“There’s Nothing Better” | Luke 16:19-31 | The Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

I want to start by apologizing. Before my daughter was born, people would want to short me pictures of their babies, and I would look at them, but honestly, it was just another baby. Yeah, it was cute, and I could tell that the parents were excited. But I also know that I have friends who get annoyed by that sort of thing. For example, they don’t want their social media pages getting filled up with pictures of people’s babies. I didn’t share that sentiment, but I knew it was out there. I even vowed to be careful not to annoy people when I started having pictures of my own children. Then, my daughter was born. It’s like a switch was flipped inside of me, and all of a sudden, I want to show everyone all the pictures of my kid, and I want to talk about her all the time, and I want mention her in every sermon, etc. My brother Kyle already mentioned to me that it’s getting kind of annoying. Up to this point, I haven’t really talked about her in a sermon, and I’m going to right now, but it’s for a good reason. I also promise not to do it again for a while. Maybe.

My baby was born naked and screaming. When Paul says that “we brought nothing into the world” (1 Timothy 6:7), he was so right. Charlotte was born with nothing, but like every single person she needed things. But as of late, what has become even more striking is that now she wants things. She’s started doing this thing when she is in her crib where she’ll let out like a half-cry, and then she’ll look at the door really quickly to see if we’re going to come in and pick her up. Because that’s what she wants. She’s should take a nap, but she wants one of us to come in and pick her up. In that small little action, done by a baby who is not even four months old yet, we see a small picture of what human nature is like, how’s it’s bent inward, how it is driven and dominated by selfish desires. Charlotte’s just a baby now, but those desires are going to grow in her. One time, you were a baby, and those same desires have grown in you.

Within each of us, are these selfish desires for things, for people, for power, for sex, for control, for whatever. I don’t think that this is news to you. I’ll bet you can think of the thing you want right now. In fact, I’ll bet there’s something in your heart that you want so much that you’re willing to sacrifice to get it. I bet you’re willing to work hard. I bet your willing to give up sleep, or some luxuries, or time relaxing. I can give you an example of something I talk to people about pretty often, from all different age groups and both genders. People come to me and talk about how they feel bad they can’t lose weight. They feel like they’re fat. To some extent, I can agree with them. I should probably eat less pizza roles. But, here’s the point behind what I am saying. It’s not that things like this are bad. It isn’t bad to want to get a promotion at work, it isn’t bad to want a new car, to want to have more financial security, to lose weight, or whatever it is for you. But why do you want that? Let that question sit in the back of your mind for a bit.

In the Gospel for today, Jesus tells us a story about two people. Both of them are fascinating characters. The first is a rich man. We don’t know his name. We don’t know where he lived. All we know is that this guy has a ton of money—his house is big enough to have a gate, his clothes are died purple, he has more than enough food. His life is pure luxury. The other character is named Lazarus. Why does Jesus tell us his name and not the name of the other person? I don’t know. But it’s interested that he does—that this poor, disgusting beggar receives the honor of a name, but not the rich man. Lazarus is so poor, and so weak, that he can’t get food for himself or even shoo away the dogs that come and lick his sores.

What do you think these two characters want at this point? We don’t get a lot of details, but I think more is said in the silence than we might first recognize. The rich man lives in luxury every day. Think about that. There are no days when he is pampering himself or living his best life or enjoy life to the fullest. In some ways, I bet you can think of this rich man as the person who has everything they want. He’s like that person who wants to lose weight, and does; who wants a promotion, and gets it; who wants a new car every year, so he buys it; etc. Whatever he wants is his.

What about Lazarus? What does he want? Does Lazarus want to be rich? Does he want to have a house so that he doesn’t have to be homeless? Does it seem like Lazarus wants anything earthly? Again, we don’t get a lot of details, but look at what happens next: “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side” (Luke 16:22). What is in Lazarus’s heart, if after all of his suffering and pain he goes to Abraham’s side, to heaven? It’s faith. Lazarus, he may have some earthly wants, like food, but his ultimate want is shown here. He wants to be in heaven.

But why? I told you to keep that question in mind. Why do you want the things you want? Why did the rich man want that continuous, luxurious life? Here’s what Jesus wants us to see. For the rich man, his highest treasure, his greatest love, the thing he thought would satisfy him above all else was this luxury. He was using it to fill up his heart in the hope that he would stop feeling so empty. That finally, everything in life would be worth it. Do you know how I know this? It’s because of what he wants after he’s dead. After his life has ended, he goes down to the grave, and just like he came into this world, he has nothing. He finds himself in hell, suffering torment unimaginable, the exact opposite of luxury. He wants just one little drop of relief, but he can’t even have that. He says, “Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire” (Luke 16:24). But Abraham says that’s impossible. No one can go from heaven to hell, or hell to heaven.

But there’s more to Abraham’s reply. Abraham tells him to remember his life. Doesn’t he remember the luxury? Doesn’t he remember how wonderful it was to have that big house, those clothes, all that food? He had all those good things. Wasn’t that enough for the rich man? No. He wanted the luxury, and he thought it would fill him up, that it would satisfy him, but it didn’t. And now, it doesn’t matter. Now, he’ll never be satisfied. Now, he will only ever know torment. Fortunately, the rich man has a back-up plan: “Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment” (Luke 16:27-28). The rich man has brothers, who apparently are headed to this same place the rich man is. Does that mean they’re also rich? Maybe, but the rich man’s problem was that he was trying to fill himself up with the wrong things. Maybe that’s all their doing. Maybe the brothers are pouring themselves into their jobs, into because elite athletes, to having political power, to experiencing lots of pleasure, or whatever. No matter what they would fill their hearts with, it all ends in the same place. Hell.

What the rich man wants isn’t possible, again. Doesn’t it saying something about hell that the rich man continues to want things in hell, only now, he can never get what he wants? Admittedly, he asks for something pretty impressive. He wants Lazarus to rise from the dead and warn his brothers. That makes sense in a worldly sort of way. I’ve talked with more than one unbeliever who has challenged me to prove God exists in some way. Or, to show some miracle, and then they’ll believe. You can sort of sense their reasoning. They think that if God is real, and miracles are possible, why doesn’t God just do a bunch of miracles so everyone believes in him? But, Abraham’s response is striking: “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead” (Luke 16:31). Do you understand what those words mean? Abraham points out that his brothers have God’s Word, and if they don’t listen to God’s Word, then nothing will convince them.

Maybe you doubt that. Maybe you think that’s not true and that a miracle would really convince someone. But, you know what? In the Bible, Cain talked to God directly, and still did not believe in him. Pharaoh got to see the 10 plagues and the other signs Moses did, and he still rejected God and hardened his heart. Even the Israelites who were led out of Egypt, they saw the Red Sea parted. They tasted manna. They heard God speak to them from Mount Sinai. Yet, twelve chapters later, they’re worshipping a golden calf. What did Cain want? What did Pharaoh want? What did those Israelites want? That’s an important question, but it’s not as important as “Why did they want it?” Do you know why people want so many different things? It’s because they’re trying to fill up their heart with things that can’t fill them up. The human heart is an infinite black whole. What about you? What are you trying to fill your heart with? And before you say that you are trying to fill your heart up with God, recognize that I cannot read your heart or mind. You don’t have to convince me. But if you are trying to convince yourself or God, then you probably have sin to confess here.

I talked about the rich man quite a bit already, but did you catch what happened to Lazarus. He didn’t become rich. He didn’t get a big house. All it says about him is that “now he is comforted here” (Luke 16:25). Lazarus had nothing earthly to fill himself with, so he filled himself with something heavenly. He listened to God’s Word, and he believed it. After a life in which he knew very little luxury, he found himself full. Comforted. That it was all worth it. That is the most important part of Abraham’s words to the rich man. God’s Word is enough. It’s enough to convert people. It’s enough to comfort us. It’s enough to satisfy us. It’s enough to teach us how to be saved. It’s enough.

And through that Word, Jesus promises you something more and something better than anything you could ever find here on earth. Everything in this world is going to pass away. You came into it without anything, and you will leave it without anything. But when you leave it, what will you find? Will it be the agony of hell? Or the comfort of heaven? And just to make this point even more clear, even more powerful, look at our verse of the day, “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9). What did Jesus want? It was you. He had the riches of heaven. He lived in light unapproachable and majesty unbounded. But for you, he left it all. He became poor. Like Lazarus, he was homeless and walked from place to place. Even though he deserved to be served by all, he chose to serve all—even though that meant dying on a cross for you. Jesus, too, came into the world with nothing. And why? Why did Jesus want what he wanted? It’s grace. It’s an unimaginably great, undeserved love for you. Jesus became poor, so that you can become rich. He emptied himself to fill you up. Be like poor Lazarus and desire that heavenly comfort above all else. This is the infinite promise of Jesus, and the only thing that can actually fill your heart up. There’s nothing better. Amen.

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