Beloved. Things are not always as they seem. What you see advertised on TV in the infomercials are often very different when they arrive in the mail. Even products that you look at and handle in the store are not as good when you start to use them at home. Or, the politician you voted for is very different once in office than in the campaign. Or sometimes we don’t want things to be as they seem—that’s what makes mystery books so interesting to read or detective stories so suspenseful to watch on television. Especially when it comes to the things of God, things are not always as they seem. For example, it seems like it is just water, but instead baptism is water with the word and Holy Spirit who creates new life and faith in us, washing away our sins and bringing us into God’s holy family; or, it looks like bread and wine but it is really Jesus’ very body and blood giving us forgiveness of sin and life. So, yes, things are so often not always as they seem—sometimes for bad and sometimes for good. So, yes, we must be careful about how we judge things—sometimes what we judge as bad is really good and what we judge as good is really bad.
So when it comes down to it, we can be deceived; we can have a wrong judgment on things. This shouldn’t surprise us. After all, we don’t/ can’t know everything. But God does. That means that His judgment is always correct. When the Lord sent the prophet Samuel to anoint one of Jesse’s sons as king of Israel, Samuel thought that David’s older brother was the one. But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, for I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart [1 Sm. 16.7]. Our judgments can be wrong; and at the end of the day all that really matters is God’s judgment—God’s judgment of each one of us. And that’s what we see in today’s Gospel.
As we look at the Gospel, we see a great contrast between God’s judgments and people’s judgment. Jesus begins: There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen, living in luxury every day. A beggar named Lazarus had been laid at his gate. Lazarus was covered with sores and longed to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Besides this, the dogs also came and licked his sores. The usual way of thinking would be that the rich man is the one favored by God—after all God blessed him with so many material goods; the beggar, Lazarus, it follows, would be one cursed by God—after all look at all his suffering and forsakenness. But what was the reality? Who was the one the Lord gave a favorable judgment to? Eventually the beggar died, and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In hell… he was in torment. We dare never judge God’s thoughts to us on our outward circumstance, on how we think God is judging us. Just because one is healthy, wealthy and wise does not necessarily mean that the person is right before God and favorable to Him; nor does it mean that God is rejecting a person or “has it out” for them because of great suffering. Sadly, this is the thinking of much of what passes itself off as American Christianity that looks to prosperity as the sign of God’s thoughts toward a person—look how prosperous their preachers are, raking in the money, God must really be pleased with them. What, though, do we see in Scripture? We hear the Father’s pronouncement on the Son, Jesus [Mt. 17.5]: This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him. And what happened to Jesus? –Betrayal, suffering, death by crucifixion, being forsaken by God. And right when human judgment would say, Jesus was rejected and condemned by God, what do we see? –Resurrection and ascension. There is a huge contrast between God’s and human judgment!
That’s why we never look at outward circumstance as to God’s thought and attitude toward us. Instead, we look to Jesus. As His dear Christians, we are in Him and He is in us. We are in baptism His dear children and heirs of heaven. In Jesus we are forgiven our sins, holy and righteous. To us—as we are by faith united to Christ—God says: This is My beloved Child, in whom I am well pleased. That’s God’s verdict/ judgment on His dear Christian—no matter what the outward circumstance may be; no matter what the human judgment may be; no matter what our own heart may be telling us. Cling to the outward fact of your baptism. Cling to Jesus coming to you in grace in His word and Sacrament—especially as He unites Himself with you in Holy Communion. There is the reality of God’s verdict on you—you are in Jesus His dear Christian and He is richly blessing you with every heavenly and spiritual blessing and working everything for your spiritual good even in/ precisely in the midst of your sorrows and sufferings. In His grace He will give you the truly good things—both now and eternally.
Here we really see the difference between how God judges and how people tend to judge what are “the good things.” In our text we hear Abraham, in heaven, telling the rich man in hell: “Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus received bad things. But now he is comforted here, and you are in misery.” The key phrase seems to be your good things. The rich man received what he thought were the good things and Lazarus received what the rich man thought were bad things. Again, notice the contrast between people’s and God’s judgment. Because the rich man thought wealth upon wealth was the good thing, that’s what he pursued; everything had to be geared toward that goal. And if there were any thoughts about God and heaven—again the false thought: God must be pleased with me look at all I have!
Notice how vital it is that we rightly judge what truly the good things are. What the rich man in our text and so many in our materialistic society say are the good things are really nothing more than a life focused on self/ self- centeredness. To put it differently, unbelief in the true God shows itself in self-centeredness; that’s because we make ourselves our god—we serve ourselves and our needs first; we become the standard of what is right and wrong, of what is it that makes me, that is, self/ ego happy. Look at that description of the rich man Jesus gives in our text: There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen, living in luxury every day. If the Lord gives us wealth, there’s nothing wrong with that; it is what He wants for us. The Lord blessed Abraham, who we meet in our text and he is in heaven, with great wealth—so much that he even had his own private army. The difference is how that wealth is used. If we use wealth as a means/ instrument to serve others, that is a good thing; but if we make wealth our goal, then it becomes our idol, or if we use wealth to serve self, then we become the idol/ god. The Lord gave the rich man ample opportunity—literally placing it at his doorstep—to use his wealth: A beggar named Lazarus had been laid at his gate. But what was the fruit of his wealth? Service to self: he was dressed in purple and fine linen, living in luxury every day. Notice what is forgotten here—God and neighbor, love of God and neighbor. This rich man was certainly rich but not in God [Lk. 12.21]/ not in the things of God.
The world places a premium on wealth/ money; to those that pursue wealth as their god or want wealth so they can serve self, the Lord says: you received your good things. Let us not think that we are not guilty of this sin if we want “only a little more, not thousands or millions.” May we find our great contentment with what the Lord provides us/ blesses us with and consider His judgment of what we need better than our judgment.
What does the world consider “good”? Wealth! What does it place in lesser importance, if at all? The things of God! His holy word that proclaims Him and His work and which gives us the fruit of His saving work—the forgiveness of sin and eternal life! The rich man in hell says to Abraham in heaven: I beg you, father, send him to my father’s home, because I have five brothers—to warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.” “Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets. Let them listen to them.’ “‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ “Abraham replied to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’” What a contrast between God’s judgment and people’s judgment. Here is the word of God—the very means that He uses to work faith in our hearts, faith that holds to Jesus and His saving work, faith that receives eternal life and longs to be with our Lord eternally in heaven together with all the saints and holy angels. Such a great and precious gift, the Lord gives us through the humble instruments of word, water, bread and wine. This rich man—very much a man of the world and thinking like the world—thinks the word of God/ Moses and the Prophets will not/ cannot be enough to work faith, to save his brothers, but some sign, some dog and pony show will, but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent. But Abraham, in heaven, knows better; he knows how little if at all the people of the world value the things of God: ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”
Here is the call for us to examine our own hearts and lives and each to ask him/ her self: what do I consider good—what the world does or what God does? Do I hold to and treasure as my true good the things of God? Are my good things the things of God? Am I rich in God? And here we again see the contrast between God’s and people’s judgments. A beggar named Lazarus had been laid at his gate. Lazarus was covered with sores and longed to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Besides this, the dogs also came and licked his sores. Here most would not at all say that Lazarus was enjoying the good things; they wouldn’t say he was enjoying the blessings of the Lord. But, oh, how things are not as they seem! Here was a man literally dumped at the rich man’s gates, a man full of sores, whose only companions, for better or worse, were dogs licking his wounds—but what? He was receiving the good things of God—forgiveness of sin, peace, eternal life. Here was a man whose faith was very much evident—in his suffering. He bore his poverty, hunger and grief with patience; and He commended His plight to God. He didn’t grumble against God. He didn’t complain about the rich man, demanding food from him; he didn’t complain of how unfairly the wealth was distributed. Instead, He was content with how God treated him. Why not? He had his good things—what he considered good things: the forgiveness of sin, peace with God, a glorious eternity in heaven awaiting him. In other words, by faith—a faith worked by the word of Moses and the Prophets—he had invisible treasures! Because the beggar judged things differently—because he judged things as God judged them—he was already now receiving his good things. And not only now, but because the things of God are eternal and heavenly, Lazarus would receive his good things into all eternity!
And again, things are not always as they seem. The very one who seemed to be forsaken by God now, wasn’t—after all, when the beggar died… the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. But the one who seemed—by human estimation—to be most blessed by God was really forsaken by Him, now and eternally: The rich man also died and was buried. In hell … he was in torment. The difference was hearing and believing the word and in faith receiving its blessings. May we regard as good what God regards as good—His word that proclaims Jesus and gives us gifts He won for us—and in the joyous and glorious certainty of faith be assured of His grace, mercy, blessing and help —no matter how things may seem outwardly—both now and for all eternity. INJ Amen