven will be like. The Bible gives us glimpses of it. We know there will be no sin, sorrow, or pain. The Bible describes it as a feast, but it won’t be a gluttonous, drunken affair, like the rich man’s feasts. It will be a place of joy and bliss eternal.
One thing that is for certain is that the only reliable information we have on heaven comes from the Bible. Don’t believe the scammers and shysters who say they have been to heaven. No one has died and gone to heaven and come back.
Abraham said to the rich man, “Between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.” There is no more jumping between earth and heaven than there is jumping between heaven and hell.
You can’t talk to anyone who has actually been to heaven or hell to get a firsthand account. People sell books about dying and going to heaven and coming back again. What these books prove is the truth of the old adage that there’s a sucker born every minute. Religious hucksters make money off of naïve Christians who forget that the only source of reliable information about heaven and hell is the Holy Scriptures.
What this also means, is that hell is real. That’s what the Bible says. The world says, “How can a loving God send people to suffer eternally in the fires of hell?” They thus do not believe in hell. Neither do they believe in God.
The world also looks at Christians and says, “You Christians obviously don’t believe in hell either. If you did, you would be giving your wealth to support pastors in your communities and missionaries around the world so that more people would be warned about hell and be saved. Instead, you feast sumptuously like the rich man and spend this earthly wealth on yourselves.” The world has a point.
However, hell is real. Scripture tells us. But hell was not created for man. It was created for the devil and his angels. No man needs to end up in hell. God sent His only Son into the world to take on our flesh, take on our sin, and die in our place so that we would not receive the eternal punishment in hell that our sins deserve.
Christ offers forgiveness freely to all. Those, like the rich man who say they have no need of it, will end up in Hades, in torment. Those, who like Lazarus approach God like beggars, will be carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom, in the joys of Paradise.
We come before God as Lazarus came: as beggars. God makes beggars rich. That is what the rich man learned, but he didn’t learn it until he was in hell. He would never leave hell. He would never enjoy true wealth. Everything he trusted failed him. Death destroys all of our idols. We brought nothing into this world and it is certain we can carry nothing out. If you trust in the treasures you have in this world you are not trusting in the God who gives them. You will be broke the moment you breathe your last and you will spend eternity in hell regretting the false faith to which you clung in this life. You will be an eternally poor beggar who never gets anything good from anyone. Only beggars become rich. But begging in hell is in vain.
The rich man begged Abraham to send Lazarus to his brothers. Then they will repent, he said. If someone were to rise from the dead, then they would believe, he claimed. But even Jesus Christ’s resurrection from the dead, of itself, converted no one. Only the Word of God can do that. Conversion or repentance entails two things: that you are sorry for your sins and that you believe the Gospel. Sorrow over sin means that you are sorry you have broken God’s law. You have offended God. You have not loved him with your whole heart, soul, strength, and mind. You have not loved your neighbor as yourself. Faith in the Gospel means that you believe God when he tells you that he freely forgives you all your sins for the sake of Christ’s vicarious obedience, suffering, and death. God works repentance through his Word. There is no other way. Only the Word of God can work genuine sorrow over sin and sincere faith in Christ the sin-bearer and Savior of sinners. God converts sinners through His Word.
The rich man went to hell because he despised the Word of God. He kept on despising it in hell, as we see from his conversation with Abraham. Lazarus went to heaven because God helped him. The name Lazarus means “God is my help.” The whole world ignored him. He was a nobody. He did nothing important. Important people didn’t notice him. But he trusted in the Word of God. He lived on every Word that comes from the mouth of God. He received everlasting wealth, even when he was suffering want, sickness, and hunger. When his body died, the angels carried his soul to heaven. He was taken to Abraham’s side to enjoy perfect fellowship with God, pure and eternal joy, peace, and contentment.
You don’t earn heaven by being poor. You aren’t kept out of heaven by being rich. The only way to heaven is through faith in Christ, our God and our brother, who has won heaven for us unworthy sinners by his perfect obedience to God’s law and bitter suffering and death on the cross. Heaven is God’s gift. God gives it to beggars. If you won’t be a beggar you cannot be saved.
Let us pray:
Lord, let at last Thine angels come,
To Abr’ham’s bosom bear me home,
That I may die unfearing;
And in its narrow chamber keep
My body safe in peaceful sleep
Until Thy reappearing.
And then from death awaken me
That these mine eyes with joy may see,
O Son of God, Thy glorious face,
My Savior and my fount of grace,
Lord Jesus Christ, my prayer attend, my prayer attend,
And I will praise Thee without end. (LSB 708 st. 3) Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding, will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.
[Some concepts and portions of this sermon are borrowed from a sermon by Rev. Rolf Preus.]