Sunday, October 10, 2004

Luke 16:19-31 - "Same God, Same Promise"

Pentecost 19 (Year C - LCMS Readings)
Saturday, October 9, and Sunday, October 10, 2004

Why are the youth going away next weekend for a retreat to study the Old Testament prophets? Why is Pastor Miller’s class tracing the history of God’s people in the Old Testament? Why would the Sunday School use a curriculum this year and every other year which focuses on the Old Testament? Why do we have our sixth grade confirmation class do a project called Tracing the Promise, looking at the Old Testament? My Sunday morning Youth & Adult Bible class has been studying the stained glass windows the last two weeks. Why would many of the symbols be directly inspired by the Old Testament? And why would we name our congregation, Redeemer, a word found in the Old Testament?

The reason we do all of these things and more can be explained by the story that Jesus tells in today’s Gospel reading, the story of the rich man and Lazarus. So as we take a moment to study this story, I want you to remember those things from our congregation: RYMS Fall Retreat, Pastor Miller’s class, Sunday School curriculum, sixth grade confirmation project, the stained glass windows, and our congregation name. Remember those things as we pull apart the story Jesus told.

The rich man doesn’t get it, even in hell. There the rich man is suffering torment when he sees Lazarus being comforted in heaven, reclining at the table of the heavenly feast with Abraham. The rich man still figures that Lazarus is a nothing, someone to be bossed around, someone to serve him. So he asks Abraham to send Lazarus down to hell with a cool drink of water.

Then Abraham explains. “Remember that you got your good things in your life, but Lazarus got bad things. But now he’s being comforted, and you suffer. Plus, between us and you, a great chasm stands, so that the ones from here can’t come to you, and so that no one can come from there to us.”

This finally causes the rich man to think of his five brothers. He begs Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his five brothers that they’re going end up in torment like him if they don’t change their lives.

Abraham says, “No, they have Moses and the prophets; let them hear these.”

The rich man thinks that Moses and the prophets are not sufficient warning. His brothers will need something more like a miracle, someone rising from the dead. “No, Father Abraham, Moses and the prophets aren’t enough for salvation.”

Would we agree? The Old Testament is not sufficient? The Old Testament isn’t enough? We often make the mistake of thinking that the New Testament contains Gospel and the Old Testament only contains Law. Salvation after all only comes through Christ—who is only in the New Testament. We have heard of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. But who has ever heard of the Gospel of Moses or the Gospel of the Prophets?

But this story of the Rich Man and Lazarus is told by Jesus Himself. Why would Jesus teach that people should look for a way to heaven in the Old Testament if it isn’t in there? What is Jesus saying in this story?

Jesus is saying that throughout Scripture this is true: Same God, Same Promise. Since Adam and Eve fell into sin, there has been a promise from our gracious God that He would show His grace to us. We trace this promise of grace throughout Moses and the Prophets, and we find that yes, God has always been the same and He has always held out the same promise of salvation. Same God, Same Promise.

So when Jesus tells the story of the rich man and Lazarus, what is He trying to tell the Pharisees? Same God, Same Promise. If they don’t accept the promise of a Messiah in Moses and the prophets, they will not accept the promised One. Yet, here’s the irony. Jesus says, “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear these,” but the Pharisees felt they did hear. They felt they were experts in Scripture and the Law. But Jesus is saying they don’t hear the promise correctly, because they want a Messiah who will follow their interpretation of the Law. They prided themselves in getting their theology correct, and according to them, Jesus didn’t fit. But Jesus has come to show that He is the true Messiah.

Jesus is saying, Same God, Same Promise. Jesus is the fulfillment of the same promise they have heard. Jesus is from the same God they worship. He is not changing anything; the Pharisees have had the wrong interpretation of Scripture. Jesus is showing that He is consistent with the promise that God will show His grace to His people.

In that way, then, the Old Testament is sufficient for salvation, a way to heaven, because it speaks about God saving us by grace through faith. Moses and the Prophets didn’t just preach Law; they also preached the Gospel and promise of God. The Gospel of Moses and the Prophets.

Many prophets proclaimed how Israel had broken God’s Law and how God would bring destruction upon them for their wickedness. For instance, today we heard Amos preach against Israel: “Woe to you who are complacent in Zion.” Yet, he ends his book with God’s promise to restore Israel, a promise of salvation in heaven, to be planted in the holy city and never be uprooted again. The Old Testament certainly is sufficient for salvation, because it carries the Gospel message. The Old Testament is sufficient, because it is the same God, the same Promise, as we have in Jesus Christ.

Do you still remember all of those things I asked you to remember, the things from this congregation—RYMS Fall Retreat, Pastor Miller’s class, the Sunday School curriculum, the sixth grade confirmation project, the stained glass windows, and our congregation name? Are you starting to see why we would teach the Old Testament with those things?

For instance, take the sixth grade confirmation project. They are learning something about each of the 66 books of the Bible, and as they study the Old Testament, they are seeing how God’s promise of salvation keeps coming up. In fact, not only will they learn that Amos, the prophet of today’s Old Testament reading, not only will they learn that Amos is the prophet of doom, preaching God’s judgment against the people’s sin. Their project will help them realize God’s promise in Amos, the promise that He will save His people. The students will realize that in the Old Testament, we have the Same God, Same Promise as in Jesus.

We’ll come back to the rest of those things, but I want you to start to see—we teach the Old Testament because it has Gospel, Good News.

When we hear the story of the rich man and Lazarus, we already know what happens—Jesus is killed on the cross, raised from the dead, and still people reject Him and His disciples. So when Jesus says in the story, “If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead,” the Pharisees and disciples probably didn’t understand His meaning at that point, but we who know the rest of the story, we who know that Christ did rise from the dead, we know that His resurrection didn’t and still doesn’t convince people of His message. The resurrection of Christ doesn’t mean anything if people aren’t willing to listen to the Old Testament, to see how Jesus fulfills the promises of the Old Testament, to see that this is the Same God, Same Promise.

That is what Jesus wants us to take away from this story. Same God, Same Promise. This is what He was saying to the Pharisees, but it’s also what He is saying to us. Same God, Same Promise. Therefore, we turn our backs on God when we put aside the Old Testament, when we look at the Old Testament as only being Law, when we consider the Old Testament insufficient for salvation. Jesus is claiming a consistent message from the beginning of God’s Word through to His ministry, death and resurrection. How can we put aside the Old Testament? The Same God, the Same Promise, is behind it all.

We will have trouble understanding who Jesus if we don’t study the promises of the Old Testament. Yes, Christ alone has salvation; all must come to Him to have eternal life. But if all of Scripture, Old and New Testaments, is centered on Christ, then the Old Testament is a vast store full of wisdom into understanding our Promised One.

We must learn the promises of Moses and the Prophets. This story of the rich man and Lazarus affirms the importance of understanding the Old Testament, learning the Scriptures and realizing that our God is always the same, consistent. He has held out the same promise of salvation, the promise that He will defeat the sin which enslaves us, the promise of being saved by grace through faith not works.

Learning about God’s promise in the Old Testament helps us to understand what it means that Jesus saves us. Therefore, next weekend’s RYMS Fall Retreat will help the youth learn about four of the Old Testament prophets, seeing how those prophets shared God’s message of hope with the people. When the youth come back from the retreat on Sunday morning, they will set up Prophet Stations so that everyone can learn a little about these prophets.

Pastor Miller’s class is tracing the history of God’s people in the Old Testament, because through that history, God sent Jesus to save us, to make us His people.

The joke often is that the Sunday School answer to any question is Jesus. Any question asked in Sunday School or a Bible study can often be answered by saying, “Jesus.” However, by using curriculum that teaches the Old Testament, our students will learn how Jesus is still the right answer, even when we’re talking about the Old Testament, how the Old Testament points to Jesus—which, as we already talked about, is exactly why the sixth grade confirmation project is about the Old Testament.

Who would have guess that many of the symbols in the stained glass windows would be directly inspired by the Old Testament? Yet, as my Sunday morning class studied these symbols, we realized how those symbols constantly point us to Jesus, our Savior.

Look at this. I know you won’t be able to see all of them from where you’re sitting, but let me point out some of the ways that these windows are related to the Old Testament. You can check it out later on your way out of church today.

It starts way back here with this first window all about Genesis, the Creation of the world, and Christ was there at the Creation. The second window shows the 10 Commandments, the burning bush where God appeared to Moses, and how God turned the staff into a snake to show Moses that He was real. The giving of the Law make us realize our sin and our need for a Savior. Here there’s a rose symbolizing Jesus, but the image comes from the book of Song of Songs in the Old Testament. The next window is about Mary and Joseph presenting Jesus at the temple when he was a baby, but understanding the sacrifice of two doves and the temple itself, for that we’ve got to go to—you guessed it—the Old Testament.

Jump up here to this symbol for the Transfiguration when Jesus appeared in all of this glory, and Moses and Elijah were there representing the Law and the Prophets, the Old Testament points to Jesus.

Come up toward the front, and you’ve got the Lamb of God. John the Baptist calls Jesus the Lamb of God. But the idea of the Lamb of God goes back to the Passover in the book of Exodus, the lamb’s blood marking the homes of God’s people, protecting them from death.

Finally, up here is the Good Shepherd window, showing that Jesus is the Good Shepherd. However, God said He would send His Shepherd to lead His people to safety, God made that promise in the Old Testament prophet Isaiah.

We teach the Old Testament, we remind ourselves of the Old Testament, our windows are about the Old Testament, because it is the Same God, Same Promise that we have in Jesus Christ.

Even the name of our congregation is a way of saying Same God, Same Promise. A redeemer is a person who buys a slave in order to give them freedom. We call Jesus the Redeemer, because He bought us from slavery, freed us from slavery to sin and the devil. Yet, the idea that God would send a redeemer, would send someone to save us from sin, that idea goes back to the Old Testament. “I know that my Redeemer lives” is a familiar phrase, a familiar verse from Scripture, a familiar hymn. Yet, do you ever forget like I do that this phrase comes from the Old Testament book of Job? The name of our congregation isn’t just a New Testament name; it’s also an Old Testament name.

Same God, Same Promise. And if God is the same, if the promise is the same, then we can trust it will continue to be the same. Jesus is pointing us all to see this. The Promise is the same. We are saved from sin not by whart we do. We are saved by God’s action; we are saved by God’s forgiveness. Jesus is the fulfillment of that promise, the promise of the Old Testament. He is the fulfillment yesterday, today, forever.