Friday 23 September 2022

Luke 16 v19/31

May the Lord bless His Word to us this morning, and may His Holy Name be praised.

The gospel reading for today is 16th Chapter of Luke. This story is known as the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. There are three points to note from the passage, namely that this life is not all there is; there are two destinies when we leave this earth, heaven or hell; and thirdly that we make a decision in this life which will determine which one is for us.

This will not be popular for many preachers in all denominations, for there are an increasing number of clergy who do not accept the doctrine of heaven or hell. Such should not apply to Methodist preachers, for it was well proclaimed by John and Charles Wesley, apart from the facts that it is taught throughout the Bible and Jesus spoke about hell more than anyone, for whenever He spoke of heaven He spoke of the alterative.

I once attended a clergy meeting at a Church where there was a famous mural, and whilst I was looking at it a young Vicar asked me what I thought of the painting. I said I couldn’t understand it. He told me it was supposed to be the devil chasing men to hell, and he added, ‘but we don’t preach that these days do we?’ When I said ‘well I do’, he gave me one of those looks you give someone when you are not sure if they are completely with things.

In our story there are two men, one rich having all the trappings of luxury in his life, and the other a poor beggar covered with sores who has nothing, and even dogs licked his sores. He longed to sit by the rich man’s table so that he could gather up the crumbs which would fall from the table for his food. In those days they did not use knives and forks, instead they just picked at the food with their fingers and some would fall to the floor. The rich man had no pity on Lazarus, and as he used to beg at the city gate the rich man would have seen him, but did nothing to help.

They both died and the rich man went to hell where he was in torment, whilst Lazarus went to Paradise in heaven. He called on Abraham to have pity on him and send Lazarus with some comfort because he was in such agony. But Abraham said, "Son, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from here to us. Abraham because of his faithfulness to God was honoured and is recognised as the father of believers.. We are all sons or daughters of Abraham in that respect, and therefore go where Abraham is.

This tells us that Jesus was our Lord intending to draw a deliberate and vivid contrast between the rich man and the poor, and that man must love God and use money, instead of using God and loving money., The Pharisees were lovers of money, which they put first, and the modern equivalent is that of men (and now women) putting the interests of their careers before serving GodPeople like to speculate where heaven and hell are, sufficient it be to know heaven is where Jesus is, and hell is anyplace where Jesus will never be.

Of course there are many people who mock us for being Church members and being religious, but will one day realise the mistake they made, but there will be no going back, no second chance, the Bible is unequivocal that we make the decision here as to where our resting place will be.
I have been watching a series on television where a young policeman is partnered on his duties with an attractive young policewoman who is fond of him, but he does not respond. His Sergeant tells him he should make a decision to go with the woman or he will one day regret not making such a decision. Then he adds, the two saddest words in the English language are ‘if only’  How often do we say that now as we reflect back?? One day such a lot of people will say ‘if only’.

It is common to hear it said that a loving God would never send anyone to hell, and of course He would not; but by the decision we make here, we make the choice ourselves. I have heard it said so many times by people who misunderstand verses in John’s gospel, and think we are all guaranteed a place in heaven irrespective of how we lived here. No need to go to Church, read a Bible or say prayers, Jesus they say promised He would prepare a place for us, without realising Jesus was talking only to His followers not those who have no time to give to Him.

There was a limerick I read which referred to words on a gravestone. It was. Remember, Friend, as you pass by,
As you are now, so once was I.
As I am now, soon you shall be
Prepare for Death, and follow me.
Someone added the words: To follow you I’m not content, until I know which way you went.

The passage suggests we will be fully aware of our condition at whatever place, for the rich man asked that pity be given to his five brothers. The rich man is told by Abraham, ‘if they do not hear Moses and the prophets neither will they be convinced if some one should rise from the dead.’
We can see an analogy in modern life where people start looking for God to help them when in trouble, when for the rest of the time he is an irrelevance to them. When someone asks you ‘where was God’, when some particular incident occurs, tell them ‘He was where he always is, when you were not interested.’

The rich man was in hell because he refused to listen to Moses and the prophets of the Old Testament. His whole life was all about his own comforts without any concern for others, and that is why he is where he is. Lazarus, on the other hand, is in heaven because he believed Moses and the prophets and trusted in God.

This then is the explanation of the parable which is the only one which describes he feelings of the unconverted after death. What lessons are there to be learned from it?

Firstly a person’s worldly condition is no test of their state in the sight of God. The wealth or position does not earn God’s particular favour. The poor man lived by faith whilst the rich man was a selfish thoughtless man.   Secondly, death is what happens to all of us, which many people do not seem to realise; they think they can go on enjoying themselves forever.  Thirdly God cares specially for the souls of believers in the hour of death. Jesus tells us when Lazarus died he was carried by angels into Abraham’s bosom. We know little or nothing about the feelings of the dead. When our last hour come it shall be like going into an unknown country, but we know that all who fall asleep in Christ Jesus will be in good keeping.  Fourthly, the reality of there being an eternity of hell, and the certainty of the punishment for the wicked. Jesus gives us a fearful picture in one of the most awful passages in the Bible.

Lastly, the unconverted, those who have not called Jesus into their lives, will find out too late the real value of being a true Christian and the folly of ignoring Jesus.   The Bible tells us all that we need to be saved for heaven, simple faith in the Scriptures is the first thing needful to salvation.

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