19th Sunday after Pentecost
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
Luke 16:19-31 Sermon
October 9, 2004
TLH 34: My Soul Now Bless Thy Maker
SBH 299: I Know Of a Sleep In Jesus' Name
SBH 577: Nearer My God To Thee
TLH 50: Lord Dismiss Us With Thy Blessing
YOU DON’T HAVE TO SEE IT TO BELIEVE IT
TEXT: (vs. 21b-24; 27-29) “The rich man also died and was buried; and in hell, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes, and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus in his bosom. And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy upon me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in anguish in this flame.’ And then he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’”
Do you know what a Mexican jail is like? You’ve probably heard some of the same stories that I have, which would make you believe that these jails are among the least desirable places to be in the world. They are extremely hot, poorly lit, overcrowded, and very dirty facilities. Residents of these jails have very little privacy, since there are numerous people packed into one cell.
The people running these jails are quite often very crooked, and will accept bribes and turn their backs on all of the untoward behavior that goes on in there. If you were to find yourself in jail in Mexico, there is a good chance that you will be beaten, robbed, raped, and even killed. The inmates really have nothing to lose regardless of what they do to you, since they are in jail already; and the guards and warden don’t care at all whether you live or die—it’s just one less mouth to feed if they carry you out feet-first. If you aren’t amongst the hardened of the hardened of society, you probably won’t make it.
Yes, Mexican jails aren’t pleasant places at all. And I would probably rank some of the jails in the Middle East right up there with them. In fact, I would almost go so far as to call them “hell holes.”
Thankfully, I’ve never been in jail in Mexico, and I don’t plan on ever going there. I’ve never even seen a Mexican jail, even from the outside. In fact, I’ve only been in Mexico once in my entire life, and that was just a walk across the border at Nogales in Arizona—I was a teenager at the time.
So how do I know so much about Mexican jails? Well, I’ve seen articles, and pictures, and documentaries on TV. I’ve heard the stories. And, in preparation for this sermon, I even did a bit of research on the internet, where I saw quite a few pictures.
Even though I’ve never personally seen a Mexican jail, I happen to believe that what I’ve been told about them is true. I happen to believe that the photographs are real. I believe these things to the point that I can, without any reservation at all, relate to you the horrors of a Mexican jail. I also believe that Mexican jail is a place where I do not want to go, and I would go out of my way to avoid any situation that might land me there.
Just as a little side note, Mexican jail isn’t just for the drug smugglers, or other hardened criminals of society. I just read an article telling about how senior citizens from the United States have found themselves in a Mexican jail simply because they have gone across the border and purchased their prescription medications at a cheaper rate. They were arrested because they had a prescription from a U. S. doctor, and not a Mexican doctor. Life just isn’t fair sometimes.
Suffice it to say however, that I believe in Mexican jails. I think they exist, I think they’re horrible places, and I know I don’t want to ever go to one. I can say all of this without ever having actually seen one. I believe all of the pictures and reports of other people, without reservation.
In our text for today, we have one of the more famous parables of Scripture—the rich man and Lazarus. In this parable, Jesus gives a rather detailed description of what happened to the rich man after he died. He was in hell, and things weren’t going too well for him. Our text describes the man as being in torment, that his tongue was burning, that he was living in the midst of flames, and that he was in a state of eternal torture.
I think this is a fair description of the torments of hell; but Scripture speaks of hell in other places as well. Here are just a few of them:
Matthew 25:41: [Jesus says] “Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.” He also says in Matthew 10:28: “Fear him [God] who is able to destroy both body and soul in hell.”
Furthermore, Jesus speaks of the final judgment in John 5:28-29 when he says, “The hour is coming, in which all who are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they who have done good unto the resurrection of life; and they who have done evil unto the resurrection of damnation.”
The prophet Isaiah in the Old Testament also gives a description of hell in 66:24 when he describes it as a place where: “Their worm shall not die; neither shall their fire be quenched.”
I think Scripture describes hell to such a degree, that there can be no question that it is a real place that actually exists. I also believe that the descriptions are graphic enough so that anybody reading or hearing about what Scripture says about hell, will want to do whatever it takes to avoid going there.
But, you know, there are some rather idiotic people out there, who will deny the existence of hell, regardless of how graphically the Bible describes it—even some who call themselves pastors or theologians. There are those who feel that the threat of hell was just some sort of ancient folklore to scare people into being a Christian, or some type of tool used by little old lady Sunday School teachers to threaten little children so they would behave themselves.
What would you think if I were to now tell you that Mexican jails are nothing but a myth, invented to scare would-be drug smugglers, or a media invention by the U.S. government to keep senior citizens from crossing over the border to buy their prescriptions?
That would be rather stupid of me to purport such stories; but is it any less stupid or dangerous to pooh-pooh what God tells us about hell in the Bible? Would I be fulfilling my obligation as a pastor if I were to dismiss what Scripture says about hell, and relegate it to the realms of myth and folklore?
Hell is not a popular topic. Apart from the old proverbial “hell fire and brimstone” preachers, a lot of sermons will make reference to hell, but not too many are written about it. People also don’t really like to hear about it either. It’s not a pleasant thing to think about, nor is it a very comforting topic.
Be this as it may, it is a necessary topic. And why? Because hell is a reality. That’s the way Jesus treats it. He doesn’t seek to placate souls by withholding or softening the reality of hell. He presents it as a fact. Anyone who dies as an unbeliever will go to hell. That’s just the way it is.
But as real as hell is, we need to realize that Jesus doesn’t want anybody to go there. Even though there will be many souls who are, or will be in hell, it’s not God’s will that they are there. People go to hell because it is a choice they make themselves. They have chosen to reject God’s grace in Jesus Christ, and go a different direction, whether it be following a different gospel, or trying to do it by themselves. People who say that they don’t need God during their lifetime shouldn’t be surprised that their desire is carried out in eternity.
Hell is a place where God has chosen to remove his presence. While we’re alive on earth, God is always present with us. Whether we believe it or not, he is here. If he wasn’t here, our society would completely destroy itself. We couldn’t survive.
So to be in a place where God isn’t, is completely incomprehensible to us. Literally, it is hell. It is a place of torment and anguish. And it is for eternity. It never ends.
But thankfully, Scripture gives us a lot more than a gloomy description of hell. The Bible also paints a very glorious picture of heaven. For believers, this picture is a blessed hope. It is the complete antithesis of what hell is like. Even though hell is described as a reality, the Bible emphasizes the blessings of heaven more frequently and in greater detail than it does the threat of hell. That is the way it should be. Our motivation is to keep moving toward that heavenly goal, and not running scared from the threat of hell. God wants us to be with him in heaven for eternity because we want to be there with him; not because we are running away from hell.
As we look at our text for today, we find this poor man Lazarus, who had suffered so much during his life on earth, dying and going to heaven. Verse 22 of our text says, “The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom.” You can almost picture this poor man losing all the shackles he had on earth, and being swept away to heaven to receive his reward. Jesus uses the metaphor of “Abraham’s bosom” for heaven—everybody knows this great man of faith received his heavenly reward.
The rich man knows the folly of his ways, only it’s too late for him now. For some reason, he’s filled with compassion that he never had on earth. He thinks of his family. He doesn’t want his family to follow in his footsteps, and wind up in hell with him. He wants Abraham to send Lazarus back from the dead and to go warn them. He wants to use some sort of “scare tactic” to get them to repent and turn to God.
But that’s not the way God operates. In verses 29 and 31 of our text we read Abraham’s response: “They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them….If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if some one should rise from the dead.”
That brings us to where we are, right here today. This is the way the church operates—the words of Moses and the prophets—the words of God given to us in the pages of Holy Scripture. We can’t expect someone to come from the heavenly realms and whack us on the head with a club to get our attention, or some dead relative to suddenly spring back to life to explain to us the difference between heaven and hell. God speaks very clearly to us in the Bible, and those are the words we need to heed.
Abraham’s words to the rich man, that his family should heed the words of Scripture are very well placed. I would imagine that his brothers were in much the same situation as he was during his lifetime. They probably were very wealthy, lived high on the hog, and didn’t give a scrap about other people. Most likely, God didn’t have a place in their lives. Their final destiny would be the same as the rich man in torment.
As we look at ourselves, I think we can see how that rich man’s attitude mirrors ours at times. Haven’t we often allowed the needs of others to suffer at the expense of our own lusts of the flesh? Haven’t we at times allowed things of this world to crowd out God? Haven’t we allowed the reality of hell to sort of slip from our conscious memory, thinking that God would never send anybody there?
But the Bible has us dead to rights, and condemns us in our sin. Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” This speaks to that rich man, to his brothers, and most importantly to us.
But then the Bible shows us heaven and how to get there. Repentance and faith in Christ as our Saviour is our entrance into eternal paradise. Through faith in Jesus, the picture of our final destiny is that of Lazarus, and not of the rich man sitting in hell. Jesus is the one who will take us from our suffering here on earth, and take us on angels’ wings to be with him in heaven for eternity. Certainly hell is a reality; but for the Christian, heaven is a much greater reality. Our entrance into heaven is guaranteed through faith in Jesus Christ.
I remember seeing a T-shirt with the following words printed on it: On the front, it says “I’m going to live forever.” And then on the back it says, “Heaven won’t have me, and hell is afraid that I’ll take over.” It’s intended to be humorous, of course. But theologically, nothing could be further from the truth.
For the unbeliever, hell will certainly be a reality—and there will be no overcoming it. But for the believer in Christ, there is no way that heaven won’t have you. Regardless of whatever a person has done in their past, all will be forgiven and forgotten. Through faith in Christ, heaven’s gates will spring open and an eternal paradise will be ready and waiting. Even though we’ve never seen or experienced heaven, yet we can trust that what God tells us is true indeed.
If you take note of the hymns we’re singing today, they all have reference to the joy and bliss of heaven, and not to the terrors of hell. That’s placing our focus where it needs to be; that’s fixing our eyes heaven-ward.
And so, as we consider Lazarus and his final reward, and our final reward as well, we can proclaim with the hymn writer:
So when e’er the signal’s given
Us from earth to call away,
Borne on angels’ wings to heaven,
Glad the summons to obey,
May we ever, May we ever,
Reign with Christ in endless day!