Message: ‘The great chasm’ pt.1 Text: Luke 16:19-31
Introduction: A little girl was standing outside her Sunday School classroom when the pastor noticed she was holding a big storybook entitled, “Jonah and the Whale.”
- The pastor wanted to have some fun with her so he asked her, “Do you really believe that Jonah was swallowed by a whale?” The little girl frowned and declared, “Of course I do!”
- The pastor pushed her a bit and said, “You really believe that a man can be swallowed by a big whale, stay inside for three days and then come out and still be alive?” The little girl said, “Absolutely. The story is in the Bible and we studied it in Sunday School today.”
- Then the pastor asked, “Can you prove to me that the story is true?” She thought for a moment and then said, “Well, when I get to Heaven, I’ll ask Jonah.”
- The pastor was on a roll and asked, “Well, what if Jonah’s not in Heaven?”
She then put her hands on her little hips and sternly declared, “Then you can ask him!” (Brian Bell)
Hell… we can laugh at stories like that but when we linger on the subject too long, most become very uncomfortable; perhaps because it’s been taught and understood many different ways.
From the riveting novel ‘Dante’s Inferno’ to modern day movies from Hollywood.
PP: Keanu Reeves in ‘Constantine’
PP: ‘Hell and Back’ a 2015 animated Comedy
PP: ‘Party Bus to Hell’ ‘23 Mins in Hell’
PP: ‘From Hell’ ‘What dreams may come’
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It seems, even Hollywood can’t give us a uniform understanding of what hell is like. And that’s perhaps, partly true, because the church has failed to give a picture of Hell that’s consistent with Scripture.
- So, please allow me a few minutes to give you some background on Hell and how it’s perceived both in and outside the church.
- Christian author Erwin Lutzer in his book ‘One Minute After You Die’ wrote: Hell has disappeared. And no one noticed.’
- An article in Newsweek magazine said ‘Today hell… is a subject too trite for serious scholarship.’
- Scientology teaches that heaven and hell are states of thought, not places. People experience their own heaven and hell right here on earth.
- The Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses do not teach a literal hell.
- Liberal, inclusive, welcoming churches in order to stay consistent with their own deviations from Scripture, need to teach that a God of love would never send anyone to hell.
- Seeker-sensitive, church growth movement pastors rarely preach on hell as it makes people in their congregations too uncomfortable.
Even within ‘conservative Christianity’ there are various theological positions on hell. I’ll give you the three most significant.
- PP: Universalism: No hell. The teach that since there’s some good in even the worst people, God will take that into account, so that no one will be condemned.
- PP: Annihilationism: They hold that when the unrepentant person dies their spirit is completely destroyed, so that they cease to exist. (7th Day Adventists)
- PP: Purgatory: Both the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Church teach that when a believer dies, they go to an intermediate place to suffer until all their sin is purged away. Money, acts of service, masses, and prayers by others, on behalf of the deceased, can shorten the time they spend in Purgatory.
But, is all that consistent with what the Bible says about hell? Again, let me give you an overview.
Let’s start with Jesus, who often talked about hell as a means of grace to encourage the unsaved to repent and place their faith in Him.
PP: Jesus uses explicit language to describe hell.
- Fire: Matthew 5:22
- Eternal Fire: Matthew 18:8
Sidebar: One of the questions of those teach the fires of hell are not literal is this: ‘How can a fire burn someone forever and their flesh not be ultimately destroyed?’ Anyone have an idea… from Scripture?
- PP: And the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. (Exodus 3:2)
- And the satraps, the prefects, the governors, and the king’s counselors gathered together and saw that the fire had not had any power over the bodies of those men. The hair of their heads was not singed, their cloaks were not harmed, and no smell of fire had come upon them. (Daniel 3:27)
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- Destruction: Matthew 7:13
- Away from His presence: Matthew 7:23
- Thrown outside: Matthew 8:12
- Fiery furnace: Matthew 13:42
- Darkness: Matthew 22:13
- Eternal punishment: Matthew 25:46
- Weeping and gnashing of teeth: Matthew 8:12
PP: In other places in Scripture we find these descriptions of hell:
- Worm does not die fire does not go out: Mark 9:48
- Tormented day and night forever and ever: Revelation 20:10, 15
- Thirst, agony, fire: Luke 16:24
- There is no escape: Luke 16:26
- Suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord:
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Look, I realize that was rather simplistic. But, I’ll give a bit more detail next Sunday.
Let me sum up before we head to the text.
- Hell is real.
- It’s much worse than it sounds.
- But, it’s not inevitable.
Transition: Open your Bibles to Luke 16:19
PP: 1. Luke 16:19-21 Two men
There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. (Luke 16:19–21)
First, let me remind you what chapter 16 is about.
Jesus isn’t talking about God and money but about God and authority.
- It’s about God and our choosing a single focus of faithfulness to His authority.
Pastor and theologian John Calvin once said
- Where riches hold the dominion of the heart, God has lost His authority.
What we see in verses 19-31 is a parable, a made up story to emphasize to the listeners, what happens when a person’s heart is dominated by some thing, or some one other than God.
Second, point on context. Remember, parables generally have one main idea and not every word, person or thing has a specific spiritual meaning.
Last point on context. This parable is not specifically about hell. With that said, it does give us sufficient information about hell
- that it should challenge us to be bold
- and have a greater sense of urgency
- in sharing the Gospel with the lost in our spheres of influence.
In the parable before us are two men;
- One rich and one poor.
- One unnamed and one named Lazarus. (and BTW, it’s not the Lazarus Jesus raised from the dead.)
- One who feasted daily and one who was desperately hungry.
- One who got up and walked freely and one who was thrown down to remain just outside the rich man’s gate.
- One who had everything he wanted and one who had nothing of what he needed.
The description of the rich man would have resonated with the religious leaders. You see,
they developed the original version of the ‘Health, Wealth and Prosperity Gospel.’
- They taught that if you were rich it was because your life pleased God and He was rewarding you with all the good things in life.
Therefore, they taught that loving and pursuing wealth, was equivalent to loving and pursuing God.
The religious leaders would have looked down upon Lazarus; not only because he was poor, but because he was physically ill with sores that were visually disgusting and must have smelled putrid.
- They would have believed that he had not pleased God with his life and that God was punishing him.
If we take a step into the deep end of Bible study, we’d find that the Greek word for poor here in verse 20 and the word used for poor in Matthew 5:3 are the same word. Matthew 5:3 says Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of God.
- What that means is that that the poor man in our text had a relationship with God and a seat at God’s table in His kingdom.
- And by inference, the rich man did not.
The picture of the rich man is one of opulence, of self-indulgent living dependent upon no one… including God and that left him w/o any real relationship with God.
Lazarus is pictured as the dregs of society, a disgusting nobody. We can assume he was paralyzed because the text says he was laid at the gate of the rich man.
- Actually, laid is not a good translation, thrown down is better.
His only hope was that the rich man would show him the slightest bit of mercy and help quench his hunger if only with the scraps of food that fell off his table.
And because it’s not mentioned in the text, it’s believed the rich man failed to show mercy to Lazarus.
- Being paralyzed, Lazarus couldn’t fend off the wild dogs who would have been feeding off the pus that oozed from his sores.
In these 3 verses we get a visual of the great chasm that divided the lives of the rich man and Lazarus.
PP: 2. Luke 16:22-23 Two destinations
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)
Both men die. And notice their eternal destinations are reached immediately, in other words, there’s no intermediate state, or holding place. The Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:8 supports this when he wrote:
- Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. (2 Corinthians 5:8)
However, remember, this is a parable and its central theme is not hell. While it does have a lot to say about hell, it doesn’t say, everything, about it.
The text reveals two very different men, who after death ended up in two very different destinations.
- Lazarus is taken to Abraham’s side (perhaps your Bible says Abraham’s Bosom.)
- The rich man is in torment in Hades, far from where Lazarus is.
In these two verses, we begin to see Jesus bring about a total reversal in the two men’s situations.
- The one rich on earth is now poor in hell. The one poor on earth is rich in heaven.
- The one who walked freely on earth is now stuck in hell. While the one who was thrown down on earth is carried to heaven. (BTW, this is not literal as we have no others texts in Scripture that tell us when we die angels carry us to heaven. It was hyperbole to show contrast.)
- The one who had everything they wanted on earth, was now in dire need. While the one who had nothing, found abundance.
- The one who knew only pleasure, now knows just pain and anguish. While the one who knew only pain, rests comfortably.
- The rich man on earth was seated at the head of his table, while Lazarus was kept begging at the gate.
Now, it’s Lazarus who is seated at the prominent position, next to Abraham and we’ll see next Sunday that it’s the rich man who’s begging.
Here’s the problem as I see it for the rich man. When he was alive on earth, he didn’t need God, because money and pleasure were his gods. So, back to the context of chapter 16, he failed to use what God had given him to further God’s kingdom. Why do I say that?
- Well it’s the theme of Luke 16.
- And because we’re not told of any other grievous sin the rich man committed.
It’s important to understand that the rich man wasn’t in hell because he was rich, Abraham was rich and he was in heaven.
The rich man
- ended up in hell because wealth was his god. Because he failed to use his wealth to help people like Lazarus… the poor.
- He ended up in hell because he didn’t have a relationship with God.
- He ended up in hell because he failed to obey God’s Word about using wealth to care for the poor, the widow and the orphan.
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Conclusion: A Sunday school teacher told his class the story of the rich man and Lazarus and then asked, “Now, which would you rather be, the rich man or Lazarus?” One child replied, “I’d like to be the rich man while I’m living and Lazarus when I die.” (Steven Cole)
I think we’d all agree. But that’s not how it works. You can’t live for self on earth and expect to live with God in heaven. That’s one of the truths of the parable in Luke 16:19-31.
Now, I’m not advocating a works based salvation. I’m talking about placing your faith in Jesus
- And loving the things He loved.
- Loving the people He loved.
- Serving the people He served.
And doing it out of love and thankfulness to God.
PP: Paul sums it up in his first letter to his friend Timothy:
- As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life. (1 Timothy 6:17–19)
Before you start to think ‘Hey, I’m not rich.’ Listen, wealth is relative.
- Use what you’ve been given, in proportion to how God has blessed you,
- to help those who are lost, broken, poor, widowed, orphaned or just struggling.
God’s Word promises…
- you will truly live!
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