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Parables of Christ

Life in Hell

Luke 12:16-21; Luke 16:19-31

Lesson audio

Going to Hell — First-Class

Luke 12:16-21 NASB And He told them a parable, saying, "The land of a rich man was very productive.  (17)  "And he began reasoning to himself, saying, 'What shall I do, since I have no place to store my crops?'  (18)  "Then he said, 'This is what I will do: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.  (19)  'And I will say to my soul, "Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry."'  (20)  "But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?'  (21)  "So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God."

The Problem of Greed

It is a rare sermon today on the subject of greed. In fact, if you label it entrepreneurial thinking, you would think that the church approves of greed. Let's begin with an understanding of what greed really is:

·         First, it is the desire for "more." It is the driving sense that you cannot be content with what you have; there must always be something else.

·         Second, it is usually associated with the desire to have "the most." It is often enough competitive.

·         What ever its root causes, greed has one simple symptom which is easily recognizable: the refusal to be content.

Please notice that nothing of this requires a certain amount of money. You can be rich and content; you can be poor and greedy. That's not the normal behavior, however.

"Reasoning to Himself"

Please note that this man did not fall into this trap blindly. The Scripture tells us that he reasoned with himself; in other words, this behavior was deliberate. With that in mind, we can make some educated guesses as to his thinking process.

·         It's obvious that his first priority is his own pleasure. This is a man who wants to eat, drink and be merry. (By the way, did you know that that phrase comes from the King James Version of the Bible?) This is a man who had our society would seek nothing more than faster horses, older whiskey, younger women and more money.

·         He is also in the habit of hoarding. That tells you a lot; he fears the future. So when the opportunity comes he eagerly grasps at his own wealth as the means to avoid what's coming.

·         In short, he gave no consideration to God.

That last is most important. If you do your reasoning without considering Almighty God, the results usually turn out like this.

Rich toward God

We often think of God as some sort of cosmic blessing machine. If we want to get rich, we had better ask God to give us the money. Have you considered, however, the opposite direction? How is it that one is rich toward God? The concept may seem to make no sense to you; but if you contrasted with this man, I think you can see why you would want to be this way.

·         First, unlike are rich fool, place your faith in God. Live the life of faith; take no thought for tomorrow. Your heavenly father knows what you need.

·         If you live the life of faith, you must also live the life of good works. This is particularly true if you are rich. As James taught us, "faith without works is dead."

·         Finally, be filled with love.

(I am indebted for those three points to John Wesley.) If you live this life, you will not make this rich fool's mistakes.

Life in Hell

Luke 16:19-31 NASB  "Now there was a rich man, and he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, joyously living in splendor every day.  (20)  "And a poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores,  (21)  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.  (22)  "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.  (23)  "In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and *saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom.  (24)  "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.'  (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.  (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.'  (27)  "And he said, 'Then I beg you, father, that you send him to my father's house--  (28)  for I have five brothers--in order that he may warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.'  (29)  "But Abraham *said, 'They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.'  (30)  "But he said, 'No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!'  (31)  "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.'"

Physical Hell

It is likely enough that the descriptions we have of hell are in some ways symbolic. But it is worth noting that every description of hell we have from the Bible includes the sense of fiery torment. More than that, in the New Testament it is clear that all the references to hell that are descriptive come from the Lord Jesus Christ himself. This makes sense; he's the one who conquered the grave. So what we know about the physical nature of hell?

·         Hell is hot. I'm sorry to have state the obvious to you that way, but I'm right number of people try to justify hell based on the idea that really couldn't be like that.

·         Those who are in hell can see and talk with those who are in heaven. This is fascinating. You can see why people invent their own version of hell. It's one thing to be in torment; it's entirely another to be in torment while watching others at ease. But apparently we would be able to converse back and forth.

·         There is no traffic between heaven and hell. The King James refers to "the great gulf fixed". In this we see the finality of hell.

Psychological Hell

The first and most obvious point of psychology in hell is pain. It is a pain worse than anything we can imagine here on Earth, for here on Earth the pain can be relieved at times. You can take a pill, you can get drunk, and you could just pretend it's not there – even visit your grandchildren. The pain in hell never ever stops. Indeed, that's another psychological problem – there is no relief possible, forever. Think about people who suffer from cancer. It's very painful, and often enough they look forward to dying because at that point the pain will go away.

There is also a sudden concern for others; this man had five brothers. Is it too much to suggest that it is guilt which is driving him to ask Abraham to send Lazarus back? Evidently guilt does not go away at the door to hell.

One other thing that I have often wondered about: how did he recognize Abraham? Do people wear name tags in heaven? Who can say?

Perhaps the greatest psychological torment is this: he now had clearer vision spiritually. That means he knows "what might have been." He has all of eternity to stare at his mistakes in life.

Lessons about God

Take a look again at verse 25. Do you see the phrase, "your good things?" That carries a couple of possible meanings in the original Greek. One such meaning is that these are the things he had earned. They are the result of his hard work, and hard work is a virtue. The failure in that regard is not the man is rich; after all, Abraham was rich too. Despite what some think, riches are not necessarily an indication of God's grace upon you. Nor, for that matter, is poverty. It is just barely possible that the test is not how big or small your wallet is, but what you do with the contents.

This shows us the justice of God. The man deserves to be in hell; he made the decisions he did without contemplating what God would do.

If you had to draw up an indictment, the charge would be "failure to love." It is a sin, even if you pretend that the other person is not there. Let me give you an example. For some years I commuted regularly to the San Francisco Bay Area. I relied on public transportation (trains and subways) to get to work. As I came out of the subway station, each day I would see a particular beggar. His plight touched me, for he had served in Vietnam and been blinded there. I went back and forth with God on this; after all, I thought, I can't cure world hunger. God's response is relatively simple; he never asked me to cure world hunger — he asked me to feed one beggar. So I did.

The rich man in this story might well tell you that he could not cure world hunger. God did not ask him to; he just dropped one beggar at his doorstep.

American Thought

May I bring to you three examples? I see these people in my church; I met them where I worked. They are not isolated examples, but they are an indictment of our society.

Self-Made Man

This is a man who can tell you that he earned every dime he has. Have you ever noticed how defensive they are about it? It's almost as if there's something wrong with the way they handled the money. Indeed, there is — if they have wealth with arrogance. An interesting study of this can be made by looking at the license plate frames on Mercedes cars. The indictment the face is not how they earned the money; it's what they did with it when they got it. Or perhaps, more correctly, what they didn't do with it.

It is wise in this instance for those of us who do not have that kind of money to refrain from judgment. We must call our Lord instructed those who have money to give but to do so that the right hand doesn't know what the left hand is doing. Booker T. Washington put it this way:

My experience in getting money for Tuskegee has taught me to have no patience with those people who are always condemning the rich because they are rich, and because they do not give more to objects of charity. In the first place, those who are guilty of such sweeping criticisms do not know how many people would be made poor, and how much suffering would result, if wealthy people were to part all at once with any large proportion of their wealth in a way to disorganize and cripple great business enterprise. Then very few persons have any idea of the large number of applications for help that rich people are constantly being flooded with. I know wealthy people who receive as many as twenty calls a day for help. More than once, when I have gone into the offices of rich men, I have found half a dozen persons waiting to see them, and all come for the same purpose, that of securing money. And all these calls in person, to say nothing of the applications received through the mails. Very few people have any idea of the amount of money given away by persons who never permit their names to be known. I have often heard persons condemned for not giving away money, who, to my own knowledge, were giving away thousands of dollars every year so quietly that the world knew nothing about it.

The Competitor

It is not clear from the passage, but it would be clear to the first century reader that this man paid a great deal of attention to his appearance. That's what this "dressed in purple" was all about. Today such a man would be a wearing an Armani suit with just exactly the right tie. The key to understanding such a personality is in the comparison, the prideful nature of such a man. Such a man has to show you that he is better than you are; it is a matter of pride.

But there is another aspect to it. Sometimes your experience is such that you become addicted to winning. This implies two things:

·         The first one is that you never engage in anything if you don't think you can win. That rather restricts your activities, doesn't it?

·         The second one is that all victories are personal triumphs. You have to beat someone.

The Money Man

In my college days I encountered the student who would eventually go to Harvard Medical School. He rather gleefully told me about his interview with Harvard Medical. The high point of the interview, to him, was when they asked him why he wanted to become a doctor. "To get rich," he replied. Let me ask you something: would you rather have your surgeon the one who's in it for the money, or one who really would like to heal people?

For many men, work is their definition of self. Perhaps that should not be; but for many men it is true. If it's true for you, then consider: if you're doing the job with no significance other than the paycheck, doesn't that make you a prostitute?

Permit me a medical counterexample. The family doctor that I and my family went to for many years announced one day that he was leaving the medical organization which had provided his income. He had saved up enough money to be independently wealthy. He chose to move to the slums of Philadelphia, where his church had an active ministry, including a medical clinic. He is now in the business of healing, not the business of making money.

The difference is his attitude towards the work. He became a doctor to heal people; the student became a doctor to get rich. Which doctor would you rather have? Which doctor would you rather be? It's just possible that the difference in attitude is also the difference between heaven and hell.

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