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Though one rise from the dead
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27 "Then he said, 'I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father's house,
28 'for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.'
29 Abraham said to him, 'They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.'
30 And he said, 'No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.'
31 But he said to him, 'If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.'"
What is it going to take to get people to repent and believe? We like to think that when people have hit a low spot in their lives, when their hearts and spirits are broken, then they will seek God and His forgiveness. But the empirical evidence suggests that even then many of us don't repent and ask for God's forgiveness. And when people refuse to repent, that's when some folks on the sidelines--some pastors, yes, but mostly lay people--ask God for some mighty sign to show up so people will believe and accept Jesus into their lives. It might be nice to imagine every sinner having their own "road to Damascus" moment and suddenly coming to Christ, but such a wish isn't very Biblical.
In the story of the rich man and the poor beggar Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31), Jesus is teaching a few different lessons: the separation between heaven and hell, the consequences of sin, the hope of comfort for the oppressed, and, of course, repentance. The rich man in the story doesn't repent his life until he has lost it, until he is literally tormented in flame. (v.24) The rich man looks up from hell and sees the poor beggar Lazarus in the comfort of Abraham's bosom, and then he asks for mercy. But, having lived his whole life without repentance, without changing his own life nor the lives of others, the rich man's fate is sealed and he is condemned to eternal fire. (Matthew 13:41-42) Finally understanding that he must face the consequences of his own sin, the rich man asks Abraham to send the beggar Lazarus to warn his brothers of the terrible fate awaiting them if they do not repent. And then Abraham says something that is utterly true: "If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead." (v.31)
As I am writing this, we are approaching Resurrection Sunday, and in light of that, those are prophetic words indeed. Even the risen Jesus has not been enough to persuade the world--not even Jews who know "Moses and the prophets"--that they need to repent and accept Christ as Savior and Lord. We see that truth in the world around us as people deny Christ and seek their own pleasures. We see that truth in the lives of many secular and some spiritual leaders as they fall to temptation and sin. We see that truth in our own lives as we stumble daily.
Like Pharaoh in Moses' day, rather than repenting and accepting God's grace immediately, people would rather try to control God's mercy and spend one more night with the "frogs" (the consequences of their sin). (Exodus 8:9-10) What will it take to change their minds, to bring them to repentance? Jesus tells us. Look again at the last verse:
"But he said to him, 'If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.'"
They need to "hear Moses and the prophets." In short, they need to hear the Word of God, and if that does not work, nothing will. The Bible is the greatest tool at our disposal for bringing people (even ourselves!) to repentance. God will use His Holy Spirit and His Word to guide people where He wants them, but it is up to us to get His Word out there and give it the chance to do its work.
"So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth;
It shall not return to Me void,
But it shall accomplish what I please,
And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it."
If we wall up God's Word, keep it to ourselves as some precious treasure of our own, then it cannot do the work for which God intended it. The Bible teaches us about God's love and mercy, and about our own sin and need for salvation. If all else fails--if people are not persuaded by the risen Lord Jesus standing before them nor by the proof of lives transformed by Christ--then we know that God's holy Word can persuade them.
However, if people's eyes are not opened to the Scriptures, then they may not repent. Like the Ethiopian eunuch meeting the disciple Philip on the road to Gaza (Acts 8:26-39), sometimes the Word of God will be right in front of people but they cannot understand it without someone to guide them. Some will accept guidance, and some will refuse. Some are searching for God but just haven't had the right teacher to guide them in His Word. Some don't think they need any help at all, and so they reject anyone who tries to open their eyes. In my own life, when I feel like I am slipping (or have already slipped), I know to turn to the Bible "for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness." (2 Timothy 3:16) But not everyone knows to do that, and not everyone is willing to do that.
15 And He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.
16 "He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned."
We can't make people believe, nor can we make them repent. Faith and repentance come from God through the riches of His mercy and grace. Our part is to preach the gospel, to open people's eyes to Moses and the prophets, so that the Word of God can move people to repentance. All the rest is up to God, and He is indeed mighty to save.
Almighty God, we thank You for the riches You have bestowed upon us through the Cross. Your mercy is the greatest treasure we have in this life, and Your love the greatest treasure of all. Let me be Aaron speaking the Word of God when Moses' words are not enough. Let me be Philip and guide people to Your truth. Let me be David and sing Your praises even as I ask for Your mercy. Amen.
© 2010 Glenn A. Pettit-Noel
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