God is holy. But man doesn't need a Bible to tell him this. He has a conscience, the remnant of the natural law God put into the heart of man when he created him in his image, that bears witness to this fact. It never excuses, but always accuses man of sin and of the punishment he deserves from God both in this life and forever, without measure in the life to come.
Yes, as this rich man discovered to his horror after he died, hell is real. And contrary to what some say after going through a difficult and unpleasant experience, nothing in this life compares to it, not even close. To be in hell is to be in flames, a living torch is how I describe it, but never burning up. It is a torment so great, so painful that even one drop of water on the tongue would be welcomed relief. But there is no relief from the fires of hell, nor is there any chance of escape, ever. For hell is eternal: once there, always there; once on fire, always on fire; once in this torment and anguish, always in torment and anguish.
And God created this real place of real torment for sinners. That is why this rich man burns in hell today. It's not because he was rich, as some would have you think, but because he was a sinner. His lack of mercy towards Lazarus showed this. So a holy God did what he in his holiness must do. He cast him into hell.
Now you know why God is so frightening, and why you also should fear him. Here your so-called goodness has no bearing. As was this rich man, so you too were conceived in sin. As did this rich man, so you too reveal the sin within you by the innumerable sins you commit everyday. Consider who it is that you have stepped over, refused even the crumbs of your possessions, whom you may have instead despised because of his lowly state in life. And then, hear these words of the Apostle, "If someone says, `I love God,' yet hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?"
Though we often deny it in sinful stubbornness, we know the truth due to that voice within us called our conscience: We deserve to suffer God's wrath and punishment in hell, just as much as did that rich man.
What we don't know by nature, what we need the Scriptures to teach us, why Abraham told this poor rich man in hell that what his five brothers needed to believe was not to see him rise from the dead but to hear Moses and Prophets, and why I as Christ's minister continually urge you whom he has placed under my spiritual care to hear Moses and the Prophets as well as the Evangelists and the Apostles is that this holy God is also love.
It's his essence, and not just a characteristic he has. God is love, and because love needs an object, someone to love, he created man, even though he knew that man would rebel against him and fall into sin. But then God doesn't love the way man does. Man loves only those who love him in return. God, however, loves those who hate him, for his motivation is found not in the one to whom it is given, but only in him who is love in his essence.
"In this the love of God was manifested towards us," you heard St. John say earlier in this Service, "that God has sent his only-begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins."
Lazarus' sores were bad, but the wounds the scourge, the thorns and the nails inflicted upon Jesus were much worse. Lazarus hungered, but Jesus was famished after fasting forty days and forty nights. Yet he who is the Son of God refused to turn stones into bread. Lazarus was despised and rejected by this rich man, but Jesus was despised and rejected by his own brothers, even by his own Father, who poured out his wrath over sin upon him, while he was bleeding and dying on his cross.
The rich man begged for water, but it was Christ who suffered thirst that was not quenched, who endured the scorching heat of Golgotha, and who, as was the rich man, was buried with the wicked and the rich after he died. All this the Son of God endured to be the propitiation for, St. John explains - that is, the payment that appeased God's wrath over - sin, so that all who believe in him will not perish as they deserve, but instead have everlasting life as a gift of his deep and undeserved love.
And now you know why Lazarus, when he died, "was carried by the angels to Abraham's bosom." It wasn't because God felt sorry for him who had suffered so much in this life. Truth is this beggar deserves to be burning in hell today together with that rich man, for he too was conceived in sin and showed it everyday of his life. But God is love, and Love sacrificed himself to atoned for the sins of the world. Love also moved holy men to record his words in the Bible. And through his hearing of these holy, inspired words, something the rich man refused to do, Love blessed Lazarus with faith in Christ, so that he who was beggarly poor is now rich beyond measure, while he who was rich is now beggarly poor and will be forever.
Dear Christian, Love also died for you, also gave his words to you, also blessed you with faith through your hearing of these words. Love, who through my mouth absolved you after you confessed your sins to him earlier in this Service, will soon feed you his Body and Blood for the forgiveness of your sins. And blessed with his Blood-bought forgiveness, Love promises that when he returns, he will raise you from your grave, and despite what you deserve will take you home with him to heaven, where you will live under his love and in the fullness of joys and pleasures forevermore.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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