The Ones Whom God Helps!

Luke 16:19–31

19 [Jesus said:]  “There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side.  The rich man also died and was buried, 23 and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. 24 And 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.’ 25 But 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. 26 And 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.’ 27 And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house— 28 for I have five brothers —so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ 29 But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ 30 And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’ ” (ESV)

Introduction: Every Christian is a Lazarus!

In Mexico, parents often give to their children the names of Maria and Jose and even Jesus as either first or middle names. And so, you could meet a “Carmen Maria” or a “Pablo Jose”. It is as if the parents want to incorporate their children into the life of the Holy Family of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus.

Now, you may or may not have a middle name, but this morning, I am going to give you a new middle name. It is the name, “Lazarus”. Try it out for size and say it in your head. You see, every Christian really is a “Lazarus”, for the name “Lazarus” means “the one whom God helps.”

The world likes to say that “God helps those who help themselves”, but that is a lie from hell. The Gospel truth is that God helps the helpless. In the account of Lazarus and the rich man, Lazarus’ situation is so pathetic that the household dogs would have received the crumbs for which Lazarus longs. And then, to add to Lazarus’ humiliation, these well-fed dogs make a habit of licking his sores, and Lazarus does not even have the strength to keep the dogs off him. Do you see? Lazarus knows he is helpless, and yet, he trusts in God’s Word and is received into heaven. Lazarus is the picture of every sinner who confesses his or her pathetic situation of sin and condemnation and who, trusting in Christ alone, cries out for God’s mercy and forgiveness: O LORD, be gracious to me; heal me, for I have sinned against you! 

The rich man’s problem

How you ever wondered why our Lord names Lazarus and leaves the rich man unnamed? Well, remember what Jesus said to the disciples: rejoice that your names are written in heaven (Luke 10:20). In contrast to the rich man, Lazarus’ life is pathetic and pitiful. And yet Jesus NAMES this poor man, affirming his importance in God’s sight and that his name is written in heaven, while the rich man’s name is not recorded in Scripture or in heaven. The rich man’s problem is NOT that he is rich but that he is a lover of money. Lazarus is poor, and yet he possesses what money cannot buy: his name written in heaven. And so it is with you. In this life, you may have all kinds of troubles and sorrows. But in Holy Baptism, the Lord NAMES you as His own dear child and He records your name in the Book of Life.

The rich man is the picture of all who love money, possessions, and pleasure above God and neighbour. There is a rich man in us all. Thus, God calls us to repent: to confess in godly sorrow that we have loved and served mammon rather than God. Today, God gives us the gift of repentance, by which we confess that we are helpless, pathetic, pitiful sinners and by which we trust God to keep His promise of forgiveness in Christ, His dear Son.

Lazarus—a picture of all who hold onto God’s Word while suffering

Lazarus is the picture of all who hold on tight to God’s Word in the midst of suffering. Lazarus teaches all Christians to endure this world’s troubles while preparing for the life promised in God’s Word: the life of forgiveness now and the life of the age to come, when we shall be carried by the angels to Abraham’s side, which is heaven itself, where we shall dwell with the Lord forever. 

As those who are baptized into Christ, we each are a Lazarus. In spite of our troubles and our sins, we trust God to keep His Word, to forgive us in the Name of Christ our Saviour, and to bring us safely home. Yes, as one who is baptized, you are a “Lazarus”. Remember that “Lazarus” means “the one whom God helps”. And remember that one biblical name for the Holy Spirit is “Helper” or “One Who Comes Alongside to Help” (John 14:16, 26; 15:20, 16:7). Here, we have a perfect match: we helpless Lazaruses and the Holy Spirit, who ever seeks to come alongside us to help us through the Holy Word and Sacraments.

The Holy Spirit keeps us in Christ as we wend our way home.

As we live out our Baptism in daily repentance and in confession and absolution; as we hear the Gospel of Christ; and as we feast on the Lord’s Body and Blood, the Holy Spirit gives us what we need the most: true faith in the Holy Trinity and in Jesus Christ, God’s Son, coming in the flesh to save sinners.

The Holy Spirit also defends us from all the enemies seeking our eternal destruction. Yes, even in the weakness and feebleness of our dying days, the Holy Spirit strengthens and preserves us as faithful Christians to our last breath.

And the Holy Spirit keeps us in Christ even as we are wending our way through exile to home. Heaven is our eternal home of light and glory; this world is the place of shadows and suffering to which we have been exiled. Now, we wish we could bypass all pain and struggles as we journey from this earthly exile to our heavenly home. But the Lord, in His wisdom, allows us to wend, to borrow an antiquated word from one of our hymns (“To God the Holy Spirit Let Us Pray”—LSB #768). 

To “wend” is to meander, to wind one’s way, to twist and turn. And does not that describe our lives rather well? We all meander and wind our way and twist and turn through all kinds of struggles. Our journey from exile to home is not a straight line, but a wending from trouble to trouble. Lazarus’s way of wending had him laying at the gate of a rich man, yearning for table crumbs and having dogs lick his sores. Your way of wending may place you in poor health or in a place of deep sorrow and struggle. But because you are a Lazarus, baptized into Christ, you do not despair. Rather, you pray to the Holy Spirit and you cry out to the Lord for mercy.

God’s love is greater than our most desperate need!

We whose middle name is Lazarus, we know that God’s love is greater that our most desperate need. As the psalmist proclaims: For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him (Psalm 103:11). Your struggles, your sorrows, your afflictions will all come to an end but God’s love in Christ keeps you in God’s arms forever. And so the Holy Spirit gives you His comfort in your every need. Lazarus must have suffered scorn from the rich man and his guests as they walked past Lazarus each day on their way to feasting. But Lazarus paid no heed to their scorn or to his pitiful condition; rather, he found comfort in God’s Word and thus was received into heaven. And so, being another Lazarus, you pray the Holy Spirit to help you to pay no heed to this world’s scorn or even to death. Even as the devil, the world, and your own sinful nature mock you and seek your eternal destruction, you pray the Holy Spirit to give you courage to keep on trusting the Lord, so that you do not falter, so that you remain faithful in Christ unto death.

The Holy Spirit shines His Light into our hearts!

We are baptized into Christ. And so we each are a little Lazarus, one who receives help from God. And yet, we all have our struggles against the darkness of unbelief and sinful vice. Thus, we need to pray that the Spirit of Light, the Holy Spirit, would shine His Light into our hearts and cast out the darkness of our fears, worries, resentments, lusts, and doubts. We pray that the Holy Spirit would teach us to know Jesus Christ aright. At all costs, we want to avoid the tragedy of confessing Jesus with our lips but denying Him in our hearts. And so we pray: “O Spirit of Light, teach us to confess with [our] mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in [our] heart that God [the Father] raised Him from the dead”; for only then will we be saved (Romans 10:9).

God helps us Lazaruses and raises us up to eternal life!

Behold how loving and gracious the Holy Spirit is, that through Word and Sacraments He teaches us to know Jesus aright, that we may abide in the Lord who redeemed us until the day He brings us safely to our true home.

Which brings us back to the name “Lazarus”, which means “the one whom God helps”. The Lazarus in today’s Gospel is helped by God to remain faithful to God even in the face of scorn and suffering. But there is another Lazarus in the Gospels, the Lazarus who was Jesus’ friend and who died and whom Jesus raised from the dead, saying Lazarus, come forth! (John 11:43). And so, the name “Lazarus” teaches us that the one whom God helps lives forever!

As one baptized into Christ, you are a Lazarus. You are one whom God helps! And you will live forever! This is most certainly true—you can count on it! For Christ Jesus died on the cross to redeem you as God’s own child. And the Holy Spirit is ever alongside you, helping you through Holy Word and Supper, giving you the courage to endure your troubles and to confess Christ as God’s Son, your Saviour, even unto death, so that you may live forever in the light and glory of heaven! Yes, one day, the Lord of heaven and earth will command you and all faithful Lazaruses to come forth from the grave and to rise to eternal life. Praise be to God! Amen.