Luke 16:19-31 gives the account of an unnamed rich man and a poor man named Lazarus. Lazarus would sit at the gate of the rich man and feed from the scraps of the rich man’s feasts. Luke writes that when the poor man died, “He was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side.” Soon thereafter, the rich man also dies. Yet, the rich man is not carried to Abraham’s side in heaven. He is sentenced to an eternity in Hades (v.23). The rich man, now in anguish beyond measure, looks up and sees Lazarus and Abraham. He pleads for mercy, but he doesn’t receive it. In one final plea, he begs Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his five brothers about the judgment to come for those who fail to repent.
What happens next is striking… Abraham says, “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them” (v. 29). The man replies, “No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent” (v.30). Finally, in closing, Abraham responds, “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead” (v.31).
I think so many people –– like the rich man –– assume that they’d believe in God if only he would show them a sign. Yet, these same folks fail to realize that it is due to their hardness of heart that they don’t believe. Even if a sign were to be shown from heaven, they wouldn’t believe.
So, how can one believe and have their heart of stone replaced with a heart after God? Read God’s Word and, by faith, believe in the incarnate Word of God, Jesus Christ. Abraham’s response to the rich man is simultaneously simple and consequential: “They have Moses and the Prophets.” Later in Luke, after Jesus’s resurrection from the dead following his crucifixion, Luke gives account of Jesus teaching his disciples: “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27).
The Old Testament Scriptures point to a coming Messiah who would save his people from their spiritual adultery against God and prolonged wandering from God. That Messiah, is Jesus.
This Jesus, provides salvation to his people, if only they hear and obey God’s Word through repentance and faith. Abraham’s response is simple: we must hear and obey. Yet, it is also consequential: if we don’t hear and obey, we will never be reconciled in relationship with God. It is not a sign from heaven that will cause someone to turn to God in repentance and faith (though, to be clear, God can use any means to save someone); it is as Abraham says here in this passage: by looking to the Scriptures and seeing how they testify to Jesus and the salvation he provides for his people. These Scriptures indeed testify to a sinless savior who took our place on the cross, who paid the penalty of our sin as God’s wrath was poured out upon him, and who rose from the grave three days later.
As I’ve been reflecting on this, God has imprinted two lessons on my heart. The first is that any time God chooses to save someone, it is an act of mercy as he relents from the just punishment we deserve for our sins (Rom.6:23a). It is also a gift of immense grace as he calls someone unto salvation and into newness of life with God through the power of the Holy Spirit. Because of this, I am in awe that God would choose me…a sinner with no hope. I am compelled to give praise to him for his grace and mercy. If you are in Christ, you should do the same.
Secondly, I feel an ease of burden in my evangelism. No matter how many times I’m reminded that it is God who gives spiritual growth to someone stuck in their sins, I often still feel a burden to speak winsomely. Moreover, I feel the tension that I might offend them or that their intellectual or personal objections to the faith will easily outweigh the logic of my Gospel pleas. Yet, this short story seems to buck against those fears. It seems to point to a reality that faith truly comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ. Hearing by what? Oh, that’s right: the Word (Rom. 10:17). Faith comes by hearing the Word of God. By all means, use whatever ways necessary to share the faith, but always ensure that it is connected to God’s Word. Scripture does tell us that it is good to be able to give a defense of the faith to those who object (1 Pet. 3:15), but we must still realize that it is God, by his Word and through his grace, who will sovereignly bring about salvation to a sinner like you or me. Again, this should ease the burden of our evangelism. All we have to do is to be faithful in our sharing and to point unbelievers to the Word of God. When we do, we can trust that God will (if he wills) bring about new life. Just as Ezekiel prophesied over dead bones the Word of God and they came to life (Ezek. 37), we too must trust that God’s Word will not return void, so long as we proclaim it in speech.
So, friend, next time someone tells you that they would believe in God if only he would provide a sign, point them to God’s Word instead. When they drink of the living water that he gives, they will never thirst again (John 4:14). When they eat of the bread of life that he provides, they will never experience hunger again (John 6:35). Praise God for his Word (Ps. 56:10).