Expository preaching from Luke 16:19-31, delivered on September 27th
17 But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. 18 They said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.” 19 It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit. 20 But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, 21 keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. 22 And have mercy on those who doubt; 23 save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.
24 Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, 25 to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. (Jude 17-25)
When I heard that Lyndon was going to start teaching on 1 Timothy I got really excited, as I love that book, but I was also a little uneasy at the same time, because I was already halfway through my preparation of today’s message. I thought to myself, “Oh no, the topic that I picked has nothing to do with 1 Timothy.” I wondered if it would create a distraction to the body, having a message of no similarity sandwiched in between his teachings. I knew in my mind that God orchestrates these messages and is in control of these things, but at first I didn’t see any resemblance, until I started looking more deeply into the text and instructions from Paul to Timothy, specifically in verse 12 of chapter 6, which says, “Fight the good fight of the faith.” And then in his overview of 1 Timothy a few weeks ago, Lyndon talked about how we are in a war, an ongoing struggle between good and evil, and we as believers are called to, like Paul charged Timothy, stand firm and fight, for we know whose side we are on, and whom we serve and how He is so much more powerful than our adversary, Satan. Then I recalled a message I heard long ago from John MacArthur on verses 20-23 in Jude, which reads, “But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.” MacArthur went on to say how this was our duty, every believer’s calling, to do everything within their means to snatch others out of the fire. And what means is that, you ask? I will get into that a little later in the message.
The message this morning is on one of the most chilling and haunting passages of Scripture I’ve ever read. I remember hearing a sermon on this passage a few years back at the Shepherds’ Conference, and when it was over I just sat there and couldn’t move for a while, frozen from the weight of it, and deeply troubled by what I had just heard. And so I am compelled to bring you all the essence of that sermon this morning.
Let me start off by reading the passage. This is the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus, and it’s in Luke 16, starting in verse 19…
Now there was a rich man, and he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, joyously living in splendor every day. And a poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores, and longing to be fed with the crumbs which were falling from the rich man’s table; besides, even the dogs were coming and licking his sores.
Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried. In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried out and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great chasm fixed, so that those who wish to come over from here to you will not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us.’ And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, that you send him to my father’s house… for I have five brothers…in order that he may warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ But he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!’ But he said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.’” (Luke 16:19-31)
You see, this message, these verses, I believe, should act as a wake up call for anyone that hears it this morning, a call to action so to speak. For the unbeliever, this should serve as a sobering, shocking, and powerful warning. Should there be anyone here this morning that has not come to the end of themselves, that has not realized that they are in a vast ocean and in the process of drowning and in need of a savior, that is the captain of their own ship and totally self-sufficient, I hope and pray that you would listen to every word in this passage and take heed, and understand that you are like the rich man in this parable, and unless you acknowledge your hopeless condition, admit that you are a sinner, and call on the name of Jesus Christ for your salvation, and change direction, you will some day find yourself in this same dreadful place as the rich man, without any hope of escape or deliverance. I cannot tell you how much it troubles me to speak those words to you, how much I shudder inside as I say those words, but I am compelled to, to sound out this warning, because it is the truth, and these words are the Word of God.
For the believer, this should serve as a call to action. I would ask all of us here this morning, would we desire that anyone we come into contact with be consigned to such a place as is described in this passage? I believe this to be a rhetorical question, because I think that anyone that has the love of Christ in their heart, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, would answer a resounding no to that question. I understand that we in and of ourselves cannot save anyone from this place of horror, but we can, at a very minimum, warn them and bring them to this passage and explain to them that this parable is the absolute truth spoken from the lips of Jesus Christ Himself, and then plead with them to consider their current condition, just as the verses from Jude I read earlier. This is the means I was talking about. The means of our voice, proclaiming a warning of the perils of hell, followed by the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is what we can do, this is what we are called to do in the Great Commission, is it not?
I have found on numerous occasions that people I’ve talked to sadly have a very tame and innocent view of hell, saying things such as, “Well, I know it won’t be that bad. I’ll just hang out with my buddies and we’ll all party together. After all, I’d rather spend eternity with my friends, than with a bunch of self-righteous Christians anyway.” Why, this is a lie straight from the pit of hell. This is such a tragic and catastrophic mistake in their thinking on so many levels, and one that we can at least take as an opportunity to point them to the truth. Whether they will listen or not is not up to us, but whether we are obedient and take the time to share the truth with them is.
There are so many Scriptures in addition to this parable that warn of the torments of hell. In Matthew 13:41-42 Jesus says the following: “The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Another trap we need to be careful of as we contemplate this story and share it with others is that this place, in all of its grotesqueness we read about here, is not reserved just for the vilest of the vile, the serial killers, the mass murderers, and the like. No, the only ticket needed to enter into these gates is self: self-sufficient, self-reliant, self-proficient, self-esteem, self-indulgent, self-worth. I take no satisfaction in telling you that this place will be populated by the likes of the successful, the beautiful, and the famous, as well as the commoner, for hell is no discriminator of class or stature. And we must not overlook the fact that hell will also be populated with people that appear to be “good people” to the naked eye. People that follow the practices of their respective religions, for example. Religions that are based on the meritorious works of people, the outward and visible works, as opposed to the inward change of the heart, and the reliance on Christ and His work at the cross on our behalf. So don’t let anyone try to tell you that this place is surely some sort of maximum security solitary confinement prison, reserved for the harshest of criminals. This too is a lie straight out of the pit of hell.
William Booth was the founder of the Salvation Army. In 1852, at the age of 23, he began his evangelical career and subsequently traveled through England as an itinerant preacher of the Methodist New Connection Church. After separating from the church in 1861, he continued his ministry independently. He and his wife, Catherine, continued to propagate the Christian faith and furnish spiritual and material aid to needy persons. They founded the Christian Mission in London, which in 1878 became known as the Salvation Army. Listen to his reply to someone who said that they didn’t feel they were called to share the gospel. “‘Not called!’ did you say? ‘Not heard the call,’ I think you should say. Put your ear down to the Bible, and hear him bid you go and pull sinners out of the fire of sin. Put your ear down to the burdened, agonized heart of humanity, and listen to its pitiful wail for help. Go stand by the gates of hell, and hear the damned entreat you to go to their father’s house and bid their brothers and sisters, and servants and masters not to come there. And then look Christ in the face, whose mercy you have professed to obey, and tell him whether you will join heart and soul and body and circumstances in the march to publish his mercy to the world.” J.C. Ryle wrote, “Forever is the most solemn word in the English language.”
And now to the text. I think it’s important to note the audience that this parable our Lord is teaching here was the Pharisees, and all of their followers. We know this from the earlier verse 14, which says, “Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, were listening to all these things and were scoffing at Him.” Oh they were religious, yes, but they were “lovers of money” verse 14 says, and in verse 15 Jesus says to them, “You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God.” So these Pharisees, and their followers, while appearing to be righteous and religious on the outside, were actually on the brink of hell as it were, and our text this morning was a warning message from Jesus to them.
We know this is a parable from the way Jesus starts off by saying, “There was a rich man.” This is consistent with the way He started most of His parables, such as the parable of the Dishonest Manager earlier in this same chapter. Another characteristic of a parable is that the main character has no name, in this case only “the rich man.”
We recall that a parable is a story intended to illustrate a spiritual truth, and this parable, this story is intended to teach a profound theological truth. The circumstances of the story are fictional and imaginary as well. For example, being able to see into heaven from hell, knowing from hell who is in heaven, the ability to petition Abraham or anyone for that matter in heaven from hell. All of these are imaginary and fictional and used by Jesus in this story to illustrate a spiritual truth, hence solidifying the fact that this is a parable.
Make no mistake, this is a story about hell. In fact, as we unpack this story, we will see that Lazarus never speaks, only the rich man as he holds a personal conversation with Abraham. Therefore he, the rich man, is the story’s main character. This is an unprecedented account in Scripture, as this rich man gives a personal testimony of what it’s like to be in hell, and I think we all agree, a frightening one at that.
This is a story of contrasts: of two men, one is rich, the other is poor. It is a story of two deaths: one is noticed, the other is unnoticed. It is a story of two destinies: one went to heaven, the other to hell. This parable’s main theme is to point out the great reversal for many that death brings. Many who are rich and famous in this life will be subject to eternal damnation in the life to come, and many that are destitute and make no mark in this life will be ushered into the kingdom of God in the life to come. The great reversal.
Remember the audience here, the Pharisees, who would have been blown away by this story, no doubt. You see, as we read earlier, Jesus had already called them out as lovers of money. They were outwardly religious, but inwardly bankrupt.
Why, the Pharisees were the first purveyors of the original health and wealth gospel, were they not? Making so much fuss over getting everything tidied up on the facade of their lives, looking good on the outside, yet neglecting the inner man. The rich man in this story was no different, was he? We see that he was a man that flaunted his wealth by habitually adorning himself in the finest of linen in the most lavish and wealthy color of purple, the text says. The color purple has been associated with royalty, power, and wealth for centuries.
This man, the rich man, was living in the here and now, wasn’t he? He had no thought of the life to come. His focus was on living his best life now, and all that he was living for was wrapped up in the things of this world. He assumes that his present status – his riches, his stature, his place in society – will surely take care of him in the life to come.
Will it? Let’s go back to the text and see.
The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. (Luke 16:22-23)
Well, this was a travesty to the Pharisees, a complete reversal from what they would expect. They assumed that this rich man was blessed by God, and would receive his due rewards in heaven, and the poor man, well this man was a dreg of society and surely was cursed by God as far as they were concerned. I mean, he couldn’t even take care of himself and had to be taken and laid by the rich man’s gate where he would grovel for crumbs falling from the table. He was a beggar, an outcast, and an embarrassment to society in their eyes. Why even the dogs treated him with disrespect and came and licked his sores. The Pharisees would have seen this man’s position in life and viewed that as a sure sign of God’s disfavor and contempt. They would have thought for sure this man was cursed, despised by God, and bound for eternal damnation.
This man, Lazarus, which means God has provided help, had no means – nothing in his pockets, nothing in his hands. The only thing he has is whatever someone else will give him. From what we can tell from his name, and this story, he is completely dependent on grace and on God to meet his needs. It could be said that he had nothing in this world, all he had was God.
The contrasts are so stark here, are they not? The rich man looking to himself, the poor man looking to God. The rich man living for this world, the poor man looking to the world to come. The rich man bankrupt in his faith in God to provide for him, the poor man rich in his faith, and totally dependent on God to provide for him.
So let’s take a look at the vivid description of this place called Hades in this parable. First of all, it’s a real place. Verse 23 says, “in Hades.” It’s not a place of someone’s imagination. The rich man died and went straight to this place called Hades, a place reserved for the wicked, a place prepared for the devil and his fallen angels. Hell is a real place, much like Los Angeles, Dallas, or Chicago.
Secondly, hell is an immediate place. Look at the text. “The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades…” There’s no holding tank, no halfway house, and certainly no mention of a place called purgatory in the Scriptures, where some say you hang out until your sins are paid for by your relatives. There is no time to repent or turn to God, no time to ask for forgiveness or plead for mercy. Hell is an immediate place.
Thirdly, hell is a conscious place. Again, as we examine the text, it says, “being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side.” This man was not unconscious, he wasn’t in limbo. Oh no, quite the contrary, he could not have been any more alive. He was lucid, awake, alert, and acutely aware of his surroundings. We observe that his body is obviously capable of feeling the pain and agony of his surroundings. And he is certainly not annihilated. This is another lie from the bottomless pit, and unfortunately it has even made its way into some evangelical circles. This false teaching that once one dies, their soul is burned up and annihilated, and that the soul does not eternally exist in hell, this is a dangerous false teaching, and one that couldn’t be any further from the truth. This parable does not support this theory of annihilation, nor any other scriptural teaching on hell for that matter. Jesus’ teaching is crystal clear on this topic when he says in Mark 9, “If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life crippled, than, having your two hands, to go into hell, into the unquenchable fire, where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.” Hell is a conscious place.
Next we see that hell is a separated place. Verse 24 says that he saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side, verse 26 says that a great chasm has been fixed between the saints in heaven and the damned in Hades, an uncrossable abyss separates them. Everyone does not go to the same place. This man is separated from God’s blessings, from God’s grace and God’s mercy. He is separated from everyone, he is alone here, there is no mention of anyone by his side like we see with Lazarus in Heaven at Abraham’s side. Oh, where are his earthly cohorts and cronies that had gone before him now? There is no party here. There is no one here at all. There is no one to complain to, no one to seek comfort from. He is alone in solitary confinement, his only company being himself and his earthly memories. Hell is a separated place.
Hell is an agonizing place. Verse 24 says, “And he cried out and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.’” He will be in agony and torment for all eternity, forever. Notice this man does not ask for a glass or a bucket of water, no, he understands his plight and is asking for just a drop of water to provide him with some temporary, immediate relief to a permanent eternal life of pain and agony. Hell is a agonizing place.
Hell is a haunting place, a place where the damned will not be able to escape the torture of their memories. It’s hard to single out one attribute of hell that is worse than the others, but I would have to think that this one ranks up at the top. Look at verse 25: “But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony.” The damned souls of hell will remember, they will remember every sin, they will remember every gospel presentation, they will remember every opportunity that they had to receive the Lord Jesus Christ. Their conscience will haunt them, their conscience will accuse them, their conscience will heap guilt upon guilt upon them forever. It is a haunting place where there is no relief from life’s memories. The souls here will be in a perpetual argument with themselves. Make no mistake, hell is a haunting place.
Hell is an inescapable place. Verse 26: “And besides all this, between us and you there is a great chasm fixed, so that those who wish to come over from here to you will not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us.” This is a “great chasm,” a mega chasm if you will, fixed by God Himself so that those in heaven could never cross over, nor can those in hell cross over into heaven. Now why would anyone from heaven want to cross over from paradise into this wicked and horrendous place? To rescue their love ones, that’s the only reason we can think of. To snatch them out of the fire, like the verse in Jude we read earlier. But that is only possible before death, you see, because once death occurs and a soul enters into this bottomless abyss, it is too late. There is no chance for forgiveness, there is no chance for repentance, there is no chance for escape, for hell is inescapable.
I know this is a terrible and sad story to relay to you all this morning, and I take no solace in doing so, but this is real, this is the Word of God, and we need to take heed today, we must take heed and sound out the warning. But the good news is that there is always hope while one is still alive, is there not? Why, as long as the soul has breath, one can bend his knee and confess with his tongue that Jesus Christ is Lord. We know this is true because of our source of truth, the Word of God itself. In my opinion, the passage that best describes this is the story of the thief on the cross crucified next to Jesus. Allow me to read this passage from Luke 23, starting in verse 39…
One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:39-43)
Doesn’t this story contain just as much hope for mankind as the descriptions of hell I’ve mentioned this morning contain dread and despair? You’ve heard the saying that your days are numbered, well it could be said of this thief on the cross that his hours were numbered. He was on death’s doorstep and had seemingly been leading a life destined for hell, a life of crime and utterly devoid of God. I’m making that assumption because we know that crucifixion was reserved during this time for the vilest offenders and criminals. Yet here he is, before his last breath, making a confession of faith and repenting of his sinful lifestyle. And we know it’s a genuine confession and repentance because Jesus tells him of his destiny and reward: “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” This man has been spared the horrors of eternal punishment, and so can anyone who humbly submits and admits they are a sinner in need of a savior, and turns to Christ for their salvation.
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that anyone – your relative that you’ve been praying for for years now, and who always tries to change the subject when you bring any kind of spiritual context to your conversation, your coworker that laughs at your attempt to share the truth of the gospel – no one is a lost cause while they are still alive.
So what can we take away from this? What are we as believers called to do? Let’s look at 2 Corinthians 5:20 and ponder it together. It reads, “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” An ambassador is one who is dispatched by a king and sent with his royal message to go to a far away land, and he stands in representation of his king who has sent him. Paul says we are ambassadors from Christ, as though we have been dispatched from the very throne of heaven above with the royal message of the gospel of Jesus Christ. What a privilege we have. Then he says that God is making his appeal through us, making an appeal, a plea. I don’t know about you, but this sounds like more than just a short, timid rendition of the gospel to me, one that we can’t wait to get through and for it to end so we can start feeling comfortable again.
We must warn, we must invite and entreat, we must summon, we must exhort, we must share this royal message that we’ve been entrusted with with compassion and vigor, urging our listeners to consider their position before a Holy God.
I’ll close this morning with this quote from the Prince of Preachers, Charles Spurgeon. He said, “If sinners be damned, at least let them leap to Hell over our dead bodies. And if they perish, let them perish with our arms wrapped about their knees, imploring them to stay. If Hell must be filled, let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go unwarned and unprayed for.”
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