Are You Rich or Poor?
A sermon based on Luke 16:19-31
Sunday, September 25, 2016 – Pentecost 19C
Mark Zuckerberg… Warren Buffett… Bill Gates… What do these all have in common? They are all billionaires with a net worth of $42.8 billion, $60.7 billion, and $87.4 billion respectively! Man, what we could accomplish if we had that kind of money, right? Hey, I bet I could even get a lot done with only $1 billion. It sure would be nice, wouldn't it? …or would it?
What would you think if I told you that you already have more wealth than Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and Mark Zuckerberg combined? What if I told you the luxuries that you have are far greater than theirs with their mansions, their yachts and their servants? You may think "Yeah, right! Come on, pastor, you're kidding right?" But the truth is, you do have more. You have so much more!
Through the Word of God you know of Jesus' death on the cross to pay for your sins. And while you may not have billions of dollars, or even millions—hey, you may not even have hundreds of dollars!—nevertheless, you have the Word of God! In it you're reminded that you're going to heaven for eternity not because of what you do, but because of what he's done. That's something they don't have. And unlike money, no one can ever take that away from you!
That makes you spiritual billionaires! You are rich in this life and in eternity. Jesus points that out in our text for this morning, found in Luke 16:19-31…
19 "There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20 At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21 and longing to eat what fell from the rich man's table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.
22 "The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24 So he called to him, 'Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.'
25 "But Abraham replied, 'Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.'
27 "He answered, 'Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father's house, 28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.'
29 "Abraham replied, 'They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.'
30 "'No, father Abraham,' he said, 'but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.'
31 "He said to him, 'If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'"
I. In Life?
Wouldn't it be great to have the money of Bill Gates? Imagine the life of luxury you could have! That's the life of luxury this rich man lived. He had it all. Luke says he was dressed in linen—likely some imported cloth like Egyptian cotton—and that that cloth was purple—made from a dye that was extracted one or two drops at a time from a rare shellfish, and so, was very expensive. The Greek implies that this wasn't just his choice of clothes for special occasions, but what he wore around the house all the time. Jesus summed up his lifestyle when he said he, "lived in luxury every day."
Lazarus, on the other hand, wouldn't have made the Forbes 400 or the Forbes 4 billion for that matter. He wasn't exactly living the lifestyle of the rich and famous, like his neighbor. He didn't even choose where he lay. The text says he was laid there, no doubt by others who didn't want the responsibility, but thought the dumpster diving would be better at this guy's house.
And there he lay with nothing. No home. No money. No food—longing to eat scraps. Forget purple clothes! He would consider this guys trash a luxury, IF he could get it! But he couldn't even do that! His health was too far gone. He didn't even have the strength to drive away the wild and dirty dogs that licked at his open wounds.
Who would you rather be? The rich man or poor Lazarus? The answer seems, obvious, right? Give me the health. Give me the wealth. Give me the luxury to do whatever I want whenever I want. It would be much better to have it all rather than be a homeless wretch who doesn't even have his health, wouldn't it? Well, to be honest… No. It wouldn't. That's what Jesus points out in this parable.
The reality was that even though it seemed the rich man had everything he needed while Lazarus had nothing, the exact opposite was true. The rich man had nothing that mattered. He lived his life only for himself focusing on things that wouldn't last, and not on things of eternal importance. And whether he realized it or not, he had no peace with God. By his sinful, selfish acts he had declared war on God. And it was a war that he was sure to lose! What a poor, miserable beggar he was—and he didn't even know it!
But Lazarus, on the other hand, was truly rich—already in this life! He had everything he really needed. He had Moses and the Prophets, that is, the Word of God. And he understood what they said: That he was a sinner, that he too had declared war on God by his sin. But he also understood that they proclaimed peace with God through the Savior—the Messiah who was to come. Lazarus was rich in the Word. We know that for sure by his eternal outcome.
You know, the name Lazarus means, "God is my help" and he did have a rich faith that put his trust in God to help him, not just with the problems of this life, with his cash flow or health issues, but with his greatest problems of sin, of death, of hell. And by that faith he had forgiveness of sins. He had peace with God.
He was spiritually healthy though physically ill, spiritually nourished thought physically starved, and spiritually wealthy, beyond his wildest dreams, though physically impoverished.
So I ask again? Which would you rather be? The rich man or poor Lazarus? I hope you all say, Lazarus, because he alone of the two was truly rich. And dear friends, you do have that same wealth! You are incredibly rich beyond your wildest dreams—right now!
Let's face it, we all have more wealth and stuff than the rich man of this parable ever dreamed of having. For him flushable toilets, microwaves, TV's, and computers were all unimaginable! Looking out in the pews this morning I see clothes in many different colors the rich man wouldn't dream of. How wealthy we are!
But friends, don't let that wealth rob you of your greater wealth as it did the rich man. If you take two dimes—the smallest of coins—and place them right in front of your eyes, they completely block your view of everything else. And looking at money with the wrong perspective can also make us lose sight of God and of eternity.
And if we're honest, friends, we all must admit, "We've let it happen." We've given the pursuit of money and the stuff it can buy a higher priority in our lives than the pursuit of a richer faith though the study of God's Word. We often—daily even—lose sight of eternity. And by these sins, we declare war on God, whether we mean to or not!
But thank God that he doesn't treat us as our sins deserve! He doesn't take his Word away even though we so often neglect it. Instead he makes us wealthy in the Word! We not only have Moses and the Prophets (which are by themselves enough to explain God's plan of salvation), but we also have the Gospels and the Epistles!
We have God's plan of salvation made crystal clear to us: We are rescued from the hell we deserve by Jesus who gave up all the luxuries of his heavenly mansion to become a lowly human and to live among us. He gave up his physical health to be tortured to death on a cross. And he gave up his spiritual health to take our wretched sin on himself, when he was sinless. And, finally, he took the torment of hell in our place on the cross. He experienced the torment and the agony of hell so we won't ever have to!
Now that's good news! And that Good News—that Gospel—is so readily available to us! How rich in the Word we are! The most valuable riches in the world don't cost a fortune, but are found in your Bible that costs a few dollars. In fact, if someone in this room doesn't have their own Bible, I will gladly give you one for free.
And what's more, if you don't like to read, you can watch videos or listen to sermons on your smart phone! You can download and listen to the entire Bible online for free! And we still don't make anyone buy a ticket for a seat in the pew!
What riches are readily available to us at no cost! How richly we've been blessed with the Word! Use that wealth, now while you can, friends! Treasure it! Because if you have the promises of God in his Word, you have everything that you need—even if you have nothing else! And in the end, you will find what a great investment of your time and of your money it really was. You will be rich in eternity…
II. In Eternity?
When the beggar died… the angels carried him to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In hell… he was in torment… 'Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony…'
Abraham replied, 'Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.'
Abraham told the man the sad truth of his eternity. His choices had been made. He chose to ignore God's warnings. He chose to live life entirely for himself with no thought of life after death. And now, his fate was sealed. There was no going back. Eternity has finality.
Remember that popular show Who Wants to be a Millionaire? Remember what Regis always asked when a contestant gave an answer? He said, "Is that your final answer?" And once they said yes, there was no going back. They couldn't change their mind. They couldn't wait until the answer was revealed and all of a sudden cry, "Wait! Wait! That's what I meant to say!" No. Their final answer stood. It was final—irrevocable.
We've all experienced that before, haven't we? Ever said or done something you wish you could take back, but it's too late. It's said or done and can't be unsaid or undone. Well, that's true of eternity as well. Reject Christ for the wealth and luxuries of this life and once you're dead—final answer—there's no turning back. It can't be undone. It's final and it's eternal. But trust in Christ, fight the good fight and die in faith, and heaven is yours for eternity.
So how do you make sure we have the right final answer? Cling to Jesus in faith. Don't despise the Means of Grace that God's given us—his Word and his sacraments. As ordinary as they look, they are true riches and have more powerful a witness than someone coming back from the dead. After all, if you were visited by a ghost, wouldn't you most likely think you'd gone crazy, that your mind was playing tricks on you? But God's Word is clear. It tells us exactly what we need to know. It makes us rich.
And trusting in our Savior revealed to us in that Word, one day very soon you and I will also be comforted at Abraham's side. There in heaven, "Never again will [we] hunger; never again will [we] thirst. The sun will not beat upon [us], nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be [our] shepherd; he will lead [us] to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from [our] eyes."
Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and Mark Zuckerberg can keep their billions. We don't need it. We're already rich beyond our wildest dreams. And while they had to work hard to get their billions, we didn't have to do a thing to get the trillions of treasures that are ours in Christ. He's won them for us. He's revealed them to us in his Word.
We're rich in the Word that makes us rich in faith. And that faith makes us certain that one day soon, when we die, we will join Lazarus at Abraham's side. We will be rich for eternity. Rejoice, friends, that you are so filthy rich! And use your wealth wisely—to God's glory—every day! In Jesus' name, dear friends, amen.