Sunday, August 27, 2006

What, In Hell, Do You Want?

This is the message that I will be preaching at Temple of Faith Baptist Church today.
There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man's table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.

The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried. In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 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."

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. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us."

He answered, "Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father's house, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment."

Abraham replied, 'They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them."

"No, father Abraham," he said, "but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent."

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."

Luke 16:19-32
Hell is real. It is a place of torment where there is wailing and gnashing of teeth, where souls are tormented day and night forever and ever. This is a reality that greatly offends the sensibilities of many postmodern peoples, but their offended sensibilities can not change the reality of the existence of Hell. Some will ask how a loving God can send people to eternal torment, and that is a fair question. The answer is tied to God's holiness - God is absolutely holy, and He will not have sinfulness in His presence. The fact of the matter is that people send themselves to Hell with their sinfulness, yet God has made a provision for people to escape the horror of Hell through accepting the atoning work of Jesus Christ on their behalf, by submitting to His Lordship. Much the same way that everyone is not entitled to a presidential pardon for their crimes, everyone is not entitled to salvation from the penalty of their sins. However, God has made it possible for everyone to be pardoned, through accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, the only way to escape the reality of Hell.

It is much like a white dress with an ink stain. It takes a specific solvent to remove the stain of ink from a garment, and without that solvent the dress will remain stained forever. Nobody is going to wear a white dress with an ink stain, they will get it cleaned, and if the dress refuses to be cleaned by the only cleansing agent that can remove the stain of ink then that dress will be eternally separated from its owner, thrown away to be remembered no more. So it is with people with regard to our creator - if we will not be cleansed by the only cleansing agent that can remove the stain of sin then we will be cast into Hell, destined to be remembered no more.

There are, of course, those who would disagree with what the Bible clearly teaches. Carlton Pearson, who was at once a major Pentecostal preacher on the national scene, has rejected the words of Jesus and is now teaching that everyone will get to heaven, no matter the walk, no matter their talk, no matter about the way they live. Carlton Pearson believes that God gave him "new" revelation that everyone is already redeemed, that Hell is a present reality on earth, not an ontological existence in eternity. But Carlton Pearson would have been wise to read his Bible, because we are told to check the spirit by the Spirit, because every sirit is not of God. Carlton Pearson may well have heard a voice, and it may well have told him exactly what he heard, but I can assure you that it was not the voice of God.

Jesus spoke more often about Hell than he spoke about heaven, and He spoke of Hell as an eternal punishment in the hereafter for people's sinfulness in this life. Jesus said, "Again, anyone who says to his brother, 'Raca, 'is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, 'You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell." Jesus said, "It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell." Jesus said, "Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in Hell." Hell is real, and we need to adhere to the truth of the Word of God - we need to listen to Jesus instead of making stuff up on our own. It's like someone refusing to believe in the HIV virus. Their lack of belief does not change the reality of the virus' existence, and if they don't take the necessary precautions then they will experience HIV personally.

So it is with Hell.

We see in this text that the rich man wanted three things when he suddenly found himself in Hell, three things that we would do well to pursue in this life lest we find ourselves in Hell with a realigned paradigm. First, the rich man wanted his pain to be placated by the redeemed. Isn't it interesting how people don't really care about those who are suffering until they are the one suffering? It's almost funny watching conservative when they hit hard times - that blaming-the-victim thing goes right out the window then. Then you don't hear a peep about lazy people who just need to get a job. Then it's, "Have pity on me!" When people find themselves in that situation in this life it is the responsibility of the Christian to show them love, to comfort them, to help them, to pray for them, even though the suddenly-down-and-out may not have thought about anyone else in this life, ever. However, in death there is only judgment, not compassion. The response from Abraham (circumlocution for the Father) to the rich man was essentioally, "I can't do nothing for you, man."

What's even more interesting in this passage is that Lazarus never says a word. In fact, we are not led to believe that Lazarus was even aware of the conversation that was going on. Those who have been cast into Hell will be remembered no more, they are functionally nonexistent to the redeemed in eternity. It's like the worst punishment that I can remember as a child. It was a hot, summer day in Detroit and I was grounded. There was no central air - they built houses in Detroit with central heat back in the day - so there was no relief from the heat and, in fact, it was hotter inside than outside. All of my friends were outside playing while I was stuck inside doing chores. I could see my friends outside playing, I could hear my friends outside playing, I coud identify each and every one of them by name, but they couldn't see inside of my house through the plate glass window. They couldn't see my suffering, and the truth of the matter is that they didn't even notice that I wasn't out there playing with them. I was remembered no more, and it was entirely my own fault.

This is where the rich man found himself - hot, suffering, on the wrong side of joy, without hope - and it was entirely his own fault. In life he lived his life lavishly and cared nothing about the least of these at his own doorstep. In life he was all about himself, never submitting to God. In life he was concerned about bling-blinging, pushing work and rolling on dubs, but he got an attitude adjustment when he suddenly found himself in Hell. Suddenly, he knew Lazarus' name. Suddenly, he was begging instead of giving orders like he did in life. Suddenly, he was in pain instead of the comfort that he had in life. Things can go mighty well for the unbeliever in this life until "Suddenly" happens. Suddenly, this rich man wanted his pain to be placated by the redeemed. Suddenly, this rich man was concerned about those who were suffering. Suddenly, this rich man began to think like a Christian, but by then it was too late. Don't wait for "Suddenly" to happen before you turn your life over to Jesus, because suddenly you too will find that it is too late. This rich man suddenly found out that Hell was for real.

The second thing that the rich man wanted was his people to prepare for the resurrection. The rich man accepted his fate, saying, "Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father's house..." When people realize that they are in serious trouble their thoughts often go toward their family. If their family can not comfort them then they want their family to avoid their fate, their mistakes, their errors. The rich man wanted his family to act shrewedly like the dishonest manager, settling accounts so that they'd be positioned for their inevitible move, but once again his request was denied. The response was, "They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them." "Moses and the Prophets" was a euphamism for Scripture, and the rich man was told that his family had all the revelation that they needed in Scripture. We have been give all that we need when it comes to eternal security - it is in God's Word, the Bible. The Bible is our sole source of authority on matters of faith and life and all we have to do is apply the Word to our lives. The rich man's family thought this was absurd - it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven - and the rich man knew it, asking for Lazarus to be sent as a witness, but his family had already rejected the only witness that they would ever need.

It's like someone trying to drive to Hawaii, who refuses to look at a map. They're just going to head west and do the best that they can. They're basically a good driver; that should be good enough to get them to Hawaii, right? Any road that they choose to take should get them to Hawaii, right? Everyone is going to make it to Hawaii anyway, right? In reality you have to take the right vehicle along the right path to make it to your intended destination - you can't drive a car to Hawaii, no matter how good of a driver you might be in the eyes of the law, and you can't make it to heaven without Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, no matter how good of a person that you might be in the eyes of men.

The rich man in Hell wanted his people to prepare for the resurrection. Those of us who are saved will find ourselves in the presence of the Lord when we die, but the unsaved will suddenly find themselves in Hell. When Jesus returns, the dead in Christ - those in the presence of the Lord - will rise first; this is the resurrection for which the rich man wants his family to prepare. In that great getting-up morning those of us who are alive will be changed in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye - the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. Jesus could come at any time, Suddenly can overtake you at any time, so you have to be prepared to see Jesus face-to-face.

The third thing that the rich man wanted was for his peers to prioritize repentance. We have to understand that without repentance there is no salvation. In order to accept Jesus as savior we must first accept Him as Lord. We must acknowledge that we have sinned. We must believe that Jesus died and rose again for our sins. We must confess Jesus as Lord of our lives. It all begins with repentance - turning from our sinful ways and calling them what God calls them: sin. The rich man wanted his peers to repent of their sins; he wanted Lazarus to warn them of their pending doom. Once again, his request was denied: "If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead." The problem was their stony hearts, their unbelief, not their lack of knowledge. They didn't need a rhema word from the recently deceased, they needed saving faith in the living God. What they needed was sit-in-it faith.

What's sit-in-it faith?

If I see a chair I may believe that it can hold me, but I exercise sit-in-it faith when I actually sit down in the chair, putting my weight and my faith on the chair. Saving faith is that chair-holding-my-weight faith, not the notional assent of, "Yeah, I believe that the chair existed once, two thousand years ago." Saving faith sits in the chair, it is a faith that works since faith without works is truly dead. After all, faith breeds works like love breeds actions. I love you but I never say that to you? I love you but I never do anything for you? I love you but I never touch you? I love you but I never get you anything? I love you but I never spend any time with you? Love without action is dead - nothing but empty words - just like faith without works. We need a faith that works in order to be saved - we need sit-in-it faith.

The rich man's peers, like himself, lacked faith, not knowledge. People who ask for a sign are usually looking for an excuse, not verification. "Prove it" is never a statement of confidence in the object's ability to prove it. Even after it is proven, people rarely believe, they just ask for yet another sign: "Alright, then do it again!" If Jesus would have come down from the cross the scoffers would have said, "That's a nice trick; now let's see you nail yourself back to the cross!" It's like Eddie Murphy in the beginning of Coming To America, when he had the girl stand on one leg and bark like a dog. Once they can get you to submit to their will they will play with you until they tire of you, then they will dismiss you. They have no interest in that which they ask you to prove, they're just waiting for you to fail so that they can say, "See? I told you there was nothing to that!" Those who need proof lack faith in the source of their inquiry. If a wife needs proof that her husband is faithful to her then she lacks faith in her husband. If a boss needs proof of an employee's time spent working then the employer lacks faith in the employee. Those who need proof that Jesus rose from the dead lack faith in Jesus. The disciple Thomas lacked faith in the risen savior, but when confronted by Jesus Himself Thomas repented of his lack of faith and confessed, "My Lord and my God!" You don't want to find yourself in Hell, finally discovering a passion for lost souls. You need to accept Jesus Christ as Lord today, because tomorrow can come Suddenly.

When we understand the reality of Hell it should comfort the Christian that we will spend eternity in the presence of the Lord. However, understanding the reality of the horror of Hell should also drive the Christian to share our faith with the lost, those who are heading to Hell, so that they can avoid that fate. We share our faith in Jesus Christ not in a braggadocios manner, in a "We're right and you're wrong!" better-than-you kind of way, but from a perspective of desiring everyone to avoid the torment of Hell. Ultimately, those who reject Jesus' lordship over their lives will find themselves suddenly in Hell, but those whose names are written in the Lamb's Book of Life will remember them no more. This is why Jesus never mentions the rich man's name - it wasn't an oversight - the rich man's name was not written in the Book of Life; he was remembered no more. When the Day of Judgment comes, will Jesus recognize you as one of His own, or will He say on that day, "I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers."

The choice is yours - you can know Him as Savior or you can know Him as Judge.

May the LORD bless you and keep you;
May the LORD make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you;
And may the LORD,
Who wants you to rest in Him for all eternity,
May He turn His face toward you and give you peace.

Alternate link to comments

No comments:

Post a Comment