The First Sunday after Trinity, 2017

For The Epistle – 1 John 4:7-21

The Gospel – Luke 16:19-31

Article – 22

 

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.

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We have jumped to Article 22 this week for a specific reason.  The Gospel lesson deals with the concept of the afterlife….and Article 22 also deals with the concept of the afterlife.

 

In Luke 16 we find this teaching from Jesus.  Some might call it a parable, and it does have parabolic elements to it.

 

There is a Rich Man, but he is not named.  There is a poor man, and he is named Lazarus. 

 

The Rich Man here is portrayed by Jesus as, rich, of course, but also callous and uncaring for his neighbors. 

 

His riches have blinded him to the needs of others.

 

Contrast this Rich Man with Lazarus.

Lazarus is lying by the Rich Man’s gate daily.

He is covered with sores.

He is hungry.

He desires to be fed with what falls from the Rich Man’s table. 

 

He essentially has nothing. 

 

Both men die and enter the afterlife. Lazarus to Abraham’s side and the Rich Man to Hades…torment…hell.

 

In this lesson Jesus has it possible (for the sake of His illustration) that those at rest and those in torment are able to converse with one another despite being divided by a massive chasm.

 

There is dialogue between Abraham and the Rich Man.

 

But Abraham essentially rejects all of the Rich Man’s requests for a drop of water…or a special visit by Lazarus to warn his brothers of their destination to that same place.

 

 

 

The message is, rather, the Words of God are sufficient unto salvation.

 

So, we are not given a complete picture of what its like after death in detail. We know the destination of each is permanent.

 

We know that we will not have second chances to make things right or help others make their situations right.

 

We further see that the life we now live does have an impact on our future life after death as well.

 

The New Testament is very clear about the salvation of mankind. Therefore, we too are also without excuse.

 

 

All of what we know regarding where we will go after we die and how we get there is clearly laid out for us.

 

Romans chapter 8 “…there is therefore now no condemnation for those for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

 

John 11:25-27

[25] Jesus said to [Martha], “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, [26] and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” (ESV)

 

John 5:24

[24] Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. (ESV)

It was these sorts of passages (and many others) that Christians leaned on for strength, assurance, faith, hope, and comfort regarding their eternal life.

Believing these words and holding on to them as God’s comfortable promises for the saint is part of what we call faith.

 

When we place our faith in Christ for our salvation and stop trying to save ourselves, we are said to be justified.

 

We are justified before God by the grace of God through our faith.  Sometimes we use the shorthand of saying, “We are justified by faith.”

 

To be justified means to be set right…to be set in a right relationship.  God now favors us because we are trusting in His Son for our salvation and we are set right with God.

Some theologians have spoken of faith this way…as being in three parts:  Knowledge, Assent and Trust.

 

Faith is having the knowledge of something.  Then it requires assenting to the fact of it. Then it requires trusting in it…or in this case, trusting in Christ.

 

All three must be present for it to be genuine true saving faith.

 

This is compared to places in the Bible where we read that the demons believed in Jesus.  They knew who He was, so they had knowledge of Him.

 

They even assented to the facts of who Jesus was.  They said to Jesus,

 

 

Mark 1:24

[24] “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” (ESV)

 

So they were well aware of who Jesus was.  They assented to the truth of who Jesus was.

 

They just did not have that last element of Trust.  They hated Christ.  They feared Christ.  Therefore they did not have saving faith in Christ.

 

Over time however, the simplicity of saving faith became distorted.

 

The teaching of Justification by grace through faith had been lost or not taught at all.

Fr. Hart - “The Gospel of Jesus Christ calls each person to faith and repentance, turning not merely from a few sins here and there, but from all willful sin by a radical turning to God.

And, it calls each person to a life of faith, and with it a readiness to die safely in that faith. It replaces terror of the grave with hope of the resurrection of the dead on the Last Day.

Instead of the Gospel of Christ, with its clear call that “Today is the day of salvation (II Cor. 6:2),” a strange religion had sprung up that called for “Pardons, worshipping and adoration as well of Images as of Relics, and also Invocation of Saints,” as a means of shortening one’s time in Purgatory.

 

 

 

Instead of turning to God with the hope of complete forgiveness, the average Western European Christian looked for ways to shorten a time of suffering after death.

Instead of being saved from sin and death, with the danger of eternal damnation as one possibility and eternal life with God as the only other possibility (John 5:28,29), the average person living with that developed doctrine sought merely to shorten time of suffering, or to prepare for no way to avoid a long period of suffering.”

 

Christians no longer looked for a day when they were reunited with Christ in glory, but rather they lived day-by-day and minute-by-minute in fear of death and punishment.

 

Christians could even purchase Indulgences or as our Article calls them, “Pardons.” 

These were bought with money for the purpose to getting themselves or loved ones out of purgatory or at least their time in purgatory shortened.

 

This practice was to the horror of “…not only of Martin Luther but also of several other Roman Catholic theologians of the day.”[1]

 

Moreover, in medieval theology, the concept of sainthood changed as well. A saint was no longer a person who had faith in Christ.

 

A saint was now a person who had done well enough in this life that they earned their right to go straight to heaven when they died.

 

Others who did not have the merit needed to enter heaven when they died would go to Purgatory first. 

It was taught that those with lots of merit had access to God and could intercede for those in purgatory or on earth. 

 

They had attained a certain amount of merit built up and this merit could actually be applied or transferred to a loved one on earth who needed some extra merit…because he too was working his way to heaven. 

 

It was a short leap now to begin to see the saints as something to venerate or worship.

 

 

 

 

 

Images of them were used not merely as reminders of those who have gone before us and are at rest in the sleep of peace but as those, much more holy than we, who have attained heaven, can and will through our calling on them, bring forth the favor of God on them.

 

Bones of great and holy Christian saints were kept as a memorial to the dead…but later on the belief sprang up that if prayer was offered before them there would be some special power in the relics and in the petition to that saint.

Then came the belief in the miracle-working power of their remains and as a result pilgrimages were made to shrines.

So in this Article, we see why the Reformers of England said no to adoration of Images of Saints and Relics.  

Notice Christ’s merit is not taken into account in all of this either….nor is his saving-work.

  

Where is the work of the cross in such a theology?  Purgatory makes the cross only a partial payment for sin at best. 

Where is Christ’s one oblation of Himself once offered for the sins of the whole world?

 

There is a distinction that should be made between the concept of purgatory and the general belief that the saints who have died in faith, can and do make spiritual progress.

 

The life of the Christian that has died is not finished to perfection yet.  The dead still wait to receive their glorified bodies.

 

What is at issue here is the penal process.  Was the payment for sin fully paid for by Christ on the cross or not?

 

To say we carry some residual sins into the next life denies the fullness and completeness of Christ’s atonement for sin by His death and the imputation of His righteousness to us.

The idea of purgatory detracts from the perfection of Christ’s cross and atoning work.

 

There is no biblical warrant for such a practice nor is there biblical warrant for believing that the merit of others can be transferred from one to another…as if it were a stuff that can be measured and moved around.

 

The merit of Christ is what saves us.  God the Father takes the death (or merit) of Christ and those who put their trust in Him and saves them. 

 

It is by grace we are saved.

It is not our own doing.

It is a gift of God so that no one may boast….boast in their own merit.

 

Some will speculate about things that the Bible is silent on.

 

They will say, “A terrible sinner like me must have a thorough scrubbing before I can enjoy heaven.” 

 

Really?  Why is this so?  Though it might sound pious, (and even possible) where is this idea found in the Scriptures? 

 

Why is God so constrained and so limited in His power that He cannot, in the blink of an eye “make us clean?”

 

Fr. Laurence Wells says: – the idea of us needing “a ‘thorough scrubbing’ in the afterlife raises an unnecessary question about the power of God, who is able to give us perfect holiness and purity immediately after we depart this world.

It also contradicts what St. Paul taught in 1 Corinthians 15:51-52, concerning those still alive at the Second Coming. “We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.”

 

Furthermore, this too cuts at the doctrine of Justification by faith. 

We are counted righteous (i.e. worthy to enter heaven) on the account of Christ’s work or merit, not our own.

 

We are covered in Christ’s righteousness.  That is a righteousness that needs no scrubbing, no fixing, no adding to.

 

We do mention those who have gone before us in our prayers.  That they may grow in the grace and knowledge of God.   “Grant them continual growth in thy love and service.”

 

From the Prayer Book Burial of the Dead Office we pray to God for the dead this way…

 

 

 

REMEMBER thy servant, O Lord, according to the favour which thou bearest unto thy people, and grant that, increasing in knowledge and love of thee, he may go from strength to strength, in the life of perfect service, in thy heavenly kingdom…”

 

These prayers are prayers of hope, assurance and trust…not of fear.

 

It is appointed for man to die once and then the judgment.  After we die our eternal destination is sealed.  We cannot change that by our prayers.

 

As we saw in the Gospel lesson today.  There is a great chasm fixed.  No one will be crossing over from one side to the other. 

 

Their eternal destination is settled. The dead belong to God.  We entrust them to Him and His mercy. 

 

Thanks be to God that we can take our requests directly to God the Father as Jesus taught.  We pray to the Father, through the Son, in the power of the Holy Spirit.

 

We need not fear death if we have true and saving faith in the work and merit of Jesus Christ alone.

 

As Fr. Wells again – “The Reformation doctrine was surely the Biblical doctrine. The souls of believers are at their death made perfect in holiness, and do immediately pass into glory; and their bodies, being still united to Christ, do rest in their graves, till the resurrection.”

 

In our Family Prayers in the back of the Prayer Book on page 591 we close out our Evening Prayers in part with this petition…and it summarizes all of this well…

 

grant us grace always to live in such a state that we may never be afraid to die; so that, living and dying, we may be thine, through the merits and satisfaction of thy Son Christ Jesus, in whose Name we offer up these our imperfect prayers. Amen.

 

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.

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[1] Excerpt From: N. T. Wright. “Surprised by Hope.” iBooks. https://itun.es/us/gZRFv.l