Not to put a damper on our services today, but over the past 30 minutes, while we have been singing and shaking hands and listening to announcements 3,158 people have died (look around you, that almost four times the number of people present today). Can you imagine, if we all dropped dead right now, four times over, and that number just keeps turning over like an odometer on a car, ever increasing.
What happens to all those people? Do they simply cease to exist? Do they wake up in some other world? If there is another world are there multiple worlds in the afterlife? And if so, what is each one like and how do you gain entrance into them?
It’s an important question. A child may get in a car and not ask where he is going, but a thinking adult at all times wants to know their destination. You don’t hop on an airplane without first knowing where you’re going. You don’t get on a bus in hopes that it’s going SOMEWHERE nice. You don’t leave it to chance…you’re intentional about your destination…Even later today you’ll be intentional about where you go when you leave this place, which restaurant you will eat in, which mall you will go to.
Every one of us are in a car headed for eternity…what’s next for you?
There are a lot of different answers out there. The modern philosopher would say they don’t believe in God and therefore nothing awaits us after death, it’s merely the end. But as Martyn Lloyd Jones once said, “He knows no more than you and I do He is purely speculating it’s merely his own idea.”
Why does it matter what he thinks or what you or I or what anyone else thinks? We’ve not been there.
But there is one who has come from heaven, who has returned to heaven and who will one day return from heaven to receive His own. If you want to know about eternity, listen to Him.
Jesus spoke often about heaven and he spoke about hell more than he spoke about heaven, more than any other person in the Bible. Jesus knew about hell, he believed in it, and warned against the realities of hell. Jesus knew about heaven, he believed in it, and compelled men and women to enter into it. There is much to say about this topic,
But today we will confine our focus to what Jesus said in Luke 16.
19 “There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, 23 and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. 24 And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’ 25 But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. 26 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 there to us.’ 27 And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house— 28 for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ 29 But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ 30 And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’”
Four things Jesus teaches us about eternity from this passage:
1. Death Comes to us all – v. 22.
The time came for the beggar. The time came for the rich man. The time has come for every person in history1 and that time will one day come for you and for me. There are many things you can put off, but you can’t put off death. You can try to prolong it by eating healthy and exercising and avoiding dangerous activities or unsafe places, but one day it will come to you. Maybe in the prime of your youth, maybe in your old age, but it comes…it’s coming. You’re closer to it now that you were five minutes ago.
In Luke 16 the rich man wasn’t prepared for death. It caught him completely by surprise. He was so caught up with the temporal he lost sight of the eternal. Oh the thought he put into his clothing. Oh the thought he put into his parties and food. Every day he obsessed over what he ate. He was prepared for everything in this life..except death. He had obviously not thought about it. He didn’t ask the really important question, “What’s next?”
We can be this man if we are not careful. Death makes procrastinators of us all. We don’t want to think about it, we don’t like being reminded of it. And I think Jesus spoke so often about it because he knew we avoided it. We needed to hear it twice as often as we like in order for it to sink in. So he sends us reminders: pains in your knees and backs, you’re getting older; the death of pets or loved ones, death is coming; As summer gives way to fall which gives way to winter, green leaves turn brown, shrivel up and fall lifelessly to the ground beneath, it’s happening to us as well. These are all graces meant to awaken us to our own mortality.
We can get so busy with life: bills and shopping and parties and social gatherings and homework and deadlines that we look back at our lives and realize we’ve only stored up treasures on earth. And when death comes all of our accolades will one day be forgotten. All of our treasures will be boxed up and sold or placed in some dusty attic. The things we spent so much energy and effort on will one day be destroyed or separated from us.
Do you live with eternity in mind? A proper view of eternity is meant to make us live for what’s truly important.
The second thing Jesus teaches us about Eternity:
2. Death has only two destination.
According to Jesus, here’s what’s on the other side: Heaven & Hell. Eternity with Christ or Eternity away from the presence of the Lord (2 Thessalonians 1:9)
22 “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24 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.’
Jesus teaches us that Heaven is a real place and that:
A. Heaven is comfort
Listen to the description: Lazarus died and was immediately met by angels who personally escorted him into heaven. He wasn’t cast aside and ignored as he was during his time on earth, no he found that his experience in heaven was vastly different.
The story in Luke 16 is meant to show extreme contrast. On earth Lazarus begged for food, in heaven he’s feasting at God’s table (on his breast). On earth Lazarus was unclean (the sores, the dogs licking his sores) and as such was an outcast, but in heaven he’s included, seated next to the most notable Jew of all time, Father Abraham. On earth Lazarus was in constant pain and suffering, but in heaven he is comforted.
This is how John describes heaven:
Revelation 21:3-5 – “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” 5 And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”
Here’s the point of Luke 16, whatever life is like on earth it’s nothing compared with heaven. If the rich man would have gone to heaven he wouldn’t have thought to himself, it was so much better on earth. I miss my purple clothing, my roasted lamb, my fancy underwear. No, he would have thought to himself, all these years I have been living like a pauper. I thought I knew what joy was but I hadn’t even tasted a morsel of joy compared to one moment of heaven’s joy.
But make no mistake, it’s not heaven we are after it’s Jesus we are after. Without Jesus heaven, with all of its elaborate descriptions, would be no more than one of the beautiful rooms in the forbidden city…it’s nice to visit and the first time you’re there you’re mesmerized by its beauty, but who wants to live there, it’s just a room.
Philippians 3:20-21 – But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.
I wish we could leave it at that, but Jesus doesn’t give us that option, this story doesn’t give us that option. Just as heaven is a real place, so too is hell.
B. Hell is Anguish
Oh, the contrast with the rich man. It simply says he died and was buried. No angels, no one to meet him, to fellowship with him, no comfort. He finds himself separated, alone, cast out. Listen to how it is described:
What will hell be like exactly? We don’t know. There are descriptions, but just as the descriptions are inadequate to capture the beauty of heaven, so too are they inadequate to capture the horrors of hell. If you read the list here and think it’s terrible, something to be avoided that is but a taste of what it will be like. Let me remind you once again how
1 Thessalonians 1:9 describes is – They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.
This is the great punishment of sin! Jesus bore the beatings of the Roman guards. Jesus took all the blows of man as the cat of nine tails ripped out chunks of flesh. Jesus withstood the nails being pounded into his hands and feet. He was silent as he slowly suffocated to death. But what Jesus couldn’t bear was that moment when God the Father removed his presence from the Son…When Jesus found himself away from the presence of the father he cries out, “My God my God why have you forsaken me.” You may have experienced extreme pain in life, but it’s nothing compared to the removal of the presence of God.
Some would think, Oh that’s what I long for…no more God. The death of God sounds just fine to me. Except for the fact that it’s the presence of God that affords you any type of goodness in this life. Every joy you experience is a gift of the grace of God. But one day that grace will be removed and how terrible will it be.
The third truth Jesus teaches is that:
3. Death is the great divider.
It comes to us all, heaven and hell are the only destinations and those destinations can not be changed
What we do in this life has eternal consequences in the next. Eternal consequences. We would like to hope for a second chance after death, but that’s not presented anywhere in scripture. The rich man would have gladly changed destinations, but that chance wasn’t given to him. Nor will it be given to any of us.
2 Corinthians 6:2 reminds us, Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”
Deuteronomy 30:19 – I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you…may live.
A choice has been set before each of us, life and death, heaven and hell. Choose life now, for there comes a day when that choice is taken away.
Now we come to another big question:
But is it fair? Would an all loving God really sent people to an eternal hell?
God is both simultaneously all-loving and just. As Romans 3 says He is just and the justifier. It may shock some of you to know that there are things God can’t do, but it’s true. God can’t sin. God can’t lie. God can’t change. God can’t go against his nature. And God can’t be unjust.
At some level we all understand this. The child who is bullied in school cries out for justice. The adult who was fired from a job because of the color of their skin cries out for justice. The parent whose five year old child was thrown off a balcony in the Mall of America, just for the fun of it, cries out for justice, and rightly so! If you have ever experienced injustice you desire for that wrong to be righted!
Every one of us demand justice at some level. We know that justice is right and something to be sought after.
God is just.
Our choosing to sin has placed us in the default position of hell. In kindness he warned us, don’t eat of the fruit, in selfishness we ignored him and ate. God can not let the guilty go unpunished.
But God is also the justifier:
John 3:16-18 says that Jesus came not to condemn the world, He didn’t have to do that, sin did that, we did that to ourselves..we are condemned already…no, in love He came that the world might be saved through him.
But eternal hell seems a bit long, why not ten years or twenty, or even one hundred, but an eternity?
Here’s what we fail to realize, in heaven the sinner ceases to sin because through faith, God sanctifies and then glorifies the sinner..sin becomes no longer a part of us.
But this isn’t the promise for those who end up in hell. The sinner will continue to sin in hell.
I find it interesting that not once in this passage does the rich man repent. He never says I’m sorry. He never says, I turn from my wicked ways. In many ways he’s the same as on earth. Even in hell he’s too proud to address that poor beggar Lazarus. He speaks to Abraham because Abraham is an equal. Abraham was rich, a man of stature, a man like himself. All Lazarus is good for is to be his little errand boy. Tell Lazarus to go, send Lazarus, have Lazarus come and serve me water.
You see the same with the demons when they encounter Jesus. Not one of them repents. Not one of them bows down in worship.
Hell is eternal because in hell sinners will continue sinning eternally.
Apart from Jesus there is no cure for sin, apart from Jesus there is no breaking of sin, apart from Jesus there is no ceasing of sin. That’s the curse of sin, it eternally latches onto us, we can’t rid ourselves of it. And this is the beauty of Jesus, he does that which we can not do for ourselves.
So how can we avoid this fate?
Note that that religious knowledge isn’t enough. This rich man knows Abraham, calls him Father Abraham. Knowledge isn’t enough to get you in the Kingdom. James 2:19 – Even the demons believe—and shudder!
The way to heaven, the way out of hell is through repentance. Even the rich man in hell realizes this:
Luke 16:30 – And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’
He doesn’t say, they’ll start being nice people. They will give to the poor. That’s not the way to heaven. He says, repent! They will turn from sin and turn to Jesus. They will look to Jesus and say, you are my treasure. I say yes to you! I choose this day to follow you!
Lastly Jesus teaches us that:
4. A true view of eternity fuels evangelism –
Jesus talked about eternity and we talk about eternity today because it’s eternally important. A proper view of heaven and hell is meant to motivate us, yes for ourselves but also for others.
Several weeks ago I remember waking to the news that Notre Dame had caught fire and I was saddened by that fact. Many of you probably felt the same thing I felt. You had probably been there and beheld its beauty and mourned over the loss. A building with so much history, 800 years old. So many great events that took place while it watched over the city. Countless memories that people had there, that my family had there. So many wonderful works of art that was housed inside it. When you think of Paris your mind can’t help but think of Notre Dame. And there it was burning away, being destroyed before my very eyes. And I mourned the loss.
And in that moment I was reminded of a few things, nothing is eternal…well nothing material, nothing man-made…we are! Which reminded me of the other. How many times I have read of a death in the paper and was completely unmoved? They were a stranger to me, why would I mourn their loss? Stranger though they were, they’re of much more value than stone and wood, regardless of how beautiful the architectural arrangement of that material might be.
Oh, if we would but keep before us the reality of eternity. That people are eternal, that they are moving toward that final place faster than you or I or they think. And that really is the word isn’t it…final! Listen to the man in hell:
I beg you…warn them, so that they will not come to this place of torment.’
He speaks those words to you and me this morning. I beg you…warn them, please, warn them…so that they will not come to this place of torment.’
Will you warn them? Will it motivate you to action? You don’t have to be an eloquent apologist. You don’t have to be able to perform miracles. Speak the truth of the gospel and trust in it!
The Scriptures are meant to lead people to Christ. v. 29.
29 But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’
These are strong words from Abraham. Salvation is the greatest of all miracles and God uses his Word to bring about that miracle.
It can be as simple as starting a Bible study with your lost friends. Invite them to your small group. Read through one of the gospels with a friend and ask probing questions. Invite them to an Alpha. Do a private Alpha with them…all of their videos are available for free online.
Let me share a testimony with you from a City Church member who did just that:
We watched episode 10 together last night and then she asked me an array of questions to which I answered and then prayed for her. She then said she wants to pray, in her mother tongue. As she started I knew it was about to happen as I felt the Holy Spirit come. I didn’t understand a word she was saying but she started crying and laughing. She experienced a wave of emotion and a physical presence and said it was like falling in love in an instant, she knew it was Jesus and nobody else. I then asked her if she wanted to let Him in to which she said yes and I lead her in the sinners prayer…It was really a very pure and genuine moment and it was amazing to have witnessed that. God is GOOD!
This could be your story, this could be our story! May eternity give us a proper view of what’s important, may it motivate us to spend ourselves for the gospel
Listen to the words of John Wesley:
“Do all the good you can,
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as ever you can.”
May City Church catch a vision to be radically missional to the world around us.
1Yes, I am aware that Enoch and Elijah were exceptions to this statement.