Sermon Text: Luke 16:19-31
Seminarian Barty Cox
“Salvation lies within.” Maybe you remember this quote from the movie Shawshank Redemption. Convicted felon Andy Dufresne finds himself facing a surprise cell inspection from the prison guards and warden. As the warden leaves the cell, he gives Andy his Bible back and offers him this memorable quote. At the end of the movie, that same warden is surprised to find that Andy had turned his Bible into an object to hide the little hammer that he used to tunnel his way out of the prison walls. Salvation lies within. Shawshank Redemption gives an interesting take on the salvation that the Bible gives. But this movie, as great as it is, really misses the point though. In our gospel lesson for today, Jesus shows us exactly what kind of salvation the Bible has to offer, and then he asks us where salvation lies with us.
Jesus had spent the last few years of his life going from town to town healing the sick and preaching. As he did so, he was growing in popularity. Large crowds would come out to hear this powerful man speak, some hoped to have their diseases cured, and others just wanted to see a miracle or two. As the crowds grew more and more excited to see Jesus, so did the opposition. It seems like everywhere Jesus went, he was accompanied by the Pharisees who wanted nothing more than to see Jesus thrown in prison because of his preaching. From time to time, Jesus would engage with these Pharisees, whom the evangelist, Luke, describes as “lovers of money.”
In chapter 16 of his gospel, Luke describes some of Jesus teachings about money. Jesus gives his disciples and the Pharisees a valuable lesson, he offers them the parable of the shrewd manager. This manager found himself in deep water with his master, and then he reduced a few debts and got back on his master’s good side. All this to teach them how to use their money and to show them that you really can’t serve to masters. Then Jesus calls out those “lovers of money,” the Pharisees. “God knows your hearts. What you Pharisees hold with such high esteem is detestable in God’s eyes.” In our gospel, we find a great illustration of this lesson- that you can’t serve both God and money.
Here we meet two men. Two men who were at very different places in this life. A Rich man, and the poor beggar, Lazarus. The rich man was so driven by the things of this world. He wore the finest, most expensive clothing. There was nothing in the rich man’s wardrobe that was handed down, nothing that came from a Walmart store. This man dressed like a king. Purple, fine linens, it was all the best.
And he didn’t just dress like a king. The rich man’s whole life would’ve made an actual king jealous. He lived in a big mansion with a massive gate. He ate the best food, went to high class parties. The rich man lived like the celebrities in Hollywood. Every single day of this guy’s life was a party.
His life was all about himself. “How can I live a better, happier life today?” This man had a lot of really nice things. But it was never enough. The rich man’s whole life had turned into putting one more thing on the shelf, into wearing an even fancier garment or piece of jewelry. Every pursuit, every dollar he made was all for himself.
Maybe he did make some time for others, maybe he thought he was helpful. After all, he never kicked Lazarus off his property. But there was someone he definitely forgot about. The rich man never found time for God because eventually, he died, and he found himself in hell. He stored up plenty of treasures for himself on earth, but it was all for nothing. His desire to have more fun, to have the nicest things got in the way. The Rich man’s longing for pleasure on this earth caused him to ignore the one thing that could’ve given him eternal pleasure. He didn’t take Jesus’ advice, he let his money push God right out of his life.
Most of us probably don’t live like the rich man. We don’t have disposable income that we can spend just for the sake of spending. I don’t see people dressed like kings and queens, and I didn’t see a bunch of sports cars in the parking lot. We don’t have the means that the rich man had, but you and I aren’t really all that different from him. In fact, often times we act just like the rich man did.
There are 168 hours in a week. How am I going to fill them? I have an empty space in my garage. What am I going to put there? We are people of this world, and we want more. We’ve all got this longing inside of us. It tells us we need to have more, we need to have the best. And often this longing consumes us. This desire for more can grow so big and completely take over, and our lives become all about me, myself, and I.
We see something we like, and our eyes get a little bigger. We hear about the place our neighbor visited and all we think about is how can I get myself over there? So often, we think about pleasure in this short life, and we forget that, because of Jesus, we have an eternity to look forward to. And chasing after our pleasures can even get in the way of our God. We push God off to the side. He’s always going to be there for me, but this or that item won’t be.
When we do this, we do exactly what the rich man did. We forget about God, and our money and possessions take his place. “Money would definitely solve this issue. I work so hard during the week, now I get my chance to play.” We just expect that our time and our money will make our lives a bit better. So, when times get a little tough, we’re tempted to go straight to money. That gives us comfort, that gives us relief. We don’t always see that all our good comes from God, we don’t see that he is our refuge, and we seek relief elsewhere.
When we lose sight of God and put our hearts on our money and our pleasure, we play a dangerous game. We walk the path that leads to hell. “The love of money is the root of all evil.” Greed, anger, jealousy, pride, they all come with these wicked pursuits. But even worse than that, earthly pleasure can take over our hearts and push God right out. We forget about him, we forget about his promises- his love and forgiveness, and if this happens when we die, we will wind up in hell, just like the rich man. And once we’re there, there’s no coming back. A great chasm has been fixed, right? Once you’re there, you’re stuck, the times up. No pleasure, only pain. Separation from God forever. Separation from God’s love.
But there is a different path. Remember the other character in this story? The other man was noticeably different from the rich man. Lazarus didn’t live the high life. He lived in the mud and dirt. He attracted all kinds of bugs and germs, and he was covered head to toe in painful sores. Nothing to fill his belly. He couldn’t even move around. The pain from the sores and the malnourishment had him bed ridden. A bunch of dogs came and licked his wounds, but he was too weak to even fend them off. Nobody important noticed Lazarus.
Lazarus was almost the complete opposite from the rich man. From an earthly perspective, the rich man had it all and Lazarus had nothing. But when you compare the two men and what they truly had, you find one thing lacking in the rich man’s life that Lazarus did have. Lazarus means “God has helped.” And did he ever help him. Lazarus knew God, he knew what God did for him. Lazarus knew that he was a sinner just like everyone else. But he knew his savior. Lazarus believed in God’s promise. In that promise, Lazarus’ sins were forgiven. He was God’s child.
God was the rock on which Lazarus put his trust. He didn’t have much during his life on earth, but the one thing he did have meant so much. It seemed like Lazarus had nothing, but he really had it all. He had no earthly treasure; by faith, his treasure was in heaven. And when Lazarus died, he was removed from his misery on earth. He was carried to heaven, to Abraham’s side where he received comfort. This is the difference in these two men. The rich man’s heart was a stone, but Lazarus had faith in God, faith in his savior, Jesus.
This is why there was a complete 180 in these two men’s lives. The rich man had his things. But he didn’t have the one thing he needed. His life was completely devoid of God, and he paid the price when he died. He went from all the pleasure in the world to the worst kind of torment in hell. Not because he was rich. He had been blessed by God in this life, but he wasted it. The rich man didn’t serve God, just himself. And then there’s Lazarus. Even though he was such a poor, miserable soul, he had it all. He found his joy and comfort in Jesus his rock. God didn’t just look down on Lazarus and have pity on his miserable life. God saw the faith in his heart, and Lazarus went to heaven because he trusted in the promise.
And just like Lazarus, we have all that we need- God’s word. God has blessed us in wonderful ways. All that we have is a great gift from him, but he gave us so much more than the money in the bank and the things in our houses. God gave us his word, and that word is sufficient. Just look at the rich man. He had all the things he could’ve ever asked for, but none of those things saved him. And then he begged Abraham, “Please send someone to my brothers. If they see some kind of miracle, they will believe and escape the torment I’m in.” But that wouldn’t do it either. Abraham’s response, “Let them listen to Moses and the prophets.”
Nothing can get miserable sinners like us into heaven except God’s word. No signs, no miracles, no works, just God’s word. And we have that word, that word shows us Jesus! The word tells us what Jesus did for us! Jesus went to the cross for us. He carried all the sins that we would ever commit. Even all the idolatry in our hearts. Yes, Jesus died for people like us. People who would so often rather forget about God and focus on ourselves. Jesus came to die especially for people like us. How many times do we see in the Old Testament a group of idolatrous, hard hearted people? But how much more do we see a God who loved those people, and kept promising them their Messiah, the one who would redeem them, remove their sin and guilt? God came through for them, and he also comes through for us.
In the Bible, we read about our savior. We know that he has removed our guilt. Jesus makes us clean, holy people. When God looks down on us, he doesn’t see idolaters, he doesn’t see people who turn their backs on him. God sees people who have been purchased with his son’s blood. People who are no longer slaves to sin, but people who can come to him, people who can serve him with their lives. People who aren’t doomed. God looks on us and sees people who will be with him in heaven.
So, we read Moses and the prophets. We cherish the word that God has given to us. We cling to the message in the Bible. When we read our Bibles, God tells us, “This is what I’ve done for you. I’ve taken this lowly sinner, and I’ve made him a new person through my son.” When we read our Bibles, God strengthens our faith in him. He brings us closer to himself and all his promises. He gives us comfort in the worst times, he gives us the strength to carry on. You won’t find this in money, you won’t find this in vacations. You won’t find this anywhere except in the word.
Without Jesus we would be lost. But we’re not. We have God’s word. And it is enough! It shows us what Jesus did for us. He went to the cross. He took what we had- greed, idolatry, and he replaced it with righteousness. All for you, so that someday you will be at his side in heaven. Our treasure is not on earth. Our treasure is in heaven. God paints this picture for us so clearly in his word. So, we read the word, we study it, we commit it to memory and put it at the top place in our lives. The Bible gives us all we need. Salvation truly does lie within it. Amen.