The pastors at my church, as I’m sure many of you experience, really speak the Word in ways that affect us personally or open insights that we didn’t pick up in our own reading. With the number of times I’ve read through this passage (Luke 16: 19-31) and heard sermons on it, I’ve never focused on this teaching from it — that the Word is Enough for us. I thought this might be good information for other BJS readers, so with Pastor Caithamer’s permission I’m sharing this sermon with you:
Enough Is Enough
18th week of Pentecost, September 26, 2010
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Today’s Gospel lesson tells of the story known well as the rich man and Lazarus. I want to start off by stating what this parable is not about. This story is not a teaching about what happens to the believer and unbeliever when they die. Nor is it a teaching about heaven and hell. These things are talked about, but this is a parable, and by definition, the details in the parable are exaggerated to make a point. The details have been made up and are not real. So, a Christian should not base his or her beliefs about heaven and hell on this parable. Nor should this parable serve as the foundation of your belief about what happens when we die. It’s tempting to do so, but this is not Jesus’ point.
Secondly, this parable is not a plea or exhortation for Christians to help the poor. Again, a stark distinction is made between a rich man and a poor man, but this serves another point. So, as emotionally attached as you may become to Lazarus in this story because he was poor and neglected by the rich man, Jesus is not using this story to move you to help the poor. Being rich in this life doesn’t mean you are going to hell. And being poor in this life doesn’t mean that you are going to heaven. It is tempting to take this parable in this direction too, but this is not Jesus’ point.
The point of Jesus’ parable in this passage is to wake up the Pharisees and other religious people to the fact that Moses and the Prophets, aka the Old Testament, point the sinner to the way of salvation. Sadly, the Pharisees and many of the Jewish people misunderstood the Old Testament, Moses and the Prophets, and in turn missed Jesus as the long-promised and actually-arrived Messiah, the Christ. Just as sad, this mistake is still made today by those in Judaism as well as those in Islam. Neither properly understand the Old Testament and so reject Jesus as the true Messiah, both God and man in one Christ.
The rich man in the parable dies and finds himself in torment. Not because he was wealthy, but because he did not believe what Moses and the Prophets had to say about the Messiah. His lack of faith led to his disregard for his fellow man, in this story, Lazarus. This is the picture painted by the Old Testament prophet Amos, as seen in the Old Testament lesson. Many of the people of Israel in Amos’s day experienced great peace and prosperity. In this posh state, the leaders of the people and the wealthy among them let their devotion to God’s Word and true worship of him fall by the wayside. They disregarded his true and pure Word and harmonized their worship of God with the worship of others claiming to worship God. They spent all of their wealth on themselves and cared nothing for the poor of their brethren. This all came about because they rejected God’s Word. They failed to realize that they were who they were because of God’s promises. Their lack of faith in Yahweh’s promises led to their syncretistic worship and mistreatment of their fellow Israelites.
In an apparent act of selflessness, the rich man of the parable pleads with Father Abraham to send Lazarus back from the dead to his brothers. His brothers were living the same way he was, without faith in God and his promises. He knew they too would end up in torment if something wasn’t done. The rich man didn’t think the Word of God was enough. It hadn’t been for him, or so he thought. But his plight was not God’s fault; it was his own. Abraham in turn says to the rich man, “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.” This is insulting to the rich man’s ears. Something more dramatic must be done. Shockingly, the rich man attempts to tell God what to do by saying to Abraham, “No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.”
We’ll stop here for a moment. This happens today too, doesn’t it? Many Christians do not believe that God’s Word is enough. They might not out right think that or admit to that. But that is what comes to the surface when the opinions arise that there must be more that we can do to save the lost. Preaching Christ and him crucified isn’t working. Reading the Word of God is too boring. Singing old hymns that proclaim Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection does not grab hold of the unbeliever. Preaching sermons that say your sins are forgiven rather than how being a Christian can help me through the week and this life just isn’t interesting enough. Teaching Bible classes about the doctrine of the faith and about the Bible with right answers to real questions is nice but more should be done. Enough isn’t enough.
Father Abraham disagreed. “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.” The rich man was put in his place. So are we. What God has said is enough. What Christ has done is enough. Enough is enough. The enough that has been done for our salvation is also enough to keep us in that salvation. Christians need to continually hear what Jesus has done for them. There is nothing lacking from God’s Word. It has the power to save. It will do what God intends it to do. Nothing need be added to it; not emotional pleas, not sentimental stories, not our own ideas. The Word of God is enough. Now that is not to say that there are not other writings that are not beneficial, but they must be critically examined in light of God’s Word, and weighed against what we already have in that Word. But they do not replace God’s Word or fill in any gaps. God’s Word is enough. And enough is enough.
Jesus agreed. During his trial, Jesus underwent serious mockery. His fellow Jews ridiculed him up and down for claiming to be the Christ. One of the most vicious attacks is one that Luke sees fit to record in 22:66–67. “And they led him away to their council, and they said, ‘If you are the Christ, tell us.’ But he said to them, ‘If I tell you, you will not believe.'” Jesus actually did go on to tell them that he is the Christ, and he was right. They did not believe.
Later, while hanging on the cross, the insults continued. They wanted Jesus to come down from the cross in miraculous form so that they could believe in him. Jesus didn’t do it. He stayed on the cross, not because he didn’t want them to believe, but because they wouldn’t. It wouldn’t matter.
Also, Jesus stayed on the cross because that is what he came to do, to hang on the cross and die. He stayed on the cross for their sins of unbelief. He stayed on the cross for our sins of thinking God’s Word is not enough, that somehow we need to add to it. Jesus stayed on the cross for those sins and all sins. If Jesus had come down from the cross, we would still be in our sin, as would the world and all would have been lost. But Jesus stayed. He was faithful to the point of death on the cross. His death on the cross, his blood shed there, made the cross a life-giving tree. The fruits of the cross, of that tree, are the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. Those fruits of Jesus’ death on the cross come to us in the means of grace: Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and the Word of God. Baptism is salvation and it is enough. The Lord’s Supper is salvation and it is enough. The Word of God is salvation and it is enough. Jesus would teach his disciples in Emmaus that Moses, the Prophets, and all of the Scriptures pointed to him. Moses and the prophets are enough. God’s Word is enough. Jesus is enough. We have all we need for salvation in the Word, in Jesus. “Lord, keep us steadfast in thy Word.” Amen.
Pastor Jeff Caithamer
St John Lutheran Church
Sermons from St John are available here.