Text: Luke 16:19-31
Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
This morning our Gospel reading is one of the most striking stories in the whole Bible. Jesus tells this story about a rich man and a poor man named Lazarus who lives outside the rich man’s gate. There are many sermons that could be preached on this text just by focusing the rich man and how he neglects to do anything to help poor Lazarus who is suffering out there at the gate of his extensive property. It seems obvious, this rich man ought to have done something, anything, to help out Lazarus. But this morning I’d like to get us thinking in a bit of a different direction, I’d like us to focus on Lazarus.
Lazarus is in a pretty miserable situation as we meet him in our reading today. He is laying out there at the rich man’s gate. He has basically been abandoned there. Somebody got tired of having Lazarus around so they pick him up and carried him somewhere so that he would be someone else’s problem. They tossed him down on the ground outside the rich man’s gate and figured that maybe the rich guy would do something for Lazarus, but Lazarus gets no help at all. He is poor. Brutally poor. He doesn’t have 2 cents to his name, he has no home, no food, very little clothing, and basically no friends in the world who care enough to take care of him. He has nothing. As he lays there all he wants is to be able to eat some of the crumbs that fall from the rich man’s table. That’s all he wants that would be enough to satisfy him, but even that is out of reach.
As if that weren’t bad enough, Lazarus is covered in sores from head to two. A lifetime of poverty has taken its toll. He body is breaking down and his open sores cause excruciating pain. The only ones who care enough about Lazarus are the dogs who come to lick his sores, but it is hard to tell if they are really helping or just making things worse.
It’s a pretty grim picture. It’s unpleasant just to think about it, honestly. But that was the reality for Lazarus. If we put ourselves in his shoes for a minute, what do you think Lazarus might have been thinking as he sat there outside the rich man’s gate? I wonder if Lazarus ever wondered why this was happening to him or why he couldn’t at least have a fraction of what that rich man had in this world. I know that is what I would be thinking. I wonder if Lazarus questioned why God had seemingly abandoned him like this. Lazarus was a faithful Christian. He knew about the promised Messiah that God had promised to send to save His people and he believed those promises. He knew that God loves and care for His people and that He had promised to save them and all people from their sin. Lazarus knew all this and he believed all this. We know this about Lazarus because at the end of the story Lazarus is in heaven, you don’t get there without this kind of faith. I wonder if Lazarus wondered what the point of this Christian faith is if you’re just left like this outside some rich guy’s gate with no food and dogs licking your sores anyway. Where is God in this?
We don’t really know what Lazarus thought when all this was happening, but it would be natural for Lazarus to think this way, I think. And if Lazarus did wonder about things like this and was troubled and conflicted about these kinds of things then he is hardly the first person or the last to think this way. Any Christian who has ever suffered, who has ever gone through difficult times, has been there too.
We probably have never had it as bad as Lazarus did, very few people in North America have, but like Lazarus it is easy for us to look at the world around us and see how so many people have it so much better than we do. Our sinful hearts are so very quick to covet, to see what other people have and become envious or jealous. This is especially true when things are going badly for us. At times like that we look up from our own misery at the people around us and wonder why we can’t have life the way they have life. Why can’t we just have a fraction of what they have? Why do they have it so good and we have it so bad? “I’m a Christian, for goodness sake, where is God in this?” we might ask ourselves.
Just like Lazarus, we would not be the first to feel this way. A guy in the Old Testament named Asaph was appointed by King David to serve as a musician in the Tabernacle and he wrote a Psalm that expresses these same kinds of thoughts. Here are a few verses from Psalm 73:
1 Certainly God is good to Israel,
and to those whose are pure in heart!
2 But as for me, my feet almost slipped;
my feet almost slid out from under me.
3 For I envied those who are proud,
as I observed the prosperity of the wicked.
4 For they suffer no pain;
their bodies are strong and well-fed.
5 They are immune to the trouble common to men;
they do not suffer as other men do.
13 I concluded, “Surely in vain I have kept my motives pure
and maintained a pure heart.
14 I suffer all day long,
and am punished every morning.”
Asaph says that he knows that God is good to His people Israel, but he did stumble into some doubts because he saw how the wicked people, the people in this world who reject God and His Word, prosper in this life. Everything is good for these people, Asaph notices, they have it easy. So, he comes to the conclusion that everything that he has done trying to live a life faithful to God’s Word has been in vain and useless. “I suffer all day long,” he says, “what is the point of being faithful? The wicked people, the unbelievers, they don’t suffer like me? Where is God in this?”
Where is God in this? Right in the middle of it. When we suffer, when God’s people anywhere in any time and in any place suffer, God is in the midst of it. Because God came to us in human flesh and lived in the midst of all this suffering that we see around us. Jesus came and lived among us, but He also suffered and died for us. In the midst of His suffer He shouted out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Exactly what we might feel in the midst of our suffering and exactly how Lazarus might have felt outside the rich man’s gate. Christ Jesus was forsaken for us so that we can know with certainty that we are never forsaken by our God. He was forsaken so that all our sins could be forgiven, even the sins of looking around at others and coveting the life and possessions that they have. All of it is forgiven. We know that we are never forsaken. Even if we were to suffer and be as destitute and down and out as Lazarus laying outside the rich man’s gate being licked by dogs, we know that we are never forsaken because our sins have been paid for by the blood of Jesus.
Lazarus knew this. This was the faith that sustained him as he suffered and even as he died. Lazarus died. Luke doesn’t even tell us whether or not anybody bothered to bury his body. Maybe no one cared enough. But, his soul was carried by angels to heaven to rest in paradise and wait for the day when Jesus would come again to this earth and raise even that malnourished, sore covered, dog licked body to new and glorious life.
Asaph, the psalm writer, knew this too. Let’s look at a few more words from Psalm 73 where he concludes:
23 But I am continually with you, O Lord;
you hold my right hand.
24 You guide me by your wise advice,
and then you will receive me to glory.
25 Whom do I have in heaven but you?
I desire no one but you on earth.
26 My flesh and my heart may grow weak,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
In the midst of whatever struggle and suffering we face, as much as it seems as if we have been abandoned by our God and the wicked and sinful world around us has won, we know this truth. Our God is continually with us and, one day, when our time on this earth has reached its end, He will receive us into heavenly glory through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Though our flesh may get worn out by the toils and troubles of this world, though our hearts may seem to break and languish under the worries of the day, our God, who came to us in our human flesh and died and rose again to save us, is our strength and portion forever.
The story of Lazarus is, at first, a miserable one. His life is grim and painful. Sometimes our lives might feel like that too, but like Lazarus we look forward to something greater because we are Christians who have faith in Jesus Christ and the power of His death and resurrection. We don’t need to look all around at the world and covet what this world offers because our eyes are fixed on Jesus. No matter what we face in this world, no matter how much it feels like we have been forsaken or cut off, we know that He is always with us and that He is risen from the dead. With Jesus we will rise and the sorrows and sadness of this world will be long gone. In Jesus name, Amen.