Summary of sermon by Erlo Stegen, 12 Jul 2015
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 Hades, 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 set in place, 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 family, 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.’”
We find here a great difference between the stories Jesus told and that told by people. When we tell a story, we tend to be choosy and leave some parts out, but Jesus tells the whole truth undiluted. Our stories end at the grave, but Jesus reveals what happens on the other side of the grave, in eternity. Jesus knows the thoughts and intents of the heart.
The traditional Zulus would tell you what they think would happen after death. So too the radical Muslims tells the story that if you commit suicide and die in jihad, you will receive 70 virgins on the other side of the grave. And young men go to fight and die in jihad in their droves! But it’s only fairy tales. If they can tell such stories, how much more should we Christians proclaim the truth of what it will be like truly like after death?
Now we come to the crux of the matter, when Jesus tells us what happens after death. Moses said, “Lord teach us to number our days that we might gain a heart of wisdom” (Ps 90:12). Wisdom was available to both Lazarus and the rich man. And death was also common to both Lazarus and the rich man. It was fitting that Lazarus was taken to the bosom of Abraham, for Abraham is known as the father of the believers. He was taken like a child to the bosom of his father. What a great day it must have been for Lazarus! But death also came to the rich man. No angels came to fetch him. The funeral of the rich man would have been the most extravagant affair with a very special guest to speak, and the most expensive coffin. We don’t even know what happened to the corpse of Lazarus, but we do know that Lazarus himself was taken to heaven. Lazarus, when he died, had no relatives that wanted to have anything to do with him. But with the rich man, even relatives he didn’t know, would have arrived. But for both, as the Bible says, it is appointed unto man once to die and after that the judgement (Heb 9:27), where every thought and deed and vain word will be judged. Think of Psalm 73, where Asaph said that he almost slipped and fell when he saw the prosperity of the wicked (Ps 73:2-3). But he was helped when he entered God’s sanctuary and saw their end, their final destiny (Ps 73:17).
Now look at the rich man, and Lazarus, which of the two would you identify with? The one living in constant luxury while the other one is despised and living in poverty and pain? Our Lord Jesus is being kind to us by revealing what happens after death, how Lazarus was taken to the bosom of Abraham and comforted, while the rich man found himself in the flames of hell, begging for a drop of water to cool his tongue. Don’t leave here without giving an honest response, which of the two you would associate with.
A person might assume that it’s better to be poor than to be rich. Maybe you are poor and feel happy that at least you will end up in the bosom of Abraham. But that is only half the truth, which is as good as a total lie. It is not true that poverty was the reason that he could enter heaven. It was faith in the Lord Jesus. He identified with the Lord Jesus. Also the rich man didn’t go to hell because he was rich, but rather because he had no time for God or the Lord Jesus. Remember that Abraham himself was a very wealthy man. We find with Lazarus no complaining and sulking because of his poverty. We can only enter into heaven by a full surrender to the Lord Jesus, turning from our evil unbelieving ways to Him. Poverty is not a ticket to heaven. It doesn’t help to say that you’re not a thief but only steal when really in need. No, your life of sin will still take you to hell, even if you are poor. It doesn’t help either to complain about your poverty or blame God for it. If you speak like that you’re on your way to hell. Job was also rich, but he lost all and all sorts of indescribable difficulties befell him so that even his wife encouraged him to curse God and die. Even his friends were bad advisors, telling him that all the evil befell him because of his sin.
Where will you end, in the bosom of Abraham or the flames of hell? Be quiet for awhile and think soberly, where will you end? We spoke of two people, with whom do you identify yourself? Whose life would you like to live? Like Asaph, we also must look at the end of our lives, the way we are going in and what the end will be like.
Was Abraham accurate in saying that even if someone rise from the dead, they won’t repent. Jesus Himself died and arose from the dead on the third day, yet there are countless people who still will not believe, even though they know about Him. The reality of hell should be enough to cause you to repent.