What’s your “It just doesn’t get better than this” moment? Sitting in a boat on a calm, peaceful lake on a sunny summer morning; driving through northern Wisconsin to see the multiple Fall colors on a crisp autumn day; cross country skiing through soft, fluffy snow on well-groomed trails in the Wisconsin woods? Or maybe something more personal: seeing your child for the first time; getting an “A” on that paper or that test you worked so hard on or graduating from high school, college or grad school; making that friend you didn’t think you would have or getting that date or promising that promise to your spouse who means so much in the world to you and you hope they always will. At different times in life – in different ways in life – our great God gives us any number of occasions when we can just sit back and say, “It just doesn’t get better than this!” You probably can think of many more.
Who do you think would have said that about his life in our Gospel for the day – the rich man or poor Lazarus? It might be interesting to think about that for a bit – and to see what that says about how you and I can say about every day God gives us, no matter what kind of day it is, “It Just Doesn’t Get Better Than This!”
We can probably safely assume that the rich man in Jesus’ story may have thought any number of times that it just couldn’t get better than the way it was for him, because we are told he was dressed in expensive purple clothing and fine linen and lived a life of luxury every single day. The word for “luxury” in the Bible means things just “shined brightly.” That would be great, wouldn’t it, to have things always “shine brightly” in our lives – in our relationships, in the stock market? Having someone wait us on hand and foot to go get us whatever we wanted to have or to do at that moment – and being able pay for whatever it was we wanted to have or to do at that moment? But if you think back to Pastor Free’s sermon last week about the sinister nature of greed, what’s going to happen with all those “it can’t get better than this moments” if at that moment you don’t have Jesus Christ in your life? At some point you will say, “I want it to get better than this, because I want more. I need more. I am bored with less.” And even more than that, what does Jesus make clear is going to happen if a person doesn’t believe in Jesus? In the middle of verse 22: “The rich man also died and was buried. In hades (that is, in hell) where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away.” Unfortunately, this man was right. It can’t get better than that. It will only get worse – dreadfully, eternally worse – an ongoing death of torment apart from God, if God is not a part of your life on earth. It wasn’t his wealth that was the problem. That was a blessing from God, just as it is meant to be for us. The problem was that his heart did not have God.
Well, what about poor Lazarus? As he sat there in his poverty — having so little to hang onto in life that he had to sit at the gate of this rich man, just begging and hoping to get some of the leftovers that this man threw into the garbage after his sumptuous feasts, and having no way to get medical help from a doctor or nurse and instead having to rely on the neighborhood dogs to come by and lick his painful sores to give him some relief – as he sat there in his poverty, do you think he could have even said one time in his life, “It just doesn’t get better than this!”
From a human standpoint he may never have said or thought that – and it may be true that it never did get better than that. For all we know, his pitiful life may have even gotten more pitiful. But what all people have in common, no matter their earthly situation, is that their great or miserable life ends. And when Lazarus’ life ended, where does Jesus say he ended up? Verse 22: “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side.” That means the angels carried him to heaven. In other words, Lazarus was a believer in the one telling this story as his Savior from sin. He knew that there was something magnificently better than this that was still to come. And since he knew that about what was to come, what could he also say about what he was going through back then in his poverty and woe? He could say, “It just doesn’t get better than this, because I have a Savior who loves me so much, even if the people around me love me so little. This is the life my dear Lord has chosen for me because my dear Lord has chosen me. He has chosen me to believe in him and to be an example of what it means to believe in him by living for him and thanking him for the life he has seen fit to give me, because this is the way he has decided is best for me to keep my attention focused on him.”
So both the rich man and poor Lazarus could say the same thing: “It just doesn’t get better than this” — but for totally different reasons. Now in the rest of the story Jesus lets you and me know how we can say the very same thing for all the right reasons, and to see that it really has nothing to do if outwardly we are the rich man or poor Lazarus, because for one thing our circumstances can change from time to time, can’t they? Let’s take a few moments to see how we can say the same thing for the right reasons, no matter the circumstances.
But let me first ask you a question. In all the rest of the story – the details about the rich man being in torment and now him becoming the one doing the begging – begging for Lazarus to touch his tongue with a sip of water – that same Lazarus who once had to beg for the scraps that fell from his table – or the details about Father Abraham in heaven telling the rich man that there was a great chasm fixed between heaven and hell, meaning that once you died, you were in one place or the other. There was no second chance. Or the details about the rich man begging Father Abraham to send Lazarus – the one he had no time for and once ignored – to not ignore his five brothers, but to go to them and warn them so they could change their ways and not end up in the same place. So my question is: In all the rest of the story with all those details, what was the main point? Isn’t Father Abraham’s reply in verse 29 the main point? “Abraham replied. They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.” What does that mean? They have God’s Word. God’s Word – the Bible — will help them know how they can someday live in the place, of which it will always be able to be said, “It just can’t get better than this!”
The rich man protested that, we know, saying that if Lazarus would rise from the dead and talk to his brothers, that would really convince them to repent of their sin. But Father Abraham said, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced, even if someone rises from the dead.” Sadly, how true that was shown to be about Jesus himself, wasn’t it? The one who came to save people from the guilt of their sins and the curse of their death by rising from the dead after he died for sin saw that most people didn’t even believe in him, though he rose from the dead and showed himself to many people and did many convincing miracles to prove that he was truly alive and therefore able to return to where he once was to prepare a place for them.
The bottom line and the main point of this story from Jesus is that every single one of us can say, “It just doesn’t get better than this” for all the right reasons when we listen to what God says in the Bible. That’s why it’s so important to keep hearing and reading God’s Word like this, because we know from our own experience how easy on the one hand it is to think it just can’t better than this when it comes to making our earthly things the main things in life — and on the other hand how easy it can be in our misery and pain to think that it just can’t get better than this, either because we think God has forgotten us or that maybe he doesn’t love us, because of all we have done to give him a reason not to.
But God tells us in his Word that our earthly joys are truly joys to enjoy and appreciate, but that they are just so little and minor in comparison to what God has in store for us in heaven through the work of Jesus. And in his Word God tells us that our earthly sadnesses are loving reminders that this life isn’t all that there is, and that just as Jesus went through suffering before accomplishing the victory, so those who believe in him will go through suffering before receiving the results of the victory that Jesus won for us all. In other words, every single day every single one of us can say as a child of God, “It just doesn’t get better than this!” Because whatever the “this” is at that moment – whether a good thing or a bad thing in our eyes – it is another thing used by the God who loves us so to make us look forward to that time when he will bring us to his side and there in his arms know how true it will always be that “It just can’t get better than this,” … because we will be with Jesus. Amen.