A Sermon from Hell
It may be said here is the toughest doctrine of them all–hell. One may misunderstand tongues, or the timing of the Rapture and not be harmed. But this truth has eternal consequences attached to it.
A belief in a literal hell seems to have fallen on hard times. A poll taken in the United States in 1978 revealed that more than 70% of those interviewed said they believed in hell. However 11 years later, a Newsweek Magazine survey produced a figure of just 58%. A poll conducted in Australia in 1988 indicated that only 39% believed in hell, while in 1989 a Gallup Poll taken in Britain revealed that no more than 24% of those questioned believed in hell. (Blanchard, 1995, 15)
John Lennon wrote in the 70’s: “Imagine there’s no heaven. It’s easy if you try. No hell below us, above us only sky.” Sadly however, whatever one may imagine, the pervasive condition of unbelief does not discard the Biblical doctrine of God’s justice and judgment of the lost.
We live in a world of trivialization, despite the fact that people are perishing all around us. Three people die every second, 180 every minute, 11,000 every hour, 260,000 every day, and 95,000,000 every year. This trivialization in light of such a reality is overwhelming. I have had more than one person tell me, after I share the Gospel and the horrible plight of eternal punishment for rejecting Christ, that hell “is not such a bad place, and if my friends are there, we can party together.”
Homer Simpson said, “I’m not a bad guy! I work hard, and I love my kids. So why should I spend half my Sunday hearing about how I’m going to hell?” A culture that laughs away this vital doctrine will find its worst nightmare a living reality in the afterlife.
We have so trivialized the word that we have stripped hell of its Biblical meaning. John Blanchard states, “When fifteen people were killed and 186 injured in a collision involving 75 vehicles in Tennessee, a fireman described the scene as ‘three miles of hell.’ During the Persian Gulf War in 1991, CNN reporter Bernard Shaw described the bombing of Baghdad by saying, ‘This feels like we’re in the center of hell.’ At a funeral service for millionaire Malcolm Forbes, his son Robert addressed his dead father with the words, ‘It’s been a hell of a party-thanks for the trip.’” (Blanchard, 16-17) What does the word mean?
However, others have become exaggerated in their efforts to describe hell’s horror. One preacher speaks of the “wicked hanging by their tongues by hooks while the flaming fire torments them from beneath.” Another says, “The flames of fire gush from ears, eyes and nostrils and out of every pore”–ridiculous. These kinds of statements go beyond a sobered, Biblical approach. This is a more vivid imagination than what is revealed in Scripture. (Donnelly 1987)
But it is not just the society that has neglected this aspect of God’s justice; it is also Biblical scholars who are mixing a strange concoction contrary to Scripture. When church historian Martin Marty was preparing a Harvard lecture on the subject of hell, he consulted the indexes of several scholarly journals dating back over a period of a hundred years to 1889 and failed to find a single entry. His conclusion was that “hell disappeared and no one noticed!” (Blanchard, 17).
Clark Pinnock: “How can one imagine for a moment that the God who gave His Son to die for sinners would install a torture chamber in the new creation in order to subject those who reject him to everlasting pain?” I consider the concept of hell as endless torment an outrageous doctrine, a theological and moral enormity. How could Christians possibly project a deity of such cruelty and vindictiveness. Surely a God who can do such a thing is more like Satan than God. Everlasting torment is intolerable from a moral point of view. It makes God into a blood-thirsty monster who maintains an everlasting Auschwitz for victims whom He does not even allow to die. (Donnelly 1987)
John Wenham, a British scholar, said: “I believe that endless torment is a hideous and unscriptural doctrine that has been a terrible burden on the mind of the church for many centuries and a blot on her presentation of the gospel. I should indeed be happy if before I die, I could help in sweeping it away.”
The most vital issue of all is what does the Scripture say? Open your Bibles and look at the account of the rich man and Lazarus. It is one of the most gripping and disturbing passages in all of Scripture.
Some call this a parable. Is it? Jesus did not call it a parable, nor does Luke. And though the rich man is not named, the beggar is. If it is a parable, it would be the only parable of Jesus in which a name is given. There is no doubt that this teaching is an illustration of Luke 16:15, of those who are “highly esteemed among men but detestable in the sight of God”.
The juxtaposition and contrast in this passage is incredible. Someone noted, you have a poor man on the outside of the house, and you have a rich man on the inside–then comes death, and you have a poor man on the inside and rich man on the outside. You have a poor man with no food, and a rich man with all the food he can possibly need–and then you have a poor man at the great heavenly banquet, and a rich man with absolutely nothing. You have a poor man who desires everything, you have a rich man who desires nothing–and then you have a rich man who will never have his desires fulfilled, and a poor man who has all his desires fulfilled.
You have a poor man who suffers and a rich man who is satisfied–and then you have a rich man who suffers, and a poor man who’s satisfied. You have a poor man who’s tormented, and a rich man who’s happy–and then you have a poor man who’s happy, and a rich man who’s tormented. You have a poor man who is humiliated, a rich man who’s honored–then you have a rich man who is humiliated, and a poor man who is honored. You have a poor man who wants a crumb, a rich man who feasts–and then you have a poor man who’s at a feast, and a rich man who wants a drop of water. You have a poor man who is a nobody, a rich man who is well-known–and then you have a poor man who has a name, and a rich man who has none. You have a poor man who has no dignity in death, not even a burial, you have a rich man who has dignity in death–then you have a poor man who has dignity after death, and a rich man who has no dignity after death, not even a name. You have a poor man with no hope, and a rich man with all hope–then you have a rich man with no hope, and a poor man who is hope realized . . . fascinating contrast. (MacArthur sermon)
This account is described in very graphic and vivid terms. Let me arrange our teaching around . . .
1. The Rich Man and Lazarus in this Life (16:19-22)
2. The Rich Man and Lazarus in the Afterlife (16:23-31)
1. The Rich Man and Lazarus in this Life (16:19-22)
Verse 19, “There was a certain rich man, and he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, gaily living in splendor every day.”
He was rich, but so were Abraham, Job, and Joseph of Arimathea. The Bible doesn’t condemn the rich man for being rich. Here it is the extravagance of a lifestyle apart from a saving relationship with Christ.
The rich man was “habitually dressed in purple and fine linen.” Purple was a fabric reserved for royalty and worn by the wealthy. He is in designer clothes—Armani, Versacci, not clothes from Kohl’s. And he lived as he dressed–“living in splendor every day.” Splendor means “to radiate.” Living in luxury, and he liked to radiate it. It’s a party every day. If he were alive today, he would have been on the MTV show “Cribs” on the lifestyle of the wealthy.
So blind was this rich man, he suffered from myopia to the needs of others. Look at Verse 20, “A certain poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores.”
The picture of Lazarus is pitiful. He does have a name–significant. Lazarus means: “the one who God helps.”
Lazarus was “laid”, literally thrown down “at his gate,” suggesting he was crippled. The word for “gate” is a high, ornamented gate, indicating the luxury of the rich man’s mansion–an estate, entry into a palace. The text says he was “covered with sores”–painful sores, racked with Job-like afflictions, or literally “covered with ulcers,” oozing open lesions.
As Lazarus lays at the gate (verse 21) longing to be fed with the crumbs which were falling from the rich man’s table, Jeremias writes, “Guests at a meal used pieces of bread to clean their hands.” In those days, you might have a little fruit and a little vegetable, but they ate with their hands. There weren’t any knives and forks. So you basically ate with your hands as most of the world has done for most of its history; and, typically, you took bread and dipped it in some kind of stew or thick soup.
It’s a little messy; but they had a good method for cleaning up the mess on their hands. They used the bread that was a little staler. There would be some bread on the table that was to be dipped. Then there would be other bread that was to then be used to mop up their hands. The bread had the capability of absorbing the soup, and also the capability of absorbing what was dripping all over their hands, and so they would use the bread to clean their hands and then throw it under the table. (He wanted the scraps.) (MacArthur sermon)
Verse 21b, “Even the dogs were coming and licking his sores.” Possibly in such a diseased condition that he was unable to protect himself, he could not keep the dogs away. A child of wrath and an heir of hell living luxuriously, and a child of God and heir of heaven perishing for want of bread.
Verse 22, “Now it came about that the poor man died and he was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom.” His misery was over. It is not mentioned that he was buried. In Jerusalem, unknown beggars who died were carried out to Gehenna, and flung where the fires were burning to destroy the rubbish (Morgan, p.192).
But when he dies he is “carried away by the angels to Abraham’s Bosom”. The expression “Abraham’s bosom” (side) is the only place it is used in the New Testament. In the Talmud, it was a figure for heaven. He who had longed to be fed with the scraps from the rich man’s table is now in heaven on Abraham’s bosom.
Verse 22, “Rich man also died.” The man with all the money could not rid himself of the grim reaper on the pale death horse. Death is the great leveler. The hearse carries all classes of people. He probably a splendid funeral. But is that all that happened? No, his personal stock market crashed big time.
2. The Rich Man and Lazarus in the Afterlife (16:23)
“In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment and saw Abraham far away, and Lazarus in his bosom.” Hades is a place of torment where the unrepentant wait for final judgment. Hades is a term for hell. In Hades he sees “Abraham far away, and Lazarus in his bosom”—a horrifying picture of the conscious reality of hell.
Luke 6:24-25, “Woe to you who are rich, for you are receiving your comfort in full. Woe to you, who are well-fed now, for you shall be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.”
Christ described hell as a place of unspeakable torment. Hell is a place from which God’s mercy and goodness have been withdrawn–where God’s wrath is revealed as a consuming fire, and men live with unfulfilled lusts and desires in torment forever and ever. Does that not cause you to tremble?
One day living in splendor, the next languishing in torment. One day, dressed in the finest apparel, the next day in unquenchable fire. Seeing this, the rich man cries out in verse 24, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus.” As a Jew, this rich man hopes to claim a relationship to Abraham. He should have listened to John the Baptist in Luke 3:8, “Bring forth fruits in keeping with repentance…do not say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’”
The tables have been reversed and the rich man becomes the beggar who longs for relief from this horrifying torture of agony in the flames of hell. He dials 911. The great need is thirst from the burning heat of the flame. Dispatch Lazarus for this purpose, verse 24b, “He may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.”
The Bible describes hell as a place of fire. Matthew 5:22, “Everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever shall say, ‘You fool’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.” Matthew 18:8, “And if your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; it is better for you to enter life crippled or lame, than having two hands or two feet, to be cast into the eternal fire.”
“Jonathan Edwards describes the eternality of hell in these words: ‘Imagine yourself to be cast into a fiery oven, or a great furnace, where your pain would be as much greater than that occasioned by accidently touching a coal of fire, as the heat is greater. Imagine also that your body were to lie there for a quarter of an hour, full of fire; what horror you would feel at the entrance of such a furnace! And how long would that quarter of an hour seem to you! And after you had endured it for one minute, how overbearing would it be to you to think that you had to endure the other fourteen! But what would be the effect on your soul, if you knew you must lie there enduring that torment to the full for twenty-four hours… for a whole year…for a thousand years! Oh, then how would your heart sink, if you knew, that you must bear it forever and ever! That there would be no end! That after millions of millions of ages, your torment would be no nearer to an end, and that you never, never should be delivered!’ Do you think he overstated the case? Edwards said: ‘We have reason to suppose that after we have said our utmost, all that we have said or thought is but a faint shadow of reality.’” (Williams Nichols, 25)
Look at Abraham’s response in 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.’”
There were two reasons for Abraham’s denial of the man’s request:
First It was unreasonable
Good things, habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, gaily living in splendor every day . . . God was not his aim, the Kingdom was not his goal. He lived for himself, money, and notoriety. And likewise Lazarus bad things . . . he was poor, sick, and a beggar. What a grand contrast between the “now” and “here”.
Luke 16:9 says, “And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by means of the wealth of unrighteousness, so that when it fails, they will receive you into the eternal dwellings.” Then later in16:13, “No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”
It is not only unreasonable…
Second It is impossible
Verse 26 says, “And besides all this, between us and you there is a great chasm fixed, in order that those who wish to come over from here to you may not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us.”
“Great chasm” means a gigantic gorge separating the lost from the redeemed–an unforgettable symbol of the absolute impossibility of a change of status after death. Have you been to the Grand Canyon? A great chasm separates the two sides–there is no hope of ever crossing over. The Bible does not speak of purgatory.
Those of you who hear my voice today will not always hear it. Mercy is in the hearing of the Gospel, but there is a coming day when I cannot warn you, or plead with you about the glories of God’s Kingdom. Teenagers, will you not hear the pleading of your mother? Will you not realize those tears have eternity written within the anguish of the eyes that spill them? Day is coming when the chasm will be so wide that it will be impossible for your loved ones to cross over. For when the gates are shut to heaven, they will never be opened again.
Spurgeon said, “I see the angel standing at the iron door; I hear the awful key as it grates among the tremendous wards, and when that gate is closed, he hurls the key into the abyss of oblivion, and the captives are fast immured, bound in fetters which will never break, in chains which never rust.” (p 418)
There are no second chances with God. Your status toward God and His Word in this life cannot be altered in the next one. The fire is never quenched, the eating worm never dies. There comes a time when it is too late.
Because his request was unreasonable and impossible, verses 27-28 say, “Then I beg you, father, that you send him to my father’s house–for I have five brothers that he may warn them, lest they also come to this place of torment.” The rich man’s cry is that his family has not been warned sufficiently. They need more information. We do and say the same thing–better youth group, church, parents, neighborhood, and pastor.
Abraham’s answer is stunning in verse 29, “But Abraham said, ‘they have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’” God in effect says, “I have spoken through Moses and the prophets–they have all the revelation they need.” But the rich man knows that his family does not take the Scriptures seriously—verse 30, “But he said, no, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead they will repent.”
He says, “We need something more than Scripture, we need a miracle.” Note Abraham’s incredible response in verse 31–“But he said to him, if they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone rises from the dead.”
If one’s heart is so dull so as to not hear the Word of God, then no miracle, no matter how miraculous, will be persuasive enough to convince them of Christ. Besides, someone has come back from the dead—Lazarus, in John 11. When he was raised, was everybody converted? No! Christ’s enemies planned to put to death the risen Lazarus (12:10), and were more focused than ever on killing Christ (11:47-50). Those who live in sinful pleasure are not going to change, even if someone is raised from the dead. And Jesus in fact did rise from the dead. If you do not listen and obey the Scripture, you will be judged by God.
John 5:45-47 says, “Do not think that I will accuse you before the Father; the one who accuses you is Moses, in whom you have set your hope. For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote of Me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?”
You are in the story this morning–did you know that? Verse 28 says, “For I have five brothers that he may warn them.” We’re the brothers that need to be warned. Our destiny is yet to be determined. What will you do? How will you respond? Does God know your name?
Does it not remind you of Mark 8:36, “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?”
American Dream Lyrics
All work no play may have made Jack a dull boy
But all work no God has left Jack with a lost soul
But he’s moving on full steam
He’s chasing the American dream
And he’s gonna give his family, the finer things
‘Cause he works all day and tries to sleep at night
He says things will get better
Better in time
Well this American Dream is beginning to seem
More and more like a nightmare with every passing day
“Daddy, can you come to my game?”
“Oh Baby, please don’t work late”
Another wasted weekend and they are slipping away
So he works and he builds with his own two hands
And he pours all he has in a castle made with sand
But the wind and the rain are comin’ crashing in
Time will tell just how long his kingdom stands
He used to say, “Whoever dies with the most toys wins”
But if he loses his soul
What has he gained in the end
I’ll take a shack on a rock
Over a castle in the sand
Now he works all day and cries alone at night
It’s not getting any better
Looks like he’s running out of time
Some of you might be thinking, “How could a loving God do such a thing? Why would He do that?” Because of sin. Whose sin? Your sin. Your sin will send you straight to hell. Just one sin. You don’t have to be a big sinner–just a tiny sinner and you will perish forever.
How can I change that? You can’t by your own effort. You need a Savior to take your sin from you. How? By the cross of Christ. He steps in your place for your sin.
Colossians 2:13-14, “You were dead in your transgressions…He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.”
Romans 5:8-9, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him.”
John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”
I offer you salvation this morning. The iron door has not been shut. The chasm that separates the sinner can now be crossed by the blood of Christ. Turn to Christ and tell Him that you are a sinner–how polluted, how vile you are.
Come to Him and receive Him as your Lord and Savior. Open the door of your heart that the King of Glory may come in. Believe in Christ. There is a Savior who freely offers to save you from torment.