Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ,
“If I were the devil…” have you ever thought that? What would you do, if you were the devil? Paul Harvey, a radio commentator in the 1960s did a little speech on what he would do if he “were the devil.”
What would you do, if you were the devil? Well, if I were the devil, I would stop at nothing, I would do anything, I would try everything to get you and your loved ones to spend an eternity in hell with me. And there are three things that we see from this story that Jesus told: If I were the devil, I would do whatever I could to get you confused about what true wealth really is. If I were the devil, I would do whatever I could to get you to underestimate the reality and permanence of hell. And finally, if I were the devil, I would do what I could to get you to doubt the power of God’s Word.
If I were the devil, I would get you to look at this man and say, “You know, he’s living the dream! He has it all! Who said money can’t buy happiness! Think again!” “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day.” Now that’s the life, right? If I were the devil, I’d make you look at this guy, think about this guy, and get you to want to trade places with this guy. He wears better clothes than you, he eats nicer food than you, he has a nicer home than you do, he drives a better car than you do. I if were the devil, I would make you think that this guy is everything that you ever wanted to be. And did you notice something else? He’s nameless, he isn’t given a name, in fact, you could just slip your name right in there!
But this other guy? Lazarus, I mean really/ He’s just about the most pitiful thing you could imagine! “At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.” What a miserable, awful life! If I were the devil, I would get you to avoid suffering at all costs and get you to lose sight of those who suffer so that you no longer even notice Lazarus sitting at your gate. You see, if I were the devil, I’d get you to focus all your concentration, all your energy, all your determination on having a good life here, putting all your eggs in the basket of the 100, 90, 80, 70 year life and forget about eternity hereafter. If I were the devil, I would convince you that work, fun, entertainment, pleasure, sports, tv, traveling, whatever you want is more important and more valuable than God and His Word.
Hmm…that slithering, conniving, cunning serpent is doing a pretty good job in our lives, isn’t he? I need Jesus’ warnings here and so do you. How often haven’t we become so focused on the here and now, temporary thrills and treasures, to the detriment of our immortal souls? I need Jesus to refocus me on what is truly important, to direct me to heavenly and eternal treasure. And keep in mind, the problem with the rich man wasn’t his wealth, wasn’t the fact that he was rich. We know that from someone else named in the parable: Abraham. Abraham was very wealthy – he had a personal army of 318 trained soldiers and tons of servants and herds and flocks. But we see that Abraham is in heaven. The problem isn’t wealth, the problem is the love of money, what you set your heart on, that condition can infect the rich or the poor or the middle class, so if I were the devil, that’s what I’d do, get you confused about what true wealth really is.
So, what’s next, “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side.” If I were the devil, I might not convince you that you’re not going to die because everyone dies. Rather, if I were the devil, I’d try to convince you that hell really isn’t as bad as it is made out to be. I’d event try to convince you that everyone is going to heaven anyway so it doesn’t really matter what you believe or how you live. In fact, I would even try to get you to believe that I don’t really exist nor does my host of demons, that all I am is a cute Halloween costume and nothing more.
But what does Jesus say? “In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, ‘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.” One thing is very clear from what Jesus says here: hell is horrible. There’s a lot about hell that I don’t know about and everything about hell I don’t want to know about. But some have concluded that the unquenchable fire that is used in Scripture to describe hell is a metaphorical picture because how can a soul burn in a physical fire. But that’s not really comforting: it’s a metaphorical picture of something far worse than we could ever conceive with our minds. And it’s permanent. “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.” Hell is final, hell is permanent, hell is forever. If I were the devil, I’d do all I could to get you to underestimate the reality and permanence of hell. For if I can do that, I can distract you from what’s really important.
So finally, if I were the devil I’d what I could to get you to doubt the power of God’s Word. “He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father’s house, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’ ‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” If I were the devil, I’d get you to think the Bible wasn’t all true and if I couldn’t do that, I’d get you to think that it’s not relevant to your day-to-day life that it can sit on a shelf far disconnected from your daily routine. I’d get you to think it was just words on a page, too difficult to understand, too much work to try to understand, too burdensome, too time-consuming.
You notice the implication of what the rich man says here, right? He’s in essence saying, do it right with my brothers, make sure that my brothers have more information, because if I had more information, if I had something different, if I had seen something spectacular, I wouldn’t have ended up here. But what does Abraham say? “Moses and the Prophets.” That’s all they need. Moses and the Prophets is another name for God’s Word. They have God’s Word, if they don’t listen to that, nothing is going to help them.
But if I were the devil, I’d have to leave here this morning utterly defeated. Why? Because the very same Jesus who told us these things, the very same Jesus who directs us to true treasure, heavenly treasure, the same Jesus who warns us of the reality and the horridness of hell, the same Jesus who directs our attention to the Word and Sacraments, the only life giving and faith-sustaining instruments in the world, that very same Jesus experienced the curse of hell for you and me.
What does Moses and the Prophets say? For a world full of failures, full of people who treasure earthly stuff to the neglect of the eternal, who toy with Satan and hell, God promised to send the woman’s offspring who would crush Satan’s head. We’re told that he was pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities, the punishment that brought us peace was upon him and by his wounds we are healed. This Jesus who told us of the torment and agony of hell, experienced it in all its horridness as he hung on a cross forsaken by God in our place, to rescue us from our sins and save us eternally, to assure us that we have a home forever in heaven. Because of Jesus, you, like Lazarus will be carried by angels to Abraham’s side in joy everlasting.
But if I were the devil, I’d come back this week with new temptations, new assaults on your soul, new ways to try to lead you away from God. So, cling to your Savior, cling to His Word of salvation, put on the full armor of God every day. Amen.