Beckett: Sermon – Jesus Bridges the Chasm (2022)

Date: September 25, 2022
Festival: 16th Sunday after Pentecost
Text: Luke 16:19-31
Preaching Occasion: Zion Lutheran Church, Mt. Pleasant, MI, and CTKLC
Appointed Scriptures: Amos 6:1-7; 1 Timothy 6:6-19; Luke 16:19-31
Sermon Hymn: LSB #708 Lord, Thee I Love with All My Heart

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.


Can you think of a time when you’ve been separated from someone? This could be physical or metaphorical separation. A physical separation could be like a long-distance relationship, whether this person is your significant other or a child. Maybe you’ve experienced separation from a parent or child serving in the Armed Forces. Maybe you have family in another country. Maybe you’ve been forced to be separated from someone you love and care about through death, or divorce, or from a friend suddenly cutting all ties with you for remaining faithful to your Christian confession. Or maybe, like Lazarus and the rich man, money causes you to be separated from others—whether you’re the rich one doing the separating or the poor one being separated.

Then there’s metaphorical separation. For example, there can be a separation between levels of talent. My former career may have been a professional saxophonist in the Army Bands, but there were some peers who were significantly better than me no matter how much I practiced. I just couldn’t cross that threshold to get to their level. Another metaphorical separation could be that between personality types, such as extroverts and introverts. Introverts get their energy from being alone whereas extroverts get their energy from being with other people. And although introverts do know how to turn up the burner a little bit to be sociable, it is mind boggling to us how an extrovert can easily come up with subjects to talk about—so there seems to be a chasm of difference between these two personality types. Or again, like Lazarus and the rich man, perhaps money creates a metaphorical separation—the separation of social classes. The richer you are, the more social and economic benefits you have than the one who has less than you, or sometimes vice versa with things like financial aid.

Or perhaps on a much deeper level, maybe you feel separated from God—that your sin is too great to cross that threshold to get to Christ. Whatever our struggles—whatever separates us from others, or whatever we think separates us from God—the chasm is too wide to cross. There is no equaliser for us. Today’s Gospel reading provides hope during such experiences.

Deciphering the Parable

In the parable, the rich man’s wealth is made obvious in the fine purple linen he dressed in. In ancient Rome, purple linen was expensive. It was coloured clothing that only nobility would wear. The text also says he “feasted sumptuously every day” [v. 19], which means these feasts were also very expensive, which he did every day. He used his wealth excessively, especially considering the nature of feasts in the culture of these times. Feasts were reserved for special occasions like weddings and the Passover. We still do this today. We also reserve feasts for special occasions like weddings and holidays such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, birthdays, and anniversaries. So, imagine having feasts like Thanksgiving every single day. Imagine having that much wealth! This is excessive even for someone who does have wealth. So, in this parable Jesus sets up a character who is so excessively rich that he has an expensive feast every single day while wearing the most expensive fashion money can buy.

Then He sets up a poor man named Lazarus in stark contrast. Lazarus is a poor man suffering from sores. He is a despicable sight to behold, much like Job in his suffering. Lazarus is so miserable and pitiful that he desired the scraps of food from his master’s table, which was left for the dogs. Today, we find dogs to be precious animals, so we gladly give them scraps from the table; but in these times, dogs were not precious pets. They were considered despicable creatures, no more precious than bottom feeders. Lazarus, then, was at their despicable level. Actually, he was even lower than them because the only help he received was from the dogs licking his wounds! Who knows if he even got any scraps? Jesus doesn’t say, so we’re left to assume that the only relief poor Lazarus got was the dogs licking his wounds, no food or wine.

The rich man and Lazarus were utterly separated from each other in more ways than one. Metaphorically, they were separated in their social status, which directly caused them to also be physically separated—the rich man in his big house and Lazarus outside the gate. The picture Jesus draws of these two men is this obvious chasm of difference between the two that neither of them can cross. Lazarus is too poor and miserable to cross it, and the rich man is too haughty to even consider it.

Then a Great Reversal happens. Both the rich man and the poor man die, as all men do. Death is the great equaliser between the rich and the poor. No matter how rich you are, you cannot buy your way out of death. Yet the Great Reversal that happens is that the rich man and Lazarus switch sides. Again, there is a great chasm of difference between the two, but there is a Great Reversal. As the rich man was on the side where there was feasting and life and Lazarus was on the side of starvation, thirst, and death, now in death the rich man is on the side of eternal thirst and death and Lazarus is on the side of eternal life and feasting. The rich man immediately realises this Great Reversal. In most stories, you would expect this realisation to humble a man. But instead, he remains in his arrogance because he asks Abraham to send Lazarus to give him water to drink since he’s in flaming torment. Even in Hell, he expects the risen Lazarus to serve him!

As the Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, this man’s wealth was his own trap. His love of money was “a root of all kinds of evils.” Instead of pursuing “righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, [and] gentleness,” he remains haughty because he set his hopes on his riches (which are not with him in Hell, by the way). He was rich in the vain, transient things of the world, but he was not “rich in good works” toward his poor neighbour, Lazarus, and he was not “generous and ready to share,” therefore storing up treasures in Heaven [1 Tim. 6:6-19].

In the parable, Abraham reprimands him as much. He exhorts him to see the good things he received and the bad things Lazarus received on account of him—on account of his negligence to love his neighbour. Now, in death, their roles are reversed. Just as Lazarus could not cross the threshold of the gate to join the daily feasts, now the rich man cannot cross the great chasm into the eternal feast because he had squandered his own life in his excessive, narcissistic living.

Then there’s a twist to the story. We don’t expect it, but the rich man finally realises his error! But he knows it’s too late for him; he’s in Hell. So, as a Jew, he begs his father Abraham to send the resurrected Lazarus to his family so they might realise their own sinful living and repent. Sadly, though, the man does not get his wish. Abraham tells him his family already has Moses and the Prophets—they already have the Word of God that is amply filled with warnings of punishment for such selfish living and testimonies of the resurrection of the dead. If they will not believe and repent when they already have the Word that testifies to these things, then they will not believe when they see somebody risen from the dead…

Jesus was alluding to His own resurrection here. The Pharisees, to whom Jesus was speaking here, had previously asked for a sign to prove He is the Son of God. Yet He responds, “This generation is an evil generation. It seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah” [11:29]. Here, also, Jesus was alluding to His resurrection, for as Jonah was in the belly of the great fish for 3 days before he was vomited out of the fish, so Jesus would be in the belly of the earth for 3 days before He was vomited out from the tomb. And indeed, many of the Jews did not believe Jesus had resurrected, just as many today—Jew and Gentile alike—do not believe that Christ is risen despite the tomb being empty. Not even Jesus’ resurrection—the Miracle of all miracles—was enough proof for many of the Jews to bring them to repentance.

What is Your Relationship with Your Money?

The sign of the empty tomb is still not enough to bring many people to repentance, but for some reason, the lie is still believed that money is a sure sign of God’s favour. Despite parables like this and other teachings of Jesus, like what we heard last week—“You cannot serve God and money” [16:13]—many believe heresies like the prosperity gospel that you have God’s favour when you have wealth and good health; and if you don’t, then you must’ve done something to anger God and incur His judgement, just as Job’s three evil friends tried to convince him in his suffering. But in parables like the one today, it’s not the rich man who’s commended for his living but poor Lazarus despite his miserable poverty. It’s not that poverty is a one-way ticket to heaven either, but the rich man’s trust in his wealth is what damned him to Hell.

So, Jesus forces each of us to think about the relationship we have with our money. How do you use it? Do you use it in excess? Do you spend more on yourself than you do on others? Sure, we need to spend more money on ourselves to some extent because bills, taxes, clothing, and food pile up a lot of money, and that’s fine—God gives us our daily bread, and that includes the money we need to protect and preserve our family. But where are we sacrificing for the sake of others and the sake of the Gospel? No matter what your salary is, are you a good steward of what God has given you by budgeting your money and giving some back for the ministry of the Gospel and the sake of the poor? How might you support the ministry of the Gospel here? As Paul writes to Timothy, are you “rich in good works” and “generous and ready to share”? We have a Good Samaritan fund, our campus ministry, the music director campaign, and others you can give to. Many of you have already given generously to these and other things, and you are greatly appreciated. Please continue in your loving generosity.

But again, no matter how wealthy you may or may not be, what is your relationship with your money? Do you believe the lies of the prosperity gospel that you need wealth to “live your best life now”—whatever that means—in order to have God’s favour? Do you believe that the amount you give to any designated fund or campaign is what assures you of God’s favour? If you place your trust in your money rather than Christ, like the rich man in the parable, you are in danger of being damned to Hell. Money is not the basis of God’s favour for you. Money cannot purchase your way out of death. Christ has bought your way out of death—not with gold or silver, but with His precious blood [1 Peter 1:18-19].

Christ in the Parable

If it’s not obvious by now, Jesus cautions us against being like the rich man in the parable—against trusting in our wealth and using it excessively for ourselves. Some of us might live like the rich man, but like him there is an irony to our situation. This Word of Law kills us, and like the rich man, we find ourselves becoming in death what poor Lazarus was in life—miserable before our Master in our poor, sinful condition. Our pride is shattered. Money abandons us, as it always does. Jesus breaks our trust in money, ourselves, and other affluent things of this world.

But there is good news. The Good News is that Jesus is totally unlike the rich man. Jesus does not do what the rich man does, or rather what he does not do. The rich man laid back and grew fat in his pleasure. Jesus did not do this. Jesus did not remain on His heavenly throne to feast on His heavenly riches and watch us spiral into our impending doom. Instead, Jesus left the wealth of His house. Jesus came to us in our muck and grime of sin, and He opened the gate that separated God from man and brought us in. Jesus tore down the gate of sin that separated us from God the Father and made Himself the door, as He said, “I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture” [John 10:9]. Thus, like Lazarus, we find Jesus’ Great Reversal come to our sinful condition and brings us into His pastures of eternal feasting. Whereas the rich man found death to be a great equaliser, poor Lazarus found Christ to be the greater equaliser. Whether rich or poor, all who die in Christ will find themselves with Him in the eternal riches of the resurrection.

At the death of the real man named Lazarus, Jesus said to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” [John 11:25]. Jesus is the resurrection and the life. In the parable, Lazarus finds this to be true just as the real Lazarus did, and so it is true for you. The cross is the bridge between the great chasm of eternal death and eternal life, so you don’t have to cross the threshold to get to God because the God-man Jesus Christ has already crossed it for you in His death and resurrection. Because you believe this, you can expect to find yourself on the same side as Lazarus, no chasm too wide—no sin or guilt too great—to ever separate you from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord [Rom. 8:31-39]. We pray:

May the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.

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