- Luke 16:19-31
- 2 Thessalonians 1:3-12
My friends in Jesus Christ, in this short series “Life, Death, Heaven, Hell” we looked at the two markers in the life of every person on the face of this earth. Everyone is born, and everyone will die – Life and Death. During our earthly journey we need to understand that there are only two destinations after death: either heaven, or hell.
The Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is God’s way to call us out of spiritual death to spiritual life in preparation for our eternal life. All of us will experience death – that is if we die before the day of the return of Christ, in which case we will be changed in a moment so that we can receive an immortal body. Those who died in Christ, trusting in his death on the cross and resurrection bringing them new life, will be raised to life – eternal life.
But there is something more that we need to know: there is something the Bible describes as the second death. That is a form eternal life too, but not in the presence of God; it is in the place, the Bible says, which is prepared for the devil and those who chose to reject the Gospel call to trust and follow Jesus Christ. The Bible uses this language:
Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. (Revelation 20:14, NIV)
This second death is not death as we might know it; it is a place of torment, pain, tears and every possible state of misery we can imagine – and more.
The purpose of this sermon is not to scare anyone for the sake of scaring; if is part of the counsel of God, and as such, it is a subject we need to talk about.
Hot topic, but not popular
It was my privilege to take the funeral of one of our faithful members in a previous congregation. I chose to read and preach from the passage we read this morning, coming from Luke 16. I wanted to be responsible before the Lord to make the best of every opportunity to tell those who attended about life and death, with Christ, or without Him. I was sensitive to the occasion and honestly I tried to be as calm as I possibly could, just stating the biblical facts as found in the Gospel.
Later that afternoon I received two telephone calls. The first was to encourage me. It was from a friend, Bill was his name – he was not a member of our congregation. “You’re a brave man,” he said. “Why?” I replied. “I think you are going to be in the hot water for bringing up hell in your sermon today. It is not a popular subject and people don’t want to hear about it. I know the subject has been deliberately avoided by the Presbyterians for quite some time.” I asked him if he thought I was pastorally insensitive in the sermon; he thought I was not, but nonetheless I touched a very offensive subject. I asked him to pray for me. He did.
Not long after this call there was another. It was from an elder of our church. He asked me why I did not comfort the people who attended the funeral. “Instead,” he said, “you chose to scare the daylights out of them by talking about hell.” I thought it was a good thing, if only they listened. “But what about that part where I spoke about being in heaven – and how to get there?” “I was only concerned about them hearing about hell. I don’t think we will ever see them in church again!”
I thought by myself, “I was the first time I ever saw them, and if they message of the Gospel would have reached their hearts, by the grace of God we will surely see them again – if not in church, then in heaven!
And this is what I trust God’s Spirit for today: that his Gospel will do a mighty work so that those who are touched by it will survive the second death, and that we will together gather at the throne of God sining his praises.
Two people – two lifestyles
The rich man in our parable wore the clothes of a king, fine linen, and purple, living in luxury every day. He wore these garments all the time, and lived ostentatiously. His whole life was one spectacular celebration. He lived in a big mansion with slaves doing his bidding.
The Bible mentions “fine linen and purple” together in other contexts too, but both these contexts depicts the tyrants who oppressed the people of God. We find this expression in Ester 1:6 and in Revelation 18:12. In both these paragraphs what the rich relied upon, was taken from them. The Persian Empire of Xerxes is now only a long-forgotten historical fact. Revelation 18 deals with the fall of Babylon, the seat of all evil against God and his people. In God’s timing, that city fell in one moment, and her splendour was gone. All who committed adultery with her were in mourning about her, and said about her, “All your splendour have vanished, never to be recovered. The music and merriment in her will never be heard again.
The rich man of our parable lived like that – in the shadow of the phantom of earthly bliss – as if it would never come to an end. Our Lord did not give him a name, and one commentator says, “It is as if Jesus had looked into the book of life and found the name of Lazarus there but failed to find the other man’s name.”
At the grand entrance to the rich man’s house, probably more than just a door, it refers to a gate which usually led to the entrance of the portal to the rest of the complex, there was a man called Lazarus. His name means “God helps”. This is the only parable that Jesus told where a character got a name. The name marks this man as being one who put all his trust and faith in God.
He was worse off than poor. He was a beggar with sores all over him. It is interesting that our translation does not translate the original more explicitly. The Greek uses the word “to cast, to throw.” In the most literal sense of the word, Lazarus was an outcast. He had been dumped and was now lying there. He could not move himself even on crutches and those who carried his diseased body just dropped it down regardless of the groan of pain they caused.
The rich man and his friends had to pass, and had to see him in his wretchedness. They had to hear his faltering, begging voice as he stretched out his hand. That is why he was put there—a golden opportunity for them show mercy to a downtrodden fellow human being.
The things falling from the table of the rich man were the waste to be thrown away into the street for the scavenger dogs to devour. It was surely not by order on the part of the rich man that the beggar receive any of these scraps; it is most probably by the kindness of a slave boy who was sent out to throw out the scraps. The beggar and the dogs became one in their eagerness to have just something to eat.
Dogs in the Bible are not regarded with the same affection as in our society. Dogs then were not desirable, and if you wanted to speak in a derogative way of your fellowman in the Bible you would call him a dog. Like the younger son in the pigsty, Lazarus found himself with the trash of life.
Two men, two different destinations
The two men died. Verse 22 puts it very meaningfully:
“The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. (Luke 16:22, NIV)
There is no full stop behind the statement of Lazarus’s death. He was carried over the chasm into the arms of the father of all who believe: Abraham. The rich man’s death is described with a full stop, almost symbolic of the futility of a life without God. “Abraham’s bosom” is a Jewish designation for heaven. Abraham is the father of believers who stood at the head of the old covenant. When the soul goes where he is, that means entrance into heaven. This expression tells of intimate association with the father of believers, accepted and acknowledged as a son of Abraham (19:9). So all true believers are borne into Abraham’s bosom.
The rich man also died. It is not impossible to think that this man had an exorbitant funeral. People mourned his death, especially those who joined in his parties. But there is no mention of angels when he died. In fact, the very next words are:
In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. (Luke 16:23, NIV)
The Old Testament uses the word which is translated here as hell in a specific sense: it refers to the wicked alone, who go down to a place of terror, the direct opposite to heaven, the abode of the damned.
Abraham and Lazarus are pictured as being in heaven, the rich man as being in hell. The rich man calls out, “I am in agony in this fire.”
How did the rich man know Abraham when he saw him now for the first time? Exactly as Peter, James, and John knew Moses and Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration. No introductions are needed in the hereafter.
He who did not know mercy when human need called out to him day after day at his own portal, now himself cries out for mercy: “Mercy me!” All mercy is ended in hell. Even the least mercy as when a mere drop of water is asked for a tongue that is burned to a crisp. He whose tongue daily tasted the finest wines and the most delectable cooling drinks now burns with ceaseless flame.
It would be wrong to take this statement to mean that because a man has good things in this life therefore he is anguished in hell, and because a man has good-for-nothing things (κακά) in this life, therefore he is comforted in heaven. Abraham does not say this, nor would it be true. “Your good things,” those the rich man alone thought good, while he cared nothing for spiritual and heavenly treasures and showed that his life was bare of these by his lack of mercy. His benchmark for good things was himself, what he could enjoy at the time, and never did he measure his life against the standard of God. On the other hand, Lazarus did not receive his bad things; the bad things he experienced were to refine his faith and to make his trust rest on God alone. Patiently taking and bearing the bad things God sent Lazarus, keeping his faith all circumstances, hoping only in God, the good things of heaven were now his.
What are our good things? There was another rich man, the Bible says. He was satisfied with his riches and boasted in them. But, the Lord said, his soul was demanded of him that night.
In his judgment God has also separated heaven and hell forever.
Between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’ (Luke 16:26, NIV)
The sense of the statement is that death decides forever, it is either heaven or hell. In my mind’s eye I see the hands of those who tried to cling to the ark when the water rose to cover the world: God shut the ark, there was not chance to open it again.
Heaven is eternal, perfect and good, without any possibility of sin and pain or tears. The number of the saved is full, none will be added to it after the new creation. Of the previous things, no one will ever think of.
Hell is eternal, but eternally imperfect. The previous things, and the opportunities to prepare for eternity, will be the gnawing worm which will never go away. “If only I could tell my brothers”, “If only I listened to the Word of God.”
What are the punishments and the torments of hell?
- It is the loss of all earthly kind, benevolent and good things. Even the ungodly now receives with the godly good things. Then only the opposite will happen.
- The ungodly will be excluded from the favour of God.
- They will experience the final withdrawal from them the Holy Spirit.
- They will constantly live under the unrestrained dominion of sin and sinful passions.
- Their consciences will be like the never-ending gnawing of the worm that never dies. Their lives will be driven by despair.
- The best friend will be another doomed soul without hope in utter despair.
- Their suffering is not exclusively the natural consequences of sin, but also includes inflictions as deliberate punishments of God. All of this will never end.
- Those who depart this life unreconciled to God, remain forever in this state of separation, and therefore are forever sinful and miserable.
The all-sufficiency of the Scriptures
If I had someone who personally came from heaven to warn me about the torments of hell, do you think I would have abetter chance of getting my life in order so that I will not end up in heaven. Would you? No I wouldn’t. Nothing speaks clearer.
“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.’ ” (Luke 16:31, NIV)
Although the rich man sees Abraham in heaven, knows that Moses and the prophets are there likewise, he says “no” to all for which they stood, to all that brought them to heaven. Even the fires of hell bring no unbelievers to repentance and faith, and that is why they are in hell forever.
The rich man pictures one from the dead going to his wicked brothers who would then repent. A hellish repentance that would be, scaring them by a threat of the fires of hell. Repent? He knew nothing about repentance. They would be scared like hell, but being scared of hell does not put faith in God and his Son in ones heart. We don’t go to heaven because we are scared to go to hell. We go to heaven because we believe with all our heart what the Bible says about Jesus Christ and his sacrificial blood shed on the cross and his resurrection from the dead.
I once again want to conclude with God’s grace.
The Word became flesh, and made his dwelling with us, and we saw his glory, the glory of the One and Only who came from the Father, full of grace and truth (John 11:14).
For God so loved the world that He gave his only Son, so that whoever believes in Him will not perish, but have eternal life. (John 3:16)
… you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, (2 Timothy 3:15–16, NIV)
This you have to believe to go to heaven. If not, there is one other destination: hell.
Sermon preached by Rev D Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 22 June 2014