Oak Forest, Illinois June 28, 2015
by Pastor Robert J. Lietz Oak Park, Illinois
Text: Luke 16:29
In the name of Jesus Christ, dear friends:
Our sermon text for this Convention Worship Service is Luke 16, verse 29, where it is written that Abraham in heaven was asked by a certain rich man in hell how his five brothers, still living in the world, might escape the torment of eternal damnation. Abraham answered: “They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.”
This is just one of many very clear verses in the Bible which point us to Holy Scripture as the only source of information about the way to heaven and the only means by which the Holy Spirit works in the sinful hearts of people the second birth (I Peter 1:23), moving them to receive God’s gracious forgiveness (Acts 10:43) and the promise of the “inheritance” in “heaven” (I Peter 1:4) that Jesus “bought” ( I Corinthians 6:20a) with His holy “precious blood” (I Peter 1:19a). As we continue to study and consider the theme of our convention this year, the words of Abraham in our text direct us to
The Sufficiency of Moses and the Prophets
- For the saving faith, and
- For the Christian’s life.
“Moses and the prophets” is another name which the Bible uses for the Scriptures of the Old Testament. Abraham said to the rich man in hell concerning his five brothers: “They have Moses and the prophets [the Old Testament writings]; let them hear them.” They had the Old Testament Scriptures, Abraham said; they were exposed to them in an outward way; but they did not “hear” them, not with open ears to hear their living, “ powerful” (Hebrews 4:12a) words nor with the “hearing of faith” (Galatians 3:2) created by the Holy Ghost through their general hearing for their “understanding” (Psalm 119:104a). In Matthew 13, Jesus clearly described those who are like the rich man in hell, in that “hearing they hear not, neither do they understand. And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias [Isaiah], which saith: ‘By hearing ye shall hear and shall not understand, and seeing ye shall see and shall not perceive, for this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them’” (vv. 13-15).
When the rich man wanted some relief from his torments in hell, he cried out: “Father Abraham, have mercy on me and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am tormented in this flame” (v. 24). However, the time for “mercy” in the rich man’s life was past. The writer to the Hebrews, in chapter 9, clearly supports that fact with these words of truth: “It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment” (v. 27). Abraham had to say “No” to that proposal by the rich man. Abraham reminded him: “Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things and likewise Lazarus evil things, but now he is comforted and thou art tormented. And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that they which would pass from hence [from here, from heaven] to you cannot, neither can they pass to us that would come from thence [from there, from hell where you are]” (vv. 25-26). Since Lazarus could not come to the rich man in hell and relieve him even in some small way of “the wages of [his] sin” (Romans 6:23a), the rich man had another proposal that he set before Abraham, when he said to him: “I pray thee therefore, Father, that thou wouldest send him [Lazarus] to my father’s house, for I have five brethren, that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment” (vv. 27-28). The rich man thought that by the miraculous appearance of Lazarus raised from the dead his five brothers would escape hell, that “place of torment.” But Abraham said to him: “They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.” Those five unbelieving brothers needed to hear, even just with their ears, the Old Testament Scriptures; for those writings of Moses and the prophets alone had the power to convert those five, unbelieving brothers and save them from the everlasting torments of hell. But the unbelieving brother in hell disagreed with Abraham’s pointing him to Moses and the Prophets when he said: “Nay [No], Father Abraham, but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent” (v. 30). Abraham not only rejected this ungodly and humanly-devised plan of the rich man, but Abraham also set before the rich man the sufficiency of Scripture for saving faith when he said to him: “If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they [the five brothers] be persuaded though one rose from the dead” (v. 31). If the rich man’s five brothers will not even open their ears to a superficial hearing of “Moses and the prophets,” which were sufficient to “persuade” them of their many sins (Psalm 130:3), sufficient to work true contrition or sorrow in their hearts (Psalm 51:17), sufficient to reveal to them the substitutionary suffering and sacrifice of the Messiah for the “forgiveness” (Psalm 130:4a) of their “transgressions” (Isaiah 53:5a), and sufficient to work in them saving faith in God’s mercy for Christ’s sake, then nothing would persuade them, not even Lazarus coming back “from the dead” (Luke 16:31b).
When Jesus spoke these words of our text in Luke 16, the New Testament Scriptures were not yet in existence; the Old Testament Scriptures alone had been written down: “Moses,” the instrument of “the Holy Ghost” (II Peter 1:21b) in writing down the first five books of the Old Testament, and “the prophets,” designated as the Holy Ghost’s instruments in writing down the remaining books of the Old Testament. These Old Testament Scriptures proclaim and set forth, first of all, the Law of God which declares: “Ye shall be holy; for I, the Lord your God, am holy” (Leviticus 19:2); “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (v. 18); “The poor shall never cease out of the land; therefore I command thee saying, Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy brother, to thy poor, and to thy needy in thy land” (Deuteronomy 15:11); and in Ezekiel 18: “The soul that sinneth, it shall die” (v. 20). These verses clearly show us that “Moses and the prophets” were sufficient to teach the rich man his duty toward poor Lazarus, sufficient to convict him of his sin in neglecting Lazarus, and sufficient to work in him genuine sorrow for his sins and the dread of damnation. But the rich man did not “hear Moses and the prophets,” not even with his ears, and he rejected God’s efforts to prepare his heart for the hearing of the Gospel unto salvation
Secondly, the Old Testament Scriptures proclaim and set forth the very same Gospel as do the New Testament Scriptures, that is, God’s undeserved grace and mercy for the world of sinners, to give blessing to “all the nations of the earth” (Genesis 22:18b), on account of the sacrifice and service of the “Seed” (Genesis 3:15) of the woman, who was most certainly “Christ” (Galatians 3:16), God’s Messiah. Moses, in the second book of the Old Testament, quotes God’s own declaration of His merciful forgiveness, saying: “The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin” (Exodus 34:6-7). The prophet Isaiah, in chapter 53, declared that “the Lord hath laid on Him [the Messiah, Christ Jesus] the iniquity of us all” (v. 6b). “Moses and the prophets,” the Old Testament Scriptures, were fully sufficient to give the good news of God’s marvelous forgiveness for the sins of all sinners through the perfect obedience and the sinless suffering of the Messiah, Christ Jesus, who “was wounded for our transgressions; He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon Him, and with His stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). And those same Old Testament Scriptures were fully sufficient to convert precious souls to the saving faith, that they might receive God’s forgiveness for Jesus’ sake and the gift of everlasting life in heaven. The Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy “that from a child [he had] known the Holy Scriptures [the Old Testament Scriptures], which [were] able to make [him] wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (II Timothy 3:15). And in Acts 10, the Apostle Peter said to Cornelius, his relatives, and his close friends: “To Him [that is, to Christ, the Messiah] give all the prophets witness, that through His name whosoever believeth in Him shall receive remission of sins” (v. 43).
By God’s grace, Lazarus had heard with his ears and believed with his heart what “Moses and the prophets” had said; for by means of that “incorruptible seed” the poor beggar had been “born [again]” (I Peter 1:23) as a child of God and an heir of heaven. And when he died, “the sufferings of this present time [were] not worthy to be compared with the glory that [was] revealed in him” (Romans 8:18) when the angels carried his soul into Abraham’s bosom (Luke 16:22). But the rich man turned away his ears from the “hearing” of God’s Word (Proverbs 28:9), from hearing “Moses and the prophets,” and rejected the sincere efforts of the Holy Ghost by the same Old Testament Scriptures to work in him true repentance and saving faith in the only Savior for sinners. The tragic result of the rich man’s unbelief, his refusal to hear “Moses and the Prophets,” was that he “died, and was buried; and in hell he lifted up his eyes being in torments” (Luke 16:22b-23a) in the “everlasting fire” (Matthew 25:41b) of hell, the true “wages of [his] sin” (Romans 6:23). Because he refused to hear “Moses and the prophets,” he died an unbeliever (Mark 16:16b).
It is most certainly true that “Moses and the prophets,” the Old Testament Scriptures, are sufficient, by themselves, to bring lost and condemned sinners to genuine contrition and to saving faith in God’s finished, perfect gift in the Messiah, in Christ, the gift of free forgiveness and completely flawless righteousness for the Messiah’s sake, for Christ’s sake. In one of our seminary classes, Introduction to the Old Testament, the students had the assignment to read the entire Old Testament and keep a record of all direct and indirect references to God’s grace and mercy in the Messiah toward all sinners. This assignment brought both the professor and the students to see ever more clearly the magnitude of the revelation of the Gospel of God’s grace and mercy in the Messiah as revealed in the Old Testament Scriptures.
Abraham also points us to “Moses and the prophets,” which are sufficient to keep and preserve us in the saving faith in Christ Jesus, our Savior. As St. Paul wrote to Timothy, “From a child [most of us too have] known the Holy Scriptures [the Old Testament Scriptures], which are able to make [us] wise unto salvation through faith which in Christ Jesus” (II Timothy 3:15). We too, have the Word of God in its truth and purity. Let us not only continue to “hear” these Scriptures with our ears in our public worship services, in our Sunday School and Bible classes, in our adult instruction classes, in our confirmation classes, and in our home devotions; but let us, who enjoy “the hearing of faith” (Galatians 3:2) worked in us by the Holy Spirit, continue to hear these Scriptures with our hearts, by faith hearing with grateful hearts God’s holy Law, which shows us our sins (Romans 3:20b), our imperfections (Matthew 5:48), and our failures to be as “holy” as God Himself is holy (Leviticus 19:2), so that with broken and contrite hearts we continue to despair of our own merit and worthiness. Let us also continue to hear with our hearts, in the Scriptures of both the Old and New Testaments, the good, wonderful, and marvelous news of the Gospel, that Gospel which announces to us that “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing [not charging] their trespasses unto them, and hath committed unto us the Word of Reconciliation” (II Corinthians 5:19) to comfort our broken and contrite hearts with the assurance of forgiveness, life, and salvation. Oh, my dear brethren, let us remember the priceless words of our Savior in John 8: “If ye continue in My Word, then are ye My disciples indeed, and ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free” (vv. 31-32), free from the “curse of the Law” (Galatians 3:13a) because Christ Jesus was “made a curse for us” (v. 13b), free from the “torments” of hell (Luke 16:23), as Lazarus and Abraham were free from those torments because Christ Jesus suffered those torments for them, for us, and for “all” (II Corinthians 5:15a). There is no other source of God’s peace, comfort, hope, and salvation in Christ Jesus than what “Moses and the prophets” reveal to us in the Old Testament and, for us today, what also the apostles and evangelists reveal to us in the New Testament, that we “might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing [we] might have life through His name” (John 20:31).
However, the Word of God is not only profitable and sufficient for daily convicting us of our sins through His holy Law and daily preserving of our faith in His undeserved grace through “the Gospel of Christ, …the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth” (Romans 1:16). For, as now we preach, in the second place, that “Moses and the prophets” are also profitable and sufficient as the Holy Spirit’s means by which He produces in the believing Christian a life of “good works” (Matthew 5:16), a life of “much fruit” (John 15:5), a life of gratitude, as we live unto Him who lived, “died” and “rose again” (II Corinthians 5:15b) for us.
The Apostle Paul reminded Timothy that “Moses and the prophets,” the Old Testament Scriptures, were “given by inspiration of God, and [are] profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect [complete], thoroughly furnished well fitted out, well-equipped] unto all good works” (II Timothy 3:16-17). The Lord Jesus said that “every branch in Me that beareth not fruit [the heavenly Husbandman] taketh away” (John 15:2); and James, in his epistle, wrote that “faith without works is dead” (2:20b). We can therefore rightly assume that poor Lazarus, as a believing Christian who was taken to heaven upon his death, had lived a Godly life here in this world, not to gain entrance into heaven (Ephesians 2:9; etc.) but as the fruit and evidence of his faith in his Savior, who had gained that entrance for him (II Corinthians 5:15). As a “beggar” (Luke 16:20a) “destitute of daily food” (James 2:15), and having a body “full of sores” (v. 20b of our text) much like Job in the Old Testament, we can rightly assume that Lazarus, according to his New Man, suffered “patiently” (I Peter 2:20) without grumbling or complaining or blaming God for his trying circumstances but glorified “God” (Romans 15:6) in the day of tribulation. We have absolutely nothing in our text that even suggests otherwise. Where did Lazarus receive “instruction in righteousness” for his sanctified life? Where but“ Moses and the prophets,” specifically in the Proverbs, where Solomon instructed him: “My son, despise not the chastening of the Lord, neither be weary of His correction; for whom the Lord loveth He correcteth, even as a father the son in whom he delighteth” (Proverbs 3:11-12; see also Hebrews 12:6ff.). How could Lazarus, as a believing child of God, grumble and complain when he had a heavenly Father who loved him so much that He forgave him all of his sins and gave him the inheritance-gift of heaven solely and only because of what Christ, the Messiah, did and suffered as the ransom-price for his redemption? (Cf. Titus 2:11-14). How could he? —a completely appropriate question for the child of God to ask himself in his daily battle with the Old Adam of sin, which tempts him to the grievous sin of murmuring against God (I Corinthians 10:10). How could Lazarus grumble and complain when he had a God who loved Him that much and showed it by chastening him? How could he? How could we, why would we, when “the love of Christ constraineth us” (II Corinthians 5:14a) to do the very opposite, when “they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh [and continue to crucify it] with the affections and lusts” (Galatians 5:24) motivated and enabled by the Gospel? (Compare Joseph’s question in Genesis 39:9.) Lazarus had learned from “Moses and the prophets,” from Genesis 50:20 for example, and had patiently trusted what you and I know and by God’s grace believe from the instruction of the Apostle Paul, “that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). Abraham said of Lazarus. “Now he is comforted” (v. 25b). In heaven, Lazarus was now delivered from the “evil things” (v. 25b) which he had suffered on earth. The Apostle Paul, in Romans 8, wrote that “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (v. 18).
The works of the rich man in hell (and presumably of his five brothers still on earth) were the rotten, stinking works produced by persistent impenitence, sinful pride, and arrogant unbelief! Though they had “Moses and the prophets” which were “able to make [them] wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus,” they turned their ears away from them, they rejected the message of God’s Law, they refused to confess their sins, they turned their hearts away from the substitutionary, perfect work of the Messiah, and they despised the mercy and grace of God in the Messiah, wanting nothing to do with His righteousness and spurning His forgiveness. They therefore brought upon themselves the “ swift destruction” ( II Peter 2:1b) of God’s “wrath” (John 3:36b). The rich man, before he ended up in hell, showed his unbelief, his disregard and rejection of God’s instruction through Moses in Deuteronomy 15, where the Lord God Himself said: “If there be among you a poor man of one of thy brethren within any of thy gates in thy land which the Lord thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not harden thy heart, nor shut thy hand from the poor brother, but thou shalt open thy hand wide unto him, and shalt surely lend him sufficient for his need, in that which he wanteth” (vv. 7-8). The selfish, self-centered life of the rich man while he was on earth was proof that he was an unbeliever, a child of the devil, and an heir of “everlasting punishment” (Matthew 25:46a).
If the rich man’s five brothers would “hear Moses and the prophets” speak to them the demanding message of God’s Law, this is the only means by which the Holy Spirit produces “a broken and a contrite heart” (Psalm 51:17b; cf. Jeremiah 23:29). If the rich man’s five brothers would “hear Moses and the prophets” in the wonderful message of the Gospel, this is the only means by which the Holy Spirit brings to “broken and…contrite heart[s]” the marvelous news of sin “forgiven” and “covered” (Psalm 32:1) by God on account of the finished work of the “Redeemer” (Job 19:25) for “all the nations of the earth” (Genesis 22:18a), that work which satisfied God’s justice and God’s holiness. This wonderful message of the Gospel is the only means by which the Holy Ghost works in penitent hearts the faith to take the comfort of this Gospel of Christ in “Moses and the prophets,” the comfort that God has removed their sins from them “as far as the east is from the west” (Psalm 103:12). And it is this comfort of God’s forgiveness for Jesus’ sake, received by faith, which will move the heart to continue to “hear Moses and the prophets” and to bring “forth much fruit; for without [Christ you] can do nothing” (John 15:5b); for “without faith [in Christ] it is impossible to please [God]” (Hebrews 11:6a).
Let us, dear brethren, by God’s rich grace, always be “swift to hear” (James 1:19a) the precious Word of our merciful God, in both the Old and New Testaments of His unchanging revelation of Himself to us poor sinners, eager to hear with our ears and with our hearts the words “which are able to make [and keep us] wise unto salvation by faith which is in Christ Jesus” and to train us in holiness of living to the praise of the glory of His grace! For it is the good and gracious will of our God that, through His powerful, all-sufficient Word and His Sacraments, we are kept through faith unto salvation (I Peter 1:5), ready to receive at the end of our lives in this world the everlasting “comfort” and joy of heaven with Lazarus, Abraham, and all true believers in Christ Jesus, our dear and only Savior, “who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto Himself a peculiar [a special] people, zealous of good works” (Titus 2:14) for His sake. Amen.