Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
The rich man was in hell. He deserved to be there, for he failed to love his neighbor, and, in doing so, he failed to love God. So he was in hell, tormented as only one who resides in hell can be tormented. Still, he was convinced that he had a way to save his brothers from those torments of Hell that he was experiencing. All it would take would be for this poor, dead Lazarus to make an appearance at the house of the rich man’s father. Surely there is nothing like an appearance from the dead to change the hearts of callous sinners into faithful believers! At least, that’s what the misguided soul of the rich man dearly hopes.
But Abraham knows differently. It’s not as simple as that. Even the appearance of one who is risen from the dead will not be enough to change the heart of the unbeliever. That power is reserved for Moses and the Prophets. Only the Word of God has the power to convert those who do not believe. It is the Word of God alone that gives faith and life, and this is a gift that can only be given by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Our world has a problem with hell. Our world has a problem with the idea that faith is an important thing. As much as we might like to think that magical appearances of the face of Jesus on a piece of toasted bread or some vision of the Virgin Mary will cause nonbelievers to turn from their wicked ways and become Christians, it will not happen. But more than that, anyone who believes in a heaven, even if they don’t believe in Jesus, is convinced they belong inside those heavenly gates, resting in Abraham’s bosom.
How could someone who claims to be a loving God allow His children to be banished forever from His presence? How could someone who claims to be a loving God allow His children to be tormented forever in hell? Even representatives of our country think it is hateful, and maybe even a hate crime, to believe that those who do not believe in Jesus as the Son of God will be condemned by God to everlasting suffering. They blame God and His faithful children for what they believe to be such horrible ideas. But the truth is, those who do not believe condemn themselves; God just gives the person what they want: an eternity without God. That’s the practice the Church calls “excommunication,” when those who claim to be Christians but act contrary to the faith exclude themselves from the fellowship of the Church. The unrepentant sinner has excluded himself; the Church just nods its head and says, “Okay. We hope you’ll come back to us.”
True repentance for our sin and true faith can only come from the Word of God. It is the Word of God that points us to Christ, whose death and resurrection alone bring us to the comfort of eternal life. There is no otherworldly vision, no ghost, not even someone rising from the dead, which will bring the unrepentant to faith. The leaders of the Jews in our Lord’s day saw the evidence that the real Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha, rose from the dead; it did not bring them to faith in Jesus or repentance for their unbelief. Only the Word of God by the power of the Holy Spirit can make repentance and belief come to the hearts of sinners.
And that’s exactly what the Spirit does. The Spirit comes to the sinner in the waters of Holy Baptism, where the Word of God in the water brings repentance and faith. The sinner is drowned to die with Christ, cleansed in that holy flood, so that the new man emerges to a new life in Christ. And the Spirit continues to feed that repentance and faith in the preaching of the Word and in the body and blood of Jesus. Where is the best place to hear Moses and the Prophets? You are already here, for God’s Word is proclaimed in its fullness when God’s people gather together to receive His gifts. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.