Redeemer Ev. Lutheran Church, Iola, WI

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Feasting with God #55 – “The Rich Man and Lazarus”

Feasting with God #55

“The Rich Man and Lazarus”

Text: Luke 16:19-31

19“There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day.  20And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table.  Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores.  22The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side.  The rich man also died and was buried, 23and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side.  24And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’  25But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish.  26And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’  27And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house—28for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’  29But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’  30And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’  31He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise form the dead.’”

This is a concept that is found throughout Scripture’s teachings.  Jesus said it also when he told the disciples: “I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God” (Matt. 19:24).  Paul likewise warned, “Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world….  For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils” (1 Tim. 6:6-10).  And Jesus also stated, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, / but by every word that comes from the mouth of God’” (Matt. 4:4).

Countless times throughout Scripture this concept is repeated.  It is the concept of the man who sees his self-sufficiency and obtains what reward he can earn, and of the man who sees his need and obtains what reward is given freely.  Scripture does not say that it is impossible for a rich man to enter heaven, but instead, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:26).  This is what Abraham told the rich man in this account: “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.”

Noticeably, the rich man does not like this answer, because he knows that his family will not accept this.  They, like him, are probably rich, relying on their wealth and comfort.  The rich man sees no need in himself.  Therefore he sees no need to have faith in anyone but himself.  The one who seeks his reward in earth will have his reward in earth, and nowhere else.

But the poor man, Lazarus, “who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table,” only the scraps, the most unworthy pieces, he sees how deep his own need is.  It is a constant illustration in his own life that he cannot save himself.  The Law has been and continues without stopping to be preached to his soul.  This left him in terror of hell, worrying that the fires of torment would come upon him.

The irony of the story is that the one who was full of comfort in his position found himself in torment, while the one who was tormented in his position found himself in comfort.  This can only be because, as Abraham says, “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.”  The rich man did not heed the Word of God.  Lazarus did—that is the impression we are left with.

Human nature seeks to build a god and confidence in anything—anything—other than the pure Word of God.  It may be riches or wealth; it may be our own abilities; it may be our families, our love, our good feelings.  But none of these grant the assurance of salvation.  Instead, salvation is found most assuredly, certainly, without doubt, in Scripture, where we find one of these prophets pronouncing:

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn. (Is. 61:1, 2).

To this, Jesus said, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21).  He is the fulfillment of all Scripture, the source, the climax, the one in whom we rely.  We could not save ourselves, but in hearing the Word of God, we see that he has already saved us.

Eternal God, our Savior Jesus Christ, give us grace to face temptations from all sides.  Remind us that you have already overcome all things for me, and are even now preparing a place for me at your side.  In your name we ask it.  Amen.

Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

Feasting with God #54 – Feeding God

Feasting with God #54

 Feeding God

Text: Numbers 28:1-8

1The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 2“Command the people of Israel and say to them, ‘My offering, my food for my food offerings, my pleasing aroma, you shall be careful to offer to me at its appointed time.’  3And you shall say to them, This is the food offering that you shall offer to the Lord: two male lambs a year old without blemish, day by day, as a regular offering.  4The one lamb you shall offer in the morning, and the other lamb you shall offer at twilight; 5also a tenth of an ephah of fine flour for a grain offering, mixed with a quarter of a hin of beaten oil.  6It is a regular burnt offering, which was ordained at Mount Sinai for a pleasing aroma, a food offering to the Lord.  7Its drink offering shall be a quarter of a hin for each lamb.  In the Holy Place you shall pour out a drink offering of strong drink to the Lord.  8The other lamb you shall offer at twilight.  Like the grain offering of the morning, and like its drink offering, you shall offer it as a food offering, with a pleasing aroma to the Lord.

If your family was like mine growing up, you had daily devotions.  Ours were always right after supper.  While we kids were squirming, anxious to get out and play with our friends, Dad took up the devotion book and read, sometimes including questions about the devotion, sometimes with a recitation of the Creed or Luther’s Small Catechism, always ending with prayer.  Maybe you do something similar each day.  Maybe this devotional series is part of your routine.

The daily devotional life of Israel centered around this core: each day, once in the morning and once in the evening, they sacrificed a perfect male lamb.  This sacrifice is presented in an interesting way: it’s called by God, “my food for my food offerings.”  Does God need food and drink?

In Egypt, the Israelites would have been surrounded by a polytheistic religion in which worshipers provided food to placate their gods, although more commonly the Egyptians left food offerings at the tombs of loved ones, so that they could be sustained in the afterlife.  In Canaan, the Israelites were to be confronted with religions that sought even more fervently to feed their gods, so that the gods would be happy with them.  Does the true God want the same thing?

In the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, we state:

In Num. 28:4f. three parts of that daily sacrifice are repre­sented, the burning of the lamb, the libation, and the oblation of wheat flour.  The Law had pictures or shadows of future things.  Accordingly, in this spectacle Christ and the entire worship of the New Testament are portrayed.  The burning of the lamb signifies the death of Christ.  The libation signifies that everywhere in the entire world, by the preaching of the Gospel, believers are sprinkled with the blood of that Lamb, i.e., sanctified, as Peter says, 1 Pet. 1:2: Through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ.  The oblation of wheat flour signifies faith, prayer, and thanksgiving in hearts.  As, therefore, in the Old Testament, the shadow is perceived, so in the New the thing signified should be sought, and not another type, as sufficient for a sacrifice. (Ap XXIV 36-37)

In the Old Testament, the people of God were in training.  They were learning as children the building blocks of their education, the alphabet and simple addition and subtraction.  So they were taught to understand that, for their sins, a daily—a double-daily—sacrifice of blood was required.  And the creature to be sacrificed had to be perfect.  Its blood had to be given to God, and its meat burned.  Fine flour had to be offered as well, bread with the meat.  God thereby used a picture that they would have been familiar with to teach them: they would have been well acquainted with the idolatrous practices of placating gods with food offerings.  The true God informs them that, yes, indeed, there does need to be placation for sin.

But this was all training.  It’s fulfillment came in Christ, the ultimate perfect “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).  His death, and no longer he burning of a lamb each day, took away all sins once and for all.  And as though to say, “I no longer need this food, for all wrath is turned away; therefore instead I give you this wonderful food,” God gives us, not the blood of animals, but “the blood of Christ,” and not the flour of fine wheat, but “the body of Christ” (1 Cor. 10:16).  To turn away God’s wrath, Jesus gave him the final offering.  And now we are given the blessed feast.

Lord, we thank you that, through the offering and sacrifice of your Son, you have turned away all wrath for our sins, and even more have given us the undeserved gift of a heavenly feast.  Let us receive this gift worthily, with believing hearts, and therefore be strengthened by it in faith and love, until we may finally come to your kingdom, where we will partake of the blessed heavenly banquet in eternity.  In your Son’s name we pray.  Amen.

Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

Feasting with God #29 – Judged for What You Eat or Drink

Feasting with God # 29

Judged for What You Eat or Drink

Text: Colossians 2:16-17, 20-23

16Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath.  17These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ….  20If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations—21“Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” 22(referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings?  23These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.

When Jesus said, “Judge not” (Matt. 7:1), it is commonly believed that he meant, “Don’t judge other people for their religion or lifestyle, just because it’s radically different from yours.”  But Jesus wasn’t speaking about interfaith relations; he was talking about how Christians should relate to other Christians.  And this passage from Colossians speaks to the same thing.

There were those in the early church who believed that Christians should hold to all sorts of Old Testament laws, such as fasting on certain days, avoiding certain foods, not working on the Sabbath, observing certain festivals.  They were openly condemning those believers who ate shellfish or pork (Lev. 11:7, 12).  But Paul wrote to some of these Christians and encouraged them to “let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food or drink.”  Aside from the fact that Peter had received a vision from God, where God showed him all sorts of animals that had once been considered unclean and told him, “Rise, Peter; kill and eat….  What God has made clean, do not call common” (Acts 10:13, 15), so that these “unclean” animals were now explicitly allowed to be eaten, Paul proves that all these Levitical laws, about diet, festival observances, fasting, resting, etc., were only “a shadow of the things to come.”  All these laws point to Christ, and in Christ they were all fulfilled, brought to their conclusion.

This is like someone who has a copy of the blueprints for their new house.  Currently their living situation is not the greatest, so they’re excited about this building, their new home.  They have the blueprints framed so they can look at them every day.  Then, finally, when the building is done, instead of joyfully going into their new home, they stay where they are, because they’d prefer to look at the blueprints.  All these Old Testament laws were the blueprints of salvation, things that pointed to how salvation would be accomplished, but they were not themselves that salvation.  So it would be ridiculous, once that salvation was accomplished in Christ, to hold onto what was supposed to point to him instead, just as it would be ridiculous to prefer the blueprints to the actual house.

Of course, there’d be nothing wrong for that new homeowner to take the framed blueprints into his new house, to have them framed, so that he could always remember how he got to where he was.  Just as it’s not wrong for us now, to remind ourselves how our salvation was achieved, to avoid certain foods, to take a day of rest (whether Saturday, as it was originally, or Sunday, when Christians traditionally worship now), or to keep any of these other laws.  The problem comes in when we start to focus on them, to believe they have some intrinsic merit for our salvation—and the problem really comes in when we judge others for not observing the Levitical laws we choose to.

Jesus freed us from these laws.  Yes, we will want to live our lives now in a way that pleases our God, out of thanks for the salvation he has accomplished for us, but we should be aware of which laws are good and right for all Christians to keep (i.e. the Moral Law: the Ten Commandments), and which are now obsolete because they were only a shadow of the substance which is Christ (i.e. the Civil and Ceremonial Laws).  It becomes easy, if we focus on keeping this or that Old Testament law, to puff ourselves up with pride, creating “an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion.”  But this is no replacement for true religion.

Therefore, if you choose to avoid pork, to not work on Sundays, to observe new moon festivals, that is well and good for your personal devotional life, but it must not be imposed on your fellow Christians.  Instead, recognize, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Gal. 5:1).  Recognize that Jesus fulfilled all laws, and our lives now are merely to be lives of thanks for his grace, given to us because of his death on the cross for all our sins, through the waters of baptism, his Holy Meal, and the very Word which proclaims us free.

Guide us to realize that we are free, O Lord; free from the power of sin, free from all law, free from damnation to hell, and all on account of your Son’s death on the cross, paying for our sins.  Lead us in our devotional lives now to always look to that Son, so that everything helps us to focus on him.  Lead us also not to judge our fellow Christians if their devotional choices are not the same as ours, but instead help us to point one another always to that same one and only Savior.  In that Savior’s name we pray.  Amen.

Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

Feasting with God #23 – Overcome Evil with Good

Feasting with God #23

Overcome Evil with Good

Romans 12:14-21

14Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. 17Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

If we are Christians, then we ought to live as Christians. Because we are unable to escape our sinfulness while we live on this earth, it’s not always an easy task to live in a Christian way, and Paul gives us some advice in this passage to help us live like Christians.

When someone persecutes us, it’s easy—it’s human nature—to curse them, to wish evil upon them, or to defame them to others. It’s especially easy for Christians, because we know we’re not supposed to react violently. So we’ll react with our words. But Paul says, “Bless those who persecute you.” He lays a great deal of responsibility at our feet, in fact: “Live in harmony with one another…. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” In his Sermon on the Mount Jesus calls Christians “peacemakers” (Matt. 5:9). Paul expects us here to be able to keep the peace. “He started it!” we might say. And we might be right. But the advice of my parents comes back to me whenever I think that: “It takes two to fight.”

So, for our responsibility, we won’t fight. Let our enemies persecute us all they like, we won’t fight back. That’s what Paul asks us to do. It’s not easy. And even harder is what he further asks us to do: “To the contrary, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.’” Not only are we to not fight, but we are to react with kindness, even feeding our enemy. I can think of very few things I would find less pleasant than hosting someone who was my enemy, someone I despised, someone who hated me. I would hate to have to feed them dinner, give them room and board even for a night. But this, Paul says, is what we are to do: “for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”

Of course, there are times when Christians cannot sit idly by while injustices are done. Especially we can see this in the example of Christ, when he drove out the money-changers from the temple, even using a whip and overturning their tables, accusing them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers” (Matt. 21:13). This is a righteous anger, and in the right context, it is the appropriate response.

It may not always be clear to Christians when we should respond with love, “feeding our enemies,” and when we should respond with anger, in wrath and vengeance. Luther writes, “To understand this, you must distinguish between God and man, between persons and issues. Where God an issues are involved, there is neither patience nor blessing but only zeal, wrath, vengeance, and cursing” (LW 14:258). This is the appropriate distinction. When God’s holy things are being defamed and destroyed, the Christian in faith responds with zeal. But when one’s own person is persecuted and broken, then we react in love, trusting God’s promise, when he says, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay.”

“Do not be haughty,” Paul says; and, “Never be wise in your own sight.” If we go about thinking that we can do no wrong, thinking that we are wise and holier than others, then it is natural that we would react with righteous anger rather than love. But we are not to consider ourselves this way. Rather we should humble ourselves. If we are persecuted or wronged, we can forgive, as Jesus did on the cross when the sins were against his own body. We overcome evil with good.

But it’s not easy. We are still sinful on this earth, and we want to take revenge, we want to respond in wrath. But thankfully we can turn to Jesus who accomplished this very thing. By living this way perfectly, forgiving and blessing his enemies, and then by dying as though he were a murderer, Jesus took our place, paid for our sins, including the ones of vengeance and hatred. And now, in faith, the Holy Spirit dwells in our hearts and enables us to react with blessing and love, feeding our enemies when they are hungry, and giving them drink when they are thirsty. We don’t have to have the strength of character to accomplish it. It’s accomplished by God already. We only need faith.

Dear Lord, thank you for paying the price for all our sins, even though we ourselves were your enemies. Help us to forgive and bless our enemies, even as you forgave and blessed us. Lead us to do these works of service to you, strengthening us in doing good, so that we may overcome evil. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.