Christ Covenant Church
Rev. Marq Toombs
16 September 2018
Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost / Ordinary Time

Listen to sermons on Media Player or iTunes

Luke 16:19-31

My purpose today is to show you how to stay out of hell and how to get into heaven.

Luke 16:1 continues where Luke 15:32 left off. It’s all part of the same cloth, the same context, the same conversation. Don’t let the chapter break fool you.

Jesus told the parable of the lost son to his religious critics in order to comfort all the rough and rowdy sinners who followed him. But he told the parables of the rich men to his disciples in order to condemn the religious critics for their idolatry.

Last week we heard a story about two brothers and a father. Today we will hear another story about two men and a father.

As we make our way through the story you will hear the similarities and connections. 

There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. 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. And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, 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.’ And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house— for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’

The rich man in this story is like the elder brother in last week’s story. He had everything he needed and much much more. The father had given him everything — a comfortable home, nice clothes, delicious food, healthy body. All the creature comforts this life can offer.

Lazarus is like the younger brother from last week’s story — after he wrecked his life and wasted it. He had nothing. He was in total, abject need. He had no food or shelter or health. He was so hungry that he longed to eat dog-food — not even the leftovers, just the scraps and crumbs from the rich man’s table. But no one gave him anything. He was so sickly that he could not drive away the the stray dogs that came to lick the open sores on his body.

Both men died, but they were each taken to very different places for very different reasons.

The poor man was taken to paradise to rest in the arms of his father Abraham (who represents God). The father welcomed him and embraced him and held him close to his heart. The rich man was taken to a place of torment. He was abandoned and alone. This is a total role reversal.

In last week’s story, the father saw his lost son a long way off and ran to meet him. But in this week’s story, the rich man sees the father a long way off, but the father does not make a move towards his lost.

Like the lost son, the rich man in the flaming torment cries out to the father for mercy, but it’s too little too late — and the father shows him none.

The rich man oppressed the poor and insulted his Maker, now he is being punished for his wicked deeds and crooked ways. (Proverbs 14:31)

He hid his eyes from the poor and shut his heart to his need, now he is reaping the curse he sowed. (Proverbs 28:27)

He shut his ears to the poor man’s cries for mercy, now the Father is shutting his ears to his cries for mercy. He will not satisfy the rich man’s desire in scorched places. (Proverbs 21:13; Isa. 58:9, 11)

The rich man was overwhelmed with anguish and thirst in the place of torment. For the first time since we met him he feels pain, he feels need, he lifts his eyes to heaven, he sees Lazarus.

Hell is turning him inside out.

In stark contrast to his life-experience, the rich man is in torments and anguish; sufferings and sorrow. He feels in his body and soul in the afterlife what Lazarus felt in his body in his former life, only it’s far worse and much more painful.

His thirst was so powerful that he wished for Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool his tongue — but the father would not allow it. This was not only to show the rich man that Lazarus was not his servant, but also to show him that no one is able to cross over from one place to the other.

His fate is sealed. 

There is no exit from heaven, there is no escape from hell.

One of the miseries of hell is seeing paradise yet being un-able to enter it. Another is sitting alone with your regretful thoughts and memories of what you should have been or should have done.

At some point the rich man’s thoughts will be consumed by what he should have done, but did not do.

I should have shared my personal resources to make friends with needy people, then I would have been received into eternal dwelling places and seated with Lazarus in the love and comfort of the father’s arms.

I should have been a faithful steward of the temporal riches God gave me, then I would have been entrusted with true riches in eternal places.

I should have loved and served God not money, then I would not have fallen into temptation, into a snare, into so many senseless and harmful desires — I would not have been plunged into ruin and destruction.

I should not have loved money — it is a root of all kinds of evils. It was through my craving for money that I wandered away from the faith and pierced myself with many pangs. (1 Tim 6:8-10)

I should have feared the One who had the authority to take my life and cast me into hell or comfort me in heaven.

Instead, I only feared man, not God.

In Hell a man may confess all his sins every day for all eternity, but he will never ever hear the assurance of pardon. He may confess everything, but God will forgive nothing.

Now, on the surface, it looks like the rich man went to hell because he was rich, and the poor went to heaven because he was poor.

But there is more to the story than meets the eye. No one is justified by how much or by how little wealth they have.

The poor man did not go to heaven because he was poor. The rich man did not go to hell because he was rich.

He went to hell because he did not love his neighbor as himself.

He did not use his riches to enrich others. He did not use his blessings to bless others. He  loved money and served it.

Bottom line: He went to hell because he did not obey the word of the Lord from the heart.

How do we know that? We know it because of what happens next.

The rich man said, ‘I beg you, father, to send [Lazarus] to my father’s house— for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’

But father Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’

And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’

The father said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’

Let that soak in for a moment.

Even in the midst of death and torment, the rich man is defiant — he doubts the power of the truth of the word of God and he denies it. He debates with the Father!

In response to the father’s message, the rich man protests,

“Not the Law and the Prophets — not the Old Testament! The Word is not enough for my brothers! I know what they need better than you do. They need something bigger and better than the Bible, they need something with more flash, pop, and zing! They need a miracle not a message!”

(Sounds just like a church-growth expert to me!)

Tragically, the rich man disregards the word of God in its written and spoken form. 

And that’s why he is in hell.

Hell is the one place where misery does not love company. No one in hell wants anyone to join them in that place of torment. That’s why the rich man begged the Father to send someone to warn his brothers.

But why would father Abraham tell the rich man that his brothers just needed to hear Moses and the Prophets?

Moses and the Prophets is a phrase that means the Holy Scriptures — it refers to what we call the Word of God in the Old Testament.

God knows that if the rich man’s brothers hear Moses and the Prophets, they will learn God’s will for their lives — what they must believe and do to please him.

As the Westminster Shorter Catechism puts it:

The Word of God is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify God and enjoy him. (WSC Q2)

The Scriptures principally teach, what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man. (WSC Q3)

The rich man’s brothers don’t just need to become daily Bible readers. They need to go and hear the word of God read, preached, and explained by a minister of the word — “for faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God.”

They need to become hearers and also doers of God’s word.

This is what God spoke through Moses.

Leviticus 25:35-38 — If your brother becomes poor and cannot maintain himself with you, you shall support him as though he were a stranger and a sojourner, and he shall live with you…You shall not give him your food for profit. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt.

Deuteronomy 15:7-8 — If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be.

In a nutshell, “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

And this is what God spoke through the Prophets.

Isaiah 58:6-8 — Is not this the fast that I choose:
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
    and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
    and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
    you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’
If you pour yourself out for the hungry
    and satisfy the desire of the afflicted,
then shall your light rise in the darkness
    and your gloom be as the noonday.
And the Lord will guide you continually
    and satisfy your desire in scorched places
and you shall be like a watered garden,
    like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.

Since the rich man did not obey the Law of Moses, God did not deliver the blessing he promised but the curse.

The Lord did not answer his prayers for water, or shine light on his darkness and despair, or satisfy his thirst in scorched places.

Now, in order to stay out of hell, the rich man’s brother must do the things he failed to do. If they do, they will get into heaven. How?

If they hear Moses and the Prophets, they just might be convinced, persuaded, incited to believe the gospel and so be saved!

Moses and the Prophets say many things. But the most important thing they say is this: 

“The Christ must suffer and on the third day rise from the dead — and repentance for the forgiveness of sins must be proclaimed in his name to all nations (people-groups).”

That’s the gospel.

In order to stay out of hell, the rich man’s brothers must do the things he failed to do. In order to get into heaven, they must believe the things he failed to believe — namely, the good news about Jesus Christ.

Contrary to the rich man’s opinion, the word of God is sufficient to reach even the worst of sinners.

As an old Jewish proverb says, “Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.” (Pro. 30:5)

By the way — this is why the poor man is in heaven.

The poor man did not go to heaven because he was poor nor because he suffered so miserably.

He went to heaven because he took refuge in the Lord. He trusted God even in the midst of all the miseries of his miserable life.

By grace alone through faith alone apart from any works, he was received into eternal dwelling places and seated in the love and comfort of the Father’s arms.

So, How do we stay out of hell and How do we get into heaven?

We must hear Moses and the Prophets. To hear is to obey.

We must hear Moses and the Prophets because “the sacred writings [are] able to make us wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” (2 Tim. 3:15)

We must hear Moses and the Prophets because “all Scripture [both Old and New Testaments] is breathed out by God and useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that [we] may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim. 3:16)

We must hear Moses and the Prophets because the word of God is sufficient. It is enough for us! As the Westminster Confession of Faith (1.6) puts it:

The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men.

Above all else, we must hear Moses and the Prophets because they reveal the Savior to us. 

The Holy Scriptures convince us and persuade us that “though Jesus was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that through his poverty you might be rich.” (2 Cor. 8:9)

Jesus Christ is the true and better rich man who gave up everything to love and serve the poor; and Jesus is the true and better poor man who took on our poverty and pain, our wretched sin to make us rich.

Such is the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ keeps us out of hell and gets us into heaven. 

Now, to hear Moses and the Prophets rightly and truly, we need to go and hear the word of God read, preached, interpreted, and explained by a minister of the word on a regular basis — “for faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God.” 

This is why it is imperative that you gather for worship in an orthodox, Bible-based, gospel-centered church, attend Sunday School, participate in Missional Community, read your Bible at home, and catechize your children according to the word of God.

By now I hope you see that Moses and the Prophets are Christ-centered. They point us away from themselves to the grace and truth of Jesus Christ.

As Jesus explains, Moses and the Prophets say, “The Christ must suffer and on the third day rise from the dead.” 

And they also say, “repentance for the forgiveness of sins must be proclaimed in his name to all nations” (which includes us). 

So, what shall we say in response to these things?

The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart.

This is the faithful word that we proclaim: If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and if you believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

No one who believes in him will ever be put to shame. Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

And that is how you stay out of hell and how you get into heaven.

And that promise is for you and your children.

In his delightful book, Notes from a Tilt-a-Whirl, Nate Wilson says,

“Heaven or Hell is about love and hate.

If you love [God], then take up the cross and go to him.

If you hate him, then thrown down the cross and go to Hell.

Do you love God or hate him?”

Let us pray:

O God, you are merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness God. Grant us the grace to walk in repentance of our sins and obedience to your word that we may enjoy assurance of salvation. 

The law of the Lord is perfect,
reviving the soul;
the testimony of the Lord is sure,
making wise the simple;
the precepts of the Lord are right,
rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is pure,
enlightening the eyes;
the fear of the Lord is clean,
enduring forever;
the rules of the Lord are true,
and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
and drippings of the honeycomb.
Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.
Declare us innocent from hidden faults.
Keep back your servants from presumptuous sins;
let them not have dominion over us!
Then we shall be blameless,
and innocent of great transgression.
May the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts
be acceptable in your sight,
O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer.

In Christ we pray, Amen

Pastoral Prayer — Based on Psalm 19:7-14