Posts tagged ‘Lazarus’

In Memoriam: Billy Graham (1918-2018)

Billy Graham was 99 when he entered his rest with Jesus last Wednesday.  The man who was a pastor to presidents and plebeians alike leaves a legacy that is difficult to overestimate.  Reverend Graham accomplished many things over his long ministry.  He founded what has become the practically official periodical of evangelical Christianity, Christianity TodayHe served as the president of Youth for Christ and headed the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.  He steadfastly, but also humbly, confessed a traditional, broadly orthodox Christianity, defending such doctrines as justification by faith, the sufficiency of Christ as the world’s singular Savior, the reality of heaven and hell, and the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture.  He declared these doctrines at a time when many churches, especially in the mid-twentieth-century, were drifting into modernism and began to deny these, along with many other, core tenets.  But Reverend Graham will perhaps be most remembered for his moving crusades, where he preached the gospel to stadiums chocked full of eager listeners and curious onlookers.  His association estimates that he preached the gospel to an estimated 215 million people in 185 countries over the course of his ministry.

I remember attending one of Billy Graham’s crusades as a child.  His passion for the gospel was infectious as his preaching resonated sonorously through the stadium in which I was sitting.  At the end of the evening, as he always did, he invited people to trust in Christ and come forward to receive prayer.  Thousands walked down to the stage that night as strains of “Just As I Am” wafted across the hall.  To say the least, it was a moving experience.

Whenever I remember my experience at this Billy Graham crusade, I am reminded of a conversation that Jesus has with Martha shortly after her brother Lazarus has died of a devastating illness.  Martha, understandably, is distraught and politely registers her disappointment that Jesus was not around before her brother died to lend some help and, perhaps, a miraculous healing to him.  “Lord,” Martha complains, “if You had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:21).  Jesus, who never intended to heal Lazarus of the sickness that ailed him, but instead to raise Lazarus from the death that overtook him, responds, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in Me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in Me will never die” (John 11:25-26).  These words are some of the most famous in Scripture not only because they describe what Jesus would do for Lazarus, but because they reveal who Jesus is for everyone.  Jesus is the resurrection and the life.  What is less famous, however, is the question that Jesus asks Martha next: “Do you believe this” (John 11:26)?

This simple question was the question behind every Billy Graham crusade.  After Reverend Graham would proclaim Christ and His death for sinners, after he would declare that Christ’s resurrection can mean your resurrection, and after he would explain how Christ can bear your burdens and carry your cares, he would ask, “Do you believe this?”

When Jesus asks this question of Martha, she responds, “Yes, Lord” (John 11:27).  When Reverend Graham asked it of millions, they responded with a “yes” as well.

As one who is part of the Lutheran confession of the Christian faith, I have, over the years, heard many in my tradition criticize Reverend Graham for the way in which he often spoke of faith in terms of a “decision.”  His ministry even publishes a magazine titled DecisionIt is certainly true that Scripture does not speak of faith as a decision of the will, but as a gift from God.  The apostle Paul writes, “It is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8).  Unfortunately, some in my tradition have become so concerned about the possibility of implying that faith is somehow an act of the will that they refuse to invite people to faith at all.  They forget to ask Jesus’ question: “Do you believe this?”

It is in this precious question of Christ that we can best come to understand and appreciate Reverend Graham’s legacy.  He was never afraid to ask this question.  And neither should we.  Sometimes, a simple invitation, because it is a reflection of Jesus’ invitation, bears the fruit of faith.  This is why this question is the question our world needs.  When was the last time you asked it?

Even without a sermon, a choir, and a stadium, when you ask this question, someone might just answer, “Yes.”  And all of heaven will rejoice (Luke 15:7) – including, with what I would guess might be an especially bright smile, Billy Graham.

February 26, 2018 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Adult Bible Class – God in the Gap

What is hell?  Is it a real place?  Do real people go there?  Find out in this Adult Bible Class from Concordia Lutheran Church.

April 13, 2011 at 11:10 am Leave a comment

ABC Extra – Facebook and Salvation

The other day, I noticed a conversation between some of my Facebook friends on the parable we studied this weekend, Jesus’ Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus from Luke 16:19-31.  I found it fascinating the way one of my friends described the point, or as I like to put it in ABC, the “transcendent truth” of this parable:  “What I get is that God is not happy with rich people who do not care about the sufferings of others, especially the poor.  Why is the rich man in Hades?  Because he did not help his neighbor Lazarus.”

I’ve spent some time pondering the “point” that my Facebook friend took away from this parable.  On the one hand, she is right.  Jesus’ subsequent conversation with a rich ruler in Luke 18 makes her point all too soberly:

A certain ruler asked Jesus, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good – except God alone.  You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.’” “All these I have kept since I was a boy,” he said. When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was a man of great wealth. (Luke 18:18-23)

This man’s great wealth kept him out of the Kingdom of God because he refused to love his neighbor and share his wealth.  This selfishness was damning for him and to him.  My friend is right in her Facebook post.

And yet, something is missing.  Because although it is true that refusing to be a neighbor to someone in need – as both the rich ruler in Jesus’ conversation and the rich man in Jesus’ parable do – does damn a person to hell, the inverse is not true.  Giving to the poor, being a neighbor to those in need, and even keeping all of God’s commandments does not get a person to heaven!  No, only Jesus, through His work on the cross, gets a person to heaven.  Indeed, it is vital to note how Jesus’ parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus ends.  The rich man is talking to Abraham in heaven and he says:

“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.” (Luke 16:27-51)

The rich man’s five brothers can avoid the fires of hell not by being really good guys who help their neighbors, but by listening to Moses and the Prophets.  In other words, they can receive salvation by believing what the Scriptures say about salvation.  And if they refuse to believe what the Scriptures say about salvation, they will not believe even if someone rises from the dead to preach salvation to them, which, of course, is precisely what Jesus did.  And, precisely as Jesus warned, many people still did not believe.  Helmut Thielicke explains the situation well:

Do not imagine that a messenger will come from the beyond and confirm what is said in Moses and the prophets, what seems to you to be so unverifiable, so mythological.  Father Abraham will not send you any such occult confirmation.  For anybody who has an interest in evading God will also consider an appearance from the dead and empty specter and elusion.  Nor will the heavens open above us and God will perform no miracle to bring us to our knees.  For God is no shock therapist who works upon our nerves; He loves you as His child and it’s your heart He wants.

So there will be no one appearing from the dead, no voice from heaven will sound, nor will there be any miracle in the clouds.  None of this will come to you…We have only the Word, the Word made flesh and crucified, that namelessly quiet Word which came to us in one was was poor and despised as His brother Lazarus.  For He really wanted to be his brother…

Accordingly, there remains for us…nothing but “Moses and the Prophets” and all they have to say about this Jesus.  He who does not hear these and is not saved here cannot be helped by messengers from the dead.” (Helmut Thielicke, The Waiting Father, 50)

How are the rich man’s brothers to escape the fires of hell?  They are to hear and believe all that Moses and Prophets have to say about Jesus.  And the same is true for us.

We never learn the fate of the rich man’s five brothers.  We simply know that Lazarus rests in Abraham’s bosom in heaven and the rich man is consigned to agony in hell.  This is purposeful.  For, you see, we are the five brothers in this parable.  This parable is ours to finish.  For we are, by nature, destined for hell because of our sin, but able to obtain salvation full and free by God’s grace through faith in His Word, Jesus Christ.  Will you believe what Moses and the Prophets have to say about Jesus?

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April 4, 2011 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

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