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, if I were the Prince of Darkness I would want to engulf the whole earth in darkness. I’d have a third of its real estate and four-fifths of its population, but I would not be happy until I had seized the ripest apple on the tree. So I should set about however necessary, to take over the United States. I would begin with a campaign of whispers. With the wisdom of a serpent, I would whisper to you as I whispered to Eve, “Do as you please.” To the young I would whisper “The Bible is a myth.” I would convince them that “men created God,” instead of the other way around. I would confide that “what is bad is good and what is good is square.” In the ears of the young I would whisper that work is debasing, that cocktail parties are good for you. I would caution them not to be “extreme” in religion, in patriotism, in moral conduct. And the old I would teach to pray – to say after me – “Our father which art in Washington.” Then I’d get organized. I’d education authors in how to make lurid literature exciting so that anything else would appear dull, uninteresting. With flattery and promises of power I would get the courts to vote against God and in favor of pornography. Thus I would evict God from the courthouse, then from the schoolhouse, then from the Houses of Congress. Then in his own churches I’d substitute psychology for religion and deify science. If I were Satan I’d make the symbol of Easter an egg. And the symbol of Christmas a bottle. If I were the Devil I’d take from those who have and give to those who wanted until I had killed the incentive of the ambitious. If I were the devil I’d just keep doing what I’m doing.” Have you heard it? That’s an adaptation of a speech by radio commentator Paul Harvey which first aired in the 1960s. If I were the devil. What would you do if you were the devil?
If I were the devil I would stop at nothing, I would do anything, I would try everything in order to get you and your loved ones to spend an eternity in hell with me. If I were the devil I’d do specifically 3 things to accomplish my goal. 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 what I could to get you to underestimate the reality and permanence of hell. And 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, “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! If I were the devil, I’d make you look at this guy, stare at 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’s got a nicer home than you, he’s got a better car than you. If I were the devil, I would make you think that this guy is everything that you ever would want to be. And notice, he’s left nameless, he isn’t given a name like the other guy, in fact, you could just insert your name in there!
And this other guy, Lazarus, 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. If I were the devil I would 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 this 100, 90, 80, 70 year life and forget about the 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.
That slithering, conniving, deceptive serpent is doing a good job in our lives, isn’t he? I need Jesus’ words of warnings here. How often haven’t you and I become 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 important, to direct me to heavenly and eternal treasure. And make no mistake, the problem with the rich man is not that he was rich- that’s not the problem. God’s Word has many examples of people who were very wealthy and yet godly. The problem wasn’t his wealth, the problem was what we heard in one of our lessons last week: the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. And that’s something that infects poor and rich alike. If I were the devil, I’d try to get you to be confused about what true wealth is.
“The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side.” Now, if I were the devil, I wouldn’t try to convince you that you’re going to die, rich, poor, you’re all going to die. No, 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 try to convince you that in the end everyone’s going to heaven so it doesn’t matter what you believe or how you live. In fact, if I were the devil, I’d try to get you to go to a church that didn’t really talk much about hell, or, even better, to go to a church that talked about having a second chance after you die. Or, maybe, just maybe, I could get you to think that I didn’t really exist, that I wasn’t really real, that I was just 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 far from that being comforting is that 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 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 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.