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The Testimony of Moses and the Prophets

First Sunday after Trinity

June 18, 2017

Luke 16:19–31

This is now the second time in the Gospel according to Luke that we are shown in visible form those who have gone from this life into heaven. When Jesus ascended the Mount of Transfiguration and displayed His glory Moses and Elijah appeared with Him. There they were, representatives of the written Word of God, what we know of as the Old Testament. Moses represented the first part, the Torah, the first five books. Elijah represented the next part, the prophets.

As they stood with Jesus they spoke with Him about His exodus, His departure. There was Jesus displayed in glory and speaking with Moses and Elijah about His impending suffering and death. This, after all, was what all of Moses and the prophets were pointing to in their writings.

And now here in this second instance we are shown the father of the people of God, Abraham. Whereas Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus here on earth, in the Gospel reading today we are shown a glimpse of heaven. Abraham is standing up in heaven to welcome Lazarus when he dies.

What do we learn from these moments when the Scriptures give us a glimpse of those who have gone before us? We are shown that what has been written down by the prophets of the Old Testament and the apostles of the New Testament are not mere stories and not simply information. They show us a living faith, not a dead religion. Those who believe in the true God do not simply die and come to an end but live forever in the presence of God. The alternative is not simply death either. It is eternal torment.

As Jesus speaks of a man who is fabulously wealthy and indulges in his every desire, he has no thought of the needs of others. His thoughts are not even of his own needs. It is simply the desires of his flesh, as he lives lavishly and enjoys his self-satisfying life.

On the other end of the scale is a man who is so poor that his longing is for whatever might fall from the rich man’s table. Lazarus is laid at the gate of the rich man every day and covered with sores. The dogs that roam around the vicinity come and lick his sores. The rich man’s every desire is met whereas Lazarus’ basic needs are not.

When Lazarus dies he is carried by the angels to the bosom of Abraham. But when the rich man dies we are told that he is simply buried. But then Jesus tells us that he has ended up in hell. The rich man looks up in his torment and sees Lazarus in heaven in the bosom of Abraham. He knows his punishment is sealed. But he asks for a small amount of mercy. “Father Abraham, please send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water so that I can cool my tongue.” His anguish is unbearable in the flame and a small amount of mercy would give him a small amount of reprieve.

The rich man had called Abraham Father and so Abraham calls him Child. “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.” The sealing of the man’s punishment does not allow for even the slightest reprieve. He received his good things in his life and now he will suffer for eternity. On the other hand, Lazarus received bad things but will be comforted for eternity.

Is Abraham saying that if you have a good things in this life you will go to hell and if you have bad things you will go to heaven? It’s actually the opposite. What was it the rich man had in his lifetime? He had exactly what he wanted. He had all the good things at his disposal and he shut everything else out, but primarily God. He did not fear, love, and trust in God above all things. He rather wanted nothing to do with God. He had everything he wanted. And so now in hell he had exactly what he had wanted, to be without God.

Lazarus was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. Though he had nothing in this life but bad things, he clung to the promise that had first been given to Abraham. We were shown that promise in the Old Testament reading. God promised that through his offspring would come salvation. Lazarus, though his life was without comfort, now was the recipient of that eternal promise to Abraham.

But even if Abraham had wanted to give a slight reprieve to the rich man, it was impossible because there was a great chasm affixed between heaven and hell. No one could cross from there to heaven and no one could go from heaven to hell. Once you die you are going to one place or the other. It is the next conversation that tells us how you know which one it is.

The rich man realizes there is no hope or help for himself and so he pleads to Abraham to send Lazarus to his household to warn his five brothers so that they don’t end up in this place of torment. Abraham’s response is pointed: “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.” They are those we saw before, the ones who wrote the Old Testament, what Abraham was referring to as the Bible, since the New Testament had not been written yet.

Just think for a moment of all the things Abraham could have said that was available to them. Well, just look at all the different religions to see all the many things people look to for hope. Abraham points to one thing: The Word of God. Moses and the prophets wrote the words that would give people what they need for eternal life and to escape eternal torment. The rich man had had it and had rejected it. And even in hell he was still rejecting it.

He said to Abraham, “No, Father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.” It makes sense. If you were visited in such a way, especially when someone such as Lazarus could speak to you of the glories of heaven, it would seem that you would repent. But Abraham remains steadfast. “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.”

The simple fact is you either believe the Word of God or you don’t. It is the same Word and it is the same Word for all. Those who entrust themselves to the things of this life have them for this life only. They don’t entrust themselves to God and therefore are separated from Him forever.

On the other hand, consider what you have. It may not be much. It may be quite a lot. Whether you have a lot or a little, you have what Lazarus had. You have Moses and the Prophets and their testimony. You believe in what that testimony points to. The rich man was convinced that if someone would rise from the dead then his brothers would repent. But even when Christ Himself rose from the dead there were those who refused to repent.

No matter what you have or don’t have, what you think you need or what you desire, your Lord who has risen from the grave invites you to commune in the heavenly realms as heaven comes to earth and you commune with Abraham and Moses and Elijah and Lazarus and the angels and the archangels and all the company of heaven. The simple testimony of Moses and the Prophets is eternal glory in Christ through His death and resurrection. Amen.