The Power of Unbelief

April 9, 2023 Speaker: Ray Lorthioir Series: Sermons 2023

Passage: Luke 16:19–31, Matthew 27–28

Sermon 4-9-23

Pastor Ray Lorthioir

Trinity Lutheran Church

W. Hempstead, NY

The Resurrection of Our Lord. Based on Luke 16:19-31.


The Power of Unbelief

We begin this morning with one of Jesus’ parables. Luke 16:19-31, “19 ‘There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20 At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21 and longing to eat what fell from the rich man's table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24 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.” 25 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. 26 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.” 

27 He answered, “Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father's house, 28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.” 29 Abraham replied, “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.” 30 “No, father Abraham,” he said, “but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.” 31 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.”’”

To begin with there are several interesting features of this parable. First, Jesus says that in the pre-resurrection afterworld those in torment and those in comfort could see each other and even dialogue. And that in that afterworld Abraham and one of his descendants could recognize each other as “father” and “son.”

However, as Abraham explains, a vast chasm had been set between those in comfort and those in torment. There was no crossing over — period. With this horrifying reality sinking in, the rich man calls out to father Abraham to do something about it. The rich man has brothers. Indeed, he does — all of Israel. So, the rich man cries out to father Abraham, “warn them!” And Abraham replies, “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.” In other words, they have the entire Old Testament. 

Abraham unequivocally states that everything necessary to avoid the place of torment is already written in Moses and the Prophets. If the rich man had believed what is written, he would have behaved differently. Indeed, Lazarus would have been cared for in this life — perhaps given the tools necessary to independently care for himself so that he could care for others. But because of unbelief in this life, the rich man’s destiny in the afterlife was set forever. Those who reject their Creator and His purposes for this life are rejected by their Creator forever after this life. That’s hell.

But the rich man is not satisfied. He wants Abraham to create an undeniable miracle. He wants Lazarus to be sent alive to his father’s house to warn them. The rich man is convinced that such a miracle would make all his relatives repent of their unbelief. Indeed, this is how most of us think about miracles. Wouldn’t you think that if we had a lot of miracles in this church, the place would be packed? It would be packed with people seeking miracles. But would it be packed with those willing to live this life their Creator’s way? Not necessarily. Would those defying their Creator’s plan to live as one man, one woman, husband and wife for life in marriage — would they necessarily repent just because of miracles? Don’t count on it. That’s what Jesus meant to prove when he said, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” If from deep within they refuse to listen to the Creator, even the greatest of His miracles will not impress them.

In reality, Jesus proved the point of His parable many times over. When the crowd saw Jesus seemingly helpless in the power of the Roman governor, they turned against the miracle worker. They wickedly called for Jesus’ death. Because that’s what unbelief does. It calls for the death of God. It desperately yearns for the death of God, because unbelief would be god.

In the late 1600’s something called modernism was born in western philosophy. It was the idea that human philosophy could explain the world and life in the world without a Creator God. For about 250 years modernism ruled in the west. Along the way it created the millions and billions of years theory of the universe and Darwinism. It resurrected an ancient idea in philosophy called Materialism — the idea that the physical world is all there is. Skepticism of anything immaterial or miraculous was also adopted through philosophers such as David Hume. But such skeptics are never skeptical enough. They’re never skeptical of their own skepticism.

Modernism made gods out of long ages of time, infinite chance, and death in the form of survival of the fittest. It spawned a theory — disproved in the 1920’s but in vogue again — that monotheistic religion is merely the apex of human evolutionary religious thought, and not reality revealed from above. Beginning in the middle of the 1800’s modernism captured science in that it became the religion of those doing science. It also spawned ruthless monsters like Marxism and Nazism.

By the end of the 1800’s the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche proclaimed that God was dead because we had killed Him with our philosophy. We were now free to pursue our own reality.  But in doing so, Nietzsche ironically went insane in a world without meaning.

 However, in the early 1900’s it became clear within the halls of academia that modernism’s attempt to explain the world through “reason” and without God had failed. Despair over that failure began to express itself in the arts with so-called modern art and the atonal music of Stravinsky and others. In the mid 20th century, the spectacle of the former Soviet Union, Communist China and Cambodia showed us the horror of life in an officially atheist land where failure to love the supreme dictator from the heart brings extreme torture and death.

However, even when classical Marxism failed with the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, Marxism reinvented itself and pressed on to have God eradicated from society. Its latest attempt has taken the form of eradicating the fundamentals of God’s creation found in the book of Genesis, namely male and female, marriage and the family. The whole push to celebrate transgenderism and homosexuality and make it criminal not to is the route Marxism is using in its latest attempt to control the west. 

It’s not because any of this is reasonable. It’s quite irrational and patently insane. But unbelief in the living God is a powerful evil. No amount of reason or proof can lead unbelievers to the truth. As the rich man of Jesus’ parable found out, unbelief captures souls and leads them to their doom.

On Good Friday the sun darkened. And it was not clouds. Jesus died at Passover. Passover always begins under a full moon. It’s impossible to have a sun eclipse unless there’s a new moon. So, it was not a sun eclipse. Scripture records that a darkening of the sun was experienced over Jerusalem from noon to at least three PM. A regular sun eclipse is no more that two or three minutes. I know. I’ve been in one. Ancient sources record that the darkness was experienced over a fairly wide swath of territory. That’s also impossible in a regular sun eclipse. The eclipse is only ten miles wide. You have to be right under it. Again, I know. I’ve been in one.

Matthew records in Matthew 27:50-54, “50 And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. 51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split. 52 The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. 53 They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus' resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people. 54 When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, 'Surely he was the Son of God!’” 

But Jesus was dead. His body was taken down from the cross and given to Joseph of Arimathea who placed it in his own new tomb. Now, you would think that the events of Good Friday, especially the earthquake and the splitting of the curtain in the temple that hid the Holy of Holies would have been enough to give the Jewish leadership caution. But no. Unbelief is a radical thing. Egypt was wrecked with ten plagues because of Pharaoh’s radical unbelief in Yahweh. Ten times he refused to let Israel go and paid the penalty.

In the same way, the Sanhedrin refused to listen to Moses and the Prophets concerning Jesus. Thus, we read in Matthew 27:62-66, “62 The next day, the one after Preparation Day, the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate. 63 ‘Sir,’ they said, ‘we remember that while he was still alive that deceiver said, “After three days I will rise again.” 64 So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has been raised from the dead. This last deception will be worse than the first.’ 65 ‘Take a guard,’ Pilate answered. ‘Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how.’ 66 So they went and made the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stone and posting the guard.”

But unbelief didn’t stop there. When Jesus was raised from the dead, the guards were there. They saw it. While the women who had come to the tomb were on their way back with news of Jesus’ resurrection, we read in Matthew 28:11-15, “11 While the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. 12 When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, 13 telling them, ‘You are to say, “His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.” 14 If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.’ 15 So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day.’”

The leadership had direct testimony of Jesus’ resurrection from the guards. However, just as Jesus predicted, those who refuse to believe Moses and the Prophets will not believe it even if someone should rise from the dead. And that’s true to this day. So, they devised a plan to deny what had happened. This is unbelief in action.

Ultimately, all unbelief in God becomes violent — especially unbelief in the Lord Jesus Christ. The testimony of Scripture declares that the Pharisees and the Jewish leadership became violent toward their fellow Jews who had come to believe in Jesus as Messiah. St. Paul himself was among the violent ones. That is, until the risen Jesus Christ gloriously revealed Himself to Paul on the road to Damascus. Then Paul went from being a persecutor to being a severely persecuted believer in Jesus.

But gentiles persecuted Christians even more severely. We see this to a certain extent in Scripture. But most of the persecution by gentiles happened after the New Testament had been written. Jesus predicted all of this. He said that no student is above his teacher. As unbelief did to Jesus, so it will do to all who believe that Jesus is Messiah.

In the church today there is unbelief in high places. Those who believe that Scripture is telling the truth about all the things it speaks of often find themselves nudged out by those who don’t. For instance, therefore, there are Lutherans and there are Lutherans. Our national organization is committed to Scripture as the inerrant and infallible Word of God. In its early years, though, people joined our organization because they knew that they had no future in the large Lutheran organization from which they had come out — an organization that to this day denies Scripture to be the inerrant and infallible Word of God and has fallen into apostasy.

But, now we get to the good part. Back in 1975 biblical scholarship was lost in modernism. I know. I finished seminary that year. At that time 75% of biblical scholars had concluded that the Bible’s testimony of Jesus resurrected from the dead had been added to the gospels long after Jesus walked this earth. In other words, they thought Christ’s resurrection was a religious myth invented by the church somewhere around 180A.D.

But in 1975, a then young man by the name of Gary Habermas wrote a doctoral thesis that eventually shook the world of unbelieving biblical scholarship. That thesis spurred a lot of subsequent research. The result is that today, about 75% of biblical scholars believe that Jesus of Nazareth was physically resurrected from the dead, or at least that the church was proclaiming Him physically resurrected from the dead within six to twenty-four months of Jesus’ crucifixion. In other words, it’s been established that the physical resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth from the dead is as sure an historical fact as any fact that can be obtained from the world of 2,000 years ago.

Here’s what Peter has to say in Acts 10:39-41, “39 ‘We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree, 40 but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. 41 He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen — by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.’”

After His resurrection, Jesus did not appear to His enemies. He will only appear to His enemies on Earth’s last day, when He returns again. In the meantime Jesus’ enemies can contemplate the empty tomb that challenges their unbelief. On the other hand, Jesus’ friends have trustworthy eyewitness testimony to base their faith upon. And it has been this way from the beginning.

On the Day of Pentecost 33A.D., 3,000 Jewish men believed the eye-witness testimony of the Apostles and became part of the Kingdom of God. Did any of them see Jesus resurrected? No. Some may have seen Jesus’ crucifixion and probably many had heard of the empty tomb. But, the Apostles presented eye witness testimony that they had handled and touched the immortal resurrected body of Jesus. They also presented the testimony of Moses and the Prophets that God would resurrect the Messiah. As a result the 3,000 passed from unbelief to belief. Lord Holy Spirit was the difference to them. It is He who enabled them to pass from unbelief to belief. But the Spirit used the testimony of Moses, the Prophets and the Apostles upon which to rest His case. And it is still this way. All who would enter righteous eternal life with Yahweh must receive the testimony of Yahweh’s crucified and resurrected Messiah — His suffering and victorious Messiah.

Here’s the testimony of St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, “3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.” The Scriptures Paul is referring to is the Old Testament. The witness of Peter, Paul and other Apostles is the New Testament. 

Therefore, it’s upon the eyewitness testimony of the Apostles and the rest of the about 600 witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection that Christianity rests. For this reason, all the spirits of unbelief have attacked their testimony for centuries. However, it is precisely upon their testimony that Lord Holy Spirit rests His case for all those called to believe.

And when everything is said and done, belief in the Lord Jesus is much more powerful than unbelief. Take note of history. There have been very few moments in history when believers have persecuted unbelievers. But throughout history unbelievers have severely persecuted believers. Why is that? All Holy Spirit empowered believers in Jesus that know their sin has been washed away, that their lives have been justified and that they have been made righteous in the eyes of the Living God by the blood of Christ are unafraid of what happens on the other side of death. Therefore, by Lord Holy Spirit’s gift of faith in Jesus, believers living in this world are willing to live for Jesus — the Way, the Truth and the Life. Unbelievers absolutely hate that. For instance, that’s why believers are being assaulted at present with this trans madness.

But too bad. Messiah is alive. He has the victory over sin, death and the devil. He is seated at the right hand of the Father. And from there He is coming in glory to gather His people into His Kingdom, and expel His enemies into the outer darkness once and for all. Christ is risen. Alleluia. Amen.

All Bible quotes are from the NIV.

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