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“God Is My Help”
✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠
It must have been difficult for Abram to live most of his life childless with the name “exalted father.” That’s what “Abram” means–exalted father. You remember how the Lord called Abram to leave his father’s house and his homeland, how God promised that He would make a great nation of him, and that through Abram all families of the earth would be blessed. You can hear the frustration in the 80-year-old Abram’s voice in today’s OT reading as he still has no children, and one of the servants in his house, it seems, will end up being his heir–one Eliezer in Hebrew; pronounced Lazarus in Greek, interestingly enough. Later God even magnified the situation by changing Abram’s name to Abraham–father of a multitude. Only when Abraham was 100 years old–as good as dead, the Bible says–and his wife Sarah was past the age of childbearing, did she finally give birth to a son–Isaac. In Isaac God began to fufill his promise in a way that was a pure gift–not by human power or planning but solely by the power of His Word. The Lord fulfills his promises by bringing life out of death. Abraham was called to live his life by faith in the words of God that at times appeared not to be true, in promises not yet fulfilled. Hebrews 11 says of Abraham and Sarah, “These died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off they were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.”
Lazarus in the Gospel was certainly a stranger on the earth. It must have been difficult for him to live his life with a name meaning “God is my Help.” Where was his help now? He was poor and hungry, he was sickly, he was detestable to the point of keeping company with the street dogs. Every day he had to see the rich man who clearly seemed to be blessed by God the way he would have liked to be–not only having the good food and the good clothes, but also the approval and love of other people who looked up to him. But even though Lazarus remained in his miserable condition, he had one thing the rich man didn’t–faith in the preaching of Moses and the Prophets. Lazarus clung to God’s Word and the promises it contained, especially the promises of the Messiah, the Savior who would deliver him from sin and death. Like father Abraham of old, Lazarus was called to live his life by faith in the words of God that at times appeared not to be true. In the end the Lord brought life out of death; faith was turned to sight, and Lazarus knows eternal comfort in heaven at Abraham’s side.
There can be times when it is difficult for us to bear or believe the names God has given us. By your baptism into Christ you are called the people of God and the children of God. But it may not always feel or appear to be that way. We compare ourselves to others who seem to look so much more Christian or who seem to be faring so much better than us, and doubts creep in. We can fall very easily into the trap of judging our relationship with God by appearances–the look of our health or our wealth or our marriage or family or even shows of piety and religion. Just because all is well in those areas of your life doesn’t mean that all is right between you and God–just ask the rich man. Be on guard. The devil and the world can dish out plenty of pleasant and even “spiritual” things. And by the same token, just because all is not perfectly well in these areas of your life doesn’t mean that you are not right with God. How things are between you and God is not based on what you feel or what you see but on Jesus alone.
Repent, then, of your desire to walk by sight and by deceiving appearances. You are called to walk by faith in the words of God that may seem not to be true. You are called saints by God, holy ones in the Scriptures, even when all you can see is your sinfulness, which you so want to be rid of. For you are baptized into the Holy One, Jesus Christ, whose blood atones for all your sin, whose righteousness covers you and gives you a standing before the Father. The Lord kills and makes alive; He brings life out of death. He does His best work when we are brought to nothing, that He may give us everything in Jesus. And everything of Jesus is yours.
So when it seems as if God is not keeping his promises to you, remember Abraham, who in his old age became the father of Isaac, who became the father of Jacob, also known as Israel, from whom came the 12 tribes and the entire nation of Israel, from whom came the Messiah, the Savior Jesus. In him all nations on earth are indeed blessed with forgiveness and life in his name. The words of the Lord are trustworthy and sure and will not pass away. Father Abraham truly does have descendants as numerous as stars in the sky–not only the Israelites, but also all those who share his faith in God’s promises–including all of you. You are among those stars in the sky that the Lord spoke of, and Philippians 2 exhorts us to lead blameless and pure lives as children of God, that we may shine like stars in the midst of this crooked and depraved generation.
Or when you feel as if God’s promises simply aren’t for you, that He’s forgotten you and forsaken you because of your sin, when you are praying words like those from today’s Introit, “How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever? How long will my enemy be exalted over me?” remember Lazarus and what God did for him. With nothing else to cling to in this world, Lazarus didn’t turn his heart away from God in bitterness, but held on to the Scriptures of Moses and the Prophets.
Don’t be afraid to be Lazarus; God does help and deliver. The truth is, we all want to be like the rich man–not greedy (of course)–but we all want to look good to the world. However, the rich man clung to his own righteousness, his own prestige and pride, his own wealth. All those things pass away, forever, as will all those who put their trust in them. Hell is all too real. But with Lazarus there was no facade, nothing to hide. He cried out to God and clung to the Scriptures; and so he was holding on to Christ, who is the heart of all the Scriptures.
Remember how when Jesus was on the road to Emmaus after His resurrection, it is written, “And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.” Lazarus found there in the Scriptures a man much like himself, in fact, in even worse shape than himself. Isaiah prophesied that the Christ is a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, despised and rejected by men, one without any attractiveness that we should desire to be near Him. Jesus Himself said in Psalm 22 that He was surrounded by unbelieving dogs who mocked Him in His pain, who pierced His hands and His feet. And yet, Isaiah says, “He Himself took our infirmities and carried our sorrows. . . And by His wounds we are healed.” Jesus trusted in His Father–that the One who allowed Him to suffer would raise Him up. He’s there now for you. He who took for you a cross will keep you safe through every loss. The blood that flowed from His wounds has bought your eternal healing, the resurrection of your bodies to glory on the Last Day.
Truly Jesus made Himself to be just like Lazarus for you. For notice how Lazarus is comforted there in the bosom of father Abraham. John 1 states, “The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has made Him known.” Jesus made the love of God the Father known and manifested it to us by coming down from heaven into the midst of our soul’s poverty and affliction in order to raise us up and bring us back with Himself to the Father’s side. It is written, “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich,” in forgiveness and mercy and life. Since Jesus suffered and was in need, we learn to see Jesus in those around us who are needy and suffering, and love them as He first loved us.
Eliezer. Lazarus. God is my Help. That’s not just for the future; that’s present tense–He is my Help. Right now in His words of life, right here in His Supper. His body and blood are given for your Help and cleansing, that you may know He is with you and for you, that His own life is in you. Take your place with Abraham and Lazarus and believe the words and promises of God in Christ. Such faith is accounted to you for righteousness.
✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠
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