"Faith Counted to You as Righteousness" - Genesis 15:1-6; Luke 16:19-31 - First Sunday after Trinity
[Read Genesis 15:1-6 and Luke 16:19-31]
Faith Counted to You as Righteousness
“Abraham believed the Lord, and the Lord counted it to him as righteousness” [Genesis 15:1-6; Romans 4:3; Galatians 3:6].
Abraham had many riches, but so far – now far into old age – Abraham had been denied the great treasure of having a child. Abraham had no son. Sarah, his wife, was barren and decades past the age of childbearing. Yet, God here makes a promise to Abraham – a promise hard to believe – “That servant in your household, Eliezer, will not be your heir. You will have a son. Your own son will be your heir.”
Is anything too hard for God [Genesis 18:14]? God would give Abraham a son from his own wife, Sarah. A promise from God. Through this son of promise [who would be named Isaac], Abraham would have many, many descendants, forming a whole nation.
Most importantly, one of those offspring – one of those descendants born down the line through the son promised to old-Abraham – would be the long-ago-promised Savior, Jesus [Gen. 3:15; Galatians 3:16].
“Look toward heaven, Abraham – number the stars, if you can – so shall your offspring be.” Abraham believed (faith) the promise made – God counted this faith to Abraham as righteousness. “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.”
In our Gospel reading today, we encounter a rich man who has everything – except the true riches. We read about the Rich Man and Lazarus [Luke 16:19-31]. In Luke 16:19-31, our Lord tells us a story of a rich man – who is given no name – and a very poor man named Lazarus.
The rich man feasts sumptuously every day. He is dressed in fine clothing. He has the best. He achieved your dreams of retirement. To his detriment. In his abundance, he has a greater lack. Love of God and neighbor is not part of his treasure.
The poor man, Lazarus, is laid at the rich man’s gate. The poor man is poor in possessions and body. He cannot lay himself at the rich man’s gate but is laid there. He is hungry, desiring just what falls from the rich man’s table.
This poor man is ill in his body – covered everywhere in sores. He lives in embarrassment and shame – even the dogs (which do get what falls from their master’s table) come and lick his painful sores.
The poor man is laid at the rich man’s gate. But the rich man does not love him. He does not love his neighbor as himself. He does nothing for him.
We are hereby convicted of all the times we have been the rich man. How often has God laid a man in front of you, and you have passed him by. You could have helped, but didn’t. You made your excuses – you justified yourself in your decision not to help – but God knows better. God gave the command, and you have not kept it.
How many people does God lay at your gate? We would like to think that every person has what they need to take care of themselves, if they just try. But this isn’t always true. “The Lord makes poor and makes rich” [1 Samuel 2:7]. God provided for Lazarus, who had too little, by laying him in front of the rich man to whom God gave extra. God sometimes provides for a man by giving him you! But do you answer the call?
But I have no extra! Brothers and sisters, there are so many who would benefit just from the crumbs that fall from your table. So little can make such a difference to so many. And, like a dripping faucet, just a little given consistently over time becomes an abundance.
And I don’t think we’re clinging to every crumb with such tight fingers. We let a lot go, but where does it go? I think our sin is that we just don’t care enough to take the time to get that little to those who can use it. We pass them by at our gate.
We lack the better riches – the love of God, love for our neighbor. This love would be a greater treasure. No excuse will justify us. And for this failure in love, there is, in truth, hell to pay. It is sin.
The rich man is in hades, hell, in the flame. And there, he shows his true colors even more – His only remorse is for himself and his own. He even expects that Lazarus, whom he neglected, would be used for his benefit – “send him to bring me a drop of water. I am in anguish in this flame.”
“Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.”
Which of us here isn’t guilty? If I say I’m not, I’m a liar. Our Lord spoke this Gospel text. We each have reason to fear such permanent consequences. And, in godly fear, we should seek the remedy.
In our Lord’s story, Lazarus is found in heaven at Abraham’s side. Abraham, who was counted righteous by faith. What I need is not to justify myself. And I can’t work myself out of this. What I need is a Savior who has made great promises to me. And that I have.
That long-ago-promised Savior, Jesus – that offspring of Abraham – and Son of God – has done the unthinkable. He, the good one, has died in my place for my sin. Jesus died on the cross for your sin of being that rich man. Jesus suffered the full anguish of that flame that was due for you. He is innocent – you are guilty – yet He suffered the hell of being that rich-man-of-a-sinner for your sake.
Jesus’ anguish on the cross is the price paid for your freedom. You are forgiven. Pardoned. Set free from the sentence owed. And, you, a sinner, are counted righteous to God. By what Jesus has done.
You see, Jesus is the True Rich Man – the Good Rich Man. He gave you what you needed and what you lacked. He made His treasure of righteousness yours since you lacked your own. You are now rich in the true riches because His have been credited to you.
By what Jesus has done, brothers and sisters, He has made you into a “Lazarus”. A Lazarus by name. That name “Lazarus” has a meaning – it means “One Whom God Helps”. You are one truly poor in righteousness. You are one helped by the truly rich man, God the Lord.
“Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” Abraham believed the great promise of what would be. You are counted righteous not by your works, not by improving yourself well enough, but through faith, belief, in the promise of what has been done – that Jesus had done it.
“For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.” [Romans 3:28]
“Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: ‘Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.’” [Romans 4:4-8]
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” [Ephesian 2:8-9]
Since we have been saved by such a rich and free treasure, we are now enriched to freely be of help to others. Since God has so loved us with the heavenly riches, we can show that love of God by means of earthly riches. God has given us so much more than crumbs from His table – yet we can share and show that love to our neighbor by crumbs from ours. Amen.